Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mission Road, Sibu

In 1977, the area used to be known as the Mission Road was completely demolished to make way for a fantastic, modern riverine esplanade. In fact for about ten years, slowly every old wooden building was being taken down and even the two important schools, St. Elizabeth Convent School and Sacred Heart School, were demolished to make way for urban development.

Today no sign of the old Mission Road could be seen to even identify its existence. I believe that no one had even painted a picture of it. Perhaps in some photo studios there would be a few photos in black and white. Well, I will wait for something to turn up eventually. One would never know.

Any mention of the term Mission Road would resurrect a lot of interest, good or bad, amongst Sibu residents who are already in their forties and fifties! I was mentioning the thought to a friend and he got really excited and responded, "Ah yes, the whore place!!" He was but a small Form Two boy then.

And true enough, after half a century, many memories have faded but what remains clear was that area was known as the red light district. Any town or city would have a red light district, or what ever name you would like to call it. It could even be just called squatter area.

The Mission Road was named so because the Sacred Heart Church was first built there in the 1930s, the La Salle Brothers had their residence there and they founded the Sacred Heart school, which later moved to Oya Road in 1967.

It was about 1967 that the Mission Road, Red Light District, was also demolished, to make way for urban development or urban sprawl in sibu.

Lots of stories have been told about Mission Road. In fact, although the Sacred Heart School and the St. Elizabeth Convent School were the more legal,sacred and important social institutions of Mission Road, the name more often and not evokes memories of short skirted, tough legged and loud speaking "perempuan jalan" or ladies of the night.

According to school friends, these ladies could be had for a stick of cigarette. One of the plays I have written for staging in school was based on a stick of cigarette. However I portrayed these prostitutes having hearts of gold, and they saved a young pretty girl from going into prostitution (circa 1969 and May 13). The play also has a reference to the Sarawak Border Scouts who saved a lot of lives in Kuala Lumpur during the May 13 riot.

The squatter area was all wooden and built just above tide level. The grounds were completely muddy when the tide was low and you could see lots of condensed milk tins, milo tins and what bric bracs people could throw out of their windows.

The plank walks were dangerously constructed, one plank upon two poles, and then another plank and then another pole until the hut is reached. A hut would probably have only one bed room, a kitchen which opened out to a roofless platform or sundeck where a huge oil barrel would act as a water storage container and rain water would be collected from home made gutters. These homemade gutters were made from kerosene tins which had been flattened out and then bent in semi circles to form the gutters. All the roofs were zinc.

Every rubbish would be thrown out of the kitchen into the river. When the tide was high the solid waste was taken far out and into the mighty Rejang. And very often, when the tide was low, every waste or rubbish would be exposed. A keen researcher could even write an article on the obvious nutrition of the squatters, just based on the evidence provided by the empty canned food, empty milo tins,etc.

Occasionally a dead chicken would float in the water . And sometimes a dead dog.

In the 50's urban hygiene was not priority. Cholera ,leprosy, TB , goitre, and STD were of epidemic proportion. But kids just grew up like mushrooms!! Many of the children born in Mission Road and also elsewhere would not have birth certificates as the first really important identity cards were made only in 1965, when teams of the National Registration went around to register the citizens of Malaysia.

(I remember having my own identity card made in the school hall when I was in secondary school in 1965, alongside all my school mates. It was a proud moment when I collected my blue IC!! I was wondering how it was possible to have an IC without our parents vouching for our identity.)

10 memories:

Unknown said...

Yes, you mentioned correctly that Mission Road was demolished in 1977 but you mentioned wrongly somewhere later (1967). Yes, I remember there were sometimes even dead monkeys and cats when the tide was down. One mistake though was that Sacred Heart School was founded by the Mill Hills Father from London some time around 1902. It was later handed to the De La Salle Brothers in the 1950's because the Mill Hills Fathers wasnted to concentrate on mission work rather than education. The original site of Sacred Heart School is the present day Hoover Ice Factory. I enjoyed reading your posting as some of the information I did not even know myself.

Unknown said...

There were actually three institutions that contributed significantly to the early days of Sibu: The R.C. Mission started by Rev Fr. Aloysius Hopgartner, an Austrian, Methodist Mission by Rev Hoover, an American and the CHung Hua School by the Hokkien community.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you so much for the corrections. I shall edit my work soon. If I am not mistaken the Sacred Heart School and St. Elizabeth Convent were moved in 1967. And that was the beginning of the concerted effort to clear the squatter area in Mission Road.

Unfortunately a lot of Sibu History is still oral history. Not much has been really written down in serious book form.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

A lot of media blitz has been accorded to the Foochow founding fathers - yes indeed we need to acknowledge with great thanks to the Mill Hill Fathers, the early Hokkien generosity (in the setting up of Chung Hua School and the Temple) and a few other shop houses.
If I am not mistaken the first few coffee shops were not Foochow but Hailam and Hokkien!!
In a way, it is very difficult to find for documentary references when I am living in Miri.

If you remember, one of the Mill Hills' Father's body was still intact when the coffin was exhumed. It created a sensation in Sibu. I would like to write about that, and put it in proper perspective.

FrancisN said...

You were not mistaken, Sacred Heart School was moved to Oya Road in 1967. I still remember we had a moving day helping with the furniture and riding at the back of lorries to the new school.

Having spent 12 years at Sacred Heart School, Mission Road has a lot of fond memories for me. Your post has touched on some of these but there are still lots I can remember.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you FrancisN.

When we write about history, accuracy is important but it is only with the help of documents, clear memory and lots of correction and interpolation that we can get facts and incidents straightened out.

As I have written before, many important incidents and occurences in Sibu have to be written about with the correct perspective, in honesty and with courage. I do not believe we should sweep certain unmentionables under the carpet. However, we must not sensationalize them either.

But if we are creating fiction, then by all means be creative. However some of the best fiction like James Bond series, actually have very real and actual reporting!! Truth may be stranger than fiction.

So let's look out for each other and help our memories of Sibu become fonder and more lasting.


Unknown said...

I think Sarawakiana and Francisn are right that Sacred Heart and St Elizabeth moved in 1967. However, the demolition of the squatters in Mssion Road only happened in 1977. there is another instituition that has contribute to Sibu's growth: the Malay Community (Maybe the Malay union). Also, maybe there is also the Melanau and the Iban community but their history are rarely told. There is a book published by KTS titled "History of the development of the Rejang basin." Perhaps when you ae in Kuching, you can look up for refeences at the State Library in Petra Jaya (Pustaka Sarawak). I do ot know if they have all the references.

Unknown said...

Sarawakiana shold come up with a book on "The history of Sibu " Perhaps people like Francisn should also contribute in to the effort.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for your interest. We should continue to write about our history . There is so much to do!! the task of writing history never ends .

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear All,

Thank you. We must all try to get an opportunity to publish.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.


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