In 1998, Hong Kong’s only airport moved to Lantau Island, the city was given an opportunity to redevelop and revitalize one of the oldest neighborhoods, the Kowloon City district. Due to its close proximity to the old Kai Tak Airport, construction in this area had always been strictly regulated, but with the airport gone, the area began to grow and evolve.
Following the death of his father in 2014, New York-based photographer John Chee returned to his childhood home in the Kowloon City. After two decades away, Chee sought to reconnect with his former neighborhood. Using the tool that he knows best, he captures the family stone houses and the last walled village of Kowloon that among many others in the shadow of Lion Rock face elimination. Illuminating Hong Kong's tenacious energy known as the "Lion Rock Spirit," My Father’s Kowloon City is an evocative tribute to the city and its people, the local pride and growing pains.
A conversation with photographer John Chee on his book My Father's Kowloon City 「在獅子山下尋找他的足跡」.
(Ho Kar Yuen 何家園, Hong Kong)
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." ―Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Nga Chin Wai Village 衙前圍村, Hong Kong)
(Hudson Store 合成士多, Kowloon City 九龍城, Hong Kong)
"Life is like a movie," said Mr. Wong, Hudson Store
Beyond the Pale of Two Cities
New waves of movements have emerged in different parts of the world for various purposes. Among them, there seems to have one thing in common, searching for equality, economically, politically, etc. The two cities that I call home are going through some major social changes. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 in Hong Kong asked the Communist Party of China to keep its promise to deliver democracy to the people of Hong Kong. The Black Lives Matter movement and initiatives inspired by the Occupy Movement in New York City have caught the public's attention.
Not long ago, we were unsure about what the Millennials are up to. This generation, however, is now leading many of the social movements challenging what they see as the status quo. Something that was part of the blame for numerous underlying issues that made us rethink development.
Some of these issues make up the theme of this series. It is set to study the problems in-common between Hong Kong and New York, two of the global financial centers with dramatically different social systems. I wondered how does Hong Kong, a former colony compare to the democratic New York City on issues like housing affordability, aging city infrastructure, social justice, tourism, immigration, elderly poverty, government accountability, upholding the rule of law, etc.? In Hong Kong, students occupied the streets calling for genuine universal suffrage and believed that democracy is the answer. Issues like the decaying infrastructure, aggressive policing, etc. in New York City make people question what has happened to the democracy in New York.
The New Yorker side of me would like to tell the Hong Konger side, “Be careful what you wish for." But when I flip it, I am seeing instances of injustice and incompetent governing in Hong Kong are trending up reaching an alarming level. For me, it has become clearer than ever that democracy is a journey. Throughout this project, I kept thinking of what Ernest Hemingway said in A Farewell to Arms, "The world breaks every one afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
- John Chee on September 28, 2015
For hard copies or larger prints, this photojournal is now available on a not-for-profit basis. Click HERE to order your copy from Amazon.
