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Humans of Hong Kong: Uncaging yourself with Chan Lok-choi

By Nicole Hurip 14 January 2021 | Last Updated 27 December 2023

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. 

We flitted over to Yuen Po Street Bird Market in Prince Edward to have a chat with Master Chan Lok-choi, or as his friends call him, Ah Choi. Ah Choi has been making and restoring bird cages for over 60 years and takes immense pride in his craft.

Join us as he shares effusively the secret to getting a good night’s sleep, the key to a long and happy marriage, and how to overcome any challenges in life. 

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“I’m 78. I don’t think about things not worth thinking about and focus on my birdcages. Some people cannot let things go, and like to overthink. These people are not as happy. You need to be able to let things go. This applies to everything but my work. When I’m working, I hold myself to a very strict standard. But in life, I’m very relaxed.

“If you’re always thinking about future problems, you won’t be able to rest properly. Relax, don’t stress unnecessarily. There’s a Chinese saying, ‘When the boat gets to the bridge, it will straighten itself.’ You can always think about it again tomorrow, [there’s] no need to worry anymore today. Then, you’ll be able to sleep.”

“When I was young, I had a quick temper. I met my boss at the advertising agency when I was working for my uncle, selling birds. He was a really picky customer, so I got annoyed and lost my temper at him. He didn’t get mad at all and even hired me to work at his company after my uncle retired. I asked him why he would hire someone who was rude to him, and he told me that he appreciates my candour. He said that people who speak their minds are more trustworthy, and he would trust me to speak up if anything was wrong. He was very nice to me, always. He didn’t hire me to exact revenge or anything. This taught me a lot about life and how one’s attitude should be like.”

“I’ve been married for 50 years. Never have I argued with my wife. Not because there aren’t things to fight about. A piece of advice—tolerance is very important. When you’re both angry, you have the self-discipline to stop yourself from throwing a fit. Walk it off, calm yourself down. If you can’t let go of every little thing or disagreement, you won’t be able to cultivate a relationship. Let your partner be right from time to time, and put your ego away. This is the key to a lasting marriage. Same with friends—if you always need to win, to come out on top, you both lose.”

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“My lowest point in life was in 1995. On the ninth day of the Lunar New Year, my father passed away. Almost three months, around 99 days later, my eldest daughter passed away as well. A few months later, I was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. In just one year, three sets of bad news. I was lucky; I managed to pull through.

“I lost my sense of taste and smell after chemotherapy, but I got used to it. I don’t even need soy sauce! A friend of mine also went through chemotherapy and would complain about everything, that nothing was tasty to him anymore. Me, I would just pick up my chopsticks and eat. People would always complain that their food is too salty, too sour, or not tasty, but I wouldn’t. I will eat anything, except for spicy food. Taste, no taste, I will still eat it. Strong flavours don’t mean that it’s good, blandness is fine too. Having too many expectations affects your appetite.”

“My doctor asked me why I was enjoying my food so much, even when I couldn’t taste anything. I told him that I knew what it tasted like from before, so recalling the different flavours from memory was enough. The most important thing is that I have food to eat, and that’s enough for me. Other people can still enjoy the flavour. 

“You cannot be so self-centred. My condition prevented me from tasting things at that time, but I’m all better now. I can taste everything again, my saliva glands are working, and I am able to chat with you for a long time without having any sips of water. I’m just deaf in one ear now, but as long as you speak into my good ear, I can still hear you.”

“How well you sleep depends on your mindset. I’m not saying to forget everything that has happened, but holding on to things or grudges can be a special kind of torture. It is what it is, so just work past it. Those few years were very tough. After chemotherapy, I couldn’t work for two years, and I had no income. It has been over 20 years, and I have since recovered. The cancer actually came back this year, but I faced it head-on and pulled through again. 

“No matter what illness you’re facing, don’t let it scare you. If you let your fear get to you, the disease will bully you. If you refuse to let it run your life, you’ll get over it before you know it. Look at me, I’m still standing, still working. Any challenges you face, don’t be afraid.”

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.