Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Bruce Lee Guide to Yau Ma Tei

As promised, part two of my self-guided walking tours that take in the world of Bruce Lee. I originally posted this entry at the tail end of 2011 and I don't think much has changed in regards of what is still there but I do know the Bruce Lee Club has put up the odd "Bruce Lee Way" plaque or two. Not only is this a great way to see some Lee-related sites in Yau Ma Tei, but it’s also a good solid walk taking you through a large part of Kowloon that wouldn’t necessarily be on the usual tourist/visitor itinerary.

As before it’s mainly Bruce with some local interest thrown in for good measure and you can get the route from Googlemaps where I have plotted out the main sites listed below. This walk involves a lot of crossing roads so make sure you have your best walking shoes on and, seeing as this is HK, it will be hot. Even a HK winter can be warm and a bit sticky especially if you are traipsing around Kowloon with all its poor air flow, busy traffic and heat-radiating concrete.

Before I start I should mention a few people here who were instrumental in putting this together. So a big thanks to Paul Li (the world expert on Lee’s HK life – and he also supplied two pictures for me), Simon Leung, Eddy Lo and Steve Kerridge who clarified some pints for me. Anyway, on with the show.

Following on from walk #1 which took us around Lee-related sites in Tsim Sha Tsui, we can start the next leg of our grand tour on Austin Road, not far from where the Tsim Sha Tsui walk dropped us off.

We’ll start off on the junction of Austin Rd and Chatham Road South – easily reached from East TST or Hung Hom train stations – and we shall take in the following locations:

#1 St Mary’s Canossian College, Austin Road

#2 Kowloon Bowling Green Club, Austin Road

#3 Tak Shun Primary school, Austin Road

#4 Shamrock Hotel, Nathan Road

#5 218 Nathan Road

#6 Cox’s Road playground

#7 9 Cox’s Road

#8 5 Mau Lam St

#9 Nathan Hotel

#10 Eaton Hotel

#11 Queen Elizabeth Hospital

#12 Pui Ching Carpark and Kowloon Methodist School

#13 Tin Hau Temple square

#14 Prosperous Garden and Broadway Cinematique

#15 Wholesale Fruit Market

#16 YMCA Cityview

#17 King’s Park

There's not quite as many places to hit here compared to walk #1, but these ones are more spread out and cover a much wider area (i.e. the distance to walk is a bit longer at about 5km) and, arguably, features some of the more significant locations. In fact you could say this walk covers both the (almost) beginning and subsequent end of his life by including the former site of his childhood home as well as the place he was eventually declared dead.

#1 St Mary’s Canossian College

This sits on the corner of Austin Road and Chatham Road South (directly opposite the HK Museum of History). A colonial style remnant of uncertain age (uncertain to me, at least), the Canossian College has been a girls schools of some repute for a fair amount of time. But way back when, in the forties when Bruce was just a youngster, it was co-ed and already attended by his older sisters Agnes and Phoebe and the very young Lee became a pupil there, albeit for a short amount of time.


#2 Kowloon Bowling Green Club

Walk west along Austin Road and you will hit several spots of interest. The first is the Gun Club Hill Barracks – originally a British Army barracks established in the early days of the original Kowloon lease (i.e. 1860’s) but now, obviously, is a PLA base with its own hospital. It’s an impressively historic location and some old antique guns are still on display outside the main entrance. It’s not directly related to Bruce of course but is one of the many places in this area that would have formed part of his childhood landscape, so worthy of a mention, I feel.


Speaking of which, one of my favourite buildings in Kowloon is also located nearby: #148 Austin Road. It’s had a paint job since I was last there. Built circa 1953/54 this would have been a place Bruce encountered in his teenage years.


Again, it's not a direct link but worth a look as we head to our real point of interest along this part of the road. It’s on the opposite side of the road to #148 and is the Kowloon Bowling Green Club.


