Monday, September 03, 2007

A Gun Story in Early Sibu

This story comes from one of my relatives who told me the story of how his aunt was "fired" at by a rich man in Sibu. And in turn I went to interview one of the sons to verify the story. As memories have faded, perhaps the story has added romanticism and suspense that only story tellers can feel and relate to.

So here is a great story!

When we were young we worked as a coolie family for a rich man in Sg. Seduan, Sibu.There were five of us children. My mother took the rubber tapping job as our source of family income. My father was a boatman. He worked as a helper for a boatowner and would come home once every ten days or so.We all lived in a small hut at the bottom of the hill.

On top of the hill was the huge house of the rubber plantation owner. There were more than 100 acres of rubber trees for my family and our neighbours to tap. Our family's income was about $100 a month. But we had the hut rent free, and we had a share of the rubber sale. My mother and sisters planted a lot of vegetables, which we sold to the town people in Sibu. My mother and sisters would walk all the seven miles to town every other day to sell the vegetables. That brought some extra income to our family.

Our day would start early as all of us would go early to tap rubber when latex would flow freely like milk. The land was undulating and not peat swamp like many of the land along the Seduan river. Thus we were very lucky indeed to work for this towkay.

However, in retrospect, I feel that it was so good, working together with your siblings. Collecting and carrying the latex, running the rubber sheets through the mangling machine and eating cold rice packed in our tins (there was no plastic container at that time) in the dirty, rubber-processing hut. The whole place smelled of formic acid.My brother and sisters never quarrelled and we were so supportive of each other.

To me it was a very beautiful time with my mother as our leader.When the rubber sheets came out of the mangling machine they were just so pure and white! That is a picture or vision that I carry in my heart all the time. White is so beautiful.

In the 50's we knew very little about a lot of things. We had no newspapers, and no radio. We had news of some kind in the church every Sunday. We went to the small primary school in the village. I felt that I was learning very little...the teachers hit us all the time with their canes. Actually I remember the beatings more than the teaching.

I left school after Year Four because I was such a big boy by then and I really wanted to continue tapping more rubber every day. Rubber by then fetched a good price.

Then one day, one of the towkay's friends brought a shot gun or rifle (I cannot remember what) to the rubber garden to shoot some wild pigs as many people have seen tracks of animals there. Unfortunately my mother and sisters were looking for bamboo shoots. Without realising that some people were around in the evening, the "town man" tried out his short gun very carelessly. He somehow managed to hit my mother.What a horror to us...our hut was just perhaps 100 yards away from where the man was standing, we all heard the shot and rushed to the screaming pile of females of my family.

I was ready with my parang (I was aged 11 at that time). There was blood all over.By the time I realised that my mother was hit in the stomach, the towkay and his other friends had arrived. The man with the gun had also run away because no one had thought of restraining him.We carried our mother to Sungei Merah. It was about the longest journey I ever took and the Roman Catholic nun who happened to be around wrapped a towel around my mother's wound. A very kind shopkeeper put my mother in someone's car and we all went to see a government doctor in Sibu.I did not remember what happened next because it was so blur and I actually vomitted when I heard that my mother was to be admitted to stay in the hospital for a few days.

To stay in the hospital at that time meant death. In actual fact, the bullet went through her stomach from the left side to the right side, just under the skin luckily. The only open stomach I had ever seen in my short life by then was chicken stomach. So it was horrible to look at my mother's wounds.But she was alive!!Later on when my father came back, we went to see the towkay with the local headman, as my father did not know what to say, being illiterate and not good in speaking. There was no compensation at all, the friend had offered $100 and we had to take it or leave it.

My mother was not able to work well from that day onwards.I felt as if my mother had died and only her body was with us. She stopped telling stories. She stopped singing to us. And she was too scared to pull another bamboo shoot out of the ground. She was fearful that she would "eat another bullet".

We continued to tap rubber for another four years but we did not earn $100 any more. We earned only $75 as a smaller family. When I was old enough, I was taken by my father to work in a car workshop. I learned everything possible about cars. I worked and was paid in meals until I was 18. But I was extremely happy learning from my master.My brother and sisters continued to tap rubber for $50 a month and went to school whenever they could.

Poor people did not go to school everyday. It was tolerated at that time. We continued to live in the small hut in the rubber garden.When I was given a hut next to the car workshop, I moved my frail mother to be with me. My younger sister who was 17 was married off to quite a good guy, My other younger siblings were sent to another school nearer the town because by then there was a bus service. We paid just a few cents because the bus driver knew about my mother's condition and I was the only person earning for the family besides my father.

My father was earning enough only to provide some food and clothes for the Chinese New Year and the different festivals. Once in a while he would bring back fish for the family to sell. But that did not happen every week. He was actually only given his meals on board the boat and not even a small salary. That was the kind of life in the early 50's.It was a really hard life, having to tap rubber, earn a little bit of money and getting a small share from a towkay.But it did start my family off, thanks to my mother and my father. My brother and sisters are very tough people.

We are all able to take the bitterness of life and to struggle for the sake of our children. The early training in discipline, work ethics, honesty, the fear of God have really made us better people.Although we are already in our sixties and fifties now, we are still very close as a family.

My frail mother passed away many years ago. My father is still alive.I have to thank my great mentor my master mechanic who inspired me to work hard and learn to read from the manuals. I really have to thank him for the luck that came my way. His hut was our home for many years. It was the home I brought my bright young bride to.

I continue to believe in God and his divine intervention.If any one asks about my life, I would say I have been barefooted, I have had latex in my hair, I have smelly formic acid soaked toes, I have worn the famous rubber tappers' shirts made from the cotton flour sacks. I have all these experiences...

On my sixtieth birthday my son bought me a pair of Bally shoes...I looked at them and then my has been really a long long way from the rubber garden.A lot is in my head. For example, sometimes I can still hear the explosion of rubber seeds from their pods in my head and it will bring a smile to my face.Rubber tapping? It means a lot to me.

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