Hi! Houses: A Journey into the History of Century-old Houses with the Artists
Recently Visited

Traces of Our Life: Memories, Wong Uk and Lam Tung Pang

By participating in this project, Lam Tung Pang, a long-time resident of Sha Tin who had never been to the place, was able to know the old house at Wong Uk in depth. “As this old house is very near my home, I can go in the morning, in the evening, during sunny and rainy days, so I know what it is like in different weather conditions. I also have begun to feel like I'm visiting an old friend.” The guards on duty at the old house are like its long-time tenants; every time Lam visits, chats with them. “My conversations with the security guards are very inspiring. They often tell me stories about the old house, giving me ideas for my work and expanding my knowledge of this monument.” As time goes on, Lam has come to know the Wong Uk inside out, he even knows where the cleaning tools stored, and such knowledge contributes to the creation of this interactive and interesting project.

He finds that most visitors to Wong Uk would only stay for 5 to 10 minutes. Perhaps this is because, compared to other monuments, it tends to emphasise on architectural features and does not display any furniture of its past occupiers. To Lam, the tranquillity and simplicity of Wong Uk are what makes it unique. The murals on the wall and carvings on the eaves also serve an edifying purpose for its descendants, holding up the hopes and aspirations of the clan for the future. These preserved decorations are already telling the old house’s own story. As an artist who uses painting as his creative medium, Lam is especially touched by these murals, so much so that he hopes to use his paintbrush to echo those feelings and tell a story.

An old house that evokes nostalgia

We may not understand how meaningful the stucco murals on the walls and the carvings on the eaves are, but they also stir up certain feelings in Lam. When he was young, Lam used to pay regular visits to his ancestral home with his parents four times a year from the time he started primary school, so a quarter of his childhood days was spent there. The ancestral home was filled with his childhood memories, which surge back when he walks through Wong Uk. “My ancestral home in Fujian is similar to this house in many ways: both are two-storey and have a courtyard. I remember there were also many relief sculptures, and I was able to touch them while lying in bed. The feeling was so visceral.” As both of his parents were Mainland-born and had later moved to Hong Kong, Lam is his family’s first-generation HongKonger who still has a deep impression of his ancestral home. “But for the next generation, they may not have the ‘homecoming’ experience. ‘Home’ for them may just be here – Hong Kong,” he says. Indeed, the idea of ‘home’ can be interpreted in numerous ways for different people. For Lam, although his native place is in Fujian, he considers to a certain extent Sha Tin, where he has lived for the past 36 years, his hometown. Yet, he believes that, like him, many people in Hong Kong also have memories of their ancestral homes and would be able to find some resonance in Wong Uk, and this old house would rekindle such nostalgia.

Once a vibrant place

Lam Tung Pang is getting curious about Wong Uk where he finds it somehow familiar. In addition to the guards’ stories about the courtyard’s amazing draining system on rainy days, his interviews with overseas Wong Uk descendants about pirates, and a serendipitous encounter with a former village head who shared his knowledge of its topography and history, Lam has also consulted the archives. Yuen Chau Kok, where Wong Uk is situated, was an important transport hub between Guangdong and Kowloon during the 19th century. There used to be a traders’ inn named ‘Yili’ (meaning the inn is operated on a ‘pay what you decide’ system to facilitate the passing travellers) right next to the village. Now more than a hundred years later and having witnessed reclamation and development, Wong Uk still stands on the same site, and right next to it is a big hotel. “What a wonderful coincidence!” he laughingly exclaimed. “I am curious about stories attached to inns: people coming from so many different places have gathered in one place, each with a different background and life story... I find this fascinating. A traveller who comes to an alien land would invariably miss his home.” Lam thinks that, now that this old house has been preserved, it would be a pity for it to be forgotten. He also thinks that the significance of preserving an old house lies not in crystallising it at some point in the past, but in linking it with the present, as has been done in many Western countries where historical buildings are being deployed in ways to keep them ‘alive’. He hopes that his visits to Wong Uk will also leave behind some traces of life, “something as simple as chatting with the guards, bringing friends here for visits and playing chess outside the house, or just lingering around to bring back the vibrancy of the place and breathe new life into it.”

When an old house is emptied out, there is, ironically, space for possible new stories. To Lam Tung Pang, furniture always has a lot of stories to tell, each having been part of the life and times of its owner. Therefore, for this project, he scoured all over Hong Kong to find old furniture to put into Wong Uk. This is, in a way, like collecting various stories and gathering them here in one place. “The dialogues I had with the people who were parting with their old furniture are also very interesting.” The entire process of considering what furniture to install, where to put them and how to set up as suites was also an interesting process – it felt as if he was going to move in there himself. When visitors see the furniture that looks familiar, perhaps they will be able to recall the past and be stirred to reminisce about a past era and explore its history. Lam hopes that, with the help of sounds and images, and a series of fringe activities, the old house will become an interesting space that can be studied and viewed at ease, a place where we can all explore how we and old houses can relate.

Wong Uk is like an old friend who has endless stories to tell, watching over the village quietly with its door wide open. A hundred years have passed, and the time lapse seems to have shut it off from the hustle and bustle of the city today. But it had lived its life to the full. Although it is empty and uninhabited now, with its past glory much faded, it has left us with a historical legacy and pearls of wisdom just waiting for us to explore.


  • The village head and an elder of Wong Uk

  • Old photo of Wong Uk

  • Artist Lam Tung Pang

  • Plants in the old house


  • Video: Lam Tung Pang x Old House at Wong Uk Village