Benjamin Chiang, 34
It is true that urban dwellers tend towards a consumerist way of life, discarding old-but-working well for brand new. But maybe we’ll appreciate something better if we’d built it from scratch. This was what Chiang intended, and he was all set to do so before he realized how irresponsible it would be to make a halfhearted piece of work without any carpentry expertise. So he consulted some library books and switched to giving old furniture that he had found a new lease of life, with the assistance of some CARE Singapore kids. What he’s made is no Eames, but we think he deserves a pat on the back.
Would you call yourself artsy?
(laughs) Well… I can draw a decent circle, but I failed art badly in school. Graphic-wise, I’m better. I can make simple cartoons and all, but that’s it. So this is my chance for redemption.
Where did you get materials for your table?
For the ceramic material, they were purchased at hardware shops along Changi Road. As for the raw tables, they were discarded furniture picked up during scavenging hunts around HD B estates. Singaporeans discard plenty of things that are still in good condition, so there’s no lack of these.
So you got a few kids to help you along. How did that go?
It scared me to bits at first. Stage fright, if you will. I was overly concerned about whether I spoke in the right manner, behaved in the right manner, whether or not they actually enjoyed the session. A hundred million thoughts went through my mind. See, I wasn’t a very nice teenager when I was in school and then I thought crap, karma. I think I communicated better with them when we took a break and I had the opportunity to speak with them as friends. It wasn’t all that bad.
What did you learn about them?
I’ve learnt first hand what the saying means: “it is far easier to raise strong children than to fix broken men”. Through them, I saw myself back when I was a teenager. Then I thought of all the “what-ifs”, “what-could-have-beens” and “I-should-haves”. I don’t regret anything, but with the right environment, the right guidance and a disciplined arm to nudge you in the right direction, life is actually quite easy to live.
Did the table turn out like how you wanted?
I wanted to make a table from scratch. However, I met up with a master in carpentry, from a firm called Oats, and through him, it dawned upon me that I couldn’t have made a decent chair or table that’s worthy of being bidded off, not with the time I had. So I made do with the limitations, consulted some books from the library and went on the path of reconditioning old furniture instead. I like the recycling angle of reconditioning and I guess it turned out pretty decently!
You’ve done a table. What next?
I have indeed. But I really don’t think I’ll be great at handicraft. I think I work better with words than with physical material. (laughs) So no, I do not think I will be doing this again for a long while.
What have you learned anyway?
I got inspiration for this project sitting in a café. By just looking a chair, it seemed easy. But no, you need the time and all the right tools. One thing I want to share with the kids: you may encounter something that’s stopped you, but you can evolve the idea, and that was what worked for me. Skills are important, so start picking them up today.
Are skills more important than books?
I wouldn’t say that. Books are the first step to skills. You learn a load from them. I may never do this again, but hey, you never know when these skills may come in handy.
So what do you think of the entire A-Lister experience so far?
The thing that struck me most was how much resources an agency like CARE needs. You’re working with people with feelings and needs. You need people with commitment, finances to fund operations and relationships to get the mechanism going. For that, I’m in awe.
Benjamin Chiang, 34