Living heritage of Hong Kong

Remember old Hong Kong? Miniature models capture vanished streets and legends

Two artists pour nostalgia and skill into recreating lost aspects of city’s past

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 10:26am

An old-fashioned toy shop, a traditional newspaper stand, a crowded slum once dubbed the “den of sins” – these are scenes long gone in the fast-changing landscape of Hong Kong. But they have been brought back to life, although on a much smaller scale, by a pair of nimble artists with a soft spot for nostalgia. 

Tim Ho Kwok-tim and Ian Choi Pik-lung, both in their 50s and full-time engineers, take pride in their shared pastime of building miniature models. 

It began when Choi, a collector of old toys and gadgets, bought a cute mini sewing machine in 2006. The little model reminded him of his childhood living in a public housing flat, where the familiar sound of the sewing machine lingered. 

Learn more about Hong Kong’s history with our special feature

He searched for materials to piece together a model of his childhood home. “The sewing machine started it all,” Choi said.

In 2011, he wanted to join an exhibition and thought of his friend Ho, who was also an enthusiast of vintage objects and who already owned an extensive collection of old toys.

The two quickly partnered up.

“My childhood dream was to be an artist, although I became an engineer to earn a living,” Ho said. 

The pair mostly created scenes from the 1970s and 80s.

“We want to create time tunnels and bring a vanished Hong Kong back to people,” Ho said. “It was a unique time. The city’s style was a combination of Chinese and Western cultures.”

One of the pair’s favourite works is a model of the Kowloon Walled City, once the world’s most densely populated place, with over 30,000 people living in 300 buildings occupying about 2.8 hectares (7 acres). The urban slum was demolished in 1994.

Neither of them had visited the place but they were fascinated by its dark and narrow lanes, exposed electricity cables and haunting street legends. 

“I never thought of visiting the place when it was being torn down,” Ho said. “Hong Kong people were not as aware about history and conservation as we are now. I was only focusing on making money at the time.”

The duo created the model of the city in about half a year in 2016.

One of the headaches for the pair is the lack of a workshop amid high rents, so they had to store a large amount of materials at home. Because of safety concerns, they could not work in their homes. 

“Again, it’s a matter of Hong Kong’s [shortage of] affordable land,” Choi said. 

The miniature versions of these Hong Kong memories are part of exhibits on display at Olympian City in Tai Kok Tsui. The event ends on February 22.

The exhibition features 52 miniature works by some 20 artists.