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'Never thought of selling': Pulau Ubin provision shop owner refuses to give up despite $6,000 loss last year

'Never thought of selling': Pulau Ubin provision shop owner refuses to give up despite $6,000 loss last year
Ng Ngak Heng, 74, says she intends to run her business for as long as she can.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

With fewer residents and a dip in the number of visitors to the island over the years, Ng Ngak Heng's business has taken a hit.

Last year, the 74-year-old, who owns Yak Hong provision shop in Pulau Ubin, chalked up a loss of $6,000. But throwing in the towel has never crossed her mind. 

The shop is located just a stone's throw away from the jetty. 

Ng told Shin Min Daily News that she moved to the island in 1975 after marrying her husband Law Kuing Liak. He inherited the provision shop from his father, who started it in the 1920s.

"The shop now has a history of almost 100 years," said Ng, adding that it is open all year round, from 7am to 7.30pm. 

In an interview with CNA in 2022, she shared that Yak Hong used to supply Pulau Ubin residents with basic necessities and feed for their farm animals. 

However, the demand for such goods has plunged with the dwindling number of residents.

From the 1950s to 1970s, about 2,000 people lived on the island. Only about 30 remain today, reported CNA.

Even Ng's two sons live and work on the mainland, and visit her over the weekends and during Chinese New Year. 

Ng said that the number of visitors has also dropped over the years as more people choose to take their vacations overseas, making it even harder for her to sustain the business. 

After factoring in electricity bills, labour costs, taxes and the cost of her goods, there's barely any profit left.

"But I've never thought of selling the shop," she added. "I enjoy the freedom I have living here and [this store] was left behind by my father-in-law. He didn't say the store had to be passed down, but I want to keep running it until I can no longer do so."

However, before 2023, Ng said that she experienced a boom in business during the pandemic, when borders were closed. 

As the Covid-19 safety measures were gradually lifted, people flocked to Pulau Ubin for recreation. 

"Back then, I imported 10 boxes of coconuts and would sell about 300 coconuts every week. The 30 tables in front of my shop were also filled. Business was really good back then." 

Regular customer visits weekly 

While those days are now behind, Ng has regular customers who buy drinks from her. 

One of them is nature lover Bing Ling, whose friend used to own another provision shop on Pulau Ubin, "just a few steps from Yak Hong". The shop closed down when his friend died.

"But I've since made friends with the lady boss of Yak Hong, so I come once or twice a week to visit her," said the 64-year-old.

Although there are few visitors to Pulau Ubin during off-peak periods, he doesn't mind taking a ferry down to support his friend's business. 

"The beer here is more expensive than on the main island. While the coconuts aren't the cheapest, I understand that the labour costs involved in shipping them over are higher." 

Other than Yak Hong, the only other provision shop left standing is about 100m away, run by 76-year-old Chen Zhijian (transliteration) and his 72-year-old wife Xu Xiufeng. 

Xu told Shin Min that their shop is also almost 100 years old.

"There used to be six or seven provision shops, but now there are only two left. It's tough doing business here. I hope more people can visit Pulau Ubin."

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