An Umbrella Movement protester was greeted by supporters. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
Umbrella Movement protest in front of the Legislative Council (Central, Hong Kong)
A scene from one of the many localized protests after the Umbrella Movement (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Mr. Raphael Wong (right), one of the prominent pro-democracy activists, is now facing charges as a consequence of his involvement in various civil disobedient activities. (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Trace of the Umbrella Movement on one of the poles of this elevated walkway (Causeway Bay, Hong Kong)
A view from the top of the Lion Rock Mountain, where an enormous banner was hung to express the wish for having a genuine universal suffrage. The government deemed the hanging of such banner is illegal, and thus it was removed within a day. Similar banners on the same spot were hung and removed at least two times subsequently. (Lion Rock, Hong Kong)
Ms. Kaikai Cho, Mapopo Community Farm, explaining to visitors why the government should not convert farmland in Hong Kong into shopping malls and apartment buildings. (Fanling, Hong Kong)
Abandoned agricultural machinery. (Kwu Tung, Hong Kong)
A farmer who is unsure of his future (Kwu Tung, Hong Kong)
Vegetable field. On the other side of the mountain is Shenzhen, China, a highly developed city that is eager to swallow the farmlands in Kwu Tung. (Kwu Tung, Hong Kong) (follow-up Blog Post)
Food with a "Product of Hong Kong" label is a hit due to the concerns over food safety from their alternatives imported from China. However, this type of local stores will soon become extinct due to the high rent and competition from chain stores funded by Mainland Chinese. (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
A smuggler (with her goods) waiting in front of a drug store (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
Smugglers from China stuffing their suitcases with baby formula, hair shampoo, etc. in the middle of a sidewalk. These items from Hong Kong are popular in China as fake goods available in Chinese stores become health hazards to the general public. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
Smugglers (known as the "suitcase gangs") organizing their goods in suitcases by the entrance of the MTR (subway) (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
Bulk buying by shoppers from China, who virtually take over high end shopping districts. (Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong)
High end shopping districts are overwhelmed by shoppers from China. Most main brand stores ask shoppers to wait in line before entering their stores. (Sham Sha Tsui, Hong Kong)
A seemingly not-so-talented street performers from China, who played loud music attracted a huge crowd (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
A talented street performers from China did not attract a crowd (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
The conviction of corrupted former officials made headline news. However, no charges have been pressed for the alleged corruption of current and former Chiefs of the city exposed by Australian and Hong Kong newspapers. (Kowloon, Hong Kong)
A senior citizen spending her days alone on the street (Cheung Sha Wan, Hong Kong)
A senior citizen living on collecting and selling carton boxes. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong) (follow-up Blog Post)
People with disabilities living under a highway (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Abandoned pawn shop door front (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Immigrants like this Tai Chi master do what they know best to make ends meet. However, many still rely heavily on government subsidies and assistance from pro-Beijing political parties. Every day, at least 150 Chinese immigrants arrive in Hong Kong. In other words, over a million immigrants from China have moved to Hong Kong since China's takeover in 1997. Thus, at least one-seventh of the population has Chinese background, who are naturally more receptive to policies pushed by the pro-Beijing political parties and government. (Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong)
Immigrant workers gathered at a street corner on Sundays due to the lack of programs for their integration to the local communities (Cheung Sha Wan, Hong Kong)
Immigrants/visitors from South Asia selling shoes on the street. It's likely illegal depending on their visa status and whether they have licenses to sell. (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Unlicensed goldfish vendors operate in the street by a football stadium before sunrise. Regular customers visit with a flashlight. By 7:00 a.m. in the morning, the vendors disappear to avoid being arrested. (Flower Market Road, Hong Kong)
Panhandlers from China can be found on every other block in Hong Kong (Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong)
