William Shakespeare Sonnet 130
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips' red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
I have seen roses damask, red and white
But no such roses see I in her cheeks
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound
I grant I never saw a goddess go
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare
In other words, the writer loves his girlfriend even though she is full of imperfections: “my mistress’s eyes are not bright, her lip is not red … she has unpleasant smell and voice …she is still my love.”
When I recall this poem, I think of “Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate is nothing like the sun; If snow be white, why then her walls are dun …” Recently I felt sad when I realized that it’s going to be demolished this May (two months from now). Although Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate cannot be compared to most of the housing in Hong Kong with its old, outdated, dull and dirty impression, I will miss it, probably because it is part of my childhood story.
19 years ago I lived in Block J of Amoy Gardens which is across from Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II). I attended Bishop Paschang Memorial School 柏德學校 which is located right in front of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 10. Imagine day and night (school or home) I had to face this estate, how can I forget about it? During my childhood I didn’t have much feelings towards this estate. I even considered it as poor, low class, dirty and strange. Somehow I wished I didn't have to see it so often. I found myself to be lucky if my classroom was facing Ngau Tau Kok Road instead of this aging estate. My classroom seemed a bit dark when it’s facing the estate … probably because the distance between my school and the estate is very close that the sunlight to my classroom was partially blocked (my primary school is 6 storeys tall while the estate is 16 storeys). That also made me sometimes feel life is not too bright, how silly I was!
As time passed by, I moved to Canada. The impression of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) had gradually been hidden somewhere in my mind. Recently, I travelled to Hong Kong and had a chance to pass through Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate to get to Amoy Gardens. When I walked through the path beside Block 9 of the estate, I felt cozy and familiar. All the memories came back. This unique path has a variety of stores including grocery, stationary, toys, fashion, hair salon, curtains, oil paintings, fruit and dried/preserved seafood. Of course different cuisines can be found there – dai pai dong (大牌檔), wonton noodles, fresh made Chinese donuts, egg balls (雞蛋仔), Hong Kong style fast-food and hot pot, etc. During my recent trip there, I took some photos of the estate. At a stationary store, I was attracted by some pretty designed red packets so I bought 4 packs for HKD 10 (I found very similar designed red packets in Vancouver which cost CAD 2 per pack!!! Equivalent to HKD 12). The store owner was so nice since she was more than willing to write me a receipt upon my request and advised me to ensure the change (money) and red packets were put in my bag safely before I left.
I watched星期日檔案-搬走四十年的家-牛頭角下邨 when I returned to Vancouver. Then I realized that the estate will be demolished in May. Surprisingly it is the only resettlement area in Hong Kong before reconstruction牛頭角下邨第8至14座「二區」是香港最後徙置區 before重建. I am glad I was able to take some time to visit the estate during my busy trip to Hong Kong last December, otherwise I would be very regretful.
The special design and facilities of Hong Kong resettlement area will be extinct and become history after Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) is torn down. Its demolition represents the end of the Hong Kong resettlement estate era. People of the next generation will never have a chance to see this kind of unique architecture – “I’ shaped 16 storey building with 2 – 4 buildings connected together, each building is numbered by block 1, 2, 3 (1座2座3座) … every storey of each block has a very long corridor and the ground floor is full of shops and restaurants (茶餐廳/冰室) … part of the exterior wall of corridor made of circle shaped bricks with hole in the centre for air circulation purposes.
Hong Kong started constructing resettlement blocks since 1954 because more than 50,000 people were homeless after Shek Kip Mei squatter area fire on Christmas Eve in 1953. Shek Kip Mei Estate is the first public housing in Hong Kong. During 1954 to 1972, 25 resettlement areas had been built in different districts. Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate was one of them. It consisted of 14 blocks (14座). Some blocks were completed in 1967 while others were completed in 1968 and 1969 respectively. In 1973, Hong Kong Housing Authority divided the area into two zones, blocks 1-7 belonged to zone I (一區) and bocks 8-14 belonged to zone II (二區). Zone I and II were distinguished by the wall colour – zone I was pink and zone II was green.
During childhood, my impression of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) was limited to its “I” shaped architecture, the green walls, speciality stores and restaurants. When I first moved to Amoy Gardens, I had congee in a tiny store (probably only 200 sq ft) at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 8 which is one of the best congee I’ve ever had (very delicious生滾靚粥). Also the same block had a dessert store serving cold red/green bean soup (紅豆沙/綠豆沙) and square shaped unsliced grass jelly (凉粉) which are very enjoyable in hot summer. My family didn’t go to the restaurants at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate too often but we had lunch and dinner there once in a while. I can still remember the time when we had wonton noodles in a restaurant at Block 9. The dai pai dong (大牌檔) there, a type of open-air food stall in Hong Kong, was very good too. The central entrance of Block 9 was the location of a dai pai dong where food was being cooked there. Across the entrance is St. Matthew's Lutheran School (路德會聖馬太學校) so they always set up tables beside the school’s fence at night. There was also another night-time dai pai dong behind St. Matthew’s Lutheran School. They had a comprehensive menu including meat, seafood, vegetable and noodle. Every dish was very tasty to offset the poor ambiance. One night my family had hot pot beside the rear gate of my primary school柏德學校, and a few times I had breakfast and lunch in 興記茶餐廳, a Hong Kong old style fast food restaurant located between my primary school and Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Block 10. I just found out it’s been in business since 1970 not too long after Block 10 was constructed. It’s now been operating for 39 years already, and I still remember we could choose from menu A, B or C with a slightly different dish on each menu. Usually my school uniforms and my name stamp were purchased from the estate (name stamp was required for my agenda and exercise books in primary school since it was more convenient to stamp than to write my name on every single book).
As time passes, the cease of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II) including my primary school is inevitable. Goodbye 牛頭角下邨! Thanks for the fond memories you have given me.