Our Life in West Kowloon --- Society for Community Organization

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Sham Shui Po is one of the poorest districts in Hong Kong. It is also the area where most new immigrant families, singletons, street-sleepers, newly emerged underprivileged groups and ethnic minorities live. Their stories present the truth and reality of Hong Kong's grassroots. Many shops still survive after forty years of history. Traditional rice shops, bean curd shops, corner shops, stationers, pawn shops, and even Chinese bonesetters are among the surviving local culture. Not only do the traditional ways of running a business survive, but the neighborly spirit of residents and the local community continues to flourish.

Society for Community Organization launched the project 'Our life in West Kowloon', so that visitors could see the community, the old Chinese tenements, the partitioned rooms, the caged homes, and the rooftops, for themselves. We hope that visitors will come away with a clearer understanding of the lives and reality of the underprivileged, whom we have been serving for decades. Breaking through a traditional, monologue display format, we have adopted a multi-level, creative approach to reveal poverty groups and the local culture. We aim to proactively engage visitors in creating a common platform for communication and dialogue.
























Our Life in West Kowloon - Cherish our Culture

Ho Hei Wah

Director, Society for Community Organization

The demolition of the Star Ferry Pier Clock Tower was a ruthless destruction of a cherished Hong Kong icon. The vacant site designated for the West Kowloon Cultural District, on the other side of the harbor, has become even more desolate. The line between rich and poor has grown even more distinct as rows of luxury residential high-rises are built on the harbor-front, monopolizing the beautiful sea views.

I wander through the busy streets and narrow alleys of Sham Shui Po, amid housewives, workers, vendors and traditional shops; everything is so lively, and energetic. There are hawkers selling their wares, filling the streets with their shouts; pungent smells emanate from the wet market; people pack the streets, jostling side by side. Everyone has a story to tell. This old district is full of people, ordinary people. Their daily lives, their happiness and sorrow, their customs: a moving picture awash with local characters.

Hong Kong is a modern and prosperous city. But do we hear the voices of those living beneath the poverty line? Do we realize that there are still people living in such poor conditions today? In this wealthy society, the poor are given nothing but the cold shoulder. Their dignity has been heartlessly crushed. Struggling day after day, never getting any closer to living stable lives. Caring and acceptance, rather than hypocrisy are all they crave from society.

SoCO was established 35 years ago, and we've always held true to our mission of appealing for the people, fighting for justice and fairness. Today, we focus more on the development of the community at large and hope to raise public awareness of lives in the old districts. We are very grateful for KPMG's generous support of our projects, from caring for children in poverty to working with vulnerable groups in old urban slums. We hope that their actions will inspire more people to care.



The development of West Kowloon should not be just about beautiful architecture and economic development. The unique spirit of the local community should never be ignored. A meaningful start would be to embrace our feelings, harmony, culture and traditions to give the next generation a taste of our precious 'Hong Kong spirit'.

Surely, it would be more meaningful to live in West Kowloon and cherish our culture than callously exploit the area and loose our identity.

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You wouldn't think any book would ever begin with such an old building. From the unique stories of this building's residents to the social groups, the community and the old shops: unfolding in front of us, one after the other, stories of lives.

Carrying 80 fold-up beds up 192 steps to a rooftop must be some kind of record, but we did it! 'Unity is Power' - never an empty slogan for these people, who have always been victims of discrimination. With a greater sense of dignity and self confidence, they have worked together to make this event possible. The photos here reveal their character, their courage in meeting life's challenges, and how they have coped with adversities. Their positive attitude towards life is inspiring.

With hope, we can break down the invisible walls that divide us. Let's celebrate the residents achievements with them. Through this book and the exhibition, let's take the first step towards showing this community our care and compassion.

Everything begins at 117 Kweilin Street.


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People, Mementos and Feelings - An Exhibition about West Kowloon

Iman Fok Tin Man, Community Organizer, SoCO

When talking about West Kowloon, most people think of luxury properties designed by international architects. But for Sham Shui Po residents, their only concerns are whether they can pick up any bargains at the Dragon Center, or find a good job in the neighborhood. This exhibition about locals in West Kowloon begins with the community and the residents here....

'Our life in West Kowloon' -- an exhibition that presents the local community, partitioned rooms, rooftop gardens, old stores and the underprivileged - took me about a year and a half to complete. I chose the old building where the Society for Community Organization's office is located, and where I've been working for more than a decade, as the venue for the exhibition. All the exhibits tell the stories of the underprivileged in Sham Shui Po, and introduce the local community's culture.


An impressive 200 residents have taken part in the exhibition, and the owner of the old tenement at 115 - 119 Kweilin Street has kindly allowed us to use his building as our exhibition venue. Visitors can walk through corridors, rooftops and even through partitioned rooms which are still home to many residents. Their generosity has been key to the success of this exhibition.

What's more, over ten local artists were involved in this project, creating a multi-media exhibition: professional photographers Dustin Shum, Lei Jih Sheng, Ah Wing and Dickson Lee carried heavy equipment, and sneaked through busy streets and narrow alleys to picture the underprivileged; Tim Li, another curator, contributed greatly to the exhibition with his sensitivity to the venue; Ivan Choi, a graduate of the CUHK's architecture faculty and who was born in Sham Shui Po, amazed all of us with his drawings and computer graphics of the buildings; multi-media artist Craig Au Yeung laid out the blueprint for the exhibition's publications; designer Joseph Mark took charge of nearly 1,000 images, whilst an anonymous cameraman filmed touching interviews in a dark partitioned room. Finally, the generous boss of Fingerprint, William, sponsored all the picture printing expenses so that these moving pictures could be seen by everyone.

It is almost an impossible task to place 80 fold-up beds in different positions to create such a surrealistic exhibition. We couldn't have done it without the help of more than a dozen residents. Thanks must be given to them for their help in carrying all the exhibits up more than 300 steps to the rooftop. Thanks also are owed to Mr Fung, the project leader of the building's lighting effects.


Every exhibited item is a cherished memento, whose value is often enhanced by the sentimental relationship between it and its owner. Treasured keepsakes and their stories are featured throughout this exhibition, evoking our collective memory. A year ago, I started to collect secondhand items in Sham Shui Po, turning myself from a social worker into a secondhand collector. While visiting residents, whose homes were nearly 50 years old, and helping them to organize campaigns for social justice, I also enjoyed carefully studying their keepsakes. The 'soul' of this exhibition rests with residents' mementos and their stories.


The residents' emotional attachment to the community is a vital element of our exhibition. Friendship and communication unite the spirit of the community. The underprivileged, those who are discriminated against, those who are isolated, and those who are despised, have lived through merciless and heartless experiences. The words and pictures here tell true and vivid stories to touch our hearts.

People, Mementos and Feelings - An Exhibition about West Kowloon - not just a sensory experience, but one that demands you embrace it with your heart!

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Sharing the Same Sky

Tim Li, Installation Artist / Architect

I.T. has penetrated so many aspects of our lives, but communication between people has become more and more difficult. In Hong Kong, people from different walks of life have their own stamping grounds. Just as wealthy people enjoy hanging out in Lan Kwai Fong, so poorer groups spend time in Apliu Street. There are too few meeting points for people of different backgrounds. This exhibition offers a good opportunity to bridge this communication gap and creates a platform for people with different income levels, interests and backgrounds to meet and share their experiences. Although we all come from different places, live different lives and have different stories, when we look up, we are all in fact sharing the same sky.

Removing the Communication Barrier with a Surreal Fold-up Bed Installation

Classic striped, fold-up beds resemble the flexibility and resilience of Hong Kong people. Fold-up nylon beds of bygone days and modern fold-up sofa-beds all reflect the issue of overcrowded living spaces in Hong Kong. A fold-up bed can either offer comfort for oneself or put up overnight guests. Whether you are rich or poor, everyone enjoys collapsing into bed after a day's hard work!

