SCENE 17 - Photographer Fu Chun Wai Interview
Interview with Photographer FU CHUN WAI in New Evening Post office about his impressions of the Walled City.
FU: I first started taking photos of the Walled City in 1988 and doing it more intensively and frequently around 1991. I was studying photography when it was torn down in 1992.
The main difficulty of shooting there was being chased out by people, mostly mean old men, who were intimidated to see unfamiliar faces. Theyíd swear and demand you to rip your films out. Most of the time I wouldn't give them the film since I outran the old men. When the real mean tattooed guys came after me, I'd have no other choice but to open the camera, over-expose a bit of the film just to get rid of them.
My impression of the Walled City is that of a microcosm of society, a mini Hong Kong. In that very small area, youíd find various industries, including plastic slippers, noodles, traditional cakes, handicrafts, etc.
Another impression is the heavy odour of dried salted fish.
Now if I were to use a colour to describe the Walled City, Iíd choose black and white since it was such a dark environment. I couldn't see much difference in colour unless I used a flash. It was difficult to see other colours.
As for any unforgettable experiences...... the place was so dark and the corridors so smelly that Iíd have to cover my nose, not daring to go any further then a few steps.
At other times the electrical wiresíd dangle dangerously low, right above the head. Iíd tell children to get out of there when I saw them go and push the wires up, fearing that they might get electrocuted.
At other times right at noon, daylight would leak in, and people would read the paper by the light and kids would play in it. It was rather fascinating.
Cut to MR MOONCAKES struggling to continue to speak about spider webs as chicken squeaking in the background annoys him.
MOONCAKES: Where we worked in the Kowloon Walled City, there were lots of furniture and equipment such as woks. The environment was inevitably cramped and unhygienic. Sometimes the spider webs from the shop next doors got tangled with ours. They made up circles with many fine lines. Spider webs did exist, but they werenít there that often. I mean the problem of spider webs.
SCENE 18 - Engineer & Former Walled City Resident Mr Law
on Housing Policy
Cut to LAW CHI WAI on the history and politics of the Walled City.
LAW: The Walled City used to house the official court. According to diplomatic law, its sovereignty shouldnít be given away even when Hong Kong was ceded to Britain.
When the Qing Dynasty collapsed in China, both the new Chinese Government and the British Government did not pay much attention to this land. As time went by, the Walled City became a city which was "unregulated for three". Prostitution, gambling and drugs became serious problems, and many gangs were actively making money there.
As for why many residents were unwilling to move away for it to be demolished, I think there were two reasons.
Some of the residents were too impoverished and frail to afford to live elsewhere and thus preferred to stay on. These included the elderly and the under-privileged. But they were the minority.
The majority of the protesters who struggled against the police and refused to move were business or property owners. Since this area was, strictly speaking, not considered British soil, they had no legal entitlement and there was no law to govern as to how their loss should be compensated.
In order to settle the matter properly, the government was willing to offer what it considered to be substantial amounts of compensation, on average up to half a million Hong Kong dollars. But some of the residents were still not satisfied with the compensation.
LAW explains the history and state of public housing in Hong Kong with shots of public housing in Hong Kong.
Since Iíve lived in both the Walled City and in public housing, Iíve first-hand experience of living under the Hong Kong housing policy.
As many academics have pointed out, the Hong Kong housing policy was "forced" upon the government. In the 1950ís, many residents who used to live in squatter huts were suddenly made homeless after the Shek Kip Mei fire. Resettlement was built in the form of temporary housing, which is now being gradually demolished. It offered very basic amenities with only twenty square feet or so of living space for each household. It was extremely crowded there. Later on many problems arose in such bad living conditions, forcing the government to propose the "Ten-Year Housing Policy".
I think that the Hong Kong Government did not have much of a long-term strategy to tackle housing problems. As a short-term solution, the government moved parts of the population to remote districts in order to turn them into prosperous areas for which land prices would rise, giving the government sizable revenue.
Cut to general shots of old people covering narratorís voice.
NAR: According to figures from the Government Statistics, the lower classes live better in the past 20 years, but the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening, parallel to constant economic growth and an open economy. The lower classes who fare much worse than the rest are the elderly and frail, handicapped, and single, low-income people.
SCENE 19 - Photojournalist Simon Go on Housing
Photojournalist SIMON GO speaks about housing settlements in Hong Kong in his home.
SIMON: I think Hong Kong's housing policy has considerably improved our housing conditions only in the past decade or so.
In planning to clear up old settlements, the authorities have overseen the problems associated with destroying the original ways of life and community ties in these districts. These folks, especially the elderly, were relocated to remote areas where they were simply expected to start a new life.
In old settlements in Hong Kong one finds good vibes and a strong community spirit, which are hard to find in new housing estates.
