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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Standpipes and Kampong

One of the earliest memories of I have of Sibu was a number of very sturdy standpipes which supplied water to the kampong folks and they were placed at significant points along Kampong Nyabor, Kampong Datu, Kampong Hilir, Kampong Baru and Kampong Nangka. The Kampong Nyabor standpipe was the one I most remember because my house was just a few meters away.

There were two occasions during my childhood when water supply in Sibu broke down and the whole town and the nearby kampong had to obtain water from the River Lembangan and the bigger Rejang River. I could still remember my mother struggling with the washing of two alumium-pailfuls of clothes, and bathing all the four of us by the small jetty.

And I remember also that all the women who were also experiencing the shortage of water,were very friendly and kind. A few kids jumped into the darkish water which had lots of water hyacinth floating about. And my sisters and I had a good laugh when one of the women sportingly jumped into the water to wash her hair with the yellow China made soap. This was really before the Sunsilk shampoo came to Sibu.

We had to do this because our supplementary rainwater tank was completely dry and the Sibu Water Board could not supply us with water for about a week.

In those days all Foochows were very frugal. We used pipe water for cooking and we stored rainwater in a cement tank for any washing or cleaning purposes. We had a huge cement tank in our house because my grandfather had intelligently constructed the house in such a way that we had gutters running into this tank and there was a beautiful open space and skylight above the tank. The tank therefore was open at the top and the sun shone on it. In the day time, we had rather warm water. So it was a very energy saving application. Our piped water bill was about 2 dollars.

It was also at about this time cholera broke out and there was a great deal of fear every where. We heard that many children died especially in the surrounding areas of Sibu. How many town people died I would not know.

Thereafter I realised how important it was to have clean water supplied to the house.

Kampong Nyabor was just along the fringe of Sibu town, which in the 50's and 60's were made up of probably twenty row of concrete shop houses. By then there were no more wooden shophouses.

There were about fifty wooden houses in Kampong Nyabor and the best looking one belonged to Tuanku Haji Bujang. Each house was a single detached buildingh and therefore different from any other in the same kampong. The majority of Malay kampong houses were built off the ground, and there were coconut trees and fruit trees surrounding them. At the end of this Malay kampong stood the biggest mosque in Sibu at that time. Next to this mosque is the huge Muslim cemetery, after which is the Methodist School.

The Kampong Nyabor Road was a very straight road, with Malay houses on both sides. The houses on the western side had long plank walks leading up to their door steps. What I liked very much was the way bicycles could be pedalled along them, making a very comforting tut, tut sound. It was quite a skill to negotiate a bike ride along the long plank walk.

There was no fence between the houses and every one kept their own space clean. When the tide came up, the water would give a nice feel to the kampong scene, and the sun set would make red and golden streaks on the water. Some times my father would take us (makin angin or siak hoong)just to watch the sunset and we would sit in the Landrover,mersmerized until the sun set completely and we went home in the dark.

The Kampong Nyabor standpipe was placed right near the Malay Union club, where the Art Friend Studio stands now.

These standpipes were installed by the government so that the residents could have clean water to use there or take back to their homes for their own purposes. In the evenings,people would begin to gather at these standpipes. Typically it stood in the middle of a concrete 3-metre square specially built with a low wall and decent drainage. There would be two taps on each side, much like your own outside garden tap, but with a bracket around it so that you could not attach a hosepipe to it. People would turn up with recycled kerosene tins or cooking oil tins or store bought buckets, fill them up and carry them home on a pole across their shoulders (pian dan). Young children would be bathed by their mothers. Men would wash their bikes there. In the morning, women washed their clothes.

A lot of gossips were exchanged at the standpipes. And I heard that one or two marriages were made there too. The older Malay ladies were very particular about getting their water at the right time. They would usually wait until almost every one had gone home before they came to collect some water.

Later when every family had their own government supply water, the standpipes lost their attraction. And somehow people just forgot how helpful they were.

9 memories:

AlisonBuda said...

It would be interesting to meet up with you one of these days. I like history. I am presently in Kuching.

AlisonBuda said...

Perhaps you should also write about cinemas in Sibu. Sibu is one of the places in Msia with the largest no of cinema in the old days!!

AlisonBuda said...

remember the fire at Sungai Merah??

AlisonBuda said...

There used to be three main roads in Sibu: Queensway leading to Sungai Merah and Airport, Lanang Road and Oya Road.

AlisonBuda said...

It is sad that Sibu is now degenrating into a cowboy town. Lots of young people are migrating and moving elsewhere to earnb a living. Also, this has created a dysgenic problem
; a brain drain!!!

sarawakiana said...

Thank you for your encouragement and points raised. I remember them all but it takes time to write in between work and household chores!!However it is a delight to see the cyber product at the end of the writing. Good for the soul.

Indeed it would be most pleasant to meet up with you in person. I visit Kuching to see my mum and sisters.

I love history of any kind, especially humn history.

Ikan Sembilang said...

It looks like your blog has been discovered and strongly recommended by 天鵝江畔, a blogger from Sibu who regularly writes about Sibu in Chinese.
We all enjoy reading your stories. Syabas and 加油!!

FrancisN said...

Alisonbuda, you are correct, unfortunately, the brain drain started a long time ago. I could not secure a good job in Sibu or Sarawak when I graduated from Australia and had to come back here to work for my previous employer.

I must say that I am ignorant of the fact that the kampongs had standpipes.

sarawakiana said...

Thank you for dropping by.

The brain drain problem has been around for many years and it might get worst in the years to come. A concerted effort must be made to make it attractive for the next generation. Some of the best brains I know are overseas. Some are even doing volunteer work!!

Thank you Ikan Sembilan for your words of encouragement. Now I have more reasons to write - just like the days when I had to prepare my lessons for my class.

Sungei Merah will feature in my writing. I need to get some facts sorted out with some friends.

Standpipes will remain a British Colonial artifact and featured in the books of history if ever any one writes about it seriously. We must remember that they saved many lives from cholera and other water borne diseases.

Our very privatised Water Boards might never have standpipes for charity in their agenda. Gone are the days when water was a utility subsidized by the government. Today water is an expensive licenced commodity which is definitely profitable.

By the way, the standpipes were manufactured in England and a large embossed company trademark or emblem could be seen. I hope one day some one can help me remember that.

I forgot to mention that when the pressure was low, we could even give it a few pumps and creaking noises could be heard because of the rust.

sarawakiana.

 

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