Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 9, 2018

A Hong Kong Mystery: Chasing Mice through Cat Alley

You may be a traveler who makes detailed itineraries plotting every accommodation, restaurant and attraction. Or, you may be a vagabond who abhors the notion of schedules, route planning or even fixed destinations.

Scores of the travel articles I’ve posted to this blog come from a hybrid of those extremes. I was on assignment, shooting video or producing events in my corporate role. Whenever possible, I used my free time to see something of whatever city I was working in. Sometimes it involved heading out from the hotel for an early morning run or taking a walk through as much of a town as I could cover between dinner and bedtime.

Shooting video often gave me a good look at a place, because when time permitted, we captured footage that reinforced the “global” nature of my firm’s operations. A good example was in Hong Kong. Here’s the crew at work capturing local color— “B-roll” is the industry term — on both Hong Kong Island and the mainland side, Tsim Sha Tsui. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

At the end of two days in Hong Kong, we had an hour to spare before heading for the airport. Our location guide said he’d take us to see Cat Alley. It was as picturesque a scene as one could wish, although a bit early in the morning for most of the shops …

Cat Road Brad Nixon 2 640

… a narrow street lined with shops offering everything from trinkets and curios (Chairman Mao hats and posters!) to — ostensibly, at least — antique art, statuary and ceramics. Some storefronts were open workshops stuffed with raw material, tools and bustling with craftspeople.

From Cat Alley, our guide walked us a few blocks away to visit a remarkable Buddhist temple. Inside, the place was hung with large coils of burning incense, each bearing a tag identifying the donor and the prayer or blessing being asked.

Mon Mo Temple int Brad Nixon 3 640

Mon Mo Temple int Brad Nixon 49 640

At that point, it was time to get in the van and go to the airport. I left with only a vague notion of just where we were in the gigantic sprawl of Hong Kong or the name of the temple. I had only that street name to go by: Cat Alley.

Where Was That Again?

Years later, intending to write about the temple, I started trying to find it. It took a lot of stabbing around, but I finally identified it: the Man Mo Temple, built in 1847.

Mon Mo Temple ext Google 2 640

Somewhere, within a few blocks, must be Cat Alley. Here’s the map of Hong Kong with the temple flagged, lower center.

HK Man Mo map Google 640

As you can see, that still left a lot of possibilities, and I wasn’t certain if Cat Alley was north, east, south or west of the temple. I started scanning for Cat Alley.

I can tell you this: There is no Cat Alley, Cat Street or Cat’s Street on that map.

After diligent searching, I located Cat Alley. Here is the same scene I photographed as captured by Google Street View in January 2017, a dozen years after I was there.

Cat Road Google 1 640

It’s still chock full of trinkets, curios and, on the left, galleries offering expensive artworks. You can still buy posters of Mao and copies of the Little Red Book. How did I find it? I scanned the nearby streets in Google Street View until I found those stone guardian lions outside the gallery.

Why is there no Cat Alley or Cat Street on the Hong Kong map? That’s the best part of the story. Here’s the official street name, also from Google Street View:

Upper Lascar Row sign Google 640

It’s called Upper Lascar Row, a name it’s had for nearly 100 years. Throughout that time, Lascar Row has been a shopping district full of odd and interesting wares, long regarded by visitors as a not-to-be-missed attraction. So why is it referred to as either Cat Alley or Cat Road?

Folk Lore Steps In

Some of the hard-to-find goods the shops of Upper Lascar Row originally offered were stolen. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese euphemism for stolen wares is “mouse goods” (老鼠貨).

Therefore, shoppers looking to snare some hard-to-find something or other amongst the mouse goods were known as “cats,” and Upper Lascar Row became known as “Cat Street” or “Cat Alley.”

Well, King, this case is closed. Another travel mystery solved. Note to self: Write down the names of temples when you visit them to avoid trying to find them ten years later.

The Man Mo temple I visited is at 124 Hollywood Rd., Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong. There is more than one Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong. Upper Lascar Row is two blocks northwest, parallel to Hollywood Rd.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Contemporary exterior views of Man Mo Temple and Upper Lascar Row as well as Hong Kong map detail © Google. Cat Alley/Upper Lascar Row information via Wikipedia, retrieved July 8, 2018.


Responses

  1. Mystery solved, indeed! I love your capture of the incense coils, they look like large lantern shades.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fascinating place. I always loved the markets in West Africa. There’s something about the jumble of goods and the mix of people that’s both a delight and a challenge. I loved the bargaining, once I got over my shyness, and realized that it all was a game.

    Those incense coils remind me of the mosquito coils that were a staple of life over there. I’ve not seen one in years and years, but the incense coils brought them right back to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are experiences outside my frame of reference. Probably like most travelers, I’d like to see those markets. Hong Kong is awash in commerce, and one can bargain there and elsewhere in China … one of my favorite experiences (although I’m certain I’ve never talked a vendor out of making a profit). I didn’t know about the mosquito coils. Thanks for adding your wider perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been to Hong Kong twice. Love your then and now pix. Great work.

    Like

    • I, like you, had the benefit of traveling with people who knew the city, which makes a marked difference in what one actually learns from being in a place. I’m glad you enjoyed the look at a tiny slice of the metropolis, then and now.

      Like


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