The Bruce Lee Guide to Yau Ma Tei
Well, here we go, the last post…of 2011. I’ve been putting this one together for quite a while simply because I don’t have the time to walk the whole thing in one go but I trust the route is the most efficient, makes sense and that people find it useful. Not only is this a great way to see some Lee related sites in YMT, 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, like #1, 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 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) and Simon Leung. Both have added their wealth of knowledge to my humble scribblings on this blog and been generous with their information for the benefit of everyone who visits. Also many thanks to Eddy Lo, Steve Kerridge and Peer Hesstvedt who also, perhaps unknowingly, had some input. 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 TST 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
Not quite as many places to hit here as walk #1, but these ones are much more spread out and cover a much longer distance (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.
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 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.
Of course, this place is 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 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.
#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 of these buildings have now gone and there is a single solitary remnant on the corner with 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 grandaddy 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 highrises 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 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 HK-Lee expert, Simon Leung, has graciously informed me that the Shamrock was also seen very briefly on The Orphan – Bruce’s last ‘childhood’ film in HK.
Below is an example of the shots that are believed to have been taken inside the Shamrock. I suspect the BL estate owns the copyright but this is taken from a website pointed out to me by Ben Kelly on a previous entry (thanks Ben!): http://flutesilencieuse.canalblog.com/archives/rendez_vous_a_hk/index.html
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.
#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 use to be here started at number 216 next to Tak Shing Street, so Bruce’s home would have been the second terrace 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 cum 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.
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 0n it (just to the right of the small Singer sign). 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.
***News Just In***
Gwulo has just posted up a picture of the same block taken a few years before Bruce’s birth. It’s very clear and shows the whole block from a similar angle but much closer – remember, Bruce’s house was the second one in from the start of the block. Here is the link: http://gwulo.com/node/9548.
Putting into a modern day context we can assume Bruce’s old house would have occupied the following portion of the current mall.
Anyway, 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 St we hit Cox’s Road.There are a few point s of interest along here that are Bruce related, one we have already mentioned and to cross safely you will need to turn right and walk to the pedestrian crossing where it joins Austin Road before turning back up the road and passing the previously mentioned car entrance for the K.B.G.C. Keep looking to the right because our first stop is an innocuous looking children’s playground.
It’s undergone a recent renovation but this is the scene of some photos taken of Bruce with his friend Unicorn (the star of Unicorn Fist) as well as Sylvia Lai who was/became Bruce’s sister-in-law (she married Robert Lee).
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 Lo who is in contact with Robert Lee.
#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. 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, I did write a short post about this place a while back so won’t repeat myself except to mention that it is on this same stretch of road and is a cool art deco style building and again, one Bruce would have seen many times over his lifetime . Here’s a reminder.
Almost directly opposite the K.C.C is an address now filled by a huge apartment development. 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.
I have no idea how old it may be but it’s currently owned by Christian Action and is undergoing some renovations (at least I hope it’s renovations and not demolition). Interesting building nonetheless and perhaps a glimpse into how this are used to look before the high rises took over but 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
Once on Chi Wo St we have the famous (locally at least) all-girl school the Diocesan Girls School (D.G.S) on the right. A venerable establishment that was at the forefront of Eurasian education when it was first established and has since gone on to become one of HK’s top-tier schools. However, it has just undergone a major rebuild and now looks like, well, nothing special I guess.
Keep walking 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 with when mum and dad went off on the now famous operatic tour to the US (circa 1939). Famous amongst fans because it was this tour that Bruce was conceived and born on not to return to HK until 1941 just before the Japanese invaded. Of course, the building 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.
#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.
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 (recently renamed the Eaton Smart) 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 Hospital).
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. Anyway, 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 way.
#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 (currently the second most viewed post of mine).
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. I shall say no more because I don’t want him coming around and kicking my arse
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.
Actually, it’s not the temple we are interested in, although it is definitely worth having a looksee, we are here is because of an unconfirmed (and probably unconfirmable) story that it was in the 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
Actually, 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) where I had some tasty Char Siu rice just the other day.
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.
If one place was to epitomise the way property development completely changes the landscape of HK, this would be it. Once a lowrise tightly packed neighbourhood full of shophouse lined streets often called the ‘six street slum’, it’s now a highrise 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 called the Broadway Cinematique.
One of the 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.
Thanks to Paul Li for the above map and it was Paul who also alerted me to another later Lee link for this place. About 10 years ago HK TV presenter and actor, Stephen Au (he who last year – 2010 – co-presented TVB’s Stairway To Dragon with MC Jin), set up a Lee memorabilia shop cum 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, was supplied to me 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 Lei Tat St.
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 north up here to get to the wholesale market. The market was once a purveyor of all sorts of goods including fresh catch from the nearby waterfront, but over the past few decades has restricted its activity to wholesale fruit. Why is it a Lee location? Well, as I have previously mentioned it was the same market that 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 whomever wishes to buy – including you if you want to eat a whole box of oranges.
Believe it or not 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.
While you are there you should also check out the old Yau Ma Tei Theatre which has just emerged from its renovation cocoon and is set to start function at some point soon as a Cantonese Opera centre.
#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 a not-so-common multi-port fire hydrant (a relic from when the airport was still based at Kai Tak and the flight path was over this part of Kowloon) 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, this is HK after all and unfortunately this is not THE building because the current The Cityview was only built in 1995 and actually even before that the previous YMCA HQ that stood on this spot was erected in 1966, so you can see that this one place has undergone a fair amount of demolition and redevelopment since Bruce passed through its doors in the 1950′s. Oh well, but it doesn’t matter so much because just opposite here is the way to our next location on this walk.
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 Kings 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 and with that, I wish you a merry Christmas and will be back with more Bruce in 2012