The surreal fold-up bed installation symbolizes a thick wall. While it may act as a barrier, it's also a conversation-starter: invisible walls prevent us from seeing specific problems, which makes it difficult to break down barriers. Just like wandering through the intertwined streets of an old district; it's difficult to get your bearings and you may get lost from time to time. Only if we demolish the invisible walls in our hearts can we achieve true harmony and sincere communication with each other. The fold-up bed installation was arranged to reveal large and small gaps, giving us a chance to break the ice and to see the world from a different perspective.

Starting from the Basics

This exhibition was completely conceived from on-site materials to evoke the original spirit and to fuse with the local environment. The exhibits are not just descriptive, but are also designed to engage all your senses, and entreat your heart to embrace the lives of these vulnerable people.


Involvement of the Residents

It has been really satisfying and interesting installing the fold-up beds with so many local residents. I never imagined that they would be so excited and devoted to the exhibition, and both their sense of beauty and concern for safety have also surprised me. Praise and appreciation light up their days. Art is no longer a distant and abstract concept, if it takes on a deeper and fuller meaning by becoming part of life and involving the entire community.

Extending the Spirit of the Exhibition

Although the exhibition will only run for one month, its spirit shall live on. We urge people to donate nylon fold-up beds to those in need, especially poor families and the homeless. Let the exhibition continue in another form, with a sense of care and love for others.

Standing on a rooftop on Kweilin Street, you can see Cheung Sha Wan just around the corner, and Wan Chai and Central in the distance. Everywhere seems so near, and yet so far. However, as we look up to the sky, we can all find a place of our own.

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Building structure of 115 to 119 Kweilin Street by C.C. LEE (1959)

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Beneath the same blue sky in West Kowloon as their neighbors in luxury estates, who enjoy grand and prestigious club house facilities with a swimming pool in their spacious 'sky garden', residents of an old tenement on 115-119 Kweilin Street also share a 3,000-square feet of public rooftop space.








'Sky Garden'
















Sham Shui Po is known for its cramped quarters and high population density. Caged homes, partitioned rooms, rooftop homes, attics and even the public park on Tong Chau Street are all filled with people. An old-style nylon fold-up bed is a classic design of the 1960s and 1970s, fitting perfectly into Hong Kong's restricted living space. Many old Hong Kongers, acclaimed for their flexibility and resilience, must have vivid memories of nights sleeping on a fold-up bed.

We have put together 80 classic nylon fold-up beds to build a surreal 'sky garden' as one of our major exhibits. For instance, putting together two fold-up beds forms a rhombus or a rectangle, allowing us to observe the unique construction style of the old tenements, and to get a feel for the old district from a different perspective. It is interesting to note that all the visitors passing by the fold-up bed installation, become part of the exhibit themselves, which will surely enhance the interactivity of the exhibition.

Messages from various underprivileged groups are displayed on the fold-up beds. These messages give visitors a better understanding of the underprivileged, and also act as a conduit for greater in-depth communication. Today, when we are talking about the latest West Kowloon development, have we ever given any thought to the old district of Sham Shui Po?

'Sky Garden' Exhibition Area
- Kitty and Ah Chea, a street-sleeper couple with mental illness

The area beneath Yen Chow Street Bridge is home to many street-sleepers. The bridge clearly divides the area into two halves: on one side lie the fold-up beds of Vietnamese refugees; whilst the other side is home to mentally-ill newly-weds, Kitty and Ah Chea. Kitty and Ah Chea's home is full of all kinds of 'furniture' and 'daily necessities', such as expired drink packs in ripped plastic bags, dozens of old umbrellas and broken plastic pipes and metal sheets. Empty soft-drink cans and longan skins are scattered all over the place. It is hard to believe that the couple enjoys living here, surrounded by flies, cockroaches and a foul stench. During our chat, Kitty held my hand and said, "I haven't taken a bath for a month." She added that she easily faints as she suffers from anemia, and that it's difficult, if not impossible for her to take a bath. Ah Chea can only help by occasionally washing Kitty down with a soapy towel.

Ah Chea has always been Kitty's guardian angel. They met in 1997, the year that Hong Kong returned to China. Ah Chea was sacked from a garment factory that year and had been living under the bridge in Hung Hom, ever since his parents and five brothers refused to offer him help. Then he met Kitty, who was also wandering the streets of Hung Hom. She felt sorry for Ah Chea, who's skinny and asthmatic and so she went to restaurants' back doors, begging for extra leftovers to share with Ah Chea.

Ah Chea and Kitty shared meals under the bridge and spent many starry nights together. Kitty even disclosed her unfortunate history to Ah Chea. She married early, but her husband ran off with all her money and she ended up homeless. While living on the streets she was raped and gave birth to a boy and a girl, who are now cared for by others. When she was a little girl, she was sexually molested by her father, and later became a drug addict to escape from this harsh reality. With an education up to secondary one, Kitty had a checkered work history: she had taken on over ten jobs over the years, including working in a factory and McDonald's, and as a toilet cleaner. However, none of these jobs lasted long. Ah Chea felt very sorry for Kitty and wanted to prove himself by looking after his 'little fatty'. "Kitty is indeed rather troublesome. She has a bad temper, but I can control her and protect her," he said. Ah Chea seems to be Kitty's only defender. He is good natured, and even when Kitty is in a very bad mood, she doesn't take it out on Ah Chea.

In 2004, Kitty was diagnosed with a mental illness while she was applying for CSSA with the help of social workers. Ah Chea then felt that he had an even greater responsibility to take care of Kitty. Indeed, he believes that Kitty "needs my support to survive." Ah Chea spent all his time accompanying Kitty to doctors' consultations and meetings with social workers. Once, someone suggested, "Why don't you pretend to be mentally ill as well so you can get more money from CSSA?" Ah Chea felt that it wouldn't be a problem for him to pretend if this could help Kitty, though he still insists, "It is Kitty who is mentally ill, not me." People may see Kitty's childish personality as a burden to Ah Chea, but he disagrees. "She is a simple and kind-hearted person; Miss Hong Kong is no match for her." Ah Chea's feelings for Kitty are mixed: admiration, sympathy and a sense of protection. "I love her so much. She can't live without me; without her, I would be very depressed."

On 29 August 2006, Kitty and Ah Chea formally got married in the presence of two witnesses - two social workers from SoCO. The ceremony was held at the Cultural Center in Tsim Sha Tsui, where they first met. "We spent less than $100 on our wedding outfits. Our red tops, red pants and red shoes were all bought from a grocery store in Sham Shui Po," said Kitty. 'Ms Fatty-in-Red' and 'Mr Skinny-in-Red' then started a new chapter in their lives, hand-in-hand, under the bridge. While Ah Chea has always insisted that he's absolutely normal, he sighed at the end of the interview, saying "Having spent all these years with Kitty, I'm not sure if I am not also mentally ill."











































'Sky Garden' Exhibition Area - The University Drop-out

Ah Lung's parents divorced when he was eight. He stayed with his mother, whilst his sister went to live with his father. His mother never mentioned his father and he never asked. That's how he lost contact with his father and his sister.

Ah Lung's mother made a living running a clothes shop on Cheung Sha Wan Road, Sham Shui Po. After school, Ah Lung would wander playgrounds and games arcades or play with his toys while his mother worked late. He only began to realize how much she loved him when he got very disappointing results in his HKCE examinations. "She didn't even scold me. She simply took me back to her home, Taiwan," he said. "She did everything she could to get me into the best university possible. When I was studying landscape design at the Chinese Culture University there, we'd spend holidays together. Those were the happiest days of my life."


During his third year of studies, Ah Lung's mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she died shortly after Ah Lung's return to Hong Kong. He was left as a 21-year old with no idea of how to run his mother's shop. Ah Lung sold all the shop's stock, but this still wasn't enough to allow him to finish his course in Taiwan. He dropped-out of university and began selling toys in Hong Kong. In 1999, he earned more than $10,000 a month, but frittered away all his money. He began to harm himself by cutting his arms. Maybe he did it because of his loneliness or grief for his mother? Or maybe he regretted not being able to repay his mother for her love? Even Ah Lung doesn't know the answers.

