Seamstress on a laudable mission

An inspiring story that illuminates the indomitable human spirit

Three weeks ago, I finally decided to go and find a tailor or seamstress who could do some work for me. I had wanted to make minor repairs / adjustments to three of my trousers. These were small jobs that a normal, busy tailor would be reluctant to undertake. Even if he did undertake the job, he would charge me a significant fee. If that were the case, I would have no choice but to discard the trousers.

I gave this matter some thought. I was most reluctant to discard these trousers. They are comfortable and I can see a few more years of good use for them. I distinctly remember noticing a few seamstresses operating on the first floor of a wet market in the Klang Valley. I also noticed a shop or two offering to do alternations for clothes at a few leading shopping malls in Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur.

Tiny Shop but Impressive Seamstress

I decided to give the shop at the wet market a try. It was a tiny shop by any standard, all of eight feet by eight feet! It was a cluttered shop with clothes placed all over the place. There was a well used and slightly damaged sewing machine of an unknown brand which the seamstress was using. The sewing machine, I was informed, was on loan from a sister. For purposes of this article, I shall give this lady a name: Linda.

Slightly above her on the ceiling of this tiny shop hung a small ceiling fan… I have not seen such a small, cute ceiling fan but I have indeed seen small table fans. On inquiring from Linda, I found out that she had bought that small ceiling fan from China some years ago.

Mind over Matter

What amazed me was the sight of Linda sitting there quietly working with a serene look on her countenance despite the stifling heat and humidity of the place. She illustrated for me the wisdom of the old quote: ‘ it is always a question of mind over matter ‘. And she was right. By stark contrast, I must confess, I was all hot and bothered by the weather.

It was indeed a strange juxtaposition of careers / occupations to say the least and I remained perplexed for a while.

There was also a prominent signage at the back of the shop which proclaimed that this was also a Chinese traditional medicine shop / pharmacy!

It was indeed a strange juxtaposition of careers / occupations to say the least and I remained perplexed for a while. I was soon to learn of the reason for that signage.

Confident and Capable Person

While waiting for my trousers to be mended, she advised me to go and have a drink. I decided, however, to stay and in the process, I chatted with her. I sat on a leaf green plastic stool a few feet from her and watched as she worked with quiet confidence. I discovered that she only works for about four hours each day at this shop before returning home.

I asked if she has an assistant to help her but she said that there was no need for one. She was more than able to manage and moreover, there was no place for a second person in that tiny shop.

Clear Vision and Strong Determination

On chatting further with her, I learned that this confident and purposeful lady was someone with a clear vision and admirable goals. She had acquired some very good values in life and part of the reason why she had that traditional Chinese medicine shop / pharmacy at her place was because she wanted to take good care of her health.

Another reason for taking good care of her health is that she did not want her only child and now a married woman with children of her own, to be unnecessarily burdened if she suffered from some debilitating or prolonged illness. How very thoughtful and kind of her.

She then quite unexpectedly volunteered the information that she is sixty-five years old and I noticed that she had jet black hair. Linda, who has a slight, slender frame and is not more than five feet three inches tall however, looked more like she is forty-five years old! A good twenty years younger than her real age. This was, to me, a clear and convincing testament to the excellent care she has taken of her health.

A Life with Clear Purpose

Through my continuing conversation with her, I managed to know more about this remarkable lady. Linda, I must add, was just as keen that I was interested in her story. She was more than forthcoming in sharing her life story.

Linda informed me that she was away for two weeks before my visit to her shop. I inquired if she had gone on a holiday. She said that she had gone to Harbin, China for face to face lectures from the university where she was pursuing her Masters and her doctorate in Chinese traditional medicine! I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, by this information.

Harbin, as some of you may know, is one of the coldest regions in China and quite close to the Russian border. Harbin is also internationally famous for its Annual Ice Carvings Festival.

Part Time Lecturer

Linda informed me that the whole process of completing the masters and the doctorate programme through a combination  of distance learning and annual face to face lectures will take her about six years! She has thus far successfully completed two years with four more still to go.

This, in reality, means that by the time she successfully completes the whole programme and graduates with a Ph.D, she will be sixty-nine years old. She informed me that she is the oldest student in her class but that does not faze her in any way. As a ‘student’, she confided that she now enjoys cheap airfares from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai and then on to Harbin.

She also informed me that twice a week she conducts lectures in the evening at this university’s campus in Kuala Lumpur. Her university has appointed her to conduct these lectures based on her undergraduate degree in the field. However, in China and also here in Malaysia almost all her lecturers have Ph.D qualifications.

Be of Service to Society

Linda shared with me that she does not believe in wasting valuable time by watching endless hours of soap opera on television or in gossiping away during her free time. She believes in putting it to good use and hence her desire to keep occupied in some useful form or manner.

For Linda, the strange juxtaposition of careers / calling is a matter of little consequence. She has chosen to be usefully engaged in providing a needed service by day and by sharing her knowledge in the evenings with eager, young university students.

Equally Adept in the English Language

I must report that the workmanship on the repairs and adjustments she made to my trousers was excellent and her charges were most reasonable. I have since returned to her for more such jobs and she continues to deliver excellent work.

We carried out the entire conversation in the English language. Not once did she feel the need to slip into Bahasa Malaysia. As you are well aware, most market stall holders speak Bahasa Malaysia and some speak in dialect when talking to certain customers.

Sometimes mere appearances may lead us to carelessly make some wholly incorrect assumptions. Therefore, be fully aware that appearance and reality may oftentimes actually be two different things!


8 thoughts on “Seamstress on a laudable mission

  1. Thank you Mr Benedict
    I enjoy reading your write ups which are usually impeccable with thought provoking advise.
    Thank you so much
    Warm regards


  2. I enjoyed this wonderfully detailed description of the entire setting and Linda’s story, Ben! Brought back memories of similar little shops I have gone to in Old and New Town,Petaling Jaya for similar services. You do realize that Billy in Jalan Chantek will be very unhappy if you don’t write about his tiny little tailoring shop which he shares with his sister!

  3. Ben, your story of Linda is most inspirational! We seldom come across such indomitable spirited people especially a female senior citizen who obviously is self reliant and who does not believe that Life comes to a stop when one turns 60 !
    Most admirable qualities shown by this spunky lady whose determination in being an invaluable asset to society should be lauded.

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