'I don't see a good future for Hong Kong': Elderly lament loss of the city they once knew

Elderly Hongkongers whose lives feature in new exhibition see only trouble ahead for a city that has been transformed in their lifetimes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 3:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 2:06pm

They have seen Hong Kong transform from a city of squatter camps into a vibrant metropolis. Now in their sunset years, a group of elderly residents say they fear for the future of their home city - but differ on what the people can do about it.

The group contributed to a new exhibition, "Stories from Island East", documenting the lives of 15 elderly Hongkongers.

"I do not see a good future for Hong Kong. I have never been as pessimistic about this place as I am now. This really is the worst time," says 80-year-old Leung Shing-hong.

Leung arrived in Hong Kong in the 1940s. He has vivid memories of mainland immigrants living in hillside squats under the threat of landslides and fires, long queues for water, hawkers and rickshaws, riots and cholera.

"We have lived in this city for almost all our lives and have witnessed all the changes. The past was not perfect, but at least Hongkongers were united and had hope for a better future back then," says May Tam Fung-dui, 70, Leung's wife.

They have lived in Quarry Bay for 50 years. Leung used to work in the area's dockyards.

"Hongkongers are known for their willingness to bear suffering because they have hope. But for the young generation now, they cannot see hope," says Tam. Leung and Tam say political disputes and failed policies in recent years have left them feeling worried for their grandchildren, one of whom will begin studying law later this year.

They voted in Occupy Central's poll on political reform last month, to express their desire to elect the leader of their city. Despite his age, Leung joined the July 1 rally to show his discontent with how the city is being run.

"Beijing has meddled too much in local affairs, which is scaring us," says Tam.

"I do not want to see the society that we've worked so hard to build become a province of the mainland.

"Of course we are Chinese too," Tam adds, "but after all, Hongkongers are very different from mainlanders. We have developed our own culture and have become accustomed to living under the rule of law."

Regardless of their age, the couple said they feel they must fight for a "freer" Hong Kong for the next generation.

But Lai Yuk-yee and her husband Wong Sai-ying disagree.

"There are too many disputes," said Wong, 78, a retiree from a bus company. "Politics is not something we should be involved in, we cannot understand these things."

Lai and Wong have no children, and live in a Kornhill flat filled to the brim with toy models of buses collected over decades.

"We are old. Let's live every day that is still ahead of us. It is lucky that we do not have any children, or we may have to worry about their future in Hong Kong," said Lai. "But you should know that there is no way Hongkongers can oppose the influence of the mainland."

Louie Yung-chu, a 73-year-old former tram driver, feels life was hard in the past and is still hard now.

"I would take any jobs, no matter how difficult, just to earn money back in the old days," said Louie, who now uses a wheelchair and lives in a home for elderly people in North Point. She said she used to work three jobs to pay for her nieces' studies.

"But life is not any easier nowadays. It is hard for young people to buy a flat and climb up the social ladder," she said.

Louie's biggest regret about her youth is that she spent so much of it chasing a pay cheque.

"When I was young, I was always out earning money. There is nothing I can do now, I cannot even fight for a glimpse of the newspaper that is passed around at the aged-care home."

The exhibit runs until July 26 at Lincoln House, Taikoo Place.