I am glad that I met Dickson.
Dickson Ho Tak-ming is 55 years old. He runs a small business in an industrial building on Tsun Yip Lane. The businessman hires two staff, selling security equipment such as safe vaults, alarms and CCTVs. The majority of his clients are jewellers.
Dickson comes from a population that has all but disappeared in this city. He was born into a boat family. He and his family had lived in Yau Mei Tei Typhoon Shelter until he was nine which was when the government resettled the Hos into a squatter hut at Kowloon Bay. Their new home stood on what’s today the Mega Box shopping centre. He’s lived in Kwun Tong ever since he moved there from Yau Ma Tei and he has no plan to leave the district. Dickson’s story illustrates how the Kwun Tong industrial area has functioned ever since it was built into what was Hong Kong’s first ‘new town’.
“When a typhoon came, we and our neighbours had to use a long thick rope to tie several huts together, or the huts would be blown away. We weren’t fishermen but when my grandma and my father first got to Hong Kong after fleeing the Japanese invasion in China, they stayed with a relative who was a fisherman. Grandma later bought a boat from this relative and this was how we became boat people. My father was a kuli while my grandma earned a living as a water taxi ‘driver’. The fare was five cents for a ride; that was in the late 1960s,” he said.
The family of seven moved into public housing in Lam Tin in the early 1970s. At the time of the move, Lam Tin was still known by its old name ‘Ham Tin’, which means salty fields. It was there that Dickson met a girl. They were teenagers at the time, living in the same block – and on the same floor. She would later become his wife.
“The place where we lived was a resettlement estate. The building was 16-storey high. The unit was self-contained, with a kitchen and a toilet. At only 200 sq ft, it was very small by today’s standards. We had two bunk beds and a folding bed. But we were contented. There were elevators. It was the first time we saw elevators, and we no longer had to worry about typhoons,” said Dickson.
As the eldest child, Dickson left school after he finished Form 3 so he could start working and help support his family. But first, he had to take a short course so he could be trained as an electrician. That’s in the early 1970s. Then he got a job at an electronics factory on Hoi Yuen Road, and he would go on to work there until the early 1980s. The factory manufactured radio sets for markets in the US and Europe.
Hoi Yuen Road is in the industrial section of Kwun Tong. It occupies an important role in Dickson’s life. This road also housed the factory where his mother found a job after his family moved to Kwun Tong. Meanwhile his wife worked in a garment factory in nearby Wai Yip Street until the couple had their first child – a boy.
“There were few opportunities to spend money. To make sure the workers would go to work on time, the company had shuttles to take us to the factory. Most of the workers lived in Kwun Tong. There were three pick-up points: Ngau Tau Kok, Lam Tin and Sau Mau Ping. If I missed the shuttle, I would walk to work. It took about 20 minutes to walk from my home in Lam Tin to the factory on Hoi Yuen Road. I have never been late for work. The factory’s business was so good that we worked overtime every day. We usually started at eight in the morning and finished at 10 in the evening. We had to work on New Year’s Day as well until it became a public holiday. The money we earned from overtime work was more than the basic salary. The basic monthly salary was HK$500.”
Dickson says that the industrial building where he worked also had garment production plants and printing houses. It was pulled down in the 1990s and replaced with a building that houses both industrial and commercial units.
He was already out of the radio sets factory before that happened, having left it in the early 1980s to join a company that specialised in the production of security systems. However, he made that decision not because he was already expecting the decline of Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry as a result of the mainland’s economic reforms. He explained: “I was interested in security systems and I also believed there would be good prospects. We need security systems whether we are in bad times or good times.”
Dickson started his own business in 1993. He decided his company would be based in Kwun Tong. It is because he needs a place with good public transport connections to every corner of Hong Kong, and it also has to be close to his home. “My work is about a company’s security, I have to be on stand-by every minute.”
Dickson’s family moved to Lok Wah Estate in Ngau Tau Kok after the birth of their son. They moved to Choi Wan Estate in Ngau Chi Wan about a decade later. Now the family lives in a 600-sq ft apartment in Lei On Court in Lam Tin.
Back in the 1970s, he would walk to work if he missed the factory shuttle. Now, he goes to work on foot because he enjoys the walk.
“I like Kwun Tong. I really can’t think of anything negative about this district. I have no plan to move to another district. The only thing that worries me is our aging population. Property prices are so high in this district. Young people can’t afford to live in Kwun Tong. This is bad for Kwun Tong’s sustainability. A district’s growth mainly relies on its own population. I hope the government can do something about the high rents so young people can move to Kwun Tong.”