From the late 19th century, reliable, inexpensive, year-round refrigeration and cold storage completely transformed the world. Perishable goods could be transported further and kept for longer, which in turn reduced their cost and enhanced availability. Seasonality was prolonged and cross-cultural dietary change dramatically accelerated. Closely connected to this transformation was the rise of domestic refrigeration. The humble fridge, now taken for granted in homes all over the world, was once a coveted, highly priced status symbol. For decades, a large Frigidaire or other (preferably American) brand enjoyed local snob value, taking pride of place in the living room. Like other manufactured goods, such things were regarded as almost a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, and were kept as well-polished as any piece of heirloom furniture. A farewell to Ah Kam, and an ode to domestic workers everywhere In the post-war years, for newcomers to Hong Kong – and other parts of the region – the seemingly incongruous sight of a massive, gleaming American refrigerator humming away in the sitting-room corner, often garnished with a crocheted cover and a vase of artificial flowers on the top, was yet another aspect of local life that took some getting used to and then, eventually, became too commonplace for comment. Such arrangements were particularly obvious in Chinese, local Portuguese, Eurasian and Indian households; as a general rule, Europeans tended not to keep the fridge in the living room, unless there was simply no space in the kitchen. Among this demographic, other electrical goods – the latest radiogram, in particular – were more highly sought after as displays of status than an oversized refrigerator. Until relatively recent times, most Hong Kong kitchens were basic, workaday places where charcoal or kerosene smoke, grease and cooking fumes were the norm – and many remain so. In such an environment, a streamlined, American-style fridge, with polished chrome details, would quickly become discoloured, and risked being chipped or stained. In the days before widespread use of plastics and aluminium, steel-framed, zinc-lined refrigerators were also heavy – once these items were in place, they were almost never moved again. Into the 1950s, some households kept both an old-fashioned, zinc-lined icebox in the kitchen, for storage of daily-use perishables, and the electric-powered status symbol in the living room. Proximity to the hostess also meant that expensive, perishable items were within easy reach, and could be served personally, rather than summoned from the kitchen. Another remarked-upon local feature was the lock and key on the refrigerator door. This meant that high-priced items – imported cheese and other dairy products, ice cream, drinks mixers and certain kinds of alcohol, especially beer – were kept safe from possible pilfering by servants. Housewives kept the fridge key on their own domestic keychain – along with those of any other locked drawer. In her semi-autobiographical novel A Many-Splendoured Thing (1952), Eurasian author Han Suyin crisply describes the Kowloon flat of Shanghai émigré friends in the late 40s, and the material possessions that distinguished their home from others in Hong Kong during that period. The Shanghainese apartment was “[…] bright with neon lighting, and shining modern furniture. There is of course an air conditioner, and two radios and a Frigidaire”. The fact that the icebox (and the brand) was mentioned at all – along with the other movable, big-ticket, electric items – clearly indicated that such unusual luxury, in Hong Kong at that time, was worth remarking upon. As homes steadily shrunk by the 70s, domestic refrigerators became correspondingly smaller. Like much else in Hong Kong’s everyday life, this downsizing was led by the example of Japan, where small living spaces meant correspondingly diminutive consumer appliances. Across Asia, purchase of perishables was done every few days – unlike in North America, where enormous fridge-freezers accommodated household grocery shopping done a week or two in advance of consumption.