Many of the shops in small towns along Federal Route 1 are dying, if not dead. Mr Yang, a long-time shopkeeper in Slim River town told me he is glad I am here to photograph the town now and not later. I asked why. He said if I were to come later, many more local old businesses will be shuttered or turned into something else.
It is not the new highways that are by-passing old towns or the shrinking population to be blamed, according to this old timer. The bitter truth is there are few young people interested in taking over a traditional family business. To blame other factors is to be in denial; said the man in honest introspection.
Be it a Chinese medical hall, an Indian grocer or a Malay tailor shop, the founder’s younger descendants see their future elsewhere. Mr Yang contends the new generation prefers a business with quick profits.
Nobody wants to idle away their lives stuck with a slow-moving business in a sleepy town. Old money has lost its charm; I added and he concurred.
To steer our conversation to a less-depressing subject, I asked him about remaining unique or interesting businesses in town.
Mr Yang smiled and asked me in Hokkien: “Lu wu chiak bangkali loti boh?” (Do you eat Bengali bread?)
He then pointed in the direction of a Indian-Muslim bread factory that is now in its third (and probably final) generation. I’ll visit it next.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 100, f4, 1/320 sec.
In a fishing gear shop in old Behrang town, I met 15-year old Sean who is a keen angler. In between preparing for his exams, he helps out at his aunt’s shop where he puts his knowledge of local fishing spots to good use.
When Indonesian customers walked in, Sean broke into fluent Indonesian and indulged in friendly repartee with them. He spoke surprisingly good English too. While I was impressed by his command of the various languages, he showed another skill worth noting.
It was the way he fielded incessant questions from me. What he didn’t know or was unsure of, he admitted so. What he knew, he answered with precise facts and figures. Something of which many of our politicians can learn from.
The shop’s name is Syarikat Alat-Alat Pancing Ikan Soon Huat. Surprising though that Sean, being a young person, doesn’t believe in a Facebook Page or website for the shop. He said the shop is already well known.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 100, f6.3, 1/250 sec.
In an unofficial mini-township where almost everyone is a Muslim from Myanmar, Man (pronounced Marn) used to feel like a fish out of water. He is Indonesian.
A survivor and ‘greener pasture migrant’ himself, Man’s story is remarkable. Living in Acheh in 2004, he narrowly escaped the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami. The disaster killed more than 130,000 people in his province alone.
Settling down here, he built a successful grocery business that now serves the Burmese migrant community. He said his escape and survival taught him humility and greater respect for hard work .
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 1600, f4, 1/200 sec.
Mr Wong is the proprietor of a watch and clock shop in Tanjung Malim town. The family business is now more than 60 years old and I asked him about changing trends. They used to sell Rado, Omega, Timex and Tissot. The current top selling brand is Casio.
But a more important question: Why is the time displayed on a analog watch or clock at a shop always set to 10:10? The answer is simple.
At 10:10, the hands are in an optimum or ideal position where it doesn’t block the manufacturer’s logo (typically at 12 o’clock) and date window (typically at 3 o’clock).
Love the old-fashioned wooden strip blinds on the shopfront. This kind of sunshade, also known as bamboo chicks, are made and sold by another shop in Tanjung Malim town.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 100, f11, 1/320 sec.