HONG KONG • Across the world, jobs are changing. Technology is disrupting many industries and doing so very quickly in some cases.

Brighter LED lights are replacing the colourful neon signs of Hong Kong, while growing car ownership and ride-hailing firms are driving India's rickshaw pullers off the road.

In Colombia, the once ubiquitous street clerks of Bogota are disappearing. So, too, are Ecuador's washerwomen, usurped by the rise of household washing machines.

But some workers and craftsmen are determined to hold on to the old ways of doing things because it is all they know. In Venezuela, photographer Rodrigo Benavides prefers the old ways of developing images because it helps him remain connected to his subject matter. He works with equipment and techniques that have virtually disappeared, and brushes aside the digital revolution. "Doesn't interest me at all," he says.

With an ancient 50-year-old Olympus camera and an enlarger that he bought in 1980, he uses his bathroom as a makeshift lab, developing negatives, turning them into black-and-white prints. It still fascinates him every time as the image slowly emerges, on coming into contact with the chemicals. He thinks technology has "upended" photography, turning it into a work of "fiction".

"We have become desensitised to reality, which is much more interesting than fiction," he says.

Mr Benavides' passion for craftsmanship can be seen, too, in the work of neon sign-maker Wu Chi Kai, one of the last remaining of his kind in Hong Kong, a city where darkness never really falls thanks to the 24-hour glow of myriad lights.

During his 30 years in the business, neon came to define the urban landscape - huge flashing signs protruding horizontally from buildings, advertising everything from restaurants to mahjong parlours.

But with the growing popularity of brighter LED lights, seen as easier to maintain and more environmentally friendly, and government orders to remove some vintage signs deemed dangerous, the demand for specialists like Mr Wu has dimmed.

Despite a waning client base, 50-year-old Mr Wu continues in the trade, working with glass tubes dusted inside with fluorescent powder and containing various gases including neon or argon, as well as mercury, to create different colours. He bends them into shape over a gas burner at a scorching 1,000 deg C.

"Being able to twist straight glass materials into the shape I want, and later to make it glow - it's quite fun," he says, though it is not without risks.

Mr Wu works without a safety visor and has been scalded and cut by glass that sometimes cracks and explodes. "The painful experiences are the memorable ones," he adds. "I've been working with neon lights all my life. I can't think of anything else I'd be better suited for."

In Kolkata, Mr Mohammad Maqbool Ansari says he is happy pulling his rickshaw through the Indian city's teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world.

Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws are a feature of daily life, but Mr Ansari is part of a dying breed still eking out a living from this back-breaking form of labour. The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in the drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India's heaving metropolis.

Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk-tuks, Kolkata's signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.

Mr Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata's thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist. "If we don't do it, how will we survive? We can't read or write. We can't do any other work. Once you start, that's it. This is our life," he says.

Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Mr Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water - a rare blessing - and hands a note over. "When it's hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees (S$1) I'll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don't," he says.

"But I'm happy being a rickshaw puller. I'm able to feed myself and my family."


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