Knife sharpening as an art form, a form of professional service provision. Have you heard of them before in Singapore ? Do you know of their presence here in Singapore ? Personally, I didn’t know about knife sharpening professional service although I can relate to the art of knife sharpening because of my Boy Scout and Venture Scouting days.
It was with great honour that I was invited by National Heritage Board (NHB) to follow along with them in their Heritage in Episodes projects. My exploration, documentation and photographing of Old Places in Singapore led me to discover, learn and share more about heritage, history, conservation and preservation topics in Singapore. The art and culture of traditional trades and businesses soon became part of my interest with the knife sharpening profession that I went along to photograph and documented, a part of a dying professional trade in Singapore.
Along with the staff from National Heritage Board, reporters from Straits Times and Lianhe ZaoBao. We visited People’s Park Complex, tucked away at a corner on the second floor, there was a unit where we learnt the art, history and profession of knife sharpening. We were greeted by Mdm Lee, who was very kind, humble and friendly, whom was more than happy to share with us her stories, how she got started in knife sharpening, her experiences and memories over her knife sharpening business. Mdm Lee’s knife sharpening caters to hairstylists, seamstress, hawkers and homemakers, with her business trade spanning over 40 years. Mdm Lee was very well liked by her customers whom many were loyal return customers. When customers went to her shop and picked up their goods, they shared their wonderful and thoughts about Mdm Lee’s knife sharpening business. The testimonials by her customers are a testament of her professionalism and enthusiasm in her knife sharpening profession.
The dilemma and challenges facing Mdm Lee today is succession and passing on of the knife sharpening trade/skills/business. The art and profession of knife sharpening may not be able to carried on into the future generations of Singapore. With the coverage and publicity by National Heritage Board, local press stories and history enthusiasts like myself, we hoped that Mdm Lee would be able to Pass-It-On her art and skill of knife sharpening. Do check out both our local newspapers Straits Times and Lianhe ZaoBao wrote excellent in-depth detailed reports of Mdm Lee and her knife sharpening business.
There were a few things that I was able to struck a chord deeply with Mdm Lee’s knife sharpening, that is the art and skill of knife sharpening. I would not be able to know the operations and business management of a knife sharpening trade/business, however, I knew how Mdm Lee felt when she was sharpening the knifes on the grinder and honing stone. This was because I was once a Boy Scout and Venture Scout, I had to learn the skills of sharpening my small swiss army knifes, dagger, parang (machette) and axe. Mdm Lee’s grinder was machine/motor operated while the grinder that I learned was manual turning with one hand while the other hand held my knife/parang/axe. When I saw how Mdm Lee sharpening the knifes on the sharpening/honing stone slab, splashing water on the stone slab and knife while sharpening, these actions brought me back many memories to my Scouting days, it’s exactly the same skill and actions!
I had a great chat with Mdm Lee, sharing with her how I used/sharpened my knife, parang and axe (Those were the rugged outdoor adventure days) during my Scouting days. It was fated that I was able to meet a professional knife sharpener and able to share together why we sharpen our knifes for our various purposes, for Mdm Lee, a professional service provision, for me, my Scouting outdoor adventure! If you ever need a skillful professional to sharpen your knifes, scissors etc etc, you can find Mdm Lee at People’s Park Food Complex, #02-1040! Let’s help to spread the awareness of a knife sharpening art and profession in Singapore and we might find this traditional knife sharpening trade and business can be Pass-It-On!
I would like to say a Big Thank You to National Heritage Board and Madam Lee for giving me this opportunity to photograph, document and share the story of knife sharpening.
This blog entry is written in support of the “Heritage in Episodes” project under the Heritage Institutions Division of NHB which seeks to document traditional trades and businesses, and to promote public awareness of these trades and businesses through NHB’s social media platforms. The knife sharpener will be featured in an upcoming episode of the “Heritage in Episodes” project and video clips of traditional trades such as rattan weaving and Chinese lantern painting have been uploaded on NHB’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/yesterdaysg.