One can start with Tai Hang Sai Estate (大坑西邨), one of the oldest surviving public housing estates, with the oldest building built in 1965. Most residents who can afford it have covered the original balcony with windows, leaving dark gaping holes where the original balconies are. Even though I am not quite sure whether it violates the building code. Most people can afford air conditioners now. Some even install the more expensive split-type. So even public housing tenants fall into different classes. Some people continue to dry their wash in the street.
Right at the estate is an area with open air cooked food stalls. Here you can get congee, fried eggs, coffee, or dim sum for breakfast, noodles for lunch, stir fry and other regular dishes for dinner. All at a reasonable price and reasonable quality.
Then one can cross over to Shek Kip Mei (石硤尾). The original resettlement estates (徙置屋邨) to settle those who lost their homes in a huge fire in the shantytown in 1953) have all been torn down, except one saved for special purposes. The newer public housing are much taller than those in Tai Hang Sai.
Along Nam Cheong (南昌) Street, a whole block of old buildings has been bought up by a real estate developer, destined to be torn down to be replaced by much taller, and much more expensive private housing. Many tenants have been forced to sell, for a sum which will not be enough to enable to buy an apartment in the same area. A common story in Hong Kong.
Further down Nam Cheong street, there are a couple of old pawn shops (當鋪). One distinctive feature is their bat-wing signs. Presumably it is because the Chinese character for bat (蝠) sounds like the word for “blessings, or rich (福)”. The other feature is that the pawn broker sits behind metal bars 3 feet above the customer, presumably so that the customer cannot threaten the broker, and to make the customer feel inferior.
Nearby are at least 2 snake soup (蛇羹) shops. The snake soup is supposed to be very good for the body, particularly in the cold winter, and very delicious. They used to also sell you the gallbladder of the snake (蛇膽), taken directly from the snake when the snake was alive. It seemed to have been banned. But my favourite is actually the glutinous rice with Chinese sausages (臘味糯米飯).
Ap Liu (鴨寮) street, full of all kinds of electronics and related stuff, is also right there. Here you can buy SIM cards for many countries. Unfortunately, not for Rwanda, apparently.
Brother Ming’s (明哥) restaurant used to be on Pei Ho Street (北河街), hence the name of the restaurant. But he has been forced to move to Tai Nam Street by exorbitant rent rises. He is famous for giving away free food to the poor.
Around the corner is Pei Ho Wet Market, where you can get all kinds of seafood for a reasonable price. Even live grouper from Philippines, Indonesia, …
There are at least 2 temples nearby. At the San Taizi Temple (Third Prince Temple, 三太子, 哪吒）, many gods are worshiped. One specializes in giving benefits for academic studies. Many people have deposited their wishes here: good results for the open examinations, “my son must get into xxx (an elite school)”, …
There is also a Tin Hau Temple (天后廟), one of 300+ in Hong Kong. Tin Hau specialises in protecting fishermen, which was much more important in days past, hence they are so popular. Nowadays she grants all kinds of wishes. And other gods are also worshiped, to broaden the appeal, I suppose. One can draw a fortune stick (求籤), which carries a number, which links to a cryptic poem which tells you fortune.
Then there is the shantytown under the highway flyover at Tung Chau Street (通州街). Here people who cannot get into public housing and cannot afford (or tolerate the poor condition of) subdivided flats build little sheds. The government has been trying all tricks to remove them, dismantling any unoccupied shed and fencing up the space. But where are they supposed to go?
This is real Hong Kong, away from the glamour, tourists and mainland shoppers.