The Tailor

Shirley Chong

With the senior tailor at
Ming Ming Shirley@31 Tailors
Chong Siak Lin, 81

Conversation on
10 September 2018

Ming Ming Shirley@31 Tailors
Stall No 37-38
11 Jalan Kee Ann

Operating Hours:
10.30am - 4.30pm
(except Sundays)

In 1961 I started my business here, last time the business for orang putih. I’m straight away come here, tidak pindah mana-mana.

My mother was a tailor, but she never did business. I learned from my mother. Now it’s very difficult to find tailors, all don’t want to work so hard, they want the easy work. Last time when we sewed for the Europeans, when Christmas it’s very busy. That time we are young, still can manage. Now already old.

What clans normally do tailoring?
Mostly Hakka and Hokkien. 

This building is known as “31 Tailors”. Why were there so many tailors in one building, do you know?
Last time a lot, but now all retired already. In the past, the shops were fully occupied by tailors. At the back of the shop also was very full, got people to give rent [meaning she rented out the back section of the shop] but now no more. Now most of them are retired. I was born in 1939, I’m nearly 80, I come here just to pass the time only. 

What is your name, aunty?
As you can see from there [a sign board], my name is Ming Ming Shirley. Ming Ming Shirley is a name given by the England customers because in the past I was doing tailoring business for them. 

Last time, most of the England army lived in Terendak Camp. There are also Australian, New Zealand, England and German armies living in Terendak Camp. Every Friday there will be 4-5 buses come from Terendak Camp. They come here for shopping, from there I got the business lah.

Now all the customers are Malays, 100% of Malays. Chinese very less, they are nit-picks and Malays are better to work with. Malay’s if you sew nicely, every time they will come to you.

Who will continue your business?
Nobody, my daughters don’t want to do this type of business, they all got high and work as a lawyer, teaching, an easy job, they do senang punya kerja. We come here also to pass time la. Getting old, no energy ready. We go back early and come here very late. 

I heard, upstairs is the place for prostitutes, is it true?
Last time, most of the European come here to enjoy life and have fun. Before, the European time, upstairs was a bar. 

How is the competition here among the “31 Tailors”?
Competition got la, we don’t mind. Last time when young we wanted more la, want to support children to study all, now no more energy ready to work that hard. 

Are you the oldest here?
Ya, I’m the oldest for now lah.

How about the aunty beside you?
She is old also but is not able to speak English and she never sews Mat Salleh baju. 

Do you have an old photo?
Ada, photo of Europe one, from the newspaper also got [showing her photos collection]. I made all the fancy party dresses. This photo is hard to get, so I kept it to commemorate. 

You are lucky lah cause can speak English and can get Mat Salleh customers.
Now I also cannot speak much English, because 15 years I never speak English. Now also, I’m not that good in English. Last time, when having business with England, I can speak very good English.

Why is this place called Kong Si Tang?
Kong Si Tang is people sharing things in one building. 

Were there only tailors in this building, before?
Ada There were two hair salons. Last time there was a Malay guy who did all the cutting but now closed ready. 

Is it only Chinese tailors here, no Malay?
No. Some people said Chinese are hardworking, some people can’t even stand the whole day. Chinese more rajin, Cina can tahan penat la. 

Are you waiting for people to collect that baju?
Ya, some people didn’t collect. Last time, we sewed for Mat Salleh, 100% they will come and collect.  Now sometimes the Malays never come and take. Then I’lll give to the charity lah, Tzu Chi or Salvation Army.

Who is the owner of this building?
The owners last time were Singapore people, after that they sold to Malaysians. Now the little India is very good, they all rajin [industrious]. Now Jalan Bendahara also has a lot of Indians. Indian people are also hard working. 

Do you still rent this shop?
Yes, I rent.

How much is the price for the first time you rent it?
Last time cheaper, 2 shops for RM55 only, baru berapa puluh sahaja. Now plus electricity all more than RM300 per month. Also, here no air-cord, nothing. They go shopping there, have air-cond, can see nice things. Here nothing mah.

How much do you charge for each garment?
Depends on the materials, cheaper RM60. With the lining will be a different price. 

Just to tell you la, I’m doing this for the pastime only. Because my daughter said, “If you don’t do any work, you can easily get nyanyuk”.

Photo Gallery

Melaka Downtown Exhibition


Photo Credits: Black and white photos courtesy of Madam Shirley Chong