People of To Kwa Wan (土瓜灣)

To Kwa Wan Building

To Kwa Wan is a district right next to the Former Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport. It’s my first visit to there. My first impression to the district is pretty much untouched since the early 90s. Buildings there remarks the era of that time.

Taking care of kids
Taking care of kids

Scaffolding
Scaffolding

It’s an old district. What does that mean? It’s full of retired/old residents. And occasionally I see Southeast Asians as well. Most of the people who lives there are below the poverty line. The district is very relaxed with not much going on around. No huge shopping malls whatsoever. And people hang out on the streets.

Napping at an auto repair garage
Napping at an auto repair garage

While To Kwa Wan is not as vibrant and full of energy like in Kowloon City, it still has its charm. There’s no Coffee cafe or Bistro. It’s full of Cantonese cafe. I’m sure there should be some good ones around which I haven’t spend time discover.

Old lady on the street
Old lady on the street

I walked around to feel the environment. I thought it’s best to capture the older generation folks and the auto shops which you would see in this set.

Mainland Chinese tourists
Mainland Chinese tourists (There’re hotels in the district due to the cheap rent)

There’s not too much going on but I captured what I see and meant to me from my first visit to the district.

To Kwa Wan
To Kwa Wan

Auto Shop
Auto Shop

Old lady working with her trolley
Old lady working with her trolley

Old man walking
Old man walking

Reading paper
Reading paper

Man on the street
Man on the street

Lady and her dog
Lady and her dog

Playing with stray cat
Playing with stray cat

Walking the dog
Walking the dog

125 thoughts on “People of To Kwa Wan (土瓜灣)

      1. Super beautiful documentary, these street scenes of this side of Hong Kong showed me a part of this city that I didn’t know, harsh, but fascinating!
        I wasn’t experienced with digital but getting quite frustrated by the amount of settings you can find in a DSLR. I just got myself a ME Super and although I just shot 2 rolls I can tell you that the overall quality of my photos (both on film and digital) got much better: with film infact you feel sort of guilty of taking a bad picture, and this slows you down quite a lot making you thinking about composition and timing much much more. Also, you will find just basic settings in the place where they are supposed to be: like the aperture ring on the lens. And what they seem limitation they will boost your imagination and creativity exponentially.
        Nevertheless, with film you get full frame quality at a small fraction of the cost. (シ)
        I think you should start film a.s.a.p., it’s fun, useful, and addicting! (シ)

      2. I was thinking about trying film. I just hate the hassle and photo developing process (rely on the shop not in control by myself)…unless I have my own darkroom..sadly it’s just not possible in my place. I’d love to try. As the film is another animal although digital is the way of future.

        I’m still not too experienced in photography, I’m passionate and willing to shoot. I’ll re-think once my level and consistency have elevated to a certain point.

        Thanks for sharing!!~

      3. For me the real hassle would be just light-sealing a room, not really the developing process itself. I am planning to use just a changing bag similar to this one:
        http://www.amazon.co.uk/Calumet-Changing-Room/dp/B00023JDTO/ref=pd_cp_ce_3
        Where I am now I am actually relying on local labs, as here it’s virtually impossible to develop films in the house (which not mine).

        But unfortunately what I fear is even more important than developing, it’s printing. As the photos are scanned by somebody else from the negative, and printed, you will never get the same quality as if your photos were wet-printed. This is something I want to set up for the future, even though it’s a hassle.

        As for digital for the future, it’s debatable, it depends on what you shoot. (シ)
        And unfortunately many people know this, and equipment prices aren’t getting any cheaper…

      4. hehe.. i feel you. I wish developing photos could be done easily. However, it’s really not. And I’m not a professional..more importantly I’m not earning a lot yet..

        We all have our difficulties ;P thanks!~

  1. Your pictures paint stories so wonderfully…I love the old man bending over as he tries to catch up with the fast paced day, the man waiting at the sidewalk as the world passes by and the dog that cute pup that makes me go awww!🙂

    1. Thanks Ria! Yes, I appreciate life enough that I want to capture every moment that meant to me thru photography and blogging. That part of Hong Kong is almost unseen for many international tourists as there’s no attractions around.

