BATU PAHAT: The arrival of Lee Swa Chai is something the villagers of Kampung Sungai Dulang Darat look forward to every morning.
His presence is signalled by the familiar honking of his motorcycle and a greeting in Javanese.
“Kabare ... dino iki ora tuku iwak? (How are you? Would you like to buy some fish today?)” he would ask villagers who are mostly Malay of Javanese descent.
He has been working in the village for 40 years now, selling fish and other types of seafood.
At 73, he should be spending his twilight years taking it easy with his wife, 68-year-old Tan Mui Beng.
Yet, his services are still sought after by the villagers to whom he is fondly known as Ah Chai.
In villages where accessibility to towns is difficult, door-to-door sale of fresh fish is considered a godsend.
Mobile fishmongers such as Ah Chai are a rare breed today.
And residents of Kampung Sungai Dulang Darat, some 4km off Rengit town, treat Ah Chai like a brother.
He is invited to every gathering and wedding, besides supplying the fish for the feasts.
Villager Ahasanah Yusof, 76, said she preferred to buy from Ah Chai despite the option of getting it from a nearby shop.
“He is not very particular about payment. That is why his business with the villagers lasted this long,” she said.
“If I’m not at home, Ah Chai would pack the fish and hang it by my gate. I would pay him when he comes around the next day.
“If he brought extra fish that day, he would sometimes even give some away for free,” said Ahasanah, who has been a customer of Ah Chai since the 1970s.
She said Ah Chai was also a messenger of events in the village.
“If there are deaths or incidents of thefts, he would inform those of us who were not aware of it,” she added.
Ah Chai’s day begins at 6.30am when he heads to the Rengit market for his supply of seafood.
He would then bring to the village of about 100 people some 40kg of fish, prawns and crabs.
“When I first started selling fish, I would sell over 60kg a day. It has lessened now due to the declining supply and increasing price of fish,” he said.
The trip from his home to the village is 30km.
Ah Chai lives in Kampung Sri Baharom, another Javanese Malay settlement.
“I can understand Javanese but I am not that fluent in speaking it; only simple sentences,” he said.
The grandfather of 16 is proud to have raised four children on his income as a mobile fishmonger. His business had also allowed him to make investments on real estate and small scale oil palm cultivation.
“In the early 1970s, my father-in-law suggested I work as a fishmonger because I was jobless at the time. He was afraid I would not be able to support my wife,” he said.
“I will continue to do this for as long as my health permits me,” he said. — Bernama
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