“I went to Sham Shui Po today,” I said proudly.
“What? What is there in Sham Shui Po?” was the wide-eyed and bewildered response I received. I don’t blame him. Ask any other Centralite or even your average Hong Kong eighteen to forty year-old and you would have gotten the same blank stare.
I don’t blame them. Having lived in Hong Kong almost all my life my trips to Sham Shui Po had been confined to “bead” shopping in my teens and more haberdashery sourcing many years later. That anything else interesting existed in Sham Shui Po just never occurred to me.
Thanks to the Taiwanese published book “Little Trip in Hong Kong” (香港小旅行), the other day I ventured deep into Sham Shui Po’s Sang Kee Watch Shop. To be in the presence of Mr. Ng and his fifty-year old shop, underneath the rickety staircase of a sixty-year old “tong lou” building on Castle Peak Road, is like walking back in time. In the display windows are laid, rather forlornly, thousands of antique watches, many often new. Behind the counter are chipped, worn and rusty tools that looked at least as old as the shop itself.
We walked into the shop speaking Mandarin. Mr. Ng seemed to have found his entertainment for the day, belting out greetings excitedly in his heavily accented Putonghua while producing one recommendation after another. His watches, we were told, were mostly inherited from his father, a skilled watch repairman in the sixties, and dug out from derelict watch factories in Switzerland and Japan.
“You see the craftsmanship in these watches? Here, feel that smoothness? You don't get that anymore these days la, everything is fast fast fast, conveyor belt style, nobody cares about the craftsmanship anymore,” sighed Mr. Ng.
How true. Mr. Ng later told us that it took him two years to learn how to fix a clock, and another three to repair watches from his father. Today, fixing watches for the local community still represents a major part of his income, and often takes at least ten minutes for a HK$20-30 dollar job. In order to cut down on costs and to prevent the watches from being burgled, Mr. Ng literally confined his whole world into this tiny, 20-30 sq. ft. space by choosing to sleep here at night.
“Rent in Hong Kong is getting more and more expensive you know – it’s the Mainlanders! They’re buying up all our property so that there’s nothing left for us!” Mr. Ng said in an animated mock whisper.
Indeed Hong Kong might be bought up by the Mainland Chinese, but our spirit will never falter, like that of Mr. Ng. Leaving his shop and heading towards Cheung Fat dai pai dong with a beautiful antique watch in hand, I started to appreciate a new meaning in the term 安居樂業 (to live and work in peace and contentment).