Urban Diary featured Chan Tak-fai (Fai Gor), leader of Tai Hang fire dragon dance, and examined the impact of urbanization and redevelopment to a traditional cultural practice started in 1880. A city will be boring and unattractive, and its people ignorant to their past, without the nourishment of heritage. Therefore inheritance of an intangible cultural practice has always be an integral part of a city’s sustainability.
In this edition, we feature Wong Kun-oi. Kaifong (local residents) calls him Uncle Sai. The 65-year-old has been holding the baton of the annual Yu Lan ceremony for 22 years. He is also instrumental to maintain a disappearing community, the 30 Houses. The 30 Houses may sound unfamiliar nowadays, it is the name of the area roughly overlaps the present day Soho (south of Hollywood Road) in Central.
The folk ritual of Yu Lan is also known as Hungry Ghost Festival. While Yu Lan ceremonies are carried out in different parts of Hong Kong in the entire July of the Lunar calendar. The Yu Lan of 30 Houses takes place on July 24. The ceremony, having Taoist priests chanting, praying and parading, followed by the burning of giant Ghost King in the evening, seems at odds with the ambience of Hong Kong’s most westernised area.
As we were filming the folk ritual, three beer-drinkers in a pub on Staunton Street shouted out rudely when they saw Uncle Sai and the Taoist priests prayed at a corner close to the pub. They ignored the parade team’ request to lower their voice. I wonder whether these rude beer-drinkers would behave the same had they known bars and restaurants are new comers while this out-of-date ritual and the practitioners have been practicing the ceremony in that part of Hong Kong since the pre-war days.
Like the fire dragon dance in Tai Hang, the 30 Houses Yu Lan overcome challenges brought to them by urbanization and redevelopment. While Tai Hang fire dragon dance has become an important event of the city and a major tourist attraction, which make it easier for Fai Gor to raise money and recruit new blood, Uncle Sai and the 30 Houses, with a much smaller scale, are struggle on both.
Since this intangible cultural heritage is very important to Hong Kong, we made a video on Uncle Sai and the 30 Houses Yu Lan. Independent film maker Fredie Chan Ho-lan is director of the documentary. It is our third collaboration. Fredie has also directed Tai Hang Fire Dragon and Fishermen’s Discourse for us.