Sunday, September 02, 2007

How to Marry a Good Man

This is one of my cousin's life story. Read on!

My Rubber Tapping Days (1953-1961)

I was born into a so-so family. My parents were not educated but they tapped their own rubber trees and this made them quite wealthy according to the standard of that time.My father came from a decent family. He was God-fearing and he would walk 5 miles to go to church every Sunday together with his mother and siblings. My mother on the other hand did not have much religion in her mind, as she was a "child bride" bought for a price from China. My grandmother made a few journeys to China to bring out child brides for decent Foochow young men before the Second World War. My mother "came out" to Sarawak in 1930 when she was just three years old. She carried with her a photo of her own mother and father. As she was unable to read at that time, she did not even know the characters of her parents' names.She was never sent to school in Sarawak.

In 1943, she was properly married in church to my father and I was born the following year. My grandmother was very disappointed because I was not a boy. The war was raging at that time and I was lucky in a sense that I was not born in China. Had I been born in China, I would have been thrown into the river, as I was a female child. My grandmother said that I was very, very lucky.In 1953, the rubber price was extremely high and our village went wild with efforts to tap more and more rubber trees every day. By this time I was 10 years old I was able to hold a rubber tapper's knife very well.But the conditions were not romantic or magical for us. My mother's toes by then were quite "rotten" because she had to step on the rubber sheets, which were full of formic acid. Sometimes I saw blood coming out of her toes. A few of her toes had no nails. Most of her toes were very swollen and tender to the touch.I remember that when we went to Sibu town, she had to carry her shoes in her hands and she would spend quite a long time putting on her shoes. Those shoes were often too tight fitting. She would walk with a limp.

After a day in town, selling her rubber sheets and buying necessities for the family, she could not wait to take off her shoes before getting into the motor launch. Even in the 1950's we women were quite concerned about our looks, what we wore and how we "made" our hair. Of course lipsticks were unheard of at that time.My mother had her hair permed once a year before Chinese New Year. In the 1950's and 1960's we wore samfoo. Skirts and blouses, and dresses were only for the western educated and one of my aunts even wore high heels bought in Singapore!!My siblings and I went to school in Nanchong. The school was called Chung Cheng School and it is now a huge secondary school, ever so modern and pretty. Cars can reach the school today.Each day before I went to school I had to go with my mother to tap rubber and between the two of us, we made quite a bit of money. By the time I was fifteen, my feet were swollen and tender to the touch and I had problems with my toe nails.Sometimes my hair was stuck together by the latex and I had to cut off some of my hair. We could not keep long hair because it would be too hazardous. We were also told that girls with very long hair were bad girls. My hairstyle was very much like a boy's hairstyle actually.On rainy days, we did not tap rubber. My mother would plant vegetables and slaughter a chicken for our meals. Sometimes she would slaughter a pig and sell the meat from door to door. I could rest and stay in bed until it was time to go to school.

My father meanwhile was the village boat repairer and a part time barber. My brother inherited the barber set and went to live in Sibu town, away from us. He married a town girl and both of them never knew the life of rubber tappers.During my days, we girls were not even allowed to speak to boys while at school. Any whiff of a relationship would be scandulous. So I waited for my time to get married at 18...In those days, when one was ready for marriage one would be called up by the match maker who had been making her rounds in the villages. It was her way of making a living.I had three proposals but I chose the one who had a good family, a large house and a good job in a company. Before we actually met, I went with my mother and grandmother to meet my future in laws and the match maker in a coffee shop in Sibu. I remember not being able to eat the fish balls, which was ordered for me, as I was anxious to know exactly how tall my husband was. I was a tall girl in fact.My bride price (dowry) was $3000 because I had a good reputation as a hardworking girl, able to tap rubber and wash clothes.

Another strong feature that I had was the fact that I could carry two full tins of water from the river to the house. I was also a good pig rearer. Hence my price (dowry) was good.Once my mother obtained the bride price, she bought for me a Singer sewing machine, a bicycle, a bed and mattress set, a wardrobe, and a dressing table. All these were carried to my in-law's house on bamboo poles. My parents hired a brass band to send me off. It was a real racket on my wedding day. Many people came out to watch the procession. They clapped their hands and gave me the thumbs up because I had "five wedding presents". I felt very blessed.In fact I believe that my mother really appreciated me very much because I helped the family to bring in a large income from rubber.

I married at 18 because I was not good in my studies. How could I? I had to be up by 4 a.m. in the morning and had to run all the way to school to be in time. By ten o'clock in the morning I was nodding away. School ended at 2. The moment I arrived home I had to wash all the clothes by the river side while my other sister fed the pigs, chickens and tended to the vegetable garden. My brothers would all be playing in the padi fields, looking for crabs and fish.

After I got married I left rubber tapping behind and concentrated on bringing up my own children. My husband was provident enough and my in-laws were very happy that I was a good worker and a great help.Although life in the 21st century is affluent and my grandchildren now cannot even recognise a rubber tree, I still feel that my growing up days helped me to be the tough woman that I am today.The marks of formic acid and the scars I had from those long ago days remain with me and remind me each day to be grateful for what I have

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