【明報專訊】Mr Wong is a strait-laced, wiry man with ink-stained hands who has worked side-by-side with his wife for more than 60 years. They opened their printing shop, which is nestled in the side of a hill in Sheung Wan, 44 years ago. He learned the craft as a young man and eventually saved enough money to buy a second-hand machine. In those days, a state-of-the-art Heidelberg printing press cost the same as a small Hong Kong apartment. In his heyday, Mr Wong produced business cards and letter paper for Reuters and other big firms, but now things are very different. Most of his orders need to be passed on to digital printers and delivered back to clients faster. But when something special does come along, he still fires up1 his beloved Heidelberg and does it by hand. Mr Wong says when he is forced to retire, he will donate the machine and his thousands of miniature Chinese characters to a museum.
Before the digital wave all mass-produced printing was done by letterpress — an arduous technique of relief printing whereby a direct impression of an inked type is stamped. Workers individually select each character, letter, number or design, and arrange them by hand. Compiling Chinese type is especially time consuming because there are some 5,000 characters to sift through2. The method was widely used across Hong Kong until the 1980s, with some 200 businesses scattered around Central and Sheung Wan, but today there are only one or two. And with the last Hong Kong manufacturer of type blocks shutting its doors in 1993, the printing businesses' characters slowly wear down and cannot be replaced.
Thanks: Blacksmith Books
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Question: Do you think Mr Wong's business still has a place in HK?
Last week's winner: Lam Siu Kwai
■by Lindsay Varty