Yesterday I went into a pawnshop. Not to actually swap anything off for money, but since I’ve seen so many around Hong Kong and never went inside my grandma, mom, and I went inside to take a look. The shop that we went to was on the corner of Yu Chau Street in Sham Shui Po, one of the poorest districts in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong we have a special symbol for pawn stores, which looks like a ball on flame. All pawn stores display this sign outside the building.
The shop that we went to wasn’t big, but there was an office window partitioned up quite high so that you could talk to the pawnbroker but not actually touch him or her. The walls were blank, except for a notice that denoted the official government licensing and interest rate, which was really quite high. After some thought, I’ve deduced that they want it high up to discourage any attempt to physically attack or assault the pawnbrokers at the counter.
As a matter of fact, I’ve never actually seen anyone come in and out of a pawnshop. My mom said it’s probably to do with shame or embarrassment, and as I noticed as we left the shop there were quite a few curious eyes glancing in our direction. So how do these shops survive if no one seems to be using their services? According to Wikipedia, there’s over two hundred in Hong Kong; a staggering number for such a small city. What my mom said is that because the rent is lower in Sham Shui Po it’s easier for pawnshops to survive, particularly in poorer districts where more people may need to visit the stores, albeit in a discreet manner.
Inside the store, it was actually quite surprising to see several wood-backed floor-length mirror partitions. The partitions blocked people from view from all entrances, and there was the character for happiness “fook” on one side in gold made visible when looking through the main entrance. The partitions offer people some form of privacy. When I asked why there were mirrors, the pawnbroker said that it was for people to see themselves putting their pawned valuables back on and being reunited with them. It’s a nice thing which I’m glad to have found out about. It would be sad to leave empty handed though.
The entire time we were inside, my dad made it expressly crystal clear that he would be staying outside. I wondered if it was because he didn’t like facing facts, but my mom made me see reason by explaining that traditionally, there’s a lot of superstition surrounding pawnshops, and going in can be bad luck. My dad has a very traditional, extremely stubborn Chinese mindset, and unfortunately nobody can change that about him.