Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: New Year card every year for shoemaker

Lee Kean Siong, 62, of Lee Hoi Wah Shoes and his sister Christine Lee, 64, had been Mr Lee Kuan Yew's personal shoemakers since 1991, when their father Lee Hoi Wah died at age 74. It was Mrs Lee who first patronised the shop in 1987.

"He was our customer for more than 20 years, since 1990. We made shoes for Mrs Lee too, so when her husband needed shoes, she recommended us to him.

It was our father who first made shoes for Mr Lee. The first mould he made of Mr Lee's feet is still in the store. After our father died in 1991, my sister and I continued to make shoes for him.

Mr Lee would make a pair once every two years. They were always a simple pair of formal shoes made of soft black leather. It was very important that they were comfortable.

Whenever he needed to have his shoes made or adjusted, he would contact me. I usually went to his house in Oxley Road. Sometimes, he would send a car to pick me up from my shop in Jalan Kukoh.

He visited my shop twice in 2011 when he was less busy. I apologised that my shop was very dirty. He said it was not a problem, he just wanted to come and see. We took a photo together on his second visit.

We're both Hakka and addressed each other as Mr Lee in Mandarin. When we talked, it was about shoes and what he needed. As long as you made good shoes for him, he'd be happy and smile. Then I'd be happy too. His bodyguard told me he praised my shoes to his foreign visitors.

The shoes usually cost $300 to make. Adjustment cost may be $30, depending on what needed to be done. We gave him a 5 per cent discount.

I made the shoes using moulds of his feet I already had. They changed only slightly. He always needed metatarsal pads put in. As he aged, his foot bone slowly protruded over the years.

He sent us quite a few things over the years. Every year since the 1990s, we received signed New Year cards with photographs of his family. Sometimes, he sent us fruit hampers.

The older he got, the less he wrote. He used to write my name on the cards but not in the more recent years. His signature also got shorter and it looked like his handwriting was getting weaker.

In 2004, he sent us a copy of his Mandarin book, Lee Kuan Yew: A Pictorial Biography.

Once, he sent us a beautiful crystal ornament that looked like it cost about $200 to $300. With it, he wrote a note that said: "With my appreciation and friendship. May your business and your shop Lee Hoi Wah prosper and flourish."

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