Towards the end of the Umbrella Movement, conflict between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing groups has started in the most busiest streets in Mong Kok (known for its night markets). Police often get involved and make arrests of activists from the pro-democracy side. Confrontation has not stopped and it's been going on over 300 days to-date. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
One of the weekly "shopping" protests in a usually jam-packed streets in Kowloon. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
A senior citizen selling old DVDs on the street. Elderly poverty is on the rise while government subsidies is extremely limited. (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
A senior citizen selling old cloths to make a living. Government has deprioritized policy setting to cope with the aging populations. Instead, it pushes a number White Elephant construction projects that have been accused of benefiting corrupted businessmen who bribe government officials. (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
Walled village #1. The last walled village (650-year-old) in Kowloon is slated for redevelopment, despite the effort by the public to preserve it as a historical site. (Nga Tsin Wai, Hong Kong)
Walled village #2 (Nga Tsin Wai, Hong Kong)
Walled village #3 (Nga Tsin Wai, Hong Kong)
A deserted neighborhood turned into a flea market temporarily. The site is the home of a high profile conflict between the government and people. Local residence was forced to move out so the lots can be redeveloped. (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong)
A shop owner standing in front of where his business once was. The lot is now being redeveloped. (Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong)
A victim of the high rent in Hong Kong. Emptied retail space with real estate ad covering its door front (Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong)
Abandoned door front covered by real estate ads (Mong Kok, Hong Kong)
The rent for this small retail space probably costs more than a one-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong. The little revenue generated would not be sufficient to pay the landlord. Therefore, shutting down old neighborhood local stores has been the latest trend in the retail landscape. (Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong)
Drug stores like this dominate retail spaces near the border with China (Sheung Shui, Hong Kong)
There are mostly three kinds of retail shops in Mong Kok, jewelry shops, electronics and drug stores that can survive the high rent. They are tailored for tourists and smugglers from China. Most old stores are long gone as they could not deal with the heightened rent. These stores and visitors affect the community and destroy neighborhoods. Therefore, stores like this are not welcomed by the local communities. (Hong Kong)
Four corners of a junction in a neighborhood that gets popular among (i.e., flooded with) Chinese tourists. The corner stores are: two jewelry shops, a Rolex specialty shop and a drug store. Independent old neighborhood stores can hardly survive. (Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong)
Fours corners of a junction in a neighborhood. The corner stores are: two banks, a hot dog joint, and now closed clothing chain store, Urban Outfitter. The lot is taken by a bigger chain, Bloomingdale's (Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York)
Fours corners of a junction in a business district. The corner stores are: two banks, a drug store and a clothing chain store, Gap. (Midtown, Manhattan, New York)
Even a large store like this has to close down due to the unaffordable rent (Soho, Manhattan, New York)
Neighborhood retail stores are shut due to the heightened rent beyond reach (Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York)
Horse carriage #1. The horse carriage industry is under attack and may face elimination. Some real estate developers want to redevelop the lots currently occupied by horse stables owned by folks in the horse carriage industry. (Central Park, Manhattan, New York)
Horse carriage #2 (Central Park, Manhattan, New York)
A woman confronting a body painted half naked female character and her handler. This type of panhandlers, usually immigrants ask for US$20 posting with tourists. (Time Square, Manhattan, New York)
Superhero characters (mostly immigrants inside the costume) looking for business in Time Square (Midtown, Manhattan, New York)
Immigrants selling Churro for living. This lady was arrested after I took this image and I have not seen her since. (Time Square subway station, Manhattan)
Street performers confronted by police (Bryant Park, Midtown, Hong Kong)
A homeless person in a blizzard. In accordance with Bowery Mission, one out of every 143 New Yorkers is currently homeless (Midtown, Manhattan, New York) (follow-up Blog Post)
An elderly lady rushing to sell plastic bottles she had collected. Sale of plastic bottle takes place in Chinatown between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. daily. (Chinatown, Manhattan, New York)
Holiday shoppers in front of department store window displays (Midtown, Manhattan)
Chinese, the world number one spending visitors enjoying themselves on the Fifth Avenue disregarding the other pedestrians who tried to get through. (Midtown, Manhattan, New York)
