Dec 15, 2011|
Many Hongkongers head to Yuen Long for its countryside, “wife cake” pastries and poon choi, but few know about its quirky museum. Hidden away up a few flights of stairs in an old tenement building is the Chan Fo-kwong Museum, which showcases thousands of antiques and collectibles.
Here’s the unusual bit: Chan Fo-kwong Museum is owned and curated by the 82-year-old Chan Fo-kwong, an amiable gent who insists on being called Uncle Fo-kwong. Back in the 1970s, Uncle Fo-kwong turned his 3,000-square-foot home into a private museum that exhibits all his prized possessions. A self-proclaimed pack rat, he is interested in a variety of items, ranging from paintings to old telephones. With such a vast collection, Uncle Fo-kwong says it is difficult to pick his favorite item, but he certainly boasts about the emperor dragon robe, which he claims was once worn by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.
Uncle Fo-kwong is generous with his collection: visitors are welcome to touch the exhibits and are free to go into anywhere in the house, including his bedroom. If you have any questions, Uncle Fo-kwong happily answers—and will tell in-depth stories behind every piece of his treasure trove. He even plays old music on the ancient phonograph for visitors. “Some collectors don’t like to let people see what they have got, as they are not willing to share with others,” Uncle Fo-kwong says. “But I love showing my collections to people. The more people come to my museum, the happier I am!”
At the age of 17, Uncle Fo-kwong bought a little old vase from an antique shop, and that’s how he became an insatiable collector. He frequents Lascar Row in Sheung Wan (also known as “Cat Street”) to hunt for antiques, and also attends auctions to bid on the antiques that strike his fancy. Friends who know about his passion give him gifts to add to his collection. The number of pieces in his possession are so numerous, in fact, that Uncle Fo-kwong has lost count. Curios are stuffed into every corner of his house: paintings and calligraphy pieces are plastered on the walls; numerous porcelain statues of gods and goddesses are placed on the tables; snuff bottles, precious stones and old coins are stored inside the cupboards.
Why, you may ask? Uncle Fo-kwong says he collects vintage collectibles because of his love of Chinese history, arts and crafts. Among all kinds of art, he appreciates calligraphy the most; he is also a calligrapher himself. “Practicing calligraphy is good for one’s morals and character,” Uncle Fo-kwong says. “When I am invited to banquets, I always bring along my brush, paper and ink. Before the dinner starts, I practice calligraphy while others play mahjong.” In his house, some of his calligraphic works are on view; he has also carefully penned explanatory captions for some of the exhibits.
Apart from collecting, martial art is another one of Uncle Fo-kwong’s favorite pastimes. He practices Wing Chun, learning from a disciple of the legendary kung fu master Ip Man. Uncle Fo-kwong frequently practices with muk yan jong (a wooden dummy used in martial arts practices). Even at his old age, Uncle Fo-kwong takes pride in his flat stomach and hard muscles. “I have never caught a cold and I haven’t visited any doctors,” he says.
A working phonograph
An indigenous villager and thus a lifelong resident of Yuen Long, Uncle Fo-kwong founded Chan Kwong Kee Department Store there in 1945. The apparel business fared well and as a result Uncle Fo-kwong made quite a bit of money—and that’s around the same time he started pursuing and collecting antiques. These days, however, his wife tries hard to stop him expanding his collection. “My wife doesn’t like it when I buy more items,” he says. “If the same amount of money was invested in real estate, I would have been a billionaire now.”
Some media has questioned the authenticity (and the value) of Uncle Fo-kwong’s collections. But for the avid collector himself, the worth of his myriad objects doesn’t seem to matter much. “If you think that it’s real, then it’s real; if you think that it’s fake, then it’s fake,” Uncle Fo-kwong says. Whether or not all of Uncle Fo-kwong’s collectibles are genuine, paying him a visit is interesting simply because the best artifact in the museum is Uncle Fo-kwong himself. Be prepared to listen to many fun, bizarre tales as you browse his den of clutter. At times, he forgets things or repeats himself. Be patient—after all, this is a man of 82 years old who has a lot of history to share.
Uncle Fo-kwong’s home-museum can be found at Flat 4B, 32-34 Tai Tong Rd., Yuen Long, 2477-9867/2443-2768. Advance booking is required. Uncle Fo-kwong speaks some English and he welcomes English-speaking visitors, but we recommend bringing along a Cantonese-speaking friend to get the most out of the experience.