Local artist launches hand-carved Mahjong tile gift set

Karen Cheung’s hand-painted Mahjong tile gift sets are available from her pop-up shop at K11, Tsim Sha Tsui, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until October 28

The clack of Mahjong tiles is as Hong Kong as dim sum and Cantonese opera. In fact in 2014 it was named ‘an intangible cultural heritage’ by the government, along with umbrella-making and kung fu.

The popular Chinese table game is similar to gin rummy and is currently played by an estimated 350 million Asians. A Singapore Mahjong parlour even made a brief appearance in recent box hit smash Crazy Rich Asians.

But despite that, just a handful of Mahjong carving shops remain in Hong Kong today. The traditional tile has fallen foul to mass produced plastic tiles, electronic Mahjong tables, Mahjong app games and a youth who are spending more and more leisure time glued to their phones. Market research company Ipsos reported earlier this year that just one in 50 young Hong Kongers regularly play, compared with one in 12 five years ago. The once buoyant carving industry is now in the hands of a scattering of octo- and nano-genarians.

Illustrator Karen Cheung was born into a Mahjong family – her father is a traditional carver who took-over the family-run tile factory, Fuk Hing Lung Mahjong Manufacturing Factory, which was set up by her grandfather, supplying Hong Kong’s Mahjong parlours and hotels. But due to dwindling demand, her father was forced to shut up shop ten years ago.

“The day he closed the factory was so sad for him and my mother,” says Cheung. “They had to lay off employees who had worked for them for decades. He packed away his tools and didn’t even want to look at them again.”

But Cheung had other ideas. Her creative business, Travel with Pencil & Color, is a side-hustle (“it’s difficult to make a living drawing in Hong Kong,” she says) to her main job as an events organiser. “I come home from work, sleep for an hour or so, and then I draw from 11pm into the early hours,” she says.

Over the last six months, she has painstakingly designed five different Hong Kong scenes which have been carved into sets of Mahjong tiles. The six carved tiles in each set depict different areas of Hong Kong and come with a wind or dragon tile hand carved and painted by her father. North Point owns the North wind, Tung Chung the East, Sai Kung the West and Southside the South. Central is matched with the red dragon.

Tiny, beautiful details include a miniature Foreign Correspondents’ Club etched onto the Central tiles (quite apt as that is the venue for our meet-up), the Lantau buddha and cable car, seafood shops in Sai Kung and The Repulse on Southside.

“I think my father was ultimately glad to pick up his tools again,” she says. “He understood my excitement about the project. The challenge for me was managing high labour costs. From packaging to promotion, it’s been a steep learning curve.”

Cheung worked with fellow designers Connie Siu and Maggie Cheung on the project and it has gone on to win the Judges Award at this year’s annual Hong Kong Smarts Design Award, organised by the Hong Kong Export Association. “I think Hong Kong tourism likes this sort of thing as it promotes Hong Kong’s heritage and culture.”

Cheung says the project bridges the gap between traditional craftsmanship and modern art, aiming to reignite the dying art of hand-carved mahjong with advanced printing technology. The trio now find themselves in the top eight finalists of the K11 D Project this year.

Cheung will be managing a pop-up shop in K11 shopping mall this month featuring the Mahjong tiles sets, Travel Mahjong City, and other Mahjong-inspired products.  Customers who spend over $350 will receive a set of postcards depicting the mahjong story, while shoppers who spend over $500 will be receive a hand-carved ‘Sparrow Mahjong’ tile.

“Sparrow sounds the same as Mahjong in Chinese, the click clack of the tiles being shuffled is referred to as ‘twittering of the sparrows’,” she explains.

Cheung is currently working on a set of tiles to celebrate Christmas and Chinese New Year in the territory – the Lunar New Year is traditionally a time when families get together to play Mahjong.

“I’ve always loved drawing and I’m so pleased to have been able to turn it into a viable project,” she says.

Cheung’s pop-up shop will open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between September 28 and October 21, K11, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (MTR TST exit D2), karenaruba.com

Hong Kong’s Mahjong carvers

There are estimated to be a mere handful of carving shops left in Hong Kong, possibly not even that.

