Come rain or shine, cobbler Osman Sidek, 58, can be found in his booth at the junction of Jalan Sultan Nazrin Shah and Jalan Rapat Jaya attending to his work. Osman, who relocated to Ipoh about four years ago with his wife Suhaila Shamsuddin, is originally from Selayang, Selangor.

The free-spirited cobbler has travelled the whole of Malaysia working as a cobbler, and even had a stint in Italy, Singapore and Brunei. He said, “I have worked as a shoemaker and then cobbler for forty-four years. My father was a shoemaker who was commissioned to make army boots for the British. I have five brothers and four sisters but only four of us boys helped our dad in his business. When my dad called it a day, he asked if I wanted to take over his business but I decided that after 21 years working for him I would go and see the world.”

cobbler Osman Sidek serves a customer

cobbler Osman Sidek serves a customer

Although Osman is his own boss now, he is a tough taskmaster on himself. From 7am to 6pm daily, Osman would be cooped up in his booth that measures only 2 feet in width by 3 feet in length by 4 feet in height. He said, “Whether there is business or not, I will be here. This is the way to build trust with my customers.”

Although society may not look highly upon a cobbler, the gregarious Osman is still happy doing what he does, saying, “I’ve acquired this skill for a long time and mending shoes comes as second nature to me. I don’t mind my job at all as it is an honest living. However, after more than forty years in the trade, I can afford to be picky about whom I serve.”

Indeed, outside of Osman’s booth is a notice that states that he does not repair women’s shoes, bags or belts. He also declines wet or dirty shoes. And he does have his reasons.

only men's shoes are repaired here

only men’s shoes are repaired here

One could understand that Osman’s range of services is limited to work that does not require the use of machines but what about the issue with women’s shoes?

Explained Osman, “I stopped mending women’s shoes since three years ago. I found out that unlike men, most women would not come and collect their shoes on time, and I spent days carting tens of pairs of shoes daily between my house and workplace. Due to limited space, I am forced to discard the shoes that aren’t collected after three months even though I had already spent time and money repairing them.”

With his booth featuring a new, colourful plastic wrapper every six months, changed as they become ravaged by the harsh weather, Osman is a popular figure in the community. It is also because of his very reasonable prices that attract a constant stream of customers.

Even as Osman likes the people here, his nomadic heart is already straying and he is considering his next move. “My subsequent stop would most probably be Bayan Baru in Penang. I have checked out the area recently and even found a new spot for my booth,” he said.

Note: An edited version of this article [Wandering Cobbler] was published on 1st August, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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