GEORGE TOWN: Lee Beng Chuan has no thoughts of retiring, even at the age of 91.
He is Penang’s last traditional joss stick maker. His joss sticks are made by hand, one at a time, with high-quality sandalwood and agarwood paste.
Since George Town became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008, Lee has been toasted as a living heritage of the enclave, with tourists frequenting his home-cum-shop almost every morning to photograph the steady, meticulous way he carries out his trade.
His technique of making joss sticks has remained the same from the day he picked up the skill when he was in his 20s.
“This is what makes me feel alive. I am healthy because of the natural materials I use to make my joss sticks.
“I will do this till I die,” he said.
Lee said he was satisfied as long as he could pay rent and have three meals a day.
“I have been living in this rented shop house for over 80 years.
“I have loyal customers who have been buying joss sticks from me for decades.
“They help me stay afloat and I am happy as I have enough to take care of myself. This is my passion,” he said.
He conceded that his eyesight was not as good but he had no other ailments.
“I go for my yearly check-ups. So far, so good,” he smiled.
Lee has five children. His fourth son, Chin Poh, 58, lives with him after his wife died three years ago.
“My son stays with me to look after my needs. So I have nothing to worry about and I can focus on my work. I work every day unless it rains.
“I take a break for lunch and take a short afternoon nap. I write Chinese calligraphy in the evenings,” he said.
Traditional signboard maker Kok Ah Wah, 80, is also not slowing down.
In fact, he is even a bit of a showman. He needed no encouragement to give a demonstration on how he chiselled the wood to shape the Chinese characters by hand.
“This is something I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. It was my father’s business and then I took over.
“I love being an artisan and cannot imagine retiring,” he said at his workshop along Lebuh China.
Kok has five children. One of his sons has also taken up the craft.
“He now works with me, so it is our family business,” he added.
Orders are always coming in, some from as far as Indonesia.
“I am only earning money for myself as I do not have anyone to support. I live with my son as well, so it is easier for me,” he said.
Kok does not go for medical check-ups.
“I seem fine and do not have any ailments. As long as I enjoy my work, I am not too worried about anything else,” he said.
As for lawyer K. Siladass, who will be blowing out 81 candles on his birthday cake this year, he has no intention of slowing down.
Still taking up civil cases, the lawyer who is based in Kluang, Johor said: “I’m very active because I feel that I can contribute. And if something can be done, there’s no point worrying about old age.
“Why must I hide myself in the name of retirement?”
Siladass first joined the legal field as a clerk. This eventually extended to a nearly 40-year career as a lawyer.
He has also written a number of law books.
These days, he wakes up at 5am and starts his day with a glass of warm water and a newspaper.
“I can’t deny that some may see my older age as an impediment, but that is their view and it is a mistaken view.
“I know my abilities. But I also know my limits when I go into areas of research, and I take up cases which I am fairly comfortable with,” he said.
The lawyer keeps abreast of current affairs and national issues, regularly contributing his writings to news outlets and reading in his spare time.
“I feel that doing so is more rewarding instead of thinking that old age is an ailment.
“I tell my friends that no one can predict the end of the road. But we don’t give up and we keep moving on with the times,” he said.
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