Over the radio this morning, the DJ invited callers to call into the station and shared about their memories of the good old grocery store in their neighbourhood. The topic arised due to recent government’s effort in wanting to help owners or potential owners of such enterprise to improve their business as I believe they have difficulties making ends meet due to the mushrooming of the giant retailers out there.
Well since I won’t be calling the radio station, I decided that I’ll blog about it – my very own version and fond memories of my hometown grocery store.
Situated a few doors away (less than 100 meters) from my parent’s home was our “Seven Eleven”store back then. Owned by two brothers, the elder one we used to call him “fei loh” – fat man in Cantonese because he’s short and fan and the younger and more handsome brother “eng jek” – his last name is “Eng” and Jek is the term “uncle” in Hokkien, yet to know the origin of the Hokkien name as majority of my hometown are Cantonese and Cantonese is the dominion linqua franca of those days. We used to call our store “tim chai” or little shop back then.
Being the youngest I serve as the “mooi teng” – “little servant” in Cantonese and was usually assigned to order/buy stuffs from the “tim chai”. So a common assignment will sound like below:
My mom : Wai Wai, go to tim chai and tell fei loh or eng jek that we need ………..
Me : What is??? And what is ??? (Clarifying her orders)
Me : That’s all? What about the money?
My mom : Tell fei loh “oh tang” first, means “hutang” or on-credit first and ask him to write on the little book.
Me : Hah? What is “oh tang”?
My mom : Just said “oh tang, write on the little book” and they’ll know what to do.
Me : Oh.. Okay
So, down I run to our little “tim chai” and carried out my duty diligently. I was pretty surprised that I actually get to bring stuffs back by saying “oh tang” every time and guess what, the little book is a credit book with “555” printed on top of its cover. My first lesson on credit buying, see we were so advanced back then, everybody trusted everybody. I still remember my mum will confirm if the goods were packed my fei loh or eng jek because mum commented that eng jek is a more honest businessman.
Of course I patronized the tim chai (more than once) on my own everyday to buy junk food (my favourite satay fish, packets of cruncy and spicy ikan bilis, twisties, po-po muruku and a whole lot more) and tried my luck on the “lucky board” game where you pay 5 cents, choose a number/paper and see if it comes with a price in which often times it doesn’t (must be fei loh cheating!).
When mum cannot find me, 99.9% of the time I’ll be at the tim chai and mum will shout from the main gate and I’ll sprint back. As some of you might be brought up from small neighbourhood or kampong, you would agreed with me that back then we have care free lives, everybody knows everybody and our parents never worried that we will be snatched away by bad people as everybody is on the lookout for one another.
Besides mum, I’m also the “mooi teng” for my elder brother and sister, God knows how they abuse their seniority on me! And I’m no free labour cause I’ll demand some form of tips or wages from each trip, it could be 5 cents, a free snack or something else (Clever, I guess Emily inherited my wisdom, LOL).
Sad to say our tim chai has closed down, I think quite some time back, still see eng jek (but now fatter than fei loh) whenever I go back to Kampar. I really hope the government can actually do something for such micro enterprises, revived the business and really carried out their promises, it’s very much a part of our lives and I hope kids nowadays get to experience what we used to, back in the good old days.
Long live our “tim chai”s.