THIRTY-THREE years ago, when Low May Hong and Low May Lan started work at Bukit Timah Market, they were hell-bent on proving that women can be fishmongers too.
Back then, the twin sisters had just graduated from secondary school and were preparing to start work in order to provide for the family of five. However, it was no easy feat for them. “The older generation (of stall owners) looked down on us and said we couldn’t make it,” said May Hong, the elder sister.
“We wanted to prove them wrong and show them we could do it.”
As the sole breadwinners of the family, the Lows knew that there was no running away from the business. They learnt everything from scratch and grew used to the fishy smell of the daily catch. Gradually, they learned to love their line of work.
“It was a tough routine to follow, waking up at three in the morning to get fish from the wholesale centre,” said May Lan, “But soon after, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else everyday. It is a routine we would never escape – there are no off-days for us.”
Then came the era of the supermarket in the 1990s.
Unlike wet markets, they came with piped music, squeaky-clean floors, and plenty of space. The Lows soon realised that the shouts of stall owners attempting to attract customers at Bukit Timah Market were growing fainter by the day.
It was a scary reality they had to grapple with.
With longer operating hours, supermarkets are more attractive to working professionals who find it more convenient and hygienic. Nowadays, the only people who patronise the Low’s fish stall are the old-timers who recognize them for their friendly and personalised services.
“People like us will get phased out in the future. There is no one to take over our business when we are gone,” said May Hong.
Till today, the Lows work seven days a week, and still do not see a need for a day off.
“We don’t find it a chore as we get to interact with our customers everyday,” said May Hong.
“The market’s like a home to us. We’ll never have that same sense of community elsewhere.”
Running Time: 3:05 minutes
DOP/Editor: Yeo Kai Wen
Special Thanks: Tiffany Goh Qi Qi