Lai Wing Hong, third-generation owner
Lai Wing Hong is the third-generation owner of Tai Yik Pawn shop. Mr Lai is able to tell a real Rolex watch from a counterfeit copy within seconds. He took over the family business from his father, who, in turn, took over from his father. Mr Lai’s children were raised in the back room of the shop, where beds were laid down for them at night. However, his children will most likely not continue the family business as they have other plans and ambitions.
The lucky charm
Pawn shops can be recognised by their iconic sign, which is meant to look like a bat hanging upside-down while holding a coin with its feet. In Chinese, the word for bat sounds the same as the word for luck, and the word for upside-down sounds like the word for arriving. So, an upside hanging bat represents the ‘arriving luck’, with the coin symbolising prosperity.
All you can pawn
Pawn shops make money by charging an interest on the items they take. Today, the most commonly pawned items are watches, jewellery, iPhones and laptops, although Mr Lai has seen many different things brought into his store, such as blankets, pillows and sewing machines.
Mr Lai recalls a time when local boat people would come ashore to pawn their babies. People believed that children of the boat people would not amount to anything or become successful. However, the simple act of pawning them off to the pawn shop, then taking them back shortly after would help break the curse; that way, they were no longer children of the boat people, but rather, children of the pawnbroker and therefore stood a better chance at life.