The dedicated carver

In the heart of George Town there is a dying trade which has its origins long before the Second World War. Kok Ah Wah is a master in traditional carved signboards. His late father, at the age of 14, migrated from China and started as an apprentice in the trade on Penang Island.

Kok took over the business soon after his father passed away. His family has been in the business for more than 70 years, and he learned everything he knew from his late father at the age of 16. Now in his late 60s, he is the last of his generation to continue the family trade. None of his children will follow in his footsteps. A single fine carved signboard will take him one to three weeks to complete. Following Chinese tradition, the front entrance of a residential or commercial building is a significant passage that blesses the coming and going of residents and guests. His fine skills with the tools have served both locals and foreigners.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest from the younger generation in learning this delicate trade. Kok has eagerly passed on his skills to local and foreign students, hoping that his craft will continue to survive in the 21st century.

Azri Zainul is a true Penangite with a passion for street and documentary photography.

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