August 19, 2013

Rubber Tapping in Brooke Drive/Kong Ping Road

Abang Koh who owned a fair bit of the land in Kampong Nyabor, behind the Malay Union Club, was actually one of the largest owners of rubber gardens in Sibu, in the eyes of 7 year old Tiong Sisters who moved to the land next to him. Actually my grandfather bought a few pieces of lots from him,  on which he built the wooden house for himself, and later gave to my father. That piece of land educated the whole brood of my siblings and later helped us financially when my youngest brother turned 18.  God was very kind to a widow and 7 children, through a grandfather who was very enterprising.

Kak was very hardworking. She was the sister of Abang Koh and she was our "washerwoman" for many years. She was also "comforter" and good friend of my mother after my father passed away. Kak remained a spinster all her life.

Kak also introduced us to Raya kuihs, and dodol (which she made outside her house during her fasting month). She also showed us her "baju" for praying and her "baju" for going to town. Kak was already in her forties when we moved to Sibu and she was now a town lady at all. She never went to the movies like the others.

And even though the Bangsawan was staged next to her house, she would not buy a ticket to go into the MUC compound. She would just stand outside for a while. She got work to do she told my mum, who would also leave the road and go home with all the children. My father stayed and one evening he came home with a gift of glasses and pitcher (which we kept for many decades) which he won from a game of "tikam".

Kak would tap all the rubber trees behind our wooden house (today, this piece of land is the Ngui Kee and Library building). My sisters would follow her to the trees, watch her collect the latex and then watch her make the solidified rubber in a shed fairly near our house. There were three houses between Kak's house and our house, a small lane, with planks to keep feet dry connected all these five houses.

this road became the Kai Peng Road when my sister and I were in Secondary School. By then Kak and her family had moved to Kampong Bandung and Abang Koh had passed away. We heard Kak was sick and passed away before we could visit her. This was also because we had no car and my mother was also not well. Although we have lost touch with Kak's nieces and nephews, we remember her very well.

AZoM - Metals, ceramics, polymers and composites - Rolling the latex into thin sheets.
Kak had a rubber mangler which she used with a strong force. We thought she was a very strong woman. After she had done her chores, cleaned herself up, she would come to our house and wash the two buckets of clothes.

Kak's toes were all wide spread and we also noticed how red her toes were. Her skin peeled off and some of her toe nails were really damaged by formic acid. I suppose she did not bother about pedicure in those days.

Life was hard for unmarried ladies and one day I remember she told my mother that she would never have a chance to make it to the Haj even though she was getting money from her rubber sheets. Each time she bought a new sarong, she would tell my mother about it. She dried her sarong with two poles, one to hang the sarong  with, attached the wires and one to pull the sarong straight and flat with its weight. I have not seen that for a long time .
Photo from Flcker..These look like the rubber trees between my house and Methodist Secondary School. I could ride my bicycle between the trees to the school.
We enjoyed the chat my mother and Kak had. Mum would be cooking at the stove and Kak would be washing by the cement well, with the rain water flowing out. After she left us, my mother slowly lost her ability to speak good Bahasa Melayu. Her little knoweldge of Bahasa Melayu helped her to communicate with my father's Iban friends, amongst them was Swan or Mangang (from Sungei Teku) who remained our family friend until he passed away in the 2000's.

It is not easy for people to remember that this part of Sibu's town edge of the 1960's have become part of the Mist Garden of Sibu (now also gone) and the Sibu Art Friend's Photo Complex. The adjoining land parcels where now stand  See Hua and Borneo Post Building and the Orchid Hotel were all part of what we called "Kampong Head Area". Our original Sibu home was where Orchid Hotel is today.

 Whenever I sit down at Payung Makhota, I would think of Kak, my mum and the Cantonese Ah Moo having a good conversation all those long years ago.

Another blog where you can find some history of rubber tapping


Anonymous said...

An Iban colleague of mine actually told me that he would walked for one hour with his brother to the rubber garden to do the tapping and then back again to the longhouse (another 1 hour). He said when they processed the rubber, he could even feel it in the skin of his arms. He is from Selangau. Must be hard life people of those days!!

Ensurai said...

It is indeed. Today people have a better life. In West Malaysia many rubber tappers ride motor cycles to their well maintained rubber gardens/estates. Thanks for visiting!!

Anonymous said...

My grandfather always jalan kaki for several miles, from Sibu town back to Oya Road. he just wanted to save his hard earned money. He did not have a pair of shoes on, again for not wasting his hard earned money. The skin under his feet would be terribly thick and rough. I remembered when he walked slowly at home at his old age, as his feet rubbed with the floor stained with sand, I could hear the rubbing sound.

As a matter of fact, after he passed away, as a little kid, I could sometimes hear this sound at home, although I could not see him around. That was the 7-week period when people of Chinese descent believe that the spirit was still around at home.

14-doo boy

Ensurai said...

Thanks for sharing this touching story. I really love your memories of your grandfather. Keep them safe.

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