Hong Kong Homies is a series where we get deep real fast with Hongkongers.
Chan Lau Kwai-lan, 85, retired
I was born in Malaysia. I remember being really scared whenever the Japanese attacked, because we needed to go running for the air raid shelter. My dad hid all his money in a mahjong box in the shelter. I came to Hong Kong in 1952 and settled in To Kwa Wan, which is still actually quite similar to how it was back then. I didn’t have dreams. I can’t even read. What dreams can I have?
One of the worst things that happened to me was when I lost my bank book. There was about $10,000 in the account. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I had saved up for years. It was for my children. I cried for days. My husband never blamed me.
I worked at the Chinese herbal medicine shop my husband owned in To Kwa Wan. People came to us with a prescription, and we would pack them the herbs they needed. I couldn’t read, but I surprised myself when I quickly learned to use the scale and remembered where all the herbs were. My husband was an upright person. He never asked customers to buy more than they needed, saying that as long as you provide good quality herbs they’ll return. People would greet him across the street, yelling “Mr. Chan!”
I was at dinner with my relatives when I met my husband. He said he fell in love with me during that dinner and later asked for an introduction. We went out for three years before we got married. He passed away at 69. No one saw it coming. The several years after he died, everything reminded me of him. I couldn’t stay in our old apartment. I couldn’t go hiking — that was our activity.
He reminded me to wear more layers when the weather turned cold.
I didn’t understand why it had to be him. He was a gentle and honest man. He reminded me to wear more layers when the weather turned cold, prepared Chinese medicine for me when I got sick, and even urged me to spend more and treat myself. He’s been gone for about 18 years now, but it wasn’t until a few years earlier that I could really let it go.