If you think of the of the wickedness as equal parts of squalor, misery and despair, maybe the Walled City of Kowloon is the wickedness around - at least per square foot. One dank alley forks into another, weaving menacing maze of burrows over an area the size of 10 city blocks. Here are ‘homes’ for 25,000 people. 200 shops, 100 factories for everything from noodles to religious firecrackers. Few houses have electricity, fewer still running water. Some are never touched by sunlight. The biggest building is a former Chinese Government office, now an almshouse for old women with incurable illnesses. The courtyard of a former temple-school, once a place of honour for ancestors, is jammed with shacks and overrun with children who don’t go to school. Only a handful of one-room schools and clinics are run in the Walled city, by christian missionaries. None is operated by the government.
Also housed amid this ancient real estate are 60 illegal dentists’ and doctors’ offices, three opium dens, two gambling houses, several roving heroin shops, five mahjong parlours and 100 rooms where a can keng-gai (“have a little conversation”) with a pyjama clad girl.
Vice, like life, is cheap in the Walled City. Keng-Wai with a ‘young girl’ costs 80 cents to $1.50; with an ‘old woman’ 40 cents. An opium smoke is 80 cents, a packet of heroin from 8 to 50 cents. Only gambling is sky-limited – $200 and up. These bargains are peddled to Chinese men, who when they work, earn about $2 a day. The silk-thin profit has to come from volume. In its anxious scramble for business, the Walled City never sleeps.
– excerpt from City of Darkness, Greg Girard and Ian Lambot, Watermarks Publications UK LTD The World Wickedest City’, written by Cathie Breslin (page 262)
Ian Lambot trained as an architect and worked briefly for the Richard Rogers Partnership before arriving in Hong Kong in 1979, where he lived for the next 18 years.
After stints running an architectural model-making studio and working with Foster and Partners - on the early stages of the Hongkong Bank project - he set up Watermark Publications, publishing in the years since numerous books on architecture, engineering and design, including four volumes on the work of Norman Foster and, of course, City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City.
He now lives in the UK, where he continues to design and publish books on subjects that interest him.