Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour 地球一小時 (March 28)

Earth Hour is a global event organized by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and it takes place on the last Saturday of March every year. It gives us a signal that small actions can make a significant impact on climate change. Basically WWF asks individuals and businesses to switch off lights for an hour between 8:30 and 9:30pm on Saturday (March 28).

The event was first held in Sydney, Australia where 2.2 million people and thousands of businesses turned off their lights from 7:30 to 8:30 pm on March 31, 2007. In March 2008, 35 countries with over 50 million people around the world turned off their lights for an hour. This year 250 cities in 74 countries including China and India will participate in the event. So let's work together to reduce energy consumption by turning off the lights for just one hour tomorrow!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Have I Seen You Before?

Today I was on my way down to the Dean’s office and I saw Dr. McArthur in the aisle. He is currently a new lecturer for a few classes in our department. This is my third time seeing him this term so I greeted him politely with smile. Suddenly he said “I’ve seen you before in Macmillan. Were you in food science or plant science?” ... My brain read “OH MY GOD! I don’t recall being his student” Then I realized that I studied a food science subject and a plant science correspondence course but it was 11 years ago. He said he’s been teaching plant science around that time. Still why can he recognize me since I didn’t see him a lot while I was a student as it was a self-learning course???

Actually it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this situation. This January I brought my girl friend’s gift to her friend. I thought it was the first time seeing this guy but then he told me “I’ve seen you before during high school”. GOSH! It was 14 years ago and we’ve never been in the same class plus back then my senior high school had more than 500 students in grade 12 with half of them from Hong Kong or Taiwan!!! I never expected people to have impression of me since I was a very ordinary and shy girl, not outstanding at all. Hopefully people remember me not because I looked rare or behaved strangely.

I’d better behave well since it’s hard for me to hide myself as I can be identified easily which I didn’t realize until now…DEMM!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pictures of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) - Hong Kong’s Last Resettlement Area (1969 – May 2009)

Photo of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate I & II before the construction of Kowloon Bay MTR Station and Telford Garden. Block 1,4,8 & 13 had Victoria Habour view back then. (九龍灣避風塘 in the 70's)

Lower Ngau Tak Kok Estate Block 4 which was demolished in 2003.

Lower Ngau Tak Kok Estate Block 7 (with pink wall) and Block 9. Block 7 was demolished in 2003 and Block 9 will face the same destiny in May 2009.

Map of Lower Ngau Tak Kok Estate – Blocks 1-7 belong to Zone I; Blocks 8-14 belong to Zone II. Buildings are often connected such as blocks 2 and 3/blocks 4 and 5/blocks 8-11.

An extra long corridor in Block 9.

Can you still find an old-style mailbox besides the door gate in modern society?

Each unit is about 200 - 300 sq ft which can live up to 6-7 people.

A huge corridor for children to play hide and seek!

Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate is a type 5 resettlement block with 16 levels which back then was considered an advanced public housing compared to type 1-3 resettlement blocks since it has its own bathroom and elevator.

However the elevator doesn’t stop at every floor. I haven’t been to the dwellings but based on my investigation, I think each block has two elevators with each elevator taking passengers from ground to just one particular floor. For example, one building has elevators stopping at floor 9 or 14.

I bet some people have never seen this washroom before … very old style squat toilet (舊式「一渠通」廁所).

I’ve seen this old style squat toilet at Wang Tau Hom Estate when I was four or five. So when I discovered the same kind of toilet in Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate, it was like discovering treasury since I haven’t seen it for more than 20 years and it will soon be extinct.

The first place you will see when heading to Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate from Kowloon Bay MTR Station is the market besides Blocks 8 & 9 - plenty of stores on the ground floor.

Restaurants at Block 9

Market at Block 9

Market at Block 9 – yummy Chinese donuts and fried pastries. I still remember they used to have a huge wok (鑊) to fry the donuts in front of the restaurant.

Now you can see how they dry their clothes.

Hing’s Café (興記茶餐廳) since 1970, located between my primary school 柏德學校 and Block 10

Both set breakfast and lunch have menu A, B and C to choose from.

Photo of Hing’s Café in the 70’s

Hing’s Café in the 21 century … the décor is not much different from 30 years ago.

It must be the gate to the back yard of my primary school … one time I had hot pot there during my childhood and it was an open area with no roof.

There are many unique stores in this area that can be hardly found at somewhere else – old style hair salon, Chinese style wedding gown裙褂and 紙紮舖 (hand-made paper products that sent to ancestors by fire), etc.

Back yard of my primary school

My primary school facing Ngau Tau Kok Road

Reflection of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) from the mirror of Amoy Plaza. It will soon be vanished and how many people will remember this self-sufficient community provided thousands of civilians with ideal dwellings and standard education during its golden age?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Memory of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate

William Shakespeare Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips' red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
I have seen roses damask, red and white
But no such roses see I in her cheeks
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound
I grant I never saw a goddess go
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare

In other words, the writer loves his girlfriend even though she is full of imperfections: “my mistress’s eyes are not bright, her lip is not red … she has unpleasant smell and voice …she is still my love.”

When I recall this poem, I think of “Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate is nothing like the sun; If snow be white, why then her walls are dun …” Recently I felt sad when I realized that it’s going to be demolished this May (two months from now). Although Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate cannot be compared to most of the housing in Hong Kong with its old, outdated, dull and dirty impression, I will miss it, probably because it is part of my childhood story.

