KITTIES OF THE CITY
A portrait of local culture, in Hong Kong’s own form of bodega cats. From Chinese medicine shops to paper offering vendors, there seems to always be a furry friend in sight. Believed to be lucky by their owners, they are often sought after for their hunting skills, but other cats seemingly have just wandered and have adopted such shops as their homes.
Marcel Heijnen stumbled onto the phenomenon by pure coincidence – “I moved here from Singapore in late 2015 and spotted a cat on a shop counter, close to my place in Sai Ying Pun. I shot an iPhone photo of it, and a few more then posted that on Facebook. Many friends like the pics and one said ‘you should do a book on this’. So I did. ”
The images not only capture cute kitties, but glimpses of Hong Kong life, and beyond that the shop owners who without a doubt have grown to love their feline companions. Not only for the company they offer but also for their business skills. The cats, especially the playful ones, catch the eyes of shoppers with their friendly welcome.
They create a special bond with the customers and can even exert some of their mysterious influence in boosting sales. It seems the cats’ lucky reputation is more than just a legend. Marcel recounts the moments before he takes his shot “9 out of 10-time store owners actually like it when I show interest in their cats or dogs. Most are quite proud of their cats and don’t mind me photographing. Some have asked me for prints and also proudly display newspaper clippings on the walls of their stores.”
With a city that can often feel unkind to animals, it’s good to see that cats, at least in this context, are welcomed and even celebrated. You would think that health and safety would try to intervene, but perhaps the practical purposes of owning a cat have allowed this tradition to continue.
Marcel’s learning lessons and final sentiments capture the essence of his work perfectly – “There’s a slower, fairly traditional world and animal-human relationship happening in this fast-moving, busy city.”