This cluttered old shop made shoes for Mr Lee Kuan Yew for 25 years

This cluttered old shop made shoes for Mr Lee Kuan Yew for 25 years
PHOTO: Singapore Press Holdings

Lee Hoi Wah Shoe Maker might not look like much, with its bare cement floors, yellowed posters and shoes scattered all over.

But the shoemakers behind the 50-year-old shoe shop at Jalan Kukoh have customised leather shoes for some of the most powerful figures in Singapore, such as former president S R Nathan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The shoe moulds belonging to the late Mr Lee are now on display at the "Memory in Prints: Lee Kuan Yew and Us" exhibition, organised by Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao. (See report on facing page.)

The shoe moulds are on loan from Madam Christine Lee, 65, and her brother, Mr Lee Kean Siong, 63.

Their father, Mr Lee Hoi Wah, began making shoes for Mr Lee in 1990.

The siblings took over the shop when their father died in 1991. They each have more than 40 years of experience in shoemaking.

Madam Lee said that people have asked to buy the shoe moulds belonging to the late Mr Lee, but the moulds are not for sale.

Mr Lee Kean Siong said in Mandarin: "We won't sell them. We want to put them up for exhibition so that people can appreciate what he has done.

"When the mould is returned to us, who knows, we might be able to use them again if someone has the same kind of feet as the late Mr Lee."

He described the first time he met the founding Prime Minister, saying: "I was nervous and we didn't talk much, we just talked about how he wanted his shoes made and comfort was very important to him."

Mr Lee said their interactions soon became akin to that of "old friends" and the late Mr Lee would visit the shop in the late afternoon when it was more empty for shoe-fitting and adjustments.

"On his last visit (in August 2011), he was much older. He couldn't get out of the car, so they parked in front of the shop and I brought my tools to do a fitting in the car.

"On a number of occasions, I had to do the shoe adjustments at his home and I would have tea there."

It takes two to three weeks for the siblings to finish making a pair of shoes. They have a waiting list of about three months.

Madam Lee cuts and stitches the leather by hand. Mr Lee does the measuring and fitting of the customers' feet and puts the different elements of the shoe together.

Said Mr Lee: "Shoemaking is hard, not because it needs a lot of strength but you need patience and the interest.

"Nowadays, most shoemakers don't care if a shoe is comfortable or well-fitted, they're only concerned if it is fashionable and can make money."

Memories of LKY

The travelling exhibition "Memory in Prints: Lee Kuan Yew and Us" was opened by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Aug 1 at Big Box in Jurong East.

Besides the shoe moulds, photographs of the seven-day state funeral of Mr Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year are also on display.

A gallery of Mr Lee-themed works by local artists are also featured and the artists will be present to explain their works and share personal experiences with the founding Prime Minister.

In conjunction with this exhibition, there is also a commemorative booklet titled Those Seven Days: Lee Kuan Yew And Us.

Sharing sessions by journalists and photographers who covered Mr Lee's funeral will also be held.

The exhibition, which is free to the public, will be held at these venues:

Tampines Community Plaza (outside Tampines MRT Station)

Aug 11 to Aug 14 (10am to 9pm)

Toa Payoh (HDB Hub Foyer)

Aug 15 to Aug 19 (10am to 9pm)

The Seletar Mall

Aug 27 to Aug 30 (10am to 9pm)

Jurong Spring Community Club

Aug 31 (3.30pm to 9pm), Sept 1 to Sept 7 (10am to 9pm)


This article was first published on Aug 11, 2015.
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