A lot has already been written about the six-story giant rubber duck that Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is bringing around the world, most recently to Hong Kong harbor, but we wanted to share this reader-submitted photo by Aby Sam Varghese in Hong Kong, a less-common nighttime photo. Artist Hofman says the duck is for all, “We’re one family and all the waters in the world is our global bathtub.”
Open Door, a nonprofit organization that coordinates Hong Kong citizens committed to migrant workers’ rights, met a group of students and tourists in the neighborhood of Central on the first Sunday of June, amidst the bustling crowds of Filipina domestic workers gathering together to enjoy their weekly day off from work. Open Door is piloting cultural tours that are designed to introduce Hong Kong’s citizens to the cultures of the non-Chinese populations of the city. By promoting multiculturalism, Open Door is hoping to improve inter-ethnic relations in Hong Kong.
Filipina domestic helpers gathering under the HSBC building in Hong Kong.
The tour guides opened with a brief explanation in English and Cantonese of Filipino history and the reasons that compelled 130,000 Filipina workers to migrate to Hong Kong. The labor export policy in the Philippines and the rising demand for domestic help in Hong Kong created a flow of migration that began in the 1970s and continues today. After providing political and historical information about the Philippines and Hong Kong, the tour turned to focus on the present day. The tour was led to neighborhood sites that hold historical and cultural relevance for Filipinas and for Hong Kong residents.
Tour visit to St. John’s Cathedral, Central, Hong Kong.
At each of these various culturally relevant sites the tour guides discussed the many ways that Filipinas maintain their connections to the Philippines and their culture even while living away from home: a shopping mall that houses Filipino shops and food vendors, a cathedral holding masses in Tagalog and home to a non-profit organization providing social services for domestic helpers, and different gathering places in the Hong Kong financial district for Filipina organizations were among the places we visited. The many groups of Filipinas we met all follow the same system: women from specific areas in the Philippines meet in the same spot in the financial district every week, thus providing a specified meeting place for new and old migrants alike to maintain relationships from home, speak their own dialects, eat regional food and exchange news from their home region.
Member of Las Filipinas showing the tour her crafts.
A highlight of the tour was the interactions that we had with various groups of domestic workers – we were able to speak with people who showed us their crafts, discussed their experiences, explained their political work, and answered our questions. Filipina groups in Hong Kong are not only organized by geographical origin in the Philippines, but many meet weekly with other domestic helpers who share their political affiliations, craft interests, or religion. Las Filipinas described their crafts projects and tutorials to the tour, and discussed the seminars that they offer their members. Filguys discussed their work in promoting awareness of LGBTQQ rights and needs in Hong Kong. The tour ended with a sampling of homemade Filipino dishes and a discussion of the tour attendees’ impressions from the tour.
To participate in Filipino, Thai, or Indonesian cultural immersion tours, please [email protected].
Causeway Bay, usually known as a middle-class shopping neighborhood in Hong Kong, was transformed on the evening of June 4th, 2012. Thousands of people walked in the streets towards Victoria Park to mark the twenty-third anniversary of the Tienanmen Square protests, during which the Chinese army shot and killed students demonstrating for democracy. The vigil last week drew an estimated 180,000 people, an astounding number for this supposedly “a-political” special administrative region of China. The city is known for its embrace of capitalism and its business prowess, and writers and journalists in the past have described the Hong Kong populace as politically complacent.
The recent election of Leung Chun-ying and the Hong Kong SAR’s deepening governmental ties with China, however, have given rise to new political anxieties which were reflected in the pro-democracy speeches at the vigil and the packed lawns of Victoria Park on June 4th. The main field was filled with demonstrators early in the evening, and by 8pm the adjoining fields were also crammed with attendees watching a video-broadcast of the event on movie screens. The surging crowds sang and chanted with protesters on megaphones as we approached the site of the vigil, and I was directed to the grass in a nearby park with the rest of the overflow crowd.
Hong Kong’s social and political independence from China, a result of its lengthy rule by the British, has been shrinking since the territory was handed back in 1997 to the Chinese government. In recent years, anxieties have surfaced for Hong Kong residents about the changes in Hong Kong’s freedoms, the role that China is playing in Hong Kong governance, and the identity of Hong Kong as distinct from mainland China. Hong Kong activists speculated that the huge crowds at the June 4th protest are an indication of the anxieties about Hong Kong’s future, and the desire for democracy. My interpreter and guide on June 4th taught me the Cantonese word for democracy, which was repeated in chants and songs throughout the two hour long candle-lit vigil. As a result of the transitional legal independence from China, Hong Kong was the only place in China allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen Square protests and was thus the focal point for mainland protester contributions and expressions.
Crowds gather to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and to express support for the SAR’s pro-democracy movement.
The vigil featured pro-democracy student activists from Hong Kong University, local musicians, and protesters from the original June 4th, 1989 Tiananmen protest. One of these protesters, Fang Zheng, spoke to the crowd, crying, and urged demonstrators not to forget the event and the impetus for it. Mothers of 1989 Tienanmen protesters gathered pictures of their deceased children, and vigil organizers played a slide show over a recorded statement from one of the mothers. A candlelit procession to the main stage carried a bier in memory of the deceased activists and the names of the deceased were intoned. These somber moments, interwoven with activists urging the crowd to consider the current political situation in Hong Kong, provided a rare moment for public action in Chinese territory regarding democracy.
This is the first in UntappedCities’ partnership with Kill Screen, a magazine fixated on a single question: “What does it mean to play games?” Michelle Young is an architectural columnist for Kill Screen.
