One cool spring afternoon, I sat with Karena Lam in a cha chaan teng diner on Des Voeux Road West in Sai Wan chatting. The premises stand on the location of the paint shop that Karena’s grandfather opened some 70 years ago, so naturally this story must begin with her great-grandfather.
It turns out the Lam clan originates from the city of Shantou in Chaozhou, where the paint shop in question was originally founded by her great-grandfather. In 1950, he dispatched his son, Karena’s grandfather, to Hong Kong to open a branch in Sai Wan called Lam Sam Fat. At the time, Hong Kong only had two paint shops that sold China-made paint, her family store being one of them.
Carina Lau: Loves the Mountains of Hong Kong
Running a paint shop proved to be hard and messy work, as after the paint was delivered to the store, it still had to be mixed by hand. Due to difficulties keeping employees, her grandfather and relatives resorted to mixing the paint themselves. Karena’s grandfather had six children, her own father among them, although none of them inherited the family business as they emigrated to Canada in the ’70s.
Born in 1978, Karena has never set foot in that paint shop herself, although listening to her speak about it, she is intimately familiar with the long-gone space. After Karena moved back to Hong Kong for work in the ’90s, her retired father would often accompany her for half of every year, in the process reintroducing Karena to the city. Whenever they were both free, father and daughter would ride the tram around the island. As the tram veered from promenade back into Sai Wan, her father would point out to the right, picking out the old location of the paint shop and reminiscing about his childhood and their family history at length.
Despite Karena’s wry smile while recounting these tram trips, her nostalgia for those days spend with her father is clear to see. Perhaps it’s these experiences searching for the old which make Karena so perceptive and empathetic towards the lived experiences of others. Nowadays, whenever Karena comes across the old location of her family’s paint shop, she will catch herself thinking about, and longing for the more familial nature of the neighbourhood back in the day.
When asked about her thoughts on Vogue Hong Kong, Karena is hopeful that the magazine will be able to resurface the unique facets of the city’s rich heritage, and to find its own voice in a crowded, modern world.
Styling: Lois Leung
Hair artist: Hin Wan
Makeup artist: Will Wong
CreditTranslator: Gavin Yeung