A day in the busy life of a Hong Kong shop cat

  • Dai Dai and Sai Sai, the ginger-coloured cats of The Broken Desk in Sheung Wan, spend their days taking care of customers
  • Neighbourhood cats help establish a sense of community, says shop owner Martin Leung
Dannie Aildasani |

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Dai Dai and Sai Sai like to sit with customers at The Broken Desk. Photo: Asher Chan

Running a business isn’t easy, especially in Hong Kong, where the city’s sky-high rents and tough competition have collided with months-long anti-government protests and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

No one knows this better than the city’s hardworking shop cats. Three-year-old brothers Dai Dai and Sai Sai are the stars of The Broken Desk, a general store in Sheung Wan that sells custom eyewear and candles and also offers hair salon services. 

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Dai Dai and Sai Sai – whose names mean Big Big and Little Little in Cantonese – devote their days to eating, playing with toys, spending time with shoppers and sitting in the store’s window to attract customers, many of whom live in the neighbourhood and pass by specifically to say “hi” to the cats.

Despite their names, Dai Dai is the smaller cat physically – he gets the “big” name because he has bigger eyes, while Sai Sai’s are smaller. While the cats may look similar, they have very different personalities. 

Martin Leung, the owner of The Broken Desk, says the cats help establish a sense of community in the neighbourhood. Photo: Asher Chan

“Dai Dai is more confident, while Sai Sai takes more time to warm up to people,” said their owner, Martin Leung, who takes care of the day-to-day running of the shop while the cats, when they are not busy with customers, chase their own tails or fall asleep in the warm embrace of a sunbeam. “They’re definitely good customer service managers. They split up the customers; Dai Dai feels more comfortable with men, while Sai Sai likes hanging out with ladies, especially those with long hair.”

“Dai Dai always has to be at eye-level with you,” Leung added. “He will jump on to the table to make sure you’re equal.”

Leung brought the cats to the shop when they were four months old, partly because their ginger colour matches the store’s aesthetic, but also because he already has five older cats at home, and he felt the young brothers would stress them out. He also thought having cats in the shop would make it a more relaxed place where people would want to sit and spend their time. 

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While it began as a general shop, he started offering hair services during the protests, when his neighbours would sometimes be unable to travel far from their homes. 

Dai Dai and Sai Sai go above and beyond while people are getting their done; they sit with the customers and give the stylist instructions in the form of “miaows” or purrs. 

Life as a Hong Kong shop cat can be very busy, but Dai Dai and Sai Sai, as well as Leung, seem to love having the opportunity to establish a sense of community in the neighbourhood. And the pair don’t mind the extra scratches behind their ears. 

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