Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old Street , Old Memories of Sibu.


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This is Old Street with its latest look in 2008. I was there not too long ago to take the photos. I love to see my hometown Sibu change steadily but slowly. And it is too bad i do not have a very old photo of this road to make comparison. It is common in most Asian cities to have at least one street called Old Street. And how I love the name - Old Street.

It is perhaps indeed the oldest street in Sibu as two of the oldest families own shophouses here : first lot from the left belongs to the descendants of Wong king Huo, a great friend of Rev James Hoover and the third shop from the left (I may be wrong now) belongs to the banker Chew Geok Lin's family. The family retains its name Wah Tat on top of the building as seen in the first photo. I am wondering why the address is 18 Old Street.

This street has always been the most popular street for many years and even until now in Sibu in my opinion at least. During the boom time of rubber in the early 50's all the rubber tappers would hang out (lepak) here in the early morning after they had had their coffee in Moi Soung Cafe.

The quaint colonial type windows are quintessential . And each shop has a different style of colonial windows which is actually delightful to the eye. I can always remember my maternal grandmother standing at the windows on the first floor of the Hock Chuo Huo shop watching the regatta in a very regal manner. And then I love to imagine catching sights of nyonyas with their nice gold earrings sitting at the windows watching life passing by along the street. Today the windows have been refurbished but they still retain their past grandeur and historical flavour.

We continue to come across lots of movies made by the Hong Kong and Singapore Film Companies showing this kind of setting. And I hope one day a film will be made about a wonderful historical romance of the pre - second world war period of Sibu. That is when Old Street will be the perfect setting. That would really put Sibu on the media and film map. I have dreams that it might even win a national film award or two!! How proud Sibu could be.

In the 50's and 60's the other attraction here was the clinic belonging to Tan Sri Dr. Wong Soon Kai and his wife Puan Sri Dr. Jane Yong. I remember that at the height of their political careers almost every patient was charged only RM2.00.

And then there were difficult days after my father passed away suddenly. It was painful and hard for us to make ends meet because my mum was not a career woman. It was quite a blessing when we children were given almost free treatment by Dr. Yong. As little fatherless children we felt really miserable and worried that we could not afford to pay for our medical treatment. Fever seemed to run in our family and once I was down with a strange fever for more than ten days. I remember my eighth aunt had to take me by trishaw to school for a few days after that until I could walk a little better. I suppose my mother must have thought that another tragedy had struck the family and she had a physically challenged daughter to feed for the rest of her life!! During my fever I was delirious most of the time and had very bad dreams of just white lights flashing.

Dr.Yong also found out that I had a curved spine and predicted that I could not grow tall. How right she was!

The buildings along this road were the old colonial buildings having all the specifications of a five foot way,three small steps leading up to the shops as the shops had to be at least two feet above the drain and road. Today the road is almost the same level as the shop.

In the 60's I loved to hear the swiftlets winging in and out. Their song was beautiful and would always make me feel that I was indeed in town! For a while in the 80's a few of the shops were abandoned and they created an eerie feeling whenever we passed by. It was old street indeed.

Another memory of the Old Street is the waft of freshly baked kompia which came out of the last shop along the row of shophouses. Names have changed and I notice that it is now called Chung Nam Coffee Shop.

New business outlets have started with very trendy names. I suppose in the days to come the Foochow names would disappear with time. Already shops have names like Fisherman's, Maju Jaya, Rasa Sayang sprouting up in Sibu.

Times are a'changin!!

But I hope Old Street will be Old Street forever. There is so much history and romance there. Would someone consider preserving these old buildings as Historical Heritage sites?

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