19 years ago I lived in Block J of Amoy Gardens which is across from Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II). I attended Bishop Paschang Memorial School 柏德學校 which is located right in front of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 10. Imagine day and night (school or home) I had to face this estate, how can I forget about it? During my childhood I didn’t have much feelings towards this estate. I even considered it as poor, low class, dirty and strange. Somehow I wished I didn't have to see it so often. I found myself to be lucky if my classroom was facing Ngau Tau Kok Road instead of this aging estate. My classroom seemed a bit dark when it’s facing the estate … probably because the distance between my school and the estate is very close that the sunlight to my classroom was partially blocked (my primary school is 6 storeys tall while the estate is 16 storeys). That also made me sometimes feel life is not too bright, how silly I was!

As time passed by, I moved to Canada. The impression of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) had gradually been hidden somewhere in my mind. Recently, I travelled to Hong Kong and had a chance to pass through Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate to get to Amoy Gardens. When I walked through the path beside Block 9 of the estate, I felt cozy and familiar. All the memories came back. This unique path has a variety of stores including grocery, stationary, toys, fashion, hair salon, curtains, oil paintings, fruit and dried/preserved seafood. Of course different cuisines can be found there – dai pai dong (大牌檔), wonton noodles, fresh made Chinese donuts, egg balls (雞蛋仔), Hong Kong style fast-food and hot pot, etc. During my recent trip there, I took some photos of the estate. At a stationary store, I was attracted by some pretty designed red packets so I bought 4 packs for HKD 10 (I found very similar designed red packets in Vancouver which cost CAD 2 per pack!!! Equivalent to HKD 12). The store owner was so nice since she was more than willing to write me a receipt upon my request and advised me to ensure the change (money) and red packets were put in my bag safely before I left.

I watched星期日檔案-搬走四十年的家-牛頭角下邨 when I returned to Vancouver. Then I realized that the estate will be demolished in May. Surprisingly it is the only resettlement area in Hong Kong before reconstruction牛頭角下邨第8至14座「二區」是香港最後徙置區 before重建. I am glad I was able to take some time to visit the estate during my busy trip to Hong Kong last December, otherwise I would be very regretful.

The special design and facilities of Hong Kong resettlement area will be extinct and become history after Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) is torn down. Its demolition represents the end of the Hong Kong resettlement estate era. People of the next generation will never have a chance to see this kind of unique architecture – “I’ shaped 16 storey building with 2 – 4 buildings connected together, each building is numbered by block 1, 2, 3 (1座2座3座) … every storey of each block has a very long corridor and the ground floor is full of shops and restaurants (茶餐廳/冰室) … part of the exterior wall of corridor made of circle shaped bricks with hole in the centre for air circulation purposes.

Hong Kong started constructing resettlement blocks since 1954 because more than 50,000 people were homeless after Shek Kip Mei squatter area fire on Christmas Eve in 1953. Shek Kip Mei Estate is the first public housing in Hong Kong. During 1954 to 1972, 25 resettlement areas had been built in different districts. Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate was one of them. It consisted of 14 blocks (14座). Some blocks were completed in 1967 while others were completed in 1968 and 1969 respectively. In 1973, Hong Kong Housing Authority divided the area into two zones, blocks 1-7 belonged to zone I (一區) and bocks 8-14 belonged to zone II (二區). Zone I and II were distinguished by the wall colour – zone I was pink and zone II was green.

During childhood, my impression of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) was limited to its “I” shaped architecture, the green walls, speciality stores and restaurants. When I first moved to Amoy Gardens, I had congee in a tiny store (probably only 200 sq ft) at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 8 which is one of the best congee I’ve ever had (very delicious生滾靚粥). Also the same block had a dessert store serving cold red/green bean soup (紅豆沙/綠豆沙) and square shaped unsliced grass jelly (凉粉) which are very enjoyable in hot summer. My family didn’t go to the restaurants at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate too often but we had lunch and dinner there once in a while. I can still remember the time when we had wonton noodles in a restaurant at Block 9. The dai pai dong (大牌檔) there, a type of open-air food stall in Hong Kong, was very good too. The central entrance of Block 9 was the location of a dai pai dong where food was being cooked there. Across the entrance is St. Matthew's Lutheran School (路德會聖馬太學校) so they always set up tables beside the school’s fence at night. There was also another night-time dai pai dong behind St. Matthew’s Lutheran School. They had a comprehensive menu including meat, seafood, vegetable and noodle. Every dish was very tasty to offset the poor ambiance. One night my family had hot pot beside the rear gate of my primary school柏德學校, and a few times I had breakfast and lunch in 興記茶餐廳, a Hong Kong old style fast food restaurant located between my primary school and Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 10. I just found out it’s been in business since 1970 not too long after Block 10 was constructed. It’s now been operating for 39 years already, and I still remember we could choose from menu A, B or C with a slightly different dish on each menu. Usually my school uniforms and my name stamp were purchased from the estate (name stamp was required for my agenda and exercise books in primary school since it was more convenient to stamp than to write my name on every single book).

As time passes, the cease of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) including my primary school is inevitable. Goodbye 牛頭角下邨! Thanks for the fond memories you have given me.