The Tailor

“Put a small pocket on the inside of the trouser” said my dad.

“It should be hidden from view” my dad had added, “make it discrete.”

We were at Hoon Chin Tailor in Kuala Belait, Brunei. Uncle Hoon, eloquently dressed and the proprietor of the establishment wrote down the request on his book, a measuring tape hanging from his nape – a testimony to his tailoring vocation, symbolic of his craft and akin to a doctor’s stethoscope. I’m serious!

“What’s the small pocket for?”, he had asked my dad.

My old man smiled.

“Money!” came his explanation.

Visions of crumpled dollar notes and coins entered my 6 year old mind. I surmised that there must have been a lot of pickpockets in the world for my dad to resort to a hidden small pocket in his trousers!

We were being measured for new clothes. The festival of Eid Fitr was just a month away. We were in a tailor shop lined up with bundles of fabrics displayed prominently and systematically on its walls.

Somewhat facing each other with a little space in between were tables covered with fabric and designed for the tailor to make the appropriate measurements and cuttings on the garments to be. Uncle Hoon, his wife and his younger brother each had a table, catering to different customers with various requirements and preference.

I particularly remember that uncle Hoon’s brother would be donned in the latest fashionable shirts and for a time … baggy trousers, a far contrast to Uncle Hoon’s preferred formal getup of long sleeved shirt and light coloured clothes.

“Young people!”, said Uncle Hoon one day referring to his brother, with a smile.

On their tables were oddly shaped rulers and triangular chalk markers – implements and tools of the trade. Fashion books were stacked up too, not too many mind you but enough to entice and tell customers what fashion was like in Hong Kong and Europe through various pictures of men, women and children in varying poses and background.

Customers entering the shop would go through an entrance that was as wide as the shop itself (about 20–25 feet or so). Outside – the turf of Jalan Pretty existed…pretty much the main street for the commercial shop houses that looked like….and came from a different era.

One day, one of my mum’s cousin Zaini was driving along the street, spotted a fire above the tailor shop and hastily warned those inside the building to get out. He was quick but had not been quick enough for them to save the shop : the fire quickly destroyed the building.

“It was a big fire”, said Uncle Zaini, “Possibly a short circuit.”

It has been a while since I’d left the old town. The old premises of Hoon Chin Tailor is no more but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Uncle Hoon had set up shop at another site nearby in a more recent building. Gone were the old traditional setup making way for a new and compact decor. The charm was not gone : just in a different form and approach. It kept up with the times, so to speak. He also opened up shoe stores in various parts of Brunei.

I know there is a lot of proprietors out there but people like Uncle Hoon tend to stand above the rest. He believes in hard work, in providing, in keeping up, in diversifying and in not giving up.

These are endeavours and traits that we all should strive to instil in ourselves, whatever our vocation.

Thanks for the example, Uncle Hoon.

And yes, we still incorporate the small hidden pocket design into our clothing.

Its tradition now. 😄

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