Of course, this place is primarily for lawn bowls and Bruce used to bowl there with his brother Robert as well as use the adjacent swimming pool. A family anecdote mentions Phoebe (Bruce's older adopted sister) holding his head under water as a prank, and nearly drowning him! The pedestrian entrance of the club is here on Austin Road, but the car entrance is located around the corner on Cox’s Road – a street we will come back to in a short time.

Carpark entrance of the K.B.G.C on Cox’s Road

#3 Tak Shun Anglo-Primary School

Bruce attended this school immediately after his time at St Mary’s Canossian College. I guess both schools were ideally located for Bruce’s parents because they were both just around the corner from the family home on Nathan Road. Bruce attended Tak Shun up to the age of 10 – it was his primary school (in HK they are known as ‘small schools’ or ‘siu hok': 小學). Unfortunately, the current incarnation of this school is not the one Bruce attended, he was at the current site’s precursor, although still on the same site. The current school was built in 1956 and by this time Bruce had already long moved on to senior school (中學).


Despite the relative 'newness' of this school, the current building is still one of the older ones in the vicinity. What you can be fairly certain of though is that Bruce was still around to witness his old school getting replaced by this newer version. When it was built he still had three years before heading off to the U.S.

#4 Shamrock Hotel, Nathan Road

We need to walk to the junction with Nathan Road for our next stop off. If you are still on the same side of the road as the Tak Shun school then make sure you keep your eyes left for another glimpse into the past history of this area.

Up until the 70’s and even 80’s many of the main roads around Kowloon (and HK Island) were straddled with shophouses. This is important to remember because as we shall see in a short while, Bruce’s old house at 218 Nathan Road was a shophouse as well. Sadly all but one of these buildings have now gone from this area. A single, solitary remnant still stands on the corner of Nathan/Austin at 190 Nathan Road.


I can’t get the build date of this place (because it’s not residential) but the owners have done a very good job in looking after it and it has some splendid balconies along the Austin Rd side as well as a lovely art deco molding on the front roof. Aside from Bruce certainly being familiar with this building (it was only a few doors away from his own house) it also provides a great link to our next destination, The Shamrock Hotel, because there is an old photo taken from the roof of the Shamrock that shows this building in its 1950’s heyday. Go to this link to gwulo and you can see the same building (and its balconies) at the bottom left of the frame. Anyway, we need to cross over Nathan and head up to #223.


The Shamrock Hotel is perhaps the grand-daddy of hotels in this area because when it was built in 1952 it was the tallest building in the vicinity. Now it’s a complete tiddler compared to all the modern high-rises that now surround it. Now, I’m not sure how much time Bruce spent in here as a kid but it is believed he took Doug Palmer here on his first return trip to HK in 1963 as well as being the location used for a press conference in the 70’s (sorry, don’t know when). There are also some well-known images of Bruce performing some kicks and poses in front of a Chinese picture that I was led to believe were taken at the Shamrock, but after asking Steve Kerridge about them, he believes these may possibly have been snapped at the nearby Nathan Hotel, but is unsure. The jury is out on this one, however what I will say is that Simon Leung has also informed me that the Shamrock was also seen very briefly on The Orphan – Bruce’s last ‘childhood’ film in HK (sadly, I still haven't got around to seeing it).

Below is an example of the shots that are believed to have been taken inside the Shamrock. Thanks to Ben Kelly for the link this was taken from: http://flutesilencieuse.canalblog.com/archives/rendez_vous_a_hk/index.html

Nathan or Shamrock? Not sure yet.

Anyway, feel free to pop in and you could head up to the 10th Floor restaurant to see if anything looks familiar. Was it the tenth floor? Who knows but I will try and dig around a bit more next year and see if I can find more out about the place. Until then, here is the exterior.


Outside the front entrance of the Shamrock is the perfect place to give us a view of our next location on the opposite side of the road.

