Don’t expect this grandmother to be attending to her grandchildren or preening her garden. She is busy managing her online business selling ready-to-wear batik designs.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Ng Suan Loi is the oldest online seller in Singapore and the title doesn’t faze her one bit. The 77-year-old who has five children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, is busy enjoying her sewing for her blogshop, JingJing’s Kelantan Batik. Not only does she showcase 12 products online but she also markets them on her own FB (Facebook) page.
Ageless Online chats with her (with the help of translation from her granddaughter 24-year-old Chin Shi Tong) about keeping active, why she really likes doing Kelantan batik, and dealing with smartphones and the Internet:
Tell me about your early days and how you got into sewing?
I was born in Alor Setar, north of Malaysia. I came to Singapore after I got married in 1956 when I was 20 as my husband is Singaporean. I was a seamstress in the 1960s for over 10 years. People would come to my home to get clothes custom-made and I would do them. I even sewed my children’s clothes as clothes those days were expensive to buy. My children were still wearing those clothes all the way into their secondary school.
In the 1970s, I had a canteen stall in Singapore that sold food to factory workers in various industrial areas, which I did for over 10 years. After which in the 1980s, I had a stall in the hawker centre at Woodlands Centre, near the Checkpoint, selling goreng pisang, sweet potatoes, fried green bean cakes and tapioca. The stall still exists today and is being run by my 81-year-old husband and a staff, from Mondays to Saturdays. Business was really good till 1987, when it started to slow down due to the bus interchange being moved and the crowds leaving, and I ended up having more free time to sew apparels.
So how did all this then turn into selling your products online?
During my free time, I would make apparels from Kelantan batik. I would give them as gifts to friends and relatives. My 57-year-old daughter and my daughter-in-law saw this and suggested why not I sell them online. So last year June, they helped me to set up a blogshop with The Shop City. I like making the apparels and my relatives like them. I did a few first but then I really enjoyed it so much so that I did more.
My daughter and daughter-in-law would help me post new products on my blogshop, while I post them on my FB page.
Why not a shop?
I would need to pay rent and employ workers, and that would be very time-consuming. As I am the only one making the products, I feel it is impossible to open a store.
The blogshop only has 12 items at one time. If any more, I would have to pay “rent”. A pouch can go for S$5 while a bag, depending on its size, can go up to S$25.
What’s with the name?
The name was given to me by my mother-in-law when I got married in Singapore. The Woodlands Centre hawker stall is also called JingJing.
What is the difference between Kelantan batik and other batik?
Kelantan batik is from Kelantan and of very high quality and colourful. The prints used are made by hand. It is also very expensive. Sometimes I mix different batiks to make it more colourful, especially with blankets, pants and bags. I also make cushions, pillow covers, blankets, mattress covers, clothes and pajamas. I go to Kelantan often as I have relatives there and I buy the material that I need.
You have been called the oldest online blogshop seller. How do you feel about this distinction?
I am happy doing it. I feel I have already accomplished much. I don’t think it is a unique thing being the oldest online seller as I have been active for a long time. It is healthy to be active. My brain will be active. I don’t play mahjong. (Asked what she thinks about her grandmother’s blogshop, her granddaughter Shi Tong had this to say: “I think it is quite cool. Ever since I was young, she has been active and independent.”)
But don’t you feel batik nowadays is very passé?
I think is heading back to the olden times. It is also very vintage and retro.
Tell me more about your clientele?
Before I did some men’s stuff but now it is mostly women’s stuff. My clientele comes mainly from Malaysia and Singapore, and includes some friends. My daughter-in-law’s old classmate in Switzerland bought 10 pieces through my sharing on FB. For the blog, orders are mainly from locals and they come in irregularly.
FB is great for getting orders especially friends, while the blogshop is great to get exposure from new customers. It was only after I started the blogshop, that I started FB. I am really selling mainly for fun-sake rather than for profit-sake.
Was it tough learning to use new technology?
I learned how to use the Internet using my iPad. I didn’t have an education when I was younger and learned it by myself as well as being taught by my grandchildren. It was not difficult using my Samsung S3 smartphone and iPad. If I have problems, I could ask my children or grandchildren. It was not difficult but I had to be patient.
A lot of elderly find it difficult using IT but they should learn. Even myself with no education can do it, others should try to do it too.
Originally, my daughter-in-law was the one who started my personal FB account and helped me post. When I got my iPad, my family taught me how to manage it. I have a lot of friends and relatives on FB and I initially didn’t know how to communicate with them. A lot of my friends in their 50s post pictures on FB but now that I know how to use it, I follow them and also post my own pictures. My settings are in Chinese so it is easy for me to read. I don’t like being called old.
You didn’t have an education?
My father said that it was a pity I didn’t have an education as if I did I would have been a professor as I am very quick at picking up things. There was no money to get an education. I had six siblings and I was the fifth. My siblings did not have an education but they did well as one later became the head of a women’s association. My mother passed away early while on confinement after giving birth and my father sold durians.
Besides your sewing, what else keeps you busy?
I volunteer at NTUC ElderCare where I help cut elderly’s hair. Between the other volunteers and I, we cut about 40 people’s hair. In the past, I volunteered for the Lions’ Befrienders for 30 years, bringing elderly on excursions and befriending one elderly once a week. However, because of my age, I decided to do some lighter volunteering.
For NTUC ElderCare, I go once a month to two eldercare centres and I have been doing this for around eight years. It makes me happy doing volunteering. When I see the elderly happy after I cut their hair, I feel happy too. It is healthy to volunteer. I feel fortunate and am blessed for my good health and my children, and feel I should give back in some way.
In the past, I used to lead groups to travel overseas as part of a community club’s activities. I was involved in a lot of associations before such as the Woodlands Town Centre Merchants’ Association and the Marsiling Community Club Senior Citizens’ Executive Committee in the 1990s to 2000s.
I heard you also do some acting. Can you tell me more?
I used to do ads in 2002 such as with banks, telcos and insurance companies, and even got a role as a grandmother in Jack Neo’s movie “I not stupid”. I took an acting training course at the Singapore Broadcasting Corp (now MediaCorp) and got some cameo roles. I really enjoy acting.
I even did a MINDEF ad. I still appear in some movies – in May, I will be playing Ann Kok’s mother in “Filial Party” and in April, I went to Kota Bahru to play a grandmother in a movie.
So how long will you continue JingJing’s Kelantan Batik?
When no one wants to buy my products is when I will stop the business. But I believe I will keep sewing as I would still want to give them away as gifts.
What advice would you give to other seniors?
Keep active – do not sit around at home doing nothing as it is very unhealthy. Go out and do things.