Urban Diary
未來故事 永續香港|Sustainable Future, Hong Kong Tales

James CHOW Kee Chung: From the Boat to Real Estate

James CHOW Kee Chung
61 years old
Property Agent
Born in a boat family, lives in Aberdeen

“According to our birth certificates, my wife and I were treated by the same midwife. There were no hospitals back then, and newborn babies had to leave after two days. The boat people didn’t know many words, so they usually named their babies based on the day of the month. But the boat people have two names. The first name is by birth; and the second name is bestowed upon marriage.

We aren’t really fishermen. My father was in the “guard boat” business. Our ship had a metal canon in the early years, and boats with valuables paid us for protection along the Yangjiang and Fujian waters. Our ancestors came from Zhongshan; but life got difficult and they moved to Yangjiang. After 1949, my father shipped our family to Hong Kong. We arrived first in Tap Mun, before settling in Aberdeen.

My brother began working in a gravel plant in Hong Kong. But my father wanted him to set an example by doing business. That’s how my brother began his ice boat business. He bought ice from Dairy Farm, and sold it to the outgoing fishing boats. My other brother began his shrimp boat business. By the 1970s, my brother switched from ice boat into oil wholesale. By then, he had built up a solid network of fishermen. He was the first person to operate a metal boat selling oil along the harbour.

I’m lucky because, as the youngest son, I didn’t really help out on boats. I studied in a traditional academy for a few years, before entering the newly established Chiu Sheung Primary School. The happiest moment in my life was when I found out I got into St. Peter’s Secondary School. I finished form seven, and helped out at my brother’s oil boat business.

Our profit margin began to fall after a few years because of the declining fisheries market. Off-plan property sales became popular in Mei Foo and Tai Koo, and swept to Chi Fu and Aberdeen Centre. An idea rolled right off my brother’s head, and we began representing the boat people in property sales. I drove the boat people to law firms for their transfer procedures. At our best, the Wong Chuk Hang, Pok Fu Lam, and Aberdeen market belonged to us. Later on, the big firms came in, and we saw our business split and divided.

My wife (who was my girlfriend back then) used to work in an electronics factory. Hundreds of factory women got off work together. If I didn’t pay attention, I’d lose sight of her and get scolded. After the demolishment of Island Theatre and Gay Theatre, we had to go to Causeway Bay for a film. I earned $800 a month back then; the tickets cost $20, and there was also dinner. We went to Maison Rouge which was opposite Daimaru. The set dinner cost us $98. After dinner, we went home by bus. That was our first date."