ROBERT CHEAH IS a familiar face around George Town. On his four-wheel motorcycle, he rides around the city selling baked goods from the Adventist Bakery, from cinnamon rolls and egg tarts to healthy bread loaves and cakes. For each product sold, he earns a modest commission. “The condition is that I take the goods first and only pay the Bakery back once the breads and cakes are sold. If I’m unable to do so, I have to bear the cost,” Cheah explains.
He formerly worked as a storekeeper managing the inventory of construction materials. But unbeknown to him at the time, Cheah had Buerger's disease – a condition that attacks blood vessels in the limbs especially. He only made the discovery following a bee sting which caused an obstruction to blood flow.
This later developed into gangrene and his left leg had to be amputated as a result. Cheah was adamant in remaining physically active and mentally alert. Until Penang’s Smart Parking system was introduced in August 2019, Cheah sold parking coupons around George Town for three years; before that, he worked as a parking attendant.
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In light of the pandemic, Cheah hopes that the general public is able to support him by purchasing breads and cakes.
To sustain himself as parking coupons were slowly phased out, Cheah became a subcontractor for the Smart Parking system. Six months into the job, however, he realised it was unfeasible; Penangites preferred making payments on their own via the system’s app. What’s more, Cheah was only able to sell “parking credits” for two hours each, which was often more time than needed for lunchbreaks or grocery runs.
A friend from church then suggested he spoke with the Adventist Bakery. That extended Cheah a lifeline – one that he is very grateful for. The job opportunity came with much flexibility; Cheah is able to remain seated on his motorcycle when approached by customers, preventing unnecessary exertion to his leg. He is also not constrained by the usual 9-5 work hours.
“If I am home all day, I would not have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life – the rich, the poor, the young as well as the old. Also, when someone buys bread from me, I get to work my mind by doing mental calculations. I try to stay sharp this way.” Cheah hopes the effort will help stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
When bread orders from customers are many, Cheah travels beyond George Town, making deliveries in Tanjung Tokong and all the way down to Sungai Dua and Gelugor. Cheah often calls it a day after four to six hours of work. On his way home, he visits orphanages to donate the goods that are unsold for the day. Cheah believes that good deeds should always be paid forward, and recounts a time at the tail end of 2020 when his secondhand Yamaha motorcycle needed frequent repairing. This costed him a great deal of money. But a kind lady, who was then a stranger to Cheah, came to know of his predicament. Together with a group of friends, she raised enough funds to purchase a brand new motorcycle for him. Cheah was also given the remaining sum to weather future emergencies. “All of this is a blessing; she did not even personally know me!” he says.
Robert Cheah is a familiar face around George Town.
On a separate occasion, a generous individual from Perak, who stumbled upon Cheah’s profile on Facebook, reached out to him to purchase a large quantity of bread to be donated to an orphanage of Cheah’s choice. What was even more surprising was that this became a monthly practice. There was also a time when the head of a company purchased 26 boxes of egg tarts from him to be given to trishaw peddlers around Jalan Anson who were suffering the brunt of the pandemic.
Cheah says he is keenly feeling the effects of Covid-19 on society. Bread orders, welfare funds and SOCSO (Social Security Organization) are what has been supporting Cheah, but customer demand for the baked goods has plummeted following MCO 3.0. Adding to this, Cheah's health has been frail of late and each time he purchases medical supplies to treat his wounds, the cost is between RM200-RM300.
Still, he is hopeful that even the smallest of contributions from the Penang public, be they through purchasing breads and cakes individually, or even acting as an intermediary to coordinate orders from a workplace, can turn the tide for him.
To purchase baked goods from the Adventist Bakery through Robert Cheah, you can contact him at 013 489 4808. Orders must be placed at least two days before the day of delivery.
Alexander Fernandez is a USM graduate. While most people eat to live, he lives to eat instead.