This photo of houses on stilts on a river in Bacoor, Cavite, Philippines is courtesy of Chris Gregerson. (Check www.cgstock.com ) The houses on stilts remind me of those simple wodden houses by the riverside of the Rejang known as Long Bridge in Sibu in the 50's and 60's. Any one travelling from Sibu to Kapit or from Sibu to Kapit by the slow wooden motor launches in those days would have seen similar houses on stilts. I am hoping that one day someone will send me a photo of the original Long Bridge to illustrate my posting. Or alternatively, I could get a painting of Long Bridge of those long ago days.
The black and white photos are really old photos of the original Long Bridge of Sibu. They evoke the mystery and the untold stories of the people living in this very unique area of Sibu.
Long Bridge or Tong Keor or Tiing Geor in Sibu was a well known place for a long long time until it cleared up and a sort of urban development started in the 1970's. The developers were far sighted enough to start dumping a lot of soil to reclaim the riverside land. In this way, Sibu started to expand towards Lanang Road, following the Rejang River eastern bank.
Today the Long Bridge Road is still there but three storeyed concrete shop houses have replaced the wooden houses and two big hotels (Rinwood and Lee Hua) form part of the vicinity.
But what was Long Bridge exactly? Many people today would say that it was just cheap housing built by some businessmen for their coolies but later one home was added after another. And slowly what was originally just some construction workers' huts became a river side residential area, and businesses started with a little retail or kedai runcit here and there. A few women took in sewing and washing. Some of the women hired themselves out as house maids and even cleaners for the local hotels and shops. the houses were built on both sides of a long belian bridge which was built on stilts and the houses which were also on stilts were kept well above the tides. Perhaps on the big floods of 58 and 63 went into these homes.
Some houses even sold beer and the open spaces were good meeting places for men who had no where else to go. About one hundred or more families must have lived there. Many children grew up and moved on, while the elderly stayed on. It did become a special colony by itself, with its own character and its own community rules.
What was very interesting was how many Hokkiens and Foochows and some other indigenous people lived well together in that place. I remember that some of the Sibu trishaw drivers lived there as in the evenings one could see that their trishaws parked outside the "main bridge". But I also know a few families who had prospered because they worked hard as washerwomen, cold storage workers and saved enough money by living in cheap houses. These owners later acquired good businesses and some of them even migrated overseas. They made money selling off their wooden houses to their friends who in turn rented out these houses to new migrants who have moved into Sibu. It was not exactly the homes of hopeless urban dwellers. Later these families benefitted from the urban development and were given the three storeyed shop houses by the developers.
What were very interesting about the place? It was a place where photographers, both foreign and local, found intriguing and unforgettable. Many great photos were taken of the place. The plank walks, the houses when the tide was up, the rusty and sad looking zinc roofing, the washing hanging out under the sun for drying,the muddy tin and plastic covered river bed when the tide was out, and even sunset over the last few houses seemed romantic enough to beckon the adventurous photographers.
A decrepit (to many) place but home to some of the Long Bridge afficiandos,it was part and parcel of urban development and unknowingly had helped the town of Sibu itself develop . It had served its purposes of providing dirt cheap housing for migrant workers, a safe haven for homeless people, and a convenient shelter for the earliest rural-urban migrants. Many transient labourers who helped with the piling work of housing construction, the digging of drains and even government projects, lived in rooms there if and when the towkays could not provide them with adequate housing. Sometimes two or three families would live together in a unit, leaving so little room for other social functions, except just eating, sleeping and a little cooking. It was just a kind of existence, not living.
The long bridge which was actually an L-shape belian plank walk on stilts with its wooden houses would always be a pictureque and historical part of Sibu for many of us.
Note from Alison Buda "Today, what remains is the Long Bridge road and the long bridge cafe that reminds people of its existence long time ago."
More Notes : So do walk down memory lane when you visit Sibu, by having a little sight seeing tour of the place.
It is quite near the Window of Sibu and is opposite the Catholic High School and the
Sacred Heart Church.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Memoir by I Am Sarawakiana at 9:41 PM