Fourseas Bowling Centre and Whimsy

York Lo: Fourseas Bowling Centre and Whimsy

Fourseas Bowling Centre and the Wonderful World of Whimsy are two family entertainment venues which have left a mark in two different generations of Hong Kong people and both enterprises were founded by the family of Daniel C. Go (吳文卿), a Filipino Chinese financier.

The Go Family and Paramount Insurance in the Philippines

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Left: Daniel Go; Right: Fourseas Bowling Centre on Waterloo Road in Kowloon

A native of Fukien province, Daniel Go made his initial fortune from facilitating remittance from Filipino Chinese to their hometowns in Fukien province through Paramount Finance Corporation in Manila, which became one of the leading finance companies in the Philippines.

In 1950, he founded Paramount Surety & Insurance (新亞保險) which initially focused on providing fire and motor vehicle insurance to small to medium size retail businesses in the Chinese community.The firm started its operations at the Dee Un Hong Building at Nueva Street in Manila and built up a loyal customer base through its reputation for quick claims settlement. The growth enabled the firm to move into its own Paramount Building on Quintin Paredes Street in Binondo in Manila. In the 1960s, Daniel Go was supported at Paramount by president S.G. Lim (林善源), treasurer Vicente Tiu and secretary A.G. Delfino. (AB Commercial Directory of the Philippines, 1960).

Under the leadership of Daniel’s younger son Patrick Lim Go (B.S. Wharton; MBA Virginia Darden and former banker with Bankers Trust and Credit Suisse), Paramount expanded into the larger business segment through the establishment of Semper Insurance in 1993 and expanded its capital base in 1997 by bringing in Lucky Tableware of Cebu, the leading manufacturer of glass containers, enamelware and porcelain ware in the Philippines and the ANJ Group controlled by the Tahija family of Indonesia as shareholders. (Before that the Go family controlled over 66% of the firm while the family of Dee C. Chuan controlled 19%) In 2001, Paramount acquired the Philippines operations of the Union Insurance Society of Canton from AXA and as a result the firm was renamed Paramount Union Insurance Corporation. In 2002, the firm acquired the Philippines operations of the Dutch insurance giant AEGON and was renamed Paramount Life & General Insurance Corporation with paid up capital increased to PhP 150 million. In 2005, Paramount acquired the individual life insurance portfolio of Manila Bankers Life. The firm bought the life insurance portfolio of Sony Life in the Philippines in 2012 and acquired QBE Seaboard Insurance Philippines in 2018. Outside of his family business, Patrick Go has also served as independent director of foods giant Del Monte, the HK-listed Dynamic Holdings and Allied Banking Corporation controlled by the family of billionaire Lucio Tan.

Fourseas Bowling Centre (四海保齡球塲)

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Opening ceremony of Fourseas in September 1966. Left to right: Pao King-yin, Robert Go, Mrs. Daniel Go, Mrs. Robert Go (KSEN, 1968-9-22)

In the mid-1960s, bowling became a popular pastime in Hong Kong with the opening of several major bowling alleys. The sport of bowling was popularized across the globe thanks to the introduction of the automatic bowling pin setter byindustrial equipment manufacturer American Machine & Foundry (AMF) in 1952. According to local bowling enthusiast Aneel Sahkrani, the first bowling alley in Hong Kong was established by the South China Athletic Association which used AMF equipment. In 1966, AMF’s competitor Brunswick opened its 30-lanes bowling alley on Middle Road in Tsim Sha Tsui while the banker David Lam (later Governor-General of British Columbia), hotelier Chan Chak-fu and Crocodile Shirt founder Chan Shun opened Star Bowls in Star House also using Brunswick equipment bought from a bankrupt bowling operator in Australia.

