Preserving the Art of Mahjong Craft – an interview with Madam Neoh at Penang’s Liang Yew Mahjong Centre

A Heartwarming Encounter with Madam Neoh at Penang’s Liang Yew Centre:

In last Dec 2023, we set off on a special adventure to Penang, Malaysia, because we have the deep love for traditional arts and crafts. Our little mission is all about keeping these treasures alive and well, which is exactly why we found ourselves at the doorstep of a truly inspiring lady, Madam Neoh Lye Choo, at the Liang Yew Mahjong Centre in Penang.

Madam Neoh’s tale is one of true grit, love for her craft, and the kind of dedication that keeps a family’s dreams alive through thick and thin. Her late husband, Mr. Lim, was the one who started mahjong making in Malaysia in 1992, bringing with him the art of mahjong tile making from Singapore, where he’d been perfecting it since 1968. Together, they built more than just mahjong sets; they built a legacy.

Seeing Madam Neoh continues this labor of love, using the same old tools and machines, especially when she was showing us all her precious pictures of how to make mahjong tiles manually, was like watching the history of our family and the factory, Fuk Hing Lung, come to life right before our eyes.

Madam Neoh greeted us with open arms, sharing her memories and the legacy of her husband’s art that she has carried on with such grace and strength. She took us back to the days when she was a young woman, learning and repairing mahjong tiles that has become her life’s work now. Her skill and passion was awarded with the certificate of appreciation. A showcase of Best Practice in Heritage Conservation and Sustainable Development.

Her workshop is a hidden jewel among the rich cultural fabric of George Town, where Madam Neoh paints Penang’s culture with the strokes of her ancient craft.

In our conversation with the good people at George Town World Heritage Incorporated, we felt a spirit. They, too, are guardians of the city’s past, ensuring that the traditional arts, like the ones Madam Neoh so skillfully represents, are celebrated and protected.

Luckily, we also met Mr. Vick Quah from the Department of Communications and Collaborations in the George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) office. We appreciated their effort to keep the cultural heritage and sustainability in Penang.

As we continued our journey to the grand Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Surprisingly, we found an old mahjong set, each tile holding a story just waiting to be told.

Inspired by Madam Neoh’s resilience and the commitment of the George Town heritage protectors, we came back from our trip more determined than ever. Sharing these stories, supporting artisans like Madam Neoh, that’s how we keep the flame of our rich heritage burning bright, ensuring that the art of mahjong making, and all it represents, is cherished for many more tomorrows.

Thank you Madam Neoh and Mr. Quah for their precious time to share the stories with us – an important documentary as part of the intangible culture heritage.

Through the arts and crafts in different perspectives, we hope to keep the spirit of Mahjong stories alive, connecting traditions with today’s lives.