Saturday, 20 October 2012

Heart to God, Hand to Man

If you didn't know already, I quite like fixing things. I have an untempered affection for power tools and though I know I am certainly outranked by other fix-it goddesses, I am rather content with what I have accomplished so far. The above table was once given to Jackie Owens, our resident Bible teacher, who in turn passed it to me (I suppose she was practicing the gift of giving for future lessons), and I, from my meager store of goodness, gave it a hope and a future. It was originally a rather dull pine colour, covered by a thin coat of yellowing varnish that had been put to the test through the artistic endeavours of five-year-olds armed with crayons, markers, and gum. I had to remedy the situation.

I am Swedish, and I am fundamentally different from the average Singaporean in the sense that I feel a great sense of accomplishment merely looking at an unassembled piece of IKEA furniture. The IKEA store was erected by hardy, practical Swedes who wanted to create an easy way to transport furniture by designing their products to be self-assembled. It is, in fact, their calling card, their mantra, and coincidentally, they also give you that much looked-for opportunity to blast the MacGyver theme song whilst you potter around with screwdriver and wrench, thinking yourself far more handy than you really are.

 From my many years here, I have observed that Singaporeans tend to like their things prepackaged and easily accessible, new and preferably without manual labour; and IKEA has obviously received enough suggestions on the matter to offer its customers the option of on-site assembly by their delivery men. The 'self' is taken out of self-assembly. I am not trying to generalize a people--I am perfectly sure there are those Singaporeans out there who love do-it-yourself jobs and visit hardware stores in their spare time to drool over pincers; but the truth of the matter is that one is hard-pressed to find tool commercials or home improvement material or local bloggers that specialize in baking sweet treats and manhandling power tools. (Perhaps I am not looking in the right direction?)
 Do-It-Yourself has become a mushrooming theme in the Western blogosphere, a topic-of-discussion, generating make-or-bake-it-yourself sites such as Pinterest and Etsy, and bloggers like my friend UnderbaraClara have made their fortunes by standing as titans of try-its, captains of craftiness, faithfully documenting and sharing their fix-it jobs with their online readers.

Singapore does not yet have this same hipster feel for all things vintage. It takes a different approach to things--the West seems to be very interested in keeping the past alive, in looking back in a nostalgic haze to remember the romance of wood-burning stoves and herb gardens and a quiet life in the country--whilst Singapore looks ahead, strives for progress, and even says so outright in its national song: Majulah, Singapura! Onward Singapore! Singapore is so young it has not had much of a rosy past to look back to, and even more so, the vestiges of the good-ole-days are determined by today's climate. Sweden is filled with garage sales, flea markets, and trinket traders selling bits and bobs from the past century at ridiculously low prices. The cool, dry climate is ideal for conservation, and the faithful seeker can always find something old to make new.

Unfortunately, Singapore does not have the climate conditions for such preservation of all things old. Buildings must be repainted, rebuilt; trees and bushes repeatedly manicured to tame their sprawling wildness; and the very fact that things crumble quickly is what, I suspect, has led to the general feeling of "Old is old, new is better." It is a fast-paced society that needs things to be efficient, and stopping to smell the sawdust may not seem like the most effective use of one's time. I have no doubt, however, that the West will influence the East, for good and for bad, and the vintage trend that is currently sweeping the nations and tugging at the heart-strings of all mild-mannered crafters and fixers and doers is bubbling under the surface here too. (Perhaps I find myself terribly uninformed of the DIYers of Singapore, in which case I am deeply regretful of my words.)

All this is to say that I recently sanded the varnish off my coffee table and gave it a good, three spanking coats of wood stain, and it is now a beautiful piece of faux teak furniture in my living room. I am not much for crafting. Scrap booking and small-time sewing can die a slow and painful death, but give me a drill bit and a hammer, and I am happy. I like the elemental feel of manual labour (I am rather self-deluded when it comes to my actual skill), and I wax proud at the work of my hands. There is nothing quite so satisfying as knowing that you've taken a cast-off, an old piece of good-for-nothing furniture and made it perfectly serviceable again. It is a bit like salvation, isn't it? 

I bought two rather unattractive metal-plated side tables at the Salvation Army.

I thought to spray paint them gold. They go very nicely with the gold curtain tassels I bought from Spotlight and the golden monkey candelabra I took from the free-stuff-for-free basket in the Parent Teacher Fellowship cottage at school.

I have another job ahead: two cheap, unfinished pine bookshelves from the Salvation Army. Now, where is that can of wood stain? I'm sure I left it here somewhere.


hope said...

It's a beautiful habit to have, Sanna: restoration.

Trixia said...

I wish we had (more?) proper flea markets & secondhand shops here. But I think the trend of doing-it-yourself & preserving old things is growing here. At least, I hope it does! Old things & places are so much more interesting than new ones.

S.L. Gabriel said...

Trixia: I too think it's growing. More and more people seem interested in DIY stuff.