Many Hong Kong people love to eat seafood. Whether on New Year’s Day or another holiday, or simply at a gathering with friends, fish, shrimp and crab can always be found on the table. However, with the price of seafood varying daily, how can consumers find the best prices? Take a neighbourhood like Sau Mau Ping as an example: while it’s far from the coast in the mid-levels of Kwun Tong, local residents can buy economical and fresh seafood here. How, you ask? Thanks to local vendors like Li Hing Seafood, a seafood stall in Sau Mau Ping Market that focuses on neighbourhood business, customers can find fresh, affordable seafood right in their own backyard! Take one look at the unending stream of customers who come there to shop, and you can see why this neighbourhood stall has developed such a loyal following.
Li Hing Seafood comprises two stalls – one on either side of an aisle at Sau Mau Ping Market – selling different kinds of seafood and chilled fish. The owner, Lau Shu-cheong, carefully selects the seafood at both stalls according to his customers' preferences and requirements. “I began my business at Sau Mau Ping Market when it was established in 2003. In the beginning, we only had one stall selling chilled fish. In recent years, some stalls closed down and left the market. I thought that since I had been operating my chilled fish business for many years, I might as well try fresh seafood as well! So I rented one of these newly vacant stalls to expand my business,” he said.
Lau Shu-cheong began his fresh seafood business in 2019, but it was not all smooth sailing at first. “I experienced SARS when I just started the chilled fish business in 2003, and experienced the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after I started the fresh seafood business in 2019.” Lau Shu-cheong's entrepreneurial experience has enabled him to keep pace with the ups and downs of the Hong Kong economy. His success can be partly attributed to his attitude that “crisis brings opportunities”, which equips him with an optimism that helps him solve any problem he encounters. “When COVID-19 first broke out early last year, I felt a bit clueless, as my fresh seafood business had just started. But I quickly realised that because of the pandemic and the related measures, people dared not to go out to eat. On the contrary, more people came to the fresh market to buy seafood, which enabled me to get my business slowly back on track.”
As a stall operator for nearly 20 years, Lau Shu-cheong is always open to new developments and innovations, such as the new e-payment system installed at the stall at the beginning of this year. This new system has several advantages. If regular customers do not bring enough cash to buy seafood, they can now pay using their mobile phone. Additionally, since the gloves used to handle seafood are often wet and dirty, e-payment makes transactions less messy and more hygienic. These adaptations have contributed to the continuous development of the business.
From selling chilled fish only to selling fresh seafood too, and from running one stall to running two stalls, Li Hing Seafood’s business has been growing step by step in the nearly 20 years since it opened. Lau Shu-cheong humbly stated the key to his success: diligence! “Every day I call the Cheung Sha Wan Wholesale Fish Market at around 4 or 5 am to reserve my daily haul, drive to the fish market at around 5:30 am, pick up the goods at 6 am and deliver them back to my stalls at the fresh market, and then repeat the same process at the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market. My stalls open at around 1 to 2 pm in the afternoon, and close at 8 pm in the evening. I work almost 16 hours a day!” His devotion to hard work stems from his experience of striving to earn a living when he was young.
Born into a poor family in the Mainland, Lau Shu-cheong moved to Hong Kong in 1979 when he was about 18 years old. At the time, he lived in a small room with six brothers and held down two jobs, doing cement work during the day and smelting stainless steel at a plant in Kwai Chung at night. His father was engaged in fishing-related work, so he knew how to handle seafood from a young age and later began working in a seafood shop. Relying on his will to fight and endure, Lau Shu-cheong slowly developed his own business. Indeed, his own journey is a vivid portrayal of countless hard-working Hong Kong people.
Even though he has been working hard for more than 40 years, Lau Shu-cheong remains committed to his hands-on approach to purchasing and selling, and his stall remains open throughout the year. “I open the stall when typhoon signal no. 8 is hoisted, and I have no rest even on Chinese New Year's Eve!” Because of his friendliness and honesty over the years, he has developed strong relationships with his regular customers, giving him the motivation to continue. One time, the stall was open during a holiday period, and one of his loyal customers brought him some soup she had made. “When I am exhausted, I think of the friendships I have with all my regular customers. Because of that, even if I open the stall earlier or close it later, I do not feel so tired!”
Although his son and daughter are both grown up and he himself has reached retirement age, Lau Shu-cheong does not want to retire. The most important reason for operating the stall is for his family. “Originally I ran my business to help support my family, but now I work to not be a financial burden on my children. Due to this reason, I will keep working hard! If I work for three more years, that’s three more years of less pressure on them, so they will be less stressed.” The grey-haired man showed a fatherly smile on his determined face.
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