Neighbourhood watch that turned into labour of love

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am


Some call it charming, others label it dilapidated, but Tai Kok Tsui boasts a community spirit that has spanned generations.

Known as one of the city's oldest and poorest areas, the small collection of streets on the west side of Kowloon Peninsula is rich in history.

And it was this that captured the imagination of graphic designer Jino Yeung Yuet-yan. The 30-year-old moved to the area two years ago and helped set up a design studio called Cheers Design.

The group was drawn to Tai Kok Tsui's sense of community, which echoed a bygone era when everyone was a true neighbour. They embraced the locals' daily routine, befriending shop owners and residents and documenting everyday life.

Now they have turned that experience into an exhibition, Stories Of Our Neighbourhood, that opens on Thursday at Olympian City mall.

Featuring a life-size diorama, it depicts the world of eight people who live and work in Tai Kok Tsui.

Some of the real objects displayed were borrowed from shopkeepers.

'There's a strong local culture here, a real sense of community. Everyone has their own story and we wanted to record that,' Yeung said.

'My generation is beginning to love these old things. In the well-planned shopping malls, there's no feeling. Maybe I feel more complete spiritually because it's natural for people to get to know each other.'

Yeung said she feared the district might lose its character because of the high-speed rail project linking Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong that will cut through the area.

'No one is interested in Tai Kok Tsui,' she said. 'If you want to buy clothes or eat, you don't come here, so I want more people to appreciate the area and help preserve the old culture. It's unique and there are many layers to this area.

'I'm a Tuen Mun girl where the urban planning is very rigid, but here it's so organic. You have a cafe, then a printing shop next to a bar.'

Pok Man Street features a jumble of shopfronts with cafes, hardware supplies and electronic stores. The area used to be home to a pier which attracted metal and textile industries.

'You can distinguish the 60s, 70s, 80s in the shops, the buildings, the people. Everything from the history of the area is on display,' Yeung said.

As part of the show, Yeung will give guided tours of Tai Kok Tsui. 'I don't believe you can just come here and take a photo and know the area. That's just the surface,' she said.

Woody Yuk Ngai-yeung, 47, shares the sentiment. Born and raised in the area, the amateur photo-grapher is passionate about his home. 'Many photographers captured other old districts like Kwun Tong and Ngau Tau Kok, but not many focus on Tai Kok Tsui,' he said.

'So I made a plan to devote five years to capturing the neighbourhood and then to publish a book.

'I love the old buildings because the new buildings with glass walls are very cold, not only in their appearance, but also reflecting the lives of those inside.

'Older buildings convey a sense of history and the human touch, with open balconies, old windows, 'fish bone' antennas and residents' clothes on rooftops.'

The show is supported by Life Workshop and Sino Group.