10 things about: Philip Yu, Malaysia’s first blind piano tuner

Yu has tuned the pianos of famous people like the Agong and P. Ramlee. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Yu has tuned the pianos of famous people like the Agong and P. Ramlee. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec13 — At the ripe old age of 72, Philip Yu Kim Yim’s hearing is still sharp and he keeps busy by tuning pianos, a job he has been doing for the past 46 years.

He was also the first blind piano tuner in Malaya at the time, and is only one of two left in the country. The other was his student.

The soft-spoken, white-haired father of one, has tuned the pianos of famous people like the Agong and P. Ramlee, and for some families for at least two generations.

The Kulim native was trained by Singaporean company Nang Heng Co. and later worked at C. Nan Hong & Co in 1961. The company, which was later renamed C. Nang Hong Piano, at one time had 12 branches all over the country.

He was the only Malayan trained at the time, along with two other Singaporeans for three years in the city-state before starting to take up actual jobs in Malaysia. Since then, Yu has only taught three other students because he said the job is not for every one. Two of them have since died.

The company closed down about 15 years ago because no one in the family could take over the business. Since then, Yu has been on his own, with his former colleagues assisting him in getting to jobs and putting clients in contact with him.

Being blind from birth did not stop him in living out his life just like his brother or sister. Here he talks about growing up carefree back in Kedah, his work and being blind.

In his own words:

I was allowed to roam around the rubber estate, I would go to my father’s fruit orchard and take whatever fruits I wanted to eat... it was very free.

No restrictions, because for some of my blind friends, their parents would say, “Stay here, don’t move”, but in my case, my parents didn’t have any restrictions... I could go anywhere I like, go and swim, play in the river, go to the rubber estate, anywhere.

When the piano tuner came to my school, I used to go and see how he tunes the piano and from there I think I caught the interest.

Those days, we don’t have much choice... either we become a cane worker, weaving baskets, or a telephonist, or those who studied Form 5 or Form 6, they have a choice of being a stenographer.

I managed to study only up to Primary 6 so it was either a telephonist or industrial worker for me.

When I first started, the public was very sceptical. They say, “Are you sure you can work?” Once in a while, it’s okay but if it happens too often, it’s irritating.

When I got fed up once, I told the customer, “If I cannot work, why would I come? Might as well stay home and sleep.”

Sometimes when I want to do something that I cannot do, I would feel a bit frustrated, like crossing a busy road, then you’ve got to depend on people to help. Sometimes you get good people to help you but nowadays, very dangerous, instead of helping you they can rob you.

I always pray before I go out, God always protects me from all these things.

My favourite piano is Kawai, it has a more mellow tone, not like Yamaha... it hurts the ear, too sharp.