Broken traffic light in front of the Federal Court House (Lower Manhattan, New York)
Gas explosion with fatality that leveled three old buildings in 2015. In 2014, two buildings were destroyed in East Harlem due to gas explosion. These events show the aging infrastructure in NYC. (East Village, Manhattan, New York) (follow-up Blog Post)
Thousands of Falun Dafa practitioners marching toward the Consulate General office of China (Midtown, Manhattan, New York)
A student protesting against the proposal of tying students test scores to teacher performance (Midtown, Manhattan, New York) (follow-up Blog Post)
Earth Day, a 45 year old quest (Central Park, Manhattan, New York)
A scene from a protest for rent control and affordable housing in front of the Governor's Office (Manhattan, New York)
Protest for affordable housing that obstructed traffic in front of the Governor's office (Midtown, Manhattan, New York)
One of the monthly Black Lives Matter protests in Grand Central Station to remember those who were killed by police and to raise awareness of police brutality (Manhattan, New York)
Black Lives Matter protest #1. Folks protested against the NYPD. Ironically, a ton of NYPD were dispatched to "walk" with the protesters. It's like putting the enemies together. (Union Square, Manhattan, New York)
Black Lives Matter protest #2 (East Village, Manhattan, New York)
Black Lives Matter protest #4. One of the NYPD Chiefs was sent to "walk" with the protesters (East Village, Manhattan, New York)
New Yorkers showing solidarity with the Umbrella Movement#1 (Union Square, Manhattan, New York)
New Yorkers showing solidarity with the Umbrella Movement #2 (Union Square, Manhattan, New York)
New Yorkers (waving her Hong Kong ID card) showing solidarity with the Umbrella Movement #3 (Union Square, Manhattan, New York)
New Yorkers showing solidarity with the Umbrella Movement #4 (Union Square, Manhattan, New York)
New Yorkers protesting to support the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (Time Square, Manhattan, New York)
When Foreign Policy Hits Home
At the beginning of September of 2015, the Middle East migrants started to reach Germany. Their first stop was Munich. This series contains a few snapshots inside the main train station (München Hauptbahnhof), where migrants were stranded. As Munich got overwhelmed by 60,000 migrants over only a few days, Munich bound rail service from Salzberg, Austria was finally suspended. I was lucky enough to able to get out of the home of the Von Trapp family right before Germany imposed border control. History does tend to repeat itself in different ways.
München Hauptbahnhof - New Home #1
"Free Syria" Supplies
Schalterhalle Turned Migrant Camp Site
The Schalterhalle was heavily guarded.
From Salzberg with Love
Munich police are all over trains coming from Salzberg, Austria until the service finally got suspended.
After a few days, the number of migrants reached a point where the holding area in the Munich Central Train Station could not handle any more. They were moved the Olympic Stadium.
München Hauptbahnhof - New Home #2
Ha Giang, Northern Vietnam
The northern part of Vietnam was nothing like I had imaged how Vietnam was prior to this trip in 2012. Over 20 minority groups live in the mountainous region of Ha Giang. I was told that some of their ancestors escaped wars or from the Han, the majority ethnic group in China. Traveling in the region felt more like being in the Yunnan province of China but without hearing people speaking in Mandarin.
The locals made use of every acre of land possible to grow rice, corn, tea, etc. Through this project, you will see the minority groups still live in a simple life and embrace the nature in their trade. Women work in rice fields in their traditional clothing. One may consider that inconvenient. No doubt that it's tough life just like many farmers anywhere. But, I can generally feel the happiness among them. Perhaps, it's the rice wine that they make. Perhaps, it's the lack of materialistic distractions. Perhaps ...
I was hoping that this project helps show how simple life could be, and how different minority groups live harmoniously. Women of a group dye their teeth to black as their concept of beauty, which was totally fine by the others. Although various minority groups can be found in a relatively small region, they can be identified by their cultural costumes. The Sunday market is where I saw them come together. Taking photographs there was like using a camera to do homework for a Economics 101 course. I witnessed how trade are done at its simplest form, including bartering. The scenes in Ha Giang contrasted to the hustle and bustle in Hanoi, a few hours of train ride away. Hanoi, however is more like Economic 201 in a communist country. Busy food market, train track through a neighborhood, and the narrow houses leaning on each other in Hanoi were like kids in a candy store for me, as a photographer.
A Family on the Mountain
Bridge, Woman & Water Mill
Rice Field Or Playground?
A Long Way Home
Chicken for Sale
Talk to Me!
