Singapore—Workers’ Party Member of Parliament He Ting Ru, who successfully anchored the WP to its win in Sengkang in July’s General Election, took to social media to feature an elderly gentleman who makes a living creating traditional nyonya shoes.
Despite having problems with mobility, the man, Mr Soo, works six days a week because business has been “very poor.”
Ms He, who wrote about Mr Soo in a Facebook post on Sunday (Oct 25), appealed to followers to come see him at Block 113 Rivervale Walk from Tuesdays through Sundays from 9am to 5pm if they’re interested in seeing his work.
Beaded shoes, or kasut manek, are a part of Pernakan culture and tradition, worn by both men (baba) and women (nyonya) especially in the 1930s, although nowadays it is mostly women who continue to wear them as part of the whole sarong kebaya ensemble. They were especially made in lively colors and intricate patterns to mark happy occasions such as birthdays or Chinese New Year, or in black, white or blue as a sign of mourning.
Popular patterns were butterflies, fruits, and flowers, and even the background of the designs were intricately done. After the designs are complete, a cobbler then makes the shoes, usually from leather.
It seems that Mr Soo does both the design and shoe-making. According to Ms He’s post, he specialised in crafting the handmade shoes and had a small workshop in Geylang East for almost 30 years.
The WP MP met Mr Soo in Buangkok along the course of her estate walk on Saturday morning, writing that he showed them “a sample of the types of beadwork that customers can bring to him for turning into traditional nyonya shoes.”
For the past eight years, however, he has been providing cobbler services in a small space in the Blk 113 void deck.
A good pair of kasut manek may cost well over S$150 and can even reach as much as S$1,200, which would surely help Mr Soo.
According to a 2018 article from The Epoch Times, “These footwear first appeared in the early twentieth century, not only as a fashion accessory, but also to showcase the skills of young girls. Single nyonyas used to have limited freedom, and their time spent at home were used to train their skills in cooking and sewing.
An expertly beaded shoe represented the virtue of the girl, promising patience and sincerity to the interested groom. Back then, good shoes meant a good marriage….
Averaging $1,000, the handmade shoes are not cheap, but a quick understanding reveals the tedious process and the time that goes into one pair.”
The article quotes Robert Sng, the proprietor of Little Shophouse at Bussorah Street, who makes kasut manek, as saying, “A pair of beaded shoes take around 100 hours to complete.
In Singapore, there is no brochure about vanishing trades. If you go down to Malacca or Penang, surprisingly, they do have brochures for vanishing trades, and they will tell you the few places where you can visit.
We don’t have it here. We will only cry when the thing is gone. I am a Singaporean. I feel that this is part of Singapore culture.” —/TISG
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