Hong Kong’s Art & Culture Scene Arises
By Kathy Chin Leong
Hong Kong, nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient, has long been revered as an international finance center and shopping Mecca for tourists. But if all goes as planned, Hong Kong is destined to become the Culture Capital of Asia. And it’s time to bring the family to see that there more than shopping and eating in this great bastian of art and culture. Museums, art-centric hotels, and fashion-forward restaurants are elevating Hong Kong’s status. In addition to some 55 art galleries that are members of the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, the eclectic city and island is home to more than 30 museums. Among the largest include the Museum of History and the Heritage Museum (heritagemuseum.gov.hk) By the end of 2019, the massive Hong Kong Art Museum will have opened after an extensive multi-year remodel and expansion.
At the same time, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is expected to unveil the M+ (westkowloon.hk), a $640 million contemporary museum of visual culture filled with more than 6,000 items from Asia. The government authority is also planning four additional art and performance venues on the same site known as the West Kowloon Cultural District, a designated arts hub on 100 acres of landfill.
WHERE TO SEE ART
Meanwhile, families can anchor their Hong Kong holiday to see artistic and architectural marvels that make for awesome Instagram photos.
The Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon is rarely talked about, but there is plenty to see which will amaze the kids. Inside are exhibits that are tall, colorful, and glorious. A ceremonial dragon’s head, a 100-tier tower of buns, an antique rickshaw, and more. Families can learn about the fascinating origin of Hong Kong, and get so much out of their stay at this free museum. Figure on staying at least one or two hours.
Go to Victoria Harbor to see the Walk of the Stars to see the iconic Bruce Lee statue. On weekends, a pantheon of musicians and wanna-be musicians young and old will hold mini performances, so you are in for a treat when you come around dusk. The reflection of buildings upon the water is also a colorful sight to behold.
And free art is for the viewing when you go to the Central business district and look about to see the many street murals that make up the neighborhood of art galleries. Peek into the art shops to see ancient pottery artifacts and scrolls as well as contemporary works by up and coming artists.
And inside the former Police Married Quarters or PMQ, the former living accommodations for the police and their wives, is now a boutique enclave for artists and designers with pop-up boutiques throughout the multi-level buildings.
Look to old fashioned outdoor stalls and markets to hunt down cheap, but classic Hong Kong trinkets. Old Bruce Lee posters, photographs of the harbor, and fake jade bracelets are fun and funky souvenirs you can bring home without breaking the bank. Also check out the stationery stores in Hong Kong for lucky money envelopes with designs you will find no where else.
WHERE TO STAY TO SEE ART
High end hotels go all out giving artists and designers a bold voice. Enter décor melding the historic and modern at Hotel Indigo (ihg.com/hotelindigo.com) found in the working class-turned-tony Wan Chai district. The boutique hotel’s aim is to stimulate exploration of the immediate community with interiors that reflect Wan Chai. Every room features a turquoise lacquer kung fu statue depicting a famous kung fu master who ran his studio in the neighborhood. Pillows are printed with street names. Rooms feature vibrant prints of the Blue House cluster, a 1920s tenement complex with blue, orange, and yellow buildings that have been preserved and attained the 2017 UNECSCO award of excellent for cultural heritage conservation.
On the rooftop, the hotel is home to the city’s tallest rooftop pool. This incredible infinity pool is where you can see all the way to the bottom on street level via a glass window. And the elevator is a mental trip as well, for the colors on the glass walls change from blue to magenta to green as you go up and down. This unexpected and cool feature is something you will want to capture on video.
Classic art with a twist is found at the Intercontinental Hong Kong, facing the famed Victoria Harbor. This fengshui-inspired hotel features more than 300 original contemporary ink brush paintings throughout the guest floors. The lounge’s wood table centerpiece, carved by a Beijing artist, weighs two tons and is shaped as part whale, part grand piano. At its presidential suite, nine glass dragons are displayed in the suite’s office where they symbolically empower the person sitting at the grand desk. Eat at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen Chinese restaurant filled with hand-carved jade place settings and room dividers of 100 percent jade.