Biu Kee Mahjong is still operational on Jordan Road, Yau Ma Tei (opposite the entrance to Temple Street night markets).

Kam Fat Mahjong is the only female Mahjong carver in Hong Kong and has an under-the-stairs workshop in Hung Hom.

Factory-produced, plastic tile sets can be found in most markets, including Stanley and Cat Street.


Where to play

American Women’s Association (AWA) members and American Club members play every Tuesday, 10am-4pm, American Club, Tai Tam, awa.org.hk

Australian Association of Hong Kong members play every Monday, 10am-1pm, Dynasty Court Function Room, 17-23 Old Peak Road, Mid-levels, ozhongkong.com


The AWA will be organising a Mahjong Fundraiser in support of local charities, 10am-3.30pm, October 19, American Club Fireside Lounge, 28 Tai Tam Road, Tai Tam, $500/member, $500/guest, complimentary buffet lunch at noon, drinks charged to member’s accounts or payment by credit card, open to all, awa.org.hk

Art Walk debut in Sai Kung

Talking walking art with artist Helen Boyd

Local artist Helen Boyd and friend Natashi Kefford are launching HeArtWalk 2018, a two-day exhibition of art and postcards created by dozens of Hong Kong-based students, artists and art teachers from several schools.

The family-friendly event is the culmination of a year-long HeArt art project during which Boyd pledged to post pictures of handmade HeArts daily on her Instagram and Facebook pages. Followers were then able to request the heart be sent to themselves or to somebody with whom they wanted to ‘share the love’. Boyd’s hearts have travelled from Hong Kong to over 40 different countries. One follower requested a heart be sent to her daughter who was working as a frontline combat medic in Afghanistan.

“The project has made more of an impact than I had expected,” said Boyd. “It’s amazing to see the impression paper and pen can have on people.”

The walk takes participants through Sai Kung to participating businesses who are displaying HeArtWalk art. The final destination will be Boyd’s H Gallery where professional artists have donated work which will be available for purchase through a silent auction.

Tickets will go on sale a week before the event when those taking part in the walk can collect stamps from the participating businesses, these stamps will then entitle them to enter a raffle. Dozens of businesses in Sai Kung have donated prizes, from hair products to helicopter rides. Money raised from both the raffle and the silent auction will go to charities including ‘House with Heart’, a home for abandoned children in Kathmandu, Nepal.

HeArtWalk 2018 will take place on April 21 and 22, the art auction will take place 6-8.30pm, April 21, tickets are $200 with a map for the artwalk displayed on the back of the ticket. Tickets are available from H Studio Gallery, 1/1 Wan King Path, Sai Kung, @helenbrontebodyartist, facebook.com/HStudioGallery.


Open air gallery wows Hong Kongers

A little boy stands transfixed by Gimhongsok’s Bearlike Construction at the Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, which opened today

The Harbour Arts Sculpture Park opened to the public today on Hong Kong’s Harbourfront. Featuring work from nineteen heavy hitting international and local artists, including Great Britain’s Tracey Emin and Antony Gormley, Japan’s Yayoi Kusama and Hong Kong’s Kacey Wong, the ‘museum without walls’ runs for six weeks until April 11.

“There is a real ‘can do’ spirits in Hong Kong,” commented co-curator Tim Marlow at the official media launch. “I hope this (event) plays some role in the continuous momentum that cements Hong Kong’s international status as a growing art centre.”

This is the first event of its kind in Hong Kong, with pieces from 19 local and international artists displayed along the Harbourfront in Admiralty. Asked about his favourite pieces, Marlow said he was moved by Tracey Emin’s piece which is also a memorial to her personal friend Sir David Tang, who died last year.

“But what I’m most excited about is the location. What a privilege to be able to invite international artists to site their sculptures in one of the most exciting urban locations in the world,” he said. “The natural beauty of the harbour and the immense architecture of the buildings make it a really fertile location.”

