Vox Pop

Joey Wong

Pulling in to Kwun Tong MTR station from Lam Tin marks the starting point of a journey observing the old being eclipsed by a new, modern era.

On the way down to Yue Man Square from the station, people rush up and down the stairs, paying little attention to the arrows on the wall that instruct them to go up on the right and down on the left. A busker with a hoarse voice sings and plays his Chinese musical instrument on the stairs, while a middle-aged lady is distributing fliers to passers-by on the other side.

The scene looks busy but everyone seems to be accustomed to the chaos and vibrancy. A watch repairer peers through his loupe at a stall between McDonald's and a bank, just as he has for the past 30 years.

Paint peels off the wall on the buildings that house Chinese medicine practitioners, back-street bodybuilding gyms and hair salons identified only by discoloured billboards dangling above the entrances. Stained door plates suggest business premises lie within, as if to assure passers-by that commerce exists up the winding staircases, and not empty space.

There are shops selling fruit and Chinese tea in the passages that are barely wide enough for two people. Shopkeepers chat with customers. One taunts them with his rare handmade Chinese desserts, saying: 'You will not find another traditional dessert stall around here.'

Moving down to the park around Yue Man Square, you would expect to hear birds singing or feel a breeze. Nature is all around, but is stifled by the all-conquering din of traffic.

One of the old men in the park says, 'It's too old here and I don't lean on any pillars in case they collapse.'

Away from Yue Man Square and above the cacophony of cars, trucks and buses, the APM shopping mall towers above the elevated MTR line, looking over the ageing buildings and signs.

Just a short stroll from this scene of dilapidation stands the future in the form of global brand names and air-conditioned malls.

White-collar workers weave their way through the mall on their way to appointments or a cigarette break. Some walk around with toothpicks in their mouths after a late lunch, some queue in front of ATMs, some with a coffee in one hand and a phone in the other.

Instead of housewives out shopping there are maids with shopping bags.

Reaching How Ming Street, a dedicated industrial area, you are confronted with choking exhaust gases from buildings. The vista is blurred with fumes from factories, or blocked by trucks.

Bare-chested workmen push carts in and out of warehouses. Construction workers drill through cracked concrete as magazine and newspaper vendors cover their stalls to keep the dust off, and trucks edge along small streets built in the days when there was far less traffic.

Turning into Hoi Yuen Road, industrial buildings seem out of place as the glimmering glass of the malls and offices come into view. Food stalls fill the ground floor and small shops cluster along narrow aisles above.

A receptionist at a gym in Yue Man Square said: 'I can't wait to see the new environment.'

'It's wise for the developer to financially compensate shopkeepers instead of offering them new premises. Shopkeepers will not be able to afford the new rent in the redeveloped Kwun Tong, and it will be hard to find a suitable site to continue my business in such a sophisticated area.

Raymond Yu, Owner, printing company, Yue Man Square

I am also excited about the redevelopment. It's good to have new buildings and facilities here, the original ones are too old.

Ng Wo-shing, Raymond Yu's business partner

I appreciate the renewal project in terms of hygiene. I'm sure the serious leaking problem and blocked drains can be greatly improved. I do not want a new shop, but it is still preferable to have a new and clean area in the community.

Ms Wong, Shopkeeper, ironware shop