Photo essay: shutters come down on a much loved Hong Kong food stall

Customers were in tears after eating for the final time at their favourite lunch place, whose husband and wife owners had served some of them since it opened on a Tai Po housing estate in 1986. Antony Dickson chronicles the poignant last hours at Hap Wah

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:32am

The roof was of corrugated tin, and big metal fans hung from it to cool diners eating alfresco beneath a tarpaulin in summer. It looked like so many old-style Hong Kong food stalls, but to the people of Tai Po’s Fu Shin Estate the Hap Wah dai pai dong was a last reminder of how things were when they moved there, some of them as far back as 1986 when the estate – and Hap Wah – opened.

Down the years they had seen adjoining noodle and congee shops close one by one, but as Lok Chan, who’s been going there since he was three years old, said through tears this week: “I never expected that one day it would be Hap Wah’s turn to close.” But close it has, after nearly 30 years in business, its husband-and-wife owners Chow Cheng-tei and Chan Man-ying unable to afford the HK$3 million it would have cost them to renovate, as landlord The Link required and as the next-door food stall had done, turning into an ordinary tea house with French windows and glazed tiles.

Loyal customers were there one last time on Tuesday, and broke into applause when last orders were called at 1.45pm – customers like Rinki Chan Tsz-yan, 23, whose family moved into the estate when she was a young child.

“I used to go with my mum to the dai pai dong all the time. The owner’s wife remembered diners’ names and always asked us how we were when we ate there. She still remembers my name. So I came back to say goodbye to them.”

Lok Chan said: “The owner’s wife, Sister Ying ... was like family. She gave me lai see every lunar new year. Where else can you find people like this who run a neighbourhood restaurant with such heart?”

With the closure of Hap Wah go the jobs of its 20 staff. “For the time being, our boss doesn’t know what he will do next. But the staff here will lose their jobs,” said a waiter who gave his name as Chow and who’s lived on the estate since 1986. He regrets the number of familiar faces now gone from Fu Shin.

“Many people who once operated mom-and-pop stores are gone. Yes, the shopping facilities are smarter since The Link took over, with air conditioning and stuff. But do public housing tenants really need those? I’d rather have the original shops with fewer facilities but a strong sense of neighbourhood.”