This 75-year-old woman transformed Hong Kong’s notorious Chungking Mansions from a vice den into a safe place
[A Bounce Back Story]

Salina Lam, who has been Chairwoman of the Tsim Sha Tsui tower block for 22 years, tells Gloria Chan how she helped turn it from a den of vice into a safe destination.

Lam Wai-lung became the chairwoman of the Owners' Corporation of Chungking Mansions in 1993; Chungking Mansions in 1985. Photos: Vicky Feng, SCMP

I WAS BORN IN FUZHOU, in Fujian province, in 1940. I married an architect but he passed away before reaching the age of 40. On November 19, 1979, I came to Hong Kong with my six-year-old daughter upon the request of my father.

MY FATHER OWNED a jade trading business in Hawaii and used to work in Hong Kong a few months every year. I stayed with him for just 9 days in Hong Kong before he had to leave for [a trip to] Taiwan. He had a stroke there and, after struggling for 30 days, he died.

I TOOK THREE JOBS. By 1988, I had managed to save enough money to buy a property in Chungking Mansions with 2 friends. It cost HK$600,000 back then. I currently have 7 properties and they are all in Chungking Mansions. Running guesthouses is my main business.

Watch: How Chungking Mansions became what it is today

IN 1993 I became the chairwoman of the Owners’ Corporation of Chungking Mansions. Sometimes I walk around, to meet the tourists and tenants. They say, “Hello, good morning”, to me in Cantonese even though most of them are non-Chinese. They say, “Good morning”, even when it’s evening.

CHUNGKING MANSIONS WAS KNOWN as a rough and shady place. We hired better security staff – a management company simply wasn’t enough – and we chose people who had been policemen. We also installed 400 surveillance cameras. I think all of Hong Kong should eventually have CCTV installed; it’s really useful in lowering the crime rate.

I START WORK AT 8.30 AM and leave my office at about 9pm. Our Owners Group has 14 members and meets once every two months. One of the members is 91 years old – he must be the oldest person working in Chungking Mansions, and has been living here since it was built.

PEOPLE ARE SURPRISED WHEN they learn the chairperson of Chungking Mansions is a woman. They say I must be ruling with an iron fist, because I am a woman. I am, in terms of management, but we also need to be harmonious even when we are being strict.

I’M OVER 70 NOW. Most people think I’m about 50, but I’ve started to get wrinkles. I don’t want to remember my age, it doesn’t define who I am. I hope to be chairwoman of Chungking Mansions until the day I can’t open my eyes.

I DON’T WORK FOR MONEY – I have more than enough.I work because I enjoy contributing to society. Perhaps this is why I’m still so vigorous. I have never thought of retiring.

City’s own ‘global ghetto’ – the Chungking Mansions story

#SalinaLam  #ChungKingMansions  #ChungkingMansionGuesthouses   #HongKongGuesthouses  #BounceBackStories