To capitalize on the bowling boom, the Go family incorporated Fourseas Bowling Centre Ltd in Hong Kongin 1967 with Daniel himself as chairman, his eldest son Robert T. Go (吳仲達) asmanaging director and hired Pau King-yin (鮑景賢), a former famous footballer who was the manager of SCAA’s bowling operations to help launch a bowling alley in Kowloon. Local Fukienese merchant and Christian leader Hwang Sze-tian (黃詩田) was also a director of the venture.

In September 1968, Fourseas Bowling opened its door on the former site of the Four Seas Hotel and residence of Mok Hing-kiuat 75 Waterloo Roadwith 52 lanes, which made it the largest bowling alley in Southeast Asia at the time. The bowling alley with AMF equipment was an instant success and became the venue for many competitions.

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Daniel Go (first from the left) and the winning team (led by the funeral home operator Ng Yiu-tong, third from the left) of the mixed team bowling contest organized by Fourseas in 1969 (KSEN, 1969-7-27)

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Robert Go (first from the right) with others at the press conference at the HK Hilton for the Bowling World Cup in 1971 to be held at Fourseas. Right to left: Robert Go, Bowling Federation chairman Chan Yim-ming, AMF executive, Lee Wing-Tat, AMF Far East president, Y.K. Lam (KSEN, 1971-5-12)

In January 1971, Fourseas Bowling recorded daily revenues of over HK$15000 and over 500 people waiting in line to play at peak hours. In December of the same year, the 7th AMF Bowling World Cup was held at Fourseas with players from 35 countries from across the globe with the American Roger Dalkin as champion. This was the first and only time Hong Kong was the host of the international competition.

In May 1975, Pau King-yin passed away and his pallbearers included Robert Go who flew in from the Philippines and his former football colleagues and classmates from Vietnam. His widow Jennie Cheng Na-yuet (鄭娜月) was the mastermind of the kidnapping of real estate developer Teddy Wang in 1983 and was jailed for seven years in 1992 after being successful extradited back to Hong Kong from the United States. In 1976, AMF opened its own bowling alley in Hong Kong.

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Advertisement for Fourseas which highlighted free tutorial and its large restaurant

At the tenth anniversary celebration in 1978, Daniel Go presented cash awards ranging from several hundred to $5000 to 31 employees who worked for the firm for over 5 years and in attendance were senior leaders of South China Athletic Association and all the major players and leaders in the HK bowling circles. (KSDN, 1978-9-22)

Over time, the popularity of bowling waned in Hong Kong and the soaring real estate price also increased the cost of operations (both in terms of actual rental costs and opportunity cost if the operator owned its venues). The site of Fourseas on Waterloo Road was re-developed into the Metropole Hotel in 1988 and after it became the epicenter of SARS in 2003, the hotel was renamed Metropark Hotel under the management of the China Travel Services group.

After it moved out of its Waterloo Road location in the 1980s, Fourseas operated in Tsuen Wan and Taikoo Shing but ultimately both locations were shut down.

As a firm, Fourseas Bowling Centre was dissolved in 2012.

Wonderful World of Whimsy (歡樂天地)

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Left: Robert Go with Emporium chairman Lim Tow-seng and Chuck E Cheese in Singapore in 1983; Right: the three principals of Whimsy with Chuck E. Cheese executives in 1982 (The Pizza Times, 1982 and 1983)

In 1982, Robert Go incorporated Whimsy Company Ltd in partnership with former Brunswick executive Augustine Chow Pok-yu (周博裕,who later served as CEO of the Allied Group in 1990-98) and real estate developer Philip Morais (who later developed the Shama and CHI Residences chain of serviced apartments)and secured the franchise in Hong Kong and Macao for Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatres, a rapidly growing chain of family entertainment centers/restaurants founded in 1977 in San Jose, California by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

