MOST Hong Kong couples now limit their families to one or two children - and think they are a handful to manage. But for the older generation, marrying at a time when there was little knowledge about contraception and family planning, big families were the norm - and highly regarded - with offspring sometimes reaching double figures. Coping with such large numbers, often in cramped, tiny accommodation at a time when people were struggling to make a living in the territory, was a feat of endurance requiring many sacrifices. Wong Sau-choon looks back at the period from 1949 to 1966 as the years of being pregnant. During that time she gave birth to 11 children. Two died and two had to be given away as the family was too poor to look after them. Her children now say that while they enjoyed having many brothers and sisters, they themselves would not want more than two. Sau-choon's eldest daughter, Kwai-ying, who has two daughters aged 15 and 16, says: 'Times are changing; you can't follow old customs. Two daughters are enough. You can't take care of too many children.' For her mother, however, the choice was limited. 'We didn't know about contraception in those days. Traditional thinking was, the more children you have, the more money they can earn,' Sau-choon said. In 1948 Sau-choon fled to Hong Kong from Chaozhou before the Communists took over China. She married Lam Lok, who was 10 years older, in a blind marriage arranged by her parents. Her husband did not have a steady job and earned $2 a day frying peanuts. They lived in a squatter area in Shamshuipo and barely had enough to eat. Sau-choon gave birth to her first son in 1949. He died of illness at four and had no name. A daughter, who also had no name, was born in 1950 and died three years later. Another daughter, Pui-guen, was born in 1951. As the Lams were so poor, they gave her away to a childless Chiuchow couple, but she still comes back to visit her natural mother. From 1953 to 1966, Sau-choon gave birth to two children every three years even though she and her husband were too poor to raise them. In 1963, another daughter, Kwai-fung, was given away. 'If I hadn't given them away, they'd have died of hunger. I cried for three nights when I gave them away,' said Sau-choon, now 69. 'We ate only porridge, and sometimes nothing. This baby cries, that baby cries, I couldn't go to sleep. There wasn't enough money to buy milk powder for them and I had to breast-feed them, but I had nothing to eat, so where could the milk come from?' Sau-choon is illiterate since girls could not go to school in her village. To make ends meet, she worked at home making plastic flowers for a factory. At 37, she thought of committing suicide. 'We didn't have enough money to buy one tael of rice. I walked to the sea and thought of drowning myself,' she said. 'But I thought, after I died, who would take care of the children? So I turned back.' By then Sau-choon was raising four daughters and three sons - Kwai-ying, Kwai-lan, Kwai-ming, Kwai-fong, who is in Japan now, Kwai-yu, Kwai-ping and Kwai-long. She said she had no favourites and treated all her children the same. 'Fortunately all my children behaved well and were easily satisfied. I would buy two apples for five cents, cut them into pieces and divide them among my children,' Sau-choon said. In 1964, the nine-member family moved to a resettlement estate in Wan Tau Hom living in a 42-square metre flat and sleeping on bunk beds. Four sisters slept in one room. The three brothers and their parents slept in another. They cooked in the corridor and shared a bathroom with other households. Kwai-ying and Kwai-lan, the two oldest daughters, did not finish primary school and went out to work in factories since their father, who died last year, could not earn enough money. 'I wanted all of my children to have a good education but I didn't have the money. The tuition fee for primary school was $5 a month and I couldn't afford it,' Sau-choon said. Kwai-ming, the third child, did not start school until he was nine. He was able to finish Form Five before going out to work. He is now a psychiatric nurse. 'Now that all my children are married except Kwai-long, who lives with me, I feel quite lonely,' Sau-choon said. But the whole family gets together on major festivals. They usually go out to eat in a Chinese restaurant and everyone would pay a bit. 'We get along well with each other. Before Kwai-ying got married and moved out in 1978, all of us lived under the same roof,' Kwai-ming said. 'I like big families. The atmosphere is lively, though there are some inconveniences, like making phone calls and watching television.' Kwai-ying, the oldest sister, had the biggest responsibility, helping to care for her younger siblings and earning money. She was working at a toy factory at 11 and even before that she had sewed clothes from the factory at home. 'I scolded my brothers and sisters when they were naughty. I was fierce and they were quite afraid of me,' she said. With Kwai-ying's wages of $4 a day, life became more stable and the family was able to go out to eat at a restaurant. She would buy snacks and soft drinks for her brothers and sisters, take them to the park, cinema and City Hall and buy clothes for them. She also bought a camera and took pictures of them. 'Sometimes we would have fights. One of us would complain the other had had too much to eat. If we were naughty, mother would beat us,' Kwai-ming said. 'The older ones in the family took care of the younger ones. When mother was cooking dinner, I would take them out to play in the park because it's so cramped in the house. We usually went to sleep at 9pm before there was television.' Kwai-ming is now married with one child. He said he and his wife would think twice about having other children because it would be costly and too much trouble to have many children. Kwai-lan, the second daughter, is married with one 15-year-old son. She is not thinking of having more children.