Walking tours of Hung Hom, To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City aim to keep memories of old Hong Kong alive
Volunteer guides look to pass down knowledge of the neighbourhoods before it is too late, as redevelopment sweeps away remnants of the past
Walking the streets of Hung Hom with Leung King-foon brings endless unexpected discoveries in community history.
Among the highlights are a primary school bombed in the second world war, a public library housing textbooks from the 1950s, and a book shop that still loans comics.
Having spent almost half her life there, 69-year-old Leung rarely looks at the map as she guides tourists. She strolls through the neighbourhood as if taking a morning wander, occasionally greeting store owners and other locals going about their business.
“I just love to talk about Hung Hom, because everything I tell visitors is closely related to my life,” Leung says. “There are so many things in my memory I would love to share.”
She is one of 13 residents of Hung Hom, To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City who are serving as guides over the next four weeks for two walking tours organised by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council, the social outreach arm of the Anglican Church.
The three districts are among Hong Kong’s oldest, as are their residents – the populations are rapidly ageing.
About 100 walkers will gain some insight into their rich history through the narration of guides who saw many of the changes with their own eyes.
Three groups of volunteers have undergone three weeks of training in preparation for the Kowloon City Themed Walking Trail. They designed the tour routes and have set up interviews with local shopkeepers.
“We want every story of the neighbourhood to be discovered,” said Alan Fung Wing-lun, a social worker and supervisor on the project.
“Behind the stories of these people we can see the history of the entire city.”
For Leung, being a guide has also been a learning experience. She points towards a red brick temple sat right in the middle of a busy sidewalk on Dock Street, blocking the way of pedestrians.
She had never thought to ask why it occupied such a troublesome location until preparing for the tours.
Leung then brought the issue up with her 90-year-old mother-in-law, who was able to shed light on the subject. Behind the thick brick wall guarding Fuk Tak Temple lie the remains of more than 200 people killed when a primary school a few blocks away was bombarded in the second world war.
Out of respect for the dead, there is reluctance to move the place of worship.
“I didn’t know that,” Leung says. “I think most locals nowadays don’t know the hidden history of this small temple.”
Fung says: “We try to show respect for the memories of local residents. This is a very important part of traditional Hong Kong culture.”
Christine Chak Sin-man is another volunteer guide. She moved to Hung Hom only four years ago after she got married, and says joining the project is the perfect opportunity to explore.
The 36-year-old says she looks forward to using her newly acquired knowledge to organise a special walking tour for her family.
“My family, especially my parents and in-laws, have ploughed themselves into their work their entire lives. They haven’t had many chances to travel, even around Hong Kong,” Chak says.
“I want to take them out as their private tour guide.”
Ernest Poon Tsz-hin, who is training staff for the walking tour project, says the guides have decided to join for a variety of reasons, but all are “keen to observe and ask questions” and “willing to talk and interact”.
“Every one has stories to tell, and the ability to tell great stories,” Poon says.
Many want to pass down their knowledge of the neighbourhoods before it is too late, as redevelopment sweeps away remnants of the past.
“When I talk about the urban renewal projects happening here, I feel it is such a pity,” Leung says.
“But there is no way the reconstruction will stop, as the city is developing – the times are changing.”
Chak says: “Hong Kong people only notice these old things when they are about to disappear. As a tour guide, I hope I can record some traces.”
During a preliminary tour organised for the media, Chak and Leung lingered at a book shop set to be closed in six months.
Scanning its crammed shelves and stacks of books on the floor, Leung said Hup Seng Book Store’s comic rental service was still popular with local teenagers after 58 years of business.
“In the old days, this store would have been crowded with students borrowing comics whenever there was a typhoon,” Leung recalls. “Kids didn’t have many ways to have fun back then.”