“Kong, kong, kong!”
As you walk down a very particular alley of Yau Ma Tei, this is the only sound you will hear. Whether it be under the glaring sun, or amidst a downpour of rain, the Coppersmiths of Ping Kee Copperware will be sweating through the day with a hammer in one hand, and their artisanal masterpieces in the other.
Meet the Luk Brothers, owners of Ping Kee Copperware, Hong Kong’s very last handcrafted copperware shop. With over 80 years of history, Ping Kee was first built by their father, Luk Ping. When the pair of siblings finished primary school in the 1940s, they quickly began learning the tricks of the trade from senior Luk. “We knew we were not good at academics, so we started to learn the craft from our dad because we needed to have some sort of skill set,” said Shu Choi, the elder of the two, “we didn’t take this up just as a hobby, it was more for survival. And we never intended to take over our dad’s business either, but look at us now, we’ve now been in the business for over 50 years!”.
Ping Kee Copperware makes all types of copperware, from small pots and pans to big decorative art pieces. The time spent sculpting their work may range from as little as a few hours to weeks and even months, depending on the shape and size of the piece, and the intricacy of techniques involved. One of their first masterpieces was a ceremonial gong they made for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The gong, which is used to mark a new racing season every year, took the Luk brothers a whole week to make. Even though it appears to be nothing special, this 40-something-lbs masterpiece is something that they are the most proud of.
“Most of the time I just need my good eye and trusty hammer, but sometimes I need other tools like this—” said Keung Choi, the younger Luk brother, as he proudly holds up a plain blue plastic cylinder (pictured above) with a wide grin across his face, “—this helped me make a giant crockpot in just three days”.
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It’s evident that the Luk Brothers carried on their father’s legacy not just to make a living, but because they have developed a true passion for their work, despite the many uphill struggles and competitive challenges that come in their way, namely the saturated market for common, dispensable kitchen cookware. In comparison, Ping Kee do no offer any frills, they don’t do fancy, and they certainly do not operate on the principle of prêt-à-porter. What they do have, is their painstaking craftsmanship, with its nods to traditional Chinese culture. Something that, unfortunately, not many people know to appreciate in our modern society.
“If someone comes to me wanting to be an apprentice, I would be reluctant to teach them,” explained Shu Choi, “we do everything with our hands here, and it’s a lot of hard work. I don’t think young people these days can bear the amount of time, effort, and patience you need for this job”.
Hidden in plain sight, this rare gem of local Hong Kong history has more stories and personalities than its shagged shopfront gives itself credit for. Regardless of what the future may hold for Ping Kee and this unique craftsmanship, the Luk Brothers represent the best of #youdoyou. Their passion, strength, and resilience are a true inspiration.
Read more! Learn more about our wonderful city in the Culture section here on Localiiz.