Stepping out the sliding doors at Hong Kong International Airport, the air hits you like a clammy slap—warm and wet and yet not totally uncomfortable. This humid city is unnerving with its juxtaposition of old Chinese traditions, British colonial history, and nouveau riche culture, but I’ve been finding ways to keep coming back year after year since I was a little girl—first tagging along with my mother on her annual trips to Asia to visit family and then going on epic dance marathons once I got older—to start exploring this vibrant, vertical city on my own.
This time around I’m in town for both work and fun, meeting up with friends and visiting Asia’s largest art fair, the newly Art Basel-acquired ART HK. Over 250 galleries are exhibiting under the swooping roof of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and I’m just one of over 60,000 collectors, curators, journalists, artists, and curious onlookers taking part in the chaos and spectacle of commodified art. Art fairs are essentially business trade fairs, with the perks of excellent people watching and the surrealness of drifting through aisles filled with millions of dollars worth of art from all over the world under one roof. At night there are sponsored parties, studio visits, gallery openings; a million things to do in a city where there are already a million things to do at any given minute. Where to start? In between dancing and meetings with bookstores—I’m partly here to source Asian publications to distribute back in the US—I give up and give in to quietly exploring the city with my two friends Ross and Maurizio, both visiting Hong Kong for the first time.
After seven days of traipsing through the rain and enjoying amazing food, art, shopping, dancing, drinking, bubble baths and hiking—including the night we got rescued by police off the coast of a small island!—my little gang spent our last night in HK drinking at Cafe de Goldfinch, Wong Kar-Wai’s famed movie setting, and giving each other tattoos at some random shop tucked away in an office building a few blocks away. A long and crazy night and fitting ending for a city that specializes in over-stimulation. I hope you enjoy some snapshots from my trip—after the cut!
The view from my 45th floor hotel room above Victoria Harbour, overlooking the exhibition center on the right in Wan Chai and Kowloon off in the distance. Will the rain clouds ever go away? Time for another bubble bath…
Wall-to-wall marble and a gold-plated bidet! There was a TV above the bathtub and promises of a 24 hour butler, which unfortunately I never utilized. I loved my snazzy kimono (it went back to NYC with me in my suitcase).
Press preview day at the fair and a sculpture by Yoyoi Kusama.
London-based gallerist Hester Chan, representing Netherlands-based gallery West and the work of artist and friend David Horvitz.
On our first studio visit across the harbour to Kowloon, Ross and I visited HK Farm, an impressive green rooftop, urban beehive, zine library and creative workspace run by Michael Leung, Glenn Eugen Ellingsen, and Matthew Edmondson. Together they have developed a beautiful oasis above the industrial parks of Ngau Tau Kok, a few subway stops but a world away from the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, where we filled up on congee and had cheap massages before hopping on the MTR train. Michael was in the middle of building a set of custom beehives for Louis Vuitton while we were there and earlier this year spent time working at the Brooklyn Grange. I hope he comes back to New York soon and brings some of his amazing Chinese honey with him!
After trekking back from the outer reaches of Kowloon, we headed toward Wan Chai to visit ACO Books, an amazing independent art bookstore I am lucky enough to be working with on an upcoming project in New York. Unfortunately HK doesn’t have a huge selection of small press titles or spaces that showcase them, so ACO is an easy place for me to get lost in for a day (or five!). In the back of ACO there is even a small cafe called Slow Experience, utilizing local produce and sustainable urban farming practices.
Getting around HK Island is easy when you can just hop on the double-decker tram and glide around to different neighborhoods. Our next stop was up the road in Sheung Wan: Bang Bang! 70s, an amazing vintage clothing shop owned by my friend Parker Tan and his brother Michael. The selection at Bang Bang! 70s has to be one of the best I’ve seen worldwide—tightly edited, well-loved, and with a great story behind each piece, eagerly told to you by Parker. When he’s not manning the store he works as a schoolteacher or is usually fixing one of his seven vintage sports cars. He is like an international man of mystery!
Parker, Ross, and Michael posing in their identical custom glasses.
Our first real sit-down meal in Hong Kong—old school dim sum at the legendary Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street in Central. We squeezed into a table filled with old ladies reading newspapers and businessmen with Kleenex tucked nearly into their collars (restaurants never give you napkins here, so you have to come prepared with packs of tissues). The actual food was mediocre but the people watching and frantic, fluorescent light ambiance more than made up for it.
Ross sporting his new nerd-chic glasses (thanks Bang Bang!) over hot plates of cheung fan and steamed radish cakes.
A rare sunny moment taking the famed Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour.
Local street art in Sheung Wan and a drawing by Swampy, an artist and collaborator of mine, that I wheat pasted on in a midnight mission.
I took this photo of my friend David signaling a distress call to the local HK coast guard when we had to get rescued! We went hiking off the coast of Tai O, a small island in Western HK, got lost once the sun went down, and we couldn’t find our way back. The police were really nice, but unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take pictures.
This may seem like just another alleyway wet market, just off Graham Street and Queens Road Central…
…but hidden behind a butcher shop and an unmarked black door is a great cocktail bar, ’001′. After the doorgirl admonishes you—”No pictures!”—you are welcome to go inside and drink the night away, sinking into plush velvet couches and enjoying the always-appreciated complimentary bowl of mixed nuts.
Cafe de Goldfinch, a lovely diner in Causeway Bay that served as a setting for Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. The entire staff wears cute uniforms and the decor is stuck in an early ’60s time warp.
After dinner and drinks at Cafe de Goldfinch, we wandered into a random building and found these two young gentlemen manning the counter at Cubist Tattoo. After less than a minute of negotiating in broken English, my friends and I had total run of the shop and took turns tattooing each other!
After I tattooed Ross (the phone number of Cafe de Goldfinch is now permanently marked on his bicep in red), my friend Maurizio tattooed the inside of my lips with a secret message. Not bad for his first time!
8 am the next morning, and David and I were back at the airport, booked on the same flight back to NYC. With the last of our pocket change we bought as many char siu (roast pork) buns as we could afford. They were excellent. Goodbye HK, we’ll miss you!