Much ado about chendol

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Much ado about chendol

My team and I have been doing holidays cum planning retreats in the January of each year since 2013.  We have just returned from Bali this year.  More about that later….

I want to write about an experience back in Jan 2014 which left an impact on me.  It was the first day of our team retreat and we were driving up to Malacca.  The first stop at Malacca was Aunty Koh’s chendol.  I am a foodie, and I love chendol and I know this must be some special chendol.  But I was seriously (and silently) questioning why we were going through some trouble to find this chendol.  We had to reach this remote part of Malacca well before noon or there would be no chendol for us!  We seemed to be working our day’s schedule around this mystical chendol from Aunty Koh.

It turned out to be a WOW.  I didn’t just eat a bowl of delicious chendol; I had an experience to be remembered for a long time.

We arrived at a shed outside Aunty Koh’s house which was a hive of expectation as people (sometimes, 20 at one go) queued up for a taste of her super famous (I learnt later) chendol, which doesn’t even have red beans!

I loved it.  I found the experience quirky and fun, rustic and interesting. It was a surreal experience, sitting in the shed waiting for our ice-cold concoction to be prepared.  The breeze was blowing, the customers steadily streaming in and Aunty Koh stood patiently, doggedly and single-handedly making her chendol, bowl after bowl.  At times, she would disappear into her house and return with a big block of ice to feed into the ice shaver.  At other times, she had to stop to wash the dirty bowls and spoons and clean the tables.  Soon, we became her volunteer dish-washers and waiters.  It was all very communal – gotong royong at its best – and we laughed and had fun doing that.

I see a number of things that I can learn from Aunty Koh.  She subscribes to the age-old success formula of specialisation and excellence.  If I do what I do very well, I too will attract many customers.

In this day and age, many people are looking for “more, better, different”.  She runs against this grain by doing “less, best, same”.  She is not adding more stuff to her chendol or doing variations of it or having more dessert items.  She just does her chendol really well, making it the best in all of Melaka.  Only the freshest and the best ingredients are used – fresh coconut milk and superb gula Melaka.  She knows exactly how fine and how much ice to shave, how much of the thick and fresh coconut milk and the gula Melaka she needs to dish into each bowl.

I have a feeling Aunty Koh sees herself not just as a chendol seller but as a guardian of tradition.  I think she sees herself as part of the Melaka tourism institution.  A visit to her chendol ‘restaurant’ has now become part of the must-do list for people visiting Malacca.

Seeing how she is with her customers, I also think she must find joy and satisfaction seeing people enjoy the dessert.  Perhaps in her old age, she still feels that this is a way for her to contribute to many people right in her own backyard and in her own time! And that beats sitting in her rocking chair the whole day gazing out of her window, I am sure!

When I am contributing to the world in some way, I will feel like I am alive and kicking.  I want to be contributing to people with my unique and special gifts right to a ripe old age, like Aunty Koh.

How I see myself, my business is very important.  I am not just a distributor of anti-ageing products but I support my friends and customers to have great health and to look good.  I find joy and fulfillment when I can contribute to my business partners’ health and wealth.

If I pick my key strengths and strengthen these, I am sure I too can become a legend, like Aunty Koh.

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