Hans is Singapore’s last lampshade maker.
He comes from a family of lampshade makers (“it’s in the blood”) and has known the business since he was a child. He was born in Batavia (what Jakarta was called back then) to a Dutch mother and Indonesian father. He grew up speaking Dutch and Indonesia Bahasa and is still fluent in those languages today.
“Tonight you’re next.”
His family lived in Jakarta until 1950, when Communist Javanese revolutionaries started to kill the Dutch “outsiders” after World War ll.
They were lucky to get a heads up. One day when Hans was 14, the chief of the nearby kampong, who had a good relationship with the family, told his father: “Tonight, you’re next.”
They were immediately evacuated by the Dutch army.
Of his family of 6 siblings, one stayed behind (“she was madly in love with a Javanese Prince and they ended up having nine children”), two went to Holland, one went to Australia and Hans came to Singapore with his parents and younger brother.
Entering school in Singapore, he had to begin learning English. He was far behind the other students but eventually climbed to the top of his class. Today his English is flawless.
When he graduated from secondary school, he became an insurance agent for a short while but was drawn into the family business when his parents decided to move to Petaling Jaya in 1962.
“They were afraid Lee Kuan Yew was a communist.”
His younger brother died in 1967 leaving him alone in Singapore. He has since married and his wife Connie works with him in the business. They have 3 children.
The workshop used to be on River Valley Road, near the old SPH building but moved to Tampines 20 years ago. It’s an industrial unit piled high with trinkets, ceramics and assorted memorable junk. Much of the bric-a-brac is for sale and there are some old treasures to be found among the kitsch.
The lampshades are made entirely by hand, even the frames are fashioned from metal wire. A single lampshade can take two days to make. Both Hans and his wife have a hand in the craft.
At 77 he continues to work “in order to have a comfortable life”.
And when he stops, the craft will be lost to Singapore.
He looks tired but content. It’s been a long road with many stories – not all happy ones. But he takes it in his stride.
“That’s how life is.”
Dutch Lampshade Shop
Block 9002 #04-08