City of Darkness: Revisited


The entrance to Ho Chi Kam's hairdressing salon on Tai Chang Street
The entrance to Ho Chi Kam’s hairdressing salon on Tai Chang Street

Though he had lived in the City for much longer, Ho Chi Kam only took over the running of the barber’s shop at 10 Tai Chang Street in 1985. Located just a short distance from the sole government stand-pipe within the confines of the City, it was unsurprisingly a fairly prosperous business whose customers – mainly local Walled City residents – would occasionally have to queue for service. The shop eventually closed in late 1991, shortly before the start of phase two of the clearance. Ho was unhappy about this and would only give a short interview.

I first read about my flat in Shing Pau Daily News; I bought it and moved in at the beginning of 1974. The flat is on the Tung Tau Tsuen Road, so I didn’t really have to come inside the City until I started running my own barber’s shop. Then I came every day.

Before that, I worked in the same trade for other people. This place belonged to a friend who offered it to me when he decided to leave. I had to borrow some money to set myself up, but I’ve been here for five years now and I am the sole proprietor. We are the only hair parlour inside the City and my customers are people living nearby.

So many people used to live here that if only one in a hundred came to me, I would have enough business. We set the prices as we liked, but we were cheaper than the barbers outside. My wife and I both worked, and sometimes there was a lot of business. We used to open at 9am and close when there were no more customers – it was very flexible. There were no problems with supplies as we paid on delivery.

Now that the Walled City is to be demolished, I have started working for others again and only come here on Wednesdays, my day off. Of course, from the point of view of my business, I’m not happy about the demolition. Running the barber’s shop here didn’t make me wealthy, but I didn’t have to worry about my next meal either. Now, working for someone else, I only receive 30 per cent of every $100 I earn. I have to bring in $300 for the boss before I can get $90. I would be able to earn that doing just one head.

However, there is no choice. We have to move whether we like it or not. The only problem is that it’s not possible to start up a similar shop outside, because I couldn’t afford the rent.