TITI: The traditional Chinese medical hall on the main street of Titi in Negeri Sembilan looks like it belonged to a bygone era. It is located in a pre-war shophouse with wooden turquoise window shutters and orange doors. This is Kiong Chung Trading Co.
This is the kind of shop that somehow survived the test of time and is an increasingly rare sight in larger cities. But in Titi, the shop fits in perfectly with the quaint landscape.
Inside, glass and wooden cabinets house an array of Chinese herbs whose distinct smell hangs in the air. Behind the counter, an elderly gentleman greets customers with a soft smile, and patiently answers their queries.
The gentleman’s name is Chu Hew Yin, 82, the second-generation owner of the business. Like Chu, the business is over eight decades old.
Speaking to FMT, Chu shared that he was only 20 years old when he began working at the medical hall. But making the decision to join his father wasn’t entirely easy.
Born in Titi, Chu had gone to a secondary school in Seremban. And dreamt of furthering his studies in Taiwan.
But his parents had other plans for him: they wanted Chu, the eldest of eight siblings, to help at the shop.
It left Chu feeling torn. He could leave to pursue his dream, but what about his obligations to his family as the firstborn?
So he gave in to his parents’ wishes, knowing how much the shop meant to his father. “[I had] no choice because my brothers and sisters had to carry on their primary and secondary [schooling],” he shared.
Recalling the history of the business, Chu shared that his father, Chow Kian, had bought the business with a partner in 1938.
According to Chu, the former owner intended to shut the business as the Japanese medicines he sold weren’t popular with the locals. Back then, anti-Japanese sentiment was strong in the predominantly Chinese community of Titi.
Learning from the experiences of the former owner, Japanese medicines were discontinued and the duo focused on Chinese herbs instead. They also began to sell various household items.
“At that time, [my father] invited a few Chinese physicians to work for him,” added Chu.
When Chu joined his father, he set to work and diligently learned the trade. Business at that time, he added, was quite good.
Over the years, Chu got married and had four children. And in 1988, he bought the business from his father and his partner.
What lies ahead?
Running a traditional business in Titi was vastly different from his dream of studying in Taiwan, but Chu found consolation in knowing that he had done right by helping his parents and siblings.
Through the decades, he never gave up on his passion for writing, contributing articles to local newspapers and overseas magazines.
He even wrote three books about the history of Titi and gained the reputation of being the local scribe.
However, these days, Titi is a different place. A large number of young people have moved to big cities and Chu worries daily about the fate of his beloved Titi – and his business.
His children, too, no longer live in Titi. However, one of his daughters, who lives in KL, has recently been returning to help him several days a week. His wife also assists when she can.
“It’s very hard to continue. Because now, I’m 82,” he shared.
While some tourists trickle into Titi over the weekends, the weekdays are quiet with hardly a tourist in sight, Chu said.
With an uncertain future looming ahead of this decades-old business, one can’t help but wonder: has he ever regretted abandoning his dreams to help his father?
Without missing a beat, he replied: “No regrets. Because I helped my brothers and sisters. No complaints. I did this for the sake of my father and mother.”
Kiong Chung Trading Co.
90, Jalan Besar
71650 Negeri Sembilan
Business hours: 8.00am to 2.00pm daily