22 October 2016
Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter: Would the government be able to revive the charm of a bygone era? Photos: Wikimedia,
Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter: Would the government be able to revive the charm of a bygone era? Photos: Wikimedia,

The folly of reviving sampan rides and floating restaurants

With the construction of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass entering its final stage, the Development Bureau has put forward an ambitious plan for a promenade on the nearly 5-kilometer stretch of the Hong Kong Island harborfront.

One of the five proposals is the revitalization of the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, which aims to revive good old memories of sampan rides and dining on floating restaurants.

However, isn’t this all wishful thinking on the part of the authorities?

In order for a cultural phenomenon to go viral, its impact on society and the market should be taken into consideration. When conditions change, the hype would lose its foundation and soon be forgotten.

The once vibrant nightlife at the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is one such example.

Its prime was during the 1960s and 1970s. Those were the summer days when Hongkongers loved to go out in the evening for some sea breeze to cool themselves.

The sampans provided food and drinks, and there were street singers to regale the diners every night.

Today’s society is completely different from what it was back then.

Free television was not available until 1968. Air-conditioning was a luxury. Taking an evening stroll on the waterfront was then considered the best pastime.

It is something that the younger generation would not be able to understand; they did not experience it at all.

In this digital era, when everyone has a smartphone in hand, surfing the internet is the one and only leisure activity for most people.

Few would even turn on their television set to watch scheduled programs.

Would they really bother to go out for a sampan ride in the harbor?

Meanwhile, running sampan services is not cheap. At least two people are required to operate one small sampan.

And don’t forget, the business at sea largely depends on the weather.

Typhoons in the summer or chilly winds in the winter would scare customers away.

Hygiene in a small floating restaurant could be quite awful, and all that cooking would inevitably add to the pollution in the harbor.

Would people of today be able to stand all these unwelcome factors?

My point is simply this: the public determined the birth and death of sampan-related entertainment, but the proposed revival of that bygone era is spearheaded by the authorities.

I doubt if this top-down decision-making process would work, especially if it is carried out by senior government officials who apparently hasn’t learned their lesson from the unsuccessful project at Sheung Wan Gala Point — an amusement park cum bazaar launched in October 2003 — which was intended to boost tourism and the economy after the SARS outbreak.

Tai tat dei (night bazaar) had been a local institution since the 1840s, but it died a natural death in the 1980s.

The 2003 version was simply not quite the same when it was recreated by the government, and it didn’t surprise many when the project faded into oblivion.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

EJI Weekly Newsletter