“We do what we can to fix what’s miss­ing in so­ci­ety, like fix­ing holes in a wok.”

To say Chan Cheuk-ming, aka Ming Gor, has be­come an un­of­fi­cial spokesper­son for Sham Shui Po would be an un­der­state­ment: He’s more like a fig­ure­head. The owner of Pei Ho Bar­be­cue Restau­rant and Pei Ho Coun­ter­parts dou­bles as the neigh­bor­hood’s best-known

HK Magazine - - FIRST PERSON -

I started work­ing in the restau­rant field af­ter leav­ing pri­mary school in main­land China in 1969.

I came to Hong Kong as a stow­away in 1979. Less than 10 days af­ter my ar­rival, I started work­ing at a kitchen in Sham Shui Po, and I’ve been here ever since.

I started work­ing at Pei Ho Bar­be­cue Restau­rant in 1983. In ‘97, my then-boss re­tired and em­i­grated, pass­ing the restau­rant on to eight staff mem­bers, in­clud­ing me. Af­ter 8 years, I was the only one left.

Maybe be­cause I wasn’t good at man­ag­ing peo­ple, I lost more than $200,000 that year.

In 2008, we got to­gether with the So­ci­ety for Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SoCO) to cre­ate meal coupons for the poor.

Each meal was priced at $22: They got a big com­pany to spon­sor $15, we spon­sored $2, and we sold the meals in Sham Shui Po for $5.

It started as a way of bring­ing in more busi­ness. But it turned out to be so much more.

Ev­ery­one who opens a restau­rant wants to make a lot of money. But over the past 10 years or so as a restau­rant owner, I’ve never made much.

At the be­gin­ning, I didn’t know why. But then I re­al­ized I was too soft-hearted. I just wanted to help peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood and of­fer them lower prices.

I’ll never make a profit. But what I do now is per­fect for me. I can use my strength to help peo­ple. My heart has to be put into the soil of char­ity to bloom.

We were fac­ing great pres­sure in 2011 when the min­i­mum wage law was in­tro­duced. We thought about giv­ing up, but we re­fused to.

So I de­cided to take only $5,000 per month in salary to get through it.

Later that year, the gov­ern­ment be­gan Scheme $6,000, where they gave out re­bates of $6,000 to each adult in Hong Kong.

Some young peo­ple thought this was an un­fair pol­icy: “What’s the point in giv­ing out money to the rich?” they asked. Around 20 peo­ple do­nated their hand­outs to us to help the poor.

With the sup­port of th­ese young peo­ple we started giv­ing out meals to the home­less.

Peo­ple flocked to our restau­rant af­ter TVB did a show about us. So it’s so­ci­ety’s power that kept us afloat.

So I made a pledge: As long as I could pay the rent and my staff’s wages, I would never raise prices.

Since then it’s been $22 per meal—up un­til March this year, when I had to raise the price to $24.

When we started get­ting more sup­port, I be­gan think­ing about what more we could do. Can we give out meals to the home­less not just once a month, but maybe once a week?

There were around 60 home­less peo­ple in Sham Shui Po, but the num­ber kept ris­ing to 80, 100… now we need to make 200 meals each time.

I’ve been do­ing this for 5 years now. Ev­ery Satur­day, no mat­ter what, even when a ty­phoon sig­nal 8 is up, we still go visit the home­less, be­cause that’s when they need our help most.

You might only know about us giv­ing out meal boxes, but there’s ac­tu­ally a lot of work hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes.

From meal coupons for low in­come fam­i­lies, to help­ing the home­less, to of­fer­ing meals to the elderly who live alone, it’s a step-by-step process.

It was never one big project. We’ve come through a lot of tri­als, eval­u­a­tions and im­prove­ments to get us to where we are now.

We’ve been act­ing like “wok-fix­ers” over the past few years: We do what we can to fix what’s miss­ing in so­ci­ety, like fix­ing holes in a wok.

We want to balance the ben­e­fit for the com­mu­nity. We get a lot of sup­port from dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions. We give th­ese con­tri­bu­tions out to bak­eries, gro­cery stores and restau­rants in the neigh­bor­hood.

I want to help lower the costs for small busi­nesses so they can sell their food at lower prices while keep­ing busi­ness healthy.

We have to keep im­prov­ing, keep eval­u­at­ing, keep mov­ing for­ward. If we con­cern our­selves only with giv­ing out meals, [the whole move­ment] will just grind to a halt.

The day will come where I will have to step down. That’s why I want to en­cour­age the younger gen­er­a­tion to pick up what I’ve been do­ing.

I have been pass­ing on some of the work to the younger ones. I have to del­e­gate, I can’t do ev­ery­thing my­self.

It’s like we’re on a boat and I’m the helms­man who makes sure we’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion— but we still need sailors to keep us mov­ing. NEED TO KNOW... Ming Gor’s new restau­rant Pei Ho Coun­ter­parts (G/F, 278 Tai Nam St., Sham Shui Po) opened in July af­ter his old lo­ca­tion was forced to shut due to a rent hike. Sup­port Ming Gor by help­ing him hand out meals ev­ery Mon, Thu, Fri and Sat:

Email peiho.info@gmail.com to register a spot. Or spon­sor meal coupons at the restau­rant with our #FreeHKmeals cam­paign—see p.6 for de­tails.

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