Shatin’s Wo Che Market first opened in 1977, and many of the stalls in the market have served the neighbourhood in relative obscurity for many years. Among them is a live chicken stall that is particularly eye-catching. The owner of Hop Lee Poultry, Ho Siu-ming, is constantly working to serve the unending stream of customers who come there to shop.
Through a glass panel, customers indicate their requirements for chicken into a microphone. Ho Siu-ming selects a chicken meeting the requirements and asks the customer to confirm, puts the chicken on a scale and weighs it, and then prepares the chicken at the back of the stall. Ho provides this one-stop service smoothly and proficiently. The process he uses to weigh chickens is particularly notable: he gently stuffs live chickens into a bucket-like container on the scale to prevent the chickens from moving about randomly, making the whole weighing process simple and efficient.
"In the past, the chicken’s feet needed to be tied up first, and then put on a normal scale to be weighed. The process was very troublesome. I made this special scale myself, and I have used it for more than 30 years!" Ho said proudly.
Hop Lee Poultry has been a market mainstay since it opened 43 years ago, with Ho Siu-ming noting that he was a pioneer of Wo Che Market. The stall opens at 8am and closes at 6:30pm daily. Ho has established a deep bond with the neighbours as a result of his dedication. "Sometimes there are long-time customers who forget to bring enough money. I let them pay the next time they come. Some neighbours come to me and share some fruits with me after grocery shopping. This community is very tight-knit!"
Wo Che Market underwent asset enhancement in 2018 by Link. Ho said the market has changed a lot. Not only has air-conditioning been installed, but the passageways have also become brighter and more spacious. After growing together with the market and the neighbours, Hop Lee Poultry has also made many changes in response to the environment. A glass panel is now used to separate customers from the live poultry, and communication with customers is done with microphones – a special measure implemented several years ago by the Government for all live chicken stalls in Hong Kong fresh markets to prevent humans from being infected with the avian influenza virus.
At present, all live chickens available for sale in Hong Kong come from local chicken farms, with the Government imposing a daily clearance arrangement for the live chickens in chicken stalls. When COVID-19 broke out last year, Hop Lee Poultry took the initiative to provide hand sanitiser and cleaning products to customers who bought chickens, so that the neighbours – who are like family members – could shop in a healthy and safe environment.
Hong Kong people like to eat fresh chicken, but for preventing humans from being possibly infected with the avian influenza virus, the Government will not issue new licences for shops to sell live poultry nor will it grant new tenancies for live poultry stalls in public markets. As of 2019, there were only 85 live poultry stalls in public markets in Hong Kong, many of which are family-run businesses like Hop Lee Poultry. Unfortunately for businesses like these, if no immediate family members want to take over, these businesses will disappear as time goes by.
Although Ho Siu-ming, 69 years old this year, has two children, both of them are civil servants and have no intention to take over their father's business. He frankly admitted that few young people want to start working in the industry these days. "I guess I’ll just muddle along until I can’t do it any longer," he said with a shrug.
Until that day comes, Ho hopes to do his best to continue to play a small part in maintaining the fabric of the community and the neighbourhood through his small chicken stall in Wo Che Market.
More and more people are going to the market for groceries and cooking at home during the pandemic. To help shoppers choose and prepare the highest quality fresh chicken, Ho Siu-ming shares the following tips:
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