Anita Chan is the co-founder of Sam The Local, an experiential travel company that provides outings and tours with Hong Kong experts across various fields, from rock climbing to cooking, shopping, art, music, and more. Hailing from California, Chan grew up in a Cantonese family originally from Guangdong. Inspired to learn more about her Chinese heritage, she moved to Hong Kong about five years ago and later started the company as a way to help others dig beneath the surface. This is life in Hong Kong, from Sam’s point of view.
Coming Full Circle
I was born in California, raised in San Francisco. I grew up speaking Cantonese and when I visited Hong Kong, it just felt like I fit in. Growing up, I was always interested in Chinese culture. I remember my parents telling stories about what it was like to live in Hong Kong and China. And I thought it would be interesting to be exposed to that side of my culture.
I watched a lot of Cantonese movies growing up. This is really common — friends who grew up overseas also remember watching these dramas with hundreds of episodes. My parents had friends who had bags of these VHS tapes and they’d bring the new series home from work. We would have a five-hour dinner watching these dramas.
It’s kind of funny. When I lived in Sheung Wan, I’d walk past the dried seafood markets. At nighttime, all the stores are closed but you can still smell the dried seafood, and it reminds me of the soup my mom made. To me, dried seafood smells like home.
Setting Up Shop
Early on, I met my co-founder Maggie [Lau], who is also from California. When we travel, we always ask friends in the city to show us around and get that local knowledge. So we thought, why not create a platform where people can show you what they know in Hong Kong? A lot of of our customers actually live here already, and want to get to know the city better — part of it is a language barrier and some people feel intimidated or just don’t know where to go. I still walk around Wan Chai and see all these little shops with lines out the door. I get in line too, but I’m like: ‘What am I in line for?’
In Your Own Backyard
When we do a trial run with our new Locals, I learn so much — even if we’re visiting a neighborhood that I’m already familiar with. Somewhere like Jordan or Sham Shui Po, I’ll walk down the same street I’ve walked down before, and they’ll show me something I never noticed or realized. Like the fruit market in Yau Mei Tai, telling us the story behind the buildings and the history of the area.
One person is a pearl cultivator, so he grows pearls in Sai Kung. He uses technology so he can track where the pearl came from, which is amazing. I had no idea you could do that in Hong Kong — or about how the technology can come into play.
There are some seriously adventurous experiences too, like abseiling. I didn’t even know what that was. It’s pretty much when you rock climb, and then use a rope to descend back down the mountain. You not only try a new sport but you see another side of a district, like Tuen Mun.