Carpet ride opens eyes to a world of change

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 9:27am

On Mid-Autumn Festival night, Centre Street in Sai Ying Pun will take on a very different look. Provided the weather co-operates, it will be turned into a giant theatre screening documentaries about the neighbourhood - with an artificial turf "carpet" and bean bags set out across the street for viewers' comfort.

The event, "Magic Carpet: Re-envisioning Community Space in Sai Ying Pun", is part of a Chinese University project started in 2008 to document changes in the area.

As work progressed on the MTR line extension, the project team, led by associate architecture professor Hendrik Tieben, began thinking about how they could get residents to reflect on what they wanted to see in their local area.

Their solution: recruit locals to film vignettes about life in Sai Ying Pun, producing them in Cantonese with abbreviated English subtitles.

"We decided to find ambassadors in the district, youngsters who can connect with people differently from us as academics," Tieben says.

A teacher at King's College, the only secondary school in the area, helped find 20 students from its photography and TV clubs. The youngsters were given a crash course in the history of the area (it was where British soldiers first settled, for instance) before getting filmmaking tips from director Eric Poon.

Jeremy Cho Chak-man, 17, and his classmate Elsen Cheung Ngai-sen, 16, made a short film about a sprightly 92-year-old woman who has had to move her street stall selling dried fish and fermented bean curd, into the wet market.

"The MTR is causing big changes, like taking down old buildings and building new ones," Jeremy says, reflecting on the impact of infrastructure growth. "It's a good thing, creating more transport links, but the culture of the area is being lost."

The students' other interviewees, including an aquarium owner, agree on the need for development, but lament that this has been accompanied by a loss of human interaction and destruction of the character of the neighbourhood, as local businesses are forced out by escalating rents.

The changes have even had a direct impact on students at King's College, who usually lunch at nearby restaurants because the school doesn't have a canteen.

"There used to be two big restaurants but they closed, so now we have to wait longer for a table at the remaining restaurants because they're busier," Jeremy says. "It's not because there are more people, but because there are fewer places to eat."

Elsen believes the government wants to turn the area into another SoHo, with wine shops and trendy restaurants, disrupting the original fabric of the district.

By raising awareness of the neighbourhood's history and the changes taking place, Tieben hopes that residents will be motivated to get more involved in shaping the transformation.

He plans to initiate other "magic carpets" not only in different districts of Hong Kong, but also in other cities in the region to highlight the dilemmas of gentrification.

Magic Carpet: Re-envisioning Community Space in Sai Ying Pun; September 19, 6.30pm-10pm; Centre Street, Sai Ying Pun (adjacent to the wet market).