Let’s hear it for the mui fa koon choy

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Sad news here from the New Straits Times

THE traditional Chinese coffin is not a popular option for funerals anymore mainly due to its daunting size and medieval shape.

New Cham Fei Casket operator, Cham Swee Hung, 36, said the demand for mui fa koon choy, which in Chinese means plum blossom flower has dropped as it is costly to hire a crane for the burial.

“In the olden days, there were many relatives, neighbours and friends who were ready to be mobilised as pall bearers but today, few people want to carry a heavy coffin up the steep hills for burial,” he said.

Cham added that his only clients are a small number of conservative families, who would make a special request for the mui fa koon choy.

Despite the lower demand, Cham, who is the second generation in his family to run a funeral parlour business, still maintains a workshop off Jalan Jelapang in Chemor here.

Cham said his company has been the sole provider for such coffins in the state for over a decade now.

“We used to have competitors but they eventually stopped producing such coffins when the demand for them dropped,” he said.

Besides having to contend with less orders, Cham also had to keep up with the rising cost and scarce availability of suitable timber.

“The wood used to produce the mui fa koon choy are from Jelutong trees in Sabah which can fetch RM1,200 per tonne,” he said.

Among Cham’s employees are Chan Leah, 65, who entered the trade as an apprentice more than 40 years ago.

“Each coffin is carved out from a single block of timber, with a diameter of not less than 60cm (24 inches) and cut into four wooden blocks. The pieces are then whittled down and sanded into the distinctly curved shapes before being re-assembled with nails.

“Everything is done manually with no assistance from machines except for an electric saw and carving tools,” he added, noting that there were only a few craftsmen in the country who still continued with the trade.

“Many have left due to the difficult work and poor wages,” he said.

Another employee Foo Fatt Lim, 63, said there had not been any new apprentice in the field for over 20 years now.

“This trade will be lost when people like me pass on as today’s youth would not choose this as a career,” he said. “Today’s youth are also unlikely to choose this career path.

“No one wants to inherit our skill or knowledge,” he said,



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