Sunday, October 23, 2011

Disappearing Sarikei: Repok Road Block 5 Left - Mixed pot of trades

If you followed the complex smell of kom pia, kam pua and bicycle tyres combined, you could reach this block blindfolded as you traversed old Repok Road. This block of shophouses was completed circa 1953. None of the shops has retained its original facade of an open balcony at level 3, wooden windows at level 2 and wooden foldable doors at level 1. Let's peel back the onion and find out the tenants from the old days.

 Block 5L Repok Road, 2007
L-R No. 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45

No. 35
This corner shop next to the busy cross junction had an old style Foochow bakery, Mei Hua 美華, that was known for its sweet (soft and powdery skin) and salty (hard and smooth skin) versions of kom pia.

Behind the shop was a traditional Foochow barber (Mr Wong) that operated without a signboard. Mr Loh, the kam pua noodle cook from Block 3R lived on level 2.

Sarikei No 37 Repok Road
1956 school magazine ad
Source: Ease Chen

No. 37
A Foochow, Wong Kah Tieng 黃家添, opened Pin San as both a traditional coffeeshop with round marble tables and as a seller of ice cream, ice blocks and fridges for ice cream (which was a big capital investment for anyone in the 1950s). They sold delicious Chinese steamed buns (pau) behind the shop (facing the only children's playground in town) in the 1970s. Wong Kah Tieng agency was formed as an agent for Hacks sweets and the 72-bottle drinks produced by Chuo Kian Aerated Water of Sibu.

Another Mr Wong and his wife rented a corner for their kam pua stall. Their family stayed at the 3rd floor of San Hoo bookstore of Block 4R. When they moved to Eastern Cafe (No.1 Wharf Road), Ngu Poh Cheng took over their kam pua stall.

Sarikei No 39 Repok Road
1974 school magazine ad
Source: Ease Chen

No. 39
Punctured bicycle tyres? Needed air to inflate your tyres? Fret not. Head over to Kwong Hock Lee 廣福利 ("Cantonese welfare" if translated literally) bicycle shop. The story goes as follows.

Mr Koh (Heng Hua) and his classmate Mr Chiew (Cantonese) were Sarikei High School (now Sekolah Tinggi) students. They started a bicycle repair shop at No 42 Repok Road. When they split, Mr Koh started the Bata shoe franchise at No 42 Repok whereas Mr Chiew brought the bicycle business across the road to No 39 Repok Road and stayed till his retirement.

It cost 30 cents to repair a punctured bicycle tube in the 1960s. The tools of the trade were a file, sand paper, glue, a hammer, a big screw driver to lever off the tyre to reach the bicycle tube and a bucket of water to detect escaping air bubbles. Not much has changed in this technique except for the price.

If you fancied a new haircut while you repaired your tyre, a big Malay uncle (name?) ran a traditional barber stall at the front corner. Next door was the kam pua stall but no one had complained of finding hair in their kam pua noodles.

The Maths teacher, Mrs Lee, from St Anthony's School, and her family used to live at level 2.  

 Block 5L Repok Road, 2007
L-R No. 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45

No. 41
Hua Dong 華東 was a grocery operated by a Mr Ling (Foochow). One of his younger sons lives in Calgary, Canada. Now this half of the shop sells spectacles.

The other half was an electrical appliance store, Nguong Lee 源利, that still operates today. They can repair all sorts of electrical appliances. This shop used to blast music when they started their business in the morning and offered free wake up calls to the neighbours. Now his son operates a handphone business there.

  Block 5L Repok Road, 2010
L-R No. 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45

No. 43
Heng Hoe 宏和 was another grocery store at this block.

Sarikei No 45 Repok Road
1974 school magazine ad
Source: Ease Chen

No. 45
Initially, this corner unit was a car mechanic shop (can anyone confirm?). Name?

Later Shanghai bookstore was started by a Mr Wong (now retired) who has a family of mostly girls and 2 boys. One of the ladies (Wong Yee Hee or Er Fei) was a famous athlete and volleyball player in the late 1970s for St Anthony's school. When asked about the origin of the name for Shanghai bookstore, the former towkay smiled, "There's Hong Kong Studio and Peking Studio in Sarikei, why not a Shanghai book store?"

The other half of the shop Chai Mee was a popular tid bit store for patrons of Rex cinema next door. Mr Lee has a musically inclined family with 2 sons (Brendan and Ronnie) who have a love of playing in bands and his daughter, Janet Lee Chai Fong 霞, gained fame in Malaysia with her cassettes that came with her own posters in the 1980s.

Behind was a Hainanese bakery owned by Ah Er 阿莪 that made loaves of breads, cupcakes and buns (red bean, coconut shavings or butter) for the coffee shops. If you passed by after they had just finished baking, you would be in for a heavenly treat of warm buns.

   Block 5L Repok Road, 2010
L-R No. 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45

Not much is left in the facade to retain the architectural heritage but the memories will linger on in our disappearing Sarikei.


阿炳 said...

Hainanese Roti 莪 started his career at Seng Huat 生發 kopitiam No. 13 Wharf Road before he split out to his own bakery behind 45 Repok Rd. His hand power was like that of a kong Fu master from this long handling of making huge dough from flour day after day and year after year. Do you know why Roti Pau taste special in the old days? Could be the additional ingredient of the dripping sweat when the Roti master was preparing the dough.

Daniel Yiek said...


Did your sentence get cut off? Pls advise what do you mean by "Hainanese Roti 莪"


Ah Tong said...

阿莪 was the owner of the bakery at No. 45 Repok Road, while his son, Bo Kim, would provide an excellent home delivery service by going around on his bike to deliver the bread to your home every morning. Those were the good old days, when you didn’t have to go to the kopitiam to get your fresh loaf of bread every morning!

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks 阿炳 and Ah Tong!

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