Shards of Glass Industry
Reading an article in the South China Morning Post that traced the decline of neon factories in Hong Kong, made me think of another little glass industry I once visited there which has totally disappeared.
All aboard the Deri-Vica
It was November 1969 when I boarded a swish motor launch at Queen’s Pier for my first jaunt on Hong Kong Harbour.
We drank Pimm’s as the Deri-Vica, polished wood and gleaming brass, hustled with tankers, lighters and ferries along an ugly industrialised foreshore. But once we cleared Stonecutters Island, the change was swift; a green and pleasant coastline and a seascape shared with great old wooden junks, still under sail. These were ‘out of China’ and it was a thrill to glimpse anything from the mainland, then in the grip of the Cultural Revolution.
Thermos Flasks on Ma Wan Island
Our destination was the little island of Ma Wan where our host, Mickey Mok, Hong Kong’s premier stockbroker, took us to visit the local thermos flask factory which kept the island going together with shrimp fishing, some farming and handicraft.
The blowing of the glass was mechanised, but each one had to be twisted off and finished by hand. It was a family concern with the children happily engaged in the packaging shed and running errands.
The inner and outer flasks were separated by small asbestos disks and outside sat a very old lady straddling her workbench; a huge tree stump. She had a round punch and a hammer and moved a sheet of asbestos around cutting out each disk one by one.
Shrimp paste, fish, baskets and rice paddies
Mickey Mok walked us on from the factory; there were no cars or even bicycles, just an undercurrent of dogs, cats, chickens and kids. Outside each small house was a rack of fish hanging up to dry.
Mickey beckoned me to look in one doorway to where a grandmother was making a basket, her hands busy while her feet rested on a flexible bamboo foot pedal that joined a pole suspended between two rafters where a basket hung and rocked her grandson gently as she worked.
On the edge of the village were homes made out of old sampans raised up on stilts, mended and extended with planks from wooden packing crates disporting foreign brand names and logos.
We carried on past rice paddies and vegetable gardens to a sandy beach and then back through the second village on the Island which Mickey claimed was the oldest one left in Hong Kong. He also said the large TV set mounted in the village square was the Government’s idea of birth control!
It's hard to comprehend the change. The slate is not quite wiped clean, a deserted village by the pier and some old timers attest to that but the thermos factory is long gone. Ma Wan now houses thousands and thousands of families.
The island became a pylon stop in the mid-1990s for the Tsing Ma suspension bridge to the new international airport on Lantau. It sports a Noah’s Ark theme park and Park Island - a huge gated apartment complex.
A kindly host
I was only 21; Mickey Mok was a generous host, keen to show visitors around. It was much more fun on the Deri-Vica than on the boats of foreign Taipans because of his local knowledge. I admired his immediacy; he engaged villagers and boat dwellers with genuine curiosity, affection and respect - they would have known from the boat that he was a wealthy man, but just how wealthy, I doubt!