Learning > Inspiration

Repairing shoes is like playing masak masak for 88-year-old cobbler

Salma Khalik on 01 Sep 2019

The Straits Times


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At the age of 88, Mr Low Poh Lye still works each day as a cobbler, although he says the work does not bring in much income.


He earns about $400 a month, with the rent on his shop taking more than half of that.


On top of that, he needs to buy the tools of his trade, such as glue and strong thread for repairing shoes.


Yet the octogenarian willingly takes more than an hour on the bus every morning to get to the Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre, where he has provided a cobbler service for 40 years.


Mr Low says he does not need the income - he lives with his second son, who is a contractor, and his family. So why commute each day for a job that does not pay much?


"I do it to pass the time, have some fun," he says.


"If I don't work, what do I do? Sleep the whole day?"


As a concession to his advancing years, he now works only half a day.


Once he closes the stall, he goes upstairs to the foodcourt for lunch, before taking the bus for another hour-long trip home.


"Sometimes I lose money coming to work, getting just $4 to $8 all morning. Sometimes there is no business," he says in Hokkien.


Mr Low does not like watching television and does not do much reading because "I didn't study when I was young". He also does not smoke, gamble or drink.


His wife has passed away and his children take care of his needs, he says. He has four sons and a daughter, 11 grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.


His third son, who takes him out for lunch every week, also takes him overseas on holidays.


He said this son is like him, a repairman. He grins and clarifies: "I repair shoes, but he repairs bodies."


His son is a doctor.


Mr Low has tried his hand at many things over the past 70 years, as he struggled to bring up his five children.


He grew up in a kampung, growing vegetables and rearing chicken. He has also been a handyman and used to run a pasar malam (night market) stall selling pots and pans. He was also a self-taught car mechanic.


He can speak a smattering of many languages, including Japanese, Malay and Tamil - which he proudly shows off to The Sunday Times. All this was picked up casually in the course of his life, interacting with people of different races, he says.


He does not exercise nor is he careful with what he eats, but he remains relatively healthy. "How to work every day if I'm not healthy?" he asks.


He has no intention of stopping work just because he does not need the money, even though he admits that the job to him now is like kids playing "masak masak" (Malay for children playing house).


"I will work for as long as I can. Only when my body tells me to stop, then I will stop."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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