Bird cages have always been an interest for Mr Suhadi Aman and this fascination has led to him becoming a craftsman.
Indeed, the corridor outside his daughter's five-room HDB flat at Jalan Tenaga, where he lives, has become a makeshift workshop- cum-showroom.
Placed beside the intricate cages made by the 64-year-old are the materials he uses - bundles of thin, pliable bamboo sticks for the cage and stacks of teak panels and rods for the base.
With deft hands, he fashions these raw materials into impressive and ornate structures.
Mr Suhadi's interest started when he was 10. A popular pastime back then was to catch small birds, and Mr Suhadi and his friends would build their own cages to keep the birds they caught.
"After school, I would go to the bird shop near my house and quietly observe how the cages were made," recounts Mr Suhadi. "Back then, we didn't have much so we had to improvise."
The first bird cage he made was a simple square box and it was fashioned from bamboo he found lying around his kampung home near Geylang Serai. It took a week for Mr Suhadi to make the cage and he honed his skills from there.
"We would use makeshift tools. We would attach nails to chopsticks and use that as a tool to make holes in the wood," he says.
Since his retirement four years ago, the grandfather of four has rekindled his passion and he now builds bird cages as though it were a full-time job.
"My kids told me to stop working and rest at home. But I couldn't, so I started building these cages," says the former technician.
Mr Suhadi's arsenal of cage-making instruments - which now includes power tools - are a far cry from those he used when he was young though some are still homemade.
"Using just my hands to construct the cage would take me much longer," explains Mr Suhadi while taking out a jig that he had made himself.
The jig, which helps create the frame of the cage, is covered in what looks like scribbles. Mr Suhadi explains that these are markings which only he understands and they hold the key to his particular type of frame-building.
He makes about eight cages a month for customers, who are referred to him by word of mouth. He charges between $100 and $220 per cage.
Some customers just want simple repairs. Others want full refurbishment of old cages with sentimental value.
Mr Suhadi relishes the craftsmanship he puts into each cage and would like to add his handcarved ornamentation to the cages, but that would push their price into the thousands.
He says with a sigh: "My customers would not want to pay that much for a wooden cage. It would also take me a long time to make."
In fact, he has a backlog of customers' orders and is not taking any new ones for now.
This is because family time is important to him, so he makes sure his Sundays are free.
It is for this reason that he turned down an offer to take on an apprentice.
"He (the apprentice) was only free on Sunday, but that day is for my family," says the affable Mr Suhadi.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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