Art of Print: an afternoon at Wai Che Printing Company

Back in August of this year, a RISD friend invited me to one of their alumni events here in Hong Kong. It was called “Word Jamming” at Wai Che Printing Company (伟志印务公司) — translation is “great aspiration printing company” — and we went to visit the old, Chinese print shop in Sheung Wan. At Wai Che Printing, there were only a few print machines, a shelf for the printing blocks, a desk for paperwork, and a long table for the master’s guests. Mr. Lee Chak Yue, the shop owner, told his story.

We got to hear how the neighborhood had changed and is continuing to change. The whole area from Central to Sheung Wan used to be filled with printers, print shops, and other paper-related storefronts. Mr. Lee was one of the last shops in the area who had the old print-press and type-set machines. The old Heidelberg machine used individual blocks for each chinese character. He showed us old font books for English characters, and let us see the many old print-blocks he had. He elaborated, “proper printing is now done in China, we only take orders here.” Although it’s understandable and necessary, it’s sad to see this craft and art disappearing.

The old man also informed us that his space was under high demand due to development and gentrification. The government wanted to take over his shop and use it for redevelopment, similar to what they have done with apartment blocks just on his block, in the same complex. The old man wanted to turn his shop into a museum. This ‘word jam’ session that I was attending was one of Mr. Lee’s ways of spreading his story and making moves towards the museum purpose of sharing knowledge and information. Not to mention, it was a fun, different, and engaging experience. The activity for word jamming was to use the old print blocks as if they were stamps to make designs and patterns; to make art. If there was a museum, it would show visitors the history of the neighborhood of Sheung Wan and educate people of the way before the digital age. What a great idea..!

Sadly, the idea didn’t quite catch on. On Christmas morning, I decided to take a hike to The Peak. Along the way, as I often do, I passed by this very same shop. The time had come. The old placard outside the store front was removed. The big “official” sign for the store was gone. What was left was this little A4 sign with the Wai Che Printing Company. I took a peak inside — no more machines. No more shelves with the beautiful library of printing blocks. It smelled of dampness and mold. The owner and his wife were still inside with a small table and a few chairs and storage shelves inside. I asked “I once came here before, are you moving?” “Yes,” they responded as they continued to fold paper for one of their print jobs. Oddly, the sadness struck me, “when did you move?” I asked and Mr. Lee responded, “just a couple weeks ago, we are still looking for a new space.” They gave me the phone number to call and check up on Mr. Lee. “Ok, have a Merry Christmas!” “Yes, yes, Merry Christmas.”

As much as I’d like to make myself think I will be visiting the new shop. I’m sure I really won’t, and I think maybe the old couple working away on Christmas day knew that as well. Mr. Lee’s Wai Che Printing Company will no longer be in close proximity, on my way to the hike up The Peak, and down the street from some of my favorite restaurants.

It seems much of Hong Kong is moving in this direction. And having had that personal experience of making printed art at this little print shop really hits home. I personally heard the old man’s story and his passion for just working with print everyday. He would say that it used to take 1 day to typeset 1 A4-sized letter. And be sure not to make any mistakes or you’ll have to start all over!

Gentrification is only natural. It’s incredibly sad that his space will not be a museum for his old machines to tell the story and history of Hong Kong’s development. I suppose now I feel some obligation to do so and to share my experience there, even from my short Sunday afternoon visit during a hot summer day. I live in this neighborhood that changes everyday. And everyday I think “How can I help document this?” Perhaps this is a start…

As the MTR expands, many of the property prices change and rise, forcing old shops to shut down and new ’boutiques’ to move in. Even chains like the Watson’s convenient store have been ‘kicked out’. And as much as I love these small boutiques, no longer having old pawn shops, stalls selling smelly dried seafood, snake soup, or the local noodle shop is of course not the same. The character of the city changes. And this place becomes more western than it already is. Tourists will have to look into the nooks and crannies and very hard to find what was once there.

UPDATE: The shop is no longer there.

八月份的时候我跟朋友去她的校友互动。我们到香港上环一家 ‘伟志印务公司‘。在伟志印务公司,只有几台机具,货架用来摆印板,书桌用来做工,还有一张长桌子让我们客人座。李新生,店主,说说他的故事。我们听听他分点的地区附近忙变,越来越改变。以前从中环到上环都是印务公司或打印店和其他相关抵的缅甸。李先生的打印店可能在地区之一家还有呢么旧的印刷机。他的海德堡 (Heidelberg)机器使用刻版印数的方法。每一个字符有自己的刻板。他有让我们看看以前用的英文字体书还有让我们看他以前用的刻板。李伯说现在打印的都在大陆了,他们在香港自订单。虽然打印的艺术为了电脑和电子产品漫漫消失。 有合理, 但还是有点可惜。

李伯说说高速我们,为了发展和高档化政府和开发公司他分店的地产太有价值了。他们想在他分店的地区重建。已经开始了。但李伯想让他的分店用来做博物馆。我们‘‘学生’ 在他分店来参加’word jam‘会议就是李伯之一的方式传播他的故事和分享知识,历史和信息,好像他想要的博物馆。加上了,我们参加的会议好玩儿,有意思也是引人入胜的体验。我们在’word jam’活动的时候是用李先生旧的刻板和印油能当橡皮图章。我们自己做图案和花纹。我们做艺术。如果有博物馆的话,游客能探知在上环的历史和地区,能了解数字化时代自前是怎么样。真是好主意!

但太可惜了。圣诞节日,我准备走路爬山到香港山顶。一路走的时候我走过李伯的商店。时间到了,在外面没有’伟志印务公司‘的牌了。只有一张抵写写’伟志印务公司‘。我看看商店里-没有打印机器了,没有台海德堡在。柜台都没有了。闻闻到潮湿和发霉的味道。李先生和他的太太还在做工。里面还有几个椅子和小桌子。我问问,“我以前来过的,你们搬了?” 他们说,“对了”。恩,我子能说“圣诞快乐”。


3 thoughts on “Art of Print: an afternoon at Wai Che Printing Company

  1. Sad, this place is right by me and I walk by it all the time when I walk around my neighborhood. I always peek inside, but have never really visited.

  2. Thank you for the update. I has read about Wai Che Printing Company’s letterpress shop a few yrs back and had wondered what happen to the Artisan. Sigh… its quite heart breaking that this old art is slowly ending. I must say I’m a bit envious that you had the opportunity to visit the shop :P

    Happy New Yr!

  3. COOL YO!! sad that it is no longer there. Cool history of hk. =) and wow, u made the blog post in chinese toO!! #talented

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