*The photos were taken during the Conditional MCO.
TAN AH LYE has an unusual profession. Every day, save on Mondays, he wakes just as Penang goes into a slumber. He makes his way to Chowrasta Market, reaching it at 1am. From nearby storage and warehouses, Tan extracts stalls and carts and places them in their designated locations, ready for vendors as they arrive later to display their goods to start their working day.
Some sell clothes and jewellery, others hawk fruits and food like chee cheong chok (pig intestine porridge), economical fried bee hoon and fried rice. At 3am, when the fried bee hoon seller arrives, Tan helps her set up the stove before proceeding to the more demanding task of moving the pots and trays of food from the economical rice seller’s car to her stall. One misstep or a stumble, and hours of cooking would be wasted.
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Tan keeps busy until the afternoon, when the shops close and he hauls the carts back into storage. The job does not pay much. “I earn RM80 per day,” Tan says, but adds the work is much easier than when he worked in construction. Most importantly, it allows him to continue living in his beloved hometown.
Lim Sok Swan is currently focusing on heritage studies. She believes that more understanding among different groups and cultures can make Malaysia a better home for all.