Oh, you sweet old memories

Shun Lee School Team

Uncle Chan recalls life in Tai Tat Tei in times past to a group of Young Post heritage detectives

Shun Lee School Team |

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"It used to be bustling," says Uncle Chan, who has lived in Possession Street, Sheung Wan, for more than 70 years. "It was called 'Tai Tat Tei' back then."

As the elderly man reminisces about the 1960s, the clock seems to turn back, reshuffling fragmented pieces of memory of nights in Sheung Wan.

Tai Tat Tei was a flea market at night near Possession Street, which was, according to Chan, once crowded with hawkers, dai pai dong and a myriad other stalls.

Hawkers would park their carts along the streets. Right there and then, they would set up their stalls, lay out all the wares, switch on the bulbs and, voila! The market was alive!

The dai pai dong dished out Hong Kong-style fare in large bowls. The food suited the local palate just right, especially for working-class residents. "I used to dine out at the dai pai dong after work," says Chan, who worked in a fruit market near Tai Tat Tei. "It took less than a dollar to fill my rumbling stomach.

"There was chap shui, made up of leftovers from restaurants. That might sound unpalatable, but it was a delicious dish in the eyes of the poor."

Tai Tat Tei also catered to spiritual needs. Lots of fortune-tellers, too, plied their trade there. "Men and women visited the night market to consult fortune-tellers about their romantic prospects," Chan recalls.

Then there were the movies. In his youth, Chan loved to visit the cinema. "I guess you haven't heard of Ko Shing Cinema, have you? It was right there - past that traffic light," he says, pointing in the direction of residential blocks.

"If we wanted to see Chinese opera, we might go to West Cinema in Water Street."

Not that there were fantastic 3D effects or plush armchairs to pull in the crowds. You had to make do with black-and-white films sitting in uncomfortable seats, he says.

"I was a big fan of Helena Law Lan. Most of the time I went to the theatre just to watch her shows," he says, his eyes lighting up at the recollection.

At times, Chan lingered amid the hustle and bustle, the night still young. "Mahjong was one of the leisure activities at night. It was common to kill time at a mahjong club in Kowloon till midnight."

But by the time the game ended, all the ferry piers had closed. "If people needed to cross the harbour, the 'walla-walla' was the only way," he says, recalling the private motorboats that crisscrossed the waters, providing cheap and convenient transport. "It was so named because of the noisy engine."

Back then the tram was the most convenient mode of travel on Hong Kong Island. "There was no turnstile, so people could hop on or off the tram at will. Some of them tried to take a free ride even though each ride cost only a few cents," he recalls.

But Chan's delightful memories are just that: memories. Tai Tat Tei has been transformed into the Hollywood Road Park, frequented by silver-haired residents.

"There are no more hawkers or dai pai dong on Possession Street. The government has cleared them all out because of hygiene problems," Chan says. He grows wistful and adds: "You certainly won't be able to find any of the food we ate decades ago."

This is the last of the six best Heritage Detective series covers written by Hong Kong students. This week's Shun Lee School Team is from Shun Lee Catholic Secondary School, Kwun Tong

Team: Bill Cheung Tsz-shing (leader/writer/photographer); Iris Chung Ka-wing, Shelby Mak Yee-man, Kennis Tsang Yuen-yuen (writers/researchers)