Water came from government water board and we had 24 hour electricity supply. Pulau Kerto was different because we used rain water and our electricity came from the Hua Hong Ice Factory. Once the ice factory "workshop" stopped running the generators we would have no electricity. However it was surprising may be to many because I grew to love the smell of kerosene lamps! Even today when I visit longhouses and old kampongs a whiff of kerosene smell would send me back to the 50's in Sibu.
Another issue which impacted me was the stories I heard from relatives who would complain about their tenants who would pay only very small rents like $20 or $60...and how difficult it was for them to collect rents!! So it got on to us that there were Second Landlords who were evil and conniving...taking the rice away from the actual property owners. I could not comprehend then why would tenants live so cheaply in a shop house!! One room in a wooden house cost $25.00 then.
There are lots of stories from this period in Sibu. My grandmother Siew also sold off her property in the 60's because she was just too tired of the Rental issues and the conflicts with her tenants.
|Photo : Courtesy of Lawrence D. |
Notice the extensions at the top - originally the shops were only allowed 2 floors above the shop which is known as ground floor. On the extreme right by some kind of " allowances" a third floor has been added. Thus this becomes a four STOREYED shophouse. In English language..first floor refers to the floor above the shop. Second floor is the next floor...and so on. In the Chinese language second floor is actually first floor in the English language. Hence some post office boys get very confused. One can even be confused by 1-2-3-4....
1965-1967 were years of tears and frustration in Sibu especially in the property market. These were also years of mistrust and brothers were going against brothers and families were torn apart especially by the repealing of the Rent Control Act in 1966.
Many of the Chinese shop houses in Sibu were built after the 1928 fire and the later years . These shophouses were all under the Rent Control Act which was introduced by the British Government to help control rent (as the law said) after 1946. It was very much in favour of the tenants (kept the rent low) and also to prevent the shop owners from throwing out tenants at their own whims and fancies.
I was familiar with that kind of environment where the shop lot owners were very restrained with some only collecting 60 dollars from their tenants who occupy the first floor . Many of the shops had two businesses with the Second Landlord subletting part of the shop on the ground floor. Sometimes there was a tailoring business at the front half the shop and a hairdressing in a cubicle at the back. It was quite common to have a gold smith's shop occupying a quarter shop unlike today's bigger and grander enterprise. thus you could find 4 different businesses being conducted in one shop lot. And more often than not all these four families would live upstairs...two families sharing one floor and one toilet.
I have a very sad story from Sibu to mention here.
"My father (Mr.A) was coerced to sell his 2/3 share of a shop at High Street to a certain young man who was from a very prominent family (Mr. Z) while I was away working in a logging camp. The youngman's family owned 1/3 share of the shop.
The rich and young man promised to pay my father with 12 cheques . Mr. Z had inherited the 1/3 share of the shoplot. His mother was even a school headmistress.
The price was dirt cheap in my opinion but my father was kind and considerate and agreed to sell because he felt that he was really tired of collecting the small rental every month.
Without my father's knowledge the Rent Control Act was about to be repealed within 3 months of his agreement of sale.
The young man sold the property immediately at a high price thus making a new fortune for himself and took off to Canada and the last two cheques bounced!!
Talk about cheating an old grandfather!!
I was not able to get my hands on Mr.Z's throat but my father being a kindly Chinese gentleman was very hearted and forgiving and told all his children not to go to court. He said "We still have something to eat...we are not starving..."
Dear Readers...this is just ONE of the many sad stories from the 1950's and 1960's Sibu (my birthtown).