1950s Centre Street, Sai Ying Pun
Where: The title that was printed on the bottom of the postcard reads: "A 89 Western Market Hong Kong"
But here's a modern photo of Hong Kong's Western Market.
It shows Western Market stands on flat land, not a steep slope like the one in the main photo, so the postcard printer made a mistake with their title. Instead the postcard shows Sai Ying Pun Market, on Centre Street between Second and Third Streets. The market building is the light-coloured building in the distance on the left side of the road.
When: This was the second generation of Sai Ying Pun Market, replacing the first generation that stood just off to the right of this view. The 'new' market opened in 1932, so this photo was taken after that.
The photo was printed as a postcard, and luckily for us this copy has been mailed, giving us another date.
The message was written on 15 June 1956, so the photo was taken sometime between 1932 and 1956. The clothes people are wearing look to me to be post-war, so I'll guess this photo was taken in the early 1950s. If you can spot anything that confirms that - or points to an earlier date - please leave a comment below*.
Who: Here are closer views of some of the people, and maybe their fashions can help with the photo's date. These two young men stand out with their neatly cut, and very glossy, hair. Their jackets are also very shiny. Were they made from a modern synthetic material? Or silk, perhaps? Or some older waxed or oiled material?
Several women are using a variety of broad-brimmed hats and umbrellas to keep the sun at bay.
The umbrella at bottom left is also keeping the sun off the baby that the lady is carrying on her back. Here are a couple more young children in similar cloth carriers.
These children will be in their seventies now - please let us know* if you recognise them, or even spot yourself!
What: The constant flow of people heading to and from the market make this a good location to have a shop. The shops have their shades down to block the hot, afternoon sunshine, but we can still get a glimpse of what two of the shops in the foreground are selling.
I've made this crop lighter to see what's in the shadows. The man looks to be selling some sort of food in bulk from those large, glass jars at the front of the shop. Can anyone recognise what they'd be?
This is the name of the shop, hanging next to the first floor's laundry that's out drying in the sunshine.
The shop next door is also selling in bulk. We've seen shops like this before, so I think these are barrels of rice.
Each barrel has a narrow sign sticking out from the top, which should confirm what they contain.
In this case the photographer didn't capture all of the vertical signboard with the shop's name, so we're missing the first couple of characters. But I think we can see them over the shop entrance (written right-to-left), so I've pasted them into the crop.
We can't see clearly into the other shops, but there is one more sign at the end of the terrace.
Then up past the market is the last sign I can see on the left side of Centre Street, shown at left-centre in this crop.
It's faint to read but it looks like the first character is "正", the Chinese character for the "Centre" of Centre Street. Across on the right side there is the familiar bat-shaped sign of a pawn shop, and one last vertical sign below it. (If you remember any of these businesses, or have any information about them to share, please let us know in the comments below*.)
The crowds of people have also attracted plenty of hawkers. The group at bottom left are selling from their baskets. I notice their shoulder poles are left attached to the baskets, possibly so they can make a quick escape if they spot any government inspectors approaching.
Across to the right there's what looks to be the most basic form of hawking: no basket in sight, just a couple of handfuls of vegetables laid out on the road. If that is really what we're looking at, this lady must have been going through a very difficult time.
Further right, the last hawker doesn't look too happy about being captured on film. He doesn't want to sell you vegetables to take home, he's hoping you're hungry right now, and will buy the snack he's selling from that wooden bucket on the left.
His bowls have a colourful rooster as their design (seen upside-down here). You'll still see bowls with this design in stores today.
Finally, just above his head is something I'm always on the lookout for. Fastened to the lamppost is a rat bin!
Gwulo photo ID: BF001
Further reading: I explore lots more scenes like this in my series of books, Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell. If you've already got the books, photo #1 in Volume 1 introduces rat bins, photo #7 in Volume 2 shows Sai Ying Pun in the early 1900s, and Volume 4 has a sequence of photos, #5 - #12, showing various shoulder poles in use.
Behind the scenes: One of the choices when buying old photos like this one is whether to buy online, or at a live auction. I mostly buy from online sites such as eBay as their prices tend to be lower, but the downside is that I'll only find out the real quality of the photo after I've paid for it and received it.
In the case of this photo, I bought it at an auction here in Hong Kong. I'd been along to the viewing day before the auction, taking my magnifying glass with me. So although the price was higher I knew the photo was a sharp one, and that there was lots of detail to explore.
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