1960 Shek Kip Mei Estate

Sun, 05/21/2017 - 09:30

Being the first public housing estate, Shek Kip Mei Resettlement Estate was an attraction for coach tours. 

Date picture taken


Thanks moddsey for the high quality photo.   60 years ago, I attended a summer night school (玫瑰夜校) here.  The course was for students who had no or little knowledge of English, and students age range from teens to adults in their 40s.  Age difference was not a barrier and after several weeks, us students became friends and we hiked up to Amah Rock in one weekend outing.

This area could be rough at night.  Several boys about my age from the housing development wandered in the area looking for a fight to prove their toughness.  I was concerned about safety so I carried a little pocket knife.  I am sure I would have run instead of reaching for it at the first sign of trouble.

I attended the church several times, but never understood when what I heard sounded like Latin. One milestone was my baptism at this church.  All sum up, a time and place of personal journey.  Regards, OldTimer

This photo holds dear to me as it shows the primary school that I attended BEFORE I attended it.  The year of the photo image is, however, not 1964.  A new block within the school yard had sprung up by late 1962 which would have changed the outlook of the school quite significantly.  Also another school would have been built (Tsung Tsin) by then on the top back side of the hill.   

The correct year for this photo would defintiely be between 1958-1962.  Would be exciting if, Peter, or anyone can further enlighten on that aspect.

I wonder what the English night class was like during those days.  Who was teaching, in what rooms, etc?


Thanks Vincent for sharing your memories of the church and school.  Mine are limited to the summer of 1957 when the 7-storey buildings across the street have just been built.

In this photo, we see a high wall which could be the same wall today but modified and with windows added.  The area behind the wall had small trees and shrubs until they put a building on it.  The large back entrance was not at the spot of the current entrance when I compared it with Google street view photo.  The current entrance is a bit further up towards the hill using the two rows of windows of the original building as a reference.

One feature in the current Google photo is puzzling to me.  It shows, immediately next to the two rows of windows, what appears to be the remnant of the original door I used in 1957, and the window with a cross, added the two together, they must be at least 10 feet wide.   If these two were original, how did they manage to concrete over it (looks like 5 feet wide concrete in this photo) then years later show them again?

There were two night classes both starting at 7 pm and finishing 1.5 or 2 hours later (can't remember exactly), located at the northwest of the compound.  They did roll call every time before class started.  My class had 18 students taught by a Chinese female teacher.  She avoided using Chinese unless it was necessary, and the atmosphere was a relaxed one, after all, us students were teens and adults, as compared to all boys or all girls facing a disciplanary Catholic Brothers or Sisters (that would be in my later years).  I don't remember the teacher's name, but am just as grateful for their service.  School fee was so low I forgot how much. 

Our level of training was beyond learning a-b-c.  They tried to teach you using simple sentences to converse with people.  "Will you be busy to-morrow?" was one of the early phrases I learned, more about talking business than asking for a date.  We also learned how to read short stories, like the one about an old woman who got mad at her cat because the latter, getting old, no longer was able to catch mice.  So the cat said to her, "Please do not be unkind to the old's, but remember the good things they did when they were young."

A short phrase, and a short story, another part of my journey 60 years ago.  Thanks for reading.

Regards,  Peter


Dear Friends,

Before attempting to address Peter's puzzles, let me just start by saying the Church facade faces Shekkipmei Street in exactly the NW direction.  The corner column which is seen in the forefront of the "1960" photo is due North to any observer inside of the school yard; hence the wall & the side entrance mentioned by Peter are to the NE.

As mentioned previously, a new 4-storey school block was erected by the end of 1962 which would line the said wall all the way from the east corner up to the low-rise structure at the north corner where Peter described the two-row windows.  When in 1966 I started in that school, this low rise structure was dedicated wholly as school toilets.  Boys downstairs and girls upstairs; and this has remained the same to date.  Were they also toilets back in 1957, I wonder? becoz that would be quite a waste as far as building usage then is concerned.

Here I like to throw in some spices for you mundane readers regarding these toilets.  Throughout the years between 1980s up to perhaps 10 years ago, various law enforcement agencies would "borrow" these toilets from the school and conduct secret surveillance from the two rows of windows on the streets below.  Heroin activities were rampant and many (I mean many many) street dealers were busted from these tactics over the years.  The 7-storey blocks seen in the "1960' were the last lots to be demolished in SKM.  That was about 2007.  As a coincidence, general street level heroin in HK also died out around the same time; and police found no more use of the school yard these days.

