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Hong Kong Goldfish Market: Shops for threatened species threatened
Fish, pythons and albino turtles are for sale at Goldfish Market, but government plans may shut it down
The nickname "Goldfish Market" doesn't do the area justice. Spanning the length of Tung Choi Street, from the intersections at Nullah Street to Mongkok Street, this shopping district is like the Florida Everglades boiled down to several hundred meters of pet stores. Everything from albino turtles to tarantulas are on sale at what is one of Hong Kong's oldest and most beloved markets.
"I don't know any of the shop-owners here, but even if I'm not planning on buying anything I still come here after work every day to walk around. You can call it a habit or just something to keep myself going," says Poon, who lives near Goldfish Market. While it costs to visit Ocean Park, it's free to walk around Goldfish Market, and Poon can get the same thrill from seeing exotic creatures. He can also learn the names, biological traits, features and how to take care of the creatures, if you ask nicely.
But not all shop owners are enthusiastic about offering free zoology lessons. “We want customers, not tourists,’’ says Ah Sing, one of the staff working at the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium. Many proprietors feel aggrieved by the government's HK$100 million plan to revitalize a big chunk of the Mongkok district including the Goldfish Market.
"Ever since the government came out with this big proposal to improve the area, landlords here have been raising rents like crazy. Mine was jacked up by 25 percent and he’s already the saner one compared to the others. One of my neighbors who sells seaweed has had his rent doubled. How can you expect us to survive?" says Great Barrier Reef Aquarium owner Tsui. As with any family business, the pet store is more than work for Tsui -- she raised two kids with the store and Goldfish Market has become her life.
"People here just work hard. It’s not uncommon to see them working 13, 14 hours on a normal day," says Tsui. "We survived the financial tsunami when business was down more than 20 percent. It now looks like we may not survive these government policies."
"The government wants to revitalize the area for tourists. But what are the chances of a tourist buying a fish and bringing it home? If you shut down the driveway for cars how can our customers move their goods home? Maybe this government just has too much free time. They've already destroyed the Bird Market. Now they're doing the same to Sneaker Street. It's only a matter of time before they get to us."
While many shop owners can’t stand the high rent and are contemplating moving out, others see it as an opportunity of a lifetime. John has been operating Myth Aquarium for nearly half a year and is confident that things can only get better with the economy recovering.
"Our products come straight from Malaysia and it certainly helps that I happen to be in the importing business myself. There’s no need to worry about competition as long as you’re selling quality products," he says.
Asked to recount his biggest sale so far: "There was this customer who bought about 30 angel fish each priced at a few thousand dollars."
Despite such bullishness, John admits rents account for the biggest share of his operating cost and business would be much easier had it gone back to a more reasonable level.
Great Barrier Reef Aquarium (大堡礁水族)
G/F, 207 Tung Choi Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, tel +852 2787 3568
G/F, 196 Tung Choi Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, tel +852 2380 0065
Urban Jungle (城市森林爬蟲專門店)
The Loft, 148 Tung Choi Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, tel +852 2380 7803
Lake Tung Ting (洞庭湖水族)
Shop 8-9, 3-13 Nullah Road, Mongkok, Kowloon