Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More on dai pai dong

Dai Pai Dong / photo from RTHK
Right after my previous post on municipal cooked food centres (where I kind of tell you to forget dai pai dongs for a second), guess what I'm going to talk about? Yep. Dai pai dongs. It just so happens that as I was asked earlier today about when the Central dai pai dongs (currently closed as the area is under refurbishment) would reopen, I came across this pretty good TV documentary on the revitalisation of dai pai dongs and hawker centres in public housing estates (another semi-alfresco HK dining phenomenon). Unfortunately it's all in Cantonese (with subtitles in Traditional Chinese), but here are some interesting 'did you knows'.

- dai pai dong (DPD) licenses were originally given to civil servants who were no longer able to work in their positions because of injury.
- eventually the government relaxed the restrictions and offered licenses to low-income families
- in the 70s, because the government wanted to tidy the city up, they made dai pai dong licenses unrenewable - they would cease upon the death of the current holder. (With one exception - the owner's spouse, but not their children).
- originally, DPDs weren't allowed to lay out tables and chairs beside the stalls as they do nowadays; people would sit on a long bench, or little stools (go check out Lan Fong Yuen) placed at the front of the stall. When they ran out of space, customers used to crouch around it!
- some old DPDs still have wheels on them. These were for the stallholders to push their carts out of the way when fire engines had to enter the street.
- in the eighties there were still 8000 or so dai pai dongs. Today, there are 28.

New sewerage system to go under Central DPDs / photo from RTHK
You may have noticed that the area where the famous Stanley/Graham St. DPD cluster is is now being refurbished (they're going to lay down new pipes for a more hygienic sewerage system). The DPDs themselves will also be renovated (presumably at the owner's own cost, but I suspect some form of government funding might have been able as assistance). All the DPDs are due to be closed till late Nov/Dec this year.

Some DPD owners in the video who were interviewed said they were reluctant to renovate at first, even if the government was paying for a new sewerage system, because their stall license could not be renewed. Later, it was revealed that the authorities have made an exception - they can now pass the license on to their children.

The original stones will be replaced after the digging. Phew! / photo from RTHK
That's great news for diners as most current stall owners are getting on, and they would've disappeared had the government not changed their minds. Now at least we have one more generation to look forward to.

The video also talks about the revitalisation of hawker centres, nicknamed "mushroom tops" that can be found in some public housing communities. At the beginning of the programme, I have to admit I was a bit scared (or was it disgusted?) when I saw the 3D renderings of the new design, and heard one of the contracted designers talk about making a classic HK afternoon tea into a "high tea - it's like trying to make a hawker centre look like a luxury resort in Phuket. One day I'll go check one of the refurbed ones out and let you know what it's really like... To say I am apprehensive is an understatement given the way "heritage" is dealt with in this town.

In closing, the programme did make a good point though - it's all about the balance between preservation and improvement. Well, good luck Hong Kong.


Programme page with photos, blurb (Chinese) and links to videos (Windows Media Player and Real Player versions only, unfortunately. I tried it on Quicktime, it would only sort of play).

Or go straight to videos:
Windows Media Player
Real Player

I don't know about you, but I love a bit of brain-feeding TV!

1 comment:

  1. I've eaten in a lot of cooked food centres now (and kind of rely on them for quick/ easy late night food but haven't really started in on DPD.

    I feel winter may be the time for them anyway though... I always had a slight suspicion on going to them at the height of summer. Well at least I have some tv to watch later :)