From Andy Warhol’s pop art to Sheung Wan’s street corners

Whenever my husband and I travel, while I make sense of train or bus routes from the airport to where we’re staying, I can always count on him to appear beside me with a handful of useful maps and brochures gathered from the information counters. Outside the Hong Kong International Airport, while we waited for the bus (see other ways to get to and from HKIA below)  he began showing me his latest stash–one of which was a brochure to an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Time for some Warhol

Time for some Warhol. Outside the Hong Kong Museum of Art

We were traveling with another couple and made the mental note to find the time to see it. And on our third day in Hong Kong, before we met up with friends, we spent our Friday morning ooh-ing, ahh-ing, and gazing at Warhol’s works. Later on, I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the street corners of Sheung Wan.

This is the only thing I could take a picture of...

Taking pictures are not allowed inside the exhibition halls so this is the only thing I could take a picture of. We went right before bus loads of kids arrived for their educational field trip

The exhibit, “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” is reportedly the biggest retrospective of Warhol’s work to be shown in Asia. It covers all his years as a visual artist, even personal mementos from his childhood years to commissioned works in the 1980s and everything in between (the Campbell soup cans, Marilyn Monroe silkscreen painting, the Mao portraits, The Factory, the ‘In the future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ quote and so much more).

A few minutes after we got into the exhibit, elementary school students likely out on their educational field trip, started filing in. The quiet and sedate atmosphere typical of museums was replaced with high spirits and humor. Apt for a Warhol exhibit, right? Most of the kids, not surprisingly were drawn to the room with the silver pillows. (The video below is the version in the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. Just add about 15 kids laughing and playing. And museum staff shh-ing them.)

And while I gazed at Campbells soups and Marilyns, the conversations the kids were having were priceless. Or awkward.

“I love Campbell soup!!! What’s your favorite?!”

Or the teacher explaining who Marilyn Monroe is, that she was considered the most beautiful woman back in the day, and that she committed suicide. “What’s suicide?” “Why did she do that?” Goodluck with those questions, lady.

Outside the Hong Kong Museum of Art, there were a few tiny stalls of illustrators

Outside the Hong Kong Museum of Art, there were a few illustrators with their tiny stalls

After going around the exhibit, we took the Star Ferry from Kowloon (the pier is just nearby) to Hong Kong Island. I couldn’t find a BluRay copy of Chungking Express, but Godhelpme we were going to find those mid-levels escalators. My friends and I got out of Sheung Wan Station, walked (back towards Central, if I’m not mistaken), got lost a bit, saw some signs and finally found them!

Out of Sheung Wan station to look for the mid-level escalators

Out of Sheung Wan station to look for the Central Mid-levels Escalator…

...mainly because of this movie

…mainly because of this movie (a still from Chungking Express)

And this is the start of the mid-level

The start of the mid-levels escalators

Of course when you see the Central Mid-Levels escalators without Wong Kar-Wai’s cinematic glasses, the first instinct is to think, ‘This is it? Now what?’ Ride them escalators is what. At 800 meters long (when you put them all together) it’s supposedly the world’s longest covered escalator. But halfway through, I forget about Faye Wong and get distracted by the neighborhood below (there’s a marketplace!), the hip-looking cafes on the upper floors of the buildings, the  pretty furniture shops…I wanted to get off and explore the streets underneath.

From the mid-levels

View from the mid-levels

When we finished ‘riding’ the escalators and got back on the street, we got a chance to explore Hollywood Road in the side of Sheung Wan (the road stretches until Central) and a few nearby streets.

A few minutes of walking the sloping narrow streets, lined by shops, cafes and old and new apartment buildings, and minus the mass of fellow tourists (except at Man Mo Temple where they arrive by the bus loads)  and I knew I wanted to keep coming back to this area. The vibe was less hurried (though watch out for speeding cars!). Or at least that Friday afternoon it was. (I read in this engaging blog, Gastronaut, that Hollywood Road gets overrun by tourists and antique shoppers by day; I guess we were lucky. If you want to know more about Sheung Wan–particularly the restaurants nearby, which sadly I didn’t get to try–read this blog post by Gastronaut, who’s a resident of the area.)

Among tourists, Sheung Wan is known as the place to go to for antiques. Particularly in Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row; immediately across Man Mo Temple). Sure there are antique shops selling Chinese furniture, ceramic and porcelain ware, Buddha sculptures, and other items way beyond our shopping budget, but there’s also the flea market stalls outside selling small Chinese crafts and curios, Mao memorabilia, posters, prints, fans, costume jewelry, and other kitschy decorative pieces. We ended up buying posters and several souvenirs there.

