I lived in Hong Kong from 1980 to 1984 before moving to British Columbia, Canada. I haven’t been back since so when the opportunity came up to visit, I took it! I knew there were many changes in the country since the early ’80’s, so I was interested to see if I still remembered the places that I had frequented when there.
The visit was scheduled over Chinese New Year, which is good in some ways but not so good in other ways. Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday of the year where many businesses and factories close for 2 weeks. (As one taxi driver explained, many factories were closed for longer this year because the contentious trade talk between China and USA had slowed factory production.) But since I was mainly there for family reasons, shopping was not a priority.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the fabric trade was a booming business. Many fabric retail stores lined Nathan Road and they carried everything from cottons to silks to imported woollens and European laces. My family owned three stores; Gala Fabrics Ltd, Illinois and Fourseas Silk Company. Fourseas Silk Company was the largest as it occupied 3 floors in a building on the corner of Nathan Road and Tak Shing Street. I remember playing hide and seek with my siblings among the stacks of fabric and watching the pretty ladies come in and be served tea while they shopped. The city later laid claim to some of the ground floor and basement to provide access for the then new MTR station. The building still stands however, the fabric business has moved to a second floor location on the corner of Nathan Road and Austin Road. I would have liked to go inside to see if I recognized anything, but the current tenant of that space was closed for the holidays.
As is the situation in the West, there are few fabric stores left in Hong Kong. There may be some located in the Sham Shui Po district but everything was closed when I went to check. The family still has a presence in the rag trade in Hong Kong. The current store is Gala Fabrics Ltd located at 186 Nathan Road. It is located on the second floor and carries a selection of silks and fancy laces. Sorry, no quilting cottons here. Instead, this store caters to people requiring fancy gala outfits as there is also an onsite tailor who is knowledgeable in both Western and Asian design.
My eldest uncle is the patriarch of the fabric business however he is no longer active as a business person. He focuses his time on his philanthropic endeavours as he is an active member of Rotary International, the Scout Association of Hong Kong, the Police Auxillary Force, the Junior Police Corp., the Hong Kong Buddist Association as well as the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. But he loves to throw a party! Here, we are enjoying a Chinese New Year feast at the store.
We also got to watch the fireworks celebrating Chinese New Year. However, with the smog in the air and the residual smoke from the fireworks, the sky became so murky, you couldn’t see the light display!
A novel and exciting experience for me personally was going to visit my grandparents’ graves. Traditionally, the girls do not visit as it was the boy’s duty. Even though my father is the youngest of seven, he is the only son who has children. As far as I know, my aunts and therefore their children, my cousins either male or female, have not visited the graves. Gotta love patriarchal laws! However, that ‘rule’ has been relaxed recently since many families do not have sons, especially since the Chinese one child policy. Little did I know I would have to gird my loins to access the graves since we had to climb all over different areas of the cemetery! I’m not sure if I could find the graves by myself, but thankfully, my cousin knows.
We had the opportunity to visit our old residence. Located in the hills of Hong Kong Island, Braemar Hills was where we called home. And it hasn’t really changed in the years since. The surrounding area has developed a lot though; new schools, more apartment buildings, an increased shopping area.
A huge change that bought bittersweet memories is of the old airport, Kai Tak International. Located in the middle of Kowloon City on a finger of reclaimed land, Kai Tak was an exhilarating experience for the air traveller. And a grey hair inducing experience for the pilot, I’m sure. Afterall, its nickname was Kai Tak Heart Attack.
I remember being able to look into people’s apartments and watch their TV shows as the plane came in to land. Or older gentlemen doing tai chi on their balconies. Don’t believe me on how close the planes came to buildings? Check out the pictures in this article! But as with any growing city, the airport became too small to handle the air traffic and was decommissioned in July 1998. Now it acts as a cruise ship terminal.
What fun it was to visit all these places. And even some of the fashion choices have come back! Leggings and ripped jeans to name a few!
If you get the chance to visit Hong Kong but are dreading the 14 hour flight time, try a business class seat in Hong Kong Airlines. Talk about luxury! I have travelled business class before with other airlines, but that usually involved a slightly wider seat. What I got with Hong Kong Airlines was a fully reclining chair with a lap quilt, real silverware with my meal and my own TV/movie screen. Those 14 hours just flew by! I definitely recommend it. Bon voyage!