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Hong Kong mahjong carver is among the last of its kind

#Hong #Kong #mahjong #carver #among #kind

Cheung Shun-king, 70, is one of the last craftsmen of his kind in Hong Kong as he frowns in concentration as he carves images and Chinese characters onto mahjong tiles.

Hand carving tiles for the popular Chinese game used to be a source of income for many, but the introduction of much cheaper machine-made sets shrank their customer base and made their work a rarity.

Cheung’s family alone used to own four separate shops, which is where he learned his trade as a teenager.

“I gave him my youth,” he says of his work. “I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to keep going in a few years, but for now I’ll keep going.”

Cheung’s shop is on a street lined with mahjong shops, but none of them buy their tiles from him.

“My mahjong sets are expensive,” he admits.

A full set of hand-carved tiles costs HKD5,500 (US$700), he says, while machine-carved ones cost around HKD2,000.

The price reflects the time it took to make it.

It takes about an hour to industrially produce tiles, but it takes Cheung five days to carve and color his tiles.

Many of his clients buy sets as souvenirs and often request customized pictures.

But Cheung believes this recent surge in interest in an ancient tradition may be short-lived.

“It’s only in the 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 nobody feels nostalgia anymore?”

Despite his belief that his industry will continue to decline, Cheung says he will work as long as he can until there is no more demand.

He used to run workshops for young people, but due to his pessimism he doesn’t want to hire any apprentices.

“Learning[that skill]isn’t a matter of a month or two—trying it wouldn’t work if you didn’t delve into it for two to three years,” says Cheung.

“If by then hand-made mahjong tiles are no longer a trend, then this skill would become useless.”

Cheung doesn’t know how to play mahjong himself – he’s only interested in making the tiles.

However, being called an artist is flattering and a “huge compliment” for him, he says.

“If others say it’s art, then it’s art. For me it is my job because I have to make a living from it.”

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#Hong #Kong #mahjong #carver #among #kind

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