A taste of Hong Kong


In director Wong Kar-wai’s nostalgic films about neon-tinged 1960s Hong Kong, characters yearn for loves lost. Today, many Hong Kongers are looking at their city with a similar longing as the Chinese territory (handed over by the British colonizers in 1997) undergoes a tumultuous political transformation.

After giant pro-democracy protests in 2019, an ongoing crackdown on speech and dissent has dismantled civil society groups and set off a wave of emigration. Famous restaurants shuttered under pandemic restrictions, and locals are flocking to small businesses operating as they did generations ago, not knowing when these living relics could also disappear. It is a meaningful time to visit this glittering, international metropolis in a moment of collective soul-searching, as residents take stock of diminished freedoms, vanishing landmarks and what still makes the city special.

ITINERARY

Friday

3:30 p.m. | Visit historic shops

An antiques market in the Sheung Wan neighborhood of Hong Kong.

An antiques market in the Sheung Wan neighborhood of Hong Kong.

(Anthony Kwan / The New York Times)

Travel back in time in Sheung Wan, a charming neighborhood where traditional stores sell tea and spices, just as they did more than a century ago, when the city was a colonial trading outpost. One shop, Cheung Hing Tea Hong, sells a variety of Chinese, European and Ceylon black teas, as well as coffee beans. Its tea master, who has worked there for more than six decades, nimbly folds and tucks the shop’s signature tea variety, tieguanyin (about 160 Hong Kong dollars, or $20.50, for 150 grams), into an artful, palm-size paper package, using no tape or string. Midway down a wide outdoor stairway, Yuan Heng Spice Co. offers all manner of spices, including Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon bark and aged citrus peels. The shop’s majestic cats are neighborhood fixtures. (Check out @hongkonghistoricalshops on Instagram for more gems.)

5 p.m. | Search for a speakeasy

The handling of colonial-era buildings, which can be painful reminders of oppression, is fraught in Hong Kong. One reimagined site is Tai Kwun, a 19th-century prison and police station in the city center, which was converted into a public arts compound in 2018. Make a game of seeking out 001, a speakeasy behind an unmarked black door, hidden in a maze of walkways (Tai Kwun employees will help you find it, if you ask). Once you’re inside, reward yourself for the search with an Earl Grey martini (158 dollars). At Tai Kwun Contemporary, the art gallery in the complex, the exhibition “Green Snake: Women-Centred Ecologies” (free, runs through April 1) explores mythology amid the climate crisis through the lens of 30 female artists. Use Tai Kwun’s app for self-guided tours of the compound. Some focus on architecture; others highlight the best spots for photos.

7:30 p.m. | Eat in an ex-warehouse

For a refined Chinese dinner near Tai Kwun, head to the Fringe Club, a performing arts space in an oval brick building that served as a dairy warehouse in the 19th century. Ascend neon-lit stairs to reach its restaurant, Nove at the Fringe, where you can order watermelon in a numbing mala chile sauce (65 dollars) and honey-glazed char siu pork (165 dollars,…



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