Mr. Liu’s community garden 鳥語花香－廖世銘
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.
“The entire Sai Wan Estate is like a big family, everyone keeps their door open. I help others to water their plants.”
We meet Mr. Liu and Moon Jeh in their ‘garden’. It is a big open space filled with plants right outside of their flat where they grow chili, herbs, hibiscus, cactus, you name it. Further down the mountains are fruit trees of all sorts, papaya, lemon, and longan.
Love of birds
Mr. Liu hangs out at this little garden every day. You typically find him on his chair with his radio on. He loves the fragrant camelia, acacia and gardenia flowers. “We used to have Chinese violet as well, giving a lovely smell in the evenings, but one night someone removed the plants, a real pity. In summer you can see more than ten birds fighting with each other. I’ve spotted oriental magpie-robins, Eurasian tree sparrows and doves also live here. They love to eat the leaves from the Taiwan Acacia.” Just, as he is talking about the magpie’s ‘landlord’ behaviour scaring smaller birds other away, a sparrow flies into the kitchen through the open door and picks some rice from the floor. Mr. Liu nods approvingly, “They come in here all the time, they really know how to find food.”
Mr. Liu was a manager at Nam Pak Hong Trading House, responsible for cargo handling at the pier. “The coolies came from different countries. It was all about trust, we relied on each other, if you were fair and just, people would respect you.” Mr. Liu shipped green tea to Africa, black tea to Britain and red and green beans and black-eyed peas to Japan. “There were no holidays, we were hands on and worked very hard. We made long hours every day. I applied for Sai Wan Estate because it was close to the pier, even when I worked until midnight I could still walk home.”
One big family
Mr. Liu has always had a good relationship with his neighbours. “The entire Sai Wan Estate is like a big family, everyone keeps their door open. I help others to water their plants. The management office is a bit stricter now, our neighbours warn us to move our plants in when the officers patrol.”
“This has always been a lively place, with kids running around on the corridor. Our children would often eat at the neighbour’s house or we’d have other kids at our kitchen table. If the kids suddenly turned silent, you knew it was TV time. When the clock stroke 4.30 they’d watch ‘430 Space Shuttle’. In the evenings it was time for Yao Su Rong’s songs. We liked listening to Mandarin songs, especially those from Taiwan. Moon Jeh liked Qing Shan, she always listened to his songs.”
“During Mid-Autumn Festival we’d still be moon-watching at 11pm. All the kids would walk up the hill with their lanterns. These memories are like pieces of beautiful paintings, life was good.”
*Mr. Liu passed away in 2017. We thank Mrs. Liu, for allowing us to share Mr. Liu’s story.
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