Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Looking Back With Pa - Part 6

The Emergency

In 1945 the war brought to us by the Japanese was over.  But for Pa and his fellow country folks trouble was far from over.  The British returned to Malaya and found themselves faced with another war, this time with the Communist Party.

I think it was called a guerrilla (gorilla) war probably because it was fought mostly in the jungles or rural places.  Pa was then tending to his farm in foothills of Tanjung Bungah.  He'd built the farmhouse facing a ravine with a stream running deep along the bottom.

Right across the ravine was an old rubber estate which had become a jungle due to the lack of maintenance because of the war.

One day, Pa was sitting on his verandah while my eldest brother, then a year old, was playing outside.  He'd noticed a group of soldiers in jungle green, armed to the teeth, crawling through the bushes up from the ravine and slowly made their way towards the farmhouse.

He was anxious about the baby but he didn't dare to make any sudden move.  He waited until they made it to the clearing in front of the house.  There were more than a dozen gun muzzles pointed at him when he slowly stood up, walked out to the yard and picked up the baby.   It was only then that they lowered their guns.

They checked out Pa's identification papers.  Then they relaxed and soon were playing with the kid and taking their lunch and some even had a little siesta right there on the verandah.

Later in the afternoon, they hitched up their battle gear and disappeared into the jungle.

Some time later another group of armed jungle green men with red stars on their caps appeared in the clearing in front of the farmhouse.  They only wanted to know where the other group went.

Looking Back With Pa - Part 5

An Early Encounter With The British Army

The road from Tanjung Bungah to Tanjung Tokong passed through a narrow stretch with steep hills on one side and the sea on the other.  The road wound down-slope and after the few bends, straightened out towards Tanjung Tokong. 

Straits Settlement currency
On the left, by the seaside, there was once an army camp where British officers used to reside.  Those were the days when the British were still the Tuans of the Straits Settlements, about a decade before the Japanese landed on these shores and sent them packing off to Singapore.  And those were the days when everybody who needed to get around anywhere had to have a bicycle. 

One day, Pa was out on his usual trips, roaming around on his bicycle.  He was a little around 10 years of age then.  His feet could barely touch the pedals when he sat on the saddle.  But handling a bicycle was like second nature to him.  Then, junior bikes or fun bikes were totally rare items.  Most bicycles were made and installed with large carriers and their major purpose was for carrying goods.  If you could afford one, consider yourself quite lucky.

As Pa was free-wheeling downhill, an army truck overtook him.  Without any warning the truck started to slow down to turn into the army camp.  Pa immediately gripped on both front and rear brake levers.  To his utter horror he felt both brake cables snap.  He instantly realized only way he could save his life was to make a dash and turn into the army camp even before the truck finished its turn. 

He made it into the camp compound and rode the bicycle around the perimeter road a few times until the bicycle slowed down enough for him to jump off.  By then the army truck had stopped and the driver and a few officers came over and hugged Pa and rubbed all over his head in sheer relief. 

Pa couldn't understand a word they were saying but the expression on their faces told him how sorry they were and how lucky Pa was.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Looking Back With Pa - Part 4

Pa had, perhaps, some months of schooling, probably around the year 1930.  OK, he didn't remember how long he was in school either, but he learned enough to read the daily Chinese papers to keep up with the news, sign his own name and keep the farm accounts up to date with an abacus.

His classmates made up of kids of all ages, hence some were bigger and nastier than the rest and outgrown their breeches, so to speak, while Pa was small size for his age.  Thus he was prime target for some constant bullying.

One particular kid was more consistent with his torments.  He'd kept it up when all the others grew tired of their antics because, I suppose, they saw no challenge in it.  Pa bore that quietly and kept it all to himself.  He made no fuss because he knew he was no match for the brute.

But there came a time when he just couldn't take it anymore.  Fortunately it was nearing the end of school term.

On the last day of school he sharpened a pencil and kept it in his bag, unused.  As soon as the school bell went off he got close to the guy and drove the sharp point into his tormentor's thigh.  The big fellow looked surprised for a while until he realized what had happened.

