A Tribute To My Father
Where There is a Will, There is a Way!
The late Mr. Auw Pit Seng
A tough childhood upbringing
My father was originated from Shanghai's JiangSu Province's Zhen Jiang village in China. When he was born in 1901, his family was very poor, and because he was the eldest of the five children, his father had sold him off to an Indonesian trader, to exchange for money to rear up the rest of the family. He followed his trader-stepfather to Indonesia, living in Ajax, in the island of Sumatra, about a day's journey by train from Medan. When he was young, he had only received private tuition at home for a few years, and his stepfather always mistreated him. Since he was 10 years' old, he had to help his stepfather find pepper and herbs in the primitive jungles for trading. This kind of rugged life had built up his strong bodily physique, being able to carry products on his shoulders as heavy as a rice-bag. However, when he was 18 years' old, he had decided to turn his back on this kind of hard life and ran away from home, to explore better and alternative opportunities elsewhere. He had no money with him then, and had lived on serving tea to morning-walkers by the hillside to support himself, while reading books and newspapers under flickering candle light at night, which had weakened his eye-sight.
First breakthrough in life: as a Bookkeeper
In Medan, he had found a bookkeeping job in an import and export firm. This firm also provided free food and lodging, in addition to paying him 15 Dutch Guilders per month (approx. HK$3 today). At the end of the month, his employer gave him a raise of 20 Guilders, to 35 Gilders! He was so happy, he wrote his stepfather about it.
Second breakthrough in life: as a Reporter
During that time, my father had begun to write articles for local Chinese newspapers, getting to know many press people in the society. He didn't charge anything for that, except for the opportunity to publish and to receive a copy of the newspaper in return. He loved this job so much that he was willing to give up his job at the trading firm, while self-studying English and Dutch at the same time. His employer tried to persuade him to stay by offering him a pay of Gr.100 per month, but didn't succeed.
Started a family at 20
Trouble came to him through his old stepfather, who wanted him to get married before he died. My father reluctantly consented, after much nagging from my stepgrandfather. Because of an early marriage, my father had to change his bachelor life-style of reading and working, and started doing business seriously.
Third breakthrough in life: becoming a young entrepreneur at 20
He first started a small trading firm, selling books and newspapers, later on adding food, clothes, miscellaneous products, turning it into a small emporium.
Life-long learning : dictionary was his best friend
Though he was faced with the need to earn a living to feed a family, he was still studying hard in his free time. His greatest help came from the dictionary; no matter what vocabulary he came across, whether on the streets, from shop signs, or brochures, he would memorise them and check in the dictionary back home for their correct enunciation and meaning. That was how he struggled with his life-long learning. As a result, he could understand 50% Dutch and was quite comfortable with English usage. As regards Chinese, he would make sure he had read every book he had on sale at his shop.
Fourth breakthrough: becoming sales agent for Serravallo Tonic Wine in Sumatra
My father came across this miraculous wine purely by chance, after my first sister was born, he roamed the streets, looking for nourishing food for both mother and child. And the wine worked beautifully in replenishing strength! He found himself buying the wine in cases on cases! He would even sell the wine from his shop, recommending it to his friends and relatives, which had boosted the sales tremendously.
His sales efforts had impressed the Dutch sole agent so much that he was appointed as one of its sales agents in Sumatra. Within a short time, a new market for Serravallo tonic wine was opened. Busy wine business deals had forced my father to wind up his emporium business, concentrating on setting up marketing channels in the whole island of Sumatra.
Managing his own advertising
He wouldn't stop finding out the best way to promote his business, while driving his small delivery truck up and down narrow muddy roads in scorching hot days in Sumatra. He even found out the mistakes of the Dutch agent in promotion and improved upon them: Dutch people would advertise in the newspapers, targetting rich people in upper society, which would only comprise a small minority, thus a very narrow market share. He, therefore, took over the advertising campaign himself: publishing in both Indonesian and Chinese newspapers, listing the origin of the tonic wine - its contents, purposes, advantages, nutrients, etc., so that people at grassroot level would understand it as well. Within a short period, the wine's sales figures had shot up in straight lines, which impressed many counterparts in the business world.
His successful advertising efforts also attracted other business entreprises, offering their different brands for him to promote; amongst them were U.S.'s Aladdin lanterns, flasks, Mitchum soaps, etc. - through the introduction of the then American Consul-General Ford in Medan.
Fifth breakthrough - sole agent for South East Asia
My father later on expanded his business boundaries to the rest of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and other South Eastern Asian countries, becoming the wine's sole agent for this part of the world, since the 1920's.
This was the true life story of a man who had had no affluent upbringing,no big inheritance, nor any formal education, yet God had blessed him so much that he was like King Midas, instead of turning everything into gold, he turned every obstacle into opportunity.
My father was a model for all our children to follow, especially his unyielding spirit of perseverance in time of hardship, his genuine care for his family, and a customary cheerful disposition. 'Where there is a will, there is a way' is his motto for me.