You can call Malaysia as a 'nation of Chinese shopkeepers'. Everywhere in the towns and rural villages throughout Malaysia, Chinese traders have a stronghold on the local economy and has remained unchallenged even after much intervention by government policies aimed at encouraging the Malays and other native groups to have a piece of the economic pie for more than forty years now. While statistics on the increasing involvement of the "bumiputras" ( i.e. the local Malays and native groups) show a minute improvement, these statistics seemed disparate and subject to manipulation by the authorities to justify their claims on the success of their market intervention policies. There again, the bumiputra success are pinned on the 20% control of corporate assets owned by the government through its government -linked companies ( GLC's) but not owned by bumiputra individuals. Thus in summary, bumiputra entrepreneurship is a drop in the ocean of the big Malaysian economy.
Above is an oil painting by Mohd. Sallehuddin entitled "Village Shopping", dated 1959 ( 89.5 x 76 cm) kept by the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. I had a chance to see this painting yesterday at a mini-art exhibition at the Kuching Waterfront of which the painting shown was a re-production. However it captures well the elements of Chinese entrepreneurship then. The Chinese trader, call him " Ah Chong", opened shop right in the midst of a Malay village ( kampung). Ah Chong is frequented by the local Malay ladies( call her Sarimah) who obtain their daily necessities from Ah Chong's shop almost religiously. Sarimah made it a point to dress her best when shopping and so did her little daughter. But Ah Chong doesn't bother about niceties. He seemed proud to show his abs to lovely Sarimah. Ah Chong's presence has been in the kampung eversince his lifetime and then his son and grandson's generation. Chinese entrepreneurship always start small and end mostly big.
Fast forward fifty years, I find today the newer generation of Chinese kids are quick in grabbing opportunities in dealing with the latest essential of today's living - like the hand phone business. In Kuching city small vendors sprout like mushroom selling handphones and its accessories, prepaid cards or even loading you handphone with songs albeit at a tiny price of RM1 per song. I guess Ah Chong's generation had made a head start which later generations are able to build upon and reap. Over the counter, Sarimah's generation continues shopping in bigger numbers, better dressed and so does the handphone vendor, thanks to improved education.