Written by Linus
Translated by Derek Leung
Photos by See Through Craftsman
Five years ago when there saw no boom times for organizations which safeguarded indigenous cultures, Simon Go, a photojournalist of foresight, had applied for funds to set up HULU Culture, a local non-profit making group to promote the exclusive cultures of the city.
'At that time, there’re lots of redevelopments in our neighbourhood and all familiar shops and scenes were suddenly gone,' said Simon. HULU Culture preserves and promotes local Hong Kong culture through different interesting means including taking group photos for each of a hundred of old traditional shops to represent the idea of fullness, inviting artists to co-organize an exhibition in Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate before its demolition; running countless guided tours, seminars and workshops, etc. Every single activity serves as a gentle reminder: Cherish before it’s too late.
Five years flew and today HULU Culture has its own real shop: See Through Craftsman, a shop name which you find authentically 'Hong Kong'.
The name speaks of the local industries and craftsmanship together with all the craftsmen behind the scene. 'Before the mainstream of mass production, individual craftsmen became the bread and butter of their respective families. They’re not famous but they’re virtuosos in material use and craftsmanship,' described Simon.
Three huge portraits are now hanging in the shop, showing as celebrities three craftsmen including blacksmith Uncle Chi, tea expert Mr Yeung and carpenter Master Hui.
CHEUNG Hin-Chi, 79, was a blacksmith in Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate and his stall was forced to close due to the demolition of the estate.
YEUNG Ting-Fai, 67, was a tea vendor fond of telling stories in Central and Western districts through the art of tea.
HUI Nong-Yuen, 66, ran a carpenter’s shop in the market and made furniture with scrap wood.
Simon claimed the three masters are not the random pick, 'Five elements are the basics in the Chinese culture and we’ve got three here already, that is Metal (iron-forging), Wood (carpentry) and Water (tea-brewing).'
Naturally, all the products here are made by the craftsmen there, ranging from metal letter boxes, wooden barrels and basins, and brick tea, to rattan goods, chinaware, copperware as well as handmade candies. All these businesses are fading but reminiscent of the charm in our neighbourhood.
What matters is the possible continuous sale of their craft work without being forced to extinction despite the recent societal development.
'Many craftsmen are forced to retire because their stalls are torn down due to the community redevelopment. Now they have a space to carry on with their crafts without worries.'
The vintage glasses found in historic groceries are reminiscent of the charm in our neighbourhood; Handmade wooden barrels as shelves. Another function to perfection!
Besides the products, See Through Craftsmen also runs a few workshops of apprenticeship and the most interesting arrangement is to line up contemporary designers with those elder masters to create synergy and inventions.
Simon hopes it is not too late to do all these, 'Compared with the Japanese and Taiwanese, apparently we don’t have a good system to preserve our craftsmanship. Now, even Thai people are concerned about craftsmanship very much and so they try their very best to safeguard it.'
What about Hong Kong? He does want us to think more…
Have you imagined the metal letter boxes you used to find everywhere will vanish one day?
Address: See Through Craftsman, S507, 5/F, Staunton, PMQ