That was a experience when I went out for a reconstruction project on Shek Shui Po. It was my first time doing a very local topic in Hong Kong. I have to get contact to original residents in this area; some of them may live here for over fifty years. I choose to interview two iconic figures in this area. The 99-year-old Kwong Wong, who has lived here for over 60 years. He is one of the most fmous residents and is known as “Ice Cream Grandpa” because he has sold ice cream and snacks to local students for years. Wong has witnessed the change of Nam Shan Estate. Wong is very friendly to media as well, even though we are just journalism student. He was very talkative and was willing to share his opinion. But the problem is that sometimes our Cantonese is not good enough to express our full meanings. Also some particular local terms are hard to understand. We have to find a local student to help us translating, which was quite embarrassing. I also learned that if you do local news in Hong Kong; just emerge yourself as fast as possible into the local society. Some culture things are hard to cover if you are not local, including the language problem.
Another problem is how to deal with the people are not so willing to be interviewed. Fa Gor is example. Everytime I tried to approach to him to ask something, he will find something to do and rely with few words. I don’t know the reason, maybe because I’m just a student doing my assignment. But to be a journalist you have to stick on your goal. I didn’t give up on my plan and waited at his shop for more than 40 minutes. Until one customer came and I successfully got his help to ask something to Fa Gor. Then I got the information.
To interview local neighborhood as an outlander may encounter unexpected detail problems, especially when you cannot make an appointment with them. I may have many communication problems including but not only the language problem. Find another local intermediary is my temporary strategy. But the final goal is to be a Hong Konger if you want to report Hong Kong in a deep way.
Interviewing local ordinary people can get many positive feedbacks as well. You will find most people are very very friendly, especially to students. The stationary people helped me a lot, even though I can offer nothing to them. At that time you will find being a journalist can feel the warmness of our society.
The following is the feature story I wrote.
Redeveloping Sham Shui Po: A Mix of Memory And Reality
By Maolin YANG
Urban renewal will bring major change to Hong Kong’s poorest district, but contrary to some media accounts, there does not seem to be a lot of nostalgia for the loss of the district’s traditional character.
Sham Shui Po, the poorest of Hong Kong’s 18 districts, has many heavily subdivided buildings with more than 30 years’ history. But the Urban Renewal Authority has decided to redevelop them into 25-storey apartments by 2021.
Nam Shan Estate, which is close to the higher-income You Yat Cun area, has a long history of being a public housing area. It became a new home for immigrants from the mainland and people who lost their homes following a major fire in Hong Kong on Christmas Day in 1953.
But as the years have passed, housing in the estate has aged and deteriorated, and many parts of the Nam Shan is in need of repair or reconstruction.
Near very rich area You Yat Cun, Nam Shan Estate has a long history being a public housing area. After Hong Kong’s public housing program was initiated following a major fire on 25 December 1953, this area was the new home for immigrants from the mainland and those who lost their houses. All these years passed, and the estate’s housing is aging and some parts of it need to be fixed and reconstructed. But the old estate is not only some aged rocks, it is also filled with Hong Kong people’s memories and sometimes stands for neighborhood.
Early this year, Nam Shan Estate was being analyzed for redevelopment by the government. The 99-year-old Kwong Wong has lived here for over 60 years.
He is one of the most famous residents and is known as “Ice Cream Grandpa” because he has sold ice cream and snacks to local students for years. Wong has witnessed the change of Nam Shan Estate.
“Years ago, the park used to be an area of wood houses, and there was fence for the houses,” he said. Wong was actually describing Chu Koo Tsai, a place nearby that has already disappeared. Immigrants and the poor used to live there in those wooden houses, but in 1985 an enormous fire almost destroyed it completely, and the upscale Parc Oasis residential area was built up.
Now there will be redevelopment nearby as well, but Wong was not concerned about the change like many others have said they are. “After all these buildings are built up, my business will be better since there will be more people living here,” said Wong.
A visitor might wonder how a 99-year-old man manages to push the heavy icebox Wong uses, but he explained that every day people in the neighborhood would help him and take care of him. ‘’First, I’m here for the children; they can buy snacks and ice cream here instead of going so far to Wellcome,” he said. “Secondly, it is also my spiritual ballast. And finally, it’s also a way to kill time.”
Another local star in the estate is Fa Gor, who used to lived in Shanghai and moved to the area decades ago. Using historical barber tools, Fa Gor has served neighborhood for decades. But now his little barbershop will be pulled down within a month.
But Gor (or Fa, if that’s his surname) is not very annoyed about this nor does he plan to protest the redevelopment plan that will wipe out his historical shop. “There is no never-ending feast, and all stories have a ending,” he said.
All the other shops in the building had already moved out and Gor’s barbershop is the last shop in the old three-storey building.
Hong Kong’s popular Apple Daily tanloid newspaper published a series of reports about the government redevelopment plan in a soft and reminiscent tone, triggering people’s concern about how the temptation of commercial real estate development may influence redevelopment plans of historic districts. Comments below the articles often reflected how people cherished their memories of the old eggette shop and other childhood landmarks.
But local residents interviewed didn’t show much opposition to the redevelopment plans. “We had also planned to move out in three or four years, but we are arranged to move to the new building in the opposite street,” said Lv Yeung Ming，a stationery shop owner in Shek Kei Mei.
According to an investigation of residents’ feedback of the redevelopment conducted by City University of Hong Kong, 84% of the residents who responded to the questionnaires supported rebuilding the area, since most buildings were built 30 years ago. Most residents seem to have a strong will to speed up the redevelopment process and improve their environment, though the issue of compensation often sparks controversy.
“It’s good if we can move to a brand new house, but we’re afraid that the location change will affect our business,” said Ming.
It is interesting that people who don’t live there now say they miss the old neighborhood, but the current residents actually seem to have a relatively strong desire for the change. For the owner of the house it may be an issue of what will be the compensation for moving out, but some tenants in poorer financial condition may lose their houses.
Many of them are living in subdivided cubicles with wooden rooftop structure. Though the living conditions are really bad, they cannot afford better. Also, many of them are not Hong Kong permanent residents so that they have no chance to get public rental flats.