Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bukit Lima Road and Queensway as Legacies of the Japanese

I am not very sure what my reputation will be if I state that the Japanese Occupation propelled the construction of the two longest roads in Sibu before the end of the Second World War.

Before the Japanese Occupation, the Rejang River was the main highway of communication. And every business was oriented towards the river. Every household faced the Rejang, making it the lifeline of the people. Boats were the only reasonable mode of transport.

Boats went every where, every nook and corner. Hence roads were not necessary but besides, the Foochows were very frugal and motor cars, although already quite a welcome invention, were not introduced to Sibu by the 1930's. Every able bodied person was making his way by foot or by boat and only a few had bicycles.
Boats and ships were still the transport of the day.

The Japanese who arrived in 1942 immediately took it to task to construct a road to the airport that they wanted to build for the Japanese Empire. Thus they recruited all the able bodied men to start building the Telephone Road (Now Tun Haji Openg Road), as the Foochows called it.

My father was one of the road construction workers. He had to get up before six, carried his changkul and his soil basket (pungki), put on a hat and be on his way to be with all the other "coolies". The team of workers had to walk from the town to as far as the work point was and it was a tortuous task. A few men did faint from hunger and the heat. Most were shoeless and according to my father, many had bleeding feet from the amount of walking they had to do. They also had blisters on their hands. The weaker ones had cuts all over their bodies because of the beatings and also because they were cut by the tree branches. Some of the workers tried not to wear their shirts because they wanted to save their shirts but they became very sun burnt. Cloth was a scarcity so the workers tried their best not to wear out their clothes. They were paid a few cents for their work every day.

Some were beaten up because the Japanese soldiers found them sloven. All workers had to bow very low whenever they met a Japanese.

The road took more than two years to complete. And the workers were also forced to build the Sibu airport. When the Australian Army (Allied Army) arrived, the airport was still incomplete. But the rough three mile road from Sibu was completed.

The Bukit Lima Road was designed by the Japanese to facilitate their plan of having a huge chicken farm in Bukit Lima. Ibans and Chinese were recruited to build the road. The relationship between the invaders and the locals was very bad. Later, when some of the Japanese soldiers tried to escape from the Allied Army, many of them were beheaded by the Ibans.

According to most historians,this forced "gotong royong" gave us the Telephone Road as the cheapest road built in the history of Sarawak!! Road building in Sibu was very difficult because of the peat soil, which was very soggy and many people fell sick because of the health threats and shortage of food. It was truly a great suffering for these elders of ours. We should be very grateful to them for constructing these two roads - so much of their sweat and blood.

In a way,the Japanese did leave a positive mark in Sibu by way of the two roads. Other than that they left no monument, no building, no hospital.

9 memories:

AlisonBuda said...

Thanks for your posting on road construction in Sibu. I didn't know that Queensway was built by the Japanese until I read your article but I did heard from old timer about the airport construction by the Japanese. Understood lots of people were tortured by the Japanese at that time.

My mother used to tell me taht her teacher in school (Sacred Heart Chinese School) that there was a small stream that runs through what is today Sarawak House. When theJapanese first occuopied Sibu, the stream was reddish in colour from human blood, victims killed by the Japanese.

Queensway is like Simpang Tiga road from Batu Lintang. It was constructed by the Japanese and is called Japanese Road by the locals.

Wonder why Queensway is called Telephone road, perhpas becos of some telecom tower?

AlisonBuda said...

How about wrting soemthing on kite flying. I remember traditional games were popular back then like kite flying (of course I remember the kaca on the string), hotch potch, games using seed of dabai or peebles, then there is a games using "string made from rubber band" with recitation like "Money, baby where are you, go to the town quick quick quick, very 1 very 1 turn around, very 1 very 1, out you go"

AlisonBuda said...

Does anyone remember the wooden house next to Mission Road called "Long Bridge" There used to be a very long plankwalk with houses on both sides.

AlisonBuda said...

Any idea what is the story behind Salim Road? Any story on the old swimming pool?

NZJ said...

There is nothing good or bad to say that an underdeveloped state was propelled economically by a more advanced invader or here the Japanese. The Japanese was or is well ahead of Sarawak. When she chose to conquered a place she would sure to build up the required infrar structure for many reasons.

Sarawakian might benefited from the new technologies that the Japanese brought in, like the paper making technology the Mongolian brought to Europe. We would still progress in other ways or differently even if the Japanese did not come to build the road here.

sarawakiana said...

Thank you AB and NZJ.

The Japanese Occupation remains a very painful part of our history. However we have to remember the resilience of our people and commemorate that.

The Red Cross for example came out like a pheonix amidst war. But it is the compassion of man that triumphs.

Thus what is worthwhile remains. And so the soul and spirit of the people involved.

Yan said...

Now, Queensway was called by the locals as "Dian-Xian Road" which means "Electrical Wire Road". A little different from "Telephone Road" as mentioned.

Queensway, of course, is now called Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg.

Interesting information. Thanks for sharing, cy.

AlisonBuda said...

I guess Sibu is quite an isolated town. The only to get to Kuching for a long time was to use either by sea or air. Which is why the MV Pulau Kidjang is a big part of SIbu's history. Even to go to near by places like Kapit, Bintangor, Sarikei, it is by express boat!!!

sarawakiana said...

I am still trying to research on the name, Electrical Wire Road, Dian Xian Duo. There is a Kampong Wireless in Miri.

Any one can help?

The Rejang River will continue to be the artery of life of the various towns in Third Division.

thanks for dropping by.


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