ViuTV’s reality competition Good Night Show – King Maker translates to 全民造星 in Cantonese, or “to make a star out of the average Joe”. Average Joe, as in the people you walk past each day — people like you and me, people like, until very recently, Samuel Lau, aka Wai Wai (威威) to adoring fans, a Tsuen Wan butcher who went from friendly, neighbourhood pork peddler to every Hong Kong auntie’s crush in a matter of days.
It’s a humid, drizzly day at Yeung Uk Road Market.
Cars and shoppers meander through the grid of slippery asphalt roads amid a symphony of bustling city ambiance loud enough to engulf any attempts to converse. The air is heavy, somehow amplifying the many aromas of fresh produce that, together, are not the most accommodating to any of the five senses.
Ten o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday is a time you’d least expect heavy traffic around an unassuming market stall, one facing and flanked by many more just like it. And yet, the sidewalk outside this particular shop, named “鮮味”, is buzzing with anticipation. Aunties and uncles (and more than a few young folks) are beginning to congregate around the entrance, stealing glances at the meat counter; the boldest among them are already prepared, smartphones in hand.
(Photos: Nathan Erickson/Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong)
This is the sight that welcomes Samuel Lau — or “Wai Wai” to his newfound fans — each morning as he emerges, a single AirPod nestled in his ear, from the backroom of 鮮味.
“I’m used to it,” he says with a laugh. “It’s my life now.”
It wasn’t always this way. Lau, 35, has been perfecting his craft over the better part of the last decade, rising from pork padawan as an apprentice to store supervisor of this particular shop, where he has spent the last seven months. But only in recent weeks did Lau begin to realise his customers may be showing up for more than just the way he hews a hog.
An image of Lau first appeared on the Facebook page Tsuen Wan Locals, where a user posted a selfie with the butcher, befittingly censored with a heart-eyes emoji. What she intended to be a casual, fun post lit a fuse beneath Cantonese social media — and the internet exploded. Exclamation and praise rained down, with some going so far as to dub the then-unknown Lau “Butcher AK”, given his striking resemblance to Hong Kong boy band MIRROR’s Anson Kong.
It’s starting to make sense now, isn’t it?
“Folks who work next door told me they saw pictures of me on the internet — that’s how I found out someone even posted pictures of me — and they started asking if that was me,” says Lau.
Lau was used to a little bit of attention. Neighbours and regulars would often drop by, sometimes to offer water or homemade stew, or to chat about cuts and recipes — the sort of casual kindness you might expect in your local wet market. But nothing like this.
His admirers wasted no time, launching a successful manhunt to learn everything they could about the butcher, creating a dedicated Facebook fan page (15.8k likes and counting!) and bestowing upon him the endearing nickname of Wai Wai (“I quite enjoy it, it’s like a gift from my fans”). Within days, even personal details — his actual name, his birthday — were all over the internet.
“It did take me by surprise, but at the same time, it wasn’t unexpected, given how advanced the technologies are and all that,” says Lau. “Looking at the Facebook page is sort of like reading a diary; it journals what I did and who I met every day.”
And to those who question why Lau keeps his mask on for pictures at the shop (“I do work with food,”) he adds that some of the full-face photos that fans have dug up are real; some are not.
“Rest assured: my face reveal will happen,” he says with a laugh.
Before we go on, there are a few things we should know about Samuel Lau, aka Wai Wai, aka Butcher AK.
His hobbies include hiking, working out and jogging. He’s a foodie and cook who likes to scour Hong Kong for new dishes as much as he likes to document his own creations on the stove. Oh, and yes, auntie. He’s taken. “Married with kids,” says Lau.
And how does his wife feel about this newfound attention and fame, with fans arriving in droves to surround him each day?
“She doesn’t think much of it, we have immense trust for each other,” he says. “She also knows that I go out dressed nicely with my hair styled, so it’s not new.”
Despite the day-to-day excitement of being an internet sensation at the shop, downtime, for Lau, means family time — devoting his leisure hours to his food and his children.
“I mostly cook and spend time with my kids,” he adds. “I like to go around Hong Kong and explore new eats, so I can bring them there.”
Going viral while earning comparisons to one of Hong Kong’s biggest pop stars in recent years raises a few questions; namely, what’s next? While it may not be singing (“I’m all right, I’m not exactly good“, Lau says, laughing), his good looks and charm have already earned him an endorsement deal with Skechers — an all-white pair is waiting for him at the shop when we arrive.
“I’m open to considering and trying anything, who knows what the future holds,” says Lau. “With the support of my fans and company, I’m down for anything ahead.”
Whatever “anything” comes to entail, Lau insists he plans to stick with the shop that first earned him his newfound popularity.
“I won’t let go of this job, after all, my company really supports me,” says Lau. “And interacting with patrons is always very important to me, since I wouldn’t be where I am if not for their encouragement.”
Service: 10/10. Attentiveness: 11/10. Attractiveness? Off the charts.
As store supervisor, Lau’s shift started some four hours ago, during which he has received the daily delivery of an entire pig, butchered it, then organised the cuts into an orderly display. A good start. Now it’s time for sales.
As if part of an unspoken arrangement, the onlookers wait for Lau to get into position before approaching to purchase their share of protein for the day.
“I need a cut for stew!” declares the first in line.
Without hesitation, Lau reaches for a handful of meat, chops and packs it, before the final — and now, most expected step of the process — leaning over to take a selfie and exchanging short, friendly banter with another swooning customer.
Lau is gifted with a tall and toned stature, a gentle, reserved demeanour and deep-set, smiling eyes — all favourable qualities that seldom present as a combo, but when they do, it touches the Achilles’ heel of patrons and bystanders alike.
To think such a simple everyday character is caught up in the whirlwind of a boiling city-wide obsession; there’s still something about observing Lau in action that can only be compared to witnessing a deer in headlights. Although he remains in the process of adjusting, he is handling his newfound fame with humility and a “heart of strength”, according to one colleague.
The public, on the other hand, is still figuring him out. Who is this Samuel Lau that came out of nowhere, but has already conquered the hearts and camera rolls of so many? Who is he outside of his 6-to-6 day job and charming façade? It’s doubtful any of us will ever know what it’s like to be the most popular butcher in town.
But if you want to know, he’s more than happy to tell you himself.
“I just started an Instagram account to interact more with my fans,” he says. “Feel free to drop me some questions — I’m always happy to share more about myself and talk to my fans.”
“They have my gratitude.”
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong.