The boy from Babhnan looked at the monster in awe. It indeed was one, occupying a whole city block in a Quarry Bay where King’s Road meets the base of Mount Parker. That is a beautiful location to be, as the equally famous tree walk starts from there taking one away from the bustling city to the serene and beautiful woods! The 19 story E shaped goliath comprising 5 building blocks indeed looks like a monster and has proudly featured in films like Transformers: Age of Extinction and and Ghost in the Shell.
Monster Building, the new Instagram sensation had not started with any aspirations of becoming one. It is one of the last of its kinds commonly known as Composite Buildings. These oversized tenement blocks cast a permanent shadow on everything beneath and were outlawed by the Hong Kong building code soon after its construction.
Quite on the contrary, it was born out of a very different idea in the 1960s. The builders wanted to give affordable housing to the Hong Kongers hard pressed for space. They delivered on the dream as well- offering flats starting at mere HKD 15,000 with world’s cheapest mortgages. The name it had then was far more unassuming- Parker Estate. The project finally got completed in 1972 with the first buyers moving in. It consisted of five separate blocks linked together by a ground-floor shopping arcade – the Yick Fat Building, Yick Cheong Building, Fok Cheong Building, Montane Mansion and Oceanic Building.
In all, the building contains 2,443 flats and many illegal huts on the rooftop housing at least 6,840 people by the most conservative estimates based on Hong Kong’s average household size of 2.8 people. Bring in its total area just 11,000 square metres- and it has to be the densest spot on the earth! Quite an accomplishment! A mammoth never ending front divided in 5 courtyards. 2443 families living together using them- elderlies playing mahjong, toddlers in their prams, kids playing, housewives working and chatting- all with the shops around doing brisk business.
Till the building hit the Instagram jackpot, that is! The unending queue of photographers- from professional to amateur and pretenders played havoc with the lives of the community. In February 2018, they finally banned photography inside the courtyards without prior permission! Do not worry though, go there, behave well and ask one of them, they would allow. Provided you do not act as a jerk!
The story of the Monster Building is eerily similar to the neighbourhood. Hakka people, many of them stonemasons, settled in the rocky terrain in then Bay on the foothills of Mount Parker for mining the rocks- that’s why the name. Then the area began developing, like the rest of the Hong Kong. The SWIRE group, one of the richest corporate conglomerates in Hong Kong bought a lot of properties here and developed Tai Koo dockyard and Taikoo Sugar Refinery. It even built a cable car for its employees.
Their own building blocks followed. Their interests in the areas ended up getting a part of the neighbourhood called Tai Koo, the Cantonese word for the SWIRE. Now it has even a metro station by the same name.
The area also had many buildings with “ventilators”. The metropolis known for its humidity and sweltering heat needed them before the advent of the air conditioning. The buildings are all gone, redeveloped into newer ones. Some of the “Ventilators” remain, though.
The neighbourhood defines Hong Kong in many ways. A place where jungles coexist: of concrete and glass and woods. Take a right turn once out of the Exit A of the Quarry Bay MTR, and you are in the middle of woods. Don’t and you are in the urban jungle! Don’t take a right, keep walking straight and the sea greets you with all it has. You are in the promenade that begins, depending on which side you come from, with the pets section. Aaaw, those furry beauties and also the exotic ones! I once saw a pet chameleon there!
Move ahead and you have a lookout point with Kwun Tong on the other side of the sea. And the Alexander Grantham, no not a man. It is the famed Fireboat with the same name, now berthed in its permanent home and converted into a museum. Go and it has a lot of tales of brave firefights on the sea. Yeah, fire on the sea- sounds so paradoxical, no? It does. Just like life.
Come, the sea is calling. So is the monster!