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Guiding through time, culture

XINHUA – For 71-year-old Ng Likbo, city walk, a new travel trend for youngsters, has never been a novelty. For about 13 years, it has been the routine work of the retiree and volunteer tour guide, who leads citizens and tourists on a walk along the streets and alleys of Hong Kong, his hometown.

They view buildings up close and gain a deep understanding of the local history and culture.

As countless young people flock to the city to embark on a random roaming journey in the city, Ng expects more visitors to take a walk along a trail in Kowloon City District, where he has been living for almost all his life.

Strolling around this old district that is undergoing the process of urban renewal with the contribution of professionals and local residents alike, one can have a mixed taste of Hong Kong, both old and new.

Called ‘Kowloon City in Transformation’, the 6.5kilometre-long walking trail recommended by Ng traverses the hustle and bustle of Kowloon City District, stretching from north to south in the eastern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, and finishing at the north shore of the Victoria Harbour.

Kowloon City District, one of the 18 districts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), has a retro street view that is reminiscent of Hong Kong depicted in old movies and songs.

ABOVE & BELOW: An aerial view of Kowloon Walled City Park, Hong Kong; and remnants of the demolished Kowloon Walled City at the park. PHOTO: XINHUA
PHOTO: XINHUA
ABOVE & BELOW: Volunteer guide Ng Likbo; and visitors taking part in a cement flower pot workshop in Kowloon City. PHOTO: XINHUA
PHOTO: XINHUA

In this densely populated district, narrow, converging roads are dotted with numerous neon signboards, each representing a restaurant or a shop that is time-honoured and has its own unique features.

“The history density of the district is really high, which means that many historical events might happen at the same place, as if the history has been piled up layer by layer,” Ng said while guiding a group of tourists.

Ng’s metaphor can be best demonstrated by the Kowloon Walled City Park, the starting point of the trail. Before it turned into a public leisure place in the 1990s, the site, once a military post in the late Qing dynasty, was heavily populated with more than 50,000 residents in a land of around 2.7 hectares.

From the park, the trail goes through three areas: Kowloon City, To Kwa Wan, and Hung Hom. Ng told tourists that each of them has its own unique character.

The self-educated expert was quite knowledgeable about the local history and had the gift of eloquence for a good guide.

“By telling the history of the district, I would like to invite more people, especially my neighbours, to understand this region, appreciate it and then explore it by themselves,” said Ng.

ENGAGED COMMUNITY

Ng, who had worked only in the manufacturing industry, began his personal research on the local history quite by chance.

In 2009, just before Ng’s retirement, his father became seriously ill. While being cared for by Ng in the hospital, the father, in his last several months of life, one day came upon the history of their community while chatting with his son.

“He became more and more interested afterwards and would keep on talking about that without feeling tired,” Ng recalled.

“He knew so much that he was like a history book of our community,” he continued. Ng then began his own study of the neighbourhood and community.

After his retirement, Ng took a training course for tour guides and then started to present local history to other people, just like how his father did with him.

Ng has also worked at museums and other scenic spots in Hong Kong, but he cares more about his home district, the Kowloon City District.

“Of course I have a deep affection for this district,” Ng said. “Although I’m not an expert, I, as a local resident, have unique understandings about it.” He explained that his presentation as a tour guide has the three dimensions – big history, small anecdotes and his personal feelings.

Ng kept expanding his reserve of knowledge in order to be a | better guide.

Once, from several different references, he discovered and patched up a rarely-mentioned story of a neighbourhood in which he had lived and designed a themed tour around it.

One of Ng’s old neighbours was curious about the topic and signed up for the tour, without knowing that Ng was the guide. Ng felt delighted to see the neighbour’s participation, as he thought that under his efforts, more residents began to pay attention to local history and culture.

RENEWED HOPE

Since more than five years ago, Ng began to guide citizens and tourists to join the Kowloon City In Transformation Walking Trail.

Built from the beginning of 2018 to July this year, the trail was an urban renewal project supported by the Urban Renewal Fund of the Hong Kong government, and operated by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council.

“We encourage people, whether neighbours, citizens from other districts or even tourists from other cities, to walk along the trail so that they can have a direct perception of the district,” said Project Manager Chan Winglam.

Not only a route for tourists to roam the city, the trail is more of a platform at which various urban renewal activities have been held.

“Old districts inevitably have to be regenerated,” Chan said.

“We want to involve more residents to participate in the renewal work, as the place belongs to them all.”

Walking along the trail, from time to time, one can see special patterns on some upgraded public infrastructures, such as lamp standards, handrails, benches, tiles, and well lids, among others.

According to Chan, those designs were inspired largely by the experiences and memories of local residents. “We invite them to our workshops and collect their impressions about the district,” she said.

Chan gave an example to illustrate the working procedure. As Kowloon means nine dragons in Chinese, a lot of residents chose the traditional Chinese character of long which means dragon to represent the district.

Then, several versions of the character were designed by professionals and evaluated by the residents.

The top-voted design has been added on the handrails along the trail.

So far, based upon the trail project, more than 760 various urban renewal activities, including design workshops, photo contests, guided tours, and story collections, have attracted around 85,000 participants to get to know more about the Kowloon City District.

Ng himself has led more than 100 tours along the trail.

As the new trend of city walk has been embraced by an increasing number of youngsters, he welcomes more visitors to follow him to wander in the regenerating Kowloon City District, as if walking from past to present.

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