A master chef famous for his generosity to his kai fong (neighbors) in Po Lam will mark the 30th month of his business venture on a high note this week.
Two and a half years ago, Lam Kam-wing retired as Chinese barbecue meat cook at Tai Hing Restaurant and decided to become his own boss. Uncle Wing, as he is fondly called, put up a small food stall specializing in Chiuchow-style marinated goose at a wet market in Po Lam.
At 67, he soon realized that kitchen work is a tough job if you do everything by yourself. But, of course, there is his wife who serves as his able and ever-patient assistant.
After working 12-hour days for two months – buying the daily supply of live geese and chickens from the market, dressing and chopping up the poultry, preparing the special spices and soy sauce, etc. – he felt exhausted and took an extended sick leave.
Upon his return, he got what he thought was a lucky break when staff from a nearby school ordered a dozen boxes of marinated geese for a party.
He quoted HK$2,000 for the order, and asked for extra money to buy a few bottles of red wine to go with the meals.
When the order was prepared and ready to be picked up, the buyer did not show up, leaving him with eight whole geese and chickens, cut up and cooked but unsold.
Instead of letting them spoil and thrown in the bin, the old man decided to give them away to residents in the public housing estate.
His son posted Lam’s sad experience on his Facebook page and a newspaper reporter picked up the story. That caught the attention of many neighbors in the public estate who started supporting his store.
One of those who read his story was retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who, during his election campaign to become the chief executive in 2017, praised Lam for his entrepreneurial spirit and held him up as a model of a good citizen who continues to serve the community even after retirement.
All told, Lam’s story highlights the challenges facing small businesses in Hong Kong, especially the difficulty of doing business in a place where rents for commercial space continue to go up.
There is the case of Link REIT, which became notorious for chasing top dollar and driving out small stores from public estate malls and markets.
But it also shows that community spirit is alive and well in Hong Kong. Who would have thought that the Lam’s unsold merchandise could draw the sense of good-neighborliness that is inherent in most Hongkongers?
Lam’s son, who is a good friend of mine, was looking for a tablet computer to enable him to help his dad’s business by creating an online extension of the restaurant.
Since I was barely using my iPad mini, I decided to give it to him. Overwhelmed by my simple gesture, he offered to give me free meals whenever I fancy having BBQ goose or chicken for lunch.
But more that, Uncle Wing gave me valuable life lessons: the virtue of hard work and patience, the importance of believing in the inherent goodness of man, that doing things a little bit better can make a big difference.
Thank you and all the best, Uncle Wing!
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