Tenants prepare to exit beloved estate
30 May 2009
China Daily - Hong Kong Edition
HONG KONG: In the dim corridors of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate, residents struggle to haul suitcases full of memories from tiny cluttered apartments. Others wrestle with trolley loads of furniture, bedding and other household possessions, pushing them along narrow corridors.
The mood is somber among residents whose homes will be gone in a few weeks. The 40-year-old estate will fall under the wrecking ball as the property undergoes preparation for redevelopment.
Famed for its delicious dai pai dongs and cha chaan tengs, Ngau Tau Kok public housing estate, is well beloved by its residents. Time and urban renewal have caught up to the estate and so its days are numbered. Demolition work is to begin after August 1.
For residents, mostly elderly living alone, their government ordered departure will impose financial hardship.More difficult is the emotional trauma.
Chan, who goes by the name "Chan Mui", is a 94-year-old childless widow, suffering chronic arthritis who has lived in her tiny apartment for close to 35 years.
She has become attached to her neighbors. "I will miss my neighbors most. We are a tight community and we look out for each other. Not only that, I've become attached to a lot of the furniture I am using. I am so reluctant to throw things out," she said.
"I feel it will be difficult for me to adapt to a new environment," she added.
Another resident, Fung, who is in her eighties, collects old newspapers and discarded cardboard boxes. She earns her living that way.
To her, the financial burden of removal remains the greatest cause for anxiety.
"I have to pay almost triple my monthly rent when I move into my new flat in Ngau Tau Kok Upper Estate - from HK$390 per month right now to HK$1,010. How can I afford such extra money?"
Fung said she is receiving a one-off payment from the Housing Authority in the sum of HK$2,300 in addition to social welfare. That will not cover her expenses.
She sighs: "If I had more money, things would go a lot smoother. Now I have to make do with what I can."
To help alleviate the financial burden on the elderly, Hulu Concept Limited raised some HK$60,000 back in April by selling second-hand merchandise from stores and family-run businesses that are being forced to close because of the redevelopment.
Chan and Fung were among the ten elders who received HK$1,000 subsidies but Chan said it cannot replace the community spirit that has grown on the estate over time.
As Chan led us to her flat on the 9th floor, evidence of the distinctive lifestyle found only in public housing estates was everywhere. Endless chatter arose from nearby beauty salons. A grandpa snoozes on a rickety wooden chair, his eyes occasionally opening as his sleep is disturbed by raucous cries of vendors bellowing: "Bargain! HK$3 for a pineapple bun!"
The closing of the Ngau Tau Kok Estate marks the end of an indigenous Hong Kong way of life. Since 1969, residents have lived in typically one-room quarters. The estate is a symbol of Hong Kong's early grassroots culture, and a unique slice of the urban lifestyle.
Source : http://www.pbase.com/hltam