This story was part of Elephant Community Press' 2015 exhibition, "Beyond the Storefront"
Glossy paper stereo players, packets of paper Rolex watches, and an assortment of colourful paper shoes in plastic bags dangle above the Chun Shing Hong entrance. The store, overflowing with rows upon rows of vibrant red and gold statues and incense, invites one to enter like an ancient cavern waiting to be explored.
To Chin Sung, the owner of the family business, races through the maze of a store to attend to his clients. He deals with their many needs and requests with speed and diligence, ensuring everyone is looked after before they leave. To’s daily routine requires waking up at around five every morning, opening the store at eight, and closing the business just before sunset. He maintains a strong work ethic, a fast-paced schedule, a no-nonsense attitude in dealing with problems, and a subtly serious face to match it all as well.
He took up the role of manager 30 years ago after inheriting it from his father, who founded the colourful Chun Shing Hong store 45 years ago. It neighbours Chinese spice emporiums and other festival product shops in Sheung Wan.
With its location in an area where the buildings and other traditional stores seem untouched by British influence, the architecture reflects To’s similarly traditional thoughts and beliefs. Knowing the family business would be passed to him, he never considered doing anything but his current role, even as a young boy. “I don’t particularly love the job. I mean, it’s acceptable,” he said, hands on hips, looking solemnly at the grey tiled floor. “But it helps me make a living.”
The whimsy of the store and the no-nonsense attitude of To contrast to make the store all the more interesting. Hong Kong locals and those of the Taoist religion mainly visit stores like these in the passing of family members or during festivals. Stores like Chun Shing Hong sell an array of different items, ranging from incense to designer bags made of paper, which are burned for the deceased to use in their afterlife.
Some people may think that only elderly folk come to his store in search of festival and funeral products. However, “customers of all different ages, old, in-between, and young come to the store,” he says, “and at all different times of the year, too.” Besides Hong Kong’s festive Chinese New Year when his products are most popular, he says people buy products for other smaller festivals, such as the Ching Ming Festival in April and the Tuen Ng Festival in May.
Even with the changing times of today’s world, even with the economic struggles, To still believes it is important to maintain tradition. In fact, it is something he is very set on. Although he did not think a lot when he was younger about other jobs he wanted to do, he enjoys the longstanding historical significance of his business.
“It’s been there since the time of the emperors, and that’s something that, I guess, I really like about my job,” said To. He knows the legacy of the age-old traditions of burning incense and paper Rolexes will pass from him to his son, who will become manager of the business.
Despite To’s pragmatic approach to the business and head-in-the-game focus to running the store, helping family and the elderly remains a priority. “It’s important to help the elderly out. If they have questions, I answer them,” he says. “Plus, it is important to give back to the society and the community. Do something that means something. That’s what’s most important.”