Not looking his 61 years of age, it’s almost impossible to believe that Chan Tsu-wing has been working for the Star Ferry Company for over 33 years. More than half of his life has been spent bobbing on the waters of Victoria Harbour. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and this soul emits a warm spirit of experience and dedication.
Back when Chan first started on the ferries he never imagined he would remain at the company for long, and yet here he is. First getting on board in his late 20s, Chan began working at the Star Ferry Company when there was a job opportunity going in the Labour Department. Prior to finding his sea legs, he didn’t have much knowledge of boats or any interest in ferries. But with each passing day Chan’s love for his job slowly grew. He started to respect what he was doing and accepted the responsibilities with immense pride and passion.
Since being promoted to chief coxswain, the 61-year-old’s daily routine consists of drifting from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hong Kong Island and back again every day, servicing our city with devotion. Local residents and holidaymakers alike are in good hands when selecting the ferry for transport, whether they’re scouting for eateries, shopping at various malls, travelling to and from work or just experiencing the true beauty of Hong Kong’s skyline. The ferry remains – along with that other city stalwart, the ding-ding – one of the nicer ways to travel in our SAR.
Although driving the ferry every day may seem like a mundane task, Chan thinks otherwise. “Even though this job is very repetitive, it’s still very important to keep the ferry schedule in check and to let passengers board the ferry on time, especially when it comes to typhoon season,” he says, before proudly adding: “but it feels satisfying solving problems in harsh times like that.”
Aside from occasional extreme weather, Chan reports that there aren’t many surprises on duty. He does, however, begin to smile faintly when remembering a time that the British Navy made a visit to one of the docks in Hong Kong. “That day,” he says, “I saw two guys standing on the surface of the sea in Hung Hom and I thought ‘wow! How are they doing that?’.” Upon closer inspection, it turned out the sailors were just standing on the submarine hidden beneath them. Chan chuckles over this memory for a short while. It’s moments like these that make the job worthwhile.
To experience what he sees on an everyday basis, Chan takes us on a small trip cross- harbour. With his hat firmly in place, his hands gripping the wheel and the sea breeze easing past his unageing profile, Chan looks as if he was born to be a captain at sea. From afar, he looks in control. Up close, he is the epitome of a humble human being. When asked what he loves most about his job, he begins to think, before gazing out across the high-rises and skyscrapers set against the hazy background. “I love seeing how Victoria Harbour has changed over the years,” he mentions. “Back then, it wasn’t surrounded by all the tall buildings that we’re seeing today.”
Just by looking at him, you can tell Chan belongs on the water, like the dolphins he watched nearly 20 years ago when the animals still visited the harbour, gracefully gliding through the waters close to the ferry. However, with retirement not far off on the horizeon, Chan has plans to spend more time with his family when he disembarks for the last time. Luckily for us, it’s a while yet before his ship sets sail in that direction. For now, if you want to find Chan, you don’t have to look far. “My favourite place to be? Victoria Harbour, of course,” he grins. Isobel Dobson