自動送上門的活寶貝

【活現·香港故事】自動送上門的「活」寶貝 【 Walk in Hong Kong Stories 】When Words Come Alive: Mr. Yam’s Unexpected Treasures

撰文:陳智遠(活現香港共同創辦人及行政總裁)
By Paul Chan, Co-founder and CEO of Walk in Hong Kong

【活現.香港故事】活現香港創業邁向第七年,決定將我哋辦導賞團、搞活動遇見過嘅人同事寫成一系列小品文章,公諸同好,等大家抗疫期間即使足不出戶亦可以細味香港嘅故事。

有時候,寶藏真的會自動送上門。

任偉生先生是活現香港重要的合作伙伴。任生從事活字印刷數十載,隨著行業慢慢式微,他便轉型至辦工作坊。過去數年,工作坊辦得有聲有色,深受歡迎,任生也廣受傳媒報道,更厲害是在不少 Music Video 亮相,每次帶團時他總會分享他在 Alan Walker 的《Sing Me to Sleep》 MV 中客串,而該 MV 的觀看次數直達6億(!!),中學生聽到必定嘩聲四起。

我們的辦公室在上環,因此每次路過西街時,如果看見任生在店內都會打聲招呼,閒談一番。由於香港已經沒有鑄字廠,任生要補充字粒,只有遠赴台灣日星鑄字行,但礙於疫情沒法入境,那怎麼辦?

他就分享了兩個關於「寶藏」主動送上門的故事。

【Walk in Hong Kong Stories】As Walk in Hong Kong enters its eighth anniversary, we decided to publish a series of stories about people we encountered and anecdotes during our tours.

Sometimes treasures do come knocking at your door.

Mr. Yam Wai-sang is one of Walk in Hong Kong’s most important partners. Having worked in the letterpress business for decades, he has witnessed every up and down of the industry. Over the past few years, Mr. Yam’s letterpress workshops have become wildly popular, and he himself has also received lots of love from both local and international media. Every time we visit him on tours, Mr. Yam would make sure to show participants his guest appearance in Alan Walker’s Sing Me to Sleep music video that has a whopping, I kid you not, 600 million views. His surprise appearance is a guaranteed screamer for teenagers.

As our office is located in Sheung Wan, I would make sure to greet Mr. Yam whenever I pass by his shop in Sai Street just a few blocks away from us. Since there no longer are any type foundries in Hong Kong, Mr. Yam usually replaces missing lead character types by making regular trips to Ri Xing Type Foundry in Taiwan. How would he be able to make his usual trips amidst the pandemic?

Mr. Yam then shared two stories about ‘treasures’ being delivered to him.

任生與丹麥旅行家 Thor Pedersen 和本文作者陳智遠合照。
Photo of Mr. Yam Wai-sang, Danish adventurer Thor Pedersen, and Paul Chan, the author of this article.

去年有一日,他忽然收到來電,來自天水圍一間庇護工場。他起初毫無頭緒,活字印刷與庇護工場有何相干?

事情是這樣的:原來活字印刷是很久以前庇護工場其中一項可以學習的工種,因此他們購入了齊全的儀器及字粒,但隨著行業式微,「執字粒」被數碼打印取代,活字印刷培訓因而中止,整批字粒已用不着,被寂寂遺棄在一個角落。

過了好一段長日子,負責人偶然在報章認識任生,便冒昧聯絡,詢問能否把所有字粒轉贈給他。

任生如獲至寶,當然一口答應,於是庇護工場安排了貨車,幾個大字櫃連字粒就直送到上環西街。這批字粒數量之多,完全超出任生意料之外,而且由於字粒當年只用作培訓,印刷量低,所以保存良好,也解決了任生不少要補充字粒的煩惱。

A year ago, Mr. Yam received a call from a sheltered workshop in Tin Shui Wai. Clueless at first, Mr. Yam couldn’t help but wonder – what does letterpress printing have to do with a sheltered workshop?

It turns out that letterpress printing was one of the skills that could be learnt at the sheltered workshop in the past, so a complete set of equipment and lead character types were purchased during the time. However, soon came a time when typesetting was replaced by digital printing. As a result, the training was suspended, and the entire batch of lead character types was left abandoned.

