Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wong Cheng Ding's Mother and the Fire of Sibu

The Wong family was a pioneering family and Mrs. Wong was quite a formidable woman of means. Her children were very intelligent and more advanced than the other people of that time. After her husband passed away a quite a young age, she not only carried on the family fortunes but added to it through sheer hardwork and Christian fortitude. She was a very well known woman of means and virtues.

A legend about her was famous during my childhood and we were reminded about what a good person she was. I used to visit her lovely house along the Sungei Merah River as one of her grand daughters went to school with me. Now long gone, the huge landed property had been developed for housing estates. The family has migrated overseas too.

Mrs. Wong, small in stature and very sunburnt most of the time, worked extremely hard and was very frugal. A very enterprising woman, she helped her husband clear a lot of land in Sungei Merah for rubber planting. She employed many people to tap her rubber trees. In that way she accumulated quite a fortune.

According to the historical account, Mrs. Wong's savings, especially in gold , was kept in a safe with Wong King Huo's Shop known affectionately as Hock Chu Huo. This was the normal practice as there was no bank yet. Every body knew about this shop and the good and trustworthy Wong family who ran it. However one night in 1826, Mrs. Wong could not sleep well. She did everything to get some sleep and she tossed and turned in her bed. However it was a sleepless night for her.

The next day, she walked all the way from Sungei Merah ( 3 miles), went to Hock Chuo Huo and took back all her savings. It was of course a huge sum, and quite unsafe to keep in a rubber tapper's humble lodge. My uncle told me that she put her savings in a cotton flour sack and carried it all back home, alone,by herself. This was how safe it was along the lonely road at that time, as there was no known snatch thieves. Against all advice, she did just as she decided.

After taking back her money and gold, she had a very good sleep that night. She later told people how much at peace she was. Perhaps it was God who told her to keep her savings safe at home, as she was also a very God fearing woman.

That night, the famous Sibu fire took place and razed the entire block of wooden shops. Most Foochows had their entire fortune wiped out.

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