May 8, 2012

Sungei Merah : My Recollections

We bought a small house in Sungei Merah in 1983. Thus two of my children can claim that they were born in Sungei Merah and the other two were born in Sibu. Our neighbours were mainly Heng Hua people who were great gardeners. We were never short of fresh garden greens and could buy from almost any one at any time of the day or any day of the week without going to the busy market. And I did cultivate some greens and flowers in pots to go along with the green crowd.

Each day I  would drive happily (no traffic jam in those days) to my school by passing the little bazaar which was thriving with diverse races and businesses. Friendliness was the theme of the bazaar. Every customer was a friend. And every transaction was honorable. The Ibans from Aup and Teku and the Melanaus from nearby Nangka and Sungei Antu treated Sungei Merah as their city!! And the coffee shops thrived with the patronage of so many different races.

There were no news of theft or any untoward behaviour for the residents were then mostly Christians and God fearing. I loved listening to the bell ringing on Sunday proclaiming a Rest Day but most importantly that God was still ever present in our lives!!

I loved the hustle and bustle of the little entrepot as I had called it. And my children would enjoy their afternoon outings with me and  linger at every point of interest without fear of being scolded - the shop keepers were child-friendly. Our purchases were simple - hot buns and some necessities. And occasionaly some bicycle repairs or car maintenance. I personally miss the fruit sellers most - Ah Lang who supplied all our bananas and the others who had imported fruits and pineapples. They have moved on now to other parts of Sibu or have retired to be grandparents. Yes - 23 years and one generation has gone before us.

But the best times were spent watching the boats in Sungei Merah....

The boats  were of a special shape and colour. We loved the flags..These boats were owned by the Heng Hua people who first came here in 1912. This year is their 100th Anniversary. We often discussed then what stories could be written about these fishermen and their boats. How many books could be published to tell their tales!!

This scene is no longer seen in Sungei Merah...nets drying in the sun on the brdige!! How peaceful and  law abiding were the people!!
The wooden shops are no longer there and we would always remember the colourful blinds 
This first shop sold our favourite bread. I still remember how my grandfather would make  us come here to buy hot bread of cakes for his afternoon tea. Our aunty Ah Hiong especially would cycle here and buy what he liked. She is now almost 70 years old. But in my mind she is still the young and capable woman of those early years.
Another scene along Sungei Merah
You cannot be very wrong to guess that this bicycle repairman is a  Heng Hua. Most Heng Huas in Sungei Merah speak Foochow and their own dialect of course. But they are great bicycle shop owners and repairers. Many later branch out and become tycoons all over the world!! And the catalyst would be the little seed planted by Reverend Brewster who strategically planned to bring  the first Heng Hua Pioneers here in 1912.

In 1987 my family moved to live and work in Miri - a totally different kind of town where races were more cosmopolitan although the people were mainly Cantonese and Hakka speaking.

Shopkeepers were no longer child-friendly and relationships were different. My kids realised that it was very much like Country Mouse and Town Mouse kind of scenario. They often wanted to move back to Sungei Merah. We all miss our neighbours - the Wee family - Ah Huong and her mother (our favourite Heng Hua Moo) - Sandra and her family - Ah Ching and her siblings - the Chieng family - Tai Lee and his siblings. We continue to meet up with Cikgu Kassim's family members some of whom are in Miri and Kuching. One neighbour is now a Judge!! The Indian doctor now serves in KK. We often remember all of them with fondness. Our street was definitely not Desperate Housewives...but we were truly diverse and caring.

Today Sungei Merah is no longer the same as in those days. Lots of buildings have sprung up and in fact coffee shops have become "must " places for many Sibu people.

Sungei Merah is no longer the bazaar which sprang to life during Ching Ming.

It is a bustling township every day!!

Gone are the days of small bright coloured boats berthing quietly by the river and next to the wooden bridge.

God already knew before we were born what we would be like (quoting from the Bible)...and I truly believe He has his grand plans for Sungei Merah

May Church bells continue to ring out the truth for many years to come for Sungei Merah.

I would like to wish all the members of Tien Dao Tang a happy Centenary Celebration...and all the pioneering Heng Hua families for their 100 years of success on May 20th 2012. And to all my Heng Hua friends and neigbhours...a Happy Rememberance Day....

(All photos from 1992 80th Anniversary Magazine of the Heng Hua People of Sibu - thanks to the photographers who supplied the original)


LadyKath said...

Very interesting tale! I used to live in a small town too where everyone knows everybody. It was nice since parents won't have to be worried about the safety of their children and children can play freely everywhere they want. Looks like everything's changing nowadays. Just hope that the future generation will still be able to live freely,without fear of the surrounding.

Anonymous said...

Best wishes to the Heng Hua Community on the celebration of their Centenary of Settlement in Sg. Merah, Sibu and all my Heng Hua friends, especially former colleague, Mr Cheng Muk Kao (SUS), Lynn Siau . . .
Irene C....(In case some of you dear readers do not use fb....this is my good fb buddy's her little piece which I would more people to read......TQ)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Lady Kath
Thanks for the comment..yes times change and people change. Landscapes also change with time. And I also hope that in the future our children will be able to lead others to better life....God bless.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Irene...I will reply you here. Thanks for the messages for our Heng Hua friends...Many people have asked if the Heng Huas married Foochows in the past..I must say YES!! Marriages are made in heaven and thus blessed by God I believe. said...

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