Behind the catering: traditional handicraft is suffering from the protest

Hong Kong markets were rocked by a 16th consecutive weekend of protests, with the unrest showing no signs of abating. Among all commercial industries, the Food & Beverage industry is also under hit.

Mr. WONG Ka-wo, President of Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades estimated that the catering sector has lost about 7.5 billion with more than 200 restaurants closed down from July to August due to the shrinking tourism and unaffordable rent.

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Behind the catering: traditional handicraft is suffering from the protest.

Behind the catering, some localized hand-makers that support the food chains, are also feeling the pain and considering leaving. Some traditional techniques that are unique to Hong Kong are endangered. Tuck Chong Sum Kee, originated from 1850 in Guangzhou, is one of the last places in Hong Kong that makes bamboo steamer by hand. With only two small stores located in Western Street, it takes over half of the bamboo steamer market in Hong Kong and 70% overseas. 

Mr Lam
Mr. Lam makes the final touches on his handmade bamboo steamers before preparing them for shipment. Photo: Meg Hobson

Mr. Lam brothers are the fifth generation but now the only successors. None of their offspring touch upon on this field since the 1980s. ‘The time has changed’, said Mr. Lam Jik Hung in an interview we conducted in this March, ‘the steamers are no longer profitable, and it is too time-consuming.’ Despite the loyal customers and the increasing coverage in media, the age has stopped them from continuing.

Mr, Lam’s store is right in front of Western Police Station, and he witnessed the escalating anti-government protests in the past three months, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to regions such as mainland China.

‘I felt disheartened, all I want now is to retire and get away from the violence,’ said Mr. Lam. Meanwhile, his orders are decreasing with the revenue downturn in local restaurants. ‘Now I’m more determined to leave.’


Lin Heung Kui, a renowned Cantonese restaurant, also Mr.Lam’s main buyer, has its turnover plunged by 30 percent. 

Prior to the protest, Mr. Lam has already noticed that many restaurants are struggling to survive because of the high rent, which hinders his profitability. But the relentless protests almost bring them to die. CNN Business reported that last week restaurants are laying off workers and forcing them to take unpaid leave. In August, the airport has seen a passenger decline of 12.4% compared to the same period last year, it’s the most significant monthly drop in travelers since 2009.


Tuck Chong Sum Kee will soon become a memory

‘Although we have gone through many hard times, from SARS in 2003 to Occupy Central in 2014, which are as tougher as this time,’ said Mr. Lam, ‘but still, it’s time for us to go.’

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Norman Chan, warned that the Hong Kong economy faces additional headwinds because of three months of protests and predicted that the territory’s economy contracted in the third quarter. The food, retail, and tourism are indeed under severe strike, and sadly we will never bring these traditions handicraft back.

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