Hong Kong’s own version of micro credit
To pawn or not to pawn
Pawnshops like these used to scatter Hong Kong. Pawn business was thriving in the 1940-50s when pawnshops served as a type of safe box to keep valuables, typically daily commodities such as quilts and clothes, but according to popular urban legend even children were pawned….
How to spot an original pawnshop? Spot the batman! The pawnshop sign shows an inverted bat holding a coin in bright red and green. Pawnshops all over Hong Kong and China have used this sign for centuries. The bat symbolizes fortune and prosperity. The Cantonese words for 'bat' and 'good fortune' are both ‘fuk’ and are pronounced with the same tone. That the bat is inverted makes it even better, as the word for upside-down in Cantonese, dou (倒; dao in Mandarin) is the same for 'arrive' (到). All together it means that Good Fortune has arrived.
The high screen behind the entrance is to protect the customer's privacy but also to prevent money from flowing out of the building (that is according to Feng Shui principles). Behind this screen you can usually find a high counter and there the customer needs to stretch up to do business, giving the pawnbroker a psychological advantage in the bargaining.
Nice to know
The oldest pawnshop of Hong Kong, Chun Yuen Pawnshop, is still in operation in Yeun Long. It was established over 200 years ago. Moreover, the old and famous Wan Chai pawnshop Woo Cheong dating back to the 1800s was completely renovated in 2007. It now houses bar and restaurant The Pawn.