Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Opium - a curse or a boon?

In 1903, when the Foochows first arrived in Sibu under the leadership of Kang Chu Wong Nai Siong, many were already addicted to opium. However to be fair to them, they were not like the drugs addicts of today as most needed opium medically, to kill their "pains" like gastric pain, TB, or heart problem. Opium , introduced by the British traders according to history, as part of their strategy to weaken the Chinese in the 1800's as well as to make as much profit as possible, was the only known and available pain killer. Very little medical help was available apart from some traditional cures in Sibu of that time..

Furthermore,when Sungei Merah was first opened up, the 200 to 300 men were all cutting through the thick jungles, risking their lives trying their best to open up as much land as possible .There was so much risk involved that anxiety was rife and therefore it was no wonder that many took to the comforts of opium in the various opium dens available. Even though the Rajah Brooke had granted them the permission to open up land for agricultural development and the vast land was theirs for the taking, many did succumbe to opium and met very tragic ends. However, those who truly worked hard like my grandfather,made their vast fortunes just by working extremely hard,with only their raw strength and stamina so to speak.

My grand uncle Tiong Kung Dok,one of the Foochow pioneers,unfortunately was already very sickly from bad gastric problems from his youthful days in China. He needed opium to "kill his pain". A large portion of what he earned from his hardwork would have to be spent to buy his "medicine". Thus in the end he had only 6 acres of rubber land for his children to share.

He was however, a trusted and good broker in the later years and was well known as such until he died from the "drying up of the lungs", in the language used then. So it could have been lung cancer or TB. However between the good times, he would have some very bad times when he could not even have enough for his family's table. He would be writhing in pain because he did not have the money to buy his opium. His son had known of times when he went to the neighbours to borrow just a little bit of rice for an evening meal. It was definitely a sad memory:retlling this story, my uncle would have tears in his eyes and his voice would shake.

As a broker,my grand uncle,would bring people who needed to borrow money to see my Grandfather, his cousin. The usual procedure was for him to tell my grandfather how trustworthy the borrower was and the loan would be given based on trust, with just a little piece of paper and some simple writing that the three understood. The agreement would be simply written with the amount of money, the signatures of the borrower,the lender and the witness, who would necessarily be my grand uncle.

The borrower would never fail to pay and he would always be only too happy to pay the interest. An example was the time when one of the borrowers was short of money and he had to borrow 5000 dollars from my grandfather. He came with Tiong Kung Dok who was the intermediary and guarrantor. Although the interest was very high, he was only too happy to accept the terms of loan. He made 5 dollars out of every dollar he paid for the Japanese silk and he paid my grandfather the high interest of 10%. My grandfather would reward his cousin with a small ang pow or token of money. Later, when the borrower made his money, he would also give him a token.

A lot of the borrowing of money was based on trust, and a gentleman's word. There was a lot of honour involved.

So in this way, my grand uncle was one man who was able to control his use of opium as a means to relieve pain. He led an honorable life, brought up a family and lived quite long in fact.

But in many cases the opium addicts would just die or waste away by smoking every day in the opium dens, not wanting to work and earn a decent living. Some I heard even sold their wives and daughters to pay for their opium.

4 memories:

Greg Wee said...

NEE: you should be thinking about a book with all these good accounts. i would buy.

sarawakiana said...

Nice to hear from you again! You certainly are spending a lot of time reading about Foochow social history.

I have been thinking about publishing but I will wait until I have more time to polish up the writing. I still have a lot of stories in my head to share. Glad that you like them. I appreciate the motivation you are giving me.

thank you.


Greg Wee said...

NEE: yes i want to know more about my roots.

I think your writing skill is good as it is. sometimes too perfect the english makes the whole thing feel like a textbook. not something enjoyable yet knowledgeable.

But we will wish you luck! and we will keep coming back to read. God bless!

sarawakiana said...

Thank you Nee, I will take your point seriously.

will enjoy communication from you in the future.

Hope to read more of yours too....reading about food is a happy thing to do.... thanks for that.


web statistics