I’ve lived in Singapore all my life, and I’ve always thought this tiny nook such a curious place of contrasts.
Our island is so tiny, it takes just 40 minutes to drive from one end to the other. Yet there’re 4.5 million (still growing!) people living comfortably here. People here come from all over. I spent my childhood happily running in and out of the houses of Chinese, Indians, Muslims, Iranians, Koreans, Americans and British; most kids grow up speaking at least three different languages fluently.
We’re workaholics, completely obsessed with cleanliness and efficiency. Yet most of us wouldn’t give up family-time for anything; we sit down together for meals nearly every day even at 10pm, and celebrate an endless stream of festivals and birthdays, stuffing our faces at barbeques or restaurants. The city is choc-a-bloc with modern skyscrapers and suited worker-bees scurrying in the streets. But just a couple of streets away is a jumble of small quaint coffeeshops (the ‘starbucks’ of old) which serve delicious food in rickety earthenware bowls to fine ladies in their chic stilettos. And business is great. People loosen their ties and wait more than an hour in the sweltering heat (it’s summer all year round here!) for their goodies.
Though our modern city looks sterile on the outside and, some say, ruled by a iron-clad fist (there’s been only one viable political party for the last twenty-odd years), there’s a quaint quality to where I live. Everyone calls all old ladies ‘aunty’ and all old men ‘uncle’. That’s right, everyone — even strangers, gangsters and robbers!
And does handmade fit into this city? Strangely enough, it does. In the decade or so there’s been an obvious growing acceptance and even embrace of the quirky, off-beat and handmade. Sure, it’s still a very much a niche market. But there’s now a growing band of designers, shopowners and activists raising awareness of handmade produce.
I find it encouraging that shops now keen on (and some even specialising in) these items just pop up overnight, whereas just a few years ago stores wouldn’t dream of selling handmade craft from local designers. There are now whole streets full of little quaint shops stocking these items that are popular with the with-it younger set. It’s been good enough that some local crafters have even branched out on their own. And recently, our first-ever permanent crafts-only market opened at the Red Dot Museum, where local crafters get to display their wares for one Sunday a month. No small feat in a place with a tiny consumer audience, and where most people are still too pragmatic to see the point in paying for the labour of love that goes into handmade craft!
I think this is a response to all that sterile, factory-made, cookie-cutter products we’ve grown up with. With our growing affluence, we now have the time (and money, honestly) to want to be different from everyone else. We’re more willing to take time to engage in a more personal transaction, to interact with a maker who is a *gasp* real person, to understand what her craft means to her. We are more hardworking shoppers now: a sterile department-store experience is not enough.
And of course, the Singaporean presence on Etsy is growing. There’s such a nice variety of us on here, and our community gets bigger by the day! We’ve recently come together to form a Team, with our own blog. We hope to meet up and organize events to increase the awareness of Etsy locally. Yes, this is normal and taken-for-granted in most other countries, and I guess we’re a little slow with our act. But now that we’ve started sending our little feelers creeping out into our community, I’m excited at the potential, and where it’ll lead us! It’ll be an uphill task getting people to see why buying handmade is so much better than buying factory-made, but I’m excited!
I’m so excited! Why?
Because I know that each handmade thing has a little piece of the artist’s heart crafted into it. And in each item I own, I see someone else’s love.
Our first crafts-only bazaar:
The Singaporean Etsy Team blog: