The story of a repairman behind the city’s central business district
BY Aung Min Khin
Hidden in an alleyway in Central is a tiny, greenish wooden hut. An old man is adjusting the nook of an antique chair. Suddenly he slips and falls onto the floor. Luckily he is not hurt.
Mr Ho Kwok-wah repairs antique furniture for a living. Hunched over in his five-square-feet shop, the octagenarian [i.e. octogenarian] has seen better days. Now with weak health and hearing, he still works from 9 am to 4 pm every day.
“I don’t a have regular income. If no one brings something to repair, I just sit here doing nothing,” says Mr Ho. He charges about $300 a chair and it takes two to three days to finish repairing.
Mr Ho was born in Guangzhou and had worked there for about ten years before coming to Hong Kong.
Life is hard now and he has to spend more time working to support his family. But Mr Ho believes he could still earn more in Hong Kong than in Guangzhou.
Although his adult daughters come to visit him once in a while and give him money, it is not enough for him to support the living of his second wife and their ten-year-old son.
Mr Poon Kam-pui, 78, is Mr Ho’s colleague. “Hand-made chairs are rarely seen these days as many of them are made by machine. However, the longer life of these antiques, the higher value they have. After fixing the edges and repolishing them, they may become more beautiful than new ones.”
Mr Poon explains that most of the chairs Mr Ho repaired are made from rosewood, which is a hard reddish-brown wood of a tropical tree that has a
Mr Poon is a veteran crafter. He retired from his job six years ago. After that he brought some old furniture and asked Mr Ho to fix them when he came to visit him. He says Mr Ho could not retire because the environment is getting worse now and he has to work hard to support his family.
Both Mr Poon and Mr Ho tries to teach their children their craft, but none of them is interested in this field since it is hard to make a living.
In a developed and modern city like Hong Kong, fewer people still want to get their old furniture repaired.
Ms Nicky Lung, a Baptist University student, says her family never repairs old furniture.
“We just throw them away and buy new ones,” she said. She does not even know whether they could find a place repairing their furniture in Hong Kong.
“Nowadays, we don’t need to pay much to buy new things, so nobody wants to repair the old ones.” she said.
Ms Chan Fung-yee, owner of an electronic company, says she doesn’t have such antique furniture to repair, though she lives close to Mr Ho’s shop. She has known the old man for over ten years: “He is a very kind person because he always helps neighbours.”
During the Lunar New Year’s time, Mr Ho can earn more because people will call him to help decorate their houses. This is the time of the year that he calls “good business times” .
Mr Ho says he gets tired easily now.
“Sometimes I have to encourage myself to do the job,” he says. He regrets not studying harder when he was young. “This is my life. I know nothing except this job.”
So he would continue to do this job as long as he can. “I don’t know when I can get retired, maybe until the moment I cannot work anymore,” Mr Ho says.
EDITED BY CATHIE GUO