Back then, a surprise awaits at every corner: the old “shop” lady who dressed up every day, the “barbershop” uncle in the back alley, the “liquor store” matriarch with a cigarette in hand, the old chap who lived in the “tong lau”, now converted into a hotel. Times have changed, and so have the names of the shops and buildings. Every subtle thing as these documented life in the community back in the days.
This is a series of photographs of the Tin Hau “gai fong” (residents), taken by anothermountainman, Fan Ng and me in collaboration. I then printed them out in their original size and laminated them on wooden boards, as the debut exhibition of The Edge.
Those were my good old days, those nights of endless songs and amusements. Later, together with friends in the media industry, I opened The Edge, a creative space on the first tong lau floor on 16 Tsing Fung Street, where the TUVE Hotel is nowadays. It was a hub for friends in the creative field to pass around mad ideas. Everything that was unattainable in the mainstream culture, even hosting overnight band parties in tong lau, was welcome as long as it was fun. We only opened at night on the weekend, so in the afternoon, we would visit the opposite liquor store to stock up on bottled soda, and then to Cheung Lee Restaurant to talk. When our space closed, we would have our late night meal at the bespectacled guy, who rented videos by day and sold instant noodles by night. Everything felt so usual back then, that you only realise by now how the grand wheel of time grinds things into nonexistence while you are unaware. As things have become now, at the Time Tailor clothes altering shop, next to the entrance of an alley on Wing Hing Street, I can only locate the beach umbrella that was long dismantled, through the shape of the tree leaves. The Cheung Kee Barbershop at the back almost never existed. Thankfully, I still got to reminisce about this “beautiful street” through the walls, and be greeted by a graffiti that says “hey, wishing you happiness”.
Following the 2020-2021 “Slow Stitch nomad at Blue House”, this year we have arrived at the next stop, Tin Hau – the community that I grew up in. With so much changed or vanished, I wondered how I can share my fondest memories with others anywhere and at any time, and what are the things that can follow me wherever I go and be seen by others.
That would be clothes – our most intimate journal. It needs no pen, paper or lighting devices, but it drapes over our bodies so naturally every day, as we go through matters in life, significant or trivial. They contain our memories, and, at the same time, share our stories with the world.
I hope to redefine clothes, to prove that they are not products to be disposed of at the end of a season, but vehicles of memories that connect people and pass on through generations.
So I summoned the slow stitch nomad squad, who walked up to Choi Sai Woo Park, took their seats on the ground, and listened attentively to my Tin Hau stories, as they took in all the details I drew and embroidered them onto recycled white cloth. Lastly, I patched these pieces together to make this cha chaan teng uniform shirt, a symbol of the community culture in Hong Kong.
My dream is for everyone to practise stitching. It is a life skill that we should all know a little too, a skill passed down to us by our ancestors only after many a trial. Regrettably, the waves of fast fashion have left us ignorant of our roots. It is time to reconsider the meaning of clothes, to experience the resilience of craftsmanship; all these were shown to me by the slow stitch artists that I introduced in the last 43 articles.
These memories could be the collective memories of Hong Kong people too, but they are also the inspiration for my embroidery.
We have overcome many obstacles to secure the best campsite at last, where I will share what I have seen and heard. At the same time, I will spend half a year collecting everyone’s memories and recruit slow stitch nomads to turn them into embroideries together, so that in the end I may connect them into many more travelling clothes stories.
May this collective stitching creation bring a new culture for the sewing up of hearts, and may it pass on hard-earned craftsmanship and form the new face of community spaces. See you on Oil Street!