Locals gathered along the waterfront to say goodbye to the floating restaurant.
The hulking three-storey Jumbo Floating Restaurant, measuring approximately 80 meters in length, was famous for its giant green and red neon sign that read ‘foon ying gwong lam’, Chinese for ‘welcome’. In its heyday, it was part of the largest floating restaurant in the world.
For nearly half a century it was Jumbo Kingdom’s main boat, which also included its older and smaller sister restaurant boat Tai Pak (dating from 1952), a sea food tank barge, a 130-meter kitchen boat and eight small ferries to ferry visitors from two nearby piers. transport.
Jumbo Floating Restaurant was the only one in the group that was operational and open for dinners in recent years.
“Jumbo Floating Restaurant has left Hong Kong today,” Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, the company that owns and operates Jumbo Kingdom, confirmed in a statement released after the tow was completed.
“A unique icon for locals and tourists alike, Jumbo Floating Restaurant has stood proudly in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island for 46 years. During this trip, it was a great honor for us to share beautiful collective memories with local and foreign visitors.
“We sincerely thank you all for your love and care. We take this opportunity to send you our best wishes for a brighter future,” the statement said.
Remember an icon
It was a beloved neighbor of CNN’s Hong Kong office. On a sunny day, Jumbo Kingdom was a favorite subject to shoot from the office windows.
The restaurant certainly looked worn, compared to its glorious days, but still exuded a glamorous old-world charm.
The approach to the floating restaurant—accessible only by a special Jumbo-branded boat—was one of the most dramatic restaurant entrances in the world.
Upon arrival, you’ll see the opulent Imperial-style façade with reliefs covering the entire wall, huge commissioned paintings in the stairwell, and many colorful Chinese-style motifs, including a golden throne in the dining room.
A young Kenny Chan poses at Jumbo in the 1990s.
Courtesy of Seayou Explorer Travel Limited
Chan’s parents were one of the fishing village families living in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. His wife also grew up on a boat.
“I can still remember how excited I was as a kid, when I got the chance to jump on a sampan and visit Jumbo. The ride wasn’t just transportation – it made us feel like we were visiting a palace. There is no other place in Hong Kong could give the same feeling.”
Those fond memories of his childhood in the harbor fishing village of Aberdeen inspired him to found Seayou in 2018. The company offers private charter services and a sampan cultural tour called Aberdeen 1773 Cultural Tour, which includes a stop at the Jumbo Kingdom before its departure.
“The cultural, symbolic and touristic value of Jumbo is significant and cannot be quantified… We understand that maintaining Jumbo can be challenging. We are just saddened to see the government jeopardizing its own plan [to invigorate the neighborhood] set in 2020 and their decision to ‘not intervene’ [in Jumbo’s fate]’ says Chan.
Members of the Chan family attend a wedding banquet at Jumbo in the 2010s.
Courtesy of Seayou Explorer Travel Limited
A floating wonder
In its golden days, the restaurant ship starred in many local and international films, including “Enter the Dragon” (with Bruce Lee for Tai Pak), “Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge” and Stephen Chow’s comedy “God of Cookery”. †
It was a “must” stop for visiting celebrities including Queen Elizabeth II and the late Prince Philip, Jimmy Carter, Chow Yun Fat, Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Cruise.
“Some rejected its architectural importance because it was just a ‘faux’ imperial design, but I disagree – it’s an interesting attempt [at] transform a floating space [into] an old Chinese palace. Looking at the historical context, it was built at a time when this Imperial-style Chinese aesthetic wasn’t even encouraged in China (“Old things” had to be removed during the Cultural Revolution). So Jumbo Kingdom reflected how Chinese people in Hong Kong then had a greater desire or passion for these ancient Chinese traditions.”
A view of the restaurant at night, illuminated by the famous neon lights.
thanks to Jumbo Kingdom
The end of an era
Of course, the golden age did not last long.
While Aberdeen’s fishing population has declined, Jumbo Kingdom has become less popular with locals and tourists.
In March 2020, the restaurant’s owners said they had incurred losses of more than HKD 100 million ($13 million) and announced that the restaurant would be closed until further notice.
Several proposals had been made to save the historic icon, but the high maintenance costs had deterred potential investors.
The Hong Kong government also didn’t seem eager to get involved.
The Antiquities Advisory Council ruled that ships – unlike buildings on land – were not part of the Antiquities and Monuments Regulation, so that Jumbo was not eligible for city protection.
Without a “white knight” rescuer the city had been waiting for, the group decided to move the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, the main boat, to an unnamed shipyard outside Hong Kong before its operating license expires in June.
Tai Pak, the smaller and older boat, as well as the recently capsized kitchen boat, are currently still parked in the harbor. Nothing has been confirmed about the future of these boats so far.
Whatever happens, Hong Kong has lost one of the largest – and shiniest – jewels in its crown.