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“My family has been here for four generations”

East Wong Chor Lum -4973

“My family has been here for four generations”

Cheong Lee Sundry Shop, Bukit Koman, Pahang
Wong Chor Lum, 59, owner

For over 100 years, Cheong Lee has been the mainstay of this community in Bukit Koman, which predominantly comprises Hakka Chinese. Founded by Mr Wong’s great-grandfather, this sundry shop once sold everything the community required, from meat and vegetables to cement!
Mr Wong himself was only 14 years old when he began his apprenticeship in the family business, working side-by-side with his father. Over four decades later, he has seen his business downsize even as the community itself shrinks. In its heyday, the shop employed 14 workers but today, Wong manages the shop all by himself.
Like most young people from rural communities, Mr Wong’s children too have left Bukit Koman for careers in Kuala Lumpur. He accepts that after him there will be no one to carry on the family business saying that his life’s work is done because his children have found their own destinies.
However, for the moment, things continue just as they have for a century. Walking around his shop, I came across old “555” notebooks which till today, are used by Malaysian tradesman to record purchases made on credit. Other relics in the shop include old-fashioned weighing scales and huge hand pumps that were used to pump water during fires.
Mr Wong’s extended family, which includes his brother, Pak Fah, and his young family, lives behind the shop as did previous generations. It was Pak Fah who showed me around the village, puttering along on his motorcycle with me riding pillion, introducing me to many Hakka-speaking tradesmen and shopkeepers.
After we completed the photography session, Pak Fah insisted that I have lunch with them and I drove home with a bottle wine in hand. Time and again, I have enjoyed such generous hospitality from people who live in the smaller towns and villages, who are amazed that anyone would be interested in their lives and stories.

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Mr. Wong’s neice, De Yi, is the fifth generation of the Wong family to grow up at the back of the shop.

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Mr Wong’s paternal aunt, Yoke Thye, has worked in the shop her whole life.

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