Apart from the Walled City, I also completed a project of photography on caged people. Not only did spend a long time to have a deeper involvement and understanding of the living conditions of caged people, I also realized what they went through was actually worse than what we imagined.
Cut to old man living alone in public housing.
SCENE 20 - Interview with Old Man in Public Housing and Statistics
Interview with old man living alone in flat in public housing estate in Kowloon City.
INTERVIEWER: How long have you been living here, Abah?
OLD MAN: I've been living here for around 3 years.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you live before?
OLD MAN: I used to live in Diamond Hill (squatter area).
OLD MAN: I íve no other choice but to depend on myself. I often fall ill and visit the doctor. Iíve just returned home from a couple of days in the hospital.
INTERVIEWER: Have you heard of the Walled City of Kowloon?
OLD MAN: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been to the Walled City of Kowloon?
OLD MAN: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do there?
OLD MAN: Just to take a look.
INTERVIEWER: Walking around?
OLD MAN: I sometimes take a stroll downstairs in Kowloon City Park.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know of any elderly from the Walled City?
OLD MAN: Not really. I didnít know anyone there before its demolition.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel lonely living here?
OLD MAN: Of course Iím lonely! Iím lonely and Iíve nothing.
INTERVIEWER: So you have no relatives here?
OLD MAN: No family, no friends. Iíve no children. No one.
Shot of plane flying over Kowloon City street sign under narrator.
NAR: According to the United Nations Human Development Report, 1990, there is a higher gap between the top 1/5th richest and the bottom 1/5th poorest in Hong Kong than in other Southeast Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. Hong Kong is only marginally better than Thailand, much better than the Philippines, and worse than most Western countries except Australia and New Zealand.
SCENE 21 - Photojournalist Simon Go on Kowloon Walled City Colours and MAURICE Connections
Cut to SIMON GO on impressions of the Walled City.
SIMON: I found the Walled City to be basically without colours. The only colours I saw were gray and black, or emerald, since most of the shops used fluorescent lights.
Perhaps this was the world of the Walled City where MAURICE lived.
SCENE 22 - Lion Dance Performance
Cut to traditional lion dance performance by a group of young professional performers.
SCENE 23 - Old Lady on Ping Pong Table
PING PONG LADIES hanging around their ping pong table, chatting with one another as kids run around the table. They are quite funny and eccentric. Doing funny things, saying funny things. They speak about their situations.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of 1997? Are you concerned about the 1997 issue?
LADY ON TABLE:What about 1997? 1997! Of course Iím dead worried! Worried about losing my pension! Worried about our livelihood!
LADY STANDING: Being over 70 years of age of course Iím worried about my livelihood. Iím too old to have any work.
LADY WITH GLASSES: Nothing good comes from mainland (China). Hong Kong and mainland are just the same. Isn't that so?
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that Hong Kong cares for the elderly?
LADY STANDING: Of course people care!
LADY WITH GLASSES: We old people donít know how to earn money..........
INTERVIEWER: How do you think Hong Kong people care for the elderly?
LADY WITH GLASSES:No matter how they care it is useless. We old people are old people. We donít make money. What kind of care do we get?!
LADY STANDING: And weíve nothing to do. Just sit here all day after feeding ourselves.
SCENE 24 - Photojournalist Simon Go on Ping Pong Old Ladies
Cut to SIMON GO on PING PONG LADIES' mentality.
SIMON: The attitudes of those old ladies at the ping pong table reflect many Hong Kong people's mentality now.
This isnít what they wish for themselves. People just have no means to change the status quo because they feel small. The government policy doesnít encourage independent thinking. Perhaps such sense of helplessness stems from what we call a 'stuffed duckling' education system which stuffs you with information but doesnít stimulate questioning.
SCENE 25 - 1997 Comments
Everyone speaks of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to mainland China.
SIMON: To some degree we hope that the 1997 issue will present a new environment to Hong Kong people.
JEFF: As I put it, whether one is concerned or not has nothing to do with oneís ability to change things and whether one can live in the environment under the changes. If Iím concerned, it doesnít mean that I can change anything.
MAURICE'S MUM Iím not afraid of the possibility of losing human rights and political persecution after 1997 because Iím not politically active. Iím not afraid.
MOONCAKES: As 1997 is drawing near, the Basic Law states that Hong Kongíssystem would remain unchanged for the coming 50 years, I hope with all other Hong Kong citizens that weíll preserve the status quo. Prosperity and good life is what we all hope for. I myself only hope that itíll pass peacefully and that weíll be able to find work and make a living. I donít have much demand. I hope for us all that nothing bad will happen.
OLD LADY: Under each regime you toil and weíve survived several. Nowadays I'm afraid to say yes or no. Hope it's good for everyone, you know. As long as you feed and clothe yourself, you can't hope for too much. For old people like us there's no hope.
