Attend enough local charity events and a rather familiar sight might soon be etched in your memory. Follow the breadcrumb trail of colourful balloons, past the snake-like queue of eager excited faces, and Ek Thong will be at the end – or perhaps, more accurately, the beginning – of it. Warmly dubbed the title of “The Balloon Man” by colleagues at his workplace, Ek Thong who is currently in his early 50s, has been wowing the local crowds since he picked up the art of balloon sculpting eight years ago.
Originally from Malaysia, Ek Thong first came to Singapore in 1981 as a student in Nanyang Technological Institute (the predecessor to Nanyang Technological University) and has become a Singaporean citizen ever since. The story behind his initial motivation for taking up the tedious art form is certainly an intriguing and heart-warming one. Wielding a half-done Elsa (the Snow Queen in the movie “Frozen”) in his dexterous hands, he explains with a wry smile that he decided to pick balloon sculpting up because he “didn’t like to queue for balloons” for his two children.
Ek Thong lamented that he often had to take on the daunting queues not once, but twice for balloons because what one child had, the other would later want as well! When asked why he decided to continue with it even after his children had grown older, he enthused that “it’s fun … it’s an art”. From realistic Yoshi balloons to smiling Doraemon characters, the delighted expression on children’s faces when they receive the product of his painstaking labour constantly encourages him to be the best in what he does.
It was this passion that led him to take on balloon-sculpting on a professional level. Egged on by his colleagues, Ek Thong started small, volunteering to setup a balloon stall at his company’s charity event in 2006, and conducting balloon-sculpting classes at the company’s recreation club. Realising his enjoyment for the art form, he became a Trainer for the People’s Association Lifeskills and Lifestyle Division (2LD), where he conducted classes in various Residents’ Committees and Community Clubs.
When the People’s Association formed the Balloon Sculpting Interest group in 2011, he was naturally drawn to it and pioneered the current balloon interest groups of Punggol Community Club and Bukit Timah Community Club.
Today, Ek Thong is certainly a person in high demand. While managing a full-time job, he spends at least three of his monthly weekends helping out in charity and volunteer events, parties and occasionally at weddings. Strapping on the finishing touches on the impressive balloon Elsa, he jokes that he has two other outfits stashed under his arsenal of unused balloons for his next two events later in the day. In response to a comment on his balloons’ unique shapes and designs, he proudly stated that “If [he] were to do something, [he’ll] make sure [he’ll] do it nice”.
Just take a look at balloon Elsa and you’ll know that he is right.