There’s a popular dai pai dong on Gough Street, NoHo, that smells of tomato soup and serves up great fast food. Sing Heung Yuen is always packed, but like the city’s other such eateries, its days are numbered thanks to a government policy that means the license is terminated when the license holder dies. This doesn’t seem to bother the owner’s daughter, Irene Li, who talks to HK as she makes toast, mixes milk tea and dishes out noodle soup. HK Magazine: Why did you decide to work in a dai pai dong? Irene Li: My parents are the license holders, and I started working here in Form 3. In those days, it was normal for children to help their parents. I have 11 siblings, and some came over to help out from time to time. But I became the one who took over the stall. HK: Will your own children help you out in the future? IL: I have a 19-year-old daughter but she’s becoming a vet. This is not a place for the young generation. In my time, you could always survive if you work hard. But now you need a good job at a reputable company to gain a foothold in society. I was taught to save a dollar for every dollar I earned, but now you need to make quick money to be successful. Even here I can tell the changes: the neighborhood used to be friendly, but now when I try to touch a newborn baby some customers say, “Are your hands clean enough?” People have become wary of each other. My daughter is more adaptable to the new world so she should experience her own life. HK: Do you live nearby? IL: Yes, just opposite. Sing Heung Yuen used to be in Elgin Street, where I was born and raised. So my life has always been in SoHo. I was born in the kitchen of our flat, I guess that’s the reason I’ve worked in a kitchen all my life. I also met my husband here: he used to sit on the stairway and stare at me all the time. He was 12 years older than me; I was only 14 when I met him. We went out when I turned 18. When I was young I wasn’t good looking; now I’m way prettier. HK: What's best about NoHo life? IL: I’m glad to be here, because you get to know and talk to a lot of people. I love talking. You know, as a woman, you really need to share your emotional frustrations with others to make you feel better. This is the place to meet kind-hearted people. You see someone come here as a student, then as a lawyer, and then with his wife and kids, and tell them stories about this dai pai dong. You see people’s life cycle and you become part of it too. HK: Would you fight to keep this dai pai dong? IL: No, I won’t. The law’s there and I don’t want to do deal with any legislation. They have their reasons to close down dai pai dongs. Sometimes I feel it will be a pity, but maybe I am just being too nostalgic. I don’t think I could do anything with it, after all. You can’t compete to have a longer life than the law and keep criticizing it. There’s no way I could win. Speak out about what I think is fair? People speak out about June 4 every year but you don’t see any democratic developments. I reckon I should just enjoy my time here.