Here we present an excerpt from Hong Kong Noir, an anthology of noir stories set in Hong Kong and written by a dozen authors. Each story takes place in a different district of the city. This one, by Carmen Suen, is set in Wah Fu, a housing estate on the southwest coast of Hong Kong Island.
Co-editor Susan Blumberg-Kason says:
Carmen Suen’s “Fourteen” brings the reader to a more innocent time in the 1980s. Hong Kong public housing had expanded and the decades of squatter villages were becoming a thing of the past. But it was still difficult to be poor, as it always is, especially when the government doesn’t care. “Fourteen” tells the story of a young girl from a broken home in Hong Kong’s first public housing estate that provided private bathrooms and kitchens. Even with these “luxuries”, the vulnerable still struggle to find happiness and meaning in Hong Kong. This is the story of one girl who seeks to fine a place in the 1980s, yet the same story could be told today.
by Carmen Suen
The elevator door opened on the fourteenth floor. Siu Wan shuffled out and headed toward her apartment, number 1424, where her family had been living since she was a baby. When they first moved in,Wah Ming House was the newest building in Wah Fu Estate. It was a hopeful time.
But today had not been a good day for Siu Wan, and it had nothing to do with the number fourteen, as one might suspect. Fourteen, sup sei, is not the most auspicious number in Cantonese culture, especially in Hong Kong. It sounds like sut sei—must die. Some developers would skip the fourteenth floor on their buildings, choosing instead to have the fifteenth floor immediately above the thirteenth. Not the case for government housing like Wah Fu Estate. The government most certainly didn’t give a damn whether residents in housing projects lived or died based on superstitious beliefs.
For Siu Wan, fourteen or not did not make any difference. It was the same tiny apartment with no privacy no matter the number. Every unit in the building was the same 300-square-foot cube with a kitchen, a bathroom, a balcony, and an open space in the middle with barely enough room for a dresser, a double bed, a bunk bed—or two, depending on how many kids and in-laws lived there—and the all-important round folding table that served as a dini