When we come to a certain turning point in life, should we hold back, or reach for something new? How can we step ahead bravely and start a second life? Two calligraphers – Mak Kam-Sang and Kaye Shu tell us their life stories, and how a pen helped them to write second lives.
Accumulating experience in a first life
Mak, who always wears a warm smile, is the last minibus sign-writer in Hong Kong. He started working straight from primary school, and got into the field of advertising boards in 1973. After five years of apprenticeship, he started his own shop. Since the shop was right in front of a street where red minibuses parked, he naturally started a sign writing business aimed at them. He used an innovative new computer engraving technique which earned him many orders for minibus advertising boards, and from there he moved into a golden age for his career.
Kaye, on the other hand, is from a very different generation to Mak. She returned to Hong Kong after studying abroad and entered a glamorous career working in PR and marketing for auction houses and luxury fashion brands. This opened her eyes to many invaluable art pieces and luxury clothing. But despite her life among extravagant luxuries, Kaye never forgot about the calligraphy class she took in university. Sometimes she would take up freelance calligraphy jobs for different brands, and gradually she built up her experiences word by word.
From an ending, comes a new beginning
During the 90s when the public transportation network in Hong Kong was becoming more developed, Mak’s minibus business started to decline, and at one point he thought of emigrating with his family. After his kids grew up, however, he decided to retire. “My wife and I used to go tram-cruising from Chai Wan all the way to Central, but we realized this would be very boring if that’s all we ever did.” Then one day he happened to help with some fundraising for the Shum Shui Po Ming Gor’s shop relocation, and he attended a fair. To his surprise, he got orders worth a total of $57,000, and caught the attention of the media. Afterwards he started to get invitations to teach calligraphy classes. Since then he has not only started his second life, but also helped the minibus plastic boards to find their second lives by transforming them into trendy souvenirs with funny sayings.
Kaye was also moving on. After working for over ten years, Kaye stepped into another stage of her life. She got married and became more settled. Then she started to ponder her next step. Finally she opened a calligraphy Facebook page and unexpectedly received invitations to teach classes. Coincidentally that led her to meet the boss of a luxury paper printing company, Printer & Co. and the pair hit it off. She resigned from her well-paying job, and focused on assisting Printer & Co. to promote handwriting and slow living, and became a full-time calligrapher.
Taking control of your second life
Mak explained that “I’m now even busier than I was in the 90s. My family worries about me being too tired. But I just feel so happy and I don’t get tired at all.” Mak said that in the past, his time was controlled by others, but now everything is under his own control, and he does not have any pressure on income. He says he now has a sense of mission and he wants to pass on the traditions of the minibus. Through teaching his classes, he has also found that many youngsters are keen to learn calligraphy. This motivates him to keep going, even though he is getting older.
Now Kaye often works as a calligrapher for luxury brands. A change in role yet in the same environment, from a PR who was always rushing around, to a calligrapher who sits and writes calmly. She says “My income is not as stable as before, but now my time is mine. I have the freedom to control my schedule and build my own portfolio.” Teaching has also given Kaye the opportunity to inspire people of different ages, and that brings her a sense of satisfaction she has never felt before.
Step ahead, live to inspire
When talking about the future, Mak says his greatest wish is to open a minibus library, or even a museum. However, as Hong Kong is such a small place, it’s not easy to make a dream like this come true. So he took the initiative to turn his own shop into a mini library. Although it’s only a little area, it has now become a tourist hot spot.
Kaye’s future plan is to keep exploring, “Once you started handwriting, it motivates you to discover more creative art forms, and now I’m studying watercolor painting.” Kaye said she also learns from foreign calligraphy masters online whenever she has the time.
In sharing one last word to those who are planning to start a second life, Mak said that one should bear in mind two words – serendipity and capability. “On one’s path through life, there’re a lot of situations that come about by pure chance. But what’s more important is to insist on doing what you want to do.” Kaye also shared her learning, that one should find one’s own interest, and not worry too much about income. Because very often one chance will somehow lead to another chance, so one must keep searching to create more possibilities.
Mr. Mak - HAWK LTD minibus product page