A promising clue in the search by a kidnap victim for his long-lost brothers may have come to a dead end in the fading memory of an 81-year-old man.
Chan Yuk-kwong, now 83, had hoped Yu Yuk was his boyhood friend "So Ha", whom he played with around Central before he was captured and spirited to the mainland seven decades ago. Yu, however, cannot recall.
Kidnapped in 1942 - an elderly man searches for his brothers
"Of course I can't remember," Yu says impatiently of his possible friendship with Chan, whose nickname was Ha Chai. "That was so long ago."
The trail led to Yu after media reports late last year of Chan's return to Hong Kong and quest to find his brothers Chan Yuk-fai, born in 1936, and Chan Yuk-bing, born in 1938.
In interviews, Chan recalled playing with his brothers around Central Market, and having fights with "So Ha", the son of a fruit-stall owner he referred to as "the fat guy", and an elder brother.
Tips came in that there was a stall on Graham Street in Central called So Ha Choi Tong (So Ha vegetable stall), where an elderly man was often seen sitting.
Yu told the South China Morning Post that "So Ha" was his nickname and everyone called him Yu So-ha instead of his real name. He has lived in Central since childhood but cannot remember his old address.
He said he could not remember what happened in his childhood, let alone Chan, although a daughter said she thought it was possible her father was Chan's childhood friend because the names were "so special".
Yu's wife said that he had an elder brother, Fuk-wah, who died about three years ago aged nearly 90, but her husband did not tell her much about his past.
Until he was kidnapped in 1942 and sold to a mainland family who wanted a son, Chan lived with his brothers at his uncle's home on Tung Man Street, which was demolished in the 1990s to make way for skyscrapers, including The Center.
The Hong Kong Red Cross, which receives an average of 220 inquiries for help on missing persons every year, says about 35 per cent of these searches will end happily but the longer the two parties are separated, the more difficult it will be.
Red Cross emergency service manager Fifi Tsoi Ngan-ling said similar cases came in every year, although she cannot give an exact number. "The second world war affected a large number of people here," added Tsoi.
"The economic environment was very bad. It was natural that human trafficking was rampant."
Among the 29 stories on the Red Cross website, five are similar to Chan's - elderly people sold into the mainland in the 1940s or 1950s, who have approached the organisation for help to find relatives.
Tsoi said although it is less likely for these people to find loved ones, the organisation previously helped a 90-year-old woman find her 89-year-old brother after 74 years.
Chan, whose mainland name is Zheng Zhougan, was sent to hospital after the Hong Kong trip, suffering from a stomach perforation.
His 39-year-old son, Zheng Xinjian, said he had since recovered and gone home. Zheng, who has come to Hong Kong three times for the search, says he will carry on. "I know it's a blind search," he said at his home in Jiangxi . "But as his closest son, the best I can do is give it my all to help."
Zheng says that he is now seeking help from Tung Wah Hospital, where Chan and his brothers were born, as well as the Red Cross.