14 Oct Mrs. Wong about the Sai Wan neighbourhood spirit 鄰里氣息－黎瑞英
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 hillside, 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 at the Sai Wan Neighbourhood. We learned about their hopes, dreams and memories. Hear their stories, learn what they love.
Chinese New Year was the time when the neighbourhood love truly shined. Early in the morning families would come to each other’s house with bags of oranges, red packets and cheerful shouts of ‘Gung Hei Fat Choy’.
My unforgettable job
I grew up in the war years, there could be a bomb explosion right at your door while having dinner. Our generation never knew, you could lose your life anytime. Hardship made us grab every opportunity, we’d find a job and study at the same time. I’ve had many different jobs in my life, one of the more memorable ones was switchboard operator at a big hotel. You had to be really quick on your feet. We literally had to connect the two phone lines. When a guest wanted to make a call, they picked up the receiver and told us the number. We would then connect the phone line to the system and connect to the person on the other side. After the call, we had to unplug the lines before we could place another call.
I remember the old days of Sai Wan Neighbourhood in the Estate. Once there was a big landslide, my neighbourhoods let me in and stay for the night. There is a saying in Chinese, ‘Neighbours close by are better than families far away.’ We always take care of each other, especially when someone is sick. Our children do care about us, but they have their own life, they can’t just drop everything and help when I am sick; neighbours are different, they come by and knock on the door ‘How are you today? Do you need anything? You want me to come along to the doctor?”
Back in those days, if someone was sick, we brought them congee or noodles. Our children played at the neighbours’ all the time. If someone was sick, we would pick their kid up from school. That’s just how it was. We’d look after each other’s kids. We helped each other out.
Chinese New Year was the time when the neighbourhood love truly shined. Early in the morning families would come to each other’s house with bags of oranges, red packets and cheerful shouts of ‘Gung Hei Fat Choy’. In Chinese tradition, when you receive a gift, you give back a gift. After a few years, we found this gift exchange getting too cumbersome. We’d just be carrying heavy fruits around. From then we decided to just give red packets and spare the fruits.
Sai Wan Estate’s future
There was once a district councillor who suggested demolishing the Estate in the Sai Wan Neighbourhood, everyone started to think about applying for the Housing Authority’s interest-free loan and move. But I still hope that the next generation can stay here with us.
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