Monday, May 18, 2009

Life in Half Century Ago

As I was born in late 70’s and grew up in 80’s, all necessities and even accessories have been readily available. I’ve never had to worry about water supply, electrical shortage, food, etc. Going to school, taking drawing lessons, watching TV at home, listening to music, having snacks (candy, chocolate , ice cream) and shopping were common activities during my childhood. When I was young, I thought my mom's life was pretty much the same as mine for her childhood until recently when I wrote something about Hong Kong resettlement area, I realized how different my mom’s life was as a child.

My grandpa owned a barber shop and my mom lived in an apartment unit above the hair salon when she was a kid until my grandpa’s bankruptcy. When my mom was a teen, she moved in Wang Tau Hom Estate (橫頭磡邨). Here I’m trying to describe the lifestyle of old generation in resettlement estates (almost half century ago) based on what my mom told me.

As I mentioned in another article, there was no private kitchen or bathroom in early style resettlement blocks. Instead, public shower, washroom and running water were provided. Imagine having to walk out to the corridor to get into the washroom in a very cold winter night … that’s why most units have their own potty (便壺) for convenience. So in the morning the urine from the potty would be taken to public washroom and thrown into the squat toilet. Janitor came once a day to clean the washroom and the squat toilet was flushed few times a day. Hopefully you are not eating now since it’s a bit disgusting to talk about potty/toilet … oops! Let’s switch to another activity … laundry. Of course no washer/dryer at that time, people washed their clothes using washboard (洗衣板) in a communal room with water facilities (洗衣房). This room was also used for cleaning veggies (洗菜). When people needed water, they had to get it from this room with their own buckets; the worst time was during water supply restriction (制水), only four hours of water could be supplied each day so there was always long line up for the water.

The way to dry clothes in resettlement area - hanging them out on the balcony.

Unlike modern days, many common appliances or electronics such as refrigerator, microwave, television, VCR, computer and telephone were not available in most households. All meats or produces purchased must be cooked and finished on the same day. Kids would be so excited to have ice-cream or jelly once in a while as they could not have cold beverages or cold desserts at home (remember no fridge!). TV was not common until 70’s and radio such as Rediffusion麗的呼聲 was not free thus not many family could afford to rent the radio channel. Fortunately their lives were quite busy (full of daily household activities after work – buy veggie/meat, cook rice using pot, laundry, etc.) with no time to watch TV (追劇集) otherwise they must be bored to death. Telecommunication was not easy back then, borrowing an analog phone from a convenience store (士多) was the way to call a friend.

An old analog phone - I recall the one we found in corner store was often in black colour.

Life was more environmental friendly in the past. For example, bottles of shampoo could hardly be found; hair was washed with soap or home-made shampoo (cutting soap into tiny pieces then mixing it with water). Plastic bags were not invented before 70’s, almost everything was packed in a piece of newspaper then tighten by cyperus tegetiformis/natural strings (鹹水草). People used this method to wrap eggs, tofu and meat, etc. or simply bunch of veggies roped by the natural strings. If a hole was found in the clothing, instead of buying a new one, it could be sewed with another piece of fabric to cover the hole. When the heel of a shoe was broken, it could be fixed at a shoe repair shop.

eggs packed in newspaper which is then roped by a natural string

green onion tighten by natural strings

Life in the old generation was much more inconvenient and difficult. But if I have a chance I don’t mind obtaining this kind of living experience, I mean just for a few days … maybe Mei Ho House (美荷樓) the only Mark I resettlement block left at Shek Kip Mei Estate is a good option if it can open to the public one day?