Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled City In Hong Kong


Kowloon Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. By 1987, the Walled City contained 33,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare borders. From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was controlled by local Triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling, and drug use.
Though Hong Kong had been under British rule for decades by the time construction began, a clause in an 1842 treaty meant China still owned the property that would become Kowloon. Caught in legal limbo, it was effectively lawless.
1The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

By 1986, the Walled City had caught the attention of photographer Greg Girard. Girard would spend the next four years in and out of the city, capturing daily life inside its teetering walls.
2The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

The Lego-like city was built over decades, as residents simply stacked rooms one on top of another. The end result "looked formidable," Girard tells Tech Insider, "but who knows?"
3The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Even though the area wasn't terribly dangerous by the time Girard visited, he says local children were still told by their parents not to go near Kowloon.
4The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Kowloon offered just about every business imaginable, for better or worse. At night, schools and salons were converted into strip clubs and gambling halls. Trafficked drugs — mostly opium — made frequent appearances.
5The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

One woman, Wong Cheung Mi, worked as a dentist.
6The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Like many of the Walled City's dentists, Wong could not practice anywhere else in Hong Kong. This drew hordes of working-class citizens to visit the city just to receive affordable healthcare and services.
7The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Stacked housing blocks meant virtually no sunlight could pierce through. Even during the day, Girard says, "it was nighttime all the time in there."
8The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

The one place of respite from the dampness was on the roof, though Girard says this was the most unsafe of all: "There were a lot of additional things sticking out and spaces between buildings that had been combined."
9The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

In-house manufacturing was a huge part of the Walled City's infrastructure. Dog-meat butchers, entrepreneurs, and noodle makers enjoyed zero oversight inside the walls.
10The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Hui Tuy Choy opened his noodle factory in 1965, totally free to ignore health, fire, and labor codes.
11The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Some of the most common products manufactured in the city were fish balls, which Kowloon producers sold to local restaurants.
12The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Sanitation was of minimal importance, Girard says: "It was an intensely difficult place to function, with no laws governing health or safety."
13The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Law enforcement typically only intervened for serious crimes, Girard says, though rumors were always swirling that Hong Kong's government preferred to turn a blind eye.
14The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

One law that was consistently enforced: The Walled City could be no higher than 13 or 14 stories. Otherwise, low-flying airplanes would have trouble meeting the nearby runway.
15The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

Despite its seedy reputation, the Walled City offered a sense of togetherness to thousands of people who had no community, Girard says.
16The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

"Its physical reality kind of belied this community that it was," Girard says, adding that people's attitudes toward him changed around 1990 when they learned the structure was to be knocked down.
17The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

People began living increasingly quiet, traditional lives. Though he entered as a threatening outsider, Girard eventually left having formed genuine relationships.
18The Life Inside The Unruly Kowloon Walled                         City In Hong Kong

After the city was torn down in 1994, the country built a park in its place. Today, Kowloon Park attracts photographers, birdwatchers, and tourists looking for a relaxing trip through scenic Hong Kong — with plenty of room.
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"Hong Kong is kind of a surreal place," Girard says. "The Kowloon Walled City was one of its more surreal mutations, but Hong Kong evolves and Kowloon evolves."
FunFunky

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