View Full Version : Kowloon Walled City (Photojournalism)...

5th May 2012, 20:35
I know some of you will appreciate this ....

Once thought to be the most densely populated place on Earth, with 50,000 people crammed into only a few blocks, these fascinating pictures give a rare insight into the lives of those who lived Kowloon Walled City.
Taken by Canadian photographer Greg Girard in collaboration with Ian Lamboth the pair spent five years familiarising themselves with the notorious Chinese city before it was demolished in 1992.
The city was a phenomenon with 33,000 families and businesses living in more than 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, all constructed without contributions from a single architect.

Kowloon Walled City was notorious for drugs and crime but many of its 50,000 residents lived their lives peacefully until it was demolished in the early 90s

Canadian photographer Greg Girard and Ian Lambot spent five years getting to know the residents and taking pictures of the densely populated buildings

Mir Lui was assigned to work in the city as a postman in 1976 and had no choice but to go. He was one of the few people who knew the ins and outs and wore a hat to protect him from the constant dripping

Ungoverned by Health and Safety regulations, alleyways dripped and the maze of dark corridors covered one square block near the end of the runway at Kai Tak Airprot.
'I spent five years photographing and becoming familiar with the Walled City, its residents, and how it was organised. So seemingly compromised and anarchic on its surface, it actually worked and to a large extent, worked well,' said Mr Girard on his website (http://www.greggirard.com/).

Dating back to the Song Dynasty it served as a watch post for the military to defend the area against pirates and to manage the production of Salt before eventually coming under British rule.
However, during the Japanese occupation on Hong Kong in the Second World War parts of it were demolished to provide building materials for the nearby airport.

Once Japan surrendered from the city, the population dramatically increased with numerous squatters moving in. Eventually it became a haven for criminals and drug users and was run by the Chinese Triads until 1974.
The shrieks of children playing on rooftops were frequently drowned out by the sounds of jet engines as aircraft powered through their final 100 metres on the runway at Kai Tak Airport

For many residents who lived in the upper levels of the city, ion in particular, the roof was an invaluable sanctuary: a 'lung' of fresh air and escape from the claustrophobia of the windowless flats below

The city, lit up during the night, was the scene of the 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan and includes real scenes of buildings exploding

A Kowloon Walled City resident who is dissatisfied with compensation payouts from the government sits on a pavement in protest as police start the clearance operation

Food processors admitted they had moved into the city to benefit from the low rents and to seek refuge from the jurisdiction of government health and sanitation inspectors

A workplace during the day would turn into a living room at night when Hui Tung Choy's wife and two young daughters joined him at his noodle business. The children's play and homework space was a flour-encrusted work bench

By the early 1980s it was notorious for brothels, casinos, cocaine parlours and opium dens. It was also famous for food courts which would serve up dog meat and had a number of unscrupulous dentists who could escape prosecution if anything went wrong with their patients.
The city eventually became the focus of a diplomatic crisis with both Britain and China refusing to take responsibility.

Despite it being a hotbed of crime many of its inhabitants went about their lives in relative peace with children playing on the rooftops and those living in the upper levels seeking refuge high above the city.
The rooftops were the one place they could breathe fresh air and escape the claustrophobia of their windowless flats below.
Eventually, over time both the British and Chinese authorities found the city to be increasingly intolerable, despite lower crime rates in later years.
The quality of life and sanitary conditions were far behind the rest of Hong Kong and eventually plans were made to demolish the buildings.
Many of the residents protested and said they were happy living in the squalid conditions but the government spent $2.7billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation and evacuations started in 1991. They were completed in 1992.

