Demise of the Tao Fu King

22.07.2011 - Mui Wo, Lantau Island, Hong Kong - Tony Henderson

The quite simple artifacts that Mr Mok used to produce the popular desert will lie idle and disused. A simple matter some may say, or, that’s the price of progress others will argue, as the man, without any fame, goes the way of Hong Kong’s old culture with hardly a murmur from anyone as people passively accept it as a matter of fact that the good things from the past ‘naturally’ fall away as time marches on. But it need not be like that.

Others question why are these ‘old things’ not adequately valued, or supported. There is always a quiet swell of discontent expressed when that Period Building is downed, or that Traditional Shop is closed, when a product no longer appears in the shop and it’s plastic replacement acts as a poor stand-in.

Mr Mok was in that category. It’s not that much could have been done, though there could have been an understudy or a spin-off business that somehow carried on that know-how, the craft of making soy products, by hand, in the old way. No takers it seems.

Six Hong Kong dollars for a bowl of soy bean custard and a dash of syrup, lightly gingered – delicious. No more!

To get to Hong Kong from his village near Dongguan in Guangdong on the Chinese mainland Mr Mok walked for a week, to the river that separated China from Hong Kong, and then it was only a ten minute swim – that was fifty years ago. After a run of different jobs he began renting bikes, until he got the notion of rekindling something from his old days in China, making Tao Fu treats. These he would sell on the tree lined lane on the upper end of Rural Committee Road, Mui Wo.

Every day without fail he would be on site with his wares, though around midday he preferred the site by the shrine of abandoned gods by Silver Creek Bridge, sheltered by a large shady tree.

His manufactory was also his home and he left a wife and a son, but they do have a place on the Kowloon side too. How many times did I bid Mr Mok a waving “hi” and he would quietly nod in reply, as he tended his garden of cassava, taro, sweet potato, and at times soy beans too. His home was a corrugated-iron construction shielded from the elements by a grand banyan tree.

The government spends millions importing European orchestras, international ballet productions, and builds ever more Art Centres and there are a plethora of Foreign Film Festivals, all gladly attended by a minority, an elite in most cases, and the usual faces from top government strata, tycoons with a society bent, the gaudy people that have a liking for Gala Dinner-Dances.

Meanwhile, in the backwaters, real people and their village crafts, artisans and their trades, and countryside happy foods, quietly disappear from the scene.

Goodbye Mr Mok, Tao Fu King of Mui Wo, so many of us will miss you and your products.

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