Home Street Home
“Home” under the flyover
Written by Chan Yau Nga Alpha / Translation by Ng Hon Wah / Photo by LEI Jih-sheng
Around the corner under the flyover, there is a wooden hut, in the shape of a cube, made of many randomly placed planks. Inside, there is nothing but a simple bed with thin bedding and sundry articles lying against the walls. When the door is closed, it will be the same day or night. As he enters the hut , 60-year old Uncle Ping points up and says, “There are some gaps between the planks up there. The only light is what slips through the gaps when there are lamps on in the street at night.”
For the last five years, this has been Uncle Ping’s “home” under the Tung Chau Street flyover in Sham Shui Po.
Uncle Ping is of small build. Owing to old and new injuries to his back and waist, he always hunches his back. His body renders more prominent the tattoos of Nezha, a unicorn, sea horse and scorpio on his arms. They were tattooed when he was 24 years old. “Some people do it to remember something. For me, the only reason for doing it is that I thought it was fun when I was young.” Uncle Ping looks back, with deep regret, at his frivolous youthful days.
Uncle Ping was born in a big family. After completing primary 6, when he was still immature, he battled alone in society and worked as an apprentice to a dim-sum chef in an old-style tea house. Society has all sorts of people. When Uncle Ping was nearly an adult, someone handed him a “cigarette” stick. After taking a puff out of curiosity, he felt as if he was “fluttering”. After that, he could not kick addiction. All his wages were spent on heroin and “blue gremlin”. He was also arrested as a result of his drug addiction and became a frequent inmate in rehabilitation centres for drug addicts.
In 2012, Uncle Ping was knocked down by a bus in Tai Kok Tsui while on the way to appear in court. Since then his legs have been uneven in length. He was once admitted into a sanatorium. With uneven legs, Uncle Ping could only do this in his own way and put plastic sandals picked up in the street under his right foot, so as to make both legs barely even.
After his drug addiction, Uncle Ping seldom went back to his old home. Also, owing to his frequent imprisonment, he often lost contact with his family members. It was at least one year after his mother’s death that his elder sister told him about it. “My elder sister, too, thought I had died.” His mother loved him. Yet, he could not fulfil his filial duty and accompany her during her last journey.
There are many choices in life which cannot be revisited. Uncle Ping talks without emotion. “The life is mine. I don’t regret. Actually, it is all predetermined. My life was all set when I was born.” Uncle Ping no longer takes drugs. However, he knows very well his lack of self control. “Some people say you can kick the habit when you encounter difficulty to the point that you cannot stand up. However, I haven’t.”
While we are talking and talking, a wisp of purple cloud appears in the sky. In the distance is a public housing estate, completely beyond reach as far as Uncle Ping is concerned. Floating around for half of his life, he eventually longs for stability. All he hopes for is a home with water and electricity, where he can watch television and no long have to fear about his belongings being cleared away by the government. “But I am already 60 years old. I don’t know whether I shall still be alive next year. I just live each day I can.” Finishing his words, he accepts the meal box given by the volunteer and rushes to the methadone clinic.
Four months after we said good bye, Uncle Ping’s wish to move into a public housing flat was eventually realized. He no longer has to live in the dark every night.