When Ah Lung was 26, his girlfriend in Shenzhen gave birth to their son. He then tattooed four Chinese characters, meaning 'faithfulness and responsibility', on his back. Perhaps he wanted to remind himself not to follow in his father's footsteps.

In 2003, he lost his job due to the outbreak of SARS. Driven by a need to provide for his family as a responsible father figure, he was silly enough to embezzle thousands of dollars from his company before absconding. For almost a year he hid in the Mainland before returning to Hong Kong, where he was arrested and jailed. Asked if he had done anything wrong, Ah Lung replied, "I didn't do anything wrong, just something silly. I know I have let my mother down."

After release, Ah Lung dealt in parallel imported goods, which gave him a rather erratic income. In 2006, jobless, and with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, he became a street-sleeper on a football pitch in Sham Shui Po. Despite everything he'd been through, he never thought of seeking help from his father. SoCO's social workers visited him and found him a hostel for the homeless and a job with a courier company. In September 2006, 28-year-old Ah Lung became captain of the street-sleepers' football team and played in the fourth 'World Cup' for the homeless held in South Africa. His teammates have praised him for his compassion. Since returning to Hong Kong, he has worked even harder to earn and save enough money to enroll himself in a part-time design course.

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Realities of Life in a Partitioned Room

In four partitioned rooms in an old Chinese tenement on Kweilin Street, we present the stories of the underprivileged: a poor, elderly couple; children living in partitioned rooms; a new immigrant, victimized by discrimination; a mentally-ill old man; and a single lady suffering from depression.

Five Senses







1. Touch - Kam Ho and Her Little Dog

Kam Ho, a 33-year-old single lady who has been suffering from depression for two years, lives alone in a small rented room in Sham Shui Po. The walls of her room are totally covered in old, faded Hello Kitty stickers. Yet, Kam Ho is not alone; she has her beloved companion, a little dog (a Pekinese). She first came across the dog a year ago, and it was only then that her depression stabilized. After weeks of struggle, she decided to keep the Pekinese, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

Kam Ho's 'home' is tiny, with mostly sex wokers and secondhand goods traders living next door. Her room is messy - the ashtray in front of her Kwun Yum (Goddess of Mercy) portrait is full of cigarette butts. The room has no window and the air-conditioner is very old and noisy. Kam Ho's little dog likes jumping up and down and when tired, it lies on Kam Ho's slim thighs. While Kam Ho tries hard to appear relaxed, her wrinkled face and grey hair betray her.

Kam Ho and her first husband were drug addicts, and the two of them almost lost everything. When they separated, her ex-husband took custody of their two children, and since then, Kam Ho has not been allowed any contact with them. The children have now grown up and lead independent lives. Even though Kam Ho misses them a great deal, she hasn't dared to contact them for fear of interfering in their lives.

After another failed marriage, Kam Ho became pregnant with another man's child. Unfortunately, she lost the baby late in the pregnancy. The loss of her baby girl has haunted Kam Ho ever since, "I always feel that she is by my side, as if there's one more person in the room..." Kam Ho believes that this caused her mental illness.

She feels safe whenever she has her dog in her arms. Every time we visit Kam Ho, she is hugging the dog. Wherever she goes, the dog is with her. Whenever she feels down, her doggy is by her side. Kam Ho does not have many friends: she only knows a fellow depressive. However, when she walks her dog, she now has a chance of making new friends with fellow dog-lovers. It seems that the little dog is not only Kam Ho's best friend, but maybe also a 'doctor' that can heal her soul.

Hug - an intimate touch which shows someone just how much you care. Do you remember that feeling?

Here, the exhibition organizers encourage visitors to re-live their own childhood memories, by touching the exhibits of ordinary items which were common in years gone by, such as a bamboo mat, a striped nylon fold-up bed, and an old-style room divider with a glass window at the top.

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2.1 Hearing - The Lees' Wooden Music-box

As the music-box plays a simple but beautiful melody, 90-year-old Lee Chek Man recalls the sweet smile of his wife when he presented this gift to her 20 or 30 years ago. A relative who terminated his accessories shop business left Lee the music-box, and he gave it to his wife to please her.

60 or 70 years ago, Lee left his family in Hong Kong and went to work in a restaurant in Singapore to make more money. Forced to endure years apart as a young couple, his wife now appears to have 'reclaimed her right' to be pampered. It's hard to imagine a woman, who's nearly a hundred, still expecting her husband to indulge her!


'I let her have her own way, anything for a quiet life!' Lee shares how they've managed throughout their marriage. His wife grew up in a rich family, and she had always had maids to attend to her. They fell in love at first sight and have been married for over half a century.

A year ago, they were still living in their ninth floor unit in an over-fifty-year old Chinese tenement on Un Chau Street. Their living conditions were poor: water was leaking from the ceiling, and each day they had to climb up 300 steps to their home. They moved into a public housing unit with our help.

Sadly, Lee's wife passed away in December 2006. Lee believes that she died in his arms with no regrets..... As Lee was packing for the move, the wooden music box was again playing the beautiful melody, as if celebrating their long-lasting and faithful marriage.

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2.2 Hearing - Yu Xinjin, a New Immigrant Who Takes On Life's Highs and Lows

"I'm a new immigrant, and I don't care if people know. We're all human. I can't stop them from looking down on me," Yu Xinjin (Jin) loudly exclaimed, as she casually chatted about her life in Hong Kong.

In 2000, Jin came to Hong Kong from Kaiping, Guangdong Province. Aside from taking care of her ill, elderly father, she also wanted to earn more money and improve the lives of her family in mainland China. As an adult, she couldn't legally stay at her father's public housing unit, so she rented a small partitioned room nearby. She worked during the day, and visited her father in the evenings and during holidays. Meanwhile, her husband and son remained in their home town, awaiting approval to join her here in Hong Kong.

After completing her junior secondary education in China, Jin worked as a baker. When she came to Hong Kong, she couldn't find work as a baker, so she took a job at a local cafe. She worked very hard there and was popular with her fellow colleagues and customers, trying her very best to adapt to the culture here. Despite this, Jin's dark and athletic appearance makes it easy to identify her as an immigrant, so she often suffers discrimination when looking for work or going shopping. Jin hasn't taken this to heart. After all, she's done nothing wrong.

Two years later, Jin became pregnant, and after a great deal of thought, she decided to have the baby. With the birth of her baby daughter, Ka Yee, life became very difficult: she had to leave her job to take care of the baby, all of her savings had gone, and her husband's immigration application was still pending. Jin had no choice but to apply for CSSA. She and her baby girl lived in a 40 sq.ft. partitioned room amongst the rats and cockroaches. Since their room was next to a kitchen with LPG containers, she often worried about their safety. Life was really tough for Jin, but she was confident of her future: once little Ka Yee attended kindergarten and her husband was allowed to come to Hong Kong, she would be able to stand on her own feet again. Jin also hoped that the restrictions regarding immigrants' applications for public housing units would be lifted in the hope that one day, she might be offered one.

"I'll accept any offer no matter how old the unit is, so long as the rent is cheap. We just need a place to live. The most important thing is that the whole family can be together."

Jin's wishes all came true by the end of 2005. The government relaxed the restrictions, and after five long years, Jin was granted a public housing unit. Approval for her husband and son to join her here was also subsequently granted. Her family of four squeezed into a small unit for two, and yet they were all very happy. Both Jin's husband and son work at construction sites as casual workers. Although their income is still rather unstable, Jin lost no time in terminating her CSSA benefit.

