People of Sai Kung Old Town

The people and places. 

Mak Sing-yin – The Tin Man

I have lived in Sai Kung since 1952. I am 99 years old la. Tin is very easy to make, which is why I chose to work with it. My favourite place in Sai Kung is this shop so I still come here every day. Tourists often take photos of me working on my tin. Look at these photos, I’m shaking hands with [former British prime minister] Margaret Thatcher and here I am with Jin Chiu [a famous Cantonese actor]. Sai Kung has good fung shui. I came from Shung Dak, and I don’t ever want to go back. Sai Kung has good air quality – why do you think I’m still so alive? Most of my original neighbours have passed away but a lot of people greet me when they walk past. There used to be a small farm just outside this shop with chickens and pigs running around – even on the streets. The old days were simple. There was nothing much to do during my free time so I used to play mahjong and occasionally watch a movie. Now, I have children and grandchildren. They often visit me; tonight, for example, we are going for hotpot. I am turning 100 years old next year and it will be the last year of this tin shop. I will pass it on to my children to make a home here. (Postscript: Mr Mak sadly passed away this year. RIP)

14 Main Street, Sai Kung | 2792 1169 [hr]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Li Fuk-Hong – Chairman of Sai Kung Kai Fong Committee
There are so many memories from the past to share. My family used to run a Chinese medicine shop in the old town called Ren San Tong. It was the second Chinese medicine shop to open but you had to work as an apprentice for at least several years before you could even get close to the medicine. There are around six such shops now, four of whose owners started out working for us. I get a familiar feeling when I visit them, because the order of the medicine in the drawers is very similar to ours. I can guess what’s inside row four, column two, and get it right. Everyone passing through the old town will probably notice the big old house at the end of See Cheung Street – the Fong residence.

The current generation of Fongs still lives there, and they too will pass it on to the next generation. In 1942, the lower level was used as a school. It was the only school at that time with one principal, one teacher and one class for students of all ages. Another good memory I have is of the puppet performance on Sai Kung Main Street. Every year, the puppet performers came from Kowloon and ran shows for three nights. It used to be a major event of the year, attracting crowds of children, who would gather after dinner to watch the show. We are planning to bring it back to the old town. It will be the temple’s 100th anniversary in 2016 so expect big celebrations. When passers-by see the empty plot of land on Sai Kung Main Street, they get curious. The land is owned by one of the big Sai Kung landlords. The original building, which was a convenience store and pork shop, was taken down after the government labelled it dangerous. The plot has been unused for so long because it takes so long to get construction approval from the Lands Department. Construction is scheduled to start next year, housing is to be expected.

Tin Hau Temple, Po Tung Road, Sai Kung | 2792 1240 [hr]

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Ma Pei-dak – Founder of Welly Marine Co.
My father was a fisherman and I was born on a boat. There were six children in our family. I went to a school located on Rocky Harbour. When I was about 16, we stopped fishing and started this shop. It all began when I noticed how often boat engines and motors would malfunction. I only experimented at first but when I pieced together my own engine and it functioned longer and better than others available, my family decided to start this business. I also learnt more about mechanics and skills from an older boat-motor master. This shop has been here for 25 years and I have lived here for 40. It wasn’t until after Sars that people started flocking here [Sai Kung].This street [See Cheung] is much busier now.

As kids, even though we lived out at sea, we knew every street and corner. I remember my brother built his own bike and we would cycle around endlessly. We would occasionally sneak into the cinema via the back entrance but we mostly ran around the streets doing what kids do. I got 50 cents pocket money a day and [my younger brother] got one dollar. It was always fun spending that 50 cents – you had to weigh your options. With 50 cents, I could buy a pack of bubble gum, a piece of bread and jam and a bottle of Coke. Life was much simpler back then – you would just drink water straight from a well and I only tasted my first hamburger when I was 18 in a McDonald’s in Kwun Tong that had formerly been a toy shop.

43 See Cheung Street, Sai Kung | 2792 2871 [hr]

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Gary Yeung – Local artist
I have been living in Sai Kung since 1997. When I first moved here, the old town was quieter. Quite a few of the buildings were deserted and it hadn’t yet developed into a tourist area. As the rent in Sai Kung town centre continued to rise, old shops were forced into the old town and the new town was gradually occupied by stores, banks and restaurants that could afford to pay higher rents. In recent years, trendy cafés and shops have also moved into the old town by choice.

