When tugboats towed Jumbo Floating Restaurant away from Hong Kong last week, the vessel’s owner sent the public its “best wishes for a brighter future”. That future now lies at the bottom of the South China Sea. The 260-foot, three-storey eatery capsized and sank as it was being towed through deep water over the weekend, its owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, said. No one was injured.
Jumbo’s loss reverberated across Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where the neon-lit colossus – built in the style of an imperial palace – had sat in the same harbour for nearly half a century. Generations of Hong Kongers celebrated weddings and cut business deals there over Cantonese fare such as crispy pork belly and wok-baked mud crab. For many people in the former British colony, the restaurant symbolised a period of local history more optimistic than the present.
Jumbo’s demise comes at a time of immense upheaval in Hong Kong, one that began with anti-government protests in 2019. At a time when other visual icons are under threat, “Hong Kongers are questioning what will be left of their city,” said Louisa Lim, author of “Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong.”
Jumbo was opened by the casino tycoon Stanley Ho in 1976 and was for years part of a complex called Jumbo Kingdom that included a smaller floating restaurant. The larger vessel’s opening was delayed by a 1971 fire that killed 34 people. A number of celebrities visited Jumbo Kingdom over the years, including actor Tom Cruise, and UK’s Queen Elizabeth. It also featured in the 1974 Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun” and “Contagion”, a 2011 thriller about a pandemic.