I’ll admit — when I was younger, I never enjoyed going to Chinatown. Not only was it out of the way — requiring bus/train transfers — but it was run down and seemed to be in a perpetual state of chaos, like a large colony of ants scattering about after being sprayed with water. Wide, sprawling roads gridded bustling marketplaces, shop-lined streets, and old residential complexes, some more iconic than the others. Every trip there, albeit few and far between, was a chore.
However, as the years passed, my disdain for Chinatown gradually ebbed away, and while it remained inconvenient, I no longer whined as much during the odd chances I found myself there, a foreign visitor amidst the thriving regulars. Having learnt to appreciate my surroundings better, I was drawn by buildings reminiscent of bygone eras that I could only previously observe through mildly faded photographs.
Of those buildings, People’s Park Complex caught my attention the most. Its green and yellow exterior is eerily similar to that of Kowloon Walled City — massive, ageing, and packed with more apartments than it should. Pulling into the heart of Chinatown, its looming presence is almost impossible to miss, a steadfast relic even as modernity creeps into its surroundings.
The complex sits right above an old shopping mall, creating a large open area that separates the roof of the mall and the residential units. It is open to the public, and its picturesque backdrop has attracted a sizeable army of Instagram-model hopefuls. Approach the residential zone, however, and the mood instantly changes. Access to the lift is blocked by secure glass panels and a card key pad — modern security for an outdated building; it shrouds the complex in mystery. What is this place hiding? A quick Internet search yielded no images of what went on inside the building — no corridors, no staircases; nothing.
Standing on the roof, facing all 31 storeys from the bottom up — it was a daunting encounter. Scenes from a cyberpunk narrative flooded my mind. I was a determined but uncertain revolutionist on a quest to topple a mega corporation. But, this wasn’t fantasy; the made-up battle would have to wait. Instead, I spun around and walked towards the edge of the roof.
Needless to say, it was a completely different experience looking down on Chinatown from a vantage point, above the multitude of cars, people, and the imaginary sphere of noises. Chinatown primarily consists of clusters of low-lying shop houses of no more than three storeys. At least in the immediate vicinity, uniform rows of brown-tile roofs greeted me, a far cry from the skyscrapers that have rudely occupied the business districts and beyond. Standing from where I stood, I could see the clear divide.
Soon, downcast clouds swept the sun aside, and tiny droplets tickled my face. The greyness, how it matches the dullness of those massive steel behemoths; sterile on sterile. I took another glance around me — pre-Chinese New Year festivities were in full swing, synonymous colours abound. Red lanterns hung in strings, aromas of traditional Chinese staples wafted gently from street to street. Beyond the fanfare, a little further ahead, that threatened to change. Business districts lurked ominously, and for a moment there, I could have sworn those skyscrapers moved several inches closer. I turned my back against them and made my way down.