Nestled in a residential area of Bukit Tinggi, Bentong, Pahang, is a cosy collectibles shop cum cafe. It is easily searchable on Google maps. Just type Yen Fang Terk Jia (meaning far away from home in Mandarin).
Schoolchildren come here to do their homework in the afternoons. This is also the preferred gathering ground of those in their golden years where they enjoy light snacks like red bean soup, Penang-style pancakes and herbal tea eggs.
“This is why I have named the cafe part of this gallery “Talk 3 Talk 4 Cafe” (meaning random conversations in Cantonese),” said the owner ASP (Rtd.) Woon Kim Teh.
The cafe in the collectibles gallery where Woon’s friends like to gather for chit-chat sessions
At 70, the retired police officer still has an upright gait and a sunny smile.
Woon was the former Special Branch Division head at the Jempol district police headquarters in Negri Sembilan, and later, the senior assistant security manager at Star Publications (now Star Media Group).
Between 1999 and 2003, he was assigned as personal security officer (PSO) to Tun Mahathir for his official visits to Malta and Japan.
After retiring in 2010, Woon took to collecting memorabilia from the 1940s to 70s, travelling through villages and small towns for his buying trips.
“I wanted to go down memory lane,” said this son of a Felda settler who still tears up when recalling memories of his childhood in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan.
The third child of nine siblings, Woon lost his mother at the age of 11 in 1958.
A wooden cupboard from the days when high-tech kitchens had yet to come into fashion. Woon has filled it with old crockery.
”In 1959, my father, Woon Duan, left to be a settler at the first Felda scheme located in Lurah Bilut, Bentong, Pahang, leaving his children under the care of his eldest brother,” he said.
When not on the road buying collectibles, Woon works on his fruit farm, a small plot of land beside Sungai Tanglir where he has planted a variety of fruit trees and keeps a beehive.
Only this year Woon opened his collectibles gallery to the public. The father of six children and grandfather to 10 did not seem eager to talk about sales or profit margins. “My objective is not to make money,” said Woon frankly.
His six children are grown up and are pursuing their own careers. Of his three daughters, two are teachers and one is an accountant.
His three sons are in the IT business. The shop space he is occupying belongs to one of his sons. But the one thing Woon loves to do is to engage in random conversation with visitors.
One story he shared was of his first day when reporting for duty at the Kuala Krai police headquarters in 1976 as a probationary inspector.
“I didn’t have time to put my bag down. Right after saluting the officer in charge, I was told to go to the Kota Baru headquarters to deal with an interrogation,” said Woon.
At a time when the country was under threat from the communist insurgency, Woon was involved in operations and interrogation as he was not only fluent in Malay, but a number of Chinese dialects as well.
“I have experience in the art of interrogation,” said Woon who lectured on the subject for seven years at the Special Branch Training centre at Pulapol, Jalan Gurney, Kuala Lumpur before his posting to Jempol, Negri Sembilan.
Woon is tight-lipped about his work experience for security reasons. However, he stressed that his career was focused on a need-to-know basis.
This old bicycle has a special place in Woon’s gallery
“The workload was very heavy. During my time in Jempol, there were only 10 of us in Special Branch overseeing 36 Felda settlements. During elections, we finished work at 2am and then reported for duty again at 8am the next day. But for us, it was duty above all else,” he said.
For his dedication, Woon received 19 commendation letters and five medals, including the Pingat Pahlawan Pasukan, in his successful career. His latest, the Pingat Jasa Pahlawan Negara, was presented this year by the Regent of Pahang.
These days, Woon has a passion for collectibles resulting in over 500 assorted items now displayed at his gallery at Taman Seri Bukit Tinggi, Bentong, Pahang.
His favourite collectors’ item remains a Chinese sinseh’s medical rack made from Chengal wood with engraved Chinese characters describing herbs on its 108 attached drawers.
He said if a buyer really wanted to ascertain whether an item was indeed from the period the seller claimed it was from, the only way to authenticate it was by carbon dating.
Meanwhile, Woon’s simple philosophy is to exchange items with other collectors, provided he has additional stock of the same items.
“If I really like an item, I will just buy it because the chance will never come by again,” he