Since child-care is so expensive, Jin has to take care of Ka Yee herself and is therefore unable to find a job. To make her way, Jin collects paper cartons, soft-drink cans and metal scraps in the industrial districts early every morning and sells them for tens of dollars each day. Though life is tough, she lives it with great enthusiasm. After school, Ka Yee helps her mother by pushing the garbage cart, collecting paper cartons and soft-drink cans, and selling them. Amidst the adversity, perhaps their laughter tells you how 'new immigrants take on life's highs and lows.'

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2.3 Hearing - Karen and Peter Fung, Cherish their Innocence

Karen and Peter's father runs a broken fan repair business on Yen Chow Street in Sham Shui Po. His ten sq. ft. shop, beneath the stairway of an old Chinese tenement, is filled with countless models of old electric fans. When speaking about their father, they proudly say, "Our father is a genius, he can fix everything!" After school, they help clean the fans, so satisfied customers will pay readily when they pick up their repaired and shiny fans.



Luck, however, has not been on the Fungs' side. Their father's business has been in decline and worse still, the shop was ordered to close for safety reasons by the Buildings Department. After many difficult weeks, their father decided to remove the shop's giant sign and was able to resume his business. Although this small shop only generates a few thousand dollars a month, it's enough to feed the whole family.

Karen and Peter hope that their father will one day make enough money to move them out of their partitioned room. Their father has always worked hard to make this dream come true: for extra cash, he sorts through garbage from trash cans to sell on to recycling companies. The children understand that this old junk brings in extra money for the family, and even though it has taken up all the available space at home, they have never complained and have assisted their father over weekends and school holidays.


"Our home is so stuffy and small. But we can always do our homework at McDonald's, which has plenty of room and air-conditioning," said 12-year-old Peter, who has his own way of overcoming difficulties. Every morning before school starts, he will take Karen to McDonald's to make a last-ditch effort to finish their homework. But often, they are distracted by the mountain of French fries which they can only dream of eating!

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3. Scent - Dreams of Young African Refugees



Peter, Paul and John came from Africa. Orphaned in the wars there, they fled to Hong Kong in 2004 with the help of the church and their friends in the hope that they would be granted refugee status. Peter, 18, Paul, 17, and John, 19, met at a church in Yau Tsim Mong District and became very close friends. They support each other like brothers: taking on together the challenges of living as refugees in Hong Kong.

The three young men have scars from old bullet wounds all over their bodies. Unlike ordinary teenagers, carefree smiles are alien to them. They can't attend school, they aren't allowed to work, they don't have any friends.....they're depressed.

They used to each receive a monthly allowance of between $800 to $1,600 from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to pay for rent and other living expenses. However, on 1 May 2006, UNHCR suddenly stopped this allowance. Since then, the International Social Service grants them a $1,000 rental allowance and benefits in kind every month. They have to collect food rations, worth $300, from a Nepalese shop once every ten days and share a 100 sq. ft. partitioned room in Yau Tsim Mong District. SoCO organizes them to appeal to the Education and Manpower Bureau to abolish the discriminatory policy and to respect their rights to education.

Their only affordable entertainments are rooftop chats and basketball. "We dare not go anywhere else. We're so scared that the police will send us back to Africa. We'll surely be killed there!" they anxiously explained. Although they are going to face very great danger if they return, they still miss their home a great deal.

Here in this installation, the exhibition organizers encourage visitors to become more aware of the conflicts raging in many developing countries -by simply smelling display items sprayed with fragrances. We believe that love and compassion are blind to race, color and nationality.

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4. Sight - Yau Mung Ching's World of Books

'An empty dream at midnight faints; Joy and laughter are in vain.'

These verses were written by Yau Mung Ching, a 73-year-old man as a reflection of his life. He lives on CSSA in a partitioned room less than 60 sq. ft. Yau has a collection of 2,000 plus Chinese poetry, literature and history books, many of which are very valuable, out-of-print, string-bound books. In spite of the huge number, they are all categorized and well-organized in various plastic bags. "I've just spent $400 on a hardback set of 'Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government'. I know I don't have enough space for it…but it's so valuable that I just had to have it" he said, pointing to his new acquisition, whilst taking plain congee and vegetables for supper. Over the past thirty years, Yau has been suffering from mental illness due to an obsession with books when he was much younger. He used to spend all his time, days and nights, reading Chinese poetry and literature, and eventually this obsession led to his mental exhaustion.


"I treasure the 76-volume 'Complete Prose Literature of the Tang Dynasty' the most. Only the Palace Museum in Beijing has the same collection. This old-style, string-bound edition is out of stock now" he added. "I keep them all on the bookshelf above my bed and read them once in a while to revisit the treasure of literature." The most expensive set of string-bound books owned by Yau cost him $1,000. According to him, their value has appreciated over the years. Yet, price is not meaningful to him, possession is far more important. Books are his only friends; he has spent most of his life surrounded by old books.

Yau has suffered from panic disorders for over forty years, and he's always been poor. He was orphaned at fourteen when his parents starved to death during the war. He then came to Hong Kong from Chiuchow and worked in a rice store, a textile factory and a book shop. He has always loved reading books. Since he was sixteen, he'd always worked during the day and then read books, practiced Chinese calligraphy and recited poems until one or two at night.
However at thirty-two, he started to develop mental problems, becoming very anxious and not being able to sleep for five consecutive nights. He couldn't concentrate on his work and lost his appetite. Since then, he has had to rely on medicine and has been in and out of hospital regularly. Despite all of this, he still continued to work hard and only retired at fifty-seven when his health started to fail.
I have known Yau for about eight years, and I've always felt that he didn't belong to this materialistic world. For him, life is just about reading and buying books. He's totally isolated from the outside world and doesn't even have a single relative or friend. Whenever his mental state bothers him, he only has social workers to take him to the hospital and accompany him to follow-up consultations. "Although I don't have any friends, I'm not lonely" he said. "Books are my best friends. Reading books is just like talking with great writers and poets, it lights up my life." Unfortunately, Yau has had a cataract since last year and he is now very depressed, "I can't read anymore. My best friend has left me, I'm so lonely!" I once witnessed the effects of Yau's mental illness and realized how incapacitating it could really be. Around August last year, I and some fellow social workers visited Yau's tiny room, which was boiling (maybe 35°C or 36°C), and found him motionless, blankly staring straight ahead. He'd been sitting on his wooden bed for days, without eating, resting or speaking. We couldn't get him to respond, and eventually, the situation was so bad that we decided to take him to hospital. Several ambulance men struggled to carry him down to the ambulance. His body was still stiff and cold as he lay in the hospital bed; perhaps reflecting his lonely and desolate state of mind.

Yet the Yau I see today fears neither severe winter nor loneliness. He faces the challenges and difficulties of life, alone. All these years, he's never given up chasing his paradise within the confines of his tiny partitioned room.

A poem by Tang poet Liu Zongyuan surfaces:

Boundless mountains no birds in flight;
Endless footpaths no men in sight.
Lonely fisherman afloat;
Fishing in cold river snow.

Since the partitioned room in the display is very dark, we have projected our interview with Yau onto a wooden board. We have also used over 100 books to build several pillars so that visitors have a real sense of being immersed in Yau's world of books.

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5. Taste - Fung Pak Wing, The Sweet and Sour Experiences of a Low-income Family

For many in Hong Kong, a family meal in your own home is nothing special, but for thousands of low-income families, it's a dream that they struggle to achieve.

Fung Pak Wing lives with his wife and two sons in a window-less 40 sq.ft. partitioned room, in a shared-apartment with seven other households. Fung's sons have to study on the back stairs, as they don't have a table at home and their tiny room is stifling. They either construct 'a desk' by putting one plastic chair on top of another with a pillow in between, or simply work on the steps of the back stairwell. All their homework must be finished before sunset, while there's still enough light. However, despite this harsh environment and neighbors' complaints, the two boys study diligently. In school, they are doing well, and getting great results. Only when they're set assignments involving photos or I.T. does homework become a real problem, since they have neither a camera nor a computer. So, although they hope to do well in all their subjects, this may not always be possible.

