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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Hong Kong miniatures recall days gone by

Tomoki Matsuda

Nov. 22, 2017

Hong Kong's apartments are notoriously small. But one of the city's artists is shrinking some of them much more. He is trying to keep alive memories of how things used to be in the melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures.

There's a bunk bed next to a round table, and a TV unit in the corner. Even the cover of a magazine from the 1980s is accurately reproduced.

They are miniatures in an exhibition that takes visitors on a trip down memory lane. They replicate interiors and townscapes from Hong Kong during the latter period of British rule.

"I used to live in a small apartment like that," says one visitor. "We all huddled together in the bunk bed."

Tony Lai creates representations of old scenery and lifestyles.

The works are one-twelfth real size. Lai uses photos and relies on his own recollections to produce them.

It took him 3 months to complete this traditional barber shop. He has a painstaking attention to detail, but it's not just about the way it looks.

"People used to help each other, but now everything has changed," he says.

Hong Kong looks a lot different now. Since its return to China 20 years ago, an influx of investment has seen skyscrapers pop up everywhere. In many cases the modern buildings have replaced old residential blocks.

Lai feels a special attachment to a particular style of neighborhood. Low-rise apartments, known as "Tong Lau", were built more than a century ago. Years ago, Lai worked in a district that was home to many of the residential low-rises. He's watched them transform.

"This building's structure itself hasn't changed," he points out. "It used to have a pawnshop and residential units, but there's now a restaurant."

His replica is based on what he remembers.

There are people negotiating a deal at the pawnshop, while others relax on the balcony. The miniatures appear lifelike and capture the feeling of an era gone by.

"Hong Kong is changing at a rapid pace and we must adapt," says Lai. "But I hope my miniatures help the next generations appreciate what life in Hong Kong was like in the old days." Although the miniatures reflect a bygone era, plenty of Hong Kong residents have fond memories of those times.