Street Talk: Flower Plaque Maker Lee Tsui-lan
HK Magazine: How did you enter the industry?
Lee Tsui-lan: My father started Lee Yim Kee Flower Shop in 1954. I’ve always liked art. I was still a student when I started helping him. I did it full-time after primary school. He used to provide the catering service for village banquets but then shifted to the flower plaque business because he thought he could earn much more.
HK: What are they used for?
LT: Most of the orders are for traditional Chinese festivals like the Tin Hau Festival. We also make plaques for weddings, inaugurations and business openings. The majority of our customers are from the New Territories, where most villages are located. But by word of mouth, we have started to take orders from as far as the island district.
HK: Why are fa paai important to Hong Kong culture?
LT: They are part of a tradition, symbolizing luck, joy and prosperity. They are colorful and bright, and add a hint of happiness to the day. The atmosphere would be different without them during festivals and village feasts.
HK: Why don’t you see more of them on the island?
LT: You rarely find flower plaques on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon because there are too many skyscrapers and too few open spaces. It’s impossible to hang up plaques in places that are packed with vehicles, people and neon signboards.
HK: How do you make them?
LT: We build a bamboo frame then make the decorations—like dragons and phoenixes—with bamboo sticks, wire mesh and reusable metallic foil. People often get confused by the name “flower plaque”—we never actually use real flowers. They are all paper and foil. Some of the decorations were made by my father 60 years ago and we are still using them. The most complicated part is outlining the dragon and phoenix decorations with metal wires. Normally it takes a few days to complete one plaque.
HK: Do you always hand write the messages?
LT: Customers love hand-written words because they look livelier. But we can’t promise this any more. Calligraphy is not something that can be taught overnight and I have no idea how to teach my successors. My colleagues have scanned my writing for future use and created some new fonts.
HK: What’s the largest plaque you’ve ever made?
LT: The largest one we’ve made was 100 feet wide. That was a congratulation plaque for Legislative Council member Lau Wong-fat when he was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal.
HK: How has the industry changed since you started?
LT: Only a few flower plaque businesses are left and the experts are all over 60 years old. There are very few young adults who are willing to learn. We stopped creating 3D calligraphy after the 60s. The materials these days are less durable too: Paper in the old days could be used for up to 10 years, whereas the paper we have now starts to fade after one use. But if the New Territories doesn’t develop too rapidly, flower plaques will still be here for some more years.
Visit Lee Yim Kee Flower Shop, 29 Southern Entrance, Yuen Long Kau Hui, Yuen Long, 2476-2549.