Along the bustling streets of Sheung Wan, a little alley known as Man Wa Lane seems to fade unnoticed into the shadows. Few people would expect to find the 3,000-year-old craft of Chinese seal-carving alive and well, right next to a MTR exit. The narrow alley, whose name means Chinese Cultural Lane and is a mere 400 metres long, is lined by the dozen tiny green booths of chop-makers. Chan Sei, 78, the second-generation owner of the old Hon Jai Chops shop, sat cautiously engraving Chinese characters onto a piece of soapstone no bigger than a 10-cent coin. With expertise he carves characters onto jade, cow bone, crystal and wood. He often works with the ancient calligraphic styles of seal scripts from the Qin dynasty, but he also uses modern Chinese script and even English, a language he doesn't speak well. 'I guess I was destined to be a chop maker,' Chan says. He inherited the tiny workshop from his father more than half a century ago. He has been earning a living from it ever since. 'It has been my greatest skill and interest in life,' the craftsman says. The golden era of Chop Alley dates back to the 1900s. Back then most people couldn't read or write and they had to stamp their signatures on official documents. They used stamps to receive wages or when picking up packages at the post office. Some artists and scholars might even have a full set of name seals, leisure seals and studio seals with elaborate Chinese calligraphy and paintings carved on precious stones. They could cost a fortune. But nowadays almost everyone can read and write, and a colour printer is within everyone's reach. Chop making has fallen out of favour. 'No matter how well I carve, nobody seems to care about this ancient craft anymore,' Chan says. Only a few shops away is Wing Yuen Chops and Printing owned by Cherry Lee Tak-Ying. The 40-year-old began helping out at her uncle's business some 20 years ago. She mastered the skill of seal carving alone. 'You can never stop learning the craft, but practice makes perfect,' she says. Lee handles all aspects of the business from design and carving to sale. She knows the prices of more than 50 stone types by heart. As demand for traditional seals has dropped, she now also prints name cards and creates mass-produced rubber chops for companies. 'It's hard to survive on carving traditional seals nowadays as only tourists want them,' she says. One of her loyal customers is Jack Shigeta, 26, from Japan. Shigeta has already had three sets of traditional seals carved with his name, personal symbol and company details. He's back for a fourth order on behalf of his Japanese company. 'The traditional chops are really cool,' he says. 'It's hard to get in Japan. Even if I did find one, it would cost several times more because of higher labour costs.' Lee can craft chops based on a chart of Japanese characters. She also has charts in Korean, English and French. Yet demand from tourists cannot make the old craft as lucrative as it was in the old days. Chan sells a hand-carved seal for a few hundred dollars. His monthly income is around HK$3,000. The rent for his shop is HK$4,000 a year. 'As long as I can, I will keep working,' he says. 'I love what I'm doing and would miss chatting to my friends in Chop Alley.'