Chang Ta Kang 1910 - 1965
The first born son of the my grand father, the hardworking Foochow entreprenuer, Tiong Kung Ping, my father, Ta Kang was born in Sibu in 1910. He was born into a very pleasant and thriving pioneering Foochow community and a growing Methodist Church.
Rev James Hoover and Mrs. James Hoover, good friends of my grandfatherTiong Kung Ping were happy to see the bouncing and fair baby boy. My grand mother , Chong Ching Soon , in fact was a "kindly church lady who had been educated in English in Singapore". Rev Hoover had recruited her brother Chong Ching Bok, to teach English in the Anglo Chinese School in Sibu. She was "hand picked" to marry my grandfather by Rev. Hoover who considered my grand father an able and honest Methodist .
The Tiong family succeeded in several business enterprises because she was a good help meet, translating English manuals while grandfather, a keen engineer, assembled the different kinds of engines like rice huller, generator, and perhaps even the motor launch engines. Grandfather was a brilliant man who started businesses and pioneered in the opening up of Bintangor alongside other Foochow pioneers.
My father grew up learning Chinese and English as an earnest and disciplined student. He and his brothers, Tiong Siew King and Tiong Tai King were the earliest students of the English Junior classes taught by their very own maternal uncle Chong and his wife, Mrs. Chong, in Sibu. Their first batch consisted of some 12 students and three of them were from the Tiong family. Father was sent early to China where he graduated with a Bachelor of Economics from the then Yien Ching University in Beijing. Besides him, another brilliant student, Wong Cheng Ang, from Sg. Merah, was also in the same university batch, but different faculty. They graduated in the same year, thus becoming the first two Foochow degree holders of Sibu in 1937. They were good friends until Wong went underground and then died in the 1960's. They said a long good bye the night he disappeared.
The Japanese War traumatised my father, besides damaging his career, as he had just started the first English newspaper, The Sarawak Times, in Kuching. He suffered an actual physical blow as he was in remand for owning a record player and many English and German books. His love for western music and books was reported by the Indian security guard who was employed by my grandfather to look after the Ice Factory in Kerto. Believed that he was a spy, the Japanese kept him in prison and beat him up badly, especially in the chest.
My grandfather, who loved all his children and especially his first born, knelt before the Commandant to ask for clemency. However it was only a very long letter in Japanese from Mr. Lu , a well educated scholar and a Japanese language expert, which saved his life. He could have been tortured and drowned that weekend. Mr. Lu was the brother in law of our Third Uncle, Tiong Hua King.
Father later also served as a Sibu District Councillor, and Council Negri Member. He managed a small quarry business on his own. I remember his Colonial Identity Card categorized him as MERCHANT, a very archaic word.
He was one of the founding members of SUPP but in later years "he left everything behind to seek solace in reflections, quietude and music because of ill health. He read Taoist books, magazines from around the world to find philosophical reasons and meanings for living. He drew caricatures while he sat on the rocks of his quarry and in fact was planning to pick up his violin again..." Unknown to many, his heart was badly damaged by the Japanese War and the medical knowledge in those days was rather limited.
When my grandfather passed away in 1963, we saw him wailed for the first time and his body shook for many minutes which dumbfounded us. He followed the cortege, in an unprecedented act in a trishaw to the shock of the public and family. According to the Foochow funeral etiquette then, all close members of the family and other well wishers had to follow the "coffin around the town" for a final good bye on foot. Good sons even had to "crawl" behind the coffin for some one as well known as my grandfather. My siblings and I cried for many reasons that day. My father's face was as white a sheet.
Two years after my grandfather's funeral, my father died in the Lau King Howe Hospital, Sibu, as the moon lit up the sky, with my mother by his side. We the children, all below 15 years of age, with the youngest being only 11 months, saw him later, he had a slight smile on his face.
Perhaps he had dreams which he never really achieved but he was proud of his siblings,especially his sisters, who did well in spite of all the odds against them. He was considered a very taciturn man by his friends. His brilliance could be seen in the way he played good mahjong which he disciplined himself to playing only after office hours and before dinner with his family. He wrote succinctly in good classical Chinese for the Foochow Association Annual Reports during his tenure as the "English Secretary" and was considered a man of few words.
When he passed away, he was only 56 years old.
May he rest in peace.
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