Friday, October 18

Saying farewell to Kuching’s iconic Ting & Ting Supermarket

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Ting & Ting Supermarket taken on 27 June 2019.

I had just entered school when Kuching’s Ting & Ting Supermarket  first opened in the year 1957. Today, at the close of business on Saturday 29th June 2019 it will shutter its doors for good, after having served the community as its oldest neighbourhood grocer and friendly butcher for more than 62 years!

It will be a sad farewell for many who have remained its loyal clientele and customers for so many years despite the opening of many bigger and better stocked supermarket arrivals like Everrise, Giant, Smart, Ta Kiong and the latest Aeon.

It  had also managed to outlive many of its contemporary competitors like Cold Storage, Tan Sum Guan, Joo Chan and Ting & Sons. From that era only Tay Hak Hak is still around.

Ting & Ting’s was founded by Ting Ming Kheng, a Foochow entrepreneur from Sibu. During its early days in the 50s till the 70s it had reigned supreme as the No.1 – the best, biggest and most popular supermarket in town. Ting had brilliantly managed to gauge his customers’ demands and daily needs and within a rather small space (which is equivalent to a small sized supermarket of today), he had proven an expert at supplying whatever were the customer’s tastes and likes.

His chilled and frozen section had all the popular meats – from Australian to New Zealand cuts of beef and lamb to packets of sausages and frozen vegetables and minced meats of all kinds. He also had chicken, and in a very secluded section he had non-halal hams, bacon and the like. At Christmas time he’ll bring in the best frozen turkeys from the USA as well as gammon ham. His wholesale section supplied the top hotels and the best private clubs in town.

During the many festivals you’ll see a long queue at the butcher’s counter – before Hari Raya his beef cuts were so popular that many friends of mine tell me they are now at a loss as to where they might find similar quality beef next Raya! (Don’t worry – Roger Ting says you can still get chilled cuts at the counter at The Carvery, within the Abell Hotel, at Jln Tunku Abdul Rahman, from 30 June onwards!)

The great beauty about Ting & Ting’s is that after one visit you’ll know the next time exactly where to find what you want. It is big enough to stock virtually everything you need for the house (from edibles to consumables to cleaning materials) and also small enough for you to locate precisely what you want under one minute! Unlike some others they don’t shift their stocks around nor rearrange their displays haphazardly. I really hate it with some supermarkets which keep doing this all the time. (I am sure you know who you are!)

The amazing thing about Ting & Ting’s is the great selection of goods that you can find there – it’s almost always 75 per cent imported stuff and the management has always been very selective about the products that they sell. I know that first hand as during my time with Borneo Company and later with Sebor we had to deal with either Mike Ting or Roger (the two brothers who took over the management of the establishment after their father had passed on), and they were extremely astute and good businessmen.

The other thing you can rely on about T&T which they’ve stood firm upon all this 62 years? There’s no such thing as a SALE or any in-store promotion – ever. Never! Their prices are fixed and there’s no bulk discount, even if you’re buying 50kgs of meat instead of 1kg.  I find it outstanding that even during its last few weeks and days it has stuck to this policy: Roger tells me he’ll just return the unsold goods to their suppliers or transfer them to his new joint-venture company, which deals only with wholesale.

From around the early 1970s, I would almost always buy my wine and spirits from T&T’s – they always had a very good selection of wine, as well as other spirits, including some of the more exotic aperitifs, champagnes and even sake and tuak. For a long time they stocked pretty good cigars and cigarillos too. Their prices were reasonable and their stocks were well handled and stored.

Personally my best memories of T&T’s were always at Christmas time, and the weeks before, taking my kids to shop there – they used to bring in special Christmas packs of sweets, candies, chocolates and Christmas decorations – and foodstuff in bottles and cans that you might need to complete the Christmas meal, like cranberry sauce, special condiments, sausage stuffing, UK imported sausages, frozen Brussels sprouts and whatnots.  Indeed our Christmas would never be complete without an imported USA Butterball turkey from T&T’s! (I recall that one year in the 2000’s they had imported a strange brand from France – and we had found the bird was totally tasteless and a complete disaster!)

Today, in this column, on behalf of the hundreds (thousands?) of customers and clients of Ting & Ting’s who’ve walked through your doors and have patronized you through the years – I would like to pay tribute to – firstly the late great Ting Ming Kheng (whose image I can still see in my mind’s eye, of him with his ever present bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, seated with friends at dinner at an eatery in town, as jovial and boisterous and as popular as ever!); to his two sons Mike and Roger Ting, who took over and managed the establishment as well as he had; the many family members (especially Ah Lay, a Miss Ting who was the cashier there for a long long time), the siblings from overseas in and out; the in-laws; and especially to the butchers, the Chilled Dept staff, the administrative staff and to the cashiers, as well as to the car-park attendant (who actually shouted at me once many years ago!).

Thank you all, for the role you have played in having given us, the small Kuching community, your well-stocked shelves, your quality products and the easy free parking, as well as  the close proximity to our homes (I live only 4 minutes away!) – we will miss you all a whole lot, and we know that we’ll never find another grocer like you, not ever!

We wish you all happy retirement and to those who continue to pursue different paths and careers – all the very best in the world in whatever you choose to do. God Bless!