Hong Kong Rooftops: A Village, Ten Stories Up

Wandering down narrow lanes, past rows of makeshift houses, I could be standing in a squatter’s village in the New Territories. Potted plants sigh in the heavy heat of summer. Door gods peel from wooden entranceways. It is quiet. But I’m not in a village — I’m ten stories above a narrow street in Tai Kok Tsui, on the roof of a large block of flats built in the 1970s.

About thirty families live on the roof. Most are immigrants from the mainland or South Asia; others are longtime roof-dwellers who’ve decided they’d rather live here than in a faraway public housing estate. People have been living on Hong Kong’s roofs for decades; rooftop villages like this are a remnant of the massive tide of mainland refugees that swept over Hong Kong in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Rooftop shacks have been bought, rented and sold ever since, in an illegal black market that is tacitly accepted by the government. There are no statistics on how many people live on rooftops, but one community worker told me the number could be in the tens of thousands.

One of the Tai Kok Tsui roof’s residents is a 23-year-old university student named Sam Fong. I was first introduced to him by a social worker who is helping relocate families off of the roof, which will be demolished for a new housing development in the near future. He moved here with his family from Guangzhou a few years ago. Unlike many roof-dwellers, he’s quite philosophical about his surroundings. The rooftop is a village in more ways than its appearance: everyone knows each other and people keep their doors open. Every fall, Fong’s family hosts a Mid-Autumn feast in a small open space in front of their house.

“We live with our neighbours rather than just next to them,” Fong tells me as we sit in his cramped living room. His bedroom, which he shares with his mom, dad and sister, is on the second floor, up a narrow wooden ladder. “We depend on each other. Not many people pay attention to our problems. So many new immigrants are like us but since we have no political voice or power, we have no choice but to accept our situation.”

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday June 20 2010at 05:06 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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