#5 218 Nathan Road

Directly opposite from the Shamrock is the location where the Lee family used to live: 218 Nathan Rd. The large block that used to be here started at number 216, next to Tak Shing Street, so Bruce’s home would have been the second door in.


Bruce’s block was torn down in the late 70’s early 80’s to make way for the current building – The Prudential Centre – completed in 1982. It’s a mid-size shopping mall/hotel complex with very distinctive large red columns on the front facade. It looks a bit dated to be honest but I like it because inside it has the kind of small locally-owned businesses that HK is increasingly losing space for – most modern malls being big on space but filled with generic chain stores. Take a look.

The Prudential Centre – Mall/Hotel

I don’t think there are any photos specifically of the old house but you can catch glimpses of it from other snaps of the general area. Here’s one I used before (credit: eternalb on FLICKR) taken perhaps in the 50’s which shows the old block from a rather oblique angle. Still we know the Lee house was the second house in so I have marked the area where it was (just count the window spaces).


Actually, I have also recently stumbled across another later photo of the same location but taken in 1965. You can just about still see the front columns of the Lee house at the bottom of the vertical red sign that says "Fourseas" (just to the right of the small Singer sign). I've since found a few more but none with a direct view, including this great close shot courtesy of Gwulo: http://gwulo.com/node/9548. It just goes to show that there are some pictures around if you know what you are looking for.

Interestingly enough, the building that currently occupies the site of the Fourseas sign is also called the Fourseas Building – I think the naming of buildings after previous businesses on the site is quite common in HK. This snap is from a local Chinese history book called “Hong Kong’s Disappearing Roads” – well, that’s my best English translation, the actual Chinese name is: 香港的走過的道路.


Wow, what a change in just a few years. Well I guess this is HK after all. Bruce occupied this house until he left for the US in 1959.

Anyway, if we look at the current building there, we can roughly estimate where Bruce's house was - something I've attempted below, but it is possible - given the width of each individual house - that it was a little over to the right by a couple of feet. Well, at least it gives the more keen fan a point to focus their attention on instead of standing there wondering.


Moving on past the mall (assuming you have crossed over to that side) we walk onto Tak Shing Street on the mall’s southern end and walk all the way down it to get on to Cox’s Road. Tak Shing St is a nice little thoroughfare marred by an immense amount of slow moving traffic. It’s a shame because it’s a nice leafy backstreet and one Bruce would certainly have been familiar with throughout his entire childhood.

#6 Cox’s Road Playground


At the far end of Tak Shing Street we arrive at Cox’s Road almost directly opposite the previously mentioned vehicular entrance to the bowling club. There are a couple of Lee-related places of interest along here. So we need to cross the street and head left. The innocuous looking children’s playground that is now looming up on your right is the exact same one that was featured in several pictures of Bruce with his friend Unicorn and also Sylvia Lai.


Okay, it has seen several decades worth of kiddy activity on it since Bruce was here and so has probably had several makeovers in that time period, and judging by the look of it now a very recent renovation that has installed new playground items.

Here is the playground today, followed by another couple of snaps courtesy of the previously linked-to flutesilencieuse website. I should say the location was also confirmed to me by my friend Eddy who is in contact with Robert Lee.

The playground in 2011

#7 9 Cox’s Road

The problem with visiting the playground, as I have found out with experience, is that sometimes it is closed due to events being held at the neighbouring Kowloon Cricket Club (KCC). The cricket ground is quite visible from the playground and so I guess they don’t want anyone having a free view of the events. So if you are intending on coming here make sure you get the timing right. Speaking of the Cricket Club, its art-deco main building would have been familiar to Bruce during his childhood. Thankfully it's still standing and looks like this.


Almost directly opposite the KCC is an address now filled by a huge residential development called Carmen's Garden. In a previous life (between 1954 and 1994 to be precise) it housed the HK Boy Scouts Association where Bruce was known to have gone on the odd occasion (there is a family snap of him there with Robert as youngsters).


