This story was part of Elephant Community Press' 2015 exhibition, "Beyond the Storefront".
To have a good balance between family and work may not be an easy task for people nowadays. But Wong Shu Yau, the 70-year-old shopkeeper of a traditional printing business has achieved this feat.
“The most memorable part of my career will definitely be when we can finally take a rest and spend time with family away from our hectic work schedule,” laughs Wong, who works alongside his wife in the shop.
The shop is situated next to a busy road on Wellington Street in Central, the crowded business centre of Hong Kong. The space is tiny, just sufficient to squeeze in the two massive traditional printers and other machines. The continuous noises of the aged printers moving their rusted arms sound like sewing machines, attracting the eyes of curious passersby.
The tin partitions that shelter the shop have already rusted, but in the hustle and bustle of the big city, the cozy shop seems to be separated from the busy people rushing here and there.
Perhaps it is the stacks of paper on the shelves or the warm smile of Wong, the store owner.
Wong claims that the set-up of the shop does not differ a bit from how they decorated it at first. Piles of early-age order receipts are filed in binders and placed on the shelves. The stacks and stacks of papers symbolize the long history of this shop, but the shiny smooth wood of the drawers has faded and become matte, and the wood surfaces are no longer dust-free.
Wong has devoted himself to the career of printing for 40 years. Although the industry is already receding, Wong still holds a positive attitude towards his work, continuingly bringing sunshine and encouragement to his customers who supported his business even when revenues hit a record low. "Those are the customers who have been coming to our store since the very beginning,” says Wong. “The bond between us is irreplaceable.”
Looking back, however, he is most grateful that he could raise two successful kids, one now working as a professional in finance and the other working as a pilot. "My children achieved this much because of their own efforts and hard work," says Wong with a modest smile, although he carried a heavy burden in nurturing his kids by only running a traditional printing shop.
In the heyday of Wong's business, they received an abundance of orders — around 10 to 15 orders per week. "Having to toil for the whole week, rushing for the deadlines, I still held fast to the number one rule: Take a day off on Sunday because I promised to spend quality time with my family on that day," says Wong. "We could catch up with the [work] progress overnight, but the things I promised my kids had to be done promptly."
Wong always insisted on squeezing out time from his schedule to go hiking with his wife and two children every week. Every time, he would end their hike with a simple lunch at Hong Kong University's canteen.
A warm smile appears on Wong's face when he talks about his experiences with his children on the hiking trail. Wong did not decide to walk this route every time by coincidence. Instead, he wanted his children to be motivated to strive in their studies by bringing them to visit Hong Kong's most prestigious learning institution.
"As a low-income labourer, this was all I could do," expresses Wong," but I am still grateful that they did not disappoint our hopes for them. You see, they can live independently without my help now!"
Wong is sure that he will retire one day and will have to put an end to his life-long career, but he believes in his children, and he entrusts his future to them.