Friday, November 20, 2020

Singapore Bruce Lee fan Jackson Yeo spent 44 years collecting martial arts star's memorabilia

This article appeared in The Straits Times LIFE section on Nov 14, 2020.
In the living room of a four-room Housing Board flat in Whampoa, two large two large figurines of Bruce Lee stand guard.
One has the martial arts film star in his Fist Of Fury (1972) get-up and the other in his iconic yellow Game Of Death (1978) jumpsuit.
The walls are adorned with framed photos and glass cabinets showcase endless rows of Bruce Lee memorabilia. Hundreds of magazines and books with the late Hong Kong-American star on the cover are stowed away neatly.
The flat's owner is Mr Jackson Yeo, an avid Bruce Lee fan and souvenir collector.

Ahead of what would have been the star's 80th birthday this month, Mr Yeo tells The Straits Times his love for Lee feels "like fate".

The 57-year-old hawker stall owner says he watched re-runs of Lee's television series The Green Hornet (1966 to 1967) since he was nine and was quickly enraptured.

"It's fate. I don't like any other martial arts star, but he's the one hero I worship and love the most," he says in Mandarin.

When Lee died suddenly at the age of 32 in 1973 due to swelling in his brain, Mr Yeo was 10.

"There definitely was a sense of: 'Oh I was just getting to know him and now he's dead','' he recalls.

Yet, death did not dampen his ardour.

Mr Yeo began collecting Bruce Lee goods when he was 13 - starting with a black-and-white photo of the star that he still displays in the flat, which was previously occupied by his late mother.

Mr Yeo, who is married with two adult children in their 20s, lives with his family in another flat in Singapore's north-east.

Asked how much he has spent on his 44-year-old collection, he says it is impossible to calculate.

He estimates that he spends $3,000 to $5,000 a year acquiring new items. His most expensive purchase? A handmade figurine from a Chinese sculptor costing about $3,000.

While other collectors occasionally buy, sell and trade up their keepsakes, he has never done so. "For me, things come in, but they never go out," he says with a laugh.

He usually buys new pieces from Hong Kong, where he has been a member of the Bruce Lee Club since 1996.

"I'll travel to Hong Kong, maybe once or twice a year - in July (Lee's death anniversary) and November (Lee's birthday) and I'll see what there is to buy.

"This year is his 80th birthday, but because of Covid-19, I haven't been able to stock up or meet up with my friends from the Bruce Lee Club."

Over the years, he has gone on tours with the group's members, such as to Shuntak in China's Guangdong Province, where Lee's ancestral home is. He has even met Lee's family, including his brother Robert Lee, during events in Hong Kong.

Asked why he adores Lee so much, Mr Yeo says: "I've been asking myself that question for many years too. I'm not sure why either. I think he made the Chinese community really proud by becoming an international star.

"Even until now, there are people in America, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan who love him."

To him, Lee also exemplifies a spirit and an ideal.

"I think he showed that if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams."

Mr Yeo was so inspired he even learnt martial arts - wing chun - in the 1980s.

"I learnt it for only two months, I was too busy with my business to continue," he says.

But perhaps his devotion to Lee shines through most at his place of work. His roasted meat stall at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre is named The Legend, after Lee. His stall front is plastered with Bruce Lee posters.

He says: "Sometimes, you see people who use his name as a gimmick for their business. But for me, I just wanted a place to show some of the things I've collected and my love for him."

He previously ran an eatery in Upper Circular Road, containing part of his Bruce Lee collection, from 2003 to 2005. But rising rents made him pack up to become a hawker.

He dreams of starting a Bruce Lee-themed food business in the future.

"Maybe if I find someone willing to support this dream of mine, it might still happen," he says.

His wife, Mrs Yeo Huey Ling, who helps run his roasted meat stall, is supportive of his pastime.

She says: "Last time, I used to nag at him, but not anymore. He's been collecting Bruce Lee items even before we got married and it's his only hobby aside from running our business.

"It's meaningful. Bruce Lee is a hero to us Chinese."

Check out the video HERE


bosozoku said...

Impressive collection !

He will need that :

A wonderful piece of art !

alex teo said...

Thanks for sharing