Eyebrows furrowed in careful concentration as he chisels images and Chinese characters onto mahjong tiles, 70-year-old Cheung Shun-king is one of the last craftsmen of his kind in Hong Kong.
Hand carving playing tiles for the popular Chinese game used to be a source of income for many, but the introduction of much cheaper machine-made sets whittled away at their customer base and turned their work into a rarity.
Cheung’s family alone used to own four separate shops, where as a teenager he learned his trade.
Now only one remains.
“I have given my youth to it,” he says of his work. “I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to carry on in a few years, but for now, I’ll continue to do it.”
Cheung’s store is on a street lined with mahjong parlors, but none of them buy their tiles from him.
“My mahjong sets are expensive,” he admits.
A full set of hand-carved tiles costs HK$5,500 (US$700), he says, whereas machine-carved ones are around HK$2,000.
The price reflects the time spent making them. Industrial production of tiles takes about an hour, but it takes five days for Cheung to complete the process of carving and coloring his tiles.
Many of his customers buy sets as souvenirs and often request customized images. But Cheung thinks this recent surge in interest in an old tradition may be ephemeral.
“It is only in these last few years that people have felt a sense of nostalgia” and come to buy his tiles, he says. “What if a few years later no one feels nostalgia?”
Despite his belief that his industry will continue to decline, Cheung says he will work for as long as he can, until there is no demand.
He used to conduct workshops for young people but does not want to take on apprentices because of his pessimism.
“To learn [this skill] isn’t a matter of one or two months — attempting it wouldn’t work if you didn’t immerse yourself in it for two to three years,” Cheung says.
“If, by then, handcrafted mahjong tiles are no more a trend, then this skill would become useless.”
Cheung does not know how to play mahjong himself — his interest lies only in crafting the tiles.
He says that being called an artist, however, is flattering, and a “big compliment” for him.
“If others say it is art, then it is art. For me, it is my job, as I have to make a living.”
Aug 15 to Aug 21 Within hours, a minor traffic dispute between two taxi drivers had escalated into a full-out street brawl involving hundreds of combatants. Armed with metal bats, car locks and even tear gas, the midnight battle on Aug. 17, 1995 between Chuan Ming (全民) and Beiqu (北區) taxi drivers associations lasted for over four hours at the roundabout on Tingzhou Road (汀州路) in Taipei. Scattered clashes also broke out in other areas of the capital, as well as in what is today’s New Taipei City. The crowd dispersed around 4:30am, but peace lasted only a few hours. Around 7am, about
It’s baking hot in New York, which can only mean one thing for the city’s small mammal population: it’s splooting season. This week, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius, the city’s parks department urged residents not to worry about the health of squirrels seen sprawling on the ground, legs extended behind them like a person whose arms gave out halfway through a yoga class. “On hot days, squirrels keep cool by splooting (stretching out) on cool surfaces to reduce body heat,” the department tweeted. Perhaps even more remarkable than the phenomenon itself was the word the government agency used. Splooting? Is that
Demand for Taiwanese migrant workers in Singapore is booming: there are more than a thousand jobs on many Web sites, with advertisements for cabin crew, executive assistants, engineers, credit analysts, even auto mechanics, all at far more than they could earn in Taiwan. Most of us think of Taiwan as place that absorbs migrant workers, but we are also a place that is increasingly sending them out. This has important ramifications for the future of Taiwan. Last week, the government issued another one of its periodic warnings that certain overseas employers are actually enslaving Taiwanese into conducting Internet and phone scams,
When Zuo tested positive for COVID-19 while working as a cleaner in one of Shanghai’s largest quarantine centers, she hoped it wouldn’t be long before she could pick up the mop and start earning again. But four months on, she is still fighting to get her job back — one of scores of recovering COVID patients facing what labor rights activists and health experts say is a widespread form of discrimination in zero-COVID China. Using snap lockdowns and mass testing, China is the last major economy still pursuing the goal of stamping out the virus completely. Those who test positive, as well