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For 63 years, Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency was a pillar of the paper offering industry, a crucial component of the commemoration of traditional Chinese festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.


Its owner, 83-year-old Yeo Hung Teo, was famous for being one of the few artisans in Singapore who could craft and paint traditional Teochew lanterns.


Sadly, due to multiple health issues, Mr Yeo is unable to work his craft anymore, and he is currently wheelchair-bound.


Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency, founded by his father Yeo Swee Piew in 1959, also shut its doors for the last time in July.


The historic Teochew business became a victim of a general decline in traditional Chinese trades in Singapore, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unexpected demise of a longtime employee.


Faced with these immense challenges, Mr Yeo’s wife, Mrs Yeo Siew Peng, was left with little choice but to cease operations.


My team and I have known Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency since 2017, when we were conducting research for Hell’s Museum. The museum, which opened in October 2021, focuses on perspectives of death and the afterlife, and the firm was relevant because they made paper offerings for the 7th Lunar Month and for funerals.


We were impressed by the artistic skills of the Yeos and their workers, and their deep knowledge of traditional Chinese festivals and Chinese traditions. They were stewards of Singaporean intangible cultural heritage.


When we received news in early June that the paper factory was shutting down, we were dismayed and saddened. We felt we had to do something to honour the Yeos’ contributions and achievements of a lifetime, and allow them to tell their story.


The result is an exhibition in Haw Par Villa, titled End of an Era - The Legacy of a Vanishing Trade: Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency.


My team and I curated and put together this exhibition in just eight weeks, to have its launch coincide with the 15th day of the 7th Lunar Month - what would have been a very busy period for Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency.


On display are photos, footage, and original furniture from the Yeos’ factory, and a plethora of colourful paper offerings for funerals and the 7th Lunar Month and other traditional Chinese festivals, all generously donated by the Yeos.






This exhibition will use their works of art to open a window into the oft-misunderstood world of traditional Chinese festivals and practices, a window into thousands of years of philosophy and culture.


More importantly, I hope this exhibition conserves the spirit of Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency, and honours the Yeos and more than six decades of hard work.


Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency may be no more, but it is our duty to ensure their legacy lives on for future generations.


***


End of an Era - The Legacy of a Vanishing Trade: Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency runs from now until the end of December. It is at the Cloud Pavilion, next to the Culture Courtyard in Haw Par Villa.


Directions to the Culture Courtyard here.

Achieved Gold for my annual IPPT (the Individual Physical Proficiency Test for the Singapore Armed Forces).

This was the first Gold I have earned for my IPPT, ever. I had aimed for Silver - the standard I attained last year - but I did better than expected.


In terms of fitness, this is a significant milestone. When I was a full-time National Serviceman from the ages of 19 to 21, I struggled to pass my IPPT. I failed half the time, and barely passed the rest of the way.


That was almost 20 years ago. Now, every week, I run 10km on a Saturday or Sunday morning; the run includes targets of clocking the first 2.4km inside 10 minutes 50 seconds (for my IPPT run) and the whole 10km inside 52 minutes. This routine has done wonders for my fitness!

On Saturday, 21 May, I oversaw a team in organising a Vesak Day Commemoration at Haw Par Villa.


I believe this was the first Vesak Day event held in the 85-year-old park in years.


The commemoration started with Vesak Day blessings conducted in the Culture Courtyard.


We wanted to show unity in diversity. Hence, we invited six monks representing three major schools of Buddhism - Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. They were also of various ethnicities, such as Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, and Tibetan.

Vesak Day blessings at the Culture Courtyard. Credit: Courtesy of Ms Lee Lay Na (volunteer photographer of Tibetan Buddhist Centre).


Credit: Courtesy of Ms Lee Lay Na (volunteer photographer of Tibetan Buddhist Centre).

Credit: Courtesy of Ms Lee Lay Na (volunteer photographer of Tibetan Buddhist Centre).

The blessings were followed by a procession around the park to bless the space. The procession stopped at major Buddhist figures such as Gautama Buddha, and Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.


After two years of strict social distancing measures and online events, it was great seeing the monks physically lead the procession in paying respects.

Credit: Courtesy of Ms Lee Lay Na (volunteer photographer of Tibetan Buddhist Centre).



Moving forward, Vesak Day will be one of the key events on Haw Par Villa’s calendar, in recognition of the significant number of Buddhist elements in the park.


All communities are welcome in Haw Par Villa to celebrate or commemorate festivals. The aim is to create a common space for all.