Serving Three Generations

Lee Chai Yan

With the owner of
Kedai Emas Poh Mei
Sharon Lee Chai Yan, 48

Interview on
27 February 2020

Kedai Emas Poh Mei
4 Jalan Jawa
06-283 1063

My dad is a tukang emas. He worked in a goldsmith’s shop in Kampung Pantai, he learned how to do this tukang-tukang thing. After a few years, after he married, he started his own business, here. That was in 1971, before I was born.

This shop actually belonged to my grandmother, my mum’s mum. She opened a small kedai runcit. My father started from a small cupboard only. Just a small place for him to do repair work as a tukang mas, if customers wanted to make a custom-made jewellery or anything. He started from there and slowly he expanded the business. Then my grandma retired and didn’t want to continue her kedai runcit. Then my dad renovated and expanded the business. In 1971 he started, and the expansion was in 1983.

Were you born in this shophouse?
Yes, we stayed here since young, upstairs. There are many goldsmith shops on this street [Jalan Jawa]. They have been closing down because no second generation to take over or maybe their children are overseas. Last time they liked to send their children overseas, they never come back and they just close lah. 

How about you, why are you interested in this?
Because since young I was here. After school, I will come back here and help out. We have many customers, actually my mum gets along with customers very well. Our customers actually are from generation to generation, from the nenek-nenek they bring their children, then they bring the cucu. So, I feel it’s not only the business itself, the bonding is there. We get to know those people, like the Malays, Chinese even Indians, it’s a very good, cultural exchange experience. 

At one time my mum was telling me, maybe we should close down the shop because she was feeling tired. That was late 1990s, maybe 1998 or 1999, I was in KL, my sister was also in KL and my brother works somewhere in Melaka. I said it’s a waste, because we have so many customers. Last time, during 1980s, Raya time, here is actually congested with people, and we have a small pasar. So many people know us, Poh Mei. So they would come, generation to generation. I see it like such a waste you know, I don’t want [to just lose it]. So I tell my mum we should continue.

“My mum gets along with customers very well. Our customers are from generation to generation, from the nenek-nenek they bring their children, then they bring the cucu. So the bonding is there”

I believe in fate. Actually my husband is a Malaccan. After working in KL for more than 10 over years. his boss expands the business in Melaka, so the boss asked, do you want to come back to your hometown? In fact my children were born in KL. I feel very hectic in KL, early morning I have to wake up at 5.00am and rush them to kindergarten, I feel very tired. I told my husband, “Why not take this opportunity, you come back lah”. My husband said “How about you?” That time I was a sales manager with a Japanese firm. I said to him “Never mind, I still stay there [KL], since you just started and it’s not so stable, you come back first and maybe I will follow you later”. My mum was very angry with me, she said “How can you separate from your husband? If he comes back, you also must follow”. I said “I have my career, I don’t want to just give up like that”. But mum said no, cannot. She is a very traditional type of lady, she said “Women, we must follow our husband, wherever they go” [laughs]. So, I have no choice, I come back here, bring my kids. 

But I’m happy lah, I even spend more time with my parents, I drop by more often, and I see the business still has a bright future.

Then in 2012, the firm that I was working with, also a Japanese firm in Melaka, moved to Singapore. The boss asked me whether I want to move to Singapore, I said no, because my family is here. So I quit the job. Then my dad asked me, “Why don’t you come back here and help me? I am old already, I need someone to help me”. He was 70 or 72 years old at the time. He said, I won’t pay you as high as what you earning”, hahaha. I said “Ok, no problem”. That’s how and when I started. I took over [in] 2012. 

We used to sell kerongsang, intan. These days, lesser. We don’t sell gold bars because that needs a special licence. We are doing retail so we don’t have this licence.

80% of our customers are Malay. The older generation, when they have some savings, they would like to buy something for their grandchildren. That’s a custom here, Malay, Chinese and Indian, they are the same. 

Those days, your father did the special designs, like intan for the nyonya?
Yes yes, he can make custom-made rings, pendant or any jewellery lah. Now, he can’t work anymore. We have our own tukang, we subcontract to them. They work from home. We engage with the jewellery factories, they also can do custom-made things. But of course you need to give us time lah, we can’t give it to you in a fortnight, we need to prepare the design.

My daughter is now in university. She has an assignment so she interviewed me, what is my passion in this business. I said, it’s the type of satisfaction that I want to give to my customers. There is one time, a Malay couple, they know our shop for many years. That day the husband brought his wife. He said that he wanted to buy a bracelet, with a certain budget lah. I said ok, I asked him to sit down and I showed him a few choices. Finally he decided on one bracelet, and I [put] it on his wife’s hand. He was so happy. His happiness is so delightful, you know, like, I can buy something for my wife after so many years, and he sing you know, he sing in our shop! And the wife said “Aiya he is like that, when he’s happy, he will sing whatever song”. I feel so impressed, you know? Wow, actually this business can bring happiness to customers! I told my daughter, “It’s not the amount in money terms. It’s the emotional touch that I get from this business”. You see, the husband is so happy and the wife too. It touches my heart actually. And then when I observe how my mum talks to customers, it’s also very emotional, touching, they are just like friends talking, they are able to talk about their family, their children, for many years, you know. It’s a great business actually.