A son of Kowloon

A son of Kowloon

Tsui Tim-fook travelled the world for love and war, but there was never really anywhere else he would call home

If anyone can claim to be a son of “Nine Dragon City”, it is 86-year-old Tsui Tim-fook, one of the first students at Munsang College kindergarten.

Born and bred in Kowloon City, Tsui endured turbulent times as a child. The Mukden incident of September 18, 1931, in which the Japanese army staged a railway blast as an excuse to wage war on China, was a day of national humiliation that coincided with personal tragedy. Tsui’s father died of tuberculosis, leaving Tsui, his mother and brother behind.

Aged seven, Tsui became depressed and withdrawn for some time. “One day, the school organised a class photo shoot but I couldn’t bring myself to smile. I bowed my head instead,” he recalls.

His father’s death brought financial difficulties. Tsui was offered a study allowance by Munsang’s principal, Rufus Huang, that cut his school fees by half.

He remembers pleading: “I have a little brother, Mr Huang. Do you mind charging him only half of the fees as well?” Ever grateful, he kept returning to the school long after graduation, and served as supervisor until 1988.

Munsang is an English-medium school, but Huang also emphasised Chinese studies so that students would learn more about their culture. Tsui adds proudly: “I attained remarkable language skills studying at Munsang. I got used to speaking fluent English from a young age.”

Meanwhile, the civil war was tearing China apart. Tsui didn’t find out until 40 years later that his Putonghua teacher had been a communist who had fled to Hong Kong disguised as a monk.

When the second world war broke out, Tsui worked as a wireless operator on merchant ships that took supplies to Egypt for the Allies. The job took him across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea.

Tsui hated the war. Pointing to his class photo of 1941, in which he stands among 12 students, he says: “The war took away almost half of them.”

Back home in Kowloon City, Tsui worked for the civil service. He married a young woman from Qingdao  shortly after they met for the third time. They later migrated to Canada. “She’s my sweetheart,” he says softly. “I can’t thank her enough for what she’d done for me all these years. It’s a blessing.”

A recent stroke sent Tsui’s wife to a Kowloon Tong elderly home, where he looks after her.

Looking back, Tsui says life seems inseparable from Nine Dragon City. “I was born here, I grew up here and my father was also buried here. And I returned here with my wife from Canada.”

This is the third in the six best Heritage Detective series covers, written by Hong Kong students. This week’s MSC team is from Munsang College, Kowloon City.

Team

Tam Sau-lai (teacher and team leader)
Chu Chun-hei, 5F (interviewer and writer)
Lau How-ying, 5F (writer)
Annalie Chow Chi-ching, 5E (writer)
Hui Cheuk-lun, 6C (editor and writer)

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