30 Oct HOLY SMOKES: LAST JOSS STICK MAKER IN PENANG
Most of the joss sticks in the market today are manufactured in factories for mass production. Due to technological advancement, traditional handcraft joss sticks made out of Indian or Australian sandalwood are difficult to acquire. The skills and techniques required to be a joss stick maker is perpetually dissipating. People are not concerned about inheriting this long-established craftsmanship because the earnings are unlikely to sustain present-day lifestyle.
One of the last few joss stick maker, Lee Beng Chuan, has been undertaking this profession for more than 6 decades. The 89-year-old mainly handcrafts vibrantly coloured large pillar size joss stick engraved with dragon and phoenix for annual occasions such as Hungry Ghost Festival and the worship of Jade Emperor that takes place at Chew Jetty.
The most rewarding moment for Mr. Lee throughout his entire career was when he was requested to handcraft a 12-feet-tall dragon sculptured pillar joss stick by the Penang Teochew Association. Apart from hosting Penang’s Chinese New Year Cultural & Heritage Celebration, the ultimate reason underlies in exhibiting Lee’s customary skills and craftsmanship globally.
Defying all odds, Lee agreed to carry through the delegation and view this as an opportunity to offer his alma mater a token of appreciation which is now Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple, priorly Han Chiang school. And, the happenstance to be a contribution to George Town’s accomplishment being documented by UNESCO as world heritage site in July 2008. To Lee, a genuinely overwhelming and sentimental moment as he watched his masterpiece being lit up during such a notable ceremony.
Despite financial instability, Lee without a doubt considers joss stick making as his means of livelihood. He no longer depends on this vocation to earn a living, but an outlet of exhibiting his skills to visitors. And, swears by keeping the tradition alive so long as time permits.
With that, his legacy will always remain as a part of Penang’s heritage.
Visit Lee Beng Chuan at:
No. 1 Lorong Muda
(Off Stewart Lane)
8.00am – 11.00am (Weekdays)