Neighbour: Mr Chow

Interview by Stephanie Peh
Images courtesy of GOVT

Collections of keys sit on the hooks of a cart, waiting to be assigned a unique combination of numbers that would define their five, sometimes six, body of teeth, all cut to perfection by Mr Chow Ho Weng, who runs Handy Service from a cart located in the heart of Chinatown.

At a time when skeleton keys were the norm, a young Mr Chow learnt about the trade and skills of traditional key cutting from his father. Delving into the mysterious world of keys and locks, experimenting with wires and lock picking was his childhood play and growing up was about crafting perfect combinations, and polishing them until they fit.

It did not take Mr Chow long to master the skill of cutting keys and unlocking doors with wires. As a teenager, he recognised the temptation of the craft that could have possibly led him wayward. Fortunately, he kept his integrity and gained the trust of his father’s customers after inheriting the business. Even though he never advertised, his customers and their following generations kept returning. Eventually, he became the keysmith of choice even for high profile hotels, banks and vault systems. He rose to the challenge and put together teams that built vault doors and safes. Even as the times evolved and card scanning systems and codes were introduced, Mr Chow stuck stubbornly and fearlessly by his passion.

Having cut keys for more than half his lifetime now, Mr Chow’s experience allows him to tell an original key from a bad copy. Able to cut keys with just a number combination or with simple hand tools, without the aid of any machinery, he remains the key cutter of choice for many, especially when it comes to pieces machines cannot cut, such as those for safes as the keys required are slightly more complicated to decipher. While other keysmiths would choose to turn down these jobs or charge excessively, these are challenges Mr Chow would be more than happy to embrace.

Visit Handy Service at 101 Upper Cross Street, #02-51 People’s Park Centre, Singapore.

Read more in The U Press N˚2 (Singapore edition).