Due to the restricted living space, and the lack of a lift in the building, Fung's elderly father has had to return to the Mainland. The entire family will only be re-united when they can be housed in a public housing estate.

Despite the deplorable conditions of the partitioned room, Fung Pak Wing tries his best to make life easier for his sons. He has made a multi-purpose stool that can be used either as a chair or a desk. The Fungs gave themselves western names to encourage the children to learn English. The youngest will tell you excitedly: "My brother is Jacky, I'm John, Joan is mum and Jason is dad, what's your name?"

Fung works very hard to support his family of five. He used to work in a factory as an electrician. Indeed, when the factory relocated to the Mainland, he trained the locals there, earning about $10,000 per month. Back then, life was pretty good. However, in 2003, Fung was laid-off since the local mainland workers trained by him could replace him. On returning to Hong Kong, Fung could only work freelance as an electrician. He did not have a stable income and had to wait for months between jobs. Fung told himself that things had to change.

















Despite being an experienced electrician, Fung did not have any recognized qualifications, which put him at a huge disadvantage when looking for work. Moreover, an electrician's license would cost thousands of dollars which was beyond his means.

We got to know the Fungs during one of SoCO's family visits in 2004. With our help, Fung applied for a loan from our Employment Fund to pay for the licensing examination fee and succeeded in obtaining a formal qualification. Fung was appointed as the leader of the Repair and Maintenance Team as a result of his experience and dedicated attitude to work. He now leads a team of half a dozen unemployed skilled workers, who provide repair and maintenance services to the poor, elderly and single-parent families under our Maintenance Fund. In less than 18 months, the team has helped more than 150 families. The team's members have not only received warm praise for their work, but now also enjoy a stable income and can support their families.

In mid-2006, the Fung family moved into a public housing estate. Their dream of having a home and a meal together finally came true.














































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1.1 Exhibition area

1.2 Special Event and Seminar




Books Order Form (Download order form)


Booking and enquiry: Ms.Ng/Tsang/Iman Fok

Tel.: 2713 9165 (Mon to Fri) / 2307 8165 (Sat to Sun)

Address: 1/F, 115 - 117 Kweilin Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon.

(opposite to the Exit C2 of Sham Shui Po MTR station)

Website: www.soco.org.hk E-mail:soco@pacific.net.hk

1.3 Photo exhibitions of the Disadvantaged groups

(April 21 to 26, 2007) Hong Kong Cultural Centre (Photo exhibition of People with Mental Illness)

(June 6 to 21, 2007) Hong Kong Cultural Centre(Streetsleepers)

Shopping Mall: (to be confirmed)

Promotional Video and TV Programme

ATV 時事追擊 "民間博物館"

http://app.hkatv.com/webtv/control.php?program=3000011 (Part 1)

http://app.hkatv.com/webtv/control.php?program=3000005 (Part 2)

RTHK: The Works: Our Life in West Kowloon – Living Museum


RTHK Hong Kong Story:「住」得其樂 http://www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/tv/hkstories/20061231.html

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The 47-year-old Chinese Tenement at 115-119 Kweilin Street

Building structure of 115 to 119 Kweilin Street by C.C. LEE, 1959


Scenes from the Cantonese film 'The House of 72 Tenants' come to mind during visits to the Chinese tenement on Kweilin Street. Stepping into the multi-partitioned rooms reminds me of Wong Kar Wai's film 'In the Mood for Love'. Chatting with residents there gives me a sense of intimacy, as if we were old friends.

The 47-year-old Chinese tenement at 115-119 Kweilin Street bore witness to the beginning of private housing development in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s. This old building also tells stories of survival; the struggles of people from all walks of life, reflecting the unique spirit of Hong Kong. The nine-storey Chinese tenement, which has no name, comprises a total of 27 units including shop premises at street level, along with 192 steps. Under this roof is a variety of accommodation, including self-contained flats, multi-partitioned rooms (with modern or outdated glass panel partitions), newly and rather poorly-furnished self-contained rooms, rooftop homes, stationery store-rooms, caged homes and old-fashioned apartments.

Nostalgic Architectural Design

This old-fashioned Chinese tenement features a rooftop garden of over 3,000 sq. ft. and interlinked corridors. The units were pre-sold in 1960, and the occupation permit issued in January 1962. The building was designed by architect Lee Chung Nan, and built by Lam Kee Construction Company.

Some old residents recall that Lam Kee Construction Company built many standalone Chinese tenements in the old districts, using quality building materials and unique designs to suit various locations.

I have visited this Chinese tenement a thousand times, and am always impressed by its unique architectural style and characteristics. The narrow, open, interlinked corridors provide the tenants of the packed multi-partitioned rooms or caged homes with a little fresh air and a place to chat. The long, interlinked corridors allow more sunlight into the building's units, whilst the semi-open stairwell is an ideal spot for children to play hide-and-seek, a challenge similar to playing computer games. The spacious rooftop garden provides space for drying clothes or having a break, which even modern luxury apartments fail to offer. Outdated antennae cover the rooftop just as the stars blanket the sky. How romantic!

Chinese Tenements in the 1960s

The government has enacted the Buildings and Nuisances Ordinance since 1856 to improve domestic health and safety standards. Residential units are to receive natural sunlight and air ventilation, and buildings are to comply with fire, hygiene and structural safety standards. In the 1950s and 60s, developers had to submit building plans to the Buildings Department for approval before commencing construction.

Constructing old Chinese Tenements: Quick, Low Cost and Functional

Built to be functional and cost-effective, the old Chinese tenement at 115-119 Kweilin Street is typical of the 'Quick, Low Cost, Functional' construction of the 1950s and 60s. Semi-open stairwells and corridors were common in the past, and not derived from any exquisite design or specific architectural aesthetics. The semi-open layout was adopted to save considerable costs by using less windows and concrete, while still ensuring proper air ventilation and sufficient sunlight. By doing so, developers therefore achieved maximum practical functionality at minimum cost. Given the socio-economic situation at the time, the most pressing social issue was to meet housing needs.

The pre-sales of the building took place in 1960, and an occupation permit was issued in 1962. This short span of construction helped satisfy the huge demand for housing at that time. The building had a simple layout and its structure complied with safety standards. All in all, it embodied the 'Quick, Low Cost and Functional' principles for the construction of these old Chinese tenements.

Indeed, as we look back at these tenements, it's clear that over the years local developers have always followed the 'Quick, Low Cost and Functional' principles. Just look at the new developments in West Kowloon: it can take a developer only three years or so to build several hundred units, including site preparation. Some of these new units cost just over $300 per sq. ft. to build. What's more, it's still impossible to measure and confirm the actual floor space claimed by developers in their sales brochures. Oh well, after all these years, it seems our developers are still the same…

What is a 'Multi-partitioned Apartment'?

A multi-partitioned apartment is a unit where wooden planks or old-fashioned planks with glass panels are used to divide the space into at least four 'partitioned rooms'. A multi-partitioned apartment has no more than 12 households, or it becomes a 'caged home'. Each partitioned room is 40-50 sq. ft., with only enough space for a bed and a small wardrobe. Rent is about $1,000 or so per month, which in square foot terms, is even more expensive than some luxury apartments! These partitioned rooms offer accommodation for singletons, the elderly and poor families, who often clash with each other over the use of shared toilet and kitchen facilities. In Sham Shui Po alone, there are several hundred partitioned rooms.

How did Self-contained Rooms come on the Market?

Self-contained rooms began to appear in the 1990s, as the lower-income people demanded better living conditions. Each room is about 100 sq. ft., which is not very much different from a typical partitioned room, except that the former has an extremely tiny 20 sq. ft. kitchen cum toilet. This can be home for a family of five at a rent of $2,000-$3,000 per month.

What is a 'Caged Home'?

