My name is Teng Leng Foo. I am 75 years old this year, and I have been making bird cages since I was twelve. I sell handmade bird cages and offer repair services for them.
In the past, many people owned birds as they were sold at a cheap price. I came from a poor family, so we were only able to afford rearing birds. In fact my first bird was given to me by a friend.
When I grew older, I worked at a shipyard where I built oil mills. However, the company I was working for lost some investments and had to lay off employees. I was one of them. That was when I decided to start this cage making business.
I learned how to make the cages by myself. On top of that, I had to manage the import of materials from countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and China. I use fibre, wood, and shells to construct the cages which usually last for 10 to 20 years, sometimes 30. My wife helps me with sewing the cloth base and covering.
Initially, I had dreams of opening up a cage making factory in China and incorporating the use of marble. But I soon realized that it would be difficult to find investors as this craft is very niche.
Nevertheless, I have had several proud moments upon setting up my cage making shop here at Ang Mo Kio. About 40 years ago, the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club was established after a group of bird enthusiasts applied to the Housing Development Board to preserve the area for bird singing. There have since been many bird singing competitions held here, and I was the chief judge for them. I have made many good friends here as well, and they all call me shifu (master, translated from Mandarin).
Since Covid-19 hit, the bird singing competitions have stopped. I’m looking forward to the next one, hopefully sometime this year.
In the last few years, many international and local media outlets have approached me to learn more about my craftsmanship and my work has also been displayed in museums. I have gained a lot of satisfaction from my craft.
There are also many young people who come into my shop asking me to teach them how to make bird cages. I’m always happy to impart my skills but truthfully, cage making requires talent and takes a lot of time. Nowadays, it is hard to find such patience in youths. I’ve been asked to teach at Community Centres as well, but unfortunately I’m unable to carve out the time.
At this age, I’m still very enthusiastic about cage making and I try my best to come up with creative designs. I like to show off the Singaporean culture in my work, so I drew the shape of a Merlion and asked someone to cut out fibre and wood pieces of the icon for me to embellish the cages with. One day, I hope to create a uniquely Singaporean cage.