Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dr. Xavier and Race Course Road

It is interesting how in the early days,Sibu had street names which came out of an English magician's hat. We had High Street, Race Course Road, Green Road,Cross Road, Bridge Road and Queensway. And of course there was a Market Road. Interestingly there was a Blacksmith Road too. This is indeed the legacy of colonial rule.

However,at some point of time,the local community leaders changed the names of many roads to gain political mileage. With due respect to all those in the road naming committee, some new names like Jalan Tuanku Osman, Jalan Lucky, Jalan Pahlawan were given to some existing and already well named roads. Some of the road names were translated into Bahasa Malaysia. So Lucky Road became Jalan Tuah for example. No one, I believe made any public outcry on that.

One road in Sibu in particular would often bring back many memories of a beloved Indian doctor to me.

Dr. Xavier was the first Indian doctor in Sibu, and he had his clinic on Island Road, next to the See Hua Daily News office, along the block of shop houses as Lee Hua Sawmill, Ting Nguiik Choon Coffee Shop and a large bicycle shop which filled its frontage with lots of new bicycles for sale. There was a Malaysia Daily New (now defunct) office there too. And opposite this block of shophouses were the Methodist Masland Church and Methodist Primary School His clinic was taken over by the son of his dispenser, Mr. Lim I remember when he passed awau. Dr. Lim's Clinic , now renamed,later moved to Jalan Tuanku Osman.

There are several things I remember about Dr. Xavier and his family.

Dr. Xavier was a very strict doctor who would tell his patients to be health conscious and hygienic. I really think that the people of Sibu were not at all unfriendly or unwelcoming to a person of another race. (And furthermore, Dr.Xavier was not a local man as he had come from Kuala Lumpur). We welcomed his services and in fact depended so much upon him for good private medical services. We even gave him a good name, "Seh Mii Ah Ee Ren" or Dr. Seh Mii Ah.

His treatment was careful and pretty good and so a lot of patients got well. My relatives used to say, "One injection from Dr. Xavier and you will be cured." there were three feared diseases at that time : meningitis, TB and polio.

Children used to cry a lot when they went to see him because he wore very thick glasses which magnified his eyes. The older children started to comment on his glasses : "If you wear thick glasses like Dr. Xavier, you must be very clever." Remembering this still brings a smile to my face.

Dr. Xavier built a very good colonial and 1950's style wooden bungalow in Race Course Road. It was a lovely house with a big garden. And his family would drive out of the road from the house. They had a very big European car and it could have been one of the older Volvo models . Mrs.Xavier would always sit at the back of the car, looking very grand. Today whenever I watch a Hindi movie with a scene of Bollywood older ladies sitting at the back of a 50's car, I would think of Mrs. Xavier. Mrs. Xavier was a very white, pale looking Indian lady who looked more European than Indian. She had an extremely sharp nose and sometimes we naughty students would whisper and say that she was a "Persian", thus making the lady even more legendary in our minds.

The couple had two daughters who were very friendly and spoke local Hokkien extremely well. Peggy used to play a lot of soft ball and was a good runner. Joan the older daugher, was more a scholar and she went on to beoome a very good English teacher.

Today the Xaviers are no longer in Sibu but many of the older folks would remember Dr. Xavier with fondness. He had saved many lives. And he was a man who inspired many Sibu students to become doctors. In many ways he showed the people of Sibu what it was to be a really good professional.

But to me, whenever I see the road sign, Race Course Road, I would think of the Xaviers.

13 memories:

Unknown said...

I believe Dr. Xavier was originally from Kuala Lumpur. I read about it some where. Most of the early doctors in Sarawak are not locals.Another doctors is Dr Ding, a Foochow from West Malaysia.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for droppingby. I am not sure about the originof Dr. Xavier. Dr. Ding Siew Hua is Foochow but I am fairly sure he is from Sibu, as his wife was one of the Lau's .

Would really like to know how these early doctors struggled to get their medical degree too.

pck said...

Thanks,Sarawakiana,for sharing with us your story and memories of this beloved Indian doctor.
People like Dr. Xavier who had served the Sibu community well in the early years should rightly be honoured and remembered. Most Sibu folks will be happy to see the roads in Sibu named after them instead of being named after the politicians.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

A very interesting and refreshing idea.
Tourists as well as respectable people would like to see road names which are meaningful and with good historical background.
Miri used to have a good road named St.John's Wood and many tourists were attracted to it. Because it was like a home away from home kind of feeling.
I like the name too.
Then we have a South Yu Seng Road. With a little bit of introduction, tourists would understand how this man contributed to the first years of Miri. That's good too.
People all over the world are looking for tradition and history because they give deeper meaning to our present existence and also a social stability.
Yes roads should also provide us with historical background of our development.

Yan said...

Hi, Dear all, Dr Ding Siew Hua is from Singapore! That I am very sure :)

Now, cy, I have been trying to connect Dr Xavier with Race Course Road (you last paragraph). How do you relate that? Sorry, it's very journalistic curiosity.

The Sunday Post is running "What's in a name", you may be interested.

Unknown said...

According to the book, "Sarawak Long Ago", race course road was named so because the british did tried to introduced horse racing to Sibu but without success. Only the name now remain. Also, a number of roads were named after the Hokkien community leader such as Khoo Peng Loong, TEo Chong Loh, etc...

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear Yan,

The Xavier's Residence was built along Race Course Road, between the Sibu Goivernment Office and the Girl Guide Headquarters.

That was a long time ago. Perhaps only the Xavier daughers would have a photo of their lovely bungalow and European car.

Old places just help trigger off a lot of memories for me.

What's in a name is a worthy column.

Thanks for your tips.

Unknown said...

Race Course Road is now known as Jalan Awang Ramli Amit!!! Wonder why they forgot about history (I mean the naming committee). What is in a name? Well, High Street, Old Street, Bank Road, Market Street and you go to places like Oxford town centre, you got streets like that as well. There is the Brooke Drive and Queensway (renamed Openg Road). (An attempt was once made to change the name). Island Road was named so because of Pulau Babi. Community leaders names also appear like Khoo Peng Loong Road, Teo Chong Loh Road. So are the chinese dialects such as Foochow Road, Amoy Rd. I wonder what is the history behind of such roads as Huo Ping Rd, Tiong Hua Road, Hua Kiew Road, Au Yong, Sie Poh Kieng, etc. Bukit Lima because there were 5 hills (one of them is now a cemetery) but what about Bukit Assek, I cannot find the hill. Local Timber tree species name also appear like raminway, Jalan Alan (a peat swamp species like ramin), Emplam Lane, Dungun Road (A mangrove species), Pedada (another mangrove species), Lada, Sukun, Meritam (a kind of wild rambutan). I guess Oya Road is named after the Oya River and Lanang Road (the Lanang River, a tributary of the Rejang just like Lembagaan).

Another thing, Dr. Ding is married to a local.

Unknown said...

I remember Dr Xavier's clinic was called Xavier Dispensary.

Unknown said...

Wonder if anyone knows where Dr Xavier's daughter are today.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear All,

Thank you for the interest. Yes it would be good to know where the good doctor's daughters are. May be some one can let us know. It has been more than 30 years already since we left Sibu for our studies.

Yes, it is time for us to build a good historical and social background to attract more tourists, both local and overseas.

Unknown said...

Someone say his wife is a Jews.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

This is getting curiosier and curiosier. (Quote from Alice in wonderland). Thanks.

And what was their love story like?


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