You must think that I keep writing nostalgic pieces. That is not true. I am going to tell you Kimi’s story. After writing this piece on Kimi, I will write another one on Dom. Their stories will give you a sense of what Kwun Tong means to the younger generation.
Kimi Lam is 24. She is a designer by trade and in her spare time, she works as a volunteer administrator for Hidden Agenda, an alternative live music venue. “It is only a name. There is no hidden agenda,” she explains, before adding that there are four indie music venues in Hong Kong, with two in Kwun Tong and one each in Western District and Kwai Chung. Hidden Agenda is arguably the most high-profile of the four, thanks to the constant raids it receives from various government departments.
Kimi dropped out of school after Form 3. She then worked briefly as a bar tender before becoming a trainee tattooist. At her neighbourhood bar, she’d order a coffee instead of a cocktail more often. She found it an excruciating responsibility to inscribe a tattoo on someone’s body, and she didn’t want to make her job any more stressful.
She has two homes. One is at Sai Wan Estate in Western District. This is where she grew up and her parents are still living there. Her other home is on Tai Yip Street in Kwun Tong. The street is a typical dull-looking stretch in the industrial part of Kwun Tong. She shares a studio with another designer there. The studio is only a few minutes’ walk from Hidden Agenda. She told me Kwun Tong is a village and this village is her playground.
“My parents’ home in Western District is where I go for dinner. Kwun Tong is where I spend most of my time. I work and play here. There are many fun and bizarre activities going on along Tai Yip Street. I think I only know 10 per cent of the people here but that is enough to keep me busy shuttling between studios and workshops, drinking beer and catching up with my friends.
“We have many start-ups: a football pitch, a roller skating venue, a tennis court – they are all indoors – and a musical instrument repair shop. We have more and more shops selling frozen meat and seafood, and wineries. I don’t know the people who run these stores. I think it is bizarre that people sell these things inside industrial buildings even though I know it is because of lower rent. We don’t know what will happen if all industrial buildings are turned into commercial towers which is what the government wants.”
Kimi’s sense of normality is based on people constantly moving in and out of the industrial buildings. “A very common scene on Tai Yip Street is people moving between buildings. There are two to three times every month, I see people moving chairs, tables and other furniture items on the street. The scene is comical. They move because their landlord has sold the property that they used to be in or it’s the result of a rent increase. Another reason is that they got into trouble with the Lands Department for unauthorized use (unauthorised use of the unit that they occupied for a non-industrial purpose).”
The unrelenting swirl on Tai Yip Street that Kimi so keenly observes is not for bystanders, however, and she has moved twice with Hidden Agenda over the past three years because they are not supposed to run a performance venue inside industrial buildings.
While Kimi may have a rather unusual perspective on normality, her sense of success is also uncommon. She thinks success means she can have fun every day.
She also believes she is out of touch with the rest of Hong Kong. “I don’t know what other people in Hong Kong are doing. I live in Kwun Tong but the popular apm shopping mall is completely irrelevant to me. People shop at Telford Plaza; I go there because it has a cinema and banks. I have a bank account but it is just for receiving money from clients and paying fees. I don’t use it to save up for a mortgage – I don’t want to be tied down to something like that for the rest of my life.
“It seems that the new cruise terminal is a big thing. I don’t share the excitement. What is the point of building a cruise terminal in Kwun Tong? I prefer the days when they left the land vacant. It was a huge piece of flat land. Before they started building the cruise terminal, my friends and I used to sneak in all the time and we would go cycling there at weekends, drink beers and watch the sun set.”
She is waiting for another financial tsunami because from rent to food, the city is getting ridiculously expensive.