By Gosh, Peter is right about the side entrance!  It had moved.  It did shift about 10 feet in the direction mentioned by Peter.  With the benefit of seeing from the inside, I can tell you that this "new entrance" was actually built into the new school block.  Its slightly wider and taller too.  This is the only vehicular entrance to the school, and used heavily by church goers at weekends these days.

Where the new School block lines the NE perimetre, the "wall" had all but gone now (since 1962, I guess).  Only SE end of the school yard is still lined with wall, but that is generally not visible to any person in the streets.

In a couple year's time, the SFA Church will witness some major change to its immediate environment.  The various residential blocks facing directly the church facade have this year been acquired by a major land developer.   Henderson Land announced it will build one massive 50-storey commercial / residential complex there.  To the NE side of the Church, where the 7-storey blocks were, the Government is also (slowly) building a complex. 

The Church when first built in 1955 was the only building standing in that general area, and people could see the church literally from miles away then. It is afterall the biggest catholic church in all of Kowloon (still).  Only a handful of nostalgics will sense the irony of this big Church growing to become the smallest structure in its birthplace. 

Hope this sharing is worth your while.


The Hong Kong Coach Tours, Ltd was incorporated on 12th November 1960. Can narrow the date of the photo further to 1961-1962.

The short sleeves of the passenger and pedestrians suggest summer time and since there is no sign of construction of the new building block present by late 1962, would suggest summer 1961 as far more likely. The metal containers by the roadside would point to the tradition of burning offerings to the dearly departed of the Hungry Ghost festival pegging this photo in the region of the last week of August 1961.

In the post dated 6 April 2017 above, "sspooldhands" recalls the prevalence of heroin trafficking in the area seen in the photo at the head of this string. This was due to the presence of a methadone clinic in the Shek Kip Mei Health Centre - the large building half way up the hill and facing the camera.

As part of its efforts to reduce the high levels of heroin use in Hong Kong, the Government started its methadone treatment program in 1972. Methadone, a drug with less serious side effects than heroin, was given to addicts free of charge in the form of an orange flavoured liquid which they drank, giving rise to the colloquial Cantonese expression, "yam chang jap" (drink orange juice), meaning to take methadone. Attendees were required to swallow the methadone in-front of clinic staff. This was to prevent the practice of retaining it in the mouth, then spitting it into a receptacle upon leaving the clinic as any methadone successfully smuggled out could be taken later whenever serious withdrawal symptoms were experienced or sold to other addicts for the same purpose.

Although the methadone program was beneficial overall, it did have disadvantages - one being that the Methadone Clinics served to concentrate many heroin addicts in a small area. Addicts often continued to use heroin, or relapsed, whilst participating in the methadone program. Attracted by lots of potential customers, street level heroin retailers targeted the areas surrounding methadone clinics so that some became heroin trafficking blackspots. I recall the areas surrounding the Shek Kip Mei Methadone Clinic and the Robert Black Methadone Clinic in Wong Tai Sin as being particularly bad. There were probably others.

As this was retail level trafficking, the amount of heroin involved in each transaction was tiny, typically a small paper packet containing half a gram or less of Number 3 heroin. Only the most stupid traffickers kept heroin on their persons to be handed to buyers upon the receipt of cash. Not surprisingly, these were the easiest to convict. More sophisticated traffickers would work with accomplices. One would conceal heroin packets at various nearby locations before commencing business. Staircases in public housing blocks were popular hiding spots. Those who concealed the drugs were changed frequently to reduce the risk of police identifying them  and lying in wait to search them when they arrived to conceal their packets. Other accomplices would handle the buyers, receiving cash and informing them where the heroin was hidden, but would not physically touch the drugs. Lastly lookouts would raise the alarm if police were seen in the area. The upper balconies of the nearby public housing blocks commanded an excellent view of the area and so were popular with lookouts. In view of all these difficulties, gathering sufficient evidence to prove a trafficking charge was always challenging.

The use of undercover officers posing as buyers was an effective tactic, but rarely used due to the difficulty of finding volunteers of a sufficiently emaciated appearance to pose convincingly as heroin addicts. As a result of all these difficulties local Drug Squads tended to enjoy more success raiding heroin stores and packing centers. Helped by presumptions in the law, it was relatively easy to prove that a person responsible for a premises possessed any heroin found therein and that anything above a small quantity was intended for trafficking. Raids on flats in Shek Kip Mei and Pak Tin Estates often resulted in the seizure of heroin that had been destined for sale outside the Shek Kip Mei Methadone Clinic. 

The photo at the head of this string was taken years before the methadone clinic opened, when this area was probably not a trafficking blackspot. However, street gambling was always popular and I wouldn't be surprised if that is what the group of people gathered at the bottom of the steps next to the road were up to.