Cheong Yean Ping, 60, isn't your average grandmother who prefers to watch TV or read the newspapers during her free time. Whenever she has extra time on her hands, she'd be rearranging grinding pads used to buff marble floors.
Cheong has been a stone flooring grinder for over 40 years and has been co-running the family business – based in Salak South, Kuala Lumpur – with her brother Cheong Kok Keong, 65, since 1980.
The grandmother of two is among a few female marble grinders in the city.
Marble grinding is often associated with men, just like hard skill jobs like construction and machinery mechanics. Cheong is unique because she can handle heavy machinery, just like any of the guys.
"Grinding and construction work is often done by men but it can be done by women too. But lots of determination and hard work needs to go into a job that requires strength. If women set their mind to it, they can do any job," asserts Cheong, wiping beads of sweat from her forehead.
Marble grinding is a skilled job, one that requires a sharp eye and physical strength. Though laborious, Cheong handles the grinding machine with ease.
"Initially it was hard to learn how to operate it but over the years, we have learned to master the skill. One needs a keen eye and certain skills to ensure the floor is polished evenly to bring out the shine," says the mother of one.
During grinding, marble flooring can get very slippery. To avoid slipping, Cheong uses rubber boots for extra grip.
"The boots also protect our feet in the final step, where chemicals are used to seal the flooring," says Cheong, as she goes down on her knees to wipe off the residue on the walls and skirting from the grinding.
There are five steps involved in the process – grinding (to remove deep scratches), honing (to remove more scratches and stains), polishing (for shine), buffing (for extra shine) and sealing (with added chemicals to protect the flooring).
The Cheong siblings work together and it takes them about five hours to polish a 46sq m area.
"It's a tiring job but it's the only skill that I've mastered over many years. Not many youths are interested to learn this skill because it's hard work. Even my daughter and my brother's sons aren't keen to learn this trade. They prefer to work in an office setting, without the hassle of working with heavy machinery, dust and grime," says the soft-spoken woman.
The septuagenarian could opt to quit her job and look after her young grandkids, but she prefers to help out with the family business.
"Sure it's a tough job but I don't mind it. It keeps me active and I can earn some money too. If I don't work, I think I'd fall sick from boredom."
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