Many shops and shopkeepers have unique stories to share about their struggles during pre-Merdeka days. The owners of Wah Sang Brothers is among them.
Wah Sang Brothers, a shop that sells and repairs timepieces, remains at the exact location as when it first opened in 1929 – along Jalan Stesen 1, Klang, Selangor. The area is known as the historical hub of Klang.
The business is now handled by the third generation of the family, Robert Lee, 60. He is the nephew of the second generation shop owner, Lee Lai Choy, 87, who still works at the shop and enjoys sharing his experiences with his customers.
Robert was not very interested in working in this line at first.
“I had several part-time jobs during my secondary school days. I worked in factories and in the construction line after graduation,” says Robert.
The shop has neither a successor to take over the business nor found anyone who is willing to learn the traditional techniques of repairing timepieces.
“My grandmother was the one who urged me again and again to come work in the family shop.
“Actually when I first came to work here, it was not in my favour – the salary at the time was only RM80 a month. When I was working during the school holidays, in Forms 4 and 5, I could easily get RM180 to RM200. Although the salary here is much lower, I decided to come back because this is my family’s business,” says Robert.
And so he began to learn how to do repairs from his father. “I’m quite skilful in this line,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I learnt how to assemble and disassemble a grandfather clock in three months only.”
Wah Sang Brothers survived wars such as World War II (Sept 1, 1939 – Sept 2, 1945) and the Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953). They also witnessed how Malaysians fought for independence. In the 1940s, the Japanese invaded and occupied Malaya, resulting in innocent blood being shed and suffering inflicted on the people. Civilians were afraid to step foot outside their homes as they feared being the next victim.
“During that time, our life was really hard, but we had no choice, because we had to earn a living, so we still opened our shop every day although we were scared of being targeted by the Japanese soldiers,” says Lai Choy.
“We hardly earned any income as no one would send their watches for repairs or spend money on watches. Having enough food for the family was much more important than materialistic needs. My brother and I ate only porridge and bean sprouts almost every day.”
Ironically, Wah Sang Brothers found their proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when the war broke out between North and South Korea. During the war, Koreans acquired large amounts of rubber from Malaya to create weaponries, which in turn generated revenue and improved economic conditions in this country.
“People started spending more on affordable luxuries, especially businessmen who owned rubber plantations. They could earn much by just selling 100g of rubber. And this is when our business started making profits,” says Lai Choy.
In 1963, he was appointed as clock repairman for the late Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah. “I repaired a lot of clocks for him. Whenever any clocks in the palace were not working, the Sultan’s assistant would call me, and I’d go to the palace.” Until today, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery still sends the clocks owned by the late Sultan of Selangor to Wah Sang Brothers to be repaired.
Wah Sang Brothers is strategically situated near the Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery and Gedung Raja Abdullah building.
Other than being famous for its food, Klang is also well-known for its historical landmarks, heritage structures and traditional buildings.
With the passage of time, it seems that all the shop owners in Jalan Stesen 1 have experienced the same fate of being forgotten by society. The owner of Restoran Sin Teo Heng, Tham Siew Mei, says, “This street, which we call backstreet, was once very prosperous and crowded. It was one of the main business areas before all those shopping malls were built. A lot of well-known people came here for lunch.”
In the 1980s, there were a lot of restaurants, legal firms and banks along this street which brought in the crowds. But sadly, she says, “The development of Bandar Bukit Tinggi and other areas dispersed the business in this street. Some shops closed down because of the huge competition outside the area.
“It’s very sad to see it go from prosperous to quiet, but in recent years, there have been tourists coming in during weekends. Hopefully, in the future, this street can become more prosperous and the old shops still adhere to their businesses.”
The history of Malaysia will continue to be proudly passed down through the generations but the story of Wah Sang Brothers might gradually be forgotten if there is no one to continue the business. With that, its owner Lai Choy says, “I hope that someone who has the passion for this industry will continue our business and bring it forward to a better future.”