“Red, yellow, and green longevity bowls. In the past, they are commonly seen in every household.” Mr Wong Gia Loke gives a run through as he walks among tall shelving units laden with ceramic ware. One must be extremely careful when navigating the narrow aisles, to prevent shattering piles of ceramic ware.” There are plenty of designs, that is a noir mille fleur, as well as landscape.” Famille rose ceramic ware have elaborate decorative patterns, which may look identical, yet each stroke is hand-painted by skilled craftsmen. What once was ordinary tableware back in the 1940’s-60’s, has now become highly sought-after collectibles, only available in century-old stores.
Yat Hang Trading, occupying a three-storey building on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee at Kuala Lumpur, has been in operation for more than 100 years. The building recessed beyond the five-foot walkway, giving it an unusual appearance compared with neighbouring double-storey shophouses. The extended space is utilised by employing mobile shelving units to display goods during business hours, while the vibrant graffiti walls on both sides add funky vibes. Fusion of old and new not only occurs on the shop exterior, but also the merchandise they stock: apart from traditional ceramic ware of all shapes and sizes, there are modern kitchen utensils, crockery, and cutlery.
Produced since the Eastern Han Dynasty, ceramic ware became widespread over the globe, generally used as food vessels, or appreciated as an art piece. The most in-demand being white ceramic bowls adorned with red rooster, banana leaves, and a pink peony, symbolizing diligence, success, and prosperity respectively. Rooster bowls gained popularity in Southeast Asia due to mass migration, where Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand soon started local productions. Common sizes range from five inches to eight inches in diameter.
The founders of Yat Hang Trading were three brothers hailing from Xinhui, Guangdong in China. In the early 20th century, they arrived in Kuala Lumpur carrying bamboo baskets full of ceramic ware. Pooling resources together with relatives and friends, Yat Hang was initially established in a small shoplot near today’s Kotaraya Complex. Having operated for over 80 years, as the partners gradually retired, the company was voluntarily wound up. The next generation, Mr Wong’s father decided to reinstate the family business, thus acquiring the current premises about 30 years ago. Mr Wong and his elder sisters would help out at the shop after school, hence developing a fervent interest in ceramic ware and the underlying cultural significance.
Taking over the reins upon completing studies till now, the three Wong siblings dedicated their youth to Yat Hang, working together in handling various duties from cleaning, customer service, to accounting. The sweet fruit of their success is the expansion from merely a retail shop to include a warehouse on the second storey and a showroom on the third storey of the same building. Apart from wholesaling, Yat Hang also caters for housewarming, weddings, and elderly birthday celebrations. A complete set of traditional Chinese diningware comprises 96 pieces decorated with the same motif, including bowls, plates, chopsticks, spoons, toothpick holder, and stew pot. Whereas a Chinese tea set is made up of teapot, teacups, and a tray.
Decal transfers gradually replaced hand-painted ceramic ware since the 80’s, reducing costs while enabling mass production, however the essence of handicraft is lost. The famille rose making technique in Guangdong, with a rich history of over 300 years, was listed as an intangible cultural heritage in 2008. Formerly exported in large quantities, famille rose ceramic ware is now highly sought-after by collectors. Each piece is one of its kind, nevertheless imitation pieces are manufactured in the retro style.
The key highlight of Yat Hang is not limited to trading, but also in spreading knowledge. The eldest, Miss Wong Pooi Man, learned on the job about how customers from different cultural backgrounds have varying requirements regarding diningware, as well as playing an active part in promoting Malaysia’s multiculturalism to foreigners. She shares recipes with customers while recommending cookware, and gives them tips on proper usage and maintenance of the products. Customers are happy to gain such information, some even bring their successful dishes to share with Miss Wong, which makes her feel glad.
Dining habits change with the times, traditional ceramic ware may cease in everyday use, the underlying cultural significance may gradually be forgotten. However, at a corner of Petaling Street, the three Wong siblings keep up the family legacy, continuing to pass on traditional Chinese dining culture through Yat Hang.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang / Michael Lerk
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen
Music : 《Romantic Piano Inspiration》
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