Encore SIN Pui On
Lived in Aberdeen for over six decades
Operated a cha chaan teng on Tung Shing Road
“My life has been rooted in Aberdeen ever since birth. My family moved from the harbour to our residence in Tung Shing Road, where we founded Hong Kong’s first cha chaan teng. Our family’s previous two generations also lived in Aberdeen; we had a big family with seven sons and one daughter. We made a living by trading with the fishermen. During Japanese occupation, our boats were conscripted to help the soldiers deliver food to Macau. After the War, our family continued its fisheries and “Dance Hall Boat” (Go Tong Boats) business.* Once, my uncle dragged a naval mine away from the harbour on a sampan. He was even awarded a medal of honour by the British Government. It was a good time.
In the sixties, after receiving my primary education, I left school for work. My boss loved photography; I too developed an interest after seeing a lot of great pictures in salon booths. My boss lent me HK$500, which was about a few months age for an average worker. I bought my first camera and began learning photography. I became the youngest member of a salon, and my pictures were once exhibited in City Hall. When I turned seventeen, I wanted to join Shaw Brothers as an apprentice. But my mom urged me to help out at our family cha chaan teng. I then left photography behind for the next dozen of years.
Since our family operated a floating restaurant, we had a good relationship with the Health Bureau. My father was able to open the first cha chaan teng in all of Hong Kong. In the beginning, we experimented with everything we could think of. We served Chinese tea, set menus, but also the soup of sea snakes (coastal taipan). I still remember the lead box we used to house the snakes, with small holes up front for them to breathe. We sold the genuine snake soup for a few dollars.
Over a decade passed with me in charge of the cha chaan teng. Business became difficult because of rising labour costs, so in 1988 I decided to end our business. There were no nostalgic visits back then, only some old customers who bemoaned one less place for them to pass their time. Our cha chaan teng was known for its good food because we insisted on using fresh meat. Just the other day, a kaifong told me he still remembered our sumptuous fried noodles with beef.
One day in the 1990s, I came across a picture of Aberdeen’s 1960s night view in a salon in Causeway Bay. The pictures I took in the old days of Aberdeen immediately sprang to my mind. I returned home and retrieved some negatives and small photos still in good condition. Later on, I managed to collect more files, photos, and histories and Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau from old friends and customers.
I remember that Ap Lei Chau was a no man’s island back in those years. Prostitution, drugs, and gambling were everywhere. Normal people never approached Ap Lei Chau. But I was a kaifong; whenever I needed a picture, I boarded a sampan to Ap Lei Chau. Main street start and finish was full of great snapshots. No one thought anything special about Aberdeen’s views back then. There was little change in the 1960s and 70s. By the 80s, the pace sped up. When you think of photographing a place, usually the bulldozer already visited, demolishing the old place with a few swings.”
**Note: “Dance Hall Boats” are boats that offered dancing and banquet services. According to Encore Sin, floating restaurants in Aberdeen goes back to the “Dance Hall Boats” along the coast of Guangzhou.