WHILE most people dream big, with ambitions of becoming famous, rich and successful Tiaw Ju Kui, 83, has quite a different dream altogether.
“I have been working since young, from morning until night, until I am old now and I have never stopped,” he said in Hokkien.
Being the proud owner of Kedai Kopi 7Up on the upper floor of Chowrasta market, his only wish is to see the building where his shop is located to be refurbished properly. Sadly, he does believe he would live to see the day.
When Chowrasta Market was refurbished in 1981, Tiaw claims he was one of the first few who opened a stall there, and has been making and selling coffee ever since. His coffee stall has long since become a hotspot for early morning activity and has attracted many elderly customers who walk up two flights of stairs every day just to have their usual cup of coffee while reading the daily, or just to have casual conversation with each other.
“We are like siblings.” said Rokiah Awang, another stall owner. According to her, their respective businesses complements each other and they are always helping one another. “If we have problems, we just apologise and go on because there is no point in complicating the matter.”
Tiaw lives in Tanjung Tokong, which is roughly 30 to 45 minutes from the Chowrasta market and he takes the free shuttle bus to and fro work for the last 20 years.
“He’s sick, but his passion and interest for business is keeping him going, we try to advice him.” added Rokiah.
Not only has Tiew been running the coffee stall for over two decades, but he has been doing everything on his own. He takes orders from the customers, makes the coffee, and delivers; he even makes his own strings to tie up the takeaway drink bags.
Born in Fu Zhou, China; he only studied for five years in a primary school before leaving to work in the Chinese plantations.
At the age of 16, a year after World War II was resolved, he came down to Singapore alone due to the rise in his country’s poverty rate. He landed and worked Singapore for a decade before finally moving again and settling permanently in Penang. At first, he used to send rice and everyday items back to China to support his family.
Eventually, he got around to starting a family of his own. However, his wife passed away due to an illness when he was only 37 and was he forced to raise his two children on his own, working several jobs to put them through school, and to ensure that they were able to have the education he never had.
“Furthering education gives you a wider career field and a brighter future,” said Tiaw. Whatever money he makes, he gives to his children. “They can take it.”
He claims to have spent most of his earnings on his children’s education, sending his son and daughter to England. His son is now working in England, and his daughter in Kuala Lumpur. “They always visit me,” he added while pointing to the various photographs of his family that he has proudly displayed on the walls of his coffee stall.
When asked whether he enjoyed his job of making and selling coffee, he nodded enthusiastically and affirmed that he did indeed enjoy working there, but later added that he has no choice but to like it, as it is his life. But he is scared that he might not be able to make coffee any more, as his age does not permit it and retiring is not an option for him.
“To all you youngsters, in order to be respected in life, you have to be very hardworking and honest,” he said.