Unearthing hidden potential

  • One Man's Meat
  • Saturday, 24 Aug 2019

THERE is a popular seafood noodle restaurant in my Subang Jaya neighbourhood that I’ve been patronising in the last two decades.

The seafood noodle soup is yummy. I’m also addicted to its fried fish cakes.

I love its concept as I can order slices of fresh fish like red grouper or spotted mackerel, scallops, fish balls, fish maw and razor clams.

Typically, a bowl costs about RM30. It would be more expensive if I added oyster or abalone.

The price might be premium, but you are paying for quality food.

As a testimony to its popularity, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, the air-conditioned restaurant is packed.

About 70% of its employees are from my home state of Sabah.

From their looks, I know that they are orang kita (my people).

“Kau dari Sabah kah? (Are you from Sabah)” is my favourite question to a new employee.

After they answer, I would say, “I’m from Penampang,” so that they feel a kinship with me.

Most of them come from remote villages in Kota Marudu, Keningau or Ranau.

Most of them are Kadazandusun or Rungus who come from low-income families.

Typically, they are meek.

They only speak – one or two words – when spoken to. Even with a fellow Sabahan like me, they are too shy to talk to me.

After seeing them for the second time, I will try to have a longer conversation with them.

You see, I want to plant an “entrepreneurial” seed into their heads.

I’ll tell them to treat their job in the Klang Valley like a diploma course in F&B (food and beverage).

“Learn as much as you can on how to run a restaurant and how to cook food.

“Don’t just work here for the sake of working. You have to be curious. You have to learn,” I would tell them in Bahasa Malaysia with Sabah accent and occasionally adding a Kadazandusun word or two.

“You are the cook here. People are paying RM12 to RM80 to eat a bowl of noodle soup that you prepared. It means that you have the cooking skill to open your own stall or restaurant.”

“Bah,” most of them would reply, using the popular Sabah word which can mean “yes”.

However, from their body language, I knew they were saying no.

They would not go outside of their “working class” box to be an entrepreneur.

“Do you have an interest in opening your own business? Perhaps just a small seafood noodle stall in your village or a big seafood restaurant like this in Kota Kinabalu?” I said.“Tiada modal (no capital),” is the common answer.

“Save your salary and perhaps in a few years, you might have enough capital to start your noodle stall,” I said.

“Tidak berani (I don’t have the guts),” they would answer.

I have seen the same self-deprecating attitude with the Sabahans who work as cashiers or stockists in hypermarkets like Giant in the Klang Valley.

I’ve also spoken to them about considering their job as a diploma course in retail management.

I told them after a few years, they can apply what they learnt to open a kantin (small grocery stall in the village) or a convenience shop in the town.

I get the same two answers – no capital and no confidence.

To be fair to the Sabahan working class in the Klang Valley, some rise from their job as cashier, waiter, stockist or cook to operate their own business.

But they are the exception.

Last week, an opportunity for the timid Sabahans came knocking.

Association of NexGen Christians of Malaysia adviser Jason Leong WhatsApp-ed me that he was asked to recommend 10 (a team of two) deserving participants for a culinary programme in Singapore.

The team will set up a food stall at M.A.D (Market at Downtown) in Marina Square, Singapore next year.

They will be given a grant (air ticket, accommodation for one month and training) partially funded by the Singapore government to help poor people to become food entrepreneurs.

Leong asked me to identity potential Sabahans to apply for the grant.

I told him about the Sabahans working in the popular seafood noodle restaurant and he was interested to meet them.

On Wednesday, I had a late lunch with him there so that he could meet up with them.

The grant, said Leong, was like a famous proverb.

“You don’t give the poor a fish, but you teach them how to fish. But sometimes teaching a person how to fish is not good enough.

“If that person can’t afford a fishing rod or a fishing net, you have to give them a fishing rod and fishing net too,” he said, adding that some participants might get funding to start their own business.

He also said that the Singapore stint would give the participant confidence.

“If they can sell their food and make a profit, that will certainly help raise their self-esteem, and they might want to run their own business,” Leong said.

Fortunately, some of the Sabahans working in the seafood noodle restaurant have shown interest in applying.

Fingers crossed that they are really interested.

Perhaps there are such grants by the Sabah government or Federal Government that I have not heard of, but it would be good to have more.

A Sabahan I know, who knows that these Sabahans have hidden potential, is thinking of setting an entrepreneurship outfit to train working-class Sabahans in the Klang Valley to be entrepreneurs.

Because sometimes timid Sabahans just need a nudge, a push or a shove to reach their entrepreneurial potential.
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Philip Golingai , entrepreneur , Sabahan


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