Soong and his collection of KLM Delft Blue houses stacked on his office window. Photograph by Paul del Rosario
Food & Drink Features

Willie Soong: "If I'm guilty of anything, it's for being a sentimentalist"

Businessman Wellington "Willie" Soong lets us into his interesting collection of miniature Dutch houses and drinking glasses—a collection he grew whenever he traveled for the holidays.
Lora Lumba | Dec 16 2018

The right drinkware brings out the best in a drink. The aroma and flavor of red wine, for instance, are best experienced through the smooth rim of a Bordeaux glass. A champagne flute retains the temperature of the bubbly and traps the, well, bubbles. Doing a shot—quaffed and then slammed back to the table—can only be done and enjoyed with the durability and thickness of the shot glass. Cocktail-making requires the base of an old-fashioned glass to be thick so that solid ingredients can be crushed and mixed with the liquids.

Soong’s drinking glasses are displayed in glass shelves alongside trophies and other travel souvenirs.

But appreciating drinkware isn't exclusive to liquor enthusiasts. Autostrada Motore and Frigate Holdings & Management Corporation chairman and president Wellington "Willie" Soong is more fascinated by glasses than the tipple. And his extensive array of drinking glasses procured from around the world attests to that.

Three large shelves in his Makati office are filled with more than a hundred drinking glasses acquired from decades of traveling or given by friends. Occupying one shelf are limited-edition Perrier-Jouet flutes, a Louis XIII tulip glass, and drinking glasses salvaged from defunct airlines. On another shelf sits a motley collection: Moutai glass from China, a table wine glass bearing the provocative logo of a restaurant in Florence, and an everyday water glass from a local restaurant in 1960s Cubao. Soong, who isn't much of a drinker, values his collection for more than its intrinsic value.

Being a frequent flier and brand ambassador of KLM, Soong was often given more than one Delft Blue house per trip.

"If I'm guilty of anything, it's for being a sentimentalist," says Soong, whose 40-year career involves the distribution and marketing of automobiles, furniture, and electronics.

Another collection of special rarity is the KLM Delft Blue houses occupying Soong's office window sills. Being a frequent traveler, many of Soong's memorabilia are tokens from airlines. He is particularly devoted to KLM or Royal Dutch Airlines, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, having traveled in 30 KLM flights each year for 10 years. For his loyalty, KLM appointed him brand ambassador. As a gesture of thanks, Soong made it a mission to complete his collection of the airline's Delft Blue houses.

Since the 1950s, KLM has been giving away miniature Dutch houses to its World Business Class passengers. The houses are made of authentic delftware, tin-glazed ceramics customarily produced in the city of Delft. The design of each house is unique, inspired by the architecture of traditional Dutch homes. The ceramic houses are hollow and contain Jenever or Dutch gin. Since 1994, KLM has been producing one house every year to mark its anniversary. Currently, there are 94 houses, commemorating the number of years the airline has been active since its founding in 1919. Soong has all 94 houses, and all remain unopened.

No. 47 Anne Frank House was the first KLM Delft Blue house Soong received from KLM. It was fashioned after the residence at the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, where Anne Frank and her family went into hiding during the Nazi occupation. Soong is especially fond of this piece because in 1963 he played Mr. van Daan, the father of Frank’s love interest Peter, in the University of the Philippines’ production of Diary of a Young Girl.

Now in his 70s, Soong's interests are as varied as his drinkware collection. A car aficionado, he helms some of the major car distributors in the Philippines, importing European brands Land Rover, Jaque, Ferrari, and Maserati. He is also a street photographer, theater patron, art lover—an all-around recreational renaissance man. Ephemera fascinates him: he possesses antiquated two-dollar American bills, flea market music boxes from China, and landscape paintings by street artists in France and Monterrey, California have found a home in his office of 30 years. He has kept his children's toy globe and marked it with lines and dates corresponding to the many destinations he's been to. On one of his desks sits a wooden box with several ratchet levers, each playing a chiming tune while being turned. Soong made the wooden box himself as a collective compartment and a resonator for all the music boxes he has brought home with him from China. Soong's eclectic collection may be trinkets to some, but they hold memories of family adventures and new friendships made.

"Anywhere you go, the memory of that place is a reflection of who you were with," he says.

Amassed over the decades, Soong's massive drinking glass collection documents the history of modern air travel and tourism. We pick the most interesting pieces in his eclectic stash.

Click on the image below for slideshow

Eugene's water glass 

(L-R) Malaysia Airlines water glass, Clipper Club water glass, and National Airlines cognac glass. 

(L-R) Philippine Plaza goblet, PICC water glass, Old PAL cognac glass, New PAL water glass, and Intercontinental Hotel goblet. 

(L-R) Moutai shot glass, Maersk, Hokuo, Trattoria Za-Za wine glass, and Old St. Andrews Old Fashioned glass. 

(L-R) Handspiel glass, Hopside Down beer glass, and Pauwel Kwak glass. 

(L-R) Louis XIII cognac glass and Perrier-Joust champagne flute. 

(L-R) U.S. Embassy beer mug, U.S. Embassy water glass, and Harvard Business shot glass. 

 

Photographs by Paul del Rosario

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 18 2014.