Greedy landlords and worship of luxury goods are killing best of old Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 3:51am


Another Hong Kong-style restaurant bites the dust. Ngau Kee Food Cafe, which has been serving neighbours and office workers in Sheung Wan and Central for 62 years, said farewell to its last customers on Sunday, another casualty of landlords seeking higher rents and more prestigious tenants.

The cha chaan teng shared the fate of the Czarina Restaurant, a localised Russian eatery that served rich Borscht soup and steaks to faithful customers in Mid-Levels for half a century before closing in February. Czarina's landlord took advantage of the property boom and sold it for a record sum.

In January, Lei Yuen Congee Noodles in Causeway Bay - famous for its wonton noodles, pork liver congee and rice dumplings - closed after the monthly rent doubled to HK$600,000.

Ngau Kee's operator, Mak Ping-keung, said his landlord refused to renew his HK$49,000 lease for the 1,300 sq ft restaurant. The site can easily fetch a much higher rent.

It sits in Gough Street, an area that used to house many popular restaurants. But upmarket boutiques and houseware shops have moved in and displaced them in recent years. Old-style shops have closed or moved far away to escape skyrocketing rental prices in Central.

Many of the best-known shops and restaurants, the ones that have come to define old Hong Kong, have been forced out of business. They are rapidly being replaced by brand-name boutiques and high-end luxury shops. At this rate, Hong Kong will soon become another generic, antiseptic Asian city with little character of its own.

Luxury mall operators, developers and landlords are reaping enormous profits, but at the expense of killing what makes our city unique and interesting. Every world-class city has its own character. It is such intangibles that make a city great rather than just another modern city. It's sad that many Asian cities, including Hong Kong, worship luxury goods and brand names, mistaking them for true prosperity and modernity.