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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 cook works at Cheung Fat Noodles, one of the most famous dai pai dongs in Hong Kong. The 70-year-old shop closed in October. TSUI PIU/FOR CHINA DAILY

Real preservation

Despite the overwhelming customer support on Cheung Fat Noodles' last day, Ma Kei-lok from Hong Kong Historical Shops, believes it was probably not indicative of a greater awareness about the cultural significance of protecting such businesses.

Many Hong Kong residents do not regularly frequent old shops, but when a closure happens there is often a "novelty value" surge in interest. Ma describes this behavior as "funeral ceremony conservation", which fails to inspire true efforts to preserve the culture associated with old shops. There is also scant research or action being taken on old businesses by official organizations in Hong Kong, he added.

To raise public awareness, Ma established the "Hong Kong Historical Shops" Facebook account, where he shares stories about such establishments.

Ma begins his research by looking into the industry related to each shop, and sometimes buys books containing relevant information out of his own pocket. He then interviews the shop owners about their experiences. The stories, along with accompanying photos and videos, are compiled into articles and shared on the Facebook account.

Ma said he prioritizes shops offering products or skills that are scarce in the city, and those with vanishing crafts or on the verge of closure.

For instance, Hang Cheong Ivory Factory, with a 75-year history of producing hand-carved ivory items, was documented before it closed in 2021 under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Ordinance.

The Facebook account has conducted interviews with the owners and operators of more than 120 old shops. She Wong Lam in Sheung Wan, a shop founded in 1900 that sold snake-related products, Pui Kee Shipyard in Shau Kei Wan, with a 70-year history, and the Ho Ching Kee Lee knife shop, which is over 200 years old, are among the stories.

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