Monday, February 21, 2011

The Foochows of Sitiawan - 3 : My take

The Yu family pioneers in Sitiawan

The Foochows of Sitiawan : A Historical Perspective by Shih Toong Siong is a very interesting and inspiring book for me ... off cos .. since he is writing about my roots .. agreeing with him -- not much has been written about the Foo Chow people in Sitiawan. This is a book that all Foo Chows of Sitiawan must read to understand and appreciate our roots and rich heritage ...

I would just like to highlight and connect with some facts in this book that rings a bell to me :

Sample of photos sent home to Fuzhou relatives ..
with the backdrop of rubber trees

a) Rubber tappers
I have always thought that Sitiawan was a rubber plantation area where our ancestors came to Sitiawan to "dig" for gold thru the rubber plantations. It never cross my mind that it all started as a plan to plant paddy .... and somehow this does ring a bell through the stories that Dad used to tell me when I was very very young ... of how the Government will give us land to plant paddy ... though I have not personally met a FooChow family that plants paddy. But I also have heard of Mom and Dad working in the paddy fields during Japanese Occupation or at least long long time ago when Mom was small. But I could never understand and comprehend or connect with the stories Dad told me till I read the book.

Almost everybody tapes rubber. Mom and Dad started their marriage and family life by tapping rubber. Mom have always vowed that she does not want her daughters to be married into rubber tapper family cos that will mean that we will also be rubber tappers. Out of 6 of Mom's children, only one knows the art and skill of tapping rubber. My only memory and perhaps experience of it was to collect the latex milk when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old in our plantation in Kpg Koh. But that was only for a short time.

Sitiawan Estate .... my once upon a time neighborhood
b) Estates
The rubber estates are just so familiar. I personally was born when our family moved to Sitiawan Estate. Yes, we got friends who lived in Bintang Estate - Gloria, Susie's Dad had a mango plantation in Bintang Estate and Aunty used to live in Bintang Estate before she move to Tmn Guru. Think it was from standard 4 or 5 till 6 that I've got a classmate, Evelyn Lian, who's Dad is the Estate Manager of Suffolk Estate. Remembering visiting her house - very English cottage style with a swimming pool.

Sungei Wangi Estate is not that "wangi". The smell from the factory that processes the rubber can be quite a smell .... Remembering passing by the estate on the old road from Sitiawan to Ayer Tawar ... normally as Mom's pillion rider. It's very cooling cos the road actually cuts through the estate. So, along the left and right are rubber trees that gives shade. But in the night, it can be different story -it can be "cooling"or "cold or chilly" ... :). It's very scary at night cos we need to pass by the huge graveyard and the road used to be very dark cos no street lights. There were also lots of accidents - instant death and ghost stories from the old road between Sitiawan to Ayer Tawar, nearing Sungei Wangi area. A little girl riding at the back of her Mom's motorbike always imagines that she will be pulled away by some huge cold unknown figure or by some black monster in the night. So, the little gal will hold her Mom super tight as we approach this place. I also recall Mom used to take the shortcut from Simpang Tiga (from the road next to the "hong-moon" or the "smoke house" that processes rubber in Spg Tiga). We will pass the rubber estate, the estate worker's houses and come out at the main entrance of the estate. But Mom seldom takes that road later cos the road is in bad condition with potholes, especially on rainy season. But I know that 3rd Aunty always use that way to Ayer Tawar or Sitiawan.

There is also an estate call Pundut Estate. It's half way from Sitiawan to Lumut ... the primary school is still there.I used to have a classmate from this estate when I was in standard one. i will always remember her cos she is very small in size - short but she had a huge belly. It seems she eats sand and soil from the ground. Perhaps her family was really poor that as a child she was malnourished and hence, to kill her hunger she just eat sand. I know she died later cos she stopped coming to school and became very ill. It's so sad ... the families in living in the estates are really living in the very bare basics of life. Lastly, there was a Revathi -- SM's classmate whom they will visit every Depavali.

c) The "cangkul aunties"
I don't have never heard of the aunties who sell water from the famous well in Kpg Koh -- maybe cos I lived in Sitiawan town or Simpang Ampat all my life but I do remember the aunties who came to our house when I was little to manually "plough" our land at the back of our house so that we can grow vegetables or was it tobacco or chilies that Dad was growing. These aunties are from Spg Dua, late 40s-50s perhaps. Their job is to go from farm to farm offering the service of clearing the farm with their cangkul. Armed with a cangkul, huge straw hat, hand gloves, long sleeve and pants, rubber shoes, a silver color water canister and their simple lunch packed on the huge old bicycle.

