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Aiko Kan

In-Depth Exploration of Public Housing Estates: A Crucial Chronicle of Hong Kong's Evolution
As Hong Kong grapples with urban decay and land scarcity, redevelopment initiatives have gained momentum. Playgrounds with metal slides, well-stocked vintage stores, and tight-knit community relationships encapsulate the collective memory of Hong Kong's residents. Ms. Aiko Kan, a graduate from the Department of Chinese at Lingnan University, has taken up the mantle to meticulously document these rapidly fading facets of life. In June 2022, she established a Facebook page titled "Exploring Hong Kong's Public Housing" with an ambitious goal to traverse all 258 housing estates across Hong Kong. Her mission is to capture and chronicle the sights and sounds of contemporary Hong Kong, leaving an indelible record for future generations.

Embarking on a Journey through Public Housing Estates: Inspired by Journalism
Most of Aiko's classmates from university became teachers after graduation, but she felt that teaching wasn't the right fit for her. Instead, she decided to pursue her interests and fulfil the childhood aspiration, so she joined the travel magazine "U Magazine" as a local travel journalist, and soon came across a new column dedicated to showcase Hong Kong's public housing estates. Despite growing up in Tung Chung's Yat Tung Estate, she did not have a deep connection to housing estates until she discovered this column, which allowed her to view them from a fresh perspective. This marked the beginning of her journey through public housing estates.

During that time, popular estates like Choi Hung Estate, Nam Shan Estate, Lai Tak Tsuen, and Wah Fu Estate had already received extensive coverages, so she purposely avoided writing about them. She initiated her writing journey with Tuen Mun's Tai Hing Estate, jokingly mentioning that her reason was quite simple – it had once been the residence of the artist Ms. Stephy Tang. However, as she gathered more information, she discovered that Tai Hing state and Kwun Tong's Shun On Estate were the only two estates in Hong Kong that adopted the stylish cruciform design. This discovery excited her, and she’s dead set to uncover the stories behind them. "I chose to write about more down-to-earth estates, as if it's the scenery right next to your home. Behind this scenery, there are many details waiting for us to explore. For example, Sheung Shui’s Choi Yuen Estate was a popular estate among Mainland travellers. I would like to take a walk there and experience what it's like to live in that neighbourhoods."
Documenting the Time Before Reconstruction of Old Public Housing Estates
The journey through the housing estates was not always easy. After working as a journalist for several years, she transitioned to a career in public relations and digital marketing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt a renewed passion for writing, she wanted to explore topics related to local Hong Kong culture - public housing estate was the first priority. The positive reception to her articles about these estates inspired her to commit fully to this subject matter.

To maintain her full-time job and manage the Facebook page, Aiko developed a habit of waking up early to gain extra time to update the page before workday. By the day of the interview, she had already explored more than 170 housing estates and written about nearly a hundred of them. Her exploration schedule was flexible, prioritizing estates due for reconstruction or included in government redevelopment plans. For instance, Shek Kip Mei's Tai Hang Sai Estate, vacated by residents and tenants in March and April 2023, and Kwun Tong Garden Estate, scheduled for demolition and redevelopment in 2025. She selected other estates based on personal interest, visiting and writing about them as per her preferences.

Among the estates she explored, she made unexpected discoveries. One of them was Tin Shui Wai's Tin Yiu Estate, which offered her a new perspective. She shared, "I never knew that Tin Shui Wai had Y-shaped buildings, which were a common architectural design in the 1980s. Through my research, I found out that Tin Shui Wai had developed much earlier. Tin Yiu Estate was completed in 1992 and occupied in 1995. The estate even features ponds and beautiful garden views which look impressive." Another estate that pleasantly surprised Aiko was Kin Ming Estate, as it had a fascinating historical background. "Many neighbours are unaware that the Chinese Nationalist Party had a base in Tiu Keng Leng in the past. It's a delightful experience for me to make new discoveries during my journey and share them with everyone."
Seeking emotional connections behind public housing estates
Public housing estates often carry certain negative connotations. However, Aiko maintains that every situation has its pros and cons. "While it's true that public housing estates have had their share of issues, such as the early scandal over substandard living conditions, we cannot ignore these flaws. Another example, you might sometimes see many elderly residents gathering for gambling activities within these estates. Yet, it's essential to remember that these estates are home to a diverse group of individuals, each contributing to the unique character of their respective communities," she said.  

Indeed, Aiko's exploration of public housing estates has opened doors to increased engagement with a variety of individuals. She fondly remembers a time when post a request on facebook for seeking photos of Lok Wah Estate's opening ceremony and checking the information, she received responses from various readers, including an architect who continues to share architectural drawings of specific estates with her. Another memorable incident unfolded when Aiko expressed an interest in visiting Kwai Shing West Estate. She surprisingly received a call from a former colleague, a photographer with whom she hadn't communicated for a significant period and once resided in the estate and offered to accompany her on her visit. During their exploration, Aiko had the opportunity to converse with security personnel and residents, who generously shared their insights and personal experiences.

Full-time writing: Telling stories with real experiences
Hong Kong is currently undergoing an urban renewal process, and Aiko feels torn and regretful for not initiating her documentation efforts earlier, particularly in regard to So Uk Estate and Mei Tung Estate. She strongly believes that redevelopment in Hong Kong is necessary due to urban decay and land shortages. For example, the deteriorating condition of the 60-year-old Choi Hung Estate has led to its identification for redevelopment, as some buildings pose potential safety risks. Therefore, Aiko is determined to capture the essence of these old estates before redevelopment occurs. The facebook page has gained nearly 20,000 followers in less than two years. Initially, she shared articles in various community groups, and now, when the page has new article up, the followers repost and share it automatically for her.

A few months ago, Aiko made the bold decision to resign from her full-time job to focus on preparing for her upcoming book about public housing estates. It's surprising to consider that someone as vivacious and outgoing as Aiko once grappled with self-doubt. However, she found a way to come to terms with her insecurities. "I don't have a background in architecture, nor did I major in history or geography. I often felt my capabilities were inferior to others. However, I came to understand that my personal experiences could serve as a unique medium of expression, and indeed, a unique strength," she reflected. Currently, she sees the publication of her book as a significant milestone in her writing career.

Although she has explored fewer than 100 estates thus far, she eagerly looks forward to her plans after completing the records of public housing estates. "One plan is to write about industrial buildings, and the other is to write about subsidized housing. However, for the industrial buildings, I need to approach it as a special project and conduct more interviews. I find it exciting because I genuinely enjoy learning new things."

Aiko also has words of encouragement for younger students, urging them to value their university years while contemplating their future selves. "If you're still unsure about your path, don't be anxious. Make the most of your youth to investigate various opportunities. Even if the results don't coincide with your initial expectations, the distinctive experiences and emotions you gain will undoubtedly serve as valuable assets for your future."