  2. Thanks for these pictures of my old neighborhood! My aunts and grandma still live there. You make it seem so gritty, and really, I prefer it that way. When I visited two summers ago, I noticed a lot of new developments and high rises coming, after lifting the high restrictions due to the closing of Kai Tak. To Kwa Wan is changing, but for now, thanks for making me think of it from far across the ocean.

    1. thanks for sharing, flamingbike. Yes, toward Kai Tak side of the Kowloon City is changing, those lands are prone to the Gov auction and whatnot. Many new unaffordable apartment buildings is making many good residents angry as well. It’s changing the original dynamic of the district. Many of those apartments were purchased but not vacant. On any given early evenings, we all can see no lights are on.

      Have a good one.

    1. that man was actually playing with a stray cat with his umbrella on a backstreet. That cat was overly excited to have someone play with her.🙂 Thanks Shannon!

  3. Thankk you for sharing your photos. I took some similar on my visit there in 2010. I also love the ‘ordinary’ neighborhoods, and the wonderful secret life you find there. I discovered the charm of crowded little buildings full of tiny shops in Mong Kok, and the secret home of service garages for sports cars along Man Yuen Street north of Austin. Let us see more of your work please !

    1. Yes, lots of auto shops and whatnot. I spotted 2 Fiat classics in the district that day. Next time I go there, I’ll enjoy a cup of milk tea in a canto-cafe and feel how the people there appreciate lives. Thanks John! have a good one and check back some other time.

  4. I’m an Australian who grew up in the Philippines. It’s so refreshing to come here and see the world outside my own city. Truly beautiful and Full of culture. I love it! Thank you!🙂

    1. Yes, I found Hong Kong to be very international. But still not diverse enough, such as in arts, etc. I wish to travel abroad and just shoot photos and feel the people! – that’s one day when I make enough money ;P

      Thanks and have a good day.

  5. No matter where you travel in the world, people will always be people. Your photos capture this fact beautifully.

  6. Amazing photographs! You capture scenes off the beaten path, off the tourist trail–scenes of the city as it really is. This is the best kind of photography!

  7. Great candid photos! The lady on the phone with the dog is great fun. I always worry about photographing people like this. Do you ever talk to them before or after taking the photos? Do people ever complain about you taking photos of them? How close are you standing -is it usually really obvious to them that you photographed them?
    Love this collection. Very interesting subject matter too. I love people watching, will follow your blog and tell a friend who I know will love your work🙂

    1. thanks thisislemonade. I’m technically right next to them when I shoot most of these photos. This is called street photography. I have only started my thing since February this year. Any posts you see from then on are all about these genre of photography.

      The lady and the dog I photographed, I actually asked if I could shoot her pet. She allowed me to, of course She had no idea (she’s busy anyway) how wide my lens was (21mm). It only happened once someone complained and asked me to delete the photo (it was a bad photo anyway..) I know my limit where to go and what to shoot. I do not want to get into trouble as much as I would like to photograph the dark side of the city (don’t mean it the bad way though).

      You may check out my other posts. I thought they were similar in a way.
      https://alanala.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/the-last-walled-village-in-the-urban-hong-kong-nga-tsin-wai-tsuen-衙前圍村/

      &

      https://alanala.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/people-of-san-po-kong/

      1. Thanks for the detailed response. I’m always shy about street photography. I don’t actually like being photographed by strangers myself so I worry about how people will feel about it. I end up taking lots of photos of details in my surroundings instead which I also enjoy…if you have tips on how to approach street photography, I’d appreciate it! Keep up the lovely work🙂

  8. At one point in your post you make the comment, “There’s not too much going on but I captured what I see and meant to me from my first visit to the district.” Though I will agree with you that there isn’t much going on in the sense of shopping malls, cinemas, and the sorts, these photos definitely captured a unique community. These photos display a life that exists completely off the grid of what many people consider to be necessary aspects of modern life. Each picture is rich with splashes of color and seemingly colorful, happy people content with the way they have decided their city should run.

    1. That’s exactly how I felt. That part of community is totally different from where the district I live, I could even smell the difference.

