Kowloon City

The people of Tsim Sha Tsui need only look over at Kowloon City to remember what they fear. Kowloon is urbanism pushed to the very edge, then knocked right over the side. The population is primarily made up of unregistered refugees, even generations after their initial entry. Lawlessness and blight rule Kowloon; the police are stretched too thin here and are often pulled back to maintain the peace in districts where the residents pay taxes (and are affiliated with a corporation). The criminal syndicates govern in their stead through the rule of frequently demonstrated violence. Hong Kong has given up on Kowloon City and now simply tries to contain it as if it were a disease—and even that method has only had debatable success.

Somehow, though, the people of Kowloon carry on. It’s not pretty or fair, but it does survive on some twisted level. Innumerable small gangs and urban tribes carve out their own sections of turf and try to create some semblance of normal life, though it’s always darker, more desperate, and more dangerous than the typical standards of normal anywhere else.

In Hung Hom, down on the southern tip near the harbor, urban tribes have taken over old shopping malls and theme parks and converted them into bizarre communities. Though they are preyed on by the violent gangs and Triads, the tribes’ numbers swell with each passing year as more locals find value in the close-knit social networks the tribes provide. Further to the northeast along the coast, at the site of the old Kai Tak airport, smugglers, counterfeiters, junk merchants, and tinkerers have turned the old runway into an open-air bazaar. Most of the goods come in by boat, pulled up right alongside the runway that extends over the water or passed off to the boat people who live all year in their sampans and houseboats in the adjacent typhoon shelter. Kai Tak has found its niche in Hong Kong; this is where you go to buy the items you can’t get anywhere else in the city—and where you sell things you can’t usually get rid of.

Further inland to the north is the Kowloon Walled City, the darkest nightmare of Kowloon. When the refugees first started pouring into Hong Kong in the ’20s, this area was mostly parks and light residential housing. Then violent criminal gangs started invading the homes and taking them over, as refugee packs turned the city parks into squatter tent cities.

As more people arrived, the area became more crowded and more desperate. The corporations were forced to build some sort of housing for the throngs of refugees, if only to keep them bottled up and away from Hong Kong residents. The result was the Walled City, a dark core of crumbling slums so tightly packed together as to resemble a solid wall of decay from a distance. Within, the most desperate fight to survive.

Kowloon City

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