Hollywood Road, as told by the son of a carpenter

My father used to run a carpentry studio on Hollywood Road. Not the kind of artsy-farty design workshops nowadays, where people seem to do nothing but drink coffee. Back then, everyone kept their noses to the grindstone — or should I say, woodcutting machines. It was a tough business.

My dad made beautifully carved benches, statues and lamp stands which me and my sisters delivered after school. Thanks to the experience, I never lost shape in my middle-age years. Training in your youth never goes to waste. But keeping up with school work wasn’t easy.

We were a family of six siblings, all crammed in one room. Every night, we literally had to “make our beds” from wood planks because the space was used for other purposes during the day. Despite the hardship, the family always stood together. My dad had a wooden bowl at the front desk, where he put all the money he could spare. Later when my brother started earning, he did the same. Any of us who needed money for groceries or school fees would just take it from there. No one took more than they needed, nor were we jealous if one needed more than another. It was a system based on love and trust.

Carpentry was a dying industry, especially in my father’s later days. I struggled through school with the help of a scholarship from the Overseas Chinese Daily News. The younger generation doesn’t know about them anymore, but back then, they were popular and generous with scholarships. With a lot of hard work I became the first university student in my family. In those days, it meant a sure ticket to flee poverty. Degrees nowadays don’t mean the same and it is no one’s fault. It simply was a different time.

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