Photo Essay

Weighing ambitions with a steelyard

A skill that bonded father and daughter over decades

by Connie Fong

People in Hong Kong may come across traditional Chinese steelyards, a type of balance, in wet markets and Chinese medicine pharmacies. Yet only a few of them know the proper way to use one, though it was the optimal tool for measuring weight in the olden days.

Lee Wo Steelyard, the last store selling handmade steelyards has nestled in Yau Ma Tei for over eighty-five years although digital balances had replaced steelyards and diminished its crafting industry.

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“My goal is to preserve my dad’s spirit and let more people understand about the beauty of steelyard”, said Mrs Ho, the owner of Lee Wo Steelyard. She has been determined to keep her father’s dream alive by operating his store up till this day despite having few successors in steelyard crafting.

It is hard for beginners to learn the skills in the steelyard industry because the masters and seniors treat their apprentices harshly, Ho said. Her dad had gone through a tough time when he first stepped into the scene, as the requirements for making a steelyard of good quality was fairly high in the golden days.

“I hate to say this but this is really a pity for me to witness this unique craft vanishing in the society”, said Ho.

The steelyard shop owner is unable to make any new steelyards at 76 years of age and the stock in her shop are all that she has left. There are only three to four steelyard masters left in Hong Kong and they would soon be retired as all of them are in senility, Ho said.

“I wouldn’t retire until the day I die because the shop is my dad’s ambition in his life and I will do everything to preserve the craft of making steelyard,” Ho said.

(Edited by Rainie Lam)

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