Neighbour: Mr Zeng

Text by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jovian Lim

Tucked away at the end of a corridor where tuition and beauty services jostle for attention, Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture is a shop that stands out, ironically, for its quietness. There is no advertising, no banners promising results in two weeks, only a row of handmade furniture lining the entrance to the store, silent and confident in their shape and function. Inside, time seems to take a backseat: when I arrive on a weekday morning, all I hear is soft music and conversation emanating from a TV playing reruns of old Mandarin dramas, the hum of a fan for company.

Mr Zeng, Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture neighbour

The shop’s walls are almost completely covered, stacked floor to ceiling with an assortment of chairs, benches, baskets and tables that makes the entire room resemble a cavern of sorts—albeit a very well-furnished, cosy one. Mr Zeng, the owner of the business, picks out two armchairs for us to sit on. His wife heads bashfully to the back of the store, conscious of the attention, her repair work on a bench interrupted by my visit. The two of them run the business together, he tells me, spending 11 hours a day fixing furniture that customers bring in and taking orders for new ones.

At my request, Mr Zeng gamely demonstrates a technique which he calls 爬楼梯, or climb the stairs. As he weaves the thin strip of rattan diagonally through a broken seat, he explains the method, and points out how the chair will look when it’s complete. In a few moments, he’s threaded a full line, and will later trim and tuck the ends into the edge of the chair, repeating the process until the seat is good as new.

Drop in on Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture at Blk 122 #01-68, Bukit Merah Lane 1 to buy, fix or customise rattan furniture, and to watch Mr Zeng at work. 

Read more in The U Press N˚14 (Singapore edition).