Stephen interviewed Lau Fook Kiu

Stephen Cheung was recording Miss Lau Fook-kiu’s singing

Salvation Army Taipo Multi-Service Centre

Stephen Cheung (a local Hakka who is enthusiastic about Hakka culture and music): From the 1990s onwards, at Salvation Army Taipo Multi-Service Centre, once a week there would be a two-hour-long Hakka shange 山歌 (mountain song) gathering—and this still goes on regularly. The interesting thing was that thirty years ago nobody did this kind of thing. But in the 90s, not only in Hong Kong but Guangzhou, Meixian, and elsewhere—it seemed suddenly, in quite a few places, groups of retired folks gathered to sing these Hakka shange, and there was no connection between any of them.

I think the reason is that elderly folks, now in their 70s or 80s, had left their village lives during their youth, and all along the process of urbanization in the 1950s through the 1970s, they had very little chance to sing the shange in the city. Now that they have all retired, they would sing in their leisure time. And it so happens that the Salvation Army saw the needs of these seniors—their main interests are to gamble, play Hakka card games, and sing shange —so they organized a shange gathering. Who knew it would be such a success! Nobody went to the park to gamble anymore; they would come and sing shange, though there are some people who take advantage of this, playing the recordings of their shange gatherings in empty stores to attract Hakka folks to gamble.

A Busker and Collector

I only started researching this singing group in earnest from 2000, so everything happening in the 1990s I learnt indirectly from others’ recordings or videos. The situation in the 90s was interesting: you would never think that there were still people singing for money in the park, and that this attracted a lot of people who would listen or even ask for a specific song. One particularly interesting behavior was the singer/busker (his real name is Wong Chi-ching) who sang on-site while recording at the same time; the cassette would cost eighty Hong Kong dollars and everyone would rush to get them. Everyday, he would put up a sign and the singer would rely on singing and selling tapes for a living. You might think that selling cassettes to make a living would be enough, and there was no need to sing for money. But that atmosphere of singing live was something that was missing in a recording. What’s more, the lyrics would vary slightly each time, often with an improvised element; in fact, Wong didn’t even know how to make copies of the cassette tape. All these I found out from Uncle Lam (real name: Lam Chun). Uncle Lam is actually a retired tailor, a big fan of Wong Chi-ching, a pure aficionado of the genre, and a Tai Po resident. As he was really taken by Wong Chi-ching, he followed Wong and made really detailed audio recordings and videos. He wasn’t doing this at all for money but purely out of personal interest.

King of Shange

Later on, the Salvation Army also invited Wong Chi-ching to join the elderly singing group, and the whole Hakka group called him the King of Shange. At every gathering, there would be at most thirty people participating, but with limited time, only ten or twenty people got to sing. So they had to draw lots — and this process was pretty intense, with people rushing and snatching. Every now and then the gathering will have new people joining, but these “new folks” would all be in their sixties; there were practically no forty- or fifty-somethings.

*Editor’s note: after the interview, news had come of Wong Chi-ching’s passing away, while Uncle Lam Chun had a stroke, making even talking difficult. The story as told by Stephen seems close but is in fact distant. Listening to the tape “Wong Chi-ching singing a Lapsad tune” donated by Stephen, I find not a single lyric comprehensible. One can only imagine, from the sonorous voice and Lam Chun’s handwritten journal, a 1990s that no longer exists.


張國雄 (致力研究香港本土的客家文化及音樂的客家人): 自九十年代起,救世軍大埔老人社區服務中心,每星期都有一次,每次兩小時的客家山歌聚會,到現在還定時地舉行。有趣的是三十年以前是沒有人做過類似的東西。但在九十年代,不只是香港,廣州及梅縣等好幾個地方突然間都有一班退休的人聚集唱客家山歌,而他們之間是從未有聯繫的。





後來救世軍亦邀請黃志青加入老人山歌會,黃志青更被整個客家群體喻為山歌王(King of Shange)每次在山歌會參與唱歌的最多是三十人,但時間有限能唱到歌的只有十至二十人,所以要抽籤,而抽籤的過程是相當激烈的,是衝出去搶的!這個聚會間中都會有些新人加入,但所謂的「新人」都有六十多歲,四五十歲的幾乎不會出現。


Wong Chi-ching singing a Lapsad tune/ 黃志青自述


Wong Chi-ching singing a Huiyang shange/ 黃志青唱惠陽山歌