I’ve always strangely been compelled by the idea of an impending apocalypse. My favourite films are any that contain an alternate world of the near or distant future, where water is the new currency, and life has barely recovered after a some sort of made-made natural disaster. A strong focus on Climate Change in recent years has only contributed to escalating fears that humanity has shifted the earth’s balance with over-industrialisation the past hundred years. Indeed, the reality of a Zombie apocalypse hangs over us with mutations of viral strains in the face of the ever degenerative effects of penicillin. A recent article in Zombie Zone News showed the discovery of the plausability of a shut-down of areas of the brain and taken over by parasites such as the Leucochloridium paradoxum. Thus we are faced with plenty of evidence that the end is nigh. Then there is the 2012 thing. And the superstorms we’ve seen recently that are growing in frequency all over the world. Its only a matter of time that we’ll all be scrabbling for the nearest pair of hoop earrings and electric guitar to assume the position of Aunty Entity. That is, if we indeed remain “One of the Living”.
Some of us, it seems have already lived that of the perfect set for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. In the same tradition of those that wanted to throw themselves under a truck upon seeing James Cameron’s Pandora in Avatar, at the idea of never being able to go/live/visit there, Kowloon Walled City immediately had the same impression on me. KWC was approximately 200 by 150 metres of condensed, lawless living. It began as a military training fortress in the 17th century and was granted one of the only districts that evaded British authority during the 99 year lease of Hong Kong. Its autonomy quickly became a behavioural sink, its rule passed to Hong Kong soldiers, and then to the Hong Kong mafia (otherwise known as the Triads in the 20th century). The attraction to KWC was to that of the vagabond, the rogue, the homeless, the criminal and the social deviants of mid-late 20th century Hong Kong. The economic pressures of Hong Kong in the 1970’s, through escalating property prices created an internal growth of requirements for low rent. KWC acknowledged no such term as critical mass and its infrastructure grew to approximately 14 stories high free of any building regulations and much it built by Hong Kong’s notoriously corner-cutting stack.
The documentary shows Kowloon Walled City as a living breathing (Aunty) entity. Its six main public water sources were tapped taps intertwined amongst the precarious architecture, the water gushing through the hoses like blood coursing through the veins of some sort of living beast. The 14 stories were so tightly built that hardly any light nor window was factored in, a true architectural Horror Vacui. The walls were constantly wet and seeping from the rain, its only drainage the hidden labryinth of streets on the ground level which doubled as an open sewer.
Businesses were set up in the dank tiny spaces and people worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week in poor conditions, and without any sort of health and safety regulation in place. Kindergartens, restaurants, and small factories ran in the Walled city and sustained their fractured economy for generations. In 1987 Hong Kong announced the demolition of KWC, it having decided (despite its lack of authority over the land) that it had indeed reached critical mass at a population of 50,000 tenants.
The beauty of Kowloon Walled City was its thriving perseverance of life in situations of severe depravity. Its autonomous, non-governed system proved that a society is able to sustain albeit in poor conditions.
Kowloon Walled City has been long since destroyed and remains in the memories of the ageing residents who once lived there. I tried to contact the director of the documentary “In Search of the Dragon’s Tale” on Kowloon Walled City in 1997. I have since discovered the footage was destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party and Hermann Lau has not yet contacted me at the time of this writing.
I have found some footage on YouTube, which is a 4 part german documentary with English subs. It can be viewed on my VodPod Feed in the left column.
This blog entry is merely an introduction to the research I plan to undertake on Kowloon Walled City. For now, I fear I may have found my impetus to join Second Life and move into Linden Lab’s cyber-version of KWC. I wonder if they match the politics of the real Walled City? Stay tuned.