The time-honoured goldsmith's shop in Johor Bahru: Kwong Lee Soon Kee
Many of our ancestors came to Nanyang to earn a living through labour, and they brought their skills to this foreign land. And most of the Kwong Siew people were involved in the catering industry, machinery and manufacturing industries, as well as goldsmithing, which is a highly sophisticated trade.
Today, there are at least four historical goldsmith shops in the old neighbourhood of Johor Bahru that were run by Kwong Siew people. One of them, Kwong Lee Soon Kee, is located at the straightest, longest and oldest street in Johor Bahru.
At the age of 83, Chan Chee Wai is the second-generation owner of Kwong Lee Soon Kee. His father took up goldsmithing to support his family, and the family trade has been passed down for several generations, but now he has handed over the business to his son, Chan Kok Nang.
Inquiring about the origin of the name Kwong Lee Soon Kee, "In the past, my father took over the shop from the previous owner, so my father extended the original name of the signboard, 'Kwong Lee', and added his own name, 'Soon Kee', which became the name of today's Kwong Lee Soon Kee.
He also mentioned the requirements for becoming a goldsmith: "A goldsmith must have patience, perseverance, a good reputation, and most importantly, to be trustworthy. What if we hand the gold to someone, and he absconds with the goods, would that not be a big deal?"
The once glorious traditional goldsmithing industry has gradually become a sunset industry. The reasons of it include rising gold prices, low purchasing power in the market, the abandonment of handmade work by mechanical substitutes and so on, and the greater challenge is to work in a stuffy workshop for long periods and test the patience day by day, which has made it difficult to find a successor for the handmade goldsmithing industry.
Chan Kok Nang learned from the master goldsmiths when he was 22 years old, and gradually became his father's successor, sitting in the hot and stuffy working environment every day for 30 years, making gold jewellery with his own hands. However, he does not force his son to follow in his father's footsteps, and is open-minded about his son's life choices.
"My son once asked me if I wanted them to come back to Malaysia, and I told them frankly that I wouldn't force them to come back, because after all, it would be a total different story to live in Malaysia as they already adapted to the lifestyle in Singapore, and the education they receive would be different too, so I respect their choices. Of course, I'd be thrilled if one day they say they want to come back. If they are interested in this business, of course it's good to take over, but if they have other opinions, they should follow their own hearts."