Monday December 5, 2011
A little biscuit, a lot of impact
By SOO EWE JIN
AT the tail-end of my short trip to Penang last week, I did what most visitors to the island usually do – pick up a few boxes of tau sar pneah (mung bean biscuits) to bring back home.
It turned out to be an adventure of sorts. My first stop was at the outlet that supposedly makes the best variety on the island. The queue of cars, mainly with outstation number plates, had spilled onto the main road. And two traffic policemen were busy writing out summonses to those who had illegally parked.
The people lining up at the counters were patient and when my turn came, I was told that I had to wait at least an hour for my two boxes. I decided it was not worth the wait so I went off to another outlet located in the quieter part of town. There was ample parking space but I was disappointed as the day’s stock had run out.
I did not want to eat humble pie and go back to the first outlet so I made a call to a family member who excitedly told me that there was an even better third option, located quite near to where my original family home was.
As we headed out of town, we took a tour through the inner city, passing by many familiar sights. I am sure I could still function as a tourist guide to visiting friends as so many of the shops seemed to have been frozen in time.
There is a lot of development going on in Penang but in a rather unique way, much of this part of town remains untouched.
Business for hawkers was bustling and as we passed Keng Kwee Street, I suggested that we should stop for chendol but changed my mind when I saw the long queue.
One of my first articles for this column was entitled “Penang should think small to grow big” and each time I go back, I tell myself that this is indeed the right formula.
For example, hawker entrepreneurship is simply at its best in Penang.
For the Penang diaspora and also the tourists, they may still go back to familiar places for the best char kuey teow, assam laksa, mee goreng or nasi kandar. But if you talk to Penangites, you will learn that these so-called best outlets may just be thriving on their reputation.
Each time I go back, I am taken to new places to enjoy the best of what Penang has to offer. Someone has simply to set up a stall and if he can fry good char kueh teow, it won’t be long before the crowds start to gather. These small ventures thrive on a simple formula – if you do something right, your business will surely bloom. The sheer variety of outlets operating either at the street level or in coffeeshops certainly lend character and colour beyond what you can get at major eating outlets.
Likewise, small home grown businesses in the inner city provide the quaint touch that retail outlets at shopping malls cannot.
In the newer parts of the island, I find that development tends to be big and impersonal.
What the state needs is the right blend of businesses and industries that thrive on technology and creativity. The workforce can then truly enjoy a good quality of life and at the same time turbo-charge the existing businesses in Penang.
Where is the real life in Penang? I think it is really in the people who do small things but touch many lives in the process. Like the tau sar pneah manufacturers.