Caged homes arose from the sudden expansion in the local population in the 1950s and 60s due to an influx of refugees from mainland China. This created a strong demand for low cost bedspace apartments. Many single men arrived in Hong Kong with hardly any possessions. They worked as coolies during the day, and returned to a 3 ft. x 6 ft. bedspace at night, decade after decade. To improve air ventilation, the apartment operators used iron cages to construct bunk beds (two to three beds stacked on top of each other), and so the name 'caged home' was coined. At its peak, there were over 500 to 600 caged homes in Hong Kong. Today, there are still nearly 100 of them, reflecting an endemic problem in local housing.

In 1994, the government proceeded with the enactment of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance to regulate caged homes. The ordinance, which came into effect in 1998, defines caged homes as 'bedspace apartments'. 'Bedspace' means any floor space, bed, bunk or sleeping facility of any other type, or any part thereof, used or intended to be used as sleeping accommodation for one person.

The 'bedspace apartment' means:
(a) any flat; or
(b) where the partitioning wall or walls between 2 or more adjoining flats in a building has or have been demolished, such 2 or more adjoining flats, in which there are 12 or more bedspaces used or intended to be used as sleeping accommodation under rental agreements.

What is a 'Rooftop Home'?

Faced with crowded living conditions, costly private housing, and the long queue for public housing, many lower-income people had no choice but to erect simple squatter or concrete structures on rooftops. Residents of these rooftop homes suffered from a variety of difficulties, such as dripping water and the threat of typhoons. In the 1990s, the Buildings Department embarked on a large-scale demolition of rooftop homes and illegal premises, leaving rooftop residents in dire straits. According to the Housing Department's resettlement policy, only persons who have proof of residence in a rooftop home or illegal premises prior to 1 June 1982, and have satisfied the eligibility criteria for public housing, are entitled to relocation to public housing units; otherwise, they are only offered interim public housing.

What is a 'Hotel and Guesthouse'?

Under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance, the term 'hotel' and 'guesthouse' means any premises whose occupier, proprietor or tenant holds out that, to the extent of his available accommodation, he will provide sleeping accommodation for any person presenting himself who appears able and willing to pay a reasonable sum for the services and facilities provided and is in a fit state to be received (amended 24 of 1994 s. 36; 39 of 1998 s. 5 & 13).

The Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance was enacted in 1991. The Home Affairs Bureau is responsible for the monitoring and issue of licenses to hotels and guesthouses. In order to obtain a license, a hotel or guesthouse operator must follow stipulated layouts and other conditions in respect of suitable locations, ways for entrances and exits, as well as construction, facilities and building types, and comply with the Buildings Ordinance and the Fire Services Ordinance.



History of Sham Shui Po


According to the book 'From Sham Shui Po to Sham Shui Po', humans first inhabited Sham Shui Po during the East Han Dynasty era. More can be learnt about the early history of the district from the archaeological collection at the Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum in Hong Kong.

Origin of the Chinese Name '深水' (Sham Shui Po)

While the exact origin of the Chinese name '深水' is not known, Hong Kong's famous scholar Lo Hsiang Lin suggested a connection with ferries, which were called '步' (Po) among the people of Yue (now southern China) in ancient times. The word '步' also appears in the old names of other local districts.

Rise in Number of Inhabitants

In 1850, most of Sham Shui Po was rural farmland, largely owned by the Tang family. However, with the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, thousands of people fled to Hong Kong from mainland China. The population of Hong Kong is estimated to have surged to 2.36 million in 1950. Penniless Chinese refugees began to build themselves rough wooden shelters, and by 1952, wooden huts covered the hillsides of Sham Shui Po, as well as the villages of Pak Tin Upper / Middle / Lower, Wo Chai, and Shek Kip Mei.

Industrial and Commercial Development

The early twentieth century saw flourishing commercial and industrial activities in Sham Shui Po. Local shops sold charcoal, traditional cotton quilts, shoes, fabric, sewing machines, and so on. Prior to World War II, many shipyards were based in the wide bay area stretching from Cheung Sha Wan to Lai Chi Kok. However, the shipyards had vanished by the 1950s, when the government embarked on local reclamation projects.

In the 1950s and 60s, Sham Shui Po developed as a clothing base, with cotton mills mushrooming all over the district. As a result, local ancillary industries such as fabric, embroidery, buttons and buckles also thrived. By 1980, Sham Shui Po had become Hong Kong's largest textile center, with Yu Chau Street, Ki Lung Street, Tai Nan Street, Apliu Street, Shek Kip Mei Street, Nam Cheong Street, and Wong Chuk Street lined with fabric shops.

Before World War II, Sham Shui Po used to have a pre-dawn market for second-hand clothes at the junction between Shek Kip Mei Street and Yu Chau Street. However, the area became a garment wholesale market in 1976, when Yu Chau Street became a main thoroughfare under the government's town planning initiative.

Apliu Street grew to become a popular area for electronic equipment, where traders sell spare parts for radios, amplifiers, and the like. A second-hand electronics market also thrives in this area.

History of Pei Ho Street Market and Sham Shui Po Ferry Pier

Pei Ho Street Market is almost one hundred years old. Formerly known as Sham Shui Po Market, it was opened in 1918 and later expanded in 1928. The Hong Kong and Yaumatei Ferry Company (now defunct) used to operate ferry services between Sham Shui Po and Central, evidence that Sham Shui Po was economically vibrant at that time. However, with the subsequent development of land transport and the MTR, Sham Shui Po Ferry Pier was demolished.

Some Anecdotes About the Streets of Sham Shui Po

Today many streets in Sham Shui Po are named after Chinese cities, for example, Kweilin Street, Nam Cheong Street, Pei Ho Street, and Tung Chau Street. It is therefore no surprise that we can find the homes of late scholars Ch'ien Mu and Tang Junyi on the elegantly-named Kweilin Street. The New Asia College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong was once located on the site of numbers 61, 63, and 65 Kweilin Street. In 2007, the Urban Renewal Authority plans to redevelop 17 buildings from the 50s on Kweilin Street and Yee Kuk Street, and New Asia College's historic home will soon be pulled down.

Apliu Street was formerly known as Apliu (literally: a duck farm) or Apliu Lane, as early as the late nineteenth century, thanks to the numerous duck farms located there. Cheung Sha Wan Road (literally: a long, sandy bay) was so named because it was near a long and narrow bay.

Old Shops in Sham Shui Po

The traditional shops always offer great value for money. Although not particularly profitable, they rake in irreplaceable friendship from around the district. A simple greeting or a tiny discount definitely delights the customer and means so much more than a little saving.
There are many traditional shops in Sham Shui Po. Be they large or small, whether you know them or not, they should all be treasured.......

Eight Angels Cake Shop
Kung Wo Bean Curd Shop
Nam Cheong Pawn Shop
Kwan Kee Store
Yick Kee Glass Shop
Cheong Hing Stationery
Leung Choi Shung Bonesetter
Modern Studio
Wai Kee Light Refreshment Restaurant
Chan Chun Chiu Vegetable Seeds


Eight Angels Cake Shop

Every year around Mid-Autumn Festival, you'll see rows of colorful plastic lanterns with cakes inside hanging in front of the Eight Angels Cake Shop. All the young children love these lanterns and pester their parents to buy one; I, of course, used to do the same.

Lots of traditional cakes and biscuits such as walnut pastries, wife cakes, wedding cakes and century egg tarts can be bought at Eight Angels Cake Shop. During Mid-Autumn Festival, the shop also sells moon cakes with unusual fillings, such as dried ham with melon seeds, and lotus or red bean paste with double egg yolks. In the run-up to Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, the shop is always crowded with people buying their favorite Chinese cakes.

The cake shop was originally part of the Eight Angels Chinese Restaurant in Cheung Sha Wan. When the restaurant closed down in 1979, the then-cashier Mr. Cheung Cheung, took over the Chinese cake operation, and continued running the business as a cake shop at its present premises on Nam Chang Street. Both the shop-front and its high quality cakes have remained unchanged for the past 20 years or so.

