LNII stands for Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (II) Estate, the last resettlement estate to be redeveloped in Hong Kong. You may click here for the first instalment of this report.
(A vacant flat peeked through the ventilation hole from the central corridor)
The photos presented in this series were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. This instalment peeks into the daily life in a resettlement estate, with the focus on the colourful childhood days there.
(Any strangers can go in through this main gate, walk up the stairs or take the lifts to any floor of the block, which is what we are going to do in this instalment. Note that the photo is rightly exposed. It was around past five but the extensive sunshades of the deserted shops blocked the sky, and this entrance was exactly so dimly lit. No wonder that the crime rate was high in such resettlement estates in the past)
Yesterday, we read about the nickname "matchboxes" for resettlement estates and stopped at the dark, long and suffocating central corridors featured in the design of LNII buildings.
(This photo shows the ventilation holes on the partition wall which separates the flat from the corridor. The hanging urn on the right is a shrine for worshipping the god of earth, a traditional ritual common among Chinese families)
To make up for poor ventilation due to this design, ventilation holes were formed in the partition walls separating the flats and the central corridor. The noise from the corridor inevitably wafted through the holes into the flats. Some residents simply sealed them. These holes had provided fun for children through which they could chat with one another.
(The kids are playing "stick game" in which tiny sticks are showered on the floor and the players take turn to pick up as many sticks as possible without moving the other sticks to move in the process. As the photo suggests, they are playing in the street)
For the children, the central corridor also served another unintended function. The long distance made it an ideal playground for children to play football, marbles, race or ride tricycles from one end to the other when they did not play in the street.
For the children, the dark, central corridor is an adventurous place to be. A longer exposure reveals the nitty-gritty of the setting in the central corridor. As shown in the above photo, there is a power distribution room (which is next to a residential unit!) behind the red door on the right; clockwise to the left above the aquamarine gate is a light bulb which the household use to illuminate the dark entrance to the flat; along the ceiling are the pipes and wires serving the flats; to the right there are two clothes hangers hanging some socks; below them, the two goldenrod ball-shape things connected to some pipes are the water meters; now back to the right you see the metal mailbox attached to the gate; an opening on the opposite aquamarine gate makes for a mailbox; mark that the urns on the floor outside both flats are the god-of-earth shrine, and that the power meters are above the flat gates.
In those days, children were seen roaming around all over the street in the daytime because the parents were busy day and night to make ends meet. They didn’t really have the time to spare for themselves, much less the time and attention for their children.
(A makeshift kiosk by an old cobbler occupies a quiet corner in the street. He could have seen lots of children growing up in LNII)
(This is the old shop owner and her grocery on the ground floor of a residential block in LNII. Before the emergency of supermarkets and convenient stores, such grocery stores were the only places to buy staple food items lie rice, eggs and flour. These stores had been a fantastic place for children to hang around nearby because sometimes the more kind-hearted would give out some biscuits for free. Now look carefully and find the blue and red buckets near the light bulb. This is the old way to store money by shop owners: one for coins and the other for money notes. They could be the prototypes of modern cash registers, couldn’t they?)
However, this was anything but regrettable for children, which is precisely summed up by an ex-resident, Mr Tang: "I really enjoyed the way of life in the resettlement estate. It was so free."
The life led by Mr Tang was a typical wild boy’s life. “I did not have any proper schooling," he recalls. "So besides helping Mum with the housework, I had plenty of leisure time in the day. What I most enjoyed was hanging out on the hillsides with friends of my age, swimming, hunting, fishing and cooking."
(There is a strong sense of liberal attitude in any old resettlement estate like LNII. Take for wxample, some households of flats on the ground floor simply hangs the washing like underwear outside the flat, which is next to a sidewalk. If not for the being blocked by the washing, the inside of the flats can be easily seen by any passers-by. Probably for this liberal attitude, people growing up in such estates tend to be more easy-going and resilient under pressure as far as my experience goes. They just seem to worry less)
Mrs Lee spent a similar childhood in the resettlement estate. She says, "We used to gather together and play on the open ground in the estate and on nearby slopes. The boys played marbles and had 'paper-pellet' battles. The girls went high up on the hill to pluck wild fruit and flowers, or climbed into empty lorries parked on the open ground to take a nap."
(The neighbourhood of LNII is also crowded with shops of different trades. It is easy to imagine how amazed the children were when they spent their leisure time roaming these shops when they were not on the hill slopes)
The prime purpose of the early resettlement programme was to resettle residents affected by fires or by squatter clearance. It did not take into consideration the provision of community services or education facilities for children.
People moving in LNII were the lucky lots as the estate was provided with schools, which were like truncated annex wings to the residential blocks.
"Teachers and students in the school had a very close relationship. My school-mates were all from the same neighbourhood. So, after school, we could always go up the hill behind the buildings and play together," recalls Ms Ng, another resettlement resident during her childhood.
Notwithstanding the monotonous, functional architectural design, and the crowded, messy and dirty environment, a village atmosphere was miraculously retained in the early resettlement blocks for the children. In the 1960s, deserted land and hill slopes surrounded these densely-packed blocks. Children ran and played in the natural wilderness and had a wonderful and colourful childhood, which sounds very much a fable to the well-groomed, multitasking kids of the present days in this big city of rat racers.
(An old man smoking in a sitting-out area in LNII: Is he being nostalgic about the past of LNII? Who wouldn’t for having lived in a place for forty years?)
Next, we will look at the life of adults in a resettlement estate. More photos to come. Stay tuned!
- continue here -
(The old photos without copyright notes are reproduced from various printed materials)