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Eclectic old shops serve as time capsules of Hong Kong's past

Photographer, researcher document disappearing businesses to maintain cultural, historical links

By Oasis Hu in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-12 07:18
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A craftsman makes guqin (seven-stringed plucked instrument) at an old shop in Hong Kong. TSUI PIU/FOR CHINA DAILY

Staying alive

Ashley Ma's grandfather opened Cheung Fat Noodles in 1953 after he obtained a license to open a dai pai dong, which means "hawkers with large licenses".

The licenses were originally issued by the Hong Kong government in the 1950s to help civil servants' families affected by the Japanese wartime occupation, allowing them to operate stalls to earn income. To distinguish these hawkers from other ones, the government required them to prominently display their licenses in their shop fronts.

Ma, 27, who works in finance, said her grandfather sold Hong Kong specialties like fish balls, wonton noodles, dumplings, pig trotters, cuttlefish balls and soy sauce noodles in the narrow alleys of Sham Shui Po district.

After both grandparents passed away, the shop was inherited by three brothers: Ma Siu-chor, Ma Siuhong and Ashley Ma's father, Ma Kam-por.

Thanks to the efforts of the three brothers, Cheung Fat Noodles withstood the test of time despite the rapid growth of the city. It welcomed thousands of famous actors like Cheung Ka-fai, Koo Tin-lok, and Sheh Sze-man, and often served as a backdrop for films such as the award-winning crime thriller Port of Call (2015).

However, on Oct 30 last year, Cheung Fat Noodles ceased its operations because of the construction of new buildings in the area and the redistribution of dai pai dong licenses, with only 20 now remaining in the city.

Ma Siu-chor said on the noodle shop's final day, crowds had formed before the dai pai dong opened at 10:30, including some diners who had returned from abroad to enjoy a last meal.

For the sake of her family, and local residents, Ashley Ma is determined to revive the shop. She has been searching for a new location and creating multiple social media accounts under the eatery's name. However, it will not be easy to reopen the store without the concessionary rent available through a dai pai dong license, she conceded.

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