Hold on Tight
Three & Fourth
Vietnamese Girl #1
Song Birds for Sale
Vietnamese Girl #2
Another Long Way Home
Working in the Field
A Busy Junction in Hanoi
Train Track through a Neighborhood
A year after the Great Earthquake
Recovery Stories in Two Small Towns in Tohoku, Japan
- by John Chee on May 23, 2012
After a long flight across the Pacific Ocean, the plane finally touched down Narita, Japan, an airport that I got to know well when I worked in Tokyo between 2007 and 2009. As a photographer, I was instantly gratified by the natural beauty and culture of Japan. As a Chinese American, I read Kanji (Chinese characters in the Japanese language) and understand basic Japanese. This advantage let me travel to many remote locations. Among many wonderful places, Tohoku (northeast) gave me quite an impression. After the Great Earthquake in 2011, I felt that I had to visit Tohoku one more time. Three photographers and I started from Sendai. We charted the route to go along the 300-mile Tohoku shoreline, visited evacuees who lived in the areas that were hit the hardest, and interviewed volunteers that have been tirelessly helping the recovery of Tohoku.
The massive damage was incomprehensible and I don’t think the widest angle lens would be able to capture how it was like to stand in the middle of the disaster area. More than a year went by, most of the debris were cleaned up or at least organized in a Japanese way. The view of the costal cities from an elevated ground was like a large Japanese “bento” lunch box. Crashed vehicles were stacked and grouped in certain neighborhood blocks. Wood, metal, etc. were sorted in a similar fashion. Comparing to the scenes a year after Katrina in New Orleans, the Japanese government should get an “A” in the scorecard. However, after talking to some of the locals, the situation was quite different.
In Minamisanriku, Miyagi we went into a new seafood store on the hill. When we arrived at the store front, the first thing that caught my attention was the logo of the shop. It was an octopus with a mustache and a hat. As soon as I met the owner, Yasushi Miura, I knew exactly how did the mustache and hat make it to the graphic. Miura’s old store was destroyed by the tsunami and he used his saving to open this new store to serve the community. But, it happened after he had coordinated volunteers to help relieve the disaster in the local area. A few days after the earthquake, Minamisanriku still did not get the attention of the first responders as there were much greater needs in larger cities such as Rikuzentakata, Iwate and Ishinomaki, Miyagi. But, the situation in Minamisanriku was just as dire. Instead of waiting for the arrival of government’s support, Miura decided to take matters into his hands using his local knowledge. While rice, clothing and other supplies started to arrive from all over Japan and the world, Miura led a group of volunteers to organize and deliver them to evacuees. That was how Project Fumbaro Eastern Japan began, long before the temporary housing was built by the government. At its peak, there were well above two hundreds shelters that volunteers supported on a daily basis.
As some evacuees moved into temporary housing facilities, their needs changed from basic necessity to items that can help evacuees get back on their feet, such as basic home appliances. I also learned in this trip that that many folks in Tohoku did not have bank accounts. Their savings were washed away with their houses by the tsunami. Fishing and seafood products made up the majority of the local business in this coastal town. There was nothing left for evacuees to do for living neither. It explained how much help did the evacuees need. After hearing Miura’s story, I came to appreciate what the octopus in his store’s logo could mean. He was definitely resourceful and able to mobilize a lot of people at a time. By mid-2013, when evacuees are supposed to move out of temporary housings based on the time table set by the government, it will probably take more than what Mirua could offer on the transition.
To see the extent of the impact of the disaster, I visited, Kitakata, a small town in Fukushima, approximately 60 miles away from the shore. Kitakata is famous for its ramen noodles and sake wines. In this part of Fukushima, the earthquake did not caused much structural damage. Nobuo Shoji, who ran Yumegokoro Sake Brewery in Kitakata told me that only two empty bottles in his brewery felt and broke. Shoji said, “It was a miracle!” However, Kitakata and other towns in Fukushima with similar situations does not have the same luck in general.
