The old man of origami

The old man of origami
Mr Chan Yew Meng, 76, with origami spiders that he folded. He spent more than two hours folding each spider, from getting its rough form out to shaping it. He also added colour to them so that they look more.

For more than 60 years, Mr Chan Yew Meng, 76, has been folding origami. ' He is so passionate about it that when he forgets how to fold a particular design, he loses sleep over it.

He was involved in the Maker Faire Singapore event earlier this month, where he promoted origami together with fellow enthusiasts.

Mr Chan, a grandfather of four, says he will continue folding for as long as his brain and hands are working.

He was introduced to origami when he was 10 by his grandmother, who taught him to fold basic shapes such as cranes and boats.

He said: "It gives me joy to fold a piece of paper into something that can be displayed, like elephants and birds.

"And thinking of how to bend the paper in various ways to make different models also helps keep my brain active."

The retiree, who has a son and a daughter, used to be a full-time container shipping clerk.

Now he works part-time cleaning tables at an eatery.

He said: "Folding origami also helps me to de-stress after dealing with difficult customers from a long day at work."


Mr Chan has folded all sorts of things, from spiders to centipedes.

He has also had a hand in folding a dinosaur skeleton made with 21 pieces of paper. It was a gift for his son more than five years ago.

In 2001, with fellow enthusiasts in Sentosa, he made a 45.49m-long giant snake, which is listed on as the world's largest paper king cobra.

The spider is his favourite to fold and he has made about 10 of them. The small ones, measuring 5cm in length and the big ones about 12cm, take more than two hours to make.

Mr Chan said: "The folded spider looks realistic. I had fun using it to scare people. My friends, especially the ladies, found it creepy."

Despite his wealth of origami experience, Mr Chan does get stuck sometimes.

"I get irritated when I cannot fold a certain design. Sometimes I fold it while I am in bed, or even when I am in the toilet," he said.

Mr Chan teaches the art of origami to children and adults. He taught in community centres in the 1980s, to classes of 30 people. Now, he meets with his friends from Origami Singapore once a month, to give workshops at Geylang East Public Library.

The person-in-charge of Origami Singapore, Mr Benjamin Tan, 38, says he admires Mr Chan's passion for origami.

Said Mr Tan: "He is the oldest member of our group and his skills are good for someone his age. His eyes get tired easily these days but he is still folding origami."

"I am content with folding other people's designs. But when I do create a design, it comes spontaneously to me," said Mr Chan, who has created a paper dish with four petals. The dish, folded using paper with a netted basketball design, plays tricks on the eye when an object is put into it.

"It looks as if the object in the dish is floating beneath a net. I realised I made an optical illusion," he said proudly.

This article was first published on July 29, 2015.
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