Handwritten minibus signs

Minibus signs, with red and blue words handwritten in Chinese calligraphy, that inform passengers of the destination and fare, are something that are very familiar to Hong Kong people and part of Hong Kong’s culture. In the early-60s, minibuses were illegal 9-seater taxis (aka “white cards”) available only in the New Territories. Due to a strike organised by bus drivers following the riot in 1967, the government allowed minibuses to operate in the urban areas for relieving the stress on the transport system. Minibuses were then transformed from 9 seaters to 14 seaters, and were also legalised in 1969, with the constraint of limiting the total number of minibuses at 4,350.

 

There were only red minibuses to begin with. Routes and fares were not fixed, so drivers had to use different signs for notifying passengers of the details, resulting in an increase in the demand for such handwritten signs. In 1979, the government introduced green minibuses, in the Kowloon peninsula and the New Territories with fixed routes, fares and schedule, that were fully under their administration. To strengthen the control on public transport, the government encouraged operators to turn red ones into green ones. As a result, the demand for minibus signs has been gradually declining, making this sign-writing a sunset business. Minibus signs are collectively a handicraft reflecting a unique culture of Hong Kong.

Handwritten minibus signs

Tools of handwritten minibus signs include:

15cm(length) X 23cm(width) acrylic board

Red and blue paints

2 Chinese writing brushes

1 red ball-point pen

Cotton swabs or tissue paper

Rubbing alcohol

​Steps:

  1. Preparing the paint: dilute the red and blue paints with turpentine;

  2. Writing: write the destination in red and the most popular stop en route in blue with the Chinese writing brushes;

  3. Making amendments: use cotton swabs or tissue papers with rubbing alcohol to remove excess paint;

  4. Air-drying: let the board dry completely, which will take around 8 hours.

Mak Kam Sang 

Mr Mak is now the one-and-only minibus sign-writer in Hong Kong. Master Mak started out as an apprentice in the art of making advertisement signs, then switched to making minibus signs in 1982. In the good old days, there were always minibuses parked outside Master Mak’s shop, waiting to get the signs and other equipments installed before work. Master Mak has been in the industry for over 35 years and is passionate about promoting the disappearing culture of red minibuses (“red vans”).

 

Besides writing and producing traditional signs, Master Mak also keeps up with the trend by writing slangs or trendy greetings in the classic red-and-blue minibus style, and also producing new products including key chains so to draw the public’s attention to the minibus culture.

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