February 9, 2010

Disappearing Miri : Old Style Chinese Tailor

I brought my friend along for a pre-Chinese New Year shopping excursion in the heat of an equitorial sun. Since the open market was part of our plan it was convenient to drop by to see the elderly Chinese tailor opposite the Pork Market.

My children used to go to him for alteration of jeans (shortening and tightening)! For shortening of trousers he has been charging only RM5 . This tailor has not upped his price for the last 20 years! How kind of him. But his tailoring fee has gone up "just a little and not too much" .

All these years my family and I find him to be very honest and he also has an interesting and remarkable way of keeping tab of the clothes his customers bring in to alter without name or number. The clothes are always kept in the plastic bags they come in. He never labels them. Good thing his customers are also very honest people. Once I brought three pairs of trousers my son wanted altered. When I came to collect the trousers he "double checked" . He asked  me these questions :"Three - two blue and one black in foreign looking plastic bag?" and " All the trousers had price tags on? " I said in the affirmative and then he took out the plastic bag  without a blink of an eye and asked me to check again. Sherlock Holmes?

I think he has a very good memory.

He also sells his own range of Batik Shirts to customers. These  in the photo are going for RM55 (synthetic material). He said that many people come asking him for Batik Shirts for an occasion. And they must be cheap for a one-time wear. To fit the bill he purchases his own material and have a few made in his spare time. They do sell fairly well. He cuts them in Small; Medium and Large. When they have all be sold off he will get some more batik material. In other places silk batik shirts would go for RM200 or even RM300. "Wear one or two times...no need to buy so expensive " he said.

Here he is being very chatty with us as most of his "business" has been done and most of the CNY clothes have been taken. He has met all his deadlines for Chinese New Year. His clients include all races in Miri and the Baram. Sometimes he makes school uniforms too. "Anything if I can make it" he said.

"This cupboard is 60 years old! and I have been here for that long too! I designed all these cupboards..."

This is the Singer sewing machine. He changes the piece of cloth every now and then. For this new year this is a new piece of cloth to "cover " or screen the legs (for decency and modesty) of his lady helper . When we arrived at his shop his helper has gone off to do Chinese New Year shopping.

This is the old block of (belian) wood for making of button holes and hammering of jeans buttons.

Western suits he made for customers but unclaimed for a long time.

This type of hanger is more than 40 years old. Made from very good European wood. Imported from England. How I wish I can buy them from him. Not for sale he said.

This is real English textiles. Real wool.

His shop is half shop lot and his neighbouring shopowner's daughter was very eager to tell  me about his business too. So I made her my model. Sweet girl who is very articulate. She told me that this table he designed is very "practical" and he cuts his materials there. Project Runway? I too think that his specially designed table is very ergonomic. Can be extended by raising the flap on the right if he needs to cut longer materials or making a bigger pattern. There are two drawers for the tools of his trade. An iron is on a lower shelf. The front portion has two sliding doors with two shelves .  This too is 60 years old.

Here after our conversation he posed shyly to show the whole space he has been working in for the last 60 years!! Well in terms of convenience of service I would consider him one of the angels of Miri.

His shop is really convenient for most of us. We can walk in from the back of his shop after we park our car. If we are in a hurry we can easily park in front for a short while. Even though the shop has no air conditioning we enjoy passing through and saying hello.

This  block of shops is the only shop block which is one storey designed in the European style constructed to serve the original oil drillers of Miri in 1903. The shops are the same level as the road outside. Considered the oldest block of shops in Miri and is owned by a Malay Consortium. This is in fact very original and very historical.

As I stood there observing life passing by I did let my imagination run wild and imagine a horse cart tied to the front and an oil driller going into the central market for a cup of coffee with the Hainanese family surnamed Wee. Life in 1903 must have been most interesting.

Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to him and his family!!


Anonymous said...

if this guy comes over here he can make tons of money here in pj area. alteration's like 20 ringgit and for "special" materials... they can go up to 30 something.

Ann said...

you like the wooden hangers, should ask your sis to look around here. Does she visit Sibu?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Anonymous
Yes he would make a lot of money in PJ but he is happy here and we are happy he is still with us. Thank you....

Oh by the way he rides a bicycle too when he has the time.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
My Auckland sister went to Sibu last month for her MIL's big birthday bash. But we did not get to meet her and her family. We went to Kuching but we were one day late. She left with the whole gang because it was their timing...Too bad...

She gave me an evening bag. Nice of her.

It's ok...the imported hangers are nice indeed. I am ok with the plastic ones. If the plastic ones get broken I buy new ones. Also these wooden hangers are heavy to bring in a cabin bag of 20x16....

Anonymous said...

My brothers and I would always alter our trousers in his shop.

However grumpy he may be at times we always enjoy visiting him and say hi...he is like family now.


Bengbeng said...

This is a great post. Can be in the Borneo Post or The Star

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Justin
How are you and family? Grandma ok?

Yeah the old guy is sort of an establishment here. People really respect each other in the block...

But there are always new kids on the block...I used to smile whenever the Pop Group NKOB appeared on TV...I would think of this old guy on the block and then all the young men who sell beer and liquors there....


Ah Ngao said...

hi Sarawakiana,
about the wooden hangers,hehe..

Sarawakiana@2 said...

This article is Miri based...but thanks for your compliments.

Have a good reunion dinner. All ready? Is Beng hui going to cook too?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...

you like the wooden hangers too?

Happy and Prosperous New Year to you. FATT FATT ...the more FATT the BETTER...

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakiana, you know, everytime I read your postings about the shops, the people, places you know, it somehow reminds me of that well know TV series, 'Cheers', and the theme song, 'Where people know your name'.

I love small towns too....where you know people, people know you.
To think Toronto is 40 miles across, streets 35 miles long....and 5 miles out we need GPS or maps, ha ha.
Have a nice day, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Uncle Lee
It is nice you refer to Cheers and the theme song...that's a nice one.
Small town life is sweet. (No need to carry so many keys in your bag or pocket) and I like to see familiar faces. Less stress too. I have just seen Uma thurman in "Motherhood". That's a really good movie even though a little over...???? but she made salient points. Miss Driver is as usual brilliant. And the take on vintage books? That's great too. It can only happen in New York.

Then it is nice you are Toronto based and what a big city...that's bigger than Singapore!!

What is the latest GPS like now? A few friends now live with GPS even in KL.

Have a nice day too...and Happy Chinese New Year...and let's raise our JD to receive the Tiger Year!

What would your Valentine's Day be like? (wink)

Anonymous said...

Hiya! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for the great information you might have here on this post.
I shall be coming again to your weblog for extra soon.

Also visit my blog post; fleetwood prowler travel trailer owners manual

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...