Across the waters at the Ritz-Carlton in the International Commerce Centre, the tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong at 1,588 feet high leads with knockout design. Go to Ozone, which holds claim to being the highest lounge in Asia at Floor 118. It takes three elevators to get to the pinnacle, but the literal ear-popping experience is worth the ride.
The sky bar could double as a movie set of a blue and white ice planet where the bar resembles a horizontal iceberg, the narrow entry feels like a bluish snow corridor, and the floor and ceiling look like fractured sheets of ice. And the white pillars? Stacked snowballs melting all at once. Kudos go to famed designer Masamichi Katayama of Tokyo. For something YouTube addicts will lust after, film your waiter as he delivers you the Hong Kong Skyline specialty cocktail. Hovering the drink is a spiral of smoke, and the whole concoction arrives under a clear dome. Your server lifts the glass upon presentation, releasing wafts of smoke, which, of course, depicts the Hong Kong clouds.
WHERE TO EAT ART
Just as beverages are served with cinematic flair, artful presentation is clearly on tap with food. In Macau, a one-hour ferry ride away, dim sum never had it so Instagram-worthy than at La Chine restaurant at the new Parisian Macau hotel. What one would think would be an ordinary har-gow (shrimp dumpling) is presented as three goldfish with edible black flecks for eyes, swimming in homemade broth.
A dessert soup of almond milk and exotic ingredients is served in a just-slice
d coconut shell. Sweet taro arrives on a tapas plate, each piece shaped like a small root layered with yellow paper-thin layers like an origami fold out. (While known for its litany of casinos, Macau city is also an historic Portugese settlement, so it makes for an intriguing weekend to interact with the ancient architecture.)
Back in Hong Kong, One Harbour Road, a restaurant on Floors 7 and 8 of the Grand Hyatt hotel is The Place to toast special occasions. Visitors are whisked to an imaginary 1930s Shanghai mansion amid a large mosaic fountain, unique plates for each guest, and a sweeping curved stairway, not to mention harbor views. Dim sum and Cantonese dishes are prepared with an ecological conscience. Only sustainable seafood and fish are utilized as ingredients. Unobtrusive servers are quick to switch out soiled plates and refill tea cups before they are empty.
Word on the street that there are dim sum houses with cartoon characters on them such as Garfield and Gudetame (Lazy Egg) and others for great conversation. Who knows if the food is good, but go to Dim Sum Icon to get your art fix and a few laughs to boot! Googly eyes on taro root dim sum? Sign me up! And at The Popsy Room, owner Jennifer Chung, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, creates a gourmand extravaganza where eight-course dinners synch up with artwork on the walls and music during the meal. She curates the “galleristic dining” herself with rotating exhibitions. Said Chung, “People don’t have to feel dumb when it comes to art. Food is a great communication tool.”
Ever changing menus are not necessarily based on Chinese cuisine. Last year diners supped on Spanish beef tartare and baked quail with black rice, each a photographic treasure. With design-driven restaurants and hotels, outdoor murals, and an increasing number of museums and performance facilities, Hong Kong’s cultural personality is on the brink of shining. Do something different next time you go to Hong Kong. Take a trip on the cultural side, and you will come back the richer for it.
WHEN YOU GO
Hong Kong Visitors Bureau: www.discoverhongkong.com
Hong Kong Museum of History: www.hk.history.museum
Hong Kong Museum of Art: www.museums.gov.hk
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong: www.hongkong.grand.hyattrestaurants.com
Hotel Indigo: www.ihg.com/hotelindigo.com
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: www.ritzcarlton.com
Intercontinental Hong Kong: www.hongkong-ic.intercontentntal.com
The Popsy Room: www.thepopsyroom.com
Parisian Macao: www.parisianmacao.com