Written in red on a white plaque is the trade name “Bee Sin”, as the blue shutter doors slowly open, Lim Choon Fung hangs various schoolbags and shoes over the shop entrance, then he sets up wooden stands to display school uniforms, stationery and other daily necessities in front of the shop. Hanging at the left side of the shopfront is a pastel painting entitled “Wind blowing in the paddy fields”, sketched by Lim. Besides operating this traditional foreign goods store, he teaches co-curricular art classes.
The row of century-old double-storey shophouse is located at Jalan Telaga Air in Butterworth, Penang. Near the intersection with Jalan Kampung Gajah, where shipping container trucks frequent, kicking up a dust storm every time they pass by, worsening the shophouses’ dreary appearance. A stone’s throw away from Butterworth Port, Jalan Telaga Air used to be teeming with textile stores, footwear stores, and foreign goods stores, mostly helmed by Chinese merchants. Hit by financial crises in the 80’s to 90’s, several businesses either moved out or closed down, the row of shophouses are slowly taken over by Indians selling traditional flower garlands, Bee Sin became the only remaining Chinese-run shop.
Lim Choon Fung spent over 70 years in this shophouse, from school-age to teenage, adulthood and marriage, till now in his seventies. During his childhood, his father operated a coffee shop near the port, the family stayed upstairs at the nearby shophouse while the shop downstairs was rented to a hairdresser. Upon graduating from high school, Lim shouldered the responsibility as the eldest child of contributing to the household income by setting up a foreign goods business. Bee Sin opened its doors in 1969 during the nationwide emergency, curfews were imposed from 6pm, therefore leaving a mark in Lim’s memory.
At first, due to limited capital, Lim could only afford to purchase on credit, selling an assortment of goods from hair cream, scissors, to clothing and socks. He gradually worked out which are the top-selling products and focused on selling school supplies such as uniforms, shoes and bags. Before the start of each new school year, parents would bring their children to try on uniforms and buy school supplies. As customers swarmed into the small shop, Lim’s siblings would lend a helping hand.
Lim channeled his hard-earned money to fund his younger brother to further studies abroad in Australia. Struggling to make ends meet, Lim resorted to side hustles, utilizing his talents in painting to teach art classes. The headmaster of SJK (C) Kwang Hwa granted him an opportunity to teach co-curricular art classes at the school, so he went by bicycle, bringing his art supplies and materials along. Apart from that, Lim joined numerous art exhibitions and gained fame. He even co-exhibited with renowned local and foreign painters.
Having worked diligently for half a century, Lim is not rich but gets by comfortably. His younger siblings achieved professional success, till now they still help each other out. With the digitalization of businesses, online shopping offers more convenience than retail stores, dealing a severe blow to Lim. Recently a fallen tree damaged the rear of the building, Lim and his wife had to stay with their daughter, after some persuasion he agreed to cease operations and retire. Before the lease term ends, he donated most school supplies to SJK (C) Kwang Hwa in tribute to the former headmaster, to help underprivileged pupils. Meanwhile the remaining inventory are on clearance sale.
Bee Sin’s lease expires on 31st December 2022, and will close permanently upon stock clearance. Lim Choon Fung has stopped teaching due to vision impairment, and will be undergoing eye treatment at a hospital. After many years of hard work, Lim finally gets to enjoy a peaceful retirement together with his wife.
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang / Michael Lerk
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen
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