CYBERJAYA: What are the items that your mind’s eye sees when you picture a traditional Malaysian home kitchen? A charcoal stove, pots, pans and a pestle and mortar are probably some of the first things you imagine.
Another common item would be a wire basket containing, perhaps, eggs or fruits or even plates or spoons.
A wire basket is indeed a useful and beautiful thing, and not many can claim to have the skill to make one. But David Cho can.
“I inherited this skill from my father, who used to be an ironsmith and is familiar with the material needed to make these baskets,” Cho, 65, told FMT Lifestyle.
“My father needed a supplementary job to support our family. So he started making spider skimmers to sell.”
Feeling the need to preserve and showcase this slowly dying craft, Cho, who works in the education sector, decided to start Heritage Baskets in 2019.
Many Malaysians would be familiar with the skimmers in question. Typically made with a wooden handle and metal wires that form a scoop, it’s commonly seen in eateries offering noodles. It’s used to scoop out noodles blanched in hot water.
Cho’s father soon started making egg baskets and soap baskets as well. As a kid, Cho would sit by his father’s side and, along with his mother, help with the finishing touches.
That’s how he learnt the skills, but he stopped practising it when he was 19 years old. “I felt that it wasn’t a money-making business,” he said.
He went into advertising and later, education. And it wasn’t until four years ago that he felt the desire to return to the craft.
“Making this requires patience, endurance and lots of experience,” he said.
Watching Cho expertly twisting and shaping the metal wires to form the base of his basket, looks like an easy enough job until you try it.
The wires are tough and can hurt your fingers. To ensure that you’re making something pleasing to the eye, you also have to ensure uniformity in the size of the holes you end up with. That certainly requires a lot of skill.
After a basket is finished, it must be “charred” and submerged into cold water in order to obtain a vintage look. This also helps to prevent rusting.
It’s evident that Cho views his products with love and pride, and the countless wire baskets of varying sizes on display on the tables or shelves of his Cyberjaya home are indeed quite a sight.
“They are nice decorations that can enhance the interior of your house,” he said. “You can even form a collection with them.”
Currently, the baskets he’s working on take inspiration from the Malay and Indian cultures.
Cho’s ultimate wish is to preserve the craft, which he believes is uniquely Malaysian.
It is his aim for every Malaysian household to have at least one wire basket and to make it one of the key items that represent the country’s tourism sector, like batik.
“To me,” he said, “the basket symbolises blessings because having one means you have something to fill it with. It’s not supposed to be empty.”
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