Wednesday October 10, 2012
Joy and Jambu and childhood in a border village
By POLLINE LOW
Family values and a business built on trust make for a memorable childhood in a border village.
I COME from a family of nine siblings and we were brought up in Kampung Teluk Buluh, situated on the Selangor-Perak border. It is a small village and we are the only Chinese family surrounded by Malay villagers. Our family shop is located right in front of a Malay primary school and a mosque.
My dad Low Nyap Man, now 85, was barely 20 when his family moved to the kampung. He started his coffee shop cum sundries business in 1956 with the help of my grandparents. Being a handsome young man, he became known as ďJambuĒ (handsome in Bahasa) and till today, our shop is better known as Kedai Jambu rather than its real name, Heng Guan.
Dad married Tan See Ngor and they worked very hard to put food on the table, their priority. They did all they could to provide the best education for all of us. They practically never left the shop, except when they needed to go to the nearest town 45km away, Teluk Intan, to replenish the stocks, or maybe for a haircut. Mum (now 73) used to run into the kitchen in between serving customers to prepare simple meals for lunch and dinner.
In the olden days, my parents would do anything to make money. So when I was barely eight, I was exposed to all sorts of chores, which were part of our after-school duties Ė from working in the coffee and sundry shop to cocoa farming and drying the cocoa, to drying salted fish and coconut. Anything that could help contribute to the family income.
My dad is known for making the best coffee and tea for the villagers who patronise his shop daily. He knows specifically the likes and choices of each patron, without having to ask. Some of them will patiently wait for him to serve them, even if he is busy with other chores.
Besides coffee, dadís shop is also well known for kocok (yau char kwai in Cantonese Ė a deep fried strip of dough), served with home-made kaya, considered one of our signature items. My parents would wake up at 4.30am daily to prepare the kocok, and the villagers would start coming from as early as six for it. While waiting for the kocok to be fried, they will have conversations with dad on any topic under the sun, or talk about anything that comes to their mind.
During his decades in the village, dad practically witnessed each villagerís family grow up, from the children to the grandchildren, and now, the great-grandchildren. If he cannot recognise any of them, they just have to mention their father or grandfatherís name and dad will know.
Some of the villagers have left to work in the big towns like Kuala Lumpur, but when they return during the festive season, kocok is one of those things they would not miss. Some would call and place their orders the day before, and then come as early as 6am to have a cup of coffee before taking the kocok home for their family.
In my younger days, during Chinese New Year, my job was to pack a lot of goodies such as Mandarin oranges, kuih bakul, cookies and cakes for each villager. Some of them will get their goody bags when they visit our shops, but some of the older citizens like Makcik Siti and Kak Yam, who live a lot further away, will get the bags hand-delivered to their doorstep, by me.
On top of that, every second day of CNY is open house at Kedai Jambu, and patrons can come to our shop for free drinks served with festive goodies. It is a joyful time for us because our new year is a celebration for everyone in the kampung.
In return, during Hari Raya, our tables will be filled with goodies, from rendang to ketupat, dodol, cakes and lots more. You name it, we have it.
Our shop practically never closes, except for CNY or special occasions, like a wedding. By the way, my eldest sisterís wedding was held following the traditional Malay style, in our neighbourís house.
I was amazed by how my dad handled his shop. I know many of the villagers came in with a Buku 555, a small notebook in which purchases would be recorded under ďHutangĒ (owing). The amount could be as low as RM1 and they would only pay us back as and when they could afford to, or at the end of the month, when their children sent them money.
I remember seeing a 555 book belonging to an old pakcik, who owed dad as much as RM7,000. In those days, that was a lot of money. One day, the pakcik passed away and I thought the money was as good as gone. However, dad had no regrets because, to him, he had helped a person.
But one day, one of the pakcikís sons came to our shop and paid off the outstanding sum. He was so thankful to dad for allowing his parents to take any sundry item they needed on credit. Dad was also very thankful to him for being a responsible son.
My dad taught us to be kind; he said if we can help people in any way, one day God will repay us in other ways.
Today, our family business still stands but it has diversified into palm oil. Of course the coffee cum sundry shop remains our core business and it is being run with the help of my second brother and his wife.
I always value my childhood and my upbringing. It might not have been luxurious, but it was filled with so much love and care. My parents have taught us the meaning of family values and I will cherish that and pass it on to the future generations.
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