Ship Street Renewal

Ship Street would be different very soon in Wanchai. The Urban Renewal Authority has completed the handover of northern section connected with Johnston Road in early 2003, and relevant refurbishment work has been carried out. Hopewell Holdings has proposed to build a multi-storey hotel, and this has been submitted to the Town Planning Board for discussion.

Ship Street was open for business and boats docked for repairing works. Sailors visited the nearest temple and prayed for peace and prosperity whenever they were back on terra firma. As Hong Kong underwent transformation from a fishing port into a commercial hub, a lot of printing factories and printing firms were established to cope with the increasing demand for paper. Other businesses such as construction companies and forges were also present in Ship Street. The historical background of Ship Street prompted the government to transform Ship Street into a tourist attraction.

In Ship Street, there are 3 distinctive buildings. The three may look alike but they tell their unique stories. The 3 shophouses were built by Mr. Tse Yiu Wah, the owner of Hop Yuen Construction Company. Mr. Tse was the first-ever Chinese property agent conceded with the right to build properties as early as from 1914. All 3 shophouses were handed down to the younger generations for running a lumbering business and a forge. Until taken over by the Urban Renewal Authority in 2002, the 3 generations of the Tse family stayed at No. 18.

Twenty People in a house

What is so memorable about the old house? “The old house was good, and I did not need to go up by lift. Every day I went up and down the stairs several times and my grips on the rails of the staircase have turned it into a smooth armrest-like fabric.”, said Mrs Tse. The smiling face on Mrs Tse suddenly faded and then she went on to say, “there were so many people living in the house that it was very usual to bump into each other either on my way up or down. The shop was on the ground floor and my mother- in- law lived on the second floor. In the beginning, we drilled and rail-guarded a big hole in the centre through which we could have a bird eye’s view of the shop at a glance. I lived with my husband and eight children on the third and fourth floor. We also had five helpers to take care of the children while they were cooking and housekeeping. They all slept in our shop. I like everything from this old house.”

The tallest to the shortest

The children moved out when they grew up. The eldest son became a school principal. The business of Hop Yuen Construction Company was handed over to the second son. Every morning, Mrs Tse always stood on the balcony on the third floor to enjoy the street view. Although our house used to stand the tallest in Ship Street, redevelopment work in the area pulled in skyscrapers to turn it to looking the shortest. “The air that I used to breathe was no longer the same as it was polluted. I had strong sentiments in all the changes as I had got used to living here in the old house.,” sighed Mrs Tse.

Raining season flooded the street and turned it into a waterway playground, where children played and set their toy boats to sail. The Lo Pan festival on 13th June was a conspicuous and notable day for traditional Chinese celebration, and as always, constructors and the like would offer the main dish as a tribute to the meals of neighbour’s children. “My father- in- law, Mr Tse Yiu Wah conducted business initially as a carpenter and moved on to become a constructor. Later on, he also became the first-ever Chinese property agent conceded with the right to build properties at Ship Street from 1914. On the back of business success, he went back to his home town in search of a wife for his eldest son. Two sons and eight daughters were given birth by the couple in the years after,” said Mrs Tse.

“My mother- in- law lived in the old house until she passed away. My husband was born in the old house as well”. Mrs Tse said slowly. The Urban Renewal Authority sent across a representative to lobby Mrs Tse for a long time, because it was not easy to convince the Tse family to stand less firmly by the long-held belief that it would be far better in rather retaining and transforming the old house as either a museum or a restaurant than pulling it down.

An unforgettable group of family members

Towards the end of December 2002 before handing over the house to the government, almost 100 family members returned from overseas. Two tables of feast were set up on each floor for the ritual, and it was such a spectacular occasion that it was broadcasted on TV.

After moving out of the old house, Mrs Tse still lives in Wanchai. Her flat has a spacious balcony decorated with pot plants brought over from the old house, whereas one of her daughters is living downstairs. However, the living space of the new house is smaller than the previous one. “I do not think there is enough room to accommodate the whole family during Chinese New Year. We can only patronise restaurant. Long live the memories of the laughter of my grandsons and daughters under one roof when they were coming over to visit me in each and every other festival,” sighed Mrs Tse.