Passion for all things old

 
Wan Tian Choong with his
1955 Hillman Californian convertible
WHEN he was 5 years old, Wan Tian Choong and his family moved from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Baru, where his father started a coffee shop at No. 141 Jalan Ngee Heng.
 
During his school days at Foon Yew Primary, Foon Yew High School and later St Joseph's Secondary in Larkin, Wan would go home after school to help his father in the coffee shop.
 
Having learnt all the ropes in the business, he gradually took over from his father. In 2000, Wan moved to new premises in the same neighbourhood. 
 
 
 
 
The signboard outside his shop reads Wan Sky Kafeteria, but when you look at the original sign hung up on the shop's rear wall, it reads, Wan Sky Restoran.  Wan's given name, Tian, means "sky" and the shop is aptly named Wan Sky after him.

The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch and serves a range of noodles prepared in soup or stir-fried by Wan himself. There is also mixed rice and a range of cooked dishes served with white rice.  Regulars who come to enjoy his food and coffee, brewed the traditional way, may be curious why there are so many clocks on the walls, because in any shop, one or two should be enough to tell the time.


Wan with his paper currency collection
But in Wan Sky, there are three clocks each on opposite walls. It didn't take much snooping around to discover that Wan is an avid collector, not only of old clocks but of a wide range of interesting items.

"My wife scolds me, saying I'm like the karung guni (gunny sack)," said the affable Wan, equating himself with junk collectors whose business is to sell used items for money.  His wife affectionately called him tong sampah (Malay for dustbin).  However, Wan refuses to sell anything from his precious collection and is only willing to exchange items with other collectors.

When Wan was 15, he started collecting coins and notes. It was natural for a youngster who saw money change hands everyday in his father's coffee shop to be keen on it. Wan's interest proved to be deep-seated.


Today, his valuable paper money collection, with notes in different denominations and currencies, is neatly mounted for display in several photo albums.  Among his favourites are the Straits Settlements' 50 cent paper note and sets of special RM50 notes that show the difference between the old spelling of "Lima Puloh Ringgit" and the current "Lima Puluh Ringgit".  Another set of RM100 notes also shows the difference in spelling between "Se-Ratus" and "Sa-Ratus" ringgit.


A part of Wan's old coins collection
The hefty weight of his coin albums is proof of how earnest a collector he is. Many date back to the earliest types of Chinese coins that have a square hole in the centre. While Wan has a wide collection of limited edition commemorative coins issued to mark significant events, there are also coins that have since gone out of circulation.  In fact, many were deeply tarnished with age and needed close scrutiny to figure out its currency and denomination.


Wan's interest in collecting mementoes is not limited to clocks, coins and currency but also an eclectic range of items -- both big and small -- cluttered around their home. That's probably why his wife has so much to say about his hobby.
 
These include a wooden bed frame that Wan inherited from his father, a lacquered lounger inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a few cast-iron irons that need burning charcoal to warm them up, traditional charcoal steamboat pots, padlocks, telephones, hurricane lamps, woven baskets that are Chinese teapot warmers, watches, fountain pens and a wide range of knick-knacks as well as empty soft drink bottles with old labels like F&N, Sinalco and Green Spot.
 
Inside his basement garage, Wan keeps their modern family car and two classic cars that have been beautifully restored and licensed for the road. To show off their well-oiled engines, Wan turned the ignition of his 1954 Series II Morris Minor and 1955 Hillman Californian convertible. Not surprisingly, the engines responded instantly.

Those in the know have approached Wan to borrow the Hillman for wedding photo shoots and he usually obliges, but only on condition that he drives.


Rare Mobylette moped [Centre] in his basement garage
Wooden trunks and old-fashioned suitcases are stacked up in the rear of the garage and Wan pointed with pride to a rare Mobylette moped that stood among old motorcycles and bicycles. This model of motor-bicycle, manufactured by Motobecane in France, was launched in 1949 and manufactured until 1997. While it's still road-worthy, its road tax has not been renewed.

This avid collector is showing no sign of stopping. As he adds to his collection, his wife patiently accommodates his hobby in the home they share with their three children.  Collectors keen on exchanging items with Wan can reach him at 017 7716666. Wan Sky Kafeteria is located at No. 6, Susur 1 of Jalan Tun Abdul Razak and opens from 6am to 2pm.
 
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 2 September 2010
 

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