Street Talk

“Wai Gor,” aka Henry Yau, is the “Um­brella King” of Sham Shui Po. He’s the fifth-gen­er­a­tion owner of um­brella store Sun Rise Co. (新藝城). He tells Kate Lok how he got into the busi­ness, and why he con­sid­ers mak­ing um­brel­las an art form.

HK Magazine - - UPFRONT -

HK Mag­a­zine: When did Sun Rise Co. start?

Wai Gor: This lit­tle um­brella store was started way back in 1842 by my an­ces­tors in Guangzhou. My dad brought it to Hong Kong around 70 years ago. I learned how to make um­brel­las at a very young age. I would sit in the store and watch my fa­ther mak­ing them.

HK: How long does it take to make an um­brella? WG: It takes about three hours to make one from start to fin­ish. I’ve stopped sell­ing my own um­brel­las now, as they’re just too time-con­sum­ing to make. I still sell um­brel­las, but I buy them from else­where. I also fix bro­ken um­brel­las.

HK: Why are you so passionate about um­brel­las? WG: Um­brel­las are beau­ti­ful things to me. Do you know why peo­ple are so fas­ci­nated with churches and cathe­drals in Europe? It’s be­cause of their rounded roofs. The hu­man eye has al­ways found shapes that are curved with­out sharp an­gles cap­ti­vat­ing, and that’s the same case with um­brel­las. Each piece is a work of art.

HK: Do you have any tips when it comes to choos­ing the per­fect um­brella?

WG: Ev­ery­body has their own pref­er­ence when choos­ing an um­brella. A lot of peo­ple nowa­days would choose them ac­cord­ing to weight—they want um­brel­las to be as light as pos­si­ble. I say don’t go for the light­est, be­cause they are usu­ally made with ma­te­ri­als that aren’t that strong and can eas­ily break. Um­brel­las used to be made with steel, and that made them re­ally heavy but ex­tremely sturdy. Now they are mostly made with alu­minum.

HK: We hear there’s a proper way to use an um­brella. Can you teach us?

WG: Of course. I love teach­ing my cus­tomers the cor­rect way to open an um­brella. Peo­ple who work in the um­brella in­dus­try hate me for it, be­cause open­ing um­brel­las the right way makes them live longer. So lis­ten up: For au­to­matic um­brel­las, you must open them while they are fac­ing up­wards. If you open them side­ways, all the fab­ric will be fac­ing down­wards and that puts great pres­sure on the ribs of the um­brella. For pocket um­brel­las, I al­ways tell my cus­tomers that it is “sleep­ing” when you are not us­ing it, so don’t open it too abruptly. You have to “wake up” the ribs of the um­brella by slowly shak­ing it while open­ing it up.

HK: Do you have chil­dren? Do you think they will in­herit your busi­ness?

WG: I have two daugh­ters, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be tak­ing on my busi­ness. Young peo­ple nowa­days are look­ing for work that is sus­tain­able and will make money quickly. I don’t think stick­ing with the um­brella in­dus­try will get them any­where.

HK: How did the um­brella rev­o­lu­tion in 2014 af­fect your busi­ness?

WG: My um­brel­las got RE­ALLY pop­u­lar. I never used to sell yel­low um­brel­las, since they were never a pop­u­lar color, but the um­brella rev­o­lu­tion brought hun­dreds of or­ders ev­ery day. Most were from young peo­ple, and I sold them at a very cheap price, be­cause I knew that they were us­ing them for a good cause.

HK: What’s with all the stuff hang­ing out­side your shop? WG: Al­though most peo­ple would call me an “um­brella smith,” I con­sider my­self more of an artist. I like cre­at­ing ran­dom art from things that are usu­ally con­sid­ered trash, such as water bot­tles or bro­ken um­brel­las. I once made a fan out of the ribs of an old um­brella, and it turned out quite well. I have a very artis­tic sense when I fix um­brel­las: I try to make the re­pairs as seam­less as pos­si­ble, as if it was brand new. I’m quite the per­fec­tion­ist in that way.

HK: Any good stories about your cus­tomers?

WG: There was once an el­derly cou­ple who brought in an old um­brella for me to fix. I could tell right away that it was at least a few decades old and I asked them, “Why don’t you just buy a new one? Re­pair­ing it would cost even more.” But the cou­ple in­sisted on fix­ing it. They said they didn’t mind how long it took, as long as I was able to fix it. Later I found out that the um­brella was the first gift the man had given his wife. I was re­ally touched and tried my hard­est to re­pair it well. I didn’t charge them.

HK: How do you stay pos­i­tive and happy all the time? WG: Life is just way too short to be any­thing but happy. Why hold on to grudges when there are so many things to be thank­ful for? I al­ways re­mind my cus­tomers, or any­body who comes to talk to me, that be­ing happy is the most important thing in life. When oth­ers are happy, I am happy too.

Need a new brolly, or want to get one fixed? Head to Shop B1, 314 Lai Chi Kok Rd., Sham Shui Po, 9248-5748.

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