We need to walk up this way anyway because to get to the next spot we have to cross Jordan Road and head up Chi Wo St. But before we do check out this old building on the corner of Cox’s Rd and Jordan Road. It's the manse for the neighbouring church (Kowloon Union Church). An exact build date eludes me but it's a fair guess that it was built around the same time as the church which puts it sometime in the 1930's. In other words another survivor from even before Bruce's time here.


The place has recently undergone some spiffy renovations, but sadly I haven't had a chance to update my picture of it so this shot above shows it back in 2011. It's an interesting building and offers a small glimpse as to what many buildings were like in this area of Kowloon before the rather less interesting high-rises took over. Moving on and we need to cross Jordan Road at the traffic lights here and head up Chi Wo Street on the opposite side of the road.

#8 5 Mau Lam St


Keep walking up Chi Wo Street and take the fourth turn on the left into Mau Lam St. Bruce’s mum and dad lived at #5 before he was born and in fact Bruce’s older siblings (Agnes, Peter, Phoebe) were all living here when mum and dad went off on the now famous operatic tour to the US (circa 1939). This tour is well-known amongst Lee fans because it was during this time that Bruce was conceived and born and had his first on-screen film moment. He and his parents returned to HK in the early part of 1941, just in time to settle down before the Japanese military invaded. This whole street has been redeveloped so the old Lee home has long since gone but there is a famous eatery here called the Tai Ping Moon. The company was established in 1860 so has its own veritable HK history. You can always pop in for a mid-walk meal if you feel so inclined.

Mau Lam Street

#9 Nathan Hotel

If you walk down Mau Lam Street and turn right (north) up Nathan Rd again then you will see the Nathan Hotel right next to you. I’m throwing this one in here due to Steve Kerridge’s comments to me about the previously mentioned photos that I thought pertained to the Shamrock Hotel. It’s certainly possible that this was the location because the Nathan Hotel has been here since 1968. The jury is still out on this one. Anyway, feel free to wander in and partake in a beer before moving up the road to our next spot. It’s another hotel.


#10 Eaton Hotel

Speaking of hotels, just a little further up the road from the Nathan and situated on the corner with Gascoigne Rd, the Eaton Hotel is linked to Bruce via his father. Lee Hoi Chuen was an operatic player as well as film actor and visited many venues in the city performing Cantonese Opera.


The Eaton was one of those venues. Now, before we get all ahead of ourselves I should point out that the modern day Eaton Hotel is not the same one Lee would have known. Once again redevelopment has taken its toll and the current version we can see (actually, it’s quite a nice place – my parents stayed there on their last trip over) was in fact built in 1990. Well, I guess it still occupies the same space so never mind.


In the meantime we head out of the hotel and follow Gascoigne Road down to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Rd where we will visit – surprise surprise…

#11 Queen Elizabeth Hospital

If any place was permanently etched into the mind of any true Lee fan it would be this place. Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the Kowloon hospital that Bruce was taken to, via ambulance, on the night he died. The facts are still muddy because everyone – including all the medical staff on duty that fateful night in 1973 – have sought to distance themselves from the death of such a famous person. But anyway, it was supposedly a decision taken by Raymond Chow to send Bruce to this hospital despite the fact that there are at least 3 other hospitals directly between here and Betty’s place in Beacon Hill (Baptist, Kwong Wah and Kowloon Hospitals - Baptist Hospital only being a few hundred yards from Betty's flat!).


Given the fact that HK drivers won’t budge an inch for an ambulance blaring its horns and flashing its lights I’m astonished that Raymond Chow thought this was a good idea. Of course, their is the possibility that Bruce was already dead, so it didn’t matter – but anyway, speculation aside, the fact is there are more details about this night that have yet to emerge.In case you aren’t depressed enough, you can head into the A&E department where he was taken before quickly moving on back out onto Gascoigne Road and turning right to retrace your steps a bit.


