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(Making A) Living On A Prayer - This Young Duo Are Selling Luxury Goods For The Dead

The smokey smell in the air indicates that it’s that time of the year again.

Yes, the time when superstitious folks tell you not to stay out late, or worse, turn around when you hear someone calling your name.

For the unacquainted, the Hungry Ghost Festival (aka 7th month) is in full force, and this is also the time of the year when getai and kimzua (joss paper) companies enjoy peak sales.

Traditionally an offline operation, kimzua is bought to be burnt as offerings to relatives and loved ones who have passed away.

But just like many traditions, the practice of burning kimzua is slowly fading through the years, and it’s rather rare to find younger Singaporeans who, without reminders from their older relatives, doing it.

However, this hasn’t stopped the rise of online stores that sell kimzua, and one of these stores is PO-PI.com.sg.

Making Kimzua ‘Young’ Again

Screenshot of Po-Pi.com

Founded by 2 Singaporeans, Lionel Leong (32) and Joseph Lim (29), the term ‘Po Pi’ translates to ‘bless/protect’, and is commonly used when asking the various gods for luck (usually for lottery) or protection (usually from inauspicious matters/entities).

Operating both a physical store and an online website, the duo are still working full-time at their jobs, and Po-Pi is just a side venture.

And while we’ve heard of purely offline businesses going online to capture the more tech-savvy crowd – their website was actually launched before their offline store was opened.

Their shop, located at Geylang Bahru, opened just last October, albeit the website having been started since 2014. (Though it was only at end 2015 that the site was officially launched.)

Their physical store at Geylang Bahru

Selling pre-packed kimzua from their supplier, Lionel reveals that at the moment, sales are still mostly offline given that it’s where the majority of their customers purchase the products from.

Clients who are older are not open to the online platform. Older clients prefer to touch the papers to see which is of better quality […] but younger clients will prefer to use online platform.

Currently, the Geylang Bahru shop is manned by Joseph’s mum, who, albeit being a first-time shop owner, has a lot of knowledge about the traditions surrounding the 7th month.

Why Kimzua?

Their pre-packaged kimzua

We decided to sell kimzua as it’s a dying business. We wanted to revamp the whole idea of kimzua to make it ‘young’ again. Plus, there aren’t many competitors in the online market.

But their decision was met with doubt by their family and friends.

“Their first reaction was “Are you sure?”. [This is because] there are many things to learn about Taoism. It’s not easy – we are still learning everyday.”

By marketing their products through friends, Facebook, and even P2P marketplace Carousell, they grew from just selling to friends who are business owners, to the online X offline operation they have now.

And it’s not just the ordinary joss paper that they stock, they also sell kimzua in the form of cars, motorbikes, handbags, and even massage chairs!

Some of Po-Pi’s more creative kimzuas
Some of Po-Pi’s more creative kimzuas

“The more popular items are the pre-packed packages we sell, but cars, bikes, and houses are also very popular.”

“I Wish That More Younger Chinese Learn More About Our Culture”

Admitting that the recent media coverage they received from mainstream news sites didn’t make much of a difference in sales, their business still remains “normal” during non-peak months.

One thing they’re worried about, though, are the growing number of restrictions placed on burning joss paper.

“A challenge we’re facing now is probably the restrictions of burning bulky items in temples during the Qing Ming festival. We are worried of more restrictions coming up.”

But more than that, they’re worried that about the quickly deteriorating culture of burning kimzua.

We wish that more Chinese from the younger generations learn more about [this] so as to prevent our cultures from dying.

Get your kimzua online here!