Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pics of the Day 05: Shek Kip Mei Housing Estates Visit

Last Sunday I went to see an old public housing estate that was open to the public for the last time before the government closes it- for historic preservation, renovation, I'm not sure.

The Mei Ho House was one of the first public housing projects the Hong Kong government undertook in 1954, as a response to the devastating fires that leveled thousands of homes in the squatter village in December of 1953. The public housing estates were an answer to the overwhelming numbers of refugees that swelled Hong Kong's population by millions in the early 1950s. It provided shelter in fire-proof structures, albeit small and not so design-friendly.

I first saw the Mei Ho House coming down the road from JCCAC. My first thoughts were it looked a little like a prison, because it was behind barbed wire and a fence. It also looked eerily deserted, and the structure itself was un-inviting in design and taste. Boxy, decrepit, with peeling paint. The day hot and humid, I quickly thought how unbearable living there must have been in the summer months. No air-conditioning, sweaty, cramped stuffy rooms, the smell of rotting food, garbage, human sweat. This was an upgrade from the squatter villages? It was hard to imagine living conditions worse than this…

My first view of the H-block style housing estate. It was swarming with visitors on this late Saturday morning. I felt really happy that so many local Hong Kong people were taking an interest in their local heritage by visiting this historic site.

Faded peeling paint. Balconies facing outwards, long corridors. Geometrical, simple. Six stories. No elevators. Gates and bars.

Hot sun beating down.

Visitors with big professional cameras. One man takes our picture. Concrete, concrete concrete. Nothing soft or organic left. A hard empty shell.

In the first flat, crowded with people taking photos. The apartment is a small rectangular box.

The front door a faded mustard yellow. A tiny bathroom, big enough for a sink and toilet off to the right just inside the entrance. A front window. White walls, no windows except all the way in the back, coming in through the window/kitchen.

Things from decades ago..the 60s, the 70s? Plastic flowers. Ovaltine. A ceramic statue of Guan-Yin, Chinese goddess of mercy. A Chinese bible of sorts. A bright green mini-fridge. Very 70s. Horlicks. Thermoses. A cassette player and cassette tapes. The linens, table cloths, dresser covers, none of it matches. Things just there, randomly, but all necessities. Nothing is decorated, just put together. An old tv. An old radio. An old calendar, time frozen. Old tin cans hold nothing. Small beds, folding tables, folding chairs. Plastic coverings, plastic for protection.

We meet a woman, she and her husband speaks English. She looks to be in her 50s. She has come to the Mei Ho House because she was born there. They still live in Hong Kong, out in New Territories. The house she grew up in is not open to the public. It must be a very special feeling to be back. She remembers playing outside with her friends, but I don’t think she remembers much.

The corridors are long and empty, but once they must have been filled with children running up and down the corridors. Parents who walked home from a long day of work at a factory. Grandparents and elderly, joints stiff, backs aching, slowly shuffling down, one step at a time. There is no rush. Time is still.

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