Given Hong Kong’s surging home prices, public housing flats are increasingly sought after by residents whether or not they are genuinely needy. But how many of us know how the public housing concept works, let alone its history?
The 60-year-old Mei Ho House in Hong Kong stands out in the aging district of Shek Kip Mei with its bright orange exterior that is easily discernible from afar. As the only building left in a defunct housing block that once resettled thousands of squatters made homeless by a fire in 1953, it is an important relic of Hong Kong’s early public planning. Mei Ho House marked the beginning of Hong Kong’s public housing policies, making it an ideal site for setting up a museum focusing on the history of the local community and the evolution of public housing and folk life.
The estate underwent another major facelift in 2000, except Mei Ho House or Block 41 which was preserved for historical reasons. It is listed as a Grade II historic building and has been used as a youth hostel and heritage museum. Hong Kong movie director John Woo was one of Mei Ho House’s former residents and he made his first film at age 26, when he was still living in the housing block. A touching essay about the estate by Woo is now displayed at the museum.
The Mei Ho House heritage museum, housed within the revitalized building has since attracted hundreds of visitors eager to learn about its historical significance. It is now an easy-to-navigate museum showcasing some 1,200 antique pieces and furniture, as well as historic images provided by its former residents.
In 2015, Mei Ho House received honorable mention in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Rooms have been reconstructed on the site, walls repainted, and furniture salvaged, to show living conditions from the 1950s, while some former Mei Ho House residents have also formed a “Mei Ho House Alumni Network” to give guided tours.
The old-school living room furniture in Mei Ho House apartment.
Rice shop for the Mei Ho House residents in the past.
Bedroom with mahjong table at Mei Ho House apartment.
HOUSE 41 is a cheerful café located on the ground floor of Mei Ho House. House 41 serves yummy food in cheerful, laid-back surroundings. While in the front courtyard, that is the spacious outdoor space right at the hostel entrance, a old-time playground game “Hopscotch” has been sketched on the ground for visitors to have some nostalgic fun.
The dining room is divided into several spaces, offering a sense of intimacy you don’t normally find in Hong Kong at eateries. Through illustrating old-time school life, vintage toys, cartoon comics and old street views with their original techniques, they introduce the theme of “Sharing Happiness” in the café and convenience store area to invoke Hong Kong people’s collective memories.
The old Hong Kong can also be experienced in the hostel’s cafe with decor reflecting the old time.
Mei Ho House serves to conserve and perpetual culture, giving the public an opportunity to experience life in public housing between the 1950s and 1980s. Through various special exhibitions and reconstructed old public housing units, the livelihood museum preserves the unique humanistic scenes of Sham Shui Po while allowing international visitors to learn about Hong Kong’s humanistic culture.
As traveler with a journalism background, Mei House House fascinated me. A city is much more than its buildings. It’s the people and community that create the environment that make cities worth visiting. This place with such a deep history of the city made my visit to Hong Kong much more memorable.