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Ageing society

Making Hong Kong shops more elderly friendly an uphill task, says prize-winning locksmith

Cheng Shek-yu, 65, given award for going extra mile to help older customers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 10:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 2:24pm

Hong Kong has a long way to go towards forging a commercial environment friendly to senior citizens, said a locksmith who recently received an award for running his district’s most elderly-friendly shop.

“Some shops would rather have no elderly customers to save trouble,” said Cheng Shek-yu, 65, who has been based in Shun Tin Estate, Kwun Tong, for more than three decades.

The locksmith, who stood out from a list of 109 competitors, was pessimistic about persuading more business owners to follow his example.

The search for the most elderly-friendly shop began last May as part of a one-year programme by the Christian Family Service Centre aiming to promote the idea among business operators in Kwun Tong.

Some 17.2 per cent of the district’s population is aged 65 and above, the highest proportion among the 18 districts in Hong Kong, according to the 2016 population by-census.

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Granted HK$27,920 by the Social Welfare Department’s Opportunities for the Elderly project, the programme also conducted a survey among 400 senior citizens and compiled 10 suggestions for shops to make them more elderly friendly.

These included using price tags with larger characters and numbers, providing patient and detailed explanations – especially those related to illnesses and the usage of electronics – and allowing purchases in smaller portions, such as 0.25kg of vegetables.

Resident Chui Yu-tsui, 71, who nominated Cheng for the award, said the locksmith had gone the extra mile for older customers in her neighbourhood.

“Besides fixing the locks, he helped us to mend other facilities such as the water taps or the toilets, and sometimes charged nothing for the extra service,” Chui said, adding that Cheng often patiently explained how to maintain the appliances to avoid the need for frequent repair.

Cheng said one of the things that motivated him was a sense of his community’s decline.

“Thirty years ago, fewer than 10 people a month would come and ask me to unlock their doors, but now I receive these requests almost every single day,” the locksmith said, recalling the times when an old man lying on the floor after a stroke – or even a dead body – awaited behind the doors he unlocked.

Cheng said his peers and family members often made fun of him for providing free additional services for aged customers.

It’s not because I don’t like money. But more money can’t buy a more ample life for a mortal man like me.
– Cheng Shek-yu, locksmith

“It’s not because I don’t like money,” Cheng said. “But more money can’t buy a more ample life for a mortal man like me.”

Cheng said part of the problem was that shop rent in general had been going up, while retail space in public estates, where a large number of lower-income residents live, had been taken up and gentrified by LinkReit, Asia’s biggest real estate investment trust.

“Unless [business owners] are willing to serve the elderly, otherwise it would be hard to incentivise the profit chasers to be nice,” Cheng said.

Vivian Lou Wei-qun, director of the Sau Po Centre on Ageing at the University of Hong Kong, said that instead of asking businesses to treat older customers better, district leaders, such as the councillors, could start by looking to provide services necessary for the elderly.

“If the district leaders could save some time from counting their votes or quarrelling for promoting elderly-friendly elements among shops and malls in their communities, the silent majority would be better cared for,” she said.

Lou said that in a money-oriented city like Hong Kong, it would not be realistic for business owners to slow down or charge older customers less. But she said she believed that at least two out of every 10 shopkeepers would be willing to put in some extra effort if told what the elderly needed.