The first location opened in June 1983 in Tsim Sha Tsui East in Kowloon with 9000 sq ft of space and included an English speaking Cyberamics. (WKYP, 1983-6-28) Through heavy TV advertising, the outlet quickly achieved weekly sales of over US$50000 with as many as 8000 visitors in the weekendslining up from 1130am to 8pm. Soon branches were added in Taikoo Shing, Aberdeen and Tsuen Wan. In late 1983, Whimsy formed Whimsy Recreation (Singapore) Pte Ltd with Singapore-based department store operator Emporium Holdings to open Chuck E. Cheese in Singapore with the first outlet located at its $5 million Parkway Parade store for children. (Straits Times, 1983-12-17)

In 1984, Chuck E. Cheese went bankrupt in the US and was acquired by its competitor ShowBiz Pizza Place to form ShowBiz Pizza Time. At the meantime, Whimsy developed its own Wonderful World of Whimsy of indoor amusement arcades in Hong Kong featuring pinball machines, video games and small rollercoasters and started promoting this brand with TV commercials featuring popular teen idol Priscilla Chan (陳慧嫻).

By 1989, Whimsy under the leadership of Robert Go and Lawrence Ng Chan-shing had six locations in Hong Kong – its flagship store in Taikoo Shing, four Whimsy other locations in Tuen Mun Town Plaza, Whampoa Garden, Heng Fa Chuen and Aberdeen Centre and Chuck E. Cheese in Luk Yeung Sun Tsuen in Tsuen Wan. The same year, Chuck E. Cheese withdrew from the HK market.

In 1991, Robert Go and his partners sold the majority control of Whimsy to Yaohan, the rapidly growing Japanese department store chain led by the charismatic Kazuo Wada who had moved his head office from Japan to Hong Kong the year before as he saw the potential of the China market and Whimsy as a way to attract customers into his stores across the region.

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Whimsy managing director Lawrence Ng presenting a prize to one of the winners of its lucky draw in 1989 (WKYP, 1989-10-6)

With the backing of Yaohan, Whimsy expanded to 25 outlets (most of them were smaller version known as Whimsyland) in Hong Kong at its peak, mostly next to Yaohan department stores. In 1994, Yaohan Whimsey established a joint venture with the garment giant Luen Thai International Group to open Whimsy in Xiamen and Fuzhou in Fujian province. (Daily Report: East Asia, 1994)By 1995, there were 9 Whimsy centers in the mainland in cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Henan, Shenyang, Suzhou and Wuxi and the firm also expanded to Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Guam and the US.

In April 1995, Whimsy was listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. But the good times were not to last as the Yaohan group saddled by billions in debt collapsed in late 1997 which triggered a run on its 35% owned subsidiary Whimsy and its affiliate the St Honore chain of cake shops. Additional trouble came in the form of competition from two similar chains which emerged in HK – Jumpin Gym U.S.A. (美國冒險樂園, despite of its name the firm was founded by the Chan brothers from HK) and Fun Fun World (繽紛樂園, operated by the Li & Fung group until it was acquired by Jumpin Gym in 2000 and was closed down in 2002). Mainland Chinese interests acquired Whimsy but by early 1999, only 17 outlets were left and five of them were closed during Chinese New Year. On February 27, 1999, the firm announced voluntary wind-down and closed its remaining 12 outlets and laying off its 230 remaining staff members. As a firm, Whimsy Co Ltd was dissolved in 2001. Twenty years later, the Whimsy arcade chain was revived in 2019 with an outlet opened at EMAX in Kowloon Bay.

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A Whimsyland outlet from the 1990s

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://www.ejinsight.com/eji/article/id/2333451/20191219-The-wonderful-World-of-Whimsy-is-back-after-20-years

https://www.scmp.com/article/126153/whimsy-set-expand

https://www.paramount.com.ph/about-us

https://www.scmp.com/article/212312/whimsy-stands-back-yaohan-japans-problems

https://www1.hkexnews.hk/listedco/listconews/sehk/2001/0509/1188/f114.pdf

https://www.showbizpizza.com/info/documents/ptt/ptt_pizzatimes3-3.pdf

This article was first posted in 6th September 2021.

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