January 2, 2012
Tales from the days of the Chinese River Motor Launches in the Rajang
(Photo courtesy of Pauline)
For the whole of 1975 I watched this kind of motor launch (made in Sibu by the Chinese shipbuilders for local use) in the morning because I so enjoyed watching students coming to school in the morning...
I have several anecdotes too.
While I was teaching in SEDAYA (Kanowit) where the students had to cross the mighty Rajang, my sister taught in Kwang Hua Secondary school some half an hour from Sibu. One early misty and cold morning she put her frozen cold toes under what she thought was the cushion of the motor launch seat. In fact she had accidentally touched the butt of an Iban man who was still attired in his traditional sirat (loin cloth). She gave out a loud yelp (which was luckily drowned by the droning engine) and he looked behind. My sister by her quick wits had put her folded up her leg Malay style on her seat!! Only her red face showed her guilt. And our Iban friend never knew what had happened!!
Going on any journey by motor launch also would mean friend meeting up with long lost friends. My grandma and I went on a journey and she was so surprised that her ticket had been paid for. Mr. Ngu later told her that it was a small price to pay for all the meals he had from her kitchen whenever he was stranded in the Nan Chong house. My grandmother would never allow a passerby to go hungry..It was Bed and Breakfast for free...She was paying forward because for many years as a child tagging along with her (as companion) I would enjoyed gifts in the form of fish ball soup and bian nik soup...in the coffee shops in Sibu whenever someone younger recognized her....The grateful younger generation would always pay for her snacks in the town...
One memorable trip I made was with my youngest aunt . I was about about seven? She had just come back from Singapore and had been much welcomed home by grandma in the Nan Chong village. She brought two pairs of leather shoes for her brother's wife and herself. The following weekend she took every one to town for a movie. Third Aunt carried her shoe in her hands and was barefooted all the way to town. Everyone in the motor launch admired her leather shoes from Singapore. It was literally the talk of the boat. Unfortunately after a day of walking in town she had blisters all over..and she was barefooted again on our way home. I think she never wanted to wear those shoes again.
The saddest story related to the motor launch was this:
The famous Sibu Foochow writer Lau Tze Cheng was just about two when his mother "came out from China". It must have been the first week of her arrival when she took a motor boat ride from Sibu. Because she was not used to jumping from the boat to the floating jetty she missed her footing and fell into the Rajang. She became sadly and very tragically the first Foochow woman to drown in the Rajang. My uncle was devastated and the whole community mourned her passing.
There are more stories to be added to this series....both sad and happy..some amusing..but I hope not rude or politically incorrect...2/365/2011