I Remember Hong Kong 我記得香港
New 1 July scroll down for The Shanty Children
新: 7月1日 木屋區兒童 在頁尾
Updated 21 May Buddha Song web page 佛曲網頁 5月21日更新了
I have spent most of my life in England, yet my earliest memory was about Hong Kong, when it was a British colony. Hong Kong followed the British legal system and judiciary, but the government more or less left the locals alone and there was freedom of speech. English was a compulsory subject in all schools (Chinese was not), and in Anglo-Chinese schools all subjects were taught in English, though in Chinese schools most subjects were taught in Cantonese, which was spoken by the majority of the population and Cantonese culture was predominant. However, it was also a haven for people who had fled Communist China from many provinces in the mainland. As a vibrant and cosmopolitan city and one of the world's most densely populated regions there was much Western influence – more American than British. It had an identity of a unique Hong Kong Cantonese culture as influenced by the West. This is my attempt to record what I remember of this unique culture which may not stand the passage of time and other factors.
There are already a number of pages that are related to the title of this page, such as:
My has a lot of material related to what I remember about Hong Kong and how such memories affected my creative work. So are my CD and Book and the project .
However I will include more independent pages which include the following pages that I am working on:
Buddha Song 佛曲 now a new updated 21 May
Though the only religion I know is Christianity, this page is about what I noticed of the interesting Buddhist influence on Hong Kong life.
Magic Banyan Tree 神奇老榕樹
What I remember of the old world charm of the New Territories which was very different from the city life of Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsular and has almost vanished by now.
This will also include a Playlist of related videos
New 1 July 新：7月1日
The Shanty Children 木屋區兒童
At the time I studied at True Light Middle School of Hong Kong (founded by the American missionary Harriet Newell Noyes in 1872 pioneering Chinese women’s education), one could see crowded shacks ("wooden-hut area" in Cantonese) on the hillside opposite the school. Many children who lived there came to True Light to attend Sunday school. I volunteered to teach at the Sunday school for a year or so. The children were about ten or younger. They came early in the morning, gathered in the sports arena, lined up, and were then led by volunteer students into the hall to sing hymns. I played the piano, and some others led the singing. Then the children had lessons in the classrooms ― about a dozen children in each class. Each class would need about four volunteers because the children were not necessarily well-behaved and even naughty. They were different in ability and often individual teaching was required. Each child was given a handbook for learning and writing which included practicing to write their names. The handbook also had illustrations for colouring. While we taught the children in classrooms, some volunteers would divide donated food and clothing in the auditorium according to the number of children attended. After class, the children would go to the auditorium to get their share of food and clothing to take home.
These are poor people's children, some were ragged and even barefoot, and probably had scanty meals. I wondered whether lack of nutrition affected their learning ability, many children in my class had some difficulty in learning Chinese characters and writing. There was a boy who seemed older than the other children in my class. Although he was not very good at reading and writing, I so happened to see him copying the illustrations in his handbook and his drawing was very good. I praised him for being good at drawing. To my surprise, he did not look pleased but became grave and quiet, and refused to draw again. Perhaps his world was without praise and he didn't know how to handle that.
I remember a thin and small and particularly naughty boy who was barefoot, without a top and only wore a man’s underpants strapped onto him. His name was Ng Choi-Dat (吳才達). Of the three Chinese characters, the first was his surname, the following two his first name meaning talented. He would only write the middle character "Choi 才" of his name because it's simple with only three strokes. In Cantonese his surname has the same pronunciation as "not". As he couldn't even write his name Ng Choi-Dat in full, it really sounded like "not talented".
Children often could not and would not write more complicated characters. A little girl in my class had problems with learning characters. So I taught her the easiest characters: "一(one)", "二(two)" and "三(three)", and explained that the character with one stroke was "one", with two strokes was "two", and with three strokes, "three". She seemed able to recognise them. But then I found no matter which character I first pointed to, she would say one, then say two, then three. All she learned was to say one two three in succession. It was a hot day, and the little girl carried her baby brother on her back with a sling. The baby was so hot that his face was red. Seeing sister and brother were uncomfortable, I said why not untie the baby from the sling and I would look after him so that she could work on writing the characters. When I took the baby from her, I found the baby very soft as if boneless, and didn't know the proper way to hold him. The baby cried a little and I was at a loss of what to do, so I placed him on a desk and looked at him, and the baby cried aloud. His sister came over, hold and hug the baby skilfully, and the baby stopped crying. It's obvious their mother though gave birth, it was the little girl's job to mother the baby, and that's why she had to carry the baby on her back with a sling when she came to Sunday school. She was about seven and already had no childhood, and with no room for learning.
In addition to playing the piano for hymn singing and teaching the children, I joined the school's mission troop to visit the wooden-hut area to persuade parents to let their children to come to the Sunday school. I did no preaching but observed. The living conditions there were terrible. Crowded shacks were built on the slope, disorderly. There were no roads, just a rock here and there, possibly for stepping on to avoid mud especially in rain. Though called wooden-hut in Cantonese, they were in fact built with all kinds of rubbishy materials, very small and didn't necessarily look like a house but more like a shabby shelter or small hiding place. They did not seem to have water, electricity or a toilet inside. There was some sort of stand pipe outside for sharing. It was overcrowded and dirty. Parents though poor, had many children. From the age of their children, mothers appeared to give birth frequently. Parents were irritable towards their children, some seemed to beat them to vent their frustration. I saw a ferocious mother, while cursing a little girl, pick up a stick and hit the little girl in the face in a way that might disfigure the child's features. I felt so angry at this cruel mother. In fact, parents sent their children to Sunday school because they were after the donation of food and clothing brought back by the children weekly. Understandably, the children who came to the Sunday school were often dirty and smelly, difficult to teach, and often behaved badly. Whenever there was a typhoon, or when I heard of heavy rains causing landslides, I worried about the children's safety. There is no longer a wooden-hut area opposite True Light, and I wonder what happened to these children. Will they be able to make a good life despite growing up in such harsh environment?
The disappearance of the wooden-hut area may be due to the construction of many resettlement areas by the government, but I have been away from Hong Kong for too long to be sure. The Hong Kong I remember was not perfect, but the people at that time said whatever they like, expressing their opinions freely with no worries that someone might report them behind their back to cause them harm. I think attempting to control and change by force an adult who already has his own personality, belief and way of life, imposes a feeling of oppression that might be more claustrophobic and unbearable than living in a wooden-hut area. I worry that it might lead to people being impoverished intellectually.