Tan Yang Ling’s clog workshop is a small shed tucked away in a corner behind a row of shophouses on Jalan Danby in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

In the mornings, the drone of machines fill the air as Tan deftly shapes his clogs from pieces of wood. Sawdust flies and settles on every surface.

Tan’s 40-year-old cutting machine is still going strong, and he cuts out his clogs on the sharp blade with precision, measuring everything by sight.

It’s a skill honed over 55 years, though he started out doing everything by hand. Tan apprenticed with a clog maker at 12 and learnt every step from scratch.

“This is hard work. It’s always dusty here,” says the 67-year-old who brought up two sons and a daughter on his earnings.

After he sands the wooden soles, he will nail on the plastic uppers. He makes mostly plain clogs, but there is also a row of clogs on display that Tan has painted red and adorned with flowers. These are clogs that some Chinese brides still use to decorate their bridal rooms.

“I make 40 to 50 clogs a day, mostly for consignments. People who work in wet areas, like kitchens and markets, still wear these wooden clogs. A pair can last them at least four months, if worn daily,” says Tan, the only clog maker left in Bukit Mertajam.

He will keep making clogs for as long as he can for retirement is not at all appealing to Tan, who is at his workshop every day. But on Sundays, he takes a break.

“What’s difficult now is getting the wood for my clogs,” the craftsman laments. “There is not so much wood, and prices have gone up from RM400 for a lorry load to RM500 or RM600.”


This excerpt is from Seberang Perai: Stories From Across The Sea (Star Media Group), available at major bookstores.

The Paper’s People is a weekly column which introduces Malaysia-based everyday folk, doing what they love. If you have any person to recommend, e-mail us at star2@thestar.com.my.