Have you ever wondered how a bamboo steam basket filled with dim sum was made? Rounding three bamboo strips, interlocking each of them with a tool, placing a round-shaped bamboo plate in the middle as a base and attaching each part firmly under a "big stapler" machine, an old man has been repeating this process since he was a little boy.
Lui Ming, owner of Ming Shan Steel Bamboo Receptacle, learned bamboo steamer craftsmanship in Guangzhou in the 60s and founded a company in Hong Kong in the 70s. "I know that the industry of bamboo steamers in Hong Kong is similar to that of in Guangzhou. All Chinese restaurants need bamboo steamers so I have been producing them since I came to Hong Kong," said Mr. Lui.
Steamers are originally made with bamboo only, but Mr. Lui believes that bamboo is undurable so he invented the stainless steel bamboo steamer. "By adding a steel ring, steamers are more useful and durable," he explained. "I recently improved the steamers by replacing bamboo wires with steel wires to link the bamboo strips at the base. All these steel bamboo steamers are invented by myself, so you can't buy from other places."
Peng Guo Xiu-jin, a taiwanese steel bamboo steamer user believes that steel bamboo steamers are more user friendly than bamboo steamers. "Bamboo steamers have some cracks so vapour can easily leak out and the heat is not that concentrated. As a result, it takes more time to cook."
Though Mr. Lui has being producing steamers for a long time, he still gets injuries during the production process.
Apart from inventing steel bamboo steamers, Mr. Lui also invented machines for making steamers conveniently. "This machine is designed and made by myself. By using it, the bamboo stripes will be in the same width which helps make the steamers," he explained.
Mr. Lui has helped the Wong Tai Sin Temple produce Kau Cim sticks. "This production required a lot of effort to peel tens of thousands of sticks," he is proud of his achievement and shares an unknown interesting thing about the sticks. "Microchips were inserted into Kau Cim sticks, so people can put the sticks in a machine and get the result instead of waiting for the staff to explain the meaning," he said.
A restaurant also asked Mr. Lui to design bamboo lampshades for decoration. "The restaurant went to mainland China looking for someone to craft bamboo lampshades but no one was willing to do so," said Mr. Lui, who later agreed to design bamboo lampshades for the restaurant. "They can put light bulbs inside the lampshades, which I painted the bottom in red," he added. "They were pleased when they saw the bamboo lampshades."
Mr. Lui never gave up on innovating new products even when facing difficulties. "All my products take time to design," he said confidentially. "I sometimes pause my creations when I face obstacles, but I would continue the process after I come up with a solution, so the products eventually become complete."
Right now, Mr. Lui goes to Yum Cha every morning then heads backs to his steamer factory located in his home in Tuen Mun. "I make steamers just for killing time instead of earning a living nowadays because it is not cost-effective," he said.
"It's hard to run the business on selling handmade crafts,” said Lui Lok Koon, Lui's son who runs the store in Yau Ma Tei, "so our store also sells steel products to cover the profits we lost from selling handmade crafts." Facing the label "sunset industry", he still feels hope. "I believe the industry still has future development."