What was it like being a school teacher during the Japanese Occupation?
Stories - both tragic and joyful ones - have been told over and over again by grandparents.
Generally speaking the Chinese school teachers in Sibu and in other parts of Borneo were all under suspicion as "spies for Mainland China" - the greatest enemy of the Japanese, Homes were searched for evidence and very often the teachers were not even given a free trial!! Some were beheaded but most were tortured. Fear therefore spread far and wide.
|A tragic scene....slippers left on a pontoon by the Rajang River - seting of a suicide? (Photo courtesy of Steve Ling)|
Many tried their best to hide in the ulu amongst the Ibans or the Melanaus. Some died in their desparate efforts to run away from the enemy soldiers. A few even managed to reach Indonesian Kalimantan(some historians have unearthed stories already).
Mr. Lau Hieng Yiin, was a scholarly Chinese teacher of Tung Hua Secondary School in Sibu. Furthermore he was born and educated in China . These qualities were dreaded by the Japanese. One evening his good friends, a community leader and local Chinese Traditional Medicine Practitioner, Mr. Hii King Lien 許慶廉 and a local Methodist Pastor, Rev Ting Siew Jeh, conspired to save him.Mr Lau was to "commit suicide" by jumping into the Rajang. And his two friends would be waiting for him with a small sampan further down stream. When he surfaced from his under water adventure it was already quite dark and he was taken across the river to Nang Chong where another one of my Lau relatives was staying. (He laid low for quite number of months until the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces who swept down from Kapit to Sibu.)
Mr. Lau left his Japanese slippers near the river bank thus sending a message that he "left this world by jumping into the Rajang river". He would rather die than fall into the hands of the Japanese.
True enough every one in the village believed this tale and the Japanese also accepted the story - which was a repeat of the legend of Chu Yuan.
In fact many years later we children of the next generation realised who actually helped Mr. Lau to hide in Nang Chong village, a village where my mother's family lived.
Mr. Lau was to be Principal of the Chung Cheng Secondary School (also Nang Chong) for many years after the Second World War. Both he and his wife contributed a great deal to the education of the Foochow people in this area and they have been fondly remembered for this. Their eldest son was the well known photo-journalist Lau Sie Kiew who was quite a star of the 1960-70's media scene.
Would you get agitated and suspicious when you see a pair of slippers left on a path to the river side?