The sculpture park is accompanied by the Jockey Club Arts Education Programme, a series of free workshops, educational activities, guided tours and a public art symposium. The aim is to encourage discussion of art in the city and create a culturally vibrant Hong Kong, as well as enhancing the accessibility of art in the SAR. By lunchtime on the day following the launch, it would seem this noble aim had already been achieved, with lots of excited children running around on the grass, touching the installations and having their pictures taken with the artwork by eager parents.

Visitors can also take part in a Harbour Arts Sculpture Park Photo Competition sponsored by ICBC (Asia) to capture ‘the most beautiful scene of the park’. Entry is via an app and website to be launched next week.

Harbour Arts Sculpture Park is located at Harbourfront, Admiralty, it’s free-of-charge and runs until April 11.


French artist hits the decks with chocolate records

Artist Dr Julia Drouhin with her playable chocolate records at Harbour City

French artist Dr Julia Drouhin arrived in Hong Kong this week with her stash of playable chocolate records. Not only are the records sweet tasting, they produce an amazingly sweet sound, too. Dr Drouhin spent this morning’s media launch alternating between Canto Pop, The Beatles, Chinese opera and Abba.

The exhibition, The Sound of Chocolate, is part of this month’s wider chocolate festival hosted by Harbour City in TST.

Each chocolate record lasted for about four or five plays before the diamond tip of the record player began to scratch the grooves. The audience of local photographers and journalists was then able to tuck in.

According to Drouhin, there’s nothing new about chocolate ‘vinyl’. German companies were distributing the very same to children 100 years ago as part of a public relations initiative to promote their products.

Back in her Tasmanian home, Drouhin has perfected the art of creating the records using pinkysil silicon which she pours into a frame over the original vinyl record and then leaves to set. The resulting silicon mould is then carefully peeled away.

“The silicon is also great for giving your vinyl a really good clean – all the dust motes hiding in the grooves come away when you peel away the silicon,” says Drouhin.

Melted chocolate is then poured into the mould and the whole contraption placed in a fridge overnight. “The chocolate must be dark, milk chocolate doesn’t work because it contains too much sugar. This effects the smoothness of the chocolate and gives a rougher finish which of course means the sound quality is comprised.”

Once set, the chocolate carefully prised out of the silicone and can then be spun on a turntable.

Drouhin has exhibited all over the world but this is the first time she has used her chocolate to play Canto Pop.

She says chocolate is only good for 45” singles, although she says ice works very well with 33” long players (ice of course is harder to play as the environment must be below freezing – chocolate merely requires a room set to around 18 degrees).

Drouhin’s chocolate records will be on display as part of Harbour City’s The Sound of Chocolate Art Exhibition which runs until Feb 25. There will be daily live playings every 20 minutes between noon and 8pm, Gallery by the Harbour, Shop 207, 2/F, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, TST. For full details about this exhibition as well as the wider Harbour City Chocolate Trail 2018, see harbourcity.com.


Women-only art exhibition comes to Hong Kong

Art On The Line is the city’s largest international art exhibit and sale featuring exclusively women artists

Hong Kong’s American Women’s Association (AWA) is launching a charity women-only art exhibition and auction, Art On The Line.

Over 200 artworks by professional, amateur and student artists from around the world will be displayed for one night only, hanging on a line. This year’s artistic line-up hails from countries including Germany, the US, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong, creating what is Hong Kong’s largest international art exhibit and sale featuring exclusively women artists.

“It’s such a coup to have this collection of such great artists all in one place,” said co-chair J’nee Hilgers-Easter. “Not only to kick off ‘Art Month’ in Hong Kong, but also raise the profile of these enormous talents right before International Women’s Day on March 8th. It’s an honor to be able to showcase these women and celebrate their achievements while doing good for the community.”

All money raised from the event will go to charities and scholarships that serve Hong Kong’s community. Previous Art On The Line events have raised over $500,000.

Art On The Line takes place 6-10pm, March 1, The Annex, Nan Fung Place, 2F-6, 173 Des Voeux Road, Central. Follow the event on Facebook or see www.awa.org.hk.