HONG KONG — From the brine-soaked docks of a ferry pier to the red-painted pillars of a Buddhist temple, many an growing old picket construction in Hong Kong has discovered new function within the fingers of Wong Hung-kuen.
Mr. Wong, 73, clambered over mountains of logs at Chi Kee Sawmill and Timber on a current afternoon, loading wooden onto a rumbling crane, veins of sawdust clinging to his gloves. Close by have been the parked bulldozers that had toppled neighboring companies. Quickly, they might come for his.
Subsequent month, Mr. Wong should hand over the sawmill, which his household has owned for the reason that late Forties. It stands in the best way of the Hong Kong authorities’s $13 billion plan to show a quiet stretch of villages and wetlands into what it calls the Northern Metropolis, that includes tech start-ups, eco-tourism, housing for two.5 million and easy accessibility to Shenzhen, town throughout the border in mainland China. Mr. Wong petitioned the authorities to spare Chi Kee, however in June, he stated he had no alternative however to close it down.
He stated he didn’t wish to stand in the best way of modernization. However he had hoped that his household’s hovering, 10,000-square-foot mill in Kwu Tung village — and the 1,000 tons of wooden there, amounting to recycled Hong Kong historical past — might one way or the other be preserved.
“Wooden is life, even when it may well’t communicate,” Mr. Wong stated. “I see it as my accountability to increase its life span and discover new function for it.”
Since 2020, nevertheless, when a nationwide safety legislation was imposed on Hong Kong, protests of any type have been uncommon. However since Mr. Wong stated he would shut Chi Kee, guests have been coming to the mill — some to purchase wooden in a quiet present of solidarity, others simply to see it.
One was Oscar Yeung, a younger jewellery designer who makes pendants and rings from colonial-era Hong Kong cash. He sees the identical uncared for worth in Mr. Wong’s towering stockpile of wooden that he sees in his cash.
“I hope these items can keep in Hong Kong,” he stated. “As soon as they’re gone, they’re misplaced eternally.”
Chi Kee was named after Mr. Wong’s father, Wong Chi, a migrant from southern China, who was a prepare dinner and a rickshaw driver in Macau earlier than coming to Hong Kong within the Forties. He discovered work at a sawmill, and he bought cull lumber and firewood to individuals in Hong Kong’s shantytowns.
By 1948, he had opened his personal mill. He started by slicing planks for business crates. As soon as he might afford heavy gear, he started processing larger items of timber, a lot of it from the rainforests of Borneo. Builders and carpenters turned it into wall panels, tables, benches and coffins.
Over time, as Hong Kong grew, Chi Kee moved 4 occasions, making manner for brand new roads and tunnels, subway stations and public housing. Wong Hung-kuen and his brother, Simon Wong, have been constructing the present mill when their father died in 1983, leaving them to run the household enterprise with their youngest sister, Wong Mee-kiu.
Large sawmills like Chi Kee primarily grew to become out of date. Some closed their doorways; others grew to become warehouses, or bought lumber that had been lower elsewhere and shipped to Hong Kong. However Mr. Wong made a reputation for himself as a recycler.
Aug. 26, 2022, 10:48 a.m. ET
He appeared for reusable wooden in landfills, ports and nation parks. He sorted by way of 1000’s of lamp posts retired by town. A couple of decade in the past, because the landmark Wan Chai ferry pier was being demolished, Mr. Wong recycled its dock pilings, which have been embedded with shells and nails that made different mills reluctant to tackle the job. Artisans noticed character within the wooden and turned a few of it into cafe furnishings.
But it surely was a far cry from the increase years. For the reason that flip of the century, Mr. Wong says, the mill has been making a fraction of what it as soon as did, virtually all of it going to salaries and the upkeep of the heavy equipment.
“We gritted our enamel and received by way of disaster after disaster. Now we’re previous,” stated Ms. Wong, Mr. Wong’s sister. She has labored her complete life at Chi Kee and watches over Mr. Wong with a fierce protectiveness. (Their brother Simon not takes an lively position within the enterprise.)
In 2019, the federal government informed Mr. Wong that the positioning must be surrendered. Since then, he has petitioned numerous companies in a doomed try to reserve it, even proposing that it develop into a museum. He was supplied compensation however thought-about it inadequate.
As warehouses and factories in Kwu Tung fell to the bulldozers, he appeared in useless for an reasonably priced new website. The Hong Kong Improvement Bureau stated Chi Kee had been given two extensions, which it stated “ought to have left enough time for the operator to rearrange elimination and if vital relocation.” It stated it might assist prepare to maneuver the wooden to a public facility that recycles yard waste, a few of which finally ends up as fertilizer.
Mr. Wong is pained by that chance. “That is beneficial wooden. Not waste,” he stated.
Guests gaped as they wandered across the mill, their sneakers crunching on wooden shavings. Within the loft, a cellist was filming a music video, her brooding arpeggios mixing with the whiz and whirs of equipment.
Mr. Wong had been repurposing battered previous pillars from a Buddhist temple on Lantau Island, taking out nails and sawing off rot so they may develop into planks, for use once more within the temple’s renovation. “This place could make you’re employed till you collapse,” he stated.
Mr. Yeung, the jewellery designer, had come in search of planks for brand new cabinets. He ended up getting a carpentry lesson.
Mr. Wong, overwhelmed with different duties, supplied a “particular value” if Mr. Yeung pulled up his sleeves and set to work. His sister, Ms. Wong, confirmed the customer easy methods to run a hand-held planer, sawdust spraying like steam.
After seven hours, Mr. Yeung was able to go house. “That is actually tiring. It’s no joke!” he stated.
“You set in solely half a day’s work,” Mr. Wong stated with a slight smile, sipping natural tea on a stool. “However you bought lots in return.”
He thinks younger individuals might study an incredible deal from wooden. “I hope they’ll study from its resilient nature and keep grounded and never run away from issue.”
Mr. Wong peeled a kiwi and fed the higher half of a sandwich to Little Knife, Little Black and Siu Mai, the three mongrels who reside on the mill.
“The federal government would possibly deal with all this as rubbish,” he stated, surveying his repository. “However what’s thought-about ineffective now might sometime develop into beneficial once more.”