Sustainable Future, Hong Kong Tales
KWOK Siu Wing: Made of Metal

KWOK Siu Wing
In his sixties

Operates a metal shop in Ap Lei Chau since 1960s

“Ap Lei Chau used to be an outlaw area. The Wah Ting Street sitting-out area used to be a bunch of betting stalls: Fan-tan, dice, and Pai gow. To the west are wooden shelters all over the hill, to the east is Pearl Cinema. Ap Lei Chau Park used to be a barren ground used for drying fish, mending sails and playing games. At its height, there were over a hundred ship and mechanical factories on the island.

Our family lived in one of two stone houses outside Wah Ting Street. My father wanted me to inherit his noodle-making business. But my butt was not ‘gifted’ enough for kneading the dough. My father also made lotus seed cakes and white sugar cakes; but he made very little money.

I studied in Aplichau Kaifong Primary School, which was the “highest institution”. There were no secondary schools in Ap Lei Chau, and the Kaifong Primary School was situated on top of a hill. Every day, we walked up towards this “highest” school of Ap Lei Chau. I graduated and wanted to become an apprentice at the age of eleven. But the machineries at Ap Lei Chau refused to employ local kids. That’s how I became an apprentice in a metal shop. My parents and master forbid us from smoking. Heroin was everywhere; if you smoked, you would soon take heroin or even opium. There were a lot of drug addicts in Ap Lei Chau.

I began learning about galvanized iron in 1961. Three years later, I explored Hong Kong for a year. I opened my own store in around 1965, and moved to the current shop in 1979. There used to be over ten metal shops in Ap Lei Chau, each with their own customer network. Some shops focused on utensils, others focused on electric boxes. In the beginning, I focused on making “squid barrels”, which allowed the fishermen to keep their fish fresh. We insisted on using metal made in Japan. Each “squid barrel” lasted for at least three years. It was a hot commodity.

The 1980s was the height for metal shops. Everyone was installing new ships; I had over a hundred orders in a year. Our shop was responsible for the oil disc, oil pan, and exhaust pipes of ships. Back then, I still went on different ships to measure their scales. Now I’m old, and my kneecap is hurt. My fellow craftsmen are either retired or dead. I am the only galvanized iron shop left in Ap Lei Chau. Nowadays, I mainly do water sieves, lids and covers. I’ve earned money but I haven’t saved much. There’s nowhere to go if I retire, so I decide to keep my business.

The food in Ap Lei Chau of old were wonderful, there were dai pai dong that served fried pig guts, and restaurants that served fried rice and stewed fish. Ap Lei Chau is all about self-interest nowadays; the district councilors fight for fame and power. I’ve told my property owner: I will return the metal shop if I couldn’t earn enough for the rent. If I retire, I would spend my days in the racecourse with fruits, drinks, and nothing much to worry.” 

Issue: #028 - 1 August 2016
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