Chapter 1. The Leap of Faith
The sun has not risen yet, but a young man was already rushing to pack what little belongings he had. This young man was given an opportunity – the rare chance to leave his hometown to see the outside world. He didn’t know much about it, only about this place called ‘Singapura’.
It was the early 1900s, in a little village in 鹤山, Southern China. This young man was poor and uneducated. He didn’t even know what language the people spoke in the place he was headed for. The young man was tentative, and felt so alone. But he was determined to find out this so-called Singapura has to offer.
And so, he squeezed onto the overcrowded boat.
This young man was Woo Hoh. He is my grandfather.
Years passed since Woo Hoh arrived.
“Selamat pagi”, greeted a drink vendor as Hoh hurried to the harbour where he worked. This tropical island fascinated him. Singapura was a settlement where people of different skin and culture gathered. Many languages were spoken but somehow, everyone managed to understand one another. Though the only jobs available to Woo Hoh were low-paying and strenuous, he worked diligently and accumulated some savings. “I have to start a small business of my own to survive better”, he thought to himself.
Chapter 3. Home
Everyday, Woo Hoh packed his own lunch – a humble meal of steamed rice and a handful of fermented soya beans. There was a common courtyard where he lived, and he made the beans there, on an especially homesick night.
“At least, I can make something that reminds me of home.” Woo Hoh thought. While scooping out beans from the tiny vat onto his rice, he noticed something.
“The beans seem to mature a lot faster, compared to back at home. And it’s undoubtedly more fragrant as well. I wonder why.”
Chapter 4. The Key
“Not again!” Woo Hoh lamented, “My shirt already smells funky!”
“I have to wash them again – so soon!” As he pulled fresh clothing from his closet, he wondered, “Did I not dry my shirts completely before keeping them?”
Singapura’s climate is hot and full of rain, all year round. This makes the air extremely humid. Things turn mouldy quickly and easily. It was then when a thought suddenly struck Woo Hoh.
“Is this why my fermented beans flourish here?” He realised, “if this is it, I must turn it into a business!”
Chapter 5. 1943
1943. Life was harsh in Syonanto – the name given to Singapura by the Japanese. But in the midst of the depressing, chaotic time, there were moments to celebrate. My grandfather met and married my grandmother. They would soon have 12 children, including my dad.
My grandfather also finally had enough money to start his business, on a small piece of rented land near Lavender Street.
“Finally, I see a little glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. I must not let my efforts go to waste.”
This began the long history of Kwong Woh Hing Sauce Factory, the pride of my family.
“I must perfect my fermented beans. It will be the best!”