The man behind the charming clan facade
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
89-year-old Mr Lee (李炎祥) of Poon Yue descent is one of the longest standing member of the Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut (广惠肇李氏书室) — over 70 years of membership!
You may have walked pass this 143-year-old kinship-based clan on Ann Siang Hill and took insta-worthy pictures at the clan exterior, but do you know that the wooden engraving of the clan’s signage and couplets are the work of this man back in 2017?
Photo credit: Lynn Wong
Taken at: Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut (广惠肇李氏书室) @ Ann Siang
Interestingly, Mr Lee was neither a carpenter nor craftsman by training. He used to work at the Straits Times as a technician since the age of 16 and was there for over 40 years. Later, he worked at KK Hospital to help catalogue their documents for around 8 years.
What motivated him to pick up new skills? The love for his clan. Prior, the clan signage was simply a piece of plywood with words written on it. The original signage and couplets when the clan was in its initial premise on Toufu Street (i.e. present day Upper Chin Chew Street area) were not to be found.
To commemorate the clan’s 140th anniversary in 2017, the clansmen put their heads and hearts together to replicate the original signage and couplets based on an old group photo taken at the Toufu Street clan premise (circa 1923/1934). The bottom 2 words on each plaque of the original couplet were however blocked and continues to be a mystery waiting to be solved. After much consultation, the clan decided to in the interim fill in the missing words with what they felt would be the most plausible. The calligraphy of the current signage and couplets was replicated by the clan’s then general secretary Mr Lee (总务李金荣先生) and Senior Lee (李炎祥) taught himself to do the wooden engraving from scratch.
Simply love his energy and amazing “can do” spirit despite his age. When I left the clan house later in the afternoon, it was raining pretty heavily outside but I felt warmth flowing within me. Senior Lee was seen with a piece of wood ready for his next volunteer project —- to help repair and replicate the broken arm of a clan antique chair. Has he done it before? Never. But he is very confident that with perseverance and heart, he will be able to do what even professional contractors say they are unable to.
This story was also featured in Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC)'s digital exhibition titled <title pending> which runs from 1 August to 31 October 2020, with potential for renewal. The intent of this exhibition is to take visitors on a journey of storytelling and inspire them to contemplate the title of their very own Singapore Story, in and beyond the spirit of National Day.