Pulau Pinang (Penang) ~ Old Trades of George Town

Tua Keat Seng - Red Lanterns

Updates on Mr Lee Ah Hock as of 2014 Mr Lee passed away after a bout of illness.

Mr Lee Ah Hock and wife operated a workshop at a row of dilapidated shop house on Magazine Road. Apart from his workshop, there is only another business still operating here, a car repair centre. It took us quite a few laps around the area before locating the shop. The shop feels desolate, lost in an era - a twilight zone. In the dark crevices of the shop sat Mr Lee, busy carving and chipping away on little wooden blocks. Mrs Lee shuffling about in the back room, putting finishing paint dabs to large lanterns. Everything looked a little drabber, a little sadder , a little dimmer.

Mr Lee's father came over from Fuzhou in Fujian, China to pursue a better life for his family. Along with him, he brought his trade - making traditional lanterns, which was popular in the old days where houseowners used to proudly display their family name at the main entrance into the house. Of the 3 similar lantern businesses that survived the 2nd world war, non remain today in Penang

Signboard Engraver

41,Queen Street. Operations Hours ( 11.00am - 5.00pm, weekdays)

Mr Kok Ah Hwa learnt his trade from his father who came from Guangdong, China some 70years ago. Despite the tough competition out there where mass production and neon lights have taken over the signages market, Mr Kok remains at his own pace, churning out masterpieces, hand crafted to perfection to a select group of customers who believe in maintaining some aspect of their roots and culture intact. Mr. Kok is indeed all alone in his quest for retaining the art even though there has been interested apprentices who have worked alongside Mr.Kok, interest is a yet only extended to hobby status.

Bamboo & Wooden Blind Maker

Ngai Sun. 165 Chulia Street. Operations Hours (9.00am - 5.00pm, weekdays). Tel: +6 017 478 2113

One cannot walk down main street Georgetown and not notice the colourful bamboo or wooden blinds that shield the shops and shoppers from the searing sun. As well as being practical, these blinds more often then not double up as advertising modules for all sorts - from medicated balms to batiks and cosmetics. Mr Chen of Ngai Sun has been in the business for a long while and his artists hand paint the advertisements onto the blinds rather than spraypaint. All this is done in a narrow little alleyway at the back of the shop.

Traditional Pillow, Mattress and Bolster Maker

Chin Huat. 78 Cintra Street. Operations Hours (9.00am - 12.00noon, weekdays). Tel: +6 016 4839 495

Mr Ong Chin Ban, the owner of this shop makes and sells pillows, bolsters, and mattress made from local cotton called Kekabu or Kapas. Still popular with local residents, especially rural folks, the younger generation living in the suburbs have all but forgotten the comfort of such bedding material, opting for Dunlopillows and other more readily available products. One can also buy loose cotton material to make own cushions and other bedding items. A 3kg bag of loose kekabu costs RM15.00.

Popiah Skin Maker

5, Chowrasta Road (8.00am - 11.00am, weekdays)

Popiah in Hokkien dialect translates to Spring Roll. If you've ever wondered how spring roll wrap is made, then this is the place to watch and learn. The owner can make a minimum of 15 pieces of spring roll wrap per minute!

For those who aren't familiar with the history of popiah or spring rolls. This ever popular dish has its origins in Northern China sometime during the Qing Dynasty to celebrate the good harvest. The Chinese believe that the new year's cycle begins with Spring when everything comes alive after the cold, harsh winter. The original spring roll filling was made mainly out of fresh vegetables collected from the year's first harvest, sliced, cooked and wrapped in thin dough skins.

Rattan Furniture Weaver

No. 500 Lebuh Chulia. Operations Hours (8.00am - 5.00pm, weekdays)

Want your rattan seat fixed? This is the place to go for repair work and also if you're looking to buy locally made rattan furniture. Prices will not be competitive with those made in China and Indochina but it's one way of helping the local furniture industry and the livelihood of these people. There are also bamboo furniture for sale. Personal favourite would be the bamboo stool that can be converted to a baby chair.

Songkok Maker

No. 157 King Street. Operations Hours (10.00am - 5.00pm, weekdays except for Fridays)

The songkok is a traditional headgear worn by Malay men usually for religious and ceremonial purposes. This hole-in-the-wall shop is owned by Mr.Haja Mohidin. A quaint little shop, Mr.Haja has readymade stock and he can also have one made to order. Prices start from RM15 per songkok onwards. Don't worry if you catch him napping during hours especially after lunch. Just tap him on the shoulder and he'll be happy to assist you.

Traditional Indian Goldsmith

No 38, Queen Street. Operations Hours (9.00am - 5.00pm, weekdays)

If you're thinking of taking some sort of remembrance home ~ something unique, something specific from Georgetown and then I guess this is it. 60-some year old Mr Nagamani, works double bent over his little worktable in a dimly lit shop where he still insists on making fine jewellery from 22-carat gold using traditional tools.

Traditional Biscuits

Hoe Peng & Company. This company has been bought over by CKC and is currently located at 99B, Lorong Selamat. The horrendous CKC hoardings mar its original prewar architectural beauty but as you step into the premise, the mee koos lined up in rattan trays throws back to a time of yesteryear.

Those of us who are familiar with Hokkien Taoist festivals should be familiar with a pink-crusted bread loaf moulded into the shape of a turtle also known as mee koo to the locals.

At Hoe Peng, they still make these for special festivities and more often than not there are a few left for sale over the counter.

There are all sorts of products and services that only the local community would know where to go. Some busineses have open/closed signages hanging on their door knobs and that's all. If one knows any better, behind those closed doors is a dentist hard at work creating dentures for his regular customer or a tailor busy working on a kebaya for her neighbour.Biscuits here are still hand packed. The wonderful thing about Georgetown is that outlets such as Hoe Peng have been serving the Penang community for generations and many of these enterprises have no other form of promotions other than word-of-mouth. Many still work from home.

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