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Loyal keeper of a dying business



The self-made bamboo blind hung in front of Lau Hooi Kee. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily


Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

IPOH, Perak — There is a row of old shophouses along Lorong Bijeh Timah off the bridge on Hugh Low Street (Jalan Sultan Iskandar), one of which has been weaving bamboo blinds for almost a hundred years, witnessing its own transition from prosperity during the olden days to its subsequent decline.

Although the bamboo blind industry is quickly losing its appeal in recent years, the operator of this business remains loyal to the traditional trade.

There are not many shops still shielding their business premises from the scorching sun with bamboo blinds nowadays. To catch one, you may need to walk into the old streets lined with pre-war shophouses.

When approached by Sin Chew Daily, the septuagenarian owner of this shop was seen sitting alone in front of his shop flipping newspapers.

Rolls of bamboo blinds taller in height than an ordinary man’s are laid in front of the shop, along with some tools and a trishaw used to ferry the products.

Lau Chee Wah, the 76-year-old owner of Lau Hooi Kee, is the third generation operator of this dying business. With hardly any young people interested in inheriting this business from him and with the bamboo and wooden blind markets fast dwindling, Lau has been solitarily struggling to keep the antiquated industry afloat all these years.

Very few would ask for bamboo or wooden blinds these years although they were a necessity for all businesses during the olden days to shield the shops from the sultry heat of the sun while advertising their businesses on them.

Hardly seen elsewhere, these bamboo blinds can still be spotted today in the Old Town and some older neighbourhoods in Ipoh, albeit appearing worn out by the passing of time.

Lau told Sin Chew Daily this business was initiated by his grandfather almost a century ago, adding that both his grandfather and father were masters of this art.

Lau started helping out at the shop as apprentice in his teens, and having later commanded the skills of making the blinds, he became the natural heir to the family business. Today, Lau is still insistent on carrying out this business despite poor prospects for his products.

“We saw the prime of this industry but not many would look for bamboo blinds nowadays. I would only start work if there is a customer order. As for the rest of the time I would be left with nothing to do.”

Lau said his was the only shop still making bamboo blinds in the town of Ipoh and most of his customers are Malays which is peculiar as Chinese businessmen have long given up bamboo blinds.

Sold by area, each square foot used to cost only RM2 in the past but is now at least RM7.

“There are many alternatives available in the market and bamboo blinds are no longer the only option. As a result, we cannot sell them too expensively or no one would want them.”

He also said it would take at least two to three days to complete one set of bamboo blinds, including weaving, painting, etc.

As bamboo blind making involves a lot of work and the margin is thin, hardly anyone is keen to pick up this skill, which is poised to be wiped out by time eventually.