The key master
PRACTISED EYE: At a stall in a five-foot way in Joo Chiat Road, a regular customer has just asked Mr Choo Kok Foo to duplicate three keys. Here, Mr Choo is searching for the right key blank to be used for duplication. To the untrained eye, it might be difficult to tell the key blanks apart. However, the 75-year-old knows that there is only one type of key blank that would make the perfect replica.
FINISHING TOUCH: Mr Choo, who is often seen squatting, using a hand file to file a newly-minted key. His tools have been with him for five decades.
MAKESHIFT TRADE: Six days a week at 11am, Mr Choo unwraps a blue canvas that covers his tools, cabinets and keys at his stall outside a shophouse. He then burns a joss stick and waits for customers. He calls it a day at 5pm.
(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited
My Paper starts a series on people and places slipping into the annals of history
FOR the past 50 years, Mr Choo Kok Foo’s routine has remained largely unchanged.
While Singapore has morphed from a small town into a metropolis, the 75-year-old key-cutter is a steadfast sight in Joo Chiat Road.
Rain or shine, six days a week, Mr Choo can be seen at his stall in a five-foot way. His wrinkled hands, with fingernails blackened, fiddle with steel keys.
In the 1960s, he switched to key-cutting two years after working as an odd-job labourer.
He learnt the skills of key cutting from a master in Chinatown.
He then invested in a $400 manual key-cutting machine that he still uses today.
Mr Choo, who is married with a son, said he has a $1,500 electric machine which he cannot use as he no longer has power supply at his makeshift stall.
“The manual machine is slower,” he lamented in Mandarin.
The stoic man is not worried about competition or the threat of becoming obsolete. He attends to seven regular customers daily, and makes about $30 a day. His wife works as a clothing-shop assistant near their Tanglin Halt home. He said wryly: “When I started, I had a full head of hair. Now, all my hair is gone.”