Historic Hong Kong umbrella stall is torn down for preservation
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on April 6, 2016.
Atop the slopes of Central’s Peel Street, a modest crowd stood admiring a historic umbrella street stall for the last time on Wednesday as it was dismantled to be taken away for preservation.
The stall was the workplace of the late umbrella maker and mender Ho Hung-hee, who died last year at the age of 87 after working there for almost 70 years.
Along with the tools and umbrellas inside, the stall will be taken in by the Hong Kong Museum of History and may become part of a permanent exhibition on local history.
“It’s quite emotional. My father worked here for over 60 years,” said Ho Hee-kee, the umbrella master’s 58-year-old son.
“After working, we would go down the street and drink cane sugar water together before going home.”
The stall was removed because it did not meet the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s fire safety requirements for hawker shops. Ho said it will be replaced with a similar shop run by himself.
As the contractors hammered away, the green metal sheets adorning the walls of the tiny stall were removed to reveal wooden planks with a message handwritten by Ho, who was identified as a master of his craft on the city’s intangible cultural heritage list. It reads: “Repairs umbrellas from all around the world.”
Watching the demolition, Ho Kwok-sing, the master’s seventh son, said he had many sentimental memories of helping out at the stall with his siblings as a child.
His father would always cook lunch with a rice cooker out on the street, he said.
“I was always playing. He would try to teach me, but I had no patience,” he said. “He was very dedicated. Once I saw him work until 10pm. I told him he needed to take better care of himself.”
Lee Tsing-or, the 60-year-old owner of a home-repair shop across the street who knew Ho for several decades, said he was a kind man with many customers.
The stall’s closure is another reflection of the city shifting away from traditional crafts, she added. “We had a good relationship,” she said. “A lot of young people won’t do this line of work any more.”