S’porean has been collecting Coca-Cola bottles since 1998, stops counting after spending S$50,000
So that he can tell his wife 'I don't know' when she asks how much he's spent.
Kannie Yeo looks like your everyday Singaporean.
He lives in an HDB apartment with his wife and dog, wears a comfortable T-Shirt because of Singapore’s hot weather, and speaks Singlish.
But when I met him at his flat, it was pretty obvious that the space was atypical.
Here were some hints an unsuspecting visitor might get:
- As Yeo greeted me at the door, he was wearing a red Coca-Cola shirt.
- Just when I entered his house, I noticed a full-length cabinet with the Coca-Cola logo on it.
- And when he was giving me a drink, it was served in a collectable Coca-Cola glass that McDonald’s launched a few years back. If you’re curious, the drink was water. Not coke.
If you can’t tell by now, the 45-year-old engineer is an avid Coca-Cola merchandise collector.
He picked up the hobby back in 1998 when he was visiting a then-girlfriend in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I was in a long distance relationship with a girl in Thailand, so I found a hobby and started collecting (Coca-Cola items) for myself to keep occupied.”
He made his first purchase at the city’s MBK Center. It was a 1996 Coca-Cola Christmas edition glass bottle from the U.S.
Thinking that the bottle that featured Santa Claus was an interesting novelty item, he purchased it immediately for 1,000 baht (S$44.89).
The relationship with his girlfriend, if you must know, didn’t last.
But his passion for collecting Coca-Cola merchandise grew bigger and bigger with every passing year.
He said: “Coca-Cola is an international brand and it features all kinds of languages. The designs itself are nice and it’s red. To the Chinese, red means huat (prosperity).”
Thanks to eBay and Facebook
Yeo exclusively collects Coca-Cola glass bottles.
He currently houses his entire collection in one of the rooms of his four-room HDB flat.
The bottles are neatly arranged in full-length cabinets covering all the walls in the room.
The windows of the room are also sealed to ensure that sunlight doesn’t come in as it may fade the colours on the bottles.
But now that the room is fully occupied, he has two cabinets in the living room to house more bottles.
He shared that his collection “wasn’t great” back in the 90s:
“In the late 90s, there was no Facebook or eBay so my collection wasn’t great. Back then, I would go to the flea market at Clarke Quay every Sunday. I would always buy from this air steward who would bring back commemorative bottles.”
But when eBay and Facebook came around, that’s when his collection really expanded.
He now has bottles from all over the world, including places like Brazil and Mongolia.
But the process of getting the bottles to Singapore is rather amusing.
“The seller would have to drain the drink from the bottle so it’s easier to ship and once it arrives, I will refill it with coke and cap it on again.”
S$50,000 worth of collection
As of 2014, he has invested a total of S$50,000 towards his Coca-Cola collection.
This amount includes the postage fee for some of the bottles and the shelvings installed to hold his collection.
He stopped counting after 2014, and for the right reasons:
“If my wife asks me how much I have spent, at least I can say that I don’t know.”
But while he acknowledges that it will break his heart to know the accumulated amount spent, he also stressed that it is a passion that cannot be measured with money.
Yeo told me that the bottles he purchases can be as cheap as S$20, including shipping.
But limited edition ones, like this KISS one, for example, can go as high as S$1,000.
Currently, the same glass bottle is being sold on eBay for as high as US$1,800 (S$2437.29).
Since he is running out of space, he has broached the idea of throwing their living room sofa.
But since his wife disapproved of his plan, he now limits himself to just one purchase per month of up to S$1,000.
Give and take relationship
Speaking of his wife, I wanted to know if she is ok with his space and time-consuming hobby.
To this, he replied that they “give and take” with each another.
While he has an entire room for his collection, he told us that she has her own walk-in wardrobe.
He jokingly retorted: “She closes one eye, I close two eyes. She buys something from Taobao every day, so every day surely there will be a delivery for her. So I always tell her, you buy every day but I only buy once a month.”
At the end of the day, the couple trusts each other enough to do whatever they want to do, as long as they don’t overdo it.
Aside from the aesthetics, a big part as to why he collects the glass bottles is to bring people together.
Yeo is currently the president of the Singapore Coca-Cola Collectors Club.
While the Facebook page currently has over 2,000 members, he said that there are only about 20 “hardcore collectors” like him.
“It’s hard to find avid collectors in Singapore due to space constraints and it is not a cheap hobby.”
But the Coca-Cola friendships aren’t just limited to Singapore.
The collectors would often travel out of Singapore to attend fairs together, where they will meet other Coca-Cola collectors.
In his more than 20 years of trading and collecting, he has made friends from all over the world including Malaysia, France, Argentina and Spain.
“Another friend hosted us in Barcelona. He invited us to his house and we had a look at his collection. He is a master, man. After seeing his collection, I realised that I am just a small fry.”
And making friends with people all over the world does have its perks:
“I buy from this Argentinian man quite often to the extent that we know each other very well. When he came (to Singapore) from Argentina, I hosted him for one day. Now, he offers any new collectables he has to me first.”
Strength and passion
While he has done this for more than 20 years, he doesn’t intend to stop any time soon.
While he doesn’t have any children to pass his legacy on to, he’s happy to continue his hobby and to be there for other collectors in Singapore.
“There will always be people who look up to me and ask for advice on how to start a collection. For now, since I have the strength and passion, I will keep collecting and helping others.”
But before I left his little Coca-Cola museum, I had to ask the million-dollar question: Does he drink coke everyday?
After a burst of laughter, he said: “My doctor advised me to not drink sweet drinks so I have to take care of my health. But sometimes I indulge in Coke Zero. Cannot be totally don’t want, right?”
Top image by Fasiha Nazren