In the old days, cake shops would accept payment in installments to allow poor people to buy moon cakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival, although such arrangements have largely disappeared today. The introduction of frozen and ice cream moon cakes has also meant that traditional moon cakes have lost some of their appeal. Nowadays, fewer people yearn for traditional Chinese cakes. For those of you who are married, have you ever tasted a wife cake?

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Kung Wo Bean Curd Shop

I've loved bean curd dessert (dau fu fa) ever since I was young. Whenever my mother and I visited textile shops in Sham Shui Po, she would treat me to dau fu fa. Even now that I've been working here for years, enjoying bean curd dessert with local residents is still a huge treat.

A visit to Kung Wo Bean Curd Shop on Pei Ho Street is like stepping back in time. The high ceiling, floor tiles, huge fans and cash baskets made of rattan are the same as those used decades ago.

This particular Kung Wo shop on Pei Ho Street dates back to the 1960s. It differentiates itself from other shops with the same name by having its own workshop at the rear of the shop.

The bean curd masters start working well before dawn every morning. Shop owner, Mr. So Sung Lim divulged that the secret to his delicious dessert is his commitment to traditional methods and high quality. They grind Canadian soybeans with a 50-year-old stone mortar and insist on not adding any flour. This generates less heat and retains the original flavor of the beans. It sounds so deceptively simple!

With such superb desserts, and nostalgic surroundings, it's a real pleasure to enjoy a bowl of silky bean curd dessert at this Kung Wo shop, the one and only one!



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Nam Cheong Pawn Shop

"I'm strapped for cash, what can I do?" "Find 'Er Shu Gung' [Ed: a colloquial expression for a pawn-broker]"

There are still a number of pawn shops in Hong Kong, several of which are located in Sham Shui Po.

I've never owned anything valuable enough to pawn, but I've always been fascinated by the 'intelligent' design of a traditional pawn shop. The counter, typically seven to eight feet high, towers over customers, forcing them to look up, and instantly reduces much of their bargaining power.

Recently the pawn-broking business in Hong Kong has been on the rise, reaching record levels with roughly 250 pawn shops scattered across the territory. This increase has not come from the traditional customer base of local people, but rather foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

Whether in times of boom or bust, pawn-brokers can always attract customers. Other types of traditional shops, such as those selling rice or corner stores, do not enjoy this privilege. The latter are vulnerable to economic downturns and can easily go out of business.

Before the advent of simple lending and repayment options, those in need of cash had no choice but to offer their prized heirlooms or possessions to the pawn shop. Half a century ago when the pawn-broking business was flourishing, many people would pawn their quilts, clothes and even their shoes for cash.

Gone are the days when anything could be pawned. Now, gold watches, jewelry and even digital cameras make up most of the pledges.

"Er Su Gung, can I pawn a Gucci handbag?"



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Kwan Kee Store

Years ago in the public housing estate where I grew up, a man always sold cakes there every afternoon: dragging his basket of cakes along the long common walkway, and chanting their names, such as steamed white sugar cake, sago cake, saucer cake and so on. Saucer cakes - steamed cakes with a layer of red beans on top - were the best snacks in those days and a precious reminder of my happy childhood.

I love buying saucer cakes and white sugar cakes at Kwan Kee to re-live these fond memories.

According to the owner Mr Fu Kwan Kee has been making cakes for three generations to the same family recipes, giving their cakes a unique taste. His grandfather began to study cake-making in Shunde, their home province, before handing over his incomparable skills and experience to the next generation. Kwan Kee started selling cakes from a street stall in Pei Ho Street in 1965, before moving to its present premises on Fuk Wah Street in 1982.

"It is the quality of our cakes which attracts customers from as far away as Tuen Mun or Tseung Kwan O, while other old customers, now living in Vancouver and the U.S, still pop in when they come back on a visit!" Mr Fu said proudly.

Mr Fu makes cakes from 4 a.m. till 2 p.m. everyday, diligently attending to each and every step of the process. He does not accept large orders and insists on selling his cakes retail rather than wholesale to ensure that quality is never compromised.

"Hey Mrs Chan, you haven't bought your kids saucer cakes in ages!" A simple remark demonstrates the friendship between Kwan Kee and the local residents. Such warmth can't be found at larger chain-store cake shops.



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Yick Kee Glass Shop

"The glass shop is closing down this afternoon: does anyone want my signboard?" On 30 November 2006, Yick Kee Glass Shop on Kweilin Street closed down amid the laughter and chatter of the local residents and the shop owner.

Wah, the shop-owner, followed his father into the glass business when he was only 12 years old, and has run this shop for the last 45 years. Yick Kee opened in 1960, long before traffic rumbled past Lai Kok Estate, and long before Yu Chau Street became busy. Over the years, the rent also grown from $280 to $10,000 a month; how the rental market has flourished!

In the 1960s and 70s, Yick Kee supplied window panes to property developers; business was good. However in the early eighties, trade began to dwindle as the shop's skilled glaziers began to grow old and retire. The physically-demanding job, of hauling heavy window panes up flights of stairs in old buildings, became almost impossible for the older glaziers. Changes came in the 1980s and 90s, as Hong Kong's economy boomed, and people preferred to spend their money on pastimes such as keeping birds and fish. "Everyone in Sham Shui Po knew Yick Kee for their fish tanks!" recollected Wah, with relish, "In our prime, we had a dozen large fish tanks on display and the largest one, which was 6 ft x 3 ft, was just like a glass house. Back then, people liked to keep koi and arowana."

"Unfortunately, the good times didn't last long. Thanks to 1997's financial turmoil and a massive influx of cheap fish tanks from the Mainland, Yick Kee's business sharply declined. I shifted into glass frames then," explained Wah, "but we just couldn't compete with the chain stores, and for the next six years we incurred losses of about $100,000. So, you see, how on earth can we continue?" he added, forlornly.

The shop, which has stood on Kweilin Street for over 40 years, has seen Wah grow from a boy to a man, and priceless, irreplaceable bonds forged between Wah and the local residents. The shop's polished worktop is a testament to Wah and his wife's hard work over the last fifty years. Indeed on top of everything, they have also succeeded in bringing up four children, all of whom enjoy their own careers. Perhaps this is the greatest achievement that the Wah couple can really be proud of...







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Cheong Hing Stationery

"Running out of stationery? Go to Cheong Hing! Need sticky tape for an exhibition? Go to Cheong Hing! Making placards for a demo? Go to Cheong Hing! Need joss sticks and paper for a memorial ceremony? Go to Cheong Hing!" Cheong Hing Stationery is one of the oldest shops that locals visit daily, and has been doing business on Kweilin Street for the last 37 years.

Mrs. Kwok, the sprightly 70-year-old shop owner, is the third generation of her family to run the business. She also helps to manage the building, and can really think on her feet: I'm certainly no match for her swift mental arithmetic! "My father first started the business in Ki Lung Street, but when those premises were demolished, we rented this shop on Kweilin Street," she explained. "Back then, the rent was about $8,000 a month. I could only afford to buy the shop 10 years ago."

"Our prime time was in the years just before 1997," she commented. "Between 1990 and 1996, many nearby factories and offices ordered stationery from us. Business was booming. However, after 1997, most of the factories were relocated to mainland China and our business went with them." Luckily, business has remained steady, with local residents making up most of the shop's customers. The advent of computers and I.T. also badly affected the shop. Nowadays, people prefer using mobile phones and the Internet, rather than writing letters, so paper and stationery sales have dropped dramatically.

The younger generation in Hong Kong has almost forgotten our traditional rituals. What's more, most people are now living in multi-storey buildings, where for environmental reasons, the tradition of burning joss papers on the doorstep is prohibited. No wonder there's been a decline in demand. Mr. Yeung, who has worked at the shop for over 30 years, is familiar with all kinds of customs as well as funeral rituals - he even knows how to embroider a scroll. This kind of employee is indeed a rare-find today!

