Carrying the torch for family trades


Wong Koi Phen, 61, posing with fruits he sells at his roadside stall along Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau.

MANY family-owned small businesses can still be found in laid-back Balik Pulau, Penang, despite increasing challenges from modern establishments.

Christina Ng, who helps run a laksa stall which dates back to over four decades, said her godmother felt it was time for her to hand over the baton six years ago.

“She started the stall selling laksa using her family recipe. When she grew old, she just decided that it was my turn to take over as I have always enjoyed learning from her.

“She taught me the trade and for the past six years, I have been carrying on with her business using her recipes.

“I run her stall at her son’s coffee shop and I will pass on the business to my son.

“Despite the popular new joints popping up around, I notice people still enjoy the coffee shop atmosphere.

“There is always the local coffee shop culture of relaxing with a cup and a hot bowl of laksa, ” she said when met at the stall along Nan guang kopitiam, 67 main road, Balik Pulau

The 59-year-old said the revamping of Balik Pulau with murals and artworks was a boost for local businesses as many tourists usually stopped over for a meal before or after checking out the attractions.

“However, the pandemic has dampened the situation as there are no foreigners, let alone interstate visitors.

“We used to have customers who had migrated overseas coming back to our stall just for a bowl of laksa.

“Now we still do have locals who come from as far as Bukit Mertajam for their laksa fix.

“During the durian season, many drop by before heading to an orchard.

“We do have our regulars who live here and they stop over for a bowl after visiting the market.

“It is a simple laid-back lifestyle.

I like to observe people who relax and eat, although I am busy preparing the laksa, ” she added.

Ng, who offers Asam Laksa and Siam Laksa, said while the younger generation preferred Asam Laksa, the older group would usually opt for the Siam Laksa.

“It is nice to see Penangites come and enjoy their meal here, I am glad they like the laksa as it is a family recipe, ” she said.

For fruitseller Wong Kooi Phen, 61, he started selling fruits along Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau from the age of 10.

“I started selling fruits here with my father. It is our family business and it is all I have ever known.

“People enjoy our local fruits and I usually share some information on how to eat the fruits in case they do not know.

“I sell the Cacao fruit which usually intrigues people as they have only heard of it. Some of them know that you get cocoa powder from the fruit.

“I usually have to explain that the fruit is edible and is sweet and sour, ” he said.

The pandemic, however, has reduced his sales drastically.

“Tourists usually stop by at my stall and check out the nearby waterfall before buying some fruits back. But now with the travel ban, it has cost me my livelihood, ” he said.

Over at the local nutmeg factory, the family of Chang Kun Mim, 77, has been in the nutmeg business for four generations.

“My grandfather bought the land before Merdeka and planted nutmeg trees.

“They started the nutmeg business in 1953.

“When my father got involved, he learnt how to process nutmeg into different products things instead of just selling the fruit.

“I used to tag along with my father and learnt the trade. We have now ventured into other businesses using nutmeg, ” he said.

Due to the pandemic, he now offers takeaways although some regular customers do turn up to buy their supplies.

“We used to have tour buses coming to visit our factory where we would show them the trees and the natural process of making the juice and drying the fruit and seeds.

“Now we are only open for takeaways, ” he pointed out.

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