Tiong Nai Hoong intensely studying the book by Wong Meng Lei.
16 Company十 六 公 司 was a small village in Lower Rajang carved out of, or rather built on a very low lying bank below Sg. Pan by a group of 16 very courageous Foochow men. They called themselves 16 Company.
Formed in the 1920's as a part of Foochow Methodist "expansionist policy" towards the lower Rajang by 16 able bodied men who believed in themselves, this area was established around Sg. Pan. The other parts of the Rajang was then just opened up by the Government .
For the Foochows this was a good move as it was a good opportunity to plant more rubber and rice as their population was increasing very fast and rubber price was extremely good. Furthermore the Ibans in the area were very friendly and welcoming. Their longhouses were further inland.
Towards the 1950's at the height of its prosperity (Korean War created the rubber boom) the total number of families had grown to 63 and the population around 500 with two toh tou or jetties ; a school and a church.
The subject of my interest for this posting is my own cousin who hails from 16 Company. Life is so full of coincidences and miraculous interfaces.
And by 6 degrees of separation (so to speak) I happen to meet and get to know him, Tiong Nai Hoong, in 1987 when I first moved to Miri also by chance.
Tiong,the owner of Ing Kong Drug Store of Miri was born in 16 Company!! His father Tiong Ching Liik a white haired coffee expert was the owner of the coffee shop occupying the ground floor of my second uncle's shop house in Bintangor in the 60's. The family had moved out of the settlement when time was ripe to move on. Nai Hoong had to find a better income too at the age of 18 and his father had to leave the rubber garden to make a better living earlier. Rubber had lost its shine and furthermore the political situation was unstable in the Rajang villages.
Nai Hoong went to work in Sibu for a meagre salary of $180 a month. He sent $150 back to his father for the family's expenditure - as a token from a very filial son. He replenished his own meagre sum by working at odd jobs. He said that he had "enough" and even eventually got married. When he and his wife had saved enough they moved to Miri. He was 30 years old.
The rest is history. 25 years later we can safely said he has made it as a self taught and well loved Tabib Cina and is a proud owner of a huge shop selling Chinese herbs and other Chinese foodstuff which are very in demand in modern Miri. From the early days of his arrival he slowly learned more and more about Chinese Traditional Medicine and with his intellect and good memory he became a source of information and even could provide health consultation to the early Foochow migrants in Miri. He soon operated a small half shop in the back lane near the Miri godown and wharf (with taxi drivers as his most loyal customers) but now he has a whole shop which is perhaps the biggest Chinese Medicine shop in Miri!!
His goods are always fresh and his prices very reasonable. A regular customer would always get a smile and a few words of comfort from him. His son is his able assistant and will inherit the business.
But what is most important is basically his pricing which is very very reasonable. You can always get a "Foochow discount" from him!!
16 Company's name also reflects the bonding of these 16 original pioneers who valued Honour and Brotherhood. When pioneering Foochows migrated from one place to another they carried these values which in turn helped them to survive the most difficult of challenges. I truly believe that my cousin carries these values with him to this day.
The 1960's was the beginning of the dispersal from 16 Company a settlement area which had full of hopes and aspirations for the 63 families .
According to my cousin Hii Yii Kiat has written a book about this area but he is a little disappointed that he could never get a copy to read. In 2001 Wong Meng Lei wrote "24 Acres : In Search of Foochow Settlements in the Rajang Basin" in which are two chapters on 16 Company .十 六 公 司
If you look at the map here you will see all the houses having a number. The people who lived in this area would remember very well in their heart until their dying days because they were a very close knitted community.
When I showed my cousin Meng Lei's book Nai Hung was very touched (I promised to give him one as soon as I can get another copy). He looked at the map and refreshed his youthful memories. He immediately found that his father's name was missing from the list! But he repeatedly said that the map was very very good.
My distant uncle, Nai Hoong's father - Tiong Ching Liik owned House No 59. Ching Liik's uncle Tiong Tien Chuo owned House No.60 and his brother Tiong Tien Die, House No. 61. Later when Tiong Ching Liik moved away to Binatang (early Bintangor) Nai Hoong stayed with his adopted father Hii Lok Tien at House No.48 for a short while.
All of the people who stayed there would remember making the raised road with soil brought in from the other areas (e.g.Iban owned land)as the area was originally peat swamp and flooding was every day. The plank walks they had built earlier lasted for only a while. So the residents decided to build a raised road out of their own pocket,since no fund from the government was available at that time! Nai Hoong remembered that every one helped with the building of the road and how they extended the road slowly.
The settlers even dug a special huge drain to drain the flood waters behind the settlement.
Nai Hoong has a special fondness for the school Kai Hua where he studied and he immediately wrote in my book the name of the school .
A man cannot easily forget his own roots.
1. Wong meng Lei : "24 Acres : In Search of Foochow Settlements of the Rajang Basin"
2. Fiftieth Anniversary of Methodist Churches in Sarawak Magazine.
My apologies if I have made any mistake in reference due to my shortcoming in the Chinese language.