EVICTION: from Hong Kong to Chinatown

By Rev. Norman Fong

January 29, 2018

Right after the eviction of the seniors living at the International Hotel on Jackson & Kearny St., I joined a Church program that sent me to live in Hong Kong in 1977 through 1978. In Hong Kong, I saw many evictions as well and lived in a tiny room that was 6’ x 4’ because I didn’t have a lot of money. I learned so much in Hong Kong and how people had “Housing problems” just like here in San Francisco. In fact, it costs more to buy housing there than in San Francisco!

When I lived in Hong Kong, I saw so much new developments but remember seing a lot of displacement too. I remember the eviction of a whole village - Choi Yuen Chern (village) where a lot of people tried to save their homes. (See Choi Yuen village photo). The villagers were very loud and had no where to go.

international hotel
International Hotel (Chinatown)

I remember seeing a lot of “temporary housing” being constructed as well to house all the people where the government wanted the land. (see photo of Fan Ling Temporary Housing). Both Hong Kong & San Francisco went through a lot of displacement in the ‘60’s & ‘70’s.

The Church program I was a part of wanted to teach us future church leaders to become more sensitive to the world’s problems. For me, I immediately saw a connection around housing issues and how sometimes, development can be a bad thing if the people displaced are not taken care of. It seems to me that if a whole village or neighborhood is cleared out, and the people are placed in these giant high rise buildings, there’s a lot of money to be made in the excess land.

I also stayed with the boat people of Yau Ma Tei. There were a lot of families living in these old boats. Little babies & toddlers had a rope tied around them because some kids died from falling into the ocean. One day, I joined with the boat people to march to Housing Authority office. (See Photo of the march). We actually carried a small boat too to place in front the office – demanding public housing for the boat people. A lot of boats were unsafe & with leaks.

choi yuen chern eviction
Choi Yuen Chern Mass eviction in Hong Kong

fan ling temporary housing
Fan Ling “Temporary Housing” in Hong Kong

boat people march
Boat people march for housing on land (Yau Ma Tei)

My son just found these old pictures and I thought I’d share them with you. In many ways, “We are the world” (one of my favorite songs by Michael Jackson). Whether in Hong Kong or San Francisco or any big city around the world, there is a struggle to find decent and affordable housing. Because of my experience in Hong Kong, I have learned to appreciate those who continue to protect & build more affordable housing here at home – Chinatown. I am so thankful for those policy makers around the world that care about housing for the poor & average income families. At Chinatown CDC, I am so glad that thanks to Mayor Lee, we get to save & rebuild the Ping Yuens in Chinatown & build affordable housing in San Francisco.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on January 28, 2018

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