Law Yu Yi, aged 90, lived in a small and humid third-floor flat with her son's 68-year-old wife off Lung Chun First Alley. The arrangement is typical of traditional Chinese values in which the daughter-in-law looks after her inlaws

Grocery-store owner Chan Pak, 60, in his tiny shop on Lung Chun Back Road. He had a particular passion for cats and owned seven when this picture was taken

This hairdresser puts curlers in a customer's hair at a salon in the city. Many people continued to live their lives normally despite drug and crime problems

A child with a grazed knee sits on a counter top in a tiny shop which sells essentials like toilet paper and canned foods. Cigarettes are also on display in a cabinet

The area was made up of 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, built without the contributions of a single architect and ungoverned by Hong Kong's health and safety regulations

A rare insight into Kowloon Walled City | Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2139914/A-rare-insight-Kowloon-Walled-City.html#ixzz1u1dmWhAM)

5th May 2012, 20:35
continued ....

Thousands of people went about their lives daily with many making do with what space they had to grow plants or hand washing on balconies above the busy shops and streets below

A rooftop view of the city at night which shows just a few of the thousands of TV aerials which sit on the buildings


Over time, both the British and the Chinese governments found the massive, anarchic city to be increasingly intolerable - despite the low reported crime rate in later years


Workers - not restricted by health and safety regulations - prepare their fish for sale and, right, a wall in a home adorned with clocks and pictures of relatives

Daylight barely penetrates the rubbish-strewn grille over the city's Tin Hau Temple which was built in 1951 on an alley off Lo Yan Street

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/05/05/article-2139914-12EF31F9000005DC-166_964x611.jpg The government spent around 2.7 billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation to the estimated 33,000 families and businesses. Some were not satisfied and tried to stop the evacuations

5th May 2012, 20:45
I bet the flats round the edge were at a premium, human nature and all. Great stuff SG, really fascinating.

5th May 2012, 20:51
Excellent thread, well done. :ok:

5th May 2012, 21:01
In the 1980s I had my haircut there by an old man who didn't speak any English and who was 'annoyed' when I proffered a generous tip. It turned out that he was offended by my display of wealth and too proud to accept it.

IIRC the price asked was less than 10 pence and I offered the equivalent of 50 pence.

A young Chinese man who was passing through (the chair was in a passageway rather than a room) was kind enough to translate.

I was impressed by the honesty of the old gentleman (and his ethics).

5th May 2012, 21:08
ah G_CPTN you should have hit back with, that you find the job acceptable and would like him to cut your hair in the future and would like to pay him in advance for the next 4 cuts.

5th May 2012, 21:11
Fascinating. A real eye opener. :ok:

5th May 2012, 21:52
The Walled City was on the latter stages of the 13 IGS into the
old HKG (Kai Tak) airport, and I used to try and see of I could
get the 747's #4 pod to take out a few of the telly antennas
during the turn onto short final.

All the skippers never let me fly that low.

Damn party poopers!

6th May 2012, 00:31
My impression was pretty much as you say; dreadful place.

In some respects, but I was frequently amazed how respectable people emerged from these slums and went to work in offices smartly dressed

I always felt safe walking around and among these places, even at night.

Worrals in the wilds
6th May 2012, 00:40
Wow. Thanks very much.
Is that the place where in the really skanky buildings you could rent a cage to live in? IIRC from a newspaper article each one was about the size of a queen sized bed and had bars all around them, with a padlock so the owner could secure themselves and his/her stuff. They were basically for homeless people who would otherwise live on the streets.

I think they'd demolished it by the time I got to Honkers, though Kai Tek was still operating. Awesome landing, even from the cheap seats at the back. :ok:

6th May 2012, 01:51
Kai Tak was still operating. Awesome landing,
From the starboard side window seats you could clearly see the occupants at work in their kitchens.

Load Toad
6th May 2012, 02:35
Is that the place where in the really skanky buildings you could rent a cage to live in?

Many people still have to rent cages to live in in HK.

Hong Kong Citizens Are Living in Cages... Literally (http://www.weirdasianews.com/2009/11/21/hong-kong-citizens-living-cages-literally/)

They aren't for homeless people - many people simply can not afford the house prices, many have to rent space near where they can make any sort of living. It is to HK's great shame that the government has colluded with the property cartels so that this situation continues.

