Meet the Dwellers - Handmade Happiness
Behind the neat, ordered facades of HDB blocks is a living compendium of lives, people and stories; some more colourful than others, but all unique and interesting in their own special way. A carpenter hopes to bring happiness and cheer to his neighbours by handcrafting festive decorations for all to enjoy.
Something magical happens at a corner of Woodlands Street 13 every festive season. Animal sculptures and brightly lit lanterns appear during Chinese New Year. A mosque façade and coconut trees can be seen for Hari Raya, and peacocks for Deepavali. At Christmas, residents are greeted by the sight of life-sized reindeer and “snow” made of foam.
For over a decade, fellow resident Tan Koon Tat has been setting up elaborate festive decorations that light up their home and their community.
Koon Tat first started putting up lights and streamers along the common corridor to welcome Chinese New Year, and soon found that his neighbours would stop to admire the decorations whenever they walked by his flat.
Over time, he became inspired to create something that the wider community could enjoy, and began setting up more elaborate decorations that extended to the bigger common spaces. This time, he did not just stop at Chinese New Year décor – he put up decorations for other major festive occasions, so that his neighbours of different ethnicities, faiths and walks of life could enjoy them equally.
A carpenter for more than 40 years, Koon Tat would create all the decorations from scratch and assembles them at his workshop, dedicating his own time, effort, and even money to make these painstaking creations.
Tan Koon Tat and his display of decorations outside his flat
The last few days before a set-up can be tiring for Koon Tat, as he rushes to complete the decorations in time. “But it’s all worth it when I see my neighbours gathering around the decorations, taking photos and having a good time,” he says with a smile.
Beyond spreading festive cheer, the decorations have also brought Koon Tat closer to his neighbours. He would often seek their opinions on the types of decorations they prefer and take their suggestions for improvement into consideration. From brainstorming for ideas to building the installations, his neighbours would also volunteer their help to set up the decorations. For Koon Tat, this is perhaps the best thing to come out of his creations.
Koon Tat at his workshop; his neighbours also lend a helping hand in setting up his decorations
“No matter where I live, I’ve always been close to my neighbours. I think it’s important to reach out to the people around you,” he says. “The decorations are not only for my neighbours to enjoy – it is also a way for me to reach out to my community.”
Koon Tat’s decorations have been the pride of his neighbourhood for the last 10 years, as people from all over Singapore visit to see his stunning creations.
But for his neighbours, it is surely Koon Tat himself who brings them the most pride and joy, with his efforts in creating memorable moments of home for all.
Koon Tat's decorations light up his neighbourhood
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