Eventually you will come to a small side road that leads up a very steep hill. Stop here for a moment to catch your breath because up the hill is where we now head.

#12 Pui Ching Carpark and Kowloon Methodist School

I can’t find a proper name for this small but steep road, on the map it’s just called ‘road’ which isn’t very helpful. So anyway, here is a snap of the view up the road so you know if you have the right place.


At the top of this dead end is a small carpark belonging to the Pui Ching Educational Centre. I don’t know how long the place has been occupied by Pui Ching, but back in 1963 Bruce took Doug Palmer up there and had some photos snapped of them doing various moves next to the railings of the car park. Here’s the shot I used on my earlier Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong entry.


The zigzag roofline in the background belongs to the Kowloon Methodist School. As you can see from the following shot, not much has changed here.


Feel free to take photos here, no one seems to mind, and when you have exhausted your repertoire of kung fu poses, head back down the hill and turn right. We need to cross Nathan Road and walk up to the Yau Ma Tei Tin Hau Temple.

#13 Tin Hau Temple square

Actually, it’s worth mentioning that if you stick to the same side of the road and follow it around onto Nathan you will eventually come to a sign for a local Wing Chun school. It’s not just any old school it’s the International WingTsun Asscoiation [sic] school of the (in)famous Leung Ting. A rather controversial figure in the Wing Chun world who claims to have been the last closed door student of Yip Man.


Anyway, keep going straight ahead and cross Nathan Rd at the next crossing (just before the junction). You should already be able to see the roof of our next stop. It’s the famous Yau Ma Tei Tin Hau Temple. The snap below shows what you should see from the opposite side of Nathan Road.

Chinese garden behind the Tin Hau Temple.

Actually, it’s not the temple we are interested in, although it is definitely worth having a look-see. We are here is because of an unconfirmed (and probably unconfirmable) story that it was in this public square - in front of the temple - that Bruce was given his stage name Lei Siu Lung i.e. Little Dragon Lee (李小龍). Supposedly, it was the name given to him by a fortune teller who used to set up pitch under one of the aging banyan trees. Sorry I don’t know which one but there are some pretty old ones here in the square. Take your pick :-)


It’s interesting to sit here a while an watch all the oldies go about their business. If you are hungry check out the Mido Cafe for some rather tasty Pork Chop Rice or if you fancy some Siu Mei (roast meat) then there is a nice little restaurant on the corner of Public Sq St/Reclamation St (the San Gwong Hoi Sin Restaurant which has a cafe on the ground floor).

If you are not hungry, keep walking down Public Square Street and turn right into Prosperous Gardens for our next location. But first, stop at the entrance and look across the road to see another relic from HK’s Colonial past: Yau Ma Tei Police Station. This place has been featured in so many films now it is quite recognisable to HK film aficionados but worth mentioning here as a great looking building and given Bruce’s various brushes with the law in his youth, probably a familiar sight for him.


#13 Prosperous Garden and Broadway Cinematique

If one place was to epitomise the way property development can completely change the landscape in HK, this would be it. Once a tightly-packed lowrise neighbourhood full of shophouse tenements, it was often referred to as the ‘six street slum’. It’s now a high-rise Govt housing estate that in the process of being built, completely eradicated most of the so-called six streets. It is also the location of one of HK’s foremost art-house cinemas - the Broadway Cinematique.

One of the several roads that disappeared in the redevelopment was Lei Tat Street. You can see it on older maps and this is one of the locations used by Yip Man for his Wing Chun school – one of the schools where Bruce was thought to have studied.

Old Map of Yau Ma Tei. Lee Tat St marked (courtesy of Paul Li).

