The envy of her peers
Sister Lan, armed with her artistic talent, has been in charge of writing messages on flower plaques for decades. Her Chinese calligraphy is acknowledged as remarkable, and virtually without equal among her peers in the industry. Every time Sister Lan receives an order, she immediately sketches the design on paper with a ballpoint pen; in the workshop, we see some of these sketches clipped onto thin ropes. Then, with their nimble hands, the craftsmen of “Lee Yim Kee” turn these sketches into actual flower plaques. Sister Lan can instantly draw the shape of the “round bag” (a round-shaped element of the flower plaque, containing a Chinese character) using only a pen and a coin. Andy, whose own job is setting up the bamboo scaffolds that support the flower plaque, admits: “When it comes to design and writing, I really can’t match her. I would have to practice for a very long time!”
Sister Lan’s outstanding calligraphy is the main reason her customers keep on coming back to “Lee Yim Kee”. When she was a child, she observed and imitated her father’s Chinese calligraphy, and practiced on newspapers in the workshop. Her talent in calligraphy gained her father’s approval, and she was commissioned to write Chinese messages in Chinese characters (such as “Birthday of Tin Hau”, “Safe and Sound” and “God Bless”) on flower plaques. Eventually, she was also given responsibility for painting dragons, phoenixes and various other colourful, propitious patterns on the plaques. Writing and drawing on giant flower plaques with an average height of 20-feet is completely different from writing on paper. However, with nearly 50 years of experience, Sister Lan is able to draw giant patterns or Chinese characters directly onto the plaques, using a brush, without a moment’s hesitation. The final product is totally symmetrical and proportionate: even other craftsmen within the industry gasp with admiration at her superb artwork.
The bottom part of the flower plaque usually contains the names of patrons and customers. In traditional villages, the number of patrons often exceeds a hundred for important inaugurations or festivals – like the annual Tai Ping Qing Jiao. Precision is critically important: “Mr. Wong and Mr. Wang are pronounced identically in spoken Cantonese, but they are not written the same. There were no WhatsApp or emails in the old days, so I had to confirm the names with customers by phone every time. It would take me a whole day just to confirm the correct names of the patrons,” Sister Lan recalls with a smile. “If you keep writing on flower plaques, your Chinese language skills will definitely improve.”