【明報專訊】Mak Ping Lam started making Chinese seals at the age of 19. Today, the 68-year-old is a master of engraving stone seals. Having learned the skill from his brother-in-law, he passed on the knowledge to his son, who works with him. His friendly personality along with his fluent English are a testament to the many people he has met over the years. Despite having been in the business for half a century, he has kept his tools simple: a few rusty knives, a small wooden vice, one scrap of sandpaper and the bottom half of a soda can as a ink tray. To make a seal, he finds the appropriate traditional Chinese characters for the job, drafts a 2cm by 2cm design, and draws a mirror image of it onto the base of the seal. Only then can he begin to etch1 it into stone. He must also find the best feng shui for the characters. While he concedes that the work does not pay well, he finds it interesting and enjoys the lifestyle.
Traditional Chinese seals or "chops" date back to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled from 1600 BC to 1046 BC. Since then, they have been used as a form of identification for documents, legal papers, bank transfers and anything requiring authorship. Today, seals are still used in lieu of a signature on cheques in mainland China and Taiwan, but not in Hong Kong. Theoretically, the seal should only be accessible to the owner and, as it is handcrafted, can never be replicated. They were traditionally made from jade or other rare stones, but today cheaper soapstone is more common. While seals are still widely used across Asia, they are popular in Hong Kong as souvenirs for tourists.
1 etch 除了指蝕刻，亦可指流露出，例如：Greediness was etched in his face.
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■by Lindsay Varty
Photography by Gary Jones