Retiree to rebuild Yishun toy tower at Substation

Mr Or Beng Kooi reconstructs his toy tower at The Substation.ST VIDEO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
Mr Or Beng Kooi will rebuild his toy tower at The Substation with salvaged items from his original installation, as well as contributions from the public. With him are his grandson Javia Or and neighbour Wee Lai Huat. The toy tower at Block 108, Yish
Mr Or Beng Kooi will rebuild his toy tower at The Substation with salvaged items from his original installation, as well as contributions from the public. With him are his grandson Javia Or and neighbour Wee Lai Huat.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mr Or Beng Kooi will rebuild his toy tower at The Substation with salvaged items from his original installation, as well as contributions from the public. With him are his grandson Javia Or and neighbour Wee Lai Huat. The toy tower at Block 108, Yish
The toy tower at Block 108, Yishun Ring Road. It came tumbling down in February after the town council, worried about fire safety, stepped in.PHOTO: SHIRLEY SOH

Made to remove it from his void deck, he is now given space to express himself

Topless Barbie dolls, Smurf figurines, fat laughing Buddhas, a rotating M&M's toy and plastic flowers in an array of rich colours.

These figurines and decorative pieces are being constructed into a tiered toy tower by retired contractor Or Beng Kooi, 77.

The long-time Yishun resident had originally built a pagoda featuring kitschy knick-knacks at the void deck of Block 108, Yishun Ring Road, late last year. However, it came tumbling down in February after Nee Soon Town Council, worried about fire safety, stepped in.

Since then, Mr Or has been invited to reconstruct his tower at independent arts centre The Substation in Armenian Street.

Theatre practitioner Li Xie, 45, had reached out to collaborate with him. She said: "I hope that by giving him this safe space to build, he will feel respected, liberated and comfortable to express himself, instead of feeling dismissed.

"It is a stage for his story to be told, and for wider social and political issues to be discussed."

With a wide grin, Mr Or said in Mandarin: "If not for Ms Li, I wouldn't have the chance to rebuild my tower. I'm very happy."

REUSING UNWANTED THINGS

It's too much of a waste to just throw these items away. A lot of money was spent on them. The tower is a way of displaying and reusing things people no longer need.

MR OR BENG KOOI, on why he built the toy towers.

The tower is being reconstructed with salvaged items from his original installation, as well as new contributions from the public.

The new items, which fill five boxes, were amassed after Ms Li made a call for donations last month.

On Thursday, Mr Or arrived at The Substation with his grandson, 11-year-old Javia Or, and neighbour Wee Lai Huat, a 56-year-old retiree.

He was in a striped Star Wars T-shirt and black vest, and wore a black cap with metal rings.

Mr Or could not describe exactly how he would design his tower, but said it would "have to be beautiful and pleasing for the public".

"We are not building it for ourselves to enjoy," he said. He is also influenced by the style and colours of Haw Par Villa's statues.

On the rationale behind building such towers, he said: "It's too much of a waste to just throw these items away. A lot of money was spent on them. The tower is a way of displaying and reusing things people no longer needed."

Visitors can watch Mr Or and interact with him as he builds the tower in his own time. They can also listen to audio interviews that Ms Li conducted with him.

Contributions of ornaments and figurines are welcome too.

 

Ms Li said: "We have so many campaigns encouraging senior citizens to age actively and gracefully. We regulate too much on how to age and what we are to do in each stage of our lives.

"We should respect what the elderly want to do, hear them out and give them a voice."

The items will be donated to charity after the exhibition.

•Discipline The City - Act III will run at The Substation till Nov 26.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Retiree to rebuild Yishun toy tower at Substation'. Print Edition | Subscribe