A roaring bronze lion named Stephen with shrapnel holes from WWII, a man who looks like Gollum and took his name, cannons to fend off bad spirits, here are 5 interestingly unique things in Central Hong Kong that you might have otherwise missed. And they’re all free to visit.
Central Hong Kong
Central is a district on Hong Kong Island. The financial and administrative hub of Hong Kong. A mix of cultures, a mix of old and new. Westerners walk the streets in suits and briefcases yelling to each other across narrow one-way streets. A Wall Street atmosphere. If Hong Kong is the New York City of Asia then Central is the Wall Street of Asia. It’s also a place where yuppies and travel bums alike go to drink in Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). It’s home to the enormous IFC Mall and Victoria Peak, one of the easiest to access and best views of the Hong Kong skyline.
Hong Kong, as of 2017 is listed as the most expensive city in the world and Central is one of the most expensive places in Hong Kong. But you can still see many things here for free including Victoria Peak and the 5 (+1) items listed here. Any visit to Hong Kong should include a stop in Central.
1. Stephen and Stitt, Prisoners of War
December 8th, 1941, just after 8 am, four hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers roared over Hong Kong quickly destroying the inadequate air defense. Troops withdrew to Hong Kong Island but weren’t safe for long. One week later, on the 15th of December, Hong Kong Island was continuously shelled. It was perhaps the darkest time in Hong Kong’s modern history.
It was during this time that Stephen and Stitt, two bronze lions placed in front of the HSBC headquarters in 1935 almost became casualties of war. Stephen, roaring to the East took the brunt of the attack when shrapnel pierced his thick bronze hide. Holes that can still be seen to this day.
They were both taken by the Japanese invaders becoming prisoners of war and might have been lost forever if it weren’t for a keen-eyed US Navy sailor who spotted them in Osaka in 1946. They were returned shortly after and still bear the battle scars.
See them and read their history in front of the HSBC Headquarters in Central, Hong Kong Island, where they’ve sat ever since guarding its entrance.
On the Metro take Central Station Exit K and you’re right in front of it. The Lions are in front of the building.
2. Hong Kong Gollum
He stands in front of the 7–11 opening beer and lighting cigarettes for drunk yuppies. “It’s Gollum!” a half-drunk young white guy exclaims. I think it’s a bit rude and tell him as much. “No! That’s his name! Google it!” Sure enough, he’s a bit of a celebrity here. He doesn’t really speak English but can always be found smiling and helping open bottles of beer. His signature poses are waving an index finger or giving a thumbs up. Take a picture with him and give him a small tip for all he does in the community of drunken revelers. Cherish this living treasure of Hong Kong.
Walk around Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) in Central and look in front of the convenience stores. I’ve seen him in front of the 7–11 next to Ebeneezer’s on Lan Kwai Fong street.
For a bit more information on Hong Kong Gollum check out this article.
3. Knit-fitti and the Stone Slab Street (Pottinger Street)
A local artist covers the metal railings on the Stone Slab Street with knitted art, hence the name “Knit-fitti”. When I visited there was a Halloween theme including Jack from The Nightmare before Christmas, complete with his trusty ghost dog “Zero”.
The Stone Slab Street (Pottinger Street) itself an interesting bit of preserved history. Add the “Knit-fitti” and it’s well worth a visit, though it’s not always there.
“Stone Slabs Street” or “Pottinger St” runs between Stanley St and Hollywood Rd. The street has stalls selling trinkets and the upper portion just below Hollywood Rd. is where you’ll find the “Knit-fitti”
4. Feng Shui Cannons:
When construction was finished on Hong Kong’s HSBC building in 1985 at HK$5.2 billion, (roughly US $668 million or 1.5 billion USD today), it was the most expensive building ever constructed in the world, owing in part to the Feng Shui principles it adhered to.
I.M Pei and Partners mostly ignored the principles of Feng Shui when they designed the nearby Bank of China Tower with its distinctive knife-like edges, the first major building in Hong Kong not adhering to these principles of Chi. Its screwdriver like shape is believed by some to be “Drilling the wealth out of Hong Kong”. The building has been blamed for a number of tragedies including bankruptcy and a bad fall by Margaret Thatcher.
HSBC’s answer was the installation of Feng Shui “Cannons” on top of the building. Two crane-like structures directed at the Bank of China Tower, deflecting the bad energy.
The HSBC Building stands prominently on the skyline of Hong Kong Island and is beautifully light up at night.
On the Metro take Central Station Exit K and you’re right in front of it. For better views of the cannons walk away from the building as they’re hard to see when you’re right in front of it.
5. Longest Outdoor Escalator System in the World
Spanning over 800 meters (2,600 ft) with a height gain of over 135 meters (443 ft) the Central-Mid-Levels escalator system is the longest outdoor escalator system in the world, shuttling 78,000 commuters and sight-seers up and down the steep hills of Hong Kong Island every day.
There are all kinds of shops and restaurants you’ll pass on your free tour up the steep slopes of Central as you ride the escalators, but you should note this is a fairly expensive area even for the already pricey Hong Kong.
Start at 100 Queens Road in Central. You can walk up the stairs to the covered overpass or go inside the building and up the escalator to the official start of the system. If you’re riding the Metro go to Central Station Exit D2, go to Queens Road and walk NW for about 5 minutes to the intersection of Queens Road and Cochrane St.
The escalators run downhill from 6 am to 10 am bringing commuters to work and uphill from 10 am to midnight daily and it takes about 25 minutes to go up or down.
With 14 entrances and exits, you have many choices on where to get on and off.
6. Graham Street Wall Mural
There is lots of good street art in Central Hong Kong, and while murals, of course aren’t unique to this area I thought this particular mural is beautiful and my favorite in Hong Kong, so this is a bonus to check out while you’re wandering around Central. For me, it’s a beautiful depiction of the cramped housing in Hong Kong. Something like the Monster Building or the now torn down Kowloon Walled City. It certainly makes for some good pictures.
It’s right at the intersection of Graham St and Hollywood Rd. on the side of a building. Look for the camera carrying tourists, there are sure to be some.