MAURICE: I see the Chinese Government in a rather negative light, because I think the communist party will be likely to be corrupt and to restrict freedom. To a certain extent, Hong Kong will be affected in these ways. But Iím not so afraid myself. I donít own much.
DR LEE: As we return to the rule of the motherland and cede to be a colony, of course our future will be better.
LEE WAI YEE:There is of course a lot of worry, especially when we students, who would probably continue to engage in research, hope for freedom of speech and freedom to engage in research after the 1997 takeover.
MR LAW: Though weíre returning to the motherland, Hong Kong people havenítbeen so conscious of their roots. Most of us donÕt have any nationalistic sentiments. Hong Kong people are generally very practical and realistic. What we hope for is a government which will preserve the status quo and our unique lifestyle.
Cut to a shot of a beggar in Central banging his head off the ground. This shot lasts for a second or two longer than weíd like then we go to the closing shots.
(SFX: Flute under beggar - near the end of his shot)
SCENE 26 - Summation and Ending Scene
MAURICE playing ďThe Butterfly LoversĒ with the Chinese flute in Chater Square in Central, appearing as a small, diminutive in stature against the backdrop of the powerful icons of business and wealth that is Central, with lots of interesting cutaway details of Hong Kong and shot of MAURICE playing on the Wanchai walkway.
NAR: For all of us involved in the making of this program the experiences are personal, we lived through them as much as the folks who told us their stories lived through theirs.
It is impossible to convey what it actually felt like to listen to Mr Mooncakes laugh and see his son start uncontrollably giggling despite his caution to remain quiet for the camera.
It is likewise impossible to convey the genuine low-brow raconteur character of MAURICE as he entertained the crew without looking up from his horse racing news.
Nor can the excitement and nervousness of parents as their kids jumped around a dangerous rooftop be adequately experienced here other than through words.
Most of what happened off camera was life-affirming, positive and generous to a point where the old generalizations of Hong Kong rudeness collapsed in a heap. The people whose stories we have shared, felt touched that we considered their lives important enough to visit with them and find out more about them in the past and present.
Now, as Hong Kong braces for a change in sovereignty, the question arises as to what it all means for its people. In the words of the old, it is just a ďchange of masters.Ē In the words of a young local woman, the situation is like ďa child being pushed from one foster parent to anotherĒ. Yet a sense of humour is apparent in both outlooks.
Underneath the laughter, though, is a deep anger and resentment at the way the destiny of Hong Kong has been decided. This anger exists particularly sharply within many of the young people who carry on their backs, along with all other Hong Kongese, the sense of helplessness that comes from being subjugated to a foreign Queen thousands of miles away; but it is their energies and intelligence upon which also rests the fate of Hong Kongís future prosperity under Chinese rule.
Faced with the uncertainty of 1997 the least the Hong Kong people ask for is to retain their jobs and be able to feed their families, but economics cannot be separated from politics and so the need for the Hong Kong people to take a political stand to protect themselves and their homes is a stance that will make itself felt with greater force as time goes by. In a very real sense, the Walled City of Kowloon Diaspora have already learned this, as the lamentation for protection of their way of life attests.
MAURICEís additional remarks especially about being from the Walled City and how Kowloon Walled City has shaped him, followed by narratorís summation.
MAURICE: My life in the Kowloon Walled City has actually helped me cultivate a positive outlook in life. Iíve learnt how to transcend suffering and grow in conditions of hardship. For this reason, Iíve learnt to seek spiritual, rather than materialistic, fulfillment in life. Therefore, I play music. This has a great impact on me. As for my future, like most other people, I hope to have a career. If not, then Iíd like to have a family. Iím like any other common person. Iíd like to live a normal married life.
NAR: For MAURICE, self-confessed wild man from the Walled City, happiness is to be found in his music, in his immense hope and trust in people of all walks of life to be profoundly affected by experiencing such music. To have an emotional response that reminds us of our humanity, this more than anything is what impels MAURICE to take to the streets with his flute. And in all of the street music there is to be found in Hong Kong that is the sweetest sound of all.
(SFX and GFX: End music "Hong Kong Feeling" as composed and performed by MAURICE and friends intermingled and built around dissolving map of Kowloon Walled City with fade up to credits)
NARR: During the making of this documentary, the worst fire in over 50 years of Hong Kong history swept through the Garley Building. This Building contained, among other businesses, the studios of Polygram Records, where we were recording original music for this documentary.
All our work was lost. We were lucky. The fire took 40 lives, and devastated countless others. This film is dedicated to the Garley Building Fire victims. A portion of all profits from this program is pledged to go to Burn Units of hospitals throughout Hong Kong.
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