They work in teams of 5-7 ladies and besides gossiping, they will also recite or sing short poems or idioms in Kutien. They will work for a couple days in a row to complete their task.

O yes, we are the Kutiens of Sitiawan - since both Mom and Dad are from the Spg 2 and Spg 3 settlement which is known as the Kutien area.

d) Methodist Church
Ahh .... now I know why I am a Methodist. :0 ... I am the product or the fruit of the Methodist mission seed that was sown in Sitiawan in 1903. Since we lived in Sitiawan town, I attended the Methodist Church (Tamil), Simpang Ampat. But off course, we attended the English service - the church building was shared with 2 other congregation. Our English congregation is the Sitiawan Wesley Church where we eventually moved to our own building in the early 1990.

But the Simpang Ampat church building is quite nice and cute ... and even the parsonage.... I recall, Esther and her hub's wedding .... it was soooo cool and grand. The hub was a major in the Navy and after the wedding ceremony, they were greeted by navy officers with swords .. they walked thru it ... so cool right ...

e) Yong Peng & Nabon Nakonsri
The guy who is said to move to Yong Peng from Sitiawan is Yu Teck Pook ... I just feel that he must be one of my relatives from Mom's side ... actually Grandpa's somebody somebody ..since Grandpa's name is also Yu Teck something something ...

Anyway ... Nabon is really close to our family since our 1st aunty was married off at a young age to a guy from Nabon. I have not personally been to Nabon but from all the stories Mom or others who have been there visiting our relatives - Nabon is a small rubber plantation village ... something like Simpang Tiga ... and the place is quite remote ... Our cousins speaks Kutian with a different accent, but they speak fluent Thai and have Thai names. I remember hanging out with them in my teens and I asked one of them to write something ... hohoho ... his handwriting is all so curly like Thailand writing ... Today, we still have relatives in Nabon but many of them have moved to bigger cities like Bangkok. Most of them are now involved in running their own business.

f) Ong Boon Hua
I attended Our Lady's Convent School for almost 10 years and our school is located next to a green wooden double storey house which is said to belong to Ong Boon Hua's family. I remember a girl from the family -- she is younger than me. Eventually, I make friends with a friend who is his niece. But we never discuss family matters.

I also recalled during the funeral of the grandmother of the family .. I was perhaps in my early teens. It was a schooling day .. so I get to see a little of things since the our school is just next to it. Besides the grief that is in the air ... one can also sense tension in the air ... as there was a huge crowd ... including reporters and police. It was rumored that CP came home for his Mom's funeral disguised as an old lady .... after reading the Biographical sketch of OBH in the book, my heart aches for him if he did not manage to come home to pay his last respect for his precious Mom and my heart aches even more for his Mom who "lost" the gem of her heart ...


Sitiawan may be a small tiny town .. with a group of simple hardworking people but indeed it is a town that had birth many "warriors" in the fields they are in ... all over the world ... yes ... all over the world ... making impact in the community that we are in .... and I am proud that I am born in Sitiawan ... and proud to belong to this rich Christian heritage community ....


bernard said...

Bravo.Great job, proud of what u hv done. I m foochow from Kg Koh too.

Thomas Cheah said...

Hi iust read your interesting article. Just wondering if you can help me trace my roots. I think the place is where Wisma Ganda now stands, was there a little lone sundry shop and besides / behind it flows a little steam. The sundry shop serves the estate works.Later I was told a small supermaket emporium replaces the sundry shop, the first in Sitiawan. My facts may be wrong as I pick them up from my mother.My mother is in her eighties and would like to find out where her father was buried.