In the world of commerce which prizes optimum growth and profit, the Aberdeen area, Jumbo Floating Restaurant and Ocean Park ought to be obsolete, as seen in the dwindling number of visitors and running deficits over the years. However, thanks to the heroic effort of a group of individuals, all these places are revived and thriving.
Aberdeen is located on the southern part of Hong Kong Island which comprises of Aberdeen proper, Wong Chuk Hang and Ap Lei Chau. Aberdeen has an interesting history of mistaken identity. Going back to the Ming Dynasty, the Aberdeen area is known as “Hong Kong”. Unbeknown to the foreigners during the early days of colonization, they have taken “Hong Kong” to be the name for the whole territory. As it pans out “Hong Kong” has become the official name for the territory and in 1845, the area is renamed “Aberdeen” after the 4th Earl of Aberdeen. To the locals Aberdeen is affectionately known as “Hong Kong Tsai” meaning “Little Hong Kong”.
Aberdeen is the abode of boat people, mostly Tanka people who live and work on junks. It is a fully functional fishing village but the population has seen a sharp decrease over the years, as the young refuse to take up the fishing trade. Moving “on shore” with proper housing is seen to be moving up the social ladder. However, there are still around 600 junks in the Aberdeen harbor with people refusing to give up their life on junks. For boat people who have moved on shore the junks have become working and chatting places while they salt fish or make fish balls and fish noodles with the catch of the day. To this day, Aberdeen is still a thriving fishing port with the total catch accounting for one third of the fresh fish supply in Hong Kong. To prevent overfishing, the fishing vessels are forced to take a hiatus in June and July under the Fishing Moratorium Period and all the fishing boats will be seen anchored at the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter then.
The government and the Hong Kong Tourist Association have been pivotal in promoting Aberdeen as a tourist attraction since the 1960’s as a scenic and gastronomic paradise. The fishing junks double as floating restaurants serving fresh seafood on board, complete with live singers crooning songs mostly by Teresa Teng while you savor the tasty food. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when the floating junks enjoy peak business they will be seen around expensive yaughts selling seafood cooked on board. It is very rare to find these homey floating restaurants now but should you crave for a bowl of fish noodles you can visit the Aberdeen Promenade after 6 pm on the off chance to catch one of them. As for a sunset “cruise” around the Aberdeen harbor, there are signposts signaling the waiting area for sampans that will circle the harbor.
The most famous floating restaurant frequented by locals and tourists is the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. The Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho has spent four years and millions building the restaurant in the image of a Chinese imperial palace which open in 1976. The three decade old restaurant has lost its initial appeal over the years as curiosity fades. A few years back, the management decides to give the restaurant a major billion dollar overhaul and rename it Jumbo Kingdom, with the Jumbo Floating Restaurant and sister Tai Pak Floating Restaurant moored side by side. When you reach Sham Wan, you have to wait for barges to take you from the pier to the restaurant. It’s kind of silly as the two restaurants are looming in front of you and the ride is only 2 minutes. A bridge would be more convenient, but the barges serve as a prelude to a dining experience on board a floating restaurant. A hostess at the entrance would ask for your reservation with another hostess directing you to the appropriate floor. It would be wise to make a reservation beforehand as the newly decorated restaurants are drawing crowds both local and tourist.
The main dining floor, the Dragon Court serves traditional Cantonese cuisine, with signature seafood dishes. The food is true to its reputation, but it is definitely not a fine dining experience. To maximize the fast turnaround of tables, you will witness the efficiency Hong Kong is known for, as seen in the expedient arrival of your dishes. The dining area is one hollow open space and the cacophony really echoes. For a quieter ambience a surprise awaits you at the Topdeck which serves Western food. It is a bar and restaurant run by the Café Deco group which has another successful restaurant, the Café Deco operating at the Peak Galleria. Newly added attractions include cooking classes taught by the chefs and the much missed sampan dining experience at the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. The incorporation of these different facets makes the Jumbo Kingdom a lot more interesting as opposed to the staid and run down restaurant before its renovation.
Another major tourist attraction that has a makeover is Ocean Park, situated in Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen. Ocean Park Hong Kong is founded in 1977 by the then governor of Hong Kong Sir Murray MacLehose and built using funds from the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club (sans Royal now). It is a marine mammal park, aquarium and theme park. The decades old attractions and rides have gone stale and with the passing of the popular killer whale Hoi Wai in 1998, visitors have plummeted to an all time low. With the Hong Kong Disneyland opening and the deficit at the Park very real, the government has proposed to move the Park to a more remote spot or close the Park. Fortunately, the first Chief Executive Mr. Tung Chee Hwa decides to invite the enigmatic father of Lan Kwai Fong, Allan Zeman to be the chairman of Ocean Park in 2004. After living in Hong Kong for almost forty years and transforming a dump into the area now known as Lan Kwai Fong, to be “the” clubbing, drinking and dining hotspot, Zeman has used his experience to breathe fresh air to Ocean Park. Zeman has even managed to turn the running deficit into a profit, with a record number of 5 million visitors in the year 2007/2008.
Zeman boasts that by the completion in 2012 Ocean Park will house 33 species of animals and 70 rides. The Park will be even more accessible then with the completion of the South Island line proposed by the Mass Transit Railway. He sums it up best, “In my world, there is only first-class—I won’t accept business-class or economy”. This can be aptly applied to surrounding Aberdeen and Jumbo Kingdom, which have evolved to accommodate the changing tides and tastes. We won’t want to see these places replaced at any time as they are first rate.
Bonnie Wong is a full time writer, bilingual translator and founder of Pastel b. cards. She hopes to share the uniqueness of Hong Kong with everyone through her writing. Learn more about me [+]