Sheung Wan

One of the many hilly streets running across Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan

Another street

Sidewalk art of shophouses

Found ourselves at Cat Street

To get to Cat Street or Upper Lascar Road, just cross from Man Mo Temple and walk down the road below. There you can get all the Chinese prints and Bruce Lee posters you want.

Poster, sold!

Poster, sold!

A quiet, not-so-crowded afternoon in Cat Street

A quiet, not-so-crowded afternoon at Cat Street

From the airport: Another lovely thing about Hong Kong is the efficient transport system that takes folks to and from the airport. (1) The Airport Express, the train which takes you to Central in Hong Kong Island in 24 minutes (we didn’t take this just because we didn’t want to drag our luggage in the train stations, make the necessary transfer to take another train to Kowloon and haul the luggage up the stairs); (2) public buses also stop at the airport, it takes longer but it’s also cheaper (price range between HKD18 to 48) and in our case, the bus stop in Tsim Sha Tsui was conveniently just a block away from where we were staying; (3) and there are, of course, cabbies (the price from TST to the airport was around HKD215).

Hong Kong Museum of Art: 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; +852 2721 0116; open Friday to Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” ends March 31, 2013


8 thoughts on “From Andy Warhol’s pop art to Sheung Wan’s street corners

  1. Great post! I enjoyed this post a lot and made me miss Hong Kong. The place has such character. And I can’t believe you also got to see the Warhol retrospective! I saw this at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and stayed indoors the whole day. It was such a ride. One of my most memorable museum trips ever.

    • Thanks! Let’s go back to HK together! I kick myself for not having gone sooner. Anyway, yes the Warhol retrospective was one of the highlights of the HK trip…I’m so glad P got hold of that brochure, haha! Sigh, Amsterdam… isn’t the Van Gogh museum there? That’s another artist whose works I would love to see in the flesh.

  2. I work at a gallery and I never hear anything as amusing and innocent as what you heard! Usually arch and wry… Those kids are priceless. Silver clouds looks great!

    Ah, a shot of the mid-level escalators from Chungking Express… ‘This is it? Now what?’ Yep, I had the same thought as you based on that picture but you’re completely right – the hyper-sexy and romantic aesthetic view/shot composition of Wong Kar-Wai/Chris Doyle brings magic to the mundane. And then I was drawn to the photo of the streets below and I thought to myself, this is why you learn a foreign language, so you can go off the beaten track and get some real culture. Great shots of the streets!

    Is that police tape running along Hollywood Road? 0_0

    • Of course you noticed the tape! But I think that was because there was construction being done on that side of the building (or at least I hope it’s because of that, haha!)
      The kids in the museum were funny though I don’t think the staff was amused at all.
      Your comment of learning a foreign language reminded me of the fact that you’re going to Japan this year, right? I’m so excited for you 🙂

      • It just stood out that’s all… Plus I’m very observant 😉

        What sort of souvenirs did you get from the museum?

        I hope to go to Japan. Right now I’m saving money and in contact with certain agencies. Just waiting on some replies.

  3. Love the photos!! Never made it to these parts; must make a mental note now. 😉 The one of the shophouses and your poster are my favorite of the lot. WKW has really watermarked our view of HK, no?? I continue to nurse this err… emmmm… hope-slash-fantasy that one of these days, I would be walking along one of those narrow HK alleyways, eyes downcast, and that I would look up to… one Tony Leung looking at me. 😀 😀

    What a happy happenstance the Warhol retro was! 🙂 The MoMA and the Met in NYC beckon, I think. 🙂 Oh, and this year would be a good year to make your pilgrimage to Amsterdam’s Museumplein (not that there is ever a bad time to go to Amsterdam, ha); the Rijks is set to fully open again after extensive and megamoney renovations (a decade long?); van Gogh’s works (temporarily housed at The Hermitage) are set to return to the van Gogh museum, too after being closed for half a year.

    • Hi Mariella, of course you’re right about how WKW has affected our view of HK 🙂 Your fantasy reminds me of In The Mood For Love, which I just watched again a few days ago… Everything looked beautiful–even peeling paint or old doors. And those narrow HK streets looked so much more romantic. (Yeah, Tony Leung standing there helps a lot).
      Sigh…New York, Amsterdam…two cities I would LOVE to see!

  4. @GenkiJason I got a cheap (35HKD) print (not sure if that’s the right art term) of an Andy Warhol illustration and a postcard of a Chinese artist. Just a few things to help me remember the museum visit 🙂

    I hope you get to go to Japan this year. Fingers crossed! Keep us posted 🙂

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