December 8, 2011

"Second Landlords of Sibu"

In 1955 my father moved our family from Pulau Kerto to Sibu town. It was quite a big change for me because I had to acclimatise to having neighbours who were Malays and each morning I would be wakened up by the call to prayers from the Mosque. But best of all I was able to go to Primary One in the Methodist English Primary School. Finally I was able to wear white socks and a pair of red Bata shoes. I did not dare to ask for ribbons for my hair.

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).


wenn said...

gosh..real cheater!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Wenn...any such stories in KL and Ipoh? Would love to know!!

Anonymous said...

Although some of us believe in Christianity, we still have certain percentage of Confucius and Buddist thinking. Those who ate other money are definitely going to gain punishment. I hope you did evaluate the z family.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear anonymous...both the story teller and myself have not heard of the Z family for a long time. But it might be easy to find out...

thanks for your sympathies...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. There are many A families out there.

Anonymous said...

there will always be crooks in any society we live in...always take advantage of the kind and sympathetic....but i do believe in wht goes round will come take heart sarawakiana.
marry Xmas and Happy New Year

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Anonymous..yes it is true..these stories will be repeated again and again..and they will be fictionalised for TV dramas. It is true facts are stranger than fiction too...

If there is any comfort to those who are very hurt by the sleazy dealers...there will be poetic justice yet to come...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Daniel Yiek said...

Rent control ended in 1987 fro Sarikei shops if I'm not wrong

Ann said...

You are right, my aunt's family had a few shops, and their second landlords were making lots more money than they the owner. They could evict them either.

Ann said...

I was horrifed that you didn't receive my book. The postage was a lot, and the book goes missing. It happens in NZ too, yesterday, I posted by courier to an impt dept. This is the third time, the post shop man told me better by courier, which was $8.50 which has a tracker. The registered is $12.50, no tracking.

Once upon a time a friend told me that if you post stuff, don't use nice stamps, or best of all don't post stuff.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Daniel...I have been checking on the Rent Control Act too..thanks. I will check again. I left Sibu in 1987. Rapid developments then in Sibu...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...Yes...the second landlords were the Real Landlords...and they were really aggressive I remember.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann..I remember that various times when the NICE Stamps were ripped off from letters I received...

I too have been feeling disturbed that your book never arrived in address was certainly not the second tree on the jungle path....

Wait till I meet you in 2012!!!

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fattoma said...

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