"Today's Mark Six jackpot is 45 million!" Although I had no idea how many numbers Mark Six would draw, I bought a toy Mark Six game from Cheong Hing, hoping that I'd be the next lucky winner.




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Leung Choi Shung Bonesetter

Leung Choi Shung Bonesetter, which is on Kweilin Street in Sham Shui Po, has been there for over 40 years, helping numerous patients. They truly are the 'real McCoy'!

Leung Choi Shung, founder of the operation, and the story of how he fixed a duck's leg with a chicken's is legendary in Chinese medicine circles. Leung's business began in 1805 during the Jiaqing era of the Qing Dynasty in Foshan Lanshi town, and is renowned for its bone-setting pills and ointment.

Mr Leung Hon Kwong, the current operator of Leung Choi Shung, is a 50-something, smartly-dressed man, who wears a pair of glasses with silver frames. He is always busy helping his patients with ointments and bandages. Gentle but firm, he attends to their injuries skillfully. He cares about his patients, not only their physical complaints, but also their feelings and sense of well-being. What a kind and compassionate doctor!

I sprained my wrist a few years ago, perhaps from carrying a loudhailer for too long, or raising my fists once too often at demonstrations. After having been attended by Mr. Leung just once or twice, my wrists (and my support for demonstrations) were even stronger than before: it was absolutely amazing!

Leung Choi Shung is famous for its bone-setting cream, which is rather difficult and complex to produce, requiring lots of special equipment. Indeed, the medicine has such a strong smell that it is usually made in the open air away from the town center. An auspicious day is selected for the production, and a prayer ceremony and offerings are usually held. See how serious this business is?

Today, most people find it more convenient to use bone-setting pills and ointment. Lucky me, I have both of these Leung Choi Shung gems at home!




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Modern Studio

One August day, quite by chance, I came across Modern Studio (a photographic studio) in Sham Shui Po. At the sound of the camera's shutter 'chi-chak' I imagined myself as the leading lady in the romantic Korean movie 'Pal-Wol-Eui Il-Yo-Il-Deul' (Sundays in August).

As I walked up an exceptionally long staircase, decorated on both sides with black and white, and fading color photographs of individuals and families, I could feel the happiness captured by the photographer.

I entered the studio and took in the old-fashioned wallpaper decorating the studio walls, some saucer-like chairs (much cooler than any designer chairs of today) and the soft, romantic lighting. I knew. I'd found it: the 'Pal-Wol-Eui Il-Yo-Il-Deul' of my dreams.

Mr. Chan succeeded his father as the owner of this 50-year-old studio. He explained that with technological changes from the large, wooden tri-pod cameras of the past through to modern-day film and digital cameras, the traditional studios have faced enormous challenges and are disappearing year after year.

Today, most people possess hundreds of photos. However, back in the 50s and 60s cameras were still a rarity, and capturing precious moments with loved ones was never easy. Photographic studios flourished. Parents loved to take the whole family to a studio during Lunar New Year or on special occasions. The entire family would either stand or sit in a row, with the children usually sitting on saucer-like chairs in the first row. What an unforgettable experience!

As the shutter sounded 'chi-chak', and as the lights shone on me, I became the centre of attention, I became a movie star !










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Wai Kee Light Refreshment Restaurant

I adore the pig's liver noodles and kaya toast of Wai Kee Light Refreshment Restaurant. I was first tempted into this 50-year old famous eatery by the photos of the Chief Executive decorating the restaurant. Mr. Tsang looked so relaxed and satisfied, as if he were feeding his koi. A big thank you to the Chief Executive!

Mr. Chan Shun Guang, Wai Kee's second generation owner, is a polite young man, who looks more like a trendy I.T. executive than the boss of three restaurants. "Back in 1957, we were the first shop in Hong Kong to offer pig's liver noodles, and there have been queues ever since," he proudly said.

Considering Wai Kee's popularity, it's perhaps surprising that it began as a lowly food stall on the street, founded single-handedly by Mr. Chan's father, Mr Chan Wai. Later, Wai Kee moved to small shop premises and has expanded rapidly over the years. Today, Wai Kee has three outlets and is managed by the founder's son, since his father has now retired. Mr. Chan personally selects the finest pig's livers every morning. Wai Kee's daily order reaches 140 and 200 catties on weekdays and weekends respectively!
The restaurant offers three specialties: pig's liver noodles, kaya toast, and a beef and pig's liver combo. Kaya toast uses a paste from Malaysia, which is freshly made every day from a mixture of butter, chickens' and ducks' eggs, sugar and water. It's wonderful, not too sweet-my all-time afternoon tea favorite.
Although Wai Kee does not boast the same trendy decor of neighboring restaurants, it stands out thanks to its reasonable prices and top-notch food. So, if you'd like to lodge a complaint with the Chief Executive, skip the Central Government offices and try your luck at Wai Kee instead!




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Chan Chun Chiu Vegetable Seeds

"Chan Chun Chiu is not my grandpa's name. He named the shop Chan Chun Chiu in memory of Chiu Chow (the family's native province)," explained Mr. Chan, the third generation shop owner.

Chan Chun Chiu Vegetable Seeds first started business in Kowloon City in 1905, primarily selling vegetable seeds, and subsequently moved to Boundary Street in 1945, and later to Cheung Sha Wan Road in 1953. The Chan family bought the shop at 117 Kweilin Street in the 1960 property pre-sale, and has remained there for the last 47 years.

"I don't know much about horticulture, but I'm amazed that people are still buying vegetable seeds in this modern age! There were 400-500 shops selling vegetable seeds in Hong Kong in the old days, but now only ten are left, and ours is the only one in Kowloon," said Mr. Chan. Hong Kong's economy has significantly changed over the years.

Chan Chun Chiu not only sells vegetable seeds, but also flower seeds, feeds, pesticides, fertilizers, rice and a small variety of dried foods.

"Our business peaked between 1960 and 1978, but as Hong Kong's agricultural industry faded, trade started to decline," explained Mr. Chan. "I still receive 10-20 calls everyday, but they are not placing any orders; they are from property agents, checking if I'll lease or sell the shop!"

There are color advertisements all over the shop, which according to Mr. Chan, were painted in 1965. Now, their colors have faded, which only adds to their nostalgic charm.

A British-made ceiling fan, which is certainly over 50 years old, whirrs above the shop. The fan was bought secondhand years ago and it's still in good condition - old, but sturdy!





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KPMG - a professional services firm supporting our community through SoCO

KPMG is proud to be the sponsor of this SoCO publication and their "Our Life in West Kowloon" exhibition and related events at 115-119 Kweilin Street. Our people have developed a special affection for this building where the SoCO community centre is located and where we conduct many of our activities with the SoCO children. We believe this is a very meaningful project creating greater public understanding of an older part of Hong Kong and the lives of its residents. It is indeed a corporate sponsorship of a unique nature.

Caring about the communities in which we live and work is fundamental to our corporate values. KPMG in Hong Kong is committed to active involvement in the local community - this is how we have come to know and work with SoCO.

We treasure our on-going partnership with SoCO and the opportunities to work together to help people in need. There are many benefits our people gain from contributing their time and effort to community projects. We develop greater compassion, we broaden our perspectives, and we learn how a difficult situation can be turned into a rewarding experience. Above all, we learn to act with integrity.

KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax and advisory services. We operate in over 140 countries with more than 104,000 professionals worldwide.

KPMG in support of children living in poverty

KPMG came to know SoCO in mid-2003 through the media and offered to assist in SoCO's initiatives to help disadvantaged children. Since then, KPMG partners and staff members have contributed time, effort and resources to the well-being of over 1,000 disadvantaged children in Hong Kong each year. In 2006/07, our project received the Outstanding Partnership Project Award from the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, significant community recognition of the joint efforts of KPMG and SoCO.


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