Arts & CultureHERITAGE

Cheong Lee Hup Kee Tinsmith

Dying Craft

By Khaleeja Suhaimi & Vivien Lian

This is the first in a series of features on dying crafts of Ipoh.

Being involved in tin mining at the age of 15, Wong Kong Sing has now taken over the business from his father. This family business, which is now in its third generation, was begun circa 1960 by Wong’s grandparents.

They began by making pails for latex rubber and equipment used in tin mining. Now their only orders are from factories simply because some equipment are not available in the market. Unfortunately, the amount of orders coming from factories are only a few and dwindling.

A single order takes a lot of effort and work as Wong uses his bare hands to cut the metal and complete the rest of the work. Thus, they can only produce a certain number of products, and because they are all custom made, he’s not able to do more and earn more.

Customers will look for Wong when they fail to find the required measurements for their tools and utensils and especially if they are looking for a high quality product. Tin craft used to be something everyone looked for until plastic came about.

“Tin craft is a skill, it’s not something you can learn overnight. It baffles me how it’s highly appreciated in other countries, but not here in Malaysia. I’ve crossed paths with foreigners who look up to crafts like this,” said Wong.

The biggest challenge Wong still faces is the measurements done for each product and the way to produce it as it takes enormous effort and time. This is why he can only take a few orders, up to 30 or 40.

“It can be replaced but not entirely. Tin smiths are still needed in the market, although not much can be made. We’re the last generation, even my son is not willing to inherit and learn tin craft. Isn’t it ironic?” he said with a laugh.

There were students who came up to Wong to learn and never showed up after a few times although Wong was rather happy to teach without expecting anything in return. He is sad that the younger generation these days would do everything else but pick up golden skills like this.

To survive is by far the right phrase when asked if tin craft is able to earn a living. Wong’s message to the younger generation is to study well and if education may not be the cup of tea for some, learning something skillful like tin craft can help them go forward in life.

Wong is currently running the shop with his brother and would not trade it for anything else. Those who are interested to know more can visit his shop at No. 29, Jalan Dato’ Maharaja Lela, 30000 Ipoh, or call 05 241 9931.

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