A half-century of carving mastery
Sister Mai had to endure a lot during her time as an apprentice. A single scratch can make a deep mark on the thick acrylic tile, so an accidental cut on the hands is nothing unusual. “It was no big deal, not a lot of blood was shed, so once I stopped bleeding, I could start working again.” She continues, “When you first begin carving a tile, the hardest part is looking at it and not knowing where to start. You don’t want to make a wrong cut and waste the tile.” I ask Sister Mai which tile is the most difficult to carve, “Difficult?” she instantly responds. “I’ve been carving Mahjong tiles for decades, and there’s not a single tile that’s difficult!” But after a moment’s thought, Sister Mai finally says, “The most difficult one is the bird-like ‘Bamboo 1’ tile, which is more complex, and the ‘Flowers’ tiles – ‘Plum’, ‘Orchid’, ‘Chrysanthemum’ and ‘Bamboo’ – each of which has to express both form and spirit.” Despite the fact that she always seems to be joking, Sister Mai knows that “Kam Fat” is the brainchild of her parents, and she takes it very seriously, “My father passed away in 1986, and my siblings were all working outside at that time. It was impossible to leave my mum to handle the business alone, so I promised to take over the shop and run.” And so she has, to this day.
At “Kam Fat”, apart from Sister Mai’s obvious hand-carving skills, the tools in her hands are also cleverly designed. In addition to the large engraving drill for the “Dot” tiles, there are also smaller engraving knives for the “Character”, “Bamboo” and “White” tiles. These metal tools have been used for decades, and the smoothed handles have a warm and friendly feel. It is worth mentioning her box lamp, which is a great example of the craftsman’s wisdom and has a wide range of uses. “I call it the ‘magic lamp’. The small wooden box is not only used for illumination, but also for speeding up the drying of the freshly coloured paint; on top of the box is a piece of iron that can warm up blank tiles and make them more pliable for carving.”