Street Talk

HK Magazine - - UPFRONT -

For two decades, Mas­ter Win­nie Chui has been mak­ing Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy brushes us­ing in­fant hair, a tra­di­tional use of the hair gath­ered from a baby’s first hair­cut. As one of Hong Kong’s few re­main­ing prac­ti­tion­ers of this rare craft, Mas­ter Chui says she’s proud to be the creator of these unique totems. She tells Stephanie Tsui about what in­spires her to make these un­usual gifts.

HK Magazine: Why make brushes with ba­bies’ hair?

Mas­ter Chui: The tra­di­tion of mak­ing baby hair brushes orig­i­nated in North­ern China, and each brush sym­bol­izes the everlasting bond be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren. They also rep­re­sent par­ents’ wishes for their chil­dren to be­come wise, level-headed and stu­dious in­di­vid­u­als, as well as their ex­pec­ta­tions of fil­ial piety. The brushes are made from the hair of in­fants aged 3 years and un­der. Only the first growth of hair is used, be­cause that’s the only time when hu­man hair ta­pers nat­u­rally at the tip.

HK: How’d you get into the busi­ness?

MC: My hus­band’s fam­ily made Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy brushes in Bei­jing—both the reg­u­lar kind and those made from in­fant hair. Af­ter my hus­band came to Hong Kong, he be­came a shoe­maker be­cause the prac­tice of gift­ing baby hair brushes wasn’t com­mon in Hong Kong. I stayed at home to look af­ter our three daugh­ters. When my hus­band neared re­tire­ment, he wanted to do some­thing that in­volved less trav­el­ling. So about 20 years ago, we de­cided to set up shop. It took some time for me to ad­just to my new role as a busi­ness owner. But when I was a house­wife my hus­band taught me a few tricks of the trade, which made the tran­si­tion eas­ier.

HK: Your busi­ness is pretty un­usual. Are you wor­ried about it dy­ing out?

MC: My el­dest daugh­ter is very help­ful around the store. She is usu­ally the one who makes home vis­its to col­lect the ba­bies’ hair. Most of our clients ask for home vis­its, you see. She was also the one who set up our Face­book page. Nowa­days, that’s how peo­ple find out about us—through the in­ter­net. My sec­ond daugh­ter will soon be join­ing the busi­ness. But in this busi­ness, we have to work week­ends be­cause that’s when the par­ents are free.

You know how it is—young peo­ple love their week­ends. It def­i­nitely is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­quires sac­ri­fice, so if my other daugh­ters aren’t will­ing to take over our fam­ily busi­ness there re­ally is noth­ing I can do. Plus, it also de­pends on whether they have the abil­ity to do it. We en­grave cou­plets on the brushes based on the in­fants’ names. My daugh­ters have yet to ac­quire a knack for writ­ing those cou­plets.

HK: You must have had some in­ter­est­ing en­coun­ters.

MC: One time, I went to a lit­tle boy’s home to col­lect hair from his baby sib­ling. Just as I turned on the hair clip­per, the brother bowed his head as if to say, “Here, take my hair in­stead!’” It was mov­ing to see such a young boy care so deeply for the baby. Of course, I’ve also met many an­noy­ing par­ents. Many young par­ents nowa­days are very self-cen­tered. Some have asked to have their ba­bies’ hair cut on the first day of the Lu­nar New Year, which is silly be­cause no­body works that day. Some par­ents in­sist on cut­ting less than the re­quired length, so we have no choice but to end up mak­ing brushes that don’t look very good.

HK: What do baby hair brushes mean to you?

MC: I see them as my way of con­tribut­ing to so­ci­ety by help­ing par­ents en­cour­age their chil­dren to grow up to be vir­tu­ous and dili­gent in­di­vid­u­als. It’s a con­tri­bu­tion that lasts a life­time. When I present par­ents with the baby hair brushes, I also give them five locks of hair col­lected from dif­fer­ent points of their in­fants’ heads, so they can come back to us for free main­te­nance in case the brush hairs fall out. We also of­fer tra­di­tional rit­u­als for our cus­tomers. For ex­am­ple, when their chil­dren turn three, we carry out a ritual that in­volves brush­ing their per­sonal brushes over their sen­sory or­gans to “awaken” their five senses. We of­fer these rit­u­als for free. In our busi­ness, we don’t make big bucks. We just want the best for our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Want to get a baby hair brush for your own child? Visit Mas­ter Chui at Unit 26-07, Rich­mond Com­mer­cial Build­ing, 109 Ar­gyle St., Mong Kok, or visit her Face­book page at face­book.com/hkbbpen. Pens from $688.

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