Zenfolio | Martin Liew Photography | Master Hong Hanlin, Artisanal Shoemaker 洪汉林 - 手工制鞋匠
10 photos

Hong Hanlin, 80-year-old is making shoes when I arrived at his tiny shoe shop at Bencoolen Street Food Center. He is one of Singapore's few remaining artisanal shoemakers. His father passed away when he was a child, and his family was poverty-stricken. At the age of 15, he went into shoemaking, and endured a very hard period as an apprentice.

Despite the hardship, Master Hong endured 3 long years of tough apprenticeship. In the end, he persevered and enquired an accomplished skill and mastered the complicated and intricate craft of shoemaking.

Shoemaking is a skilled craft. Shoemakers must have a good understanding of the human foot and basic knowledge of bones and muscles. With an aim of customizing to each customer's feet, a shoemaker employs sharp skills of drawing, trimming, slicing, cutting, knocking and gluing in order to create a unique pair of shoes that fully suits the customer.

With the emphasis on economic efficiency, such time-consuming and laborious work is not viable in today's society. However, Master Hong strongly believes elaborate works creates fine products. The average shoes cannot be compared with hand-crafted shoes.

In spite of Master Hong's persistence, there's nothing he can do to save the traditional shoemaking trade. Not more than 6 artisanal shoemakers like him remain. "...some have passed on while some have retired. Their children do not want them to work." explained Master Hong in Mandarin.

The leather cutter is a shoemaker's best tool. Its razor sharp blade can cut any type of material. "I have suffered many cuts to my hands and feet." exclaimed Master Hong. "When I was an apprentice, I did not appreciate the danger as there was once I was too slow to get up, the cutter droppped on my toe and there's still a scar. When you put in some force, you would get cut if not careful." he continued. He even showed me a scar on his left hand. "That was when I accidentally stabbed myself when I was an apprentice." he said.

Master Hong doesn't bother about such bodily hurt as his prime consideration is to make shoes that satisfy his customers. He has 2 groups of clientele. One group consists of people who cannot find their desired shoes, and the other are people who have problem foot type.

Having endured the toil and despair of being in this trade, Master Hong does not wish for anyone to follow in his footsteps. As such, his craft is destined to die with him. "When you have a skill, you can work till you are 80. You work on if you can, but if not, you have to give up." said Master Hong

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

Master Hong Hanlin

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