His handmade sandals can fetch $700
FOR over 40 years, 76-year-old Song Kwek Choong hasn't bought a pair of shoes.
Instead, he makes them. By hand.
Nestled deep within Golden Mile Tower is his nook of a shop, where scattered leather pieces litter his desk.
This great-grandfather is one of the last few traditional shoemakers in Singapore.
When The New Paper on Sunday (TNPS) visited Mr Song, he was busy cutting leather with his trusted shoe-making knife.
His hands were covered in cuts and scars; dried glue and grime lurked under his fingernails.
"I made my first pair of shoes when I was 13," said Mr Song.
"My father was a shoemaker and that was how I got myself into this trade. But I wanted to learn other techniques, so I ventured out on my own."
At 15, he met a businessman who was based in Johor Baru. There, Mr Song made shoes for the Johor royal family and high society.
"I was the most busy during Hari Raya. Each pair of shoes used to cost RM50, which was big money at that time," said Mr Song proudly.
Not content with just fashioning regular shoes, he travelled to Malacca, where he went on to learn his speciality, the Kasut Manek or Peranakan beaded shoes.
At the mention of that, he dropped everything he was working on and rifled through some boxes and drawers, pulling out three pairs of intricately designed sandals.
"These shoes are made for one of my regulars and cost about $700 a pair," the craftsman said in Malay.
He enthusiastically told TNPS everything about the shoes, from the beading to the heels.
The passion that the grizzled old shoemaker displayed was infectious, and soon we were discussing the best way to create fancy footwear.
Mr Song prides himself on comfort and quality, rather than style. He said that his creations can last at least five years.
Apart from using shoe moulds, he has an A3-sized book filled with shapes - outlines of feet.
"No two feet are the same," Mr Song said, before telling of a customer who had such unusual feet that she could not buy shoes off the rack.
Her right foot was much broader than her left, and both feet were of different sizes. As we age, our feet tend to change shape, Mr Song said.
When asked if he plans to retire to watch over his great-grandchildren, the wizened shoemaker turned and gave a piercing stare.
"As long as I can still walk and my hands can still cut leather, I will never close my shutters."
THE NEW PAPER