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

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

my Papa ever told me he have a few years working experiences with these river motor launches on this mighty Rejang river ,transporting all sort of supplies during 60's - life tough he told me.

Ah Ngao

Anonymous said...

indeed tht was the life line of transport in those days when these motor launches were the king of the mighty Rejang River.All the upper reaches and the lower river had to use them for the transportations of goods and humans as well.It would hve taken almost 12 hours to reach Kapit then....those were the days....

Anonymous said...

The mist in the photo reminds me how cold it was in Sibu and Kapit those days in the 60'd. now it
s too hot cos of global warming...and anyways we sit in huge express boats ...which may have aircon in the front and no air con at the back. seats therefore expensive in the front and cheaper at the back. This gives a two class separation..to Kapit 25 ringgit in the front and 20 rintti at the back.

The old wooden motor launches were one dollar to Bukit Lan..fifty cents nearer Sibu in the 60's.

Ah Ching

Ann said...

chuck! chuck! chuck!

Your aunty's story, no wonder boat man always held their hands out to women and young girls. When I was young, (teen aged0 i was quite embarassed to have to hold the hand of the boat man. Now you explained.

Anonymous said...

What year was it when LTC's mother was drowned?

I heard that LTC was the son-in-law of WTK, right?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Anonymous...I have to double check the dates by referring to some of the books written by LTC...yes..you are right...He was the SIL of WTK.

sarawaklens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sarawaklens said...

There was a sedaya in Kanowit? I haven't been there for such a long time, I bet it must be really bustling now. The story of your sister touching the man's butt was quite amusing. Reminded me of something that happened on a bus...

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