January 16, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : My Grandmother's Red IC

2013 There are almost 300,000 people in the country who are holders of red identification cards with permanent resident’s status.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (BN-Bagan Datoh) said today - October 23, 2013.

My grandmother Tiong Lien Tie, lived through 3 regimes -

++She arrived in 1903 at the age of 6 from China and was given a landing certificate by the Rajah's Government. My Grand Uncle and the then headman (Wong Nai Siong) vouched for her good behaviour.
During the Japanese Occupation she was stranded in China, after an attempt to build a house in China with the money she earned from rubber in Sarawak. She intended to return to Sarawak immediately but failed. However she was able to take the first boat out of China and reached Sarawak safely in 1945. My grandfather unfortunately passed away during the Occupation in 1944.
++She was given an Identity document from the Colonial Government but no PR status even though all her 9 children were born in Sarawak.

++In 1963, as a mother of Sarawakians, within Malaysia, she failed to get a blue IC. Instead, she was given a new Malaysian RED IC. 
According to the Malaysian constitution, she had to prove her worthiness why she deserved a Malaysian IC. She was illiterate, although she could speak Malay fairly well. She was advised not to proceed with her application. For after all she was already "old".
 The Communist Insurgency did not help her improve her status in Sarawak. Again, she thought of getting a blue IC and again, several people advised her not to proceed. During this time, it was obvious that she could not get her Blue IC. All China born men and women were suspect. (My grandmother was already about 70 years old then)


Here is the story of my concerns for her :

In 1971/2 I was an undergraduate at the University of Malaya and away from Sibu. My family was worried that my grandmother was holding a RED IC. Would she have problems?

Fear was spreading throughout Sibu for several years already because there were a lot of Communists fighting against the Government. Communism was a "hated, feared ideology", Communists were enemies of the State. Communists can only bring ruin to the people. These were the statements voiced by the government, teachers, community leaders  ever since the Colonial government recognised the underground works of the Communists as BANDITS, TERRORISTS, in 1958. The British Government felt that if Malaysia was formed immediately, the problems of the CTs would be wiped out. It would have been economically sound for the British government. Save a few pennies. Thus the so called "difficult child state of Sarawak" was handed over to Malaya to form a new nation Malaysia in 1963.*
My Third Uncle Lau Pang Sing (deceased( and his wife, who now lives in Lucky Road Sibu.

1971 was a very crucial year for my family in Sibu. I often received letters from former students, school mates and relatives. My sister Sing wrote fairly often as we did not have a house phone then. Occasionally I would call my uncle's office in Sibu to share a few pieces of information and exchange some news.

July 1971 came and my greatest fear was how my family would fare during the long curfew hours. There have been  shorter curfews and  longer  hours of curfew days. But the worst one was the 24 hours curfew for 72 days in  July - Sept 1971. I was safe in Kuala Lumpur. But I missed out the card playing days, the lights out at home, and how my kid sisters slept under the beds. How anxious were my days for being the eldest I was not there with them.
The new Malaysian RED IC. (from Google) I don't have my grandmother's old IC.
My sister wrote ,"We have a lot of issues here, people who hold RED ICs are very scared. We who hold blue ICs should be ok."

Mum had to rear chickens to supplement our food in those crucial years. When the curfew was imposed, my sisters had to walk boldly (pushing one bicycle) through the barricades mounted by the security forces to the shop, Chai Hong, which was actually within view of our house. Several of Police and Border Scouts knew us very well as the Police station was just at the junction of our Brooke Drive. So my siblings and our neighbours' children , could actually pass by them and buy some sundry goods but only in the morning.

The shop had only a small opening to show that the towkay was in. Actually his whole family was living in the shop throughout the curfew because it was safer for them and they did not have to walk all the way to their home,some distance from the shop . They had to be with their shop after all.

My sister Sing remarked at one time, what would actually have happened if a soldier had shot her. She said all the corn would be on the road, her bicycle would have been confiscated and blood would be all over the corn. It was a horrific and tragic scenario. But she was so determined to feed the chickens.
This is the old IC. of old Malaya.  P.Ramless's IC from Google. My GRandmother had so wished to get a blue IC like this.

During this period, my grandmother and the family of my Eldest (Pang Ping) and Third Uncles (Pang Sing) were still in Nang Chong Village, living in the big house built by my grandfather, Lau Kah Chui in 1930's.

All the villagers had to submit to TENANT REGISTRATION, a security exercise mounted by the Security Forces in 1972. In 1975  RASCOM took over the responsibility.