Thanks to Paul Li for the above map and it was Paul who also alerted me to another later Lee link for this place. In the early 00's, HK TV presenter and actor, Stephen Au, set up a Lee memorabilia shop/museum at the cinema’s bookshop area. The place has long since gone, but the bookshop (and cafe) remain and are a great place to grab a bite to eat and a coffee if you are feeling a bit knackered. The following Chinese newspaper article detailing Stephen’s venture (again, supplied by Paul).


Anyway, by comparing old with new maps (which I can do because I have a great book called Mapping Hong Kong) it is possible to see that the area Lei Tat St occupied would have been immediately below the northern most tower blocks. I’ve marked it on the following GoogleEarth grab.


At ground level that means it would have roughly coincided with where the following gate now stands. Look through the gate and you can see the space between the buildings behind that follows the path of what was once Lei Tat Street.


#14 Wholesale Fruit Market

Head out of the north exit of Prosperous Garden and turn right towards Reclamation Street, so-called because it marks an area in YMT that used to be waterfront until succumbing to a former wave of Kowloon Reclamation in years gone by. Turn left at Reclamation Street and walk north to get to the market. It was once a place where you could pick up all manner of stuff including fresh catch from the nearby waterfront, but over the past few decades has restricted its activity to wholesale fruit. This is the same location we see Jim Kelly walking through in the opening credits of Enter The Dragon.

Much of the market remains the same – old shambolic buildings lining a central lane where the wholesalers sell their stuff in bulk to whoever wishes to buy – including you if you've got room in your stomach for a bulk purchase.


Actually, in terms of looking around, the best time to come is after all the action has ended in the afternoon. Just a few smaller places stay open and you are free to wander and take some pictures. If you want to feel the Enter The Dragon vibe then come in the morning when it is bustling.

While you are there you should also check out the old Yau Ma Tei Theatre which has just emerged from a lengthy renovation and has reopened as a Cantonese Opera centre.

Newly renovated YMT Theatre

#15 YMCA Cityview

The north side of the fruit market runs along the southern side of Waterloo Rd. We need to go here for our next point of interest but we need to turn right on Waterloo Road and keep going until we cross Nathan Road again. Follow Waterloo Rd along the southern pavement as it curves to the left (and turns north east). On one side you will see an Ambulance Depot & Fire station and on the other is another of the Chinese YMCA’s local hotels . This is where Bruce went to to study English prior to his move to the states. Well okay, once again, unfortunately this is not THE original building and has already been replaced twice since Bruce was here. The current building was built in 1995 and the one preceding it went up in 1966, so all traces of Bruce have long been eradicated. Just opposite here is the way to our next location on this walk.


#16 King’s Park

You can stay on the southern side of Waterloo Road and walk around, past the fire and ambulance stations as well as the odd-but-funky-looking Lutherian Church and take a right up a small sloped road called Chun Yi Lane.


Keep walking until you get to the top and then head through the gates. Eventually you will come to a pathway and steps that lead to the top of this hill. At the top (if you can make it) is the King's park meteorological station and is the highest point of the park. Have a good look around (and hope it’s not a smoggy day) because this is the location that Bruce was snapped at training with his dad. Back then, in the 1950’s, King’s park was a huge undeveloped rock sticking out of the middle of Kowloon. Now it has various residential complexes around it as well as sports facilities and a large covered reservoir (the pipework to which you have just unknowingly walked past on your way up the hill).

Sadly I have no decent photos here because I went up there on a fairly hazy day, but here is one from Panoramio courtesy of Yourlove.


I’ll try and get up there when the weather is a bit nicer, but until then sit back, enjoy the breeze and the view because this is the last stop on our walk. But don't wander too far as it is probably a good place from which to launch the upcoming Bruce Lee Guide to North Kowloon (keep watching this space...).

2 comments:

  1. Hi Phil,

    https://orientalsweetlips.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/20111004-027.jpg <--- recognized earlier tonight that this building is now all boarded up. Soon to be gone.

    T

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh no!! that is such a cool building. And it has only just recently had a new paint job done. However, nothing surprises me these days.

      Delete