      “happy people content with the way they have decided their city should run.” – that’s what Hong Kong is facing at the moment. The old/historic part of Hong Kong is almost gone which I pretty much love about. Now all the expensive apartments are everywhere. If you look up the price per square foot of apartment flat, you’d be surprised how many of us could actually afford those apartments. Hong Kong is facing the lack of affordable public housing for their residents.

      We are the slaves of this monopoly game. I don’t like it. But we still have to live it.

      1. I am not the most cultured person, but I am a student of architecture/urban design trying to learn as much as I can about other communities. The gentrification many areas are experiencing (as you describe the current state of Hong Kong) is upsetting to say the very least. Downright unacceptable to say a little more. Yes, you are definitely right, we are slaves to this monopoly game… at present. Public housing would definitely be a good start, but I feel we can do more than that. Maybe set up a situation that encourages people to get to know one another and really form a strong sense of community. That way everyone wouldn’t be so out for themselves, and would hopefully learn to look out for the greater good of everyone. Just speculating, but one can only try/hope

  9. I used to like going to To Kwa Wan to take some time off the busy lifestyle in HK. There are actually some hidden Canto cafes which have good food yet quiet environment for me to relax🙂

      1. Seriously, your photos look like they’ve been taken out of Chunking Express or something…

  10. great photos, do you mind telling if theyre edited and which programme did you use? im somewhere in the new to semi serious area of photography, dont know anything beyond famous (and also according to my experience) brands like canon and nikon etc, im trying to improve my knowledge of it, and i dont recognize the model of camera you have listed Ricoh GR Digital IV, this is the one you used for these shots right? could you tell me more about this camera and why you picked it? doesnt have to be super detailed if you dont have the time, im just really interested

    1. I process my photos with Apple’s Aperture. It depends on what kind of photography you’re trying to do. The Olympus and Lumix are the most affordable ones out there that are easy to operate and learn. Anything beyond you’ll have to experience yourself, coz camera is very personal and you gotta try it. After all it’s only a tool.

      About the Ricoh GRD, it’s a point-n-shoot that has all the bells and whistles you need with a single compact package. What many of the GRD users love about it, is the total control. It’s black (stealthy). It has a fixed focal length lens, we all love about. Fixed focal length gives you better image quality and encourage users to use their feet. The 28mm lens is wide enough for any applications. Widest aperture is at f1,9, ISO topped at 3200. More specs go to their official web😉

      I think the GRD is a camera for enthusiasts who know about the controls well enough. It’s the only camera out there that makes the most sense, many logics had been recommended by photographers/avid fans. The regular firmware updates we love about..and more. Hope that helps Violet M. Thanks for dropping me a line!!

  11. Great photos. I used to live in Hong Kong.. so it’s like a trip down memory lane. Landing at the old Kai Tak airport was one of my most vivid memories. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    1. I flew from Kai Tak only once when i was 6 or 7. It was such a huge airport in my memory, although it’s actually the one of the smallest international airport at that time. Thanks for reading!!

  12. Alan, great job capturing the residents of a very interesting district! The thing I find most fascinating about street portraiture is the varied interactions with the complete strangers you find busy at their everyday lives. What is your particular approach to people when you want to photograph them? You mentioned asking to take a photo of the dog, I see. And you met with a little resistance when someone wanted you to delete a photo. Very interesting. I’ve found everything from people who ask me to photograph them, as if I’m doing them a favor, to a very few people who wave me off in rejection. I just had the privilege of shooting a couple locations in southeast asia this past year for the first time. I found the people very warm and welcoming, as it seems you did. Nice work!

    1. Thanks Camden! I rarely ask for permissions. I don’t like my subjects pose for me. I want my subjects to be unaware of my presence before I hit the shutter release.

      Say thank you anyway if the people looked at us! And give them big smile.

      Southeast Asia is very exotic. You must have taken tons of photos.

      1. And I almost always ask for permission! This makes me want to try your style a little more, without asking beforehand. I’ve only done a few that way. And yes, I did take lots of photos! Thanks for the reply.

  13. Definitely not a tourist destination but I love the way you have captured the reality of daily lives and you have managed to bring some heart to what first struck me as a horrid sordid place to live. Well done…..your photos are a story in themselves.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. The outskirt of the district is changing. The new apartment building are raising the rents of the district. Life just get harder for many.

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