Public Estate Spaces make for Wonderful Playgrounds
Daniel Ma / One of the first residents of Ming Wah Dah Ha
For the first time since moving away 20 years ago, 60-year-old Daniel once again set foot in Ming Wah Dai Ha, where everything he sees conjures up a vivid memory from a distant past. “We had a lot of fun in this corridor, especially in the empty spaces in front of the stairwell. Everyone would hang out here; the adults would chat, dry clothes and play mahjong; the kids would gather and do all sorts of fun things: folk games, Statues, jump rope, football, you name it,” Daniel recalled. “We would play football on the terrace between two blocks; the ball would often fly off into someone’s balcony because we kicked it a bit too hard.” Daniel had been living in Ming Wah Dai Ha for nearly four decades, during which he studied, grew up, and built a career in architectural engineering. However, the best memories he had were playing in various open spaces within the estates, which were treated like playgrounds by children.
Moving into Ming Wah was “better than winning the lottery”
“It was around 1962 or 1963, I don’t remember the exact year, when our family of four moved into Ming Wah Dai Ha Block J. I was 7 or 8 at the time.” Daniel was the eldest child of the family; he was living with his parents and younger brother in a cubicle apartment in Shau Kei Wan. The family was over the moon when they learnt that their application to move had been approved. “The new flat was so big, and there’s a private bathroom and kitchen. It was so much better than the cubicle apartment.”
The first blocks of Ming Wah Dai Ha were completed since 1962. Daniel and his family were one of the first residents of the estate. They moved into the 7th floor of Block J, which was the fourth building to be completed. Back then, A Kung Ngam Road, which is situated next to the buildings, was still being constructed. “Every afternoon we would hear gongs and drums, that means they’re about to blast rocks again.” The daily rock blasting went on for years. Since there was no MTR, residents would go downhill on foot to Kam Wa Street to buy groceries and take the tram. Daniel recalled that there were two dai pai dongs near the end of the street that sold porridge and noodles; they were crowded with customers every day. Daniel, who went to Salesian School, loved going home by taking A Kung Ngam Road. As Ming Wah Dai Ha was built along hillside, the building sat on a slope; the exit to A Kung Ngam Road was found on the third floor, which means fewer stairs to climb when going up.
Space designed to build neighbour relationships
“Ming Wah Dai Ha’s corridor has a special design feature: there is an impluvium (air well) on both ends. It was great for ventilation, you can even talk to people upstairs.” When Daniel was young, he was oblivious to what an impluvium could do. Now that he has a career in architectural conservation, he has a more profound understanding of Hong Kong’s buildings. Daniel believes that, while public housing in the 60s were built using the cheapest and fastest way possible to solve a looming housing crisis, a lot of public and social spaces were masterfully built into these estates. The clothes drying rooms found on every floor, stone carved ping pong table on the ground floor, stairs and terraces between two blocks – these are the places where neighbors met and children played; the corridor on each floor is the heart of the neighborhood that brought everyone closer. “Every night after dinner, at around 8 or 9, people would hang out in the spaces at the two ends of the corridor.” Some would sit and chat, some would play mahjong if there were enough players, and young boys like little Daniel would play football with his neighbors. “Children from floors above and below would come and play matches. There could be 20 of us on some nights.”
Daniel was most impressed by the neighborhood – neighbors would often borrow rice or oil from each other; adults would leave kids in their neighbors’ care when they need to go out; people would ask their neighbors if they want soup they’ve just made; they would even offer to help buy groceries when the mother was too busy to do so. Daniel still remembers his neighbors’ names to this day; walking past his old flat on the 7th floor, he recited their names. “The family who lived opposite us were the Tsui’s, the ones next door were the Kwok’s, this was the Chan family…” I asked Daniel if coming back has brought back a lot of memories, to which he replied, “No, they need not be brought back, they were never gone.”
Name: Daniel Ma
Connection to Ming Wah: One of the first residents of Ming Wah Dah Ha; lived at the estate for nearly 40 years from 1962/1963 to 2001.