Moving day arrives for residents of Kowloon’s last urban walled village

Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen near Kowloon City slated for handover to Urban Renewal Authority for modern development from Monday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 8:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 10:52pm

Hong Kong’s last urban walled village in Kowloon reached its demise as the deadline for its last residents to move out was today.

Occupying an area of nearly 50,000 square feet near Kowloon City, 600 year-old square-shaped Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen once had watchtowers and even a moat to protect its inhabitants against attacks from pirates.

But the watchtowers and the moat long ago disappeared, and the village now comprised rows of dilapidated houses and squatter huts.

“We all once stood firm with our wish to stay. But, one by one, people left. So, I couldn’t stay,” said 53-year-old Kwok Yue-ka, who had run a street-level barber shop on the outskirts of the village and living in a squatter hut above it for over 20 years.

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“All I want now is the same compensation the others receive.”

Yesterday, braving the cold weather warning, Kwok still opened his makeshift barbershop on what would be his last day in the village.

For over 20 years, Kwok only charged HK$20 for a haircut and had earned many loyal customers from the neighbourhood.

“I could afford to charge only HK$20 because I didn’t have to pay rent,” he said. “I will miss my neighbours a lot.”

“A Pakistani kid had been visiting me since he was a teenager. I have helped cut his hair for over 20 years. I’ll never forget it.”

Kwok and a group of residents had refused to leave the village after the Urban Renewal Authority began to take over land in the area in 2007 because they felt the compensation offered by the authority was unfair.

They engaged in a nine-year tussle with the government over compensation. Community activists also launched campaigns to save the historic neighbourhood, but to no avail.

In December last year, the Lands Department issued an ultimatum: the remaining illegal occupiers in the village were to leave by today.

Taxi driver Sammy Leung, 60, arrived at the village in the morning to take away his last belongings inside his old home.

Asked how he felt about bidding farewell to a place he had called home for over 20 years, Leung said: “How could I be happy? I’m not happy because I have to go.”

The Urban Renewal Authority, which planned to build four residential towers at the site, was to preserve the Tin Hau temple inside the village, the gatehouse and the stone tablet embedded at the gatehouse. The cost estimate of the redevelopment project was HK$1.24 billion, and the authority aimed to have it completed by 2018-19.