by YUK YEE (JAY) CHAN FUNG
My mother was a worker in a factory that made incense. All my siblings and I spent most of our childhood in the factory where our mother worked. We all started our time in the factory from the second day of our lives. We were not the only children in a family who had to start their lives there. Most of the women who worked there had to carry their new babies to work after the delivery. Life was very difficult during that period. Babies were either on their mother’s back or
on the dirty, cold ground while awake or sleeping. The environment was terrible.
The floor was full of powder and the wooden, skinny sticks that hurt people’s skin. Younger children were not allowed to go outside because nobody would look after them. The older children played outside, but most of them had dirty faces with snot running from their nostrils. Nobody had time to take care of the urchins.
I remember there were many rows of tables lined up in a dim and crowded area, similar to a garment factory with sewing machines. There were a few electric bulbs hanging on top of the ceiling, covered with lampshades. All the wooden windows were open in summer. My
mom worked at the end, by the windows. It was very hot with the sunlight shining on her. In winter, though, it was so cold that the windows were closed.
The working tables were made of wood, and on them was a box· like container full of powder. On the right-hand side of the table was a piece of brown dough. It was very rough and sticky. They used a piece of a small, rectangular wood board nailed with a small wooden cube in the middle to hold it. They used this little board, rubbing it back and forth, to stick the material onto the skinny sticks, and then to put on some powder as a coating to finish the incense. After they had produced a certain amount of incense, they had to spread it outside under the sun to dry it out. The owner would weigh the dried products in order to pay salaries.
The powders they used for work were colored purple, yellow, brown or red. Workers and their children were usually covered with the powders from head to toe after a working day. Even their snot and their saliva were the same color as the powder they worked with that day.
When we grew older, we attended school. After school, and on weekends or holidays, we went to the factory to do our homework. I remember that there were two big rocks with angles in front of the window. The rocks were our seats, and the lower part of the window frame was our table for doing homework. We played around the area near the factory. There was a ruined church at the top of hundreds of steps. We used to fly kites and run up and down the steps. We played
counting step and jumping step games. In the back of the church, there was a small temple on top of an extremely slanted stone lane. Many people went there for divination.
The factory was built midway in the lane. It was difficult and dangerous to walk up and down on the slope, but we were used to it, and we had to go through it every day. During the rainy season, many people got injured by sliding down on the stones. But children would have fun on rainy days on the slope. They used the
old cardboard cases and board-like materials for sliding.
No matter how difficult our time there was, we are still nostalgic for
the place where we grew up. There are lots of our memories, our tears and our laughter in that place. It was our birth place. The job my mother held doesn’t exist now in Macau. As part of a traditional industry, their working tables and the tools
are now placed in an exhibition center near the site of the factory. The church and temple were built on the same level, as close to each other as next-door neighbors for more than a century. The ruined church and the old temple are known as an antique historical site, which is protected by the government. This is now a hot tourist spot. It honors the Macau citizens.
Yuk Yee (Jay) Chan Fung was born in Macau and moved to Hong Kong as a child. She immigrated to New York City 12 years ago, and she now studies at the Consortium for Worker Education’s Workers United EducationProgram. Her teacher is Jackie Bain, and Nancy Lorence is the site director. Jay Fung writes: “All the teachers here are excellent. We are encouraged to explore our minds in our writing.”