These gunny sacks or jute sacks were once common sights in Sibu. Strong wharf labourers could just lift them easily on their backs and walk on the planks up to the ship for loading or from the ship to the waiting trolley for unloading. Because wharf labourers at that time did not have a strong union, their wages were often questionable and topics of hot arguments.
This picture is an example of gunny sacks for keeping corn in the shop. Corn was an important commodity for rearing of domestic animals. Today, corn fed chickens are still highly valued. Wharf labourers carried sacks of corn and rice from ships to the waiting trolleys or lorries and then hopped on to them. When they reached the grocery shops, they carried the sacks full of corn and rice to the shops. They never seemed to be tired. I really admired their forebearance and stoical attitude towards life.
This is a very old photo from a pictorial book by the Chinese Cultural Association of Sibu. It reminds me of the many Foochow men in Sibu who were extremely strong . The Sibu wharf labourers for example did not have machines to help them. They used their brute strength to lift gunny sacks of rice, to carry bales of smoked rubber from the shops to the lorries, or 100 pikuls of charcoal from the trolley to the motor launch. when moving houses, a group of men would be called and they literally carried all the cupboards and tables and beds. Many men were employed just to carry the bakau for piling in the construction company.
A livelihood for a man for example in the picture depended on his strength and no resume was needed from him to get his job. By word of mouth, he would have been employed easily because he was strong and trustworthy.
I can never erase the sad moment when my third uncle, Pang Sing, had to carry my grandmother from the motor launch to the waiting car parked near the Sibu jetty,which was quite a distance, for her last journey to the Lau King Howe Hospital. My uncle was in tears as he lifted her to his back and carried her up the steps of the jetty. In his hurry and distress, he even forgot to wear his shoes!
As far as I am concerned in those days,there has never been greater love between mother and son than this pair - my grandmother and her third son, Pang Sing. The whole Rejang Basin was in the know, as we used to say. Though uneducated because of the Japanese war interruption, poor in terms of a good income, my uncle managed to bring up a good family and look after my grandmother in her old days extremely well. It was an extremely happy old age for her. That we all remember. He made sure that she was short of nothing, especially when she became more and more weak in her eyesight. Finally in the last four years of her life, she was totally blind.
Gone are the days now for men who could earn a living through their strength.