Maria’s memories of rice cake and ice popsicles 裊裊飯香－黃稼梅
Sai Wan Stories; memories of HK’s oldest public housing estate
In Kennedy Town you find Hong Kong oldest surviving public estate. 640 units in five blocks built in a rocky hill side, Sai Wan Estate is a living memory of the city’s first big housing crisis. Thousands of people moved here ‘temporarily’ in 1958 fleeing war and unrest, but many never left. Sai Wan Estate is a micro-cosmos of post-war Hong Kong, a place of survivors where the community spirit thrives. We met with some long-time residents. We learned about their hopes, dreams and memories. Hear their stories, learn what they love.
“Neighbours are great. We have around 20 families on a corridor, and you run into them all the time. It makes the space feel much bigger. No one minds if you walk into their place.”
Maria has been living in Sai Wan Estate since she was a child, over 60 years. When she was young, she lived here with her parents, grandma, sister, brother-in-law, and their baby, seven of them shared a flat.
“I grew up doing all the chores. I was the ‘laundry girl’. All the adults’ clothes went to a big basket, separated from the baby’s and I had to wash it all by hand. When I was done my grandma would treat me an ice pop. I love eating ice pops, they were 10 cents each.”
Every Hong Konger remembers the water shortage during the 60s. The water only came for four hours every four days, but even then, the water pressure was so weak the water didn’t always make it to the upper floors: “The water was all gone when it reached 10th floor and we lived on the 12th floor, so I had to go down to the basement to fetch water and carry buckets upstairs”.
Sharing the love of food
Maria often shares meals with her neighbours: “Cooking a meal for few is expensive and cumbersome, cooking with neighbours made it easier and cheaper. When I first invited them to eat together, they felt awkward, but gradually we’ve all grown to love it. We even go out for buffet together, sometimes hotpot. Once we got a discount meal, we only paid $100 a head.”
“For festivals we always prepare special food. My family would make rice cake for Chinese New Year and our neighbours would have other flavours, radish, taro or water chestnut, the corridors never smelled so good. People who live here are not very well-off, that’s why we share with each other.” Maria has many fond memories that involve sharing, a neighbour bringing two cages of chicken, giving one to each floor or a huge pot of soup shared among neighbours.
The neighbourhood bonding
“Neighbours are great. We have around 20 families on a corridor, and you run into them all the time. It makes the space feel much bigger. No one minds if you walk into their place. The air ventilation is very good. The grannies sit outside at their door to enjoy the breeze and rest at noon. Everyone is very nice here, especially the grannies, they’re friendly and caring. They come from a generation that came to Hong Kong to take refuge, they remember the days when everyone was poor, when you had to share one phone line with the whole floor”.
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