I went to another old and much smaller brewery in town. This establishment has been in Kitakata for over three centuries. Following the “Free Tour” sign in front of the door, I walked in the brewery. Unlike in Yumegokoro where I’d got to meet the owner, the Sake Master, etc., I did not see a single person inside this old brewery during the business hours. But, with my camera, I was like a kid in a candy store. The traditional wine making equipment and the empty bottles were great subjects for me, photographically. But, after a few dozens photographs, I could not help but to think about what had happened to this place. Therefore, I believed that it should be time for me to leave. On my way out, I finally saw a gentleman at his 70’s sitting behind the desk by the front door. He told me that his sake did not get to the market much these days. Even some of his loyal customers chose another brands because agricultural products, including sake from Fukushima are not popular among Japanese anymore.
As a matter of fact, based on the market demand, handheld radiation detection devices became available to the Japanese market as a new household gadget. Consumers were skeptical about products bearing the name of Fukushima due to the scare of radiation as a result of the releases of radioactive materials from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant after the Great Earthquake. Additionally, many Japanese do not believe their government any more after the attempt to cover up the problem of Fukushim Dai-ichi incident and the delay of distributing disaster relief funds to evacuees. Regardless how much the government said that crops from Fukushima are safe and farmers in Kitakata use water source from a mountain far from Fukushima Dai-ichi to grow rice, it’s not good enough to convince consumers to buy Kitakata’s products again.
It has been more than a year since the disaster when I visited Fukushima. “I Love You & I Need You, Fukushima,” the catchy song that the Japanese media still often played to remind the country how much help was needed. It seemed to provide merely a moral support. I am not sure if the World Bank’s estimate of the record $235 billion economic damage of the Great Earthquake included the impact to small Fukushima towns like Kitakata.
When I went to Tokyo in 2007, a friend of mine once said, “Japanese are like a duck swimming on a pond. No matter how fast she paddles, all you can see is a well composed duck floating on the water.” After this trip, I came to believe that Japan is not swimming in the pond any more. She is paddling really hard upstream and probably could use a helping hand. Yasushi Miura rose to the occasion for his home town when government resources stretched too thin. It will take a lot more leadership inside the government and out to get Japan on track again.
Special Thank You
Mr. Satoru Watanabe Mr. Makiyo Yazawa Mr. Takefumi Hirashima
A Moment of Silence, Tokyo (March 11, 2012)
Through a Window, Minamisanriku
Shaken Foundation, Minamisanriku
Stranded in Kesennuma
Bended Train Tracks, Takekoma (3 miles away from the shore)
Fallen Wheelchair, Rikuzentakata
Mr. Yasushi Miura in Front of His Store
Moose in Mud
Stacked Cars, Ishinomaki
Vehicle No. 3-211, Ishinomaki
Scrap Metal, Rikuzentakata
Owner, Deserted Brewery, Fukushima
Dripping, Sake Brewery, Fukushima
Deserted Sake Brewery #1
Deserted Sake Brewery #2
Deserted Sake Brewery #3
Deserted Sake Brewery #4
Takao Nakano, Evacuees from Okuma-machi, Currently Living in Aizuwakamatsu
Temporary Housing for Fukushima Evacuees, Aizuwakamatsu
Primary School Students, Kitakata 200km away from Fukushima Daiichi
About one-third of the population of Mongolia lives in Ulan Bator. That means two-thirds of them live in the countryside in a nation that enjoys the lowest population density of the world. Stuck between Moscow and Beijing, the homeland of Genghis Khan is looking for ways to stand on her feet again since 1992. Evidence of foreign investment can be found in the capital city and in the wild of this mineral rich country. In other words, the nomadic lifestyle is fading and in an alarming pace.
On the Fence
Need A Ride?
This Land Is Your Land, That Land Is My Land
High Road to Taos
Along the 56-mile winding road, there are a number of places, where time stands till. Civilization had arrived and left. Taos in the native Taos language means "place of red willows." Ironically, no Monet's Garden can be found there. That makes me think of an alternative meaning. "Tao" in Chinese can be referred to as "road" or "the right way." So, for me, taking the "High Road to Taos (the right ways)" is almost like a circular reference ... nature, human and back to nature.