Yam Chun-wa, 84, is one of the faceless millions who have toiled over the past century to help build Hong Kong. For many years, he lived and worked in Central, and yesterday he toured some of the city's historic areas with a group led by the Federation of Trade Unions. The tour, organised by unionist Pan Pey-chyou, aimed to raise awareness of the value of the city's history and its historic buildings and areas. It came in the wake of a government decision to retain and redevelop the Central Market area as a green 'breathing space' in one of the most intensely built-up areas of the city. Yam remembers both good times and bad. He was 16 when the Japanese army rampaged into the city in December 1941, taking it on December 25. He remembers bitter times after the guns fell silent. 'I saw one of my schoolmates being beaten to death by Japanese soldiers,' he said. 'I don't know why they did it, I was just very afraid. There were food shortages. I ate little. Sweet potatoes were the best food at that time. Life was quite hard.' He started work as a low-ranking clerk when he was 19 at John Swire & Sons and there were more tough times. He said he experienced a lot of discrimination at the firm - some Westerners would not talk to him because he was Chinese. But travelling around the city yesterday, he said there had been many changes since then. 'There were few cars on the streets and fewer high-rise buildings,' he said. 'It took about three hours to get from Central to Kowloon. My clothes were old-fashioned. But Hong Kong has become a prosperous city now and there are many high-rise buildings.' After visiting a near century-old herbal pharmacy in Cochrane Street near Central Market, he said he used to drink herbal tea when he was sick. 'Herbal tea was a kind of medicine to treat illness during my younger days. 'Times keep changing. I hope to raise awareness of people like me who also helped build the city [alongside famous tycoons and business magnates].' On Wednesday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen unveiled plans in his policy address to give overdeveloped Central some much-needed breathing space, preserving Central Market as an 'urban oasis'. The building will be withdrawn from the list of sites for sale to developers. The Central Market's 1,000-square-metre rooftop will be 'greened', and possible uses for the building include restaurants, a bookshop, gymnasium and an atrium garden for arts-related activities. The historical tour group included 50 representatives from labour unions and heritage and tourism officials who visited buildings from Sheung Wan to North Point. In Sheung Wan, the group walked up Ladder Street, a steep street of stone steps, built in the 1840s, that leads up to Mid-Levels. Next up was a look at the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, the YMCA building in Bridges Street and Tung Wah Hospital in Po Yan Street. In Central, they visited the herbal pharmacy and the former Central Market, and in North Point, they looked through the former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club clubhouse in Oil Street. Tour organiser Pan said: 'Historical buildings are disappearing - don't waste them.' He suggested the government revitalise Ladder Street by allowing hawker bazaars to operate there and turn the former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club clubhouse into a museum showcasing aspects of the past lives of workers.