The objectives of the exercise are :
1. To provide intelligence on the movement of the communists and their supporters
2. To deny the CTs any shelter and accommodation
3. To prevent CTS from dominating an area
4. To give an excuse to unwilling supporters from associating and cooperating with the CTS.
(page 95,10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, RASCOM)

"A total of 177,837 persons were registered under the exercise involving 29,000 families." 

My two uncles and my grandmother were terrified by the exercise being the timid Foochows. The villagers were so scared that they often closed their doors and windows even in the day time. Some more daring ones went to their pig sties to feed their animals and even went to the cooperative to buy supplies. Occasionally the Security Forces patrolled the river and their boat engines could be heard. It was a fear ridden time.

But fortunately, one of my school mates,who had already joined the Police force, and who could speak Foochow appeared in Nang Chong during one of his duties in the area. He saw my photo in my grandmother's living room and he tried his best to use some reassuring words to help my grandmother and uncles understand. His influence must have been fairly significant because every soldier/police who later came by my grandmother's house was very polite and they only did the mandatory checks without any untoward incidents.

It was very understandable that my Grandmother was petrified because she was holding a RED IDENTITY CARD, which meant that she was an alien and her greatest fear was being "sent back to China". What could a 70+ Chinese woman do? Where could she go?

I returned to Sibu to teach in 1976 and enjoyed visiting her in Nang Chong, riding on the motor launches, as it was before the roads connecting all the villages were constructed. But then curfew was no longer imposed although we were still under RASCOM's jurisdiction.

My Third Uncle built a smaller wooden house in Nang Chong even before the big house collapsed in the 1980's. He continued to work as a contractor for JKR road construction and slowly he and his sons built up a small business after the collapse of rubber, oranges and wharf labourer's work, the main occupations of rural Foochows in the Rajang valley.

It was a simple life for all of us, each member earning a small income, some as teachers and clerks in the banks in Sibu. We celebrated a few birthdays for her after the fear of Communist threat was removed. Life was quite normal. We forgot about the strict road blocks, the river blocks etc. And we all started to go to different churches in Sibu, instead of the one in our village.

Grandmother continued to enjoy her movies in the cinema but in the last four years of her life she finally became 100% visually impaired due to glaucoma ( which was left untreated for too long). We all grew to understand blindness better because we looked after her. She was circulated amongst the two remaining sons and occasionally she came to live with my mother. That is a very Foochow thing to do. She did not want to die in a daughter's home.

My grandmother passed away peacefully in Lau King Howe Hospital in August 1983, clasping her red IC very tightly.

I still remember her asking my Uncle Chung Ching, to give her the Red IC from her basket, so that she could see it. Every one who could come to bid farewell had gathered around her. She was in a lot of pain.

Like a candle waning, the final light went off when the wick was finished and the wax melted.

Thus ended the long life of a wonderful woman who was sold for 5 silver dollars at the age of 5 as a child bride. She was brought to Nanyang and when she turned 16 she married my grandfather who was 15 years her senior. She carried her Red IC with the greatest of pride and died with it in her hands.

She only knew of Sarawak as her "country" because her children are all Sarawakians and Tong San or old China as her birth place. She saw Tong San only once only for a second time during the Japanese War. She never had any document from China to show that she was born in China or that she had lived in China.

(This is a story based on recounts from my family and my own personal experience. Some of the facts are referenced from Rascom's 10th Anniversary Magazine and Wikipedia. Thank you)


* Prior to the British Government announcing the East of Suez policy, the British Government had begun to reevaluate in the late 1950s its force commitment in the Far East. As a part of its withdrawal from its Southeast Asian colonies, the UK moved to combine its colonies in North Borneo with the Federation of Malaya (which had become independent from Britain in 1957), and Singapore (which had become self-governing in 1959). In May 1961, the UK and Malayan governments proposed a larger federation called Malaysia, encompassing the states of Malaya, Sabah (then North Borneo), Sarawak, Brunei, and Singapore. Initially, Indonesia was mildly supportive of the proposed Malaysia, although the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia — Indonesian Communist Party) was strongly opposed to it.(Wikipedia)


Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

I shouldn't laugh, but I do, imagine all your life yr grandma was worried as being an illegal alien. There was one year after the 24 hr curfew, when all the youngsters were arrested. Imagine your grandma was arrested as well.

Ensurai said...

I know. Unfortunately at that time people were just going with the current and not as well advised as KTK regarding changing of IC. But my grandmother was the kind of lady who would not disturb the family. After all if the RED ic was good enough, it was good enough for her.

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