Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Central Market of Sibu 1950-1990 - lessons in PR

Have you ever had that feeling of nostalgia when you get a whiff of rotting cabbage and salted vegetables?

Rotting cabbage, salted vegetables, fresh fish and pork always remind me of the wet market of Sibu.

Actually I still miss the original Sibu wet market even though it has been totally erased from the new modern cityscape.

It was my training ground. It was where I learned to observe how men and women, in particular, worked and related to each other. It was where I learned how people suffered in their time slowly. It was where I understood the essence of what it was like to be "We are our own people, we are Foochows, we need to help each other" or in sociological terms, kinship.

One vegetable sellers' family in particular cannot be forgotten by me.

Some how the family are very small in nature. All the children are below five feet in height because the old mother was really the shortest woman I ever know (besides myself) Old Mother Wong (I have changed their names) was very loving and kind. She had the biggest heart in the world. She would call out to my mother when she caught sight of her at a distance. After my father passed away suddenly and untimely, I started to carry the basket for my mother whenever she went to the market. I was then 16.

"Mrs.Teacher, (Sing Nan Neo) quick, come over here! I have very fresh vegetables for you!" Her call was very beckoning and enticing. Very welcoming. That was my first PR lesson. always treat your customer well by greeting her the moment you have eye contact, very warmly (and in Sibu...very loudly)

Old Mrs Wong operated a stall on her own and her son operated another stall. This was the system one today would call...setting up of subsidiaries. What she earned was for herself and what he son earned was for his family. In this way, it was easier for the extended family to co=exist. My mother would choose her vegetables and before concluding her purchase she would then suddenly decide, perhaps on purpose to buy another type which Old Mrs.Wong did not have. Immediately Old Mrs. Wong would recommend her son's stall which had "better than ever Chinese radish". She would quickly move over to her son's stall, put the radishes on the weighing scale and call out the price...."Cheap, cheap. I give you special cheap price." And her son would chime in and say the same thing, with the biggest smile I have ever seen. He still has the record in my heart. Lesson No. Two - always give your Foochow customer a good price...the lower the better, with a genuine, huge smile.

Whenever my mum could not buy vegetables she would send me out on my bicycle to get a few items. And I remember our favourite was kang kong (BM) or empty heart vegetable (Kun Sing Chai) or un chye (Foochow). Old Mrs. Wong would place a huge bundle on the weighing scale and tell me that that lot was fifty cents. And if I ever I said that it was too much, she said,"Never mind. you can have it for forty cents. And I will give you some more. Your mum would not scold you." Oh, it was just such a happy business dealing. I had my vegetables for 10 cents less and a free gift of perhaps even 20% more. Lesson No 3 - Always give your customers more and that is very Biblical too - measure properly and allow for more and God will bless you....That is why, supermarkets today always advertise "20% more! for the original price!" or get a free gift for the purchase of one item...

Almost forty years later when I went to the wet market in Chongqing, China, I had the same experience in buying kang kong really cheaply. when the lady who was selling the kang kong to me found out that I was from Borneo, East Malaysia, she gave me almost 50% more. I was immediately reminded of Old Mrs. Wong.

Old Mrs. Wong had it all even without an MBA.

My family will always be indebted to her and her family.

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