Saturday, 28 March 2015

Iec Long Fabrica De Panchoes, Macau

I've just realised that despite this blog's name and the fact that I have been moving my posts over here now for almost a year, I've only managed to publish a single article about Macau. Time to change that, I think, with this old post concerning the Iec (pronounced "Yeck") Long Fabrica De Panchoes in Taipa village.

The old Taipa village area is one of my favourite places to wander around when I get over to Macau (less frequently these days). It’s quite picturesque with lots of small lanes, old houses and temples and, as such, has been featured in quite a few film sover the years. Just to the south of the village is a long thin road called Rua Fernao Mendes Pinto. The road actually separates the main village from the small hill behind that houses the Carmel Church. It's a narrow road and when it has no traffic on it looks like you have stepped back a couple of centuries – that is until another great big tourist coach comes speeding down the road.

Here is a quick snap of the road complete with the aforementioned bus that just shouldn’t be allowed to go down this route (way too dangerous if you are a pedestrian).

Notice the yellowing wall on the left hand side. This wall marks the boundary of the old firework factory area. In fact in a few places along this wall you can see some Chinese characters written in yellow and black paint. Here are two of them.

工場 (Gung Cheung)

Reading right to left you can see the characters 工場 (Gung Cheung) – one of the Chinese terms for a factory or industrial building. If you were walking along the whole wall you would eventually see the full name of the firework company: 益隆炮竹工場 (Yik Lung Pau Juk Gung Cheung).

Firecracker production was once one of the staple industries in Macau and several companies operated from the territory, Iec Lung being one of two that still has remnants to be found here in Taipa (down the road you can also find the old entrance to the Him Yuen Yick Kei Chan firework factory - but I'll leave that one for another post). It seems as though as it stands you have to be very lucky to get a look inside the compound as the gates are usually locked.

Locked gate

Iec Lung was founded by the Tang family circa 1923 and went on to become the second largest firecracker company in Macau – operating out of this base on Taipa. It was based on Taipa because making firecrackers was an extremely dangerous undertaking, as you can imagine, and Taipa was fairly remote in terms of local population. This fact that was demonstrated a couple of years later when a huge explosion at a firecracker factory on the peninsula (a competitor company called Toi San) killed nearly two hundred people! From that time onwards (around 1925) all firecracker production was moved over to Taipa and Coloane.

The site in Taipa was large enough to contain all the necessary areas for the complete production of firecrackers – each stage of the process took place in a different building to lessen the chance of catastrophe and, believe it or not, there is a water channel inside the compound that was originally connected to the harbour front to allow the direct transfer of raw materials from a ship straight to the storage buildings. Likewise, the finished product could be reloaded back onto the ships and sent off to their respective destinations. There was even a temple inside the compound dedicated to the god, Lei Cheng, who was supposed to look over the safety of the compound (though it seems he wasn’t always looking in the right direction) and at its peak the factory company employed 600 people with the workload split into male and female work: men doing the hazardous stuff and women taking care of the, supposedly more, delicate (though equally hazardous in my opinion) work of assembly and hole making for fuses.

The original site of Iec Long seems to have been considerably smaller because the founder, Mr Tang Bick Tong (a.k.a Tan Pec Tong) applied and received additional land grants in both 1936 and 1948. However the 1936 extension was given back to the Govt in 1957 because the illustrious Mr Tang had died and his heirs showed no interest in utilising the extra land. It seems as though Mr Tang’s passing marked the beginning of the decline of the industry as it was overtaken by the new industry of gambling and, in fact, many of Iec Long’s competitors – who by the same virtue were also sitting on large tracts of land – sold to developers and disappeared from the scene. The land Iec Long sits on reverted to the Govt in 1993 (the company had stopped production sometime in the 1980’s) and plans were drawn up for the site’s redevelopment.

Luckily though the plans have yet to be acted on due to, initially, various financial crises but then calls for its preservation also started to be heard and the Govt has been mulling the idea of some sort of urban park to help deal with the increase of tourists that visit the area since the Cotai Strip was redeveloped/reclaimed. However, nothing is set in stone and only time will tell what will become of the place. Local public opinion seems to be that any major development that would ruin the low rise/low density nature of Taipa would be a non-starter and you would hope that the Macau Govt would be more sensible about this kind of thing than its clueless out-of-touch HK counterpart, but time will tell.

“Duck Brand” – one of Iec Long’s best sellers

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