The changing times may have taken many things from him, but the courage to dream is not one of them. Founder of Lao Sher, an established tea house in Penang, shares his craft journey fraught with various difficulties, and chooses to remain hopeful.
January 08, 2020
Over a supper of char kuey teow, lor bak and curry noodles at the Old Green House food centre, Penang, Wei Liang contemplates the rebranding of his pottery works as he prepares for an upcoming collaboration and exhibition with a Singaporean potter. Putting down his kopi o peng, he turned to us and asked if he should use his name, or Lao Sher (老舍), the name of the tea house he has been running for the past two decades. Being in his late 40s, social media marketing isn't his greatest strength.
But the truth is, in many ways Lao Sher is a reflection of its owner. A simple two-storied building that serves multiple functions and shelters decades of work and dreams of a man wearing multiple hats.
Founder of Lao Sher, Wei Liang, and his son.
Pots of water lilies (one of Wei Liang's many hobbies and hidden talents) line the foyer of the nondescript teahouse, and an automatic voice recording greets you as you enter the door. Dressed in a simple white linen t-shirt, loose faded jeans and sandals, he is an unassuming man with a quiet demeanor. Behind the straight long fringe and small round metal glasses lies a pair of eyes that reflects certain weariness.
Teawares such as chawan, cups and teapots made by him line the display cabinet and tables at the front part of the teahouse. At the back, is a small 5-table restaurant helmed by his wife, as the sale of tea and teaware wouldn't be sufficient to sustain the business.
He motions for us to have a seat at the bare wooden table as he selects his stash of 2005 liubao and turns on the kettle. His brewing style is simple and without flourish, and the choice of tea a reflection of the brewer's character - smooth, warm, yet reserved with age.
What does it take to hang on to one's dream, passion and belief when the world seems to have moved on?
The wood furnace used to fire the pottery pieces.
What does it take to hang on to one's dream, passion and belief when the world seems to have moved on? When many artists, entrepreneurs or people who chose to follow their heart are giving themselves deadlines and targets to hit before returning to the safety of an eight to five job, here is a man who stuck to his belief through the years. He shares about how, in his heyday up until 5 years back, Lao Sher was one of the most popular tea houses that attracted both businessmen and politicians. But things aren't like before. With rising costs and a decline in business, Wei Liang and his wife are deciding if they should move to a cheaper location.
This makes his story all the more impressive. For he not only persevered for twenty years, he also did not allow himself to fall into despair after his once successful business took a turn for the worse. What he lacks in speed of execution and tech savviness, Wei Liang makes up for them with resilience - a rare trait among many young artists and entrepreneurs these days. To be able to take a hit, no matter how hard, and keep moving forward.
Some of the ready pottery pieces.
What he lacks in speed of execution and tech savviness, Wei Liang makes up for them with resilience — a rare trait among many young artists and entrepreneurs these days.
Singaporean potter Kim Whye Kee (left) with Wei Liang (right).
In the words of his wife, it is as if Wei Liang is ready to throw himself into the wood furnace when firing up the pottery pieces — all for the sake of his craft.
When discussing about his upcoming collaboration with Singaporean potter Kim Whye Kee, a counterpart almost a decade younger than him, his passion is palpable. And throughout the few days spent interacting with him, he seemingly becomes another person when discussing pottery. In the words of his wife, it is as if Wei Liang is ready to throw himself into the wood furnace when firing up the pottery pieces - all for the sake of his craft.
The changing times may have taken many things from him, but the courage to dream is not one of them. And this courage is not one that is impractical or blindly believing. Being a husband and father of a four-year-old, Wei Liang knows that he has on his shoulder a responsibility that many budding artists do not. When he is not in the workshop, he runs around the city for pop-ups and road shows in a bid to earn additional income for his family. This is his way of balancing the responsibility to his family and the pursuit of his craft.
This is why the work of true artists continues to inspire, resonate and give hope to their beholder. For their creator, when put through the fire of the demands of reality, chooses to be in the world and not of the world.
Perhaps this may be the utmost important trait of being an artist. No matter which country we live in, the choice to throw oneself into the art or craft full time will be a decision that is fraught with difficulties. There will be countless nights they contemplate throwing in the towel, questioning themselves whether what they are doing is right. But maybe this is why the work of true artists continues to inspire, resonate and give hope to their beholder. For their creator, when put through the fire of the demands of reality, chooses to be in the world and not of the world.
Photo credits: Nicholas Yeo (https://nicholasyeo.com/)