Helen Tang Hoi-ling has been going to school in To Kwa Wan for the past decade, but she never felt a connection to the district until recently.
“I’ve studied in schools in To Kwa Wan since Primary One, but the only thing I knew about the district is that it looks very old,” she said. “I didn’t know there were so many ethnic minority groups living in the neighbourhood.”
The Form Five student joined 25 of her classmates from Heep Yunn School in “Magic Carpet: Re-envisioning Community Space in To Kwa Wan”, an outreach project from Chinese University that documents the daily lives of the people living there.
Since December, the students have gone on a series of guided tours, co-organised by House of To Kwa Wan Stories (ToHome) and Caritas Community Centre – Kowloon to learn more about the district, its history, and its upcoming redevelopment projects.
“We visited sub-divided flats and ethnic minorities, and talked to the families, listened to them talking about their cultures and the difficulties they’re facing,” said Helen’s teammate, Clarissa Ting Wing-yan.
Jessica Lee Ka-yi, another one of the students on the project, added: “We wanted to get more people to know about the ethnic minorities in To Kwa Wan.”
Splitting into eight teams, the 26 students took video workshops to learn about interview and filming skills. They then spent the summer working on a video story, interviewing people in To Kwa Wan from all walks of life to find out more about their personal stories
Then, on September 17, Hung Fook Street was turned into an outdoor cinema under the full moon, and the local community came together to enjoy the movie the students had made.
But although there may be many ethnic minorities who run businesses in the area, Jessica and her friends had a hard time finding shop owners who were willing to go on camera and tell their story.
After many rejections, they finally got an Indian grocer on King Wong Street to open up to them. The owner, despite not speaking Chinese, has customers of all ethnicities.
“He has a busy shop, but you can see that his customers are regulars,” says Jessica’s teammate, Audrey Chan Ning-chee. “He knows them so well that he even knows what they might be looking for before they ask for it.” She admires their connection when she sees the owner chatting with the customers all the time.
“I’d only known To Kwa Wan as the little area around my school, but this is the real To Kwa Wan,” she said.
Grace Tang Sze-lok’s team interviewed the owner of a photocopy shop owner. “Every student in our school goes to that shop. [The owner] has been in the district for 22 years and he has a full collection of every year’s chemistry paper,” said Grace.
“We go to his shop every day, but we’ve never known where he lives, how long he’s been in business ... we knew nothing about him, but filming the movie gave us a chance to look closer.”
The filming was difficult for Grace’s team, though. “It’s a small shop with many huge machines, hence very limited space. We thought about many set-ups for the camera, but when we got there, most of them didn’t work, so we had to improvise on the scene,” Grace recalled.
Clarissa and Helen’s team took another approach for their story: they designed a game for the kai fong (neighbourhood). “We wanted to interact with them,” explained Clarissa.
The duo prepared some balloons for the kai fong, and asked the people to write their worries and troubles on them.
“Many of them are most concerned about pressure from work, environmental issues, and the redevelopment of the district,” said Helen. One artist said he’s worried that the 13 Streets area – where his studio is – will be torn down. “He didn’t want to move away, because he has been attached to the warm hospitality of the area,” she added.
The interviewees were then asked to pop the balloons as a symbol to “put down our troubles, and when they did, they found a note inside with a message of encouragement such as: “Tomorrow is a better day” or “Be fearless”.
The people had fun with the game, and the students got see a different side of the community. “I was amazed by the relationships between the kai fong,” said Clarissa. “One of our interviewees – a middle-aged woman – seems to know everyone on the street. She chitchatted with everyone passing by.”
To the students, that hospitality is the charm of To Kwa Wan.
“Every community has its own dynamics,” notes Grace. “The kai fong have been living here for a long time ... is it fair to break the social ties they have just to have more redevelopment?”