As time went by, a staff member at the sheltered workshop happened to have read Mr. Yam’s story in the news, so he tried to contact Mr. Yam and offered to donate everything they had.

Mr. Yam gladly took over the type blocks on a whim. Soon after, several large cabinets containing all the equipment and lead character types arrived at Mr. Yam’s Sai Street office. Not only did the number of lead character types exceed  Mr. Yam’s expectation, they were also in mint condition as they were only used for occasional training. Mr. Yam did not even have to worry about replenishing them.

庇護工場的字粒原櫃送到任生的印刷公司。
Cabinets for storing lead character types from the sheltered workshop were sent to Mr. Yam’s type foundry.

兩個月後,一個下着雨的早上,另一位鄧生冒雨登門造訪。原來這位鄧先生的父親生前也是從事印刷,家中遺下一些「珍藏」,問任生有沒有興趣接收。

任生一聽「珍藏」底蘊,立即知道有料到。

活字印刷的字粒分幾個劃一的大小尺碼,常用尺碼中最大的叫「初號字」,不過其實尺寸也只是15毫米左右。但其實還有一款叫「特號字」,比初號字再大一點,卻並不常用,只有行內人才知道,今時今日也基本上完全絕迹。

那位鄧先生說,他希望轉贈任生的家中珍藏,就是一批為數不少的特號字。

Two months later, a Mr. Tang knocked on Mr. Yam’s door on a rainy morning. He explained that his late father was also in the printing business and left behind some items after passing. He then asked Mr. Yam if he would like to take on late Mr. Tang Senior’s collection.

As soon as Mr. Yam was told what the collection was, he immediately knew that they were really something. 

Usual lead character types come in several standard sizes. The largest standard size (‘initial size’ – 42 point) is around 15mm. Another type (“special size” – 54 point) is not commonly-used and only known to people in the industry. It is extremely rare to see ‘special size’ types nowadays as they are nearly extinct. 

Late Mr. Tang Senior’s collection was a large batch of special size types.

特號字粒。
Special size lead character types.

那為甚麼會用特號字?原來鄧生爸爸主業是幫人把字印在圍裙上,當年街市與欄檔工人穿的圍裙,往往就印有店鋪的名字,因為字要突出,所以鄧生特別添置尺寸更大的特號字,但事後發現,連特號字都不夠大,結果如意算盤打不響,活字印刷都幫不上忙。

於是他想到一個更聰明辦法,就是改用白鐵片,把要印的字在鐵片上鑿空,然後只要把油漆噴在白鐵上,字就會印在圍裙上,字號更大、更清晰。

這批白鐵鑿字變成他爸爸的生財工具,現在當然沒有用,所以當任生到其樂富府上拿字粒時,那人也將這數袋白鐵字片都一併送贈任生。

任生打開其中一袋,把數張白鐵片攤在桌上,自己不禁大呼過癮。那人以英文字母為排序編號,井井有條,有一些常用字磨蝕比較利害,其他則仍然保存得非常好。

Mr. Yam later learnt that Late Mr. Tang Senior used to print characters on aprons for market stall workers for a living. Special size types had to be used for words to be legible from a distance. However, even 54 point types were too small to be read on aprons. Late Mr. Tang Senior therefore turned to stencilling characters on white iron plates, which made words larger and clearer, as a replacement to letterpress printing.

The iron stencil plates were of no use today, so when Mr. Yam received the lead character types from Mr. Tang, these plates were donated to him as well.

When Mr. Yam looked closely at the iron stencil plates,  he could not help but exclaim. The plates were organised systematically and well-preserved despite minimal  wear-and-tear. 

鄧老先生用作圍裙印字的白鐵鑿字,現交到任生手上保存。
White iron plates used by Late Mr. Tang Senior for apron printing are now donated to Mr. Yam.

世事有時就是這樣微妙,「寶藏」兜兜轉轉落戶西街,活字印刷連繫起幾個人。

Just like that, these ‘treasures’ have all coincidentally made their way to Sai Street, connecting the fates of a few strangers. 

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