I sketch it often because it is one of the few rural towns left in Hong Kong. It’s a place where you only see low rises, and where winding alleys are filled with old shops and cafés, run and owned by locals. It’s something that Hong Kong should treasure and must protect as the city’s redevelopment projects are quickly turning old areas into mega malls and residential high rises. The old town has definitely become a tourist. The old town has definitely become a tourist attraction in its own right and I hope it can find a continual balance between old and new. Nobody wants to see it filled only with chains of coffee shops. [hr]

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Lee Po Po – Fish seller
I have lived in Sai Kung for more than 70 years. We used to be fisherman back then, going out during the night and coming back at daytime. I never went to school. Fishing is more like a hobby now and it is very seasonal. If I catch any fish, I flavour them with salt and leave it on for two hours before letting the fish dry under the sun. Anyone walking past can buy from me. [She points to her scales and during this interview was approached by two separate men, who asked her the price per catty]. I like the current Sai Kung. It’s peaceful and has good air quality. [hr]

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Mr Fong – Florist manager
This is my sister-in-law’s flower shop but I help to manage it. I was born here in Sai Kung and have lived here for 52 years although I also lived in Zhao Hing for a while during my childhood. We were [flower shop] originally located near the temple; we moved here three months ago. This used to be a storage space. A lot has changed: there used to be a lot of people selling vegetables outside the market and the orange building behind Steamers and Pet Central used to be Sai Kung’s only cinema, which showed one movie at a time. [hr]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMa Mok-gun – Fisherman
I was born in Sai Kung on a fisherman’s boat, and I lived on a boat near the parking area [where the boats are moored] for more than 60 years. Now, I live in Tseung Kwan O. In the past, I’ve caught different varieties of fish but my speciality is catching bigfin reef squid. Back in the day, children would help out from a very young age – basically, as soon as you could understand instructions. I have two older sisters, two younger brothers and one younger sister. We all helped with our family’s fishing business. We didn’t consider it a job – it was a part of us and that was our life. We would stay close to Sai Kung old town for a few months, then paddle to other places away from the wind. There used to be almost 300 boats (families) in old Sai Kung. We used to sell our fish to two big boats anchored at Sai Kung pier. It used to be $0.8 to $1 for one catty of bigfin reef squid in the 1960s and ‘70s; now, it is $50 a catty. During the 1980s, it was the smuggling age of illegal immigrants.

One foggy night, a boat came alongside mine and a man jumped aboard suddenly, asking whether I knew his father. I didn’t, of course, but realising he was looking for family members he’d been separated from, I pointed him to the direction of the dimly visible Sai Wan village. It wasn’t until later that I found out he and the other people on the boat were the children of the owners of a furniture shop in Sai Kung old town. I am just glad the family was reunited. Living as fishermen, our closest neighbours were other fishing families and we weren’t very close to the people living onshore in the Old Town. We used to come back only for big celebrations like the Tin Hau festival and Chinese New Year. My friends and I would run around the narrow alleys. I remember hitting my forehead on a rack in a small convenience store and my scar is still visible to this day. I had to look after myself – there was none of this rushing-to-hospital drama like there seems to be now. At the end of the day, us kids would go back to the pier and wave to our parents in their boats, who would come and pick us up. I went to school for two years when I was 17 and, boy, was I happy.

Getting to school was actually very difficult. It started at 8am and we had two choices: either paddle there with other classmates in a small rowing boat for one hour or hike through the hills for 30 minutes. I still remember that if you missed the ‘ride’, you had to face the scary trail alone. There were snakes and a huge water farm you needed to cross. But school was too fun to miss, so even that didn’t stop me from going. Although I don’t live in Sai Kung any more, fishing is still a big part of my life. I go out fishing with my wife every day. We still supply bigfin reef squid to seafood restaurants like Chuen Kee. Last weekend, we got more than 100 catty. I feel very grateful that everyone is still willing to keep old rituals and traditional celebrations going. It takes more than one person to keep the flavours of the old town alive. [hr]

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Edwin Lee  – founder of Colour Brown
I have lived in Sai Kung since 1997. I opened Color Brown [in 2005] because I really like drinking coffee. Back then, this street was deserted compared to the way it is now. Before See Cheung Street was made into a pedestrian walkway, Color Brown was often blocked by construction work, a lot of which took place around 2006, and trucks and cars used to park right outside. This lasted for three to four years but is fortunately no longer the case. About 30-40 percent of the shops have changed.

One of the biggest changes is the reduction in number of Chinese medicine shops and traditional shops selling gold accessories. There also used to be quite a few stores selling motors and engines for boats across the street from us, but with the decline of the local fishing industry, we are seeing less of those. One of our first customers is still a regular. We’ve seen his son grow up, get married and have kids of his own – which is quite a special feeling.

G/F, 34 See Cheung Street, Sai Kung

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