Tombstone Engraver Yeoh Gim Huat is the Last Man Standing
Gim Chuan Hin, Acheen Street, George Town
Back in the day, Acheen Street was nicknamed "Pak Cheok Kay" (stone workers’ street) by the Hokkien community.
Like Vietnam’s Old Quarter where each street had its own “specialist” trade, Acheen Street had an army of workers in each of the 12 stone engraver shops – but that was five decades ago.
Today, Yeoh Gim Huat, 54, may be the traditional stone engraving community’s last man standing (no pun intended). Inheriting the 90-year-old, back-breaking business from his father, the fourth generation stone engraver now uses modern machines to cut the stones while a computerised sandblasting system engraves the words. Now, all he has to do is type out the words and paste them on the stone before the sandblasting process. It is only then that he manually paints the carved characters with gold or red paint.
Before technology muscled its way into this traditional trade, stone engravers struggled with simple tools like hammers and chisels to shape the huge granite stones into the desired tombstone size. This is followed by workers manually sandpapering and carving the tombstone. The whole tedious process would take at least two weeks to complete.
Gone are the days when workers would lug around huge stones tied to bamboo poles and pound away at the stone slabs in what was once George Town’s noisiest street.
These days, Pak Cheok Kay is not different from any other bustling street – people go about their daily chores oblivious to the tombstone makers fighting to keep the traditional trade alive.