He'd never in his life had anyone hit back at him.  No one dared to do that.  Until now.  He looked at the pencil stuck in his leg and the blood oozing out.  Then he howled in pain. 

And with that, school life was over for Pa.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Looking Back With Pa - part 3

The Japanese Occupation.

It was a few days after the Japanese bombers have left and there were no more air raid warnings.  Pa went downtown for a 'tour' on his bicycle. He was curious as to what happened to the 'Tanjung' (Georgetown) after the Japs had done their job.

The town was almost deserted.  He saw large craters in the middle of some streets.  Some shop houses were burnt to the ground or blown to pieces.  Business premises were looted and stripped bare of goods.  Lorries, buses, motorbikes, cars, bicycles and bullock carts were left abandoned where they broke down or were destroyed.

Outside what looked like a stationery shop some looters left behind a type-writer on the five-foot way.  He picked it up, placed it on his bicycle carrier and took it home.  Not knowing what to do with it, he shoved it under the bed.

Once in a while when he thought about it, he would pull it out and punched the keys (perhaps hoping he could get some words out of it).  But then, even if it could produce words by itself he wouldn't be able to read them.  He shoved it back under the bed.

One day word came to the countryside that Japanese have landed.  Soldiers were all over the island hunting down and arresting everyone suspected of involvement in criminal activities.  If you had a tattoo on your body you'd better get rid of it or you're a headless person the moment they caught you.  Bullets were expensive and they wouldn't waste any.  They just cut off your head to save costs.

Pa thought about the type-writer.  He didn't think it wise to lose his head for something useless.  He went out into the garden and dug a deep hole.  He pulled the type-writer out from under the bed and smashed it to pieces with his hoe.  He then dumped everything into the hole, covered it up and planted a tree over it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Looking Back With Pa - WW2

Early Penang -from "500 postcards" by Cheah Jin Seng

There was once a canal running alongside Prangin Road, right through the heart of Georgetown, Penang in the early 1900s.

Those days, the major form of transport for goods to and from ships in the harbor was by bullock cart.  And one of the favorite places for parking those carts during off days was along the bank of the canal after they unhitched the bullocks.  The bullocks, the coolies led home and kept in their barns.

Of course nobody wants to steal a heavy two-wheel-cart without a bullock.  Imagine stealing a truck without an engine.

When the Japanese Zeros flew in for their initial bombing raids early Monday morning of 15th December 1941, in the dim light what they saw were rows of anti-aircraft guns all lined up idly by the canal and other places along Weld Quay.  They quickly swooped in and unloaded their bombs on every location they could find.  The pilots probably congratulated themselves after having done another Pearl Harbor, neutralizing any form of resistance so that they can carry out more air raids on Penang.

Small wonder that they overran the whole country within 2 months.

OK, the date that it actually happened, I added in myself just to make it historically accurate, but whether the story is true is another matter.  It was a humorous tale that Pa loved to trade with whoever, or whenever stories about the Japanese occupation of Malaya came up.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesdays with Pa...

Listening to Pa talking about old times was like sitting down to ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’.  But unlike Mitch Albom I didn’t ask too many questions.  I mostly listened.

Pa is now 91 by the Chinese calendar.   These days he is more into counting blessings that we’d all grown up well and leading good lives, each of us owning our own homes and most of our kids having graduated or married. 

He said if ever there was one thing he felt unhappy about was the fact that he made us work too hard.  He regretted that some of us even hurt ourselves in the course of the work we had to do.  For example, our 4th brother lost half his right thumb while chopping vegetables for pig food.  

He wished he’d let us have more time for play as much as other kids.  But having said that he’s glad we didn’t lose our sense of fun & laughter, judging by the boisterous clowning around whenever we got together during festivals or special family gatherings. 

Sure, we had it tough as kids, but it made us tough to face adulthood.  I said if we ever had to make a choice, we’d rather have it bitter at the beginning but sweet at the end.

Over the years I realized what Pa had been trying to tell us was that when they lay us in our final resting place we’d still be brothers & sisters looking out for each other.