Note from the author About the "Pearls of the Orient – Daily Life" series

Pearls of the Orient – Daily Life” is a series documenting the stories of eight Hong Kong traditional industry owners who have struggled to find their reason to continue working in face of society’s rapid modernisation. These industries have existed since Hong Kong’s early days as a small fishing village, and are either passed down for generations or operated for over 40 years. As a Hong Kong child, I found it extremely eye-opening to enrich myself about my city’s traditions, through conversations that shed light on the beauty in the culture that we rarely speak of.

Through these stories, I hope to show you a glimpse of my city’s numerous undiscovered gems as they hide away in the shadows of our skyline and bustling malls. Apart from appreciating the art of these industries, read into these owners’ personal stories, as you will soon find a common trait they share – a respectable amount of devotion and perseverance to preserve Hong Kong’s traditional culture. Alas, I hope this short collection will help some to recall, some to learn and all to understand what Hong Kong’s community is losing today.

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Tuck Chong Sum Kee is Hong Kong’s last handcraft bamboo steamer making company run by Mr. Lam. Walking into his dimly lit shop in Sai Ying Pun, I was greeted by an array of bamboo products, ranging from caskets and chopsticks to fans and sifts.

"Something interesting to remember is that almost all of Mr. Lam’s steamers are made purely from bamboo"SHEREN MAO
A collection of bamboo products.SHEREN MAO

As I sauntered further in, my gaze immediately landed on the stacks and stacks of bamboo steamers of various sizes, stretching into the darker ends of the room. It was only then that I spotted Mr. Lam, sitting humbly on a small wooden stool as he skillfully worked away on making a regular sized steamer.

"He paused, and hammered down onto the newly tied knot before looking back up at me."SHEREN MAO

“In the 1950s, my father brought this delicate craft from Guangzhou to Hong Kong and has settled down in the Western district for 70 years,” he recounted. “Midway, we moved our shop location and have spent 35 years here since then.”

Whilst tying one knot after another with thin strips of bamboo to tighten the steamer, he explained that it takes him about 15 minutes to make a regular sized steamer while the time varies for other steamer sizes and purposes. “Within a day, I can make about 60 to 70 small sized, or ten larged sized ones.” 

Something interesting to remember is that almost all of Mr. Lam’s steamers are made purely from bamboo – this is the most traditional method and material for steamer making; it is only for some larger ones that he uses metal wires to create a tighter binding effect. The rationale behind this was that bamboo not only was very easy to grow, but also existed before metal, aluminium and plastic, making it the primary material for this industry.

“They look all nice stacked up, don’t they?”SHEREN MAO

“They look all nice stacked up, don’t they?” He gave me a small smile. “Truthfully speaking though, it does get mundane repetitively doing the same thing everyday. In fact, I don’t receive much joy from my work. It is most disheartening when there are no orders for readily made steamers, leaving all this being left around the shop.”

He paused, and hammered down onto the newly tied knot before looking back up at me. “All that is true, yes – but at the end of the day, I still feel extremely proud and lucky to be preserving this precious art. Although Hong Kong’s traditional industries are doomed to disappear one day, my father has always taught me to simply accept this reality and continue to work hard. We began this business to make a living knowing there will be inevitable conflicts, to which we must always face head on no matter what.”

From our 20-minute conversation, it was difficult not to notice Mr. Lam’s conscientious work ethic, determination and effort. The whole time his rough, dusty hands never left his tools or steamer. As I expressed my interest in understanding whether bamboo steamer production will really be affected in light of Hong Kong’s popular dim-sum culture, he patiently explained the different future outlooks of the industry’s “manufacturing” and “wholesale” branches.


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“On one hand, with the number of steamer-making artisans reaching its diminishing point, handmade steamers are sure to disappear soon. However, the wholesale of bamboo steamers will remain fairly stable as there will always be a demand from the food industry.” He then chuckled and said, “Believe it or not, many foreigners became very intrigued about these steamers between the 1970s and 90s. When they discovered the steamers were hand-made, many visited us just to buy them.”

In spite of all that, what stuck with me the most is Mr. Lam’s liberal view on the shop’s future prospects. Bamboo steamer-making is an extremely valuable skill to master, and he would be delighted if his children succeeded the family business. However, and with a hint of reluctance in his voice, he reminded me that teenagers will all have their own dreams as they grow up.

“The times are different. What is the point of forcing them into something they are not passionate about when they could be accomplishing much bigger and greater things? I am sure their own contributions will benefit society’s development and for that, I would be a very proud father.”

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