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Thursday October 17, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday October 17, 2013 MYT 7:28:07 AM
by elween lokephotos by saiful bahri
An elderly sifu from Fah Kee signboard shop chipping off the sharp edges of a piece of wood, to be used to make Chinese deity tablets.
THEY are not only famous for their woodcarving skills but also their expertise in Chinese calligraphy and wood painting.
The traditional signboard makers, who have been in the business for decades, have deft hands that can turn a plank into a classic signboard or tablet.
One of them was W.F. Foong, who has been running the shop named “Yip Cheen Yoon” with her husband for over 30 years.
Unperturbed by the busy traffic on Jalan Sultan Iskandar bridge, she was seen carefully clamping two pieces of planks of the same size together in her shop on Lorong Bijih Timah in Ipoh Old Town.
Foong, in her 60s, said she and her husband, who was about 10 years older than her, had been making signboards using the traditional method.
“There is no shortcut to producing a signboard that is of high quality,” she said, adding that it would take a week or so to complete a project.
“For instance, we have to polish a piece of plank repeatedly with sand paper to make sure it has a smooth surface before carving words on it,” she said.
Painting on the plank, she said, was also a tedious process, as it required great patience.
“After painting one layer on the plank, we have to wait for it to dry naturally before we could apply another layer on it,” she said, adding that creases would form on the plank if the process was not handled carefully.
Foong said the signboard-making business was started by her husband’s grandfather, who left China to settle down in Malaya about a century ago.
“I don’t know much about the shop’s history, but I know my husband’s grandfather started the business in a small shop in Batu Gajah,” she said.
She said in the past, normally only the older generation would purchase new wooden Chinese deity tablets from them before Chinese New Year.
“But the younger generation has started to appreciate the beauty of traditional wooden signboards again.
“They are big fans of retro things,” she said, adding that many had ordered wooden signboards from them for business purposes.
Other preferred types of signboards are the plastic and LED ones.
Another traditional wooden signboard maker, who only wanted to be known as Chow, said the business was a dying trade.
“Young people are not interested in this line because it is physically demanding compared to other white collar jobs,” he said, adding that a signboard maker must also be good in calligraphy and painting.
Chow, 83, said currently, only he and another elderly sifu, who declined to be named, were operating the shop named “Fah Kee”.
“Fah Kee” is a few shops away from “Yip Cheen Yoon”.
Chow said they made congratulatory plaques, Chinese deity tablets and signboards to be hung on shops and houses.
“Both of us have been working here for about half a century and we would continue to keep this business going as long as our health permits us to do so.
“We try not think about the future and just let nature take its course,” he said.
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Northern Region, Family & Community, signboard maker ipoh
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