Mixing Concrete and Construction Equipment with Cantonese Opera and Wing Chun: the Wan family of Wai Hing and Modern
York Lo: Mixing Concrete and Construction Equipment with Cantonese Opera and Wing Chun: the Wan family of Wai Hing and Modern
For over six decades, the family of Wan Wai-yin has been supporting the construction industry in HK and beyond by supplying building materials and equipment such as gravel, concrete, timber, scaffolding and elevation platforms through various Wai Hing and the Modern group of companies. The family is also well known in the Cantonese opera and Wing Chun martial arts circles where they have started various groups and schools.
Wan Wai-yin (尹偉賢) – Contractor, Gravel and Concrete Producer and Cantonese Opera Patron
Left: Wan Wai-yin (HK Wan’s Clansmen Association); Right: Ad for Wai Hing Readymix Concrete
A native of Dongguan in Guangdong province, Wan Wai-yin was born in his hometown in 1924 and came to HK at an early age. By the 1960s, Wan had established Wai Hing Construction (偉興建築, incorporated in 1967 and dissolved in 2000) and Wai Hing Trading (偉興貿易) which dealt in timber but he was better known as a supplier of construction materials such as gravel and readymix concrete to fellow contractors.
According to info provided by his son James Wan via James’ student Hannah Lee, Wan Wai-yin was a leader in the production of gravel in HK in the 1960s being the first to import crushers for its production in the HK market and by the mid-1960s was producing 2000 cubic yard of gravel on a daily basis. Wan Wai-yin was also advisor to Lui Che-wo of the K. Wah Group and a dozen quarries in Singapore.
As concrete is made by combining gravel with sand and cement, Wan Wai-yin established Wai Hing Readymix Concrete Co Ltd (偉興三合土, incorporated in 1964 and dissolved in 2000) in the mid-1960s and became the first local firm in the readymix concrete business as Pioneer Concrete and Ready Mixed Concrete which set up shop in HK in 1961 and 1962 respectively came from Australia and the UK. Some of the projects it was involved in included the Shing Mun Reservoir and the section of the Hiram’s Highway from Clearwater Bay Road.
According to James Wan, the family’s concrete business suffered in the late 1960s as the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in the mainland disrupted the supply of cement (one of the key ingredients in concrete production) from the mainland while a major local cement producer refused to supply to Wai Hing because of his father’s pro-Beijing stand. As a result, Wan Wai-yin sold his readymix concrete business along with its equipment to the Cross Harbor Tunnel Co (controlled by Hutchison in 1972.
Outside of the construction business, Wan was very active in many areas. He was the founding chairman of the HK Wan’s Clansmen Association from 1969 to 1972. Suffering from poor health when he was younger, Wan took up winter swimming to improve his health and swam every morning before driving his daughters to school. He became the vice chairman of the Eastern Winter Swimming Association (東方冬泳團) and Hoi Tin Athletic Association (海天體育會) and his daughters also swam competitively in the 1960s. But he was perhaps best known for his involvement in the promotion of Cantonese opera in HK. According to Wan, his interest in Cantonese opera started when he was young in his native Dongguan and he often sang a few tunes during gatherings with friends. In the early 1970s, he started Wai Hing Music Society (偉興音樂社) as an informal singing group with his wife Lau Kwai-ching (劉桂清) and younger son Wan Koon-chung (尹冠中) and staff members of Wai Hing and hired Chan Hau (陳厚, not to be confused with the Mandarin film star Peter Chen Ho with the same Chinese name), a Cantonese opera veteran and former producer of music programs for radio stations in Canton, HK (Rediffusion) and Macau (Radio Vilaverde) as musical director.
Article and pictures of individuals involved with the Wai Hing Cantonese Opera Society in 1971; Left to right: Wan Wai-yin and his wife and teacher Chan Hau; Wan Koon-chung; Lau Kwai-ching, Wan Wai-yin (WKYP, 1971-3-20)
In 1987, Wan and his wife went further and teamed up with 6 veterans of Cantonese opera to establish a Cantonese opera school – the Ching Fai Cantonese Opera Academy (清輝粵劇學院) at their office on the 2nd floor of 88 Fa Yuen Street in Mongkok. Guests at the opening reception included actor Pak Man-biu and Yu Mo-lin and the king of mahjong parlor Shek Kam-fai with flower baskets from famous Cantonese opera stars Nam Hung, Lam Ka-sing, Lee Po-ying, Lee Heung-kam, Tse Suet-sum and many others. (WKYP, 1987-8-1) Although the school is no longer in existence today, many students remain active in the Cantonese opera circle.
Ad for Wan’s Evergreen elderly home in 1984 featuring calligraphy by famous actor Kwan Tak-hing who was best known for playing Wong Fei-hung. (WKYP, 1984-1-29)
Wan Wai-yin also started other businesses outside of construction including the 100-table Ling Nam Restaurant (嶺南酒樓) at 268-358 Castle Peak Road in Kwai Chung in 1975 which occupied three floors and total space of 16000 sq ft. (WKYP, 1975-11-19) He was also the chairman of Evergreen International (HK) Association (松柏國際(香港)協會老人中心), the operator of an elderly home in the New Territories which was the largest of its kind when it commenced operations in 1982 with 14 three story Spanish style mansions built at the cost of $20 million on a 60,000 sq ft site in Shek Kong. During the 23rd Chinese New Year gathering of the Wan Clansmen Association in 2012, Wan Wai-yin received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The second generation and Modern International (P&M) Holdings
Wan Wai-yin and his wife has at least two sons – James Wan Koon-ying (尹冠英) and Wan Koon-chung and three daughters – Wan Ching-han (尹靜嫻), Wan Ching-yee (尹靜儀) and Wan Ching-man. Both James and Koon-chung studied in Canada and James joined the family business in the 1970s after graduation from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
James, Koon-chung and Ching-han studied martial arts under the Wing Chun master Chiu Van (招允, 1929-1975), who was one of the students of the revered kung fu master Ip Man (葉問, also the teacher of Bruce Lee and himself immortalized by many movies in recent years). Chiu Van’s son Chiu Hung-kwan (招鴻鈞) succeeded his father and when Hung-kwan moved to Canada in 1994, James Wan continued the Chiu Van Athletic Association (招允體育會) in HK while Wan Koon-chung opened his Koon Chung Wing Chun Academy in 2005.
In 1979, James and his father founded Modern (International) Plants & Machineries Ltd (現代 (國際) 機械設備有限公司, renamed Modern (Intl) P & M Holdings in 2000) to distribute construction equipment in HK and China. At one point this included road construction equipment Ingersoll Rand, Rosco (asphalt paving) and Power Curbers from the US, Benninghoven (asphalt mixer) from Germany, and Broddway from Sweden. Some of its early clients in the mainland included the Garden Hotel and White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou.
In 1980, Modern entered the business of steel pipe scaffolding and over time emerged as one of the leading scaffolding leasing companies in HK with a separate company Modern (Intl) Access & Scaffolding Ltd was established in 2000 to focus on the business segment. Recent high-profile projects in the scaffolding business for Modern include Formula E and Clockenflap. The firm expanded to the Macau market in 2006 and entered the Singapore market in 2008. Today, the Modern Group with its dozen subsidiaries also distributes aerial platforms and safety equipment and owns a large warehouse in Pat Heung in Yuen Long.
Left: Wan Wai-yin (center) with his daughters Wan Ching-yee (right) and Wan Ching-han (left) in 1965 (KSEN, 1965-9-2); Right: Modern warehouse in Pat Heung (Modern website)
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 5th June 2020.
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