Several years ago I scanned and posted some photos my mother took in the 1980s at Kai Tak North refugee camp in Hong Kong, where she worked as a nurse. She took me and my sister with her sometimes, to give us a taste of reality. This camp was a former British Royal Air Force base that had been converted for use by economically and politically displaced Vietnamese 'boat people'. It was a situation a bit like that of Cubans making their way across the sea to Florida except that, unlike Florida, Hong Kong was a dead-end; a small, overpopulated enclave. Families ended up in rat-infested 'open camps' like these for years, scraping by, hoping for a visa to go somewhere else with more prospects. Canada and the USA took most of them in the end. The building in this photo has now been redeveloped as a plush art college. The rest of the camp was demolished to make way for luxury apartments. So, this picture is now a piece of history. The self-employed outdoor barber at work in the midst of this little community of exiles.
See that little girl in blue sitting by herself? I received an email this morning from a woman, aged in her 30s, in California. She had found this photo online. She told me:
"The three girls in the background are my sisters and me (blue shirt sitting on a stool watching the TV with my back toward your mother's camera). We lived right behind the wall with the 2 small blue buckets. My mom cooked right outside of that building. The barber in the picture used to cut my dad's hair, and we still know that woman carrying the orange bucket. We left Hong Kong in 1984. My dad had to throw away most of our pictures in the Hong Kong airport when we moved because we had weight limitations on our luggage."