Architects and designers once hailed Kowloon Walled City as the closest thing to a self-regulating, self-sustaining modern city that had ever been built. If the high-rise was supposed to be the prerogative of Modernism, it was simultaneously disconcerting and fascinating to architects that a skyscraper city could be built by the masses. Claimed by both Hong Kong and China but administered by neither, Kowloon Walled City also became a dystopian breeding ground for illegal activity-opium dens, brothels, gambling houses, unlicensed medical clinics, and a thriving drug trade run by mafia syndicates. Even the police were afraid to go inside except in battalions larger than 40.
Kowloon was built on a 19th-century Chinese fort that was surrounded by the British colony of Hong Kong. The British launched a military attack to seize this 6 1/2-acre enclave but when they arrived, they discovered that the Chinese soldiers had left under their noses. The British did nothing with the city afterwards, nor did the Chinese reassert control, leaving the place to its own devices. By the 1930s, the Walled City had become a symbol for a declining Old China, surpassed by the modern infrastructure around it.
The population of the city grew from 10,000 in 1971 to more than 35,000 by the late 1980s, but the borders were fixed. With nowhere to go but up and nobody to regulate, the architecture was constructed ad-hoc without official building codes. And when it was demolished in 1993, Kowloon Walled City became a true no-man’s land, existing only in our mind’s eye. According to David Grahame Shane, author of Recombinant Urbanism, “The Walled City thus entered [our] living rooms ”¦ branded as a doomed, negative, heterotopic element employed for the service of fantasy or illusion.”
It is not surprising that this urban patch has made its way into popular representation: in films, from The Bourne Supremacy to Baraka and Batman Begins; and in videogames, including Call of Duty: Black Ops, Hitman, Kowloon’s Gate, Shenmue II, and Stranglehold. Often, aspects of Kowloon’s architecture and environment are used to impart a sense of repression, confusion, or loss. In videogames, the mafia and undercurrent of illicit activity provided ideal storylines amidst dank and mysterious backdrops. The cramped businesses in the inner alleys, and the jumbled exteriors of Kowloon, gave videogame designers a rich visual vocabulary.
The characteristic that most set Kowloon Walled City apart from other slums was its high-rise, skyscraper form. Videogame design has capitalized on the city’s verticality. In the opening sequence of Shenmue II, we are transported between the normalized architecture of Hong Kong to Kowloon and enter the city as if falling upside-down from the sky into the depths of the Walled City. The distance between Hong Kong proper and Kowloon is greatly exaggerated with hills and wide plains separating the two, likely an attempt to emphasize Kowloon’s “Otherness.”
Kowloon was an anomaly in modern urban construction not only for its organic formation, but also for its reversal of standard building aspects: interior versus exterior, street versus roofs. Its ad-hoc construction engendered a maze of narrow alleys and staircases. Think of single apartment units being stacked over time like Jenga pieces-except that the faà§ades don’t have to be match or be in-line with each other. The network was so vast that it was possible to cross from one side of the city to another without touching the ground once. In essence, the roads were on the roofs and inside the buildings.
The “Kowloon” map in Call of Duty: Black Ops takes advantage of this reversal of streets and roofs by focusing all play on the upper levels of the city. A common experience by players when first playing the map is, “Where the hell am I?” A video DailyMotion goes through the space: “Obviously,” narrator Kevin Kelly says, “This map takes a little bit of time to learn.” Without streets, you traverse over planks, ramps, ladders, rooftops; there’s even a zip-line to take you to the other side of the map. Each building has multiple entrances and levels, and there are many opportunities to fall. At the same time, however, the irregularity of the architecture creates vantage spots for snipers, and nooks in which to hide.
Black Ops also takes advantage of Kowloon’s reversal of interiors and exteriors. Exposed infrastructure and the tangle of electrical wiring are a central feature, looping over the rooftops and continuing onto the ceilings of apartments. Death by falling is compounded by hitting a mess of electrical wiring and signage. Further disorientation is created through environmental effects-man-made in the form of steam, and natural in the form of rain. You’re outdoors, but the light level isn’t far from being indoors.
The cult hit Kowloon’s Gate for the PlayStation locates play down in the depths of Kowloon’s alleyways. The dark colors, steam, and claustrophobic architecture lend themselves to the game’s mythical and macabre characters. In the opening sequence, you go down a series of hallway and doorways that appear to be warping. Kowloon’s Gate reflects the variety of activities within the hallways, including dental clinics, food stalls, bars, and mysterious interior shops. In one scene, a man has been killed and hangs entangled within the electrical wires.
It is because Kowloon was both real and anomalous that it has captured the imagination of videogame designers. The space lends itself to both highly realistic rendering, as in Black Ops; and mythical spaces, as in Kowloon’s Gate. The real Kowloon City was a place beyond the reach of government regulation until its demolition before the handover of Hong Kong. Perhaps it is only fitting that John Woo’s Stranglehold shows Kowloon destroyed not by the hands of Big Brother, but by the inhabitants themselves, in a continuously crumbling space vulnerable to collapse by Triad gang warfare.
Today, however, Kowloon is a modern urban hub with mixed-use skyscrapers geared toward tourism and lifestyle. One player comments, “I have apparently been to the wrong places when I have been in Kowloon. I have mostly seen people shopping and dining; no ballerinas or mechanical cows whatsoever.” Will the Kowloon Walled City continue to inspire game designers and players alike, and will anybody remember that it was once a very real place?