6th May 2012, 10:23
Brilliant Pictures. Captured the spirit of the place. I've been here over two decades and been to the waled city. It was as described.

Worrals in the wilds
6th May 2012, 12:35
Many people still have to rent cages to live in in HK.Thanks for the info. :sad:

Despite the inevitable sad stories (which every big city has), Hong Kong was the first big, foreign city I ever visited and it blew me away.
For a couple of days I couldn't believe it was real. I've been to many other places since (and back to HK again), but I still remember exotic Hong Kong with its sea of lights soft in the smoke and fog, Chinese neon signs everywhere...the rush, the noise, the smell of smog, unfamiliar food and incense, the crowds on the streets even at four in the morning and above all, the friendliness and feeling of safety, even for a little Aussie gal who didn't speak a word of Cantonese, wandering around with her eyes out on stalks, seeing the fish market where the fish still swam around (until they were bought), looking in the French designer shop windows at goods that cost more than my parents' house, bang alongside tiny stands selling Double Happiness cigarettes and newspapers for a pittance, seeing people in cars so flash we never even saw them at home pulled up next to tiny shops where a bunch of old guys with manchurian moustaches had gotten together to play a fast game of Mah Jong amidst the fetid DH smoke, me eating strange things on sticks, buying trinkets and trying to figure the currency out, with other customers in the shops helping. :O
Heck of a place. :ok:

Ancient Observer
6th May 2012, 13:30
as a regular pax in to and out of HKG, in the 80s the general view of HKG Brit ex-pats was that the cathay pilots were the best at getting their planes closest to those buildings.
For some reason, BA pilots seemed to be much further away.

6th May 2012, 13:56
I still remember exotic Hong Kong with its sea of lights soft in the smoke and fog, Chinese neon signs everywhere...the rush, the noise, the smell of smog, unfamiliar food and incense, the crowds on the streets even at four in the morning and above all, the friendliness and feeling of safety,
Absolutely agree - I found the place to be fascinating.

Just before I went the first time, my 6 year-old son told me to "Look good with your eyes." an instruction that I complied with (as well as taking many, many photographs to show when I returned home).

When he was older I was able to arrange for him to visit Hong Kong and be shown around by a local guide (so that he could maximise his time there).

I doubt that I will return there, and, in a way, it's probably better that I don't as HK changes so much so quickly, and with places like the Walled City (and the Lee Gardens Hotel) having been demolished I would probably feel 'lost'.

It was a place of extremes with poverty and extreme wealth side-by-side.
There were 'all-you-can-eat for HK$10 ' restaurants next to places serving abalone at HK$1000 each dish.
Rolls Royces with odd and even registrations (to overcome the congestion restrictions that prohibited use on alternate days) used to take children to school (one family I met had four as their two children went to different schools in opposite directions) and a family that had made their fortune in butter (!) that flew to Hawaii every weekend in their private jet.
I met an old man selling matches from a tray who had only one box to offer (he might have been a front for supplying drugs but I don't think he was).
Cockroaches as big as mice scuttling along the streets, and even in the bathroom of my five-star hotel/

I was told that the only vandalism on the buses occurred on the routes used by the European children to travel to their schools.

6th May 2012, 14:32
HK changes so much so quickly

This pic was taken in 1988 at the heli landing area on the jetty wall just outside HMS Tamar. Have a look at GoogleEarth and you will see that it's about 100 miles inland now!


Flap 5
7th May 2012, 11:23
Interesting that everyone thinks of Cathay Pacific as being the experienced airline at flying into Kai Tak. Their long haul pilots were lucky to get two or three landings a month at Kai Tak at times and the medium haul Tristar pilots a few more. In fact Dragonair pilots were far more experienced as we would get two landings a day on our four sector days into China.

I did get to see a bit of the Kowloon Walled City on the ground, but from the air? By the time you got anywhere near overhead or before it you were concentrating on the turn onto the runway for your landing.

The best view from the air was to be had by passengers in the right window seats as you turned over the walled city at about 300 feet. It looks low but actually there was plenty of clearance.