Exhibition nurtures sense of community

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

Wan Chai's Blue House has come to symbolise the growing nostalgia for simpler times.

And a group of volunteers hopes a collection of 70 items from Hong Kong's past being showcased in the building will help the city return to its close-knit community roots.

The items on display for the Wan Chai Livelihood Place project, which opened this month on the ground floor of the Blue House in Stone Nullah Lane, reflect the rapid redevelopment that has taken place in Wan Chai, driving away many people living there.

'We didn't have to purchase any of the items. They were just everyday things that people brought with them when they came to the district to live and were able to take with them when they had to leave because of all the new developments,' said Suki Chau Hei-suen, a social worker from the charity St James' Settlement, which helped organise the exhibition.

As well as preserving objects from old Wan Chai - some of which date back to the 1930s - the exhibition is meant to enhance community spirit through the sharing of collective memories.

The idea is that visitors will recognise and talk about the items that were a part of their parents' or grandparents' everyday lives but have since disappeared from common use because of modernisa- tion.

One such item is a set of distinctive clothing worn by traditional Chinese spinster maids.

Others may look like primitive versions of modern household items but were used in completely different contexts.

For example, what appears to be a multi-purpose basket made of chicken wire was used in households in the 1960s and earlier for storing leftovers from meals. It would then be hung up so rats and cockroaches could not reach them.

A pair of hot-water thermos flasks wrapped in wicker were found in many bachelor households around that period, used when buying hot water from vendors for 10 cents.

Buying the water was deemed convenient because of a lack of gas-fired stoves.

Organisers hope a lasting and meaningful rapport can be built between neighbours sharing such stories.

'When I walk down any street, it's not unusual for me to run into 10 people who I know and I am familiar with,' said Terence Chan Tat-yee, or 'Fat Chan' as he is affectionately known around the Wan Chai neighbourhood in which he grew up.

Mr Chan, 48, one of 20 volunteers who are running the project, said they hoped it would foster the type of community spirit that had been so strong in Wan Chai across the city.

'But now you have new towns, and they just feel cold. If you pick a residential building and you go up to, say, the 18th floor and ask them whether they know the people living on the 13th floor, they wouldn't know,' he said.

Wan Chai Livelihood Place opens from 2pm to 6pm every day except Monday.