Located in East Kowloon, Choi Wan Estate may not be the largest public housing estate in Hong Kong or have the tallest buildings, but when it comes to the names of its buildings, I have an inexplicable fascination with them.
Their names are poetic, such as Sunrise Court(觀日樓), Moonbeam Tower(伴月樓), Jade Palace(瓊宮樓), Ivory Court(玉宇樓), Dragon Court(遊龍樓), Phoenix Court(飛鳳樓), Scenic View(景新樓), White Rainbow(白虹樓), Starlight Garden(星辰樓), and Drizzling Court(時雨樓), all of which evoke images of constellations and astronomical terms.
Despite this, residents like Levi, who has lived in Phoenix Court in Choi Wan Estate since first grade, do not have a special attachment to the names of their buildings and do not feel proud or happy about them.
The Dramatic Changes of Choi Wan Estate
Levi sees everything that changes and remains the same in Choi Wan Estate. The estate’s shopping mall has undergone the most significant change. Walking from the Bai Hong House bus stop to the Choi Wan Estate shopping mall is a typical pattern of public housing shopping malls, with air conditioning, elevators, and escalators fully equipped, appearing to have no distinctive features. It conforms to the standard of Link REIT malls, which are clean and tidy but cold and impersonal. At best, the mall’s second floor has a central outdoor garden with many green trees and some benches for residents to rest. The Hong Kong Jockey Club betting station happens to be located next to the central garden. On race days, uncles and grandpas holding newspapers, smoking, and listening to the radio for race updates fill the area, and the air becomes lively.
After Link REIT took over the mall, it transformed from a dilapidated and sparsely occupied mall into a new appearance with tiled floors and renovated walls, and newly painted walls. The number of chain stores increased from a dozen to multiple, offering more restaurant choices for residents, including noodles, dumplings, and pizza, in addition to McDonald’s and local tea restaurants. As for the more historical restaurants in the mall, you have to count Cheng Fat Restaurant. The restaurant opened in the 1990s, and over the years, the decoration remained the same, and the taste of the food remained consistent. The dim yellow light, combined with many tables, is a typical Hong Kong-style tea restaurant pattern. The food’s taste is considered average, but it boasts some traditional Hong Kong-style dishes, such as beef and egg rice, tofu with preserved meat rice, and clay pot rice, which are recognized as a romantic dish for men.
The Unchanging Features of Choi Wan Estate
However the interior of the housing estate’s shopping mall may change, there are always some views that remain unchanged, as if time has frozen in these scenes and they have not aged. For example, the huge banyan tree at the entrance of the mall and the bus terminal, it appears very dense and the banyan tree’s many aerial roots extend very long and are interwoven in various forms. It has long been recognized by the community as a landmark of Choi Wan Estate, and it is believed to have silently guarded the community.
It is said that the banyan tree existed before the construction of Choi Wan Estate and was already listed in the register of ancient trees. There is a couplet written by a resident of Yau Oi Estate that says, “Choi Wan gives rise to auspiciousness, and the flourishing ancient tree adds luster to the shopping mall,” which is quite literary. Levi recalled that he had a deep impression of the tree since he first saw it in primary school, feeling full of life.
Another unchanging view of the housing estate is the elderly people who have been queuing for some reason for a long time.
Levi explained that the garbage station near Pak Hong House in Choi Wan Estate used to be so lively. There were people specializing in recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles, and many elderly people would line up, dragging heavy bags filled with aluminum cans or plastic bottles collected from the estate, and then sell them next to the garbage station to earn some pocket money. “My mother used to remind me to bring aluminum cans to the garbage station to recycle when I was young, to earn some pocket money. But later, I saw that the profit was not much, so I stopped doing it.”
In the past, the elderly would queue at the garbage station, but today they queue in front of the plastic bottle recycling machine in the mall for the same reason, to earn some pocket money. Everything seems so ordinary, but it is also heart-wrenching.
The people, not the public housing estate, have changed
The changes in Choi Wan Estate over the years could be considered significant or insignificant. Levi admits that it’s the people who have changed. When he was in primary school and spent more time in the estate, he had a closer connection to it. However, everything changed as he joined the workforce, spent less time at home and the place transformed.
“In fact, it’s a microcosm of Hong Kong. You only see mostly elderly people participating in estate activities. As the number of elderly people and building age increase, the estate becomes increasingly aged.”
“The peach blossoms remain the same, but the faces of people are different.” It seems to refer to the situation mentioned above.