February 27, 2014

Sungei Merah Tales : Days of Water from the Well

In the early days, 1901-1961, Sibu people, especially the Foochows and Heng Huas, depended on well and rain water for cooking, washing and other conveniences. I suppose many of the younger generation cannot remember that any more with all the modern facilities and amenities.

My grandfather's house was situated on top of a hill, behind the Kwang Ang Primary School and the Sing Ang Tong. Being a good engineer my grandfather was able to fit pipes all around the house for our conveniences. He raised the cement tank so that water could flow easily without the help of a pump. So we had a modern sink by the window and the kitchen had a good washing area for all the bowls and plates. He brought water to the outhouse, our special concrete toilet outside the house, at the back of the kitchen. Even the chicken coops had their own water pipes!! And not far from the house, he also installed an open area with a nice tap so that people who came to the house could even wash their cars , mud caked bicycles and their feet!! He had a lot of things well thought out.

During my childhood holidays in Sungei Merah, I remember how we depended on one special well water before the arrival of piped water in the 1960's. The well was about 5 minutes'  walk from the house on top of the hill. I heard years later my grandfather was kind and he had dug the well for his neighbours and himself to use. He must have spent time and money to find the well water with the help of the Malays from the Kampong and for years, people were happy to draw water from the well. It was the only well for many families then. He never walled the well and I can still remember how he carefully placed belian planks around the well. Probably because he knew that it was a temporary well, he never cemented the whole area. I remember how people washed their bicycles and even the rubber sheets there!!

I remember only a few occasions when we ran short of rain water and we had to help with laundry by the well. Aunty Ah Hiong after doing all the washing pushed the two pails of washing with her bicycle and we kids followed behind. All around us rubber seeds would be bursting in their shells, making a racket.Dought occurred only twice during my childhood if I am not mistaken. First we had to wait for the Urban District to bring around a water tanker to dispense water and everyone had to bathe near the present Premiere Hotel in the river. The second time was when we had to queue up at the stand pipe supplied by the Water Board. After those two occasions, we had running piped water and it was so wonderful to have piped water, showers etc. I remember my mother having to get a worker to knock down the cement tank and we had some extra room in our kitchen.

a cement water tank found in Myanmar  - my recent trip to Myanmar.
Besides water from wells, almost all houses would have a cement tank to be filled up with rain water. Zinc water tank was not in fashion yet.And of course LSL or King Kong were unheard of in those days.

I remember how convenient it was for grandfather, grandmother, great grandmother and uncles and aunties to use the rain water and there was never shouts of "save water, don't waste water!!" during the day. The rain water collected from the belian roof and the gutters was very cold in the morning, but very warm in the evenings. It is sad that we of the younger generation never really appreciate using rain water nowadays. We should be practising sustainable lifestyle the way our grandfathers used to.

Grandfather Kung Ping was a good architect and he built a good wash/bath room around a huge cement water tank in the house so that his step mother, a bound feet lady, did not have to go outside to take her bath. Great grandmother would spend at least an hour in the bath room for her every day bathing ritual, which included washing her knobbly feet and the binding cloths. At times she would wash her cloth shoes.

In those early days we also used kerosene lamps which our adopted aunt Ah Hiong pumped up in the evenings and the lamp would be placed on the beam just above the staircase. When grandfather went to sleep, he would "order" aunty Hiong to douse the lamp, and told her not to waste any more kerosene.

Each evening when the lights came on, my grandfather would lock up the house , by bolting all the windows and doors. We had wooden bolts in those days.

Our outside toilet was always clean and grandfather would spray the area with a white lotion,the name of which I cannot remember now. This lotion was to control flies around the house and I believe it was also the then most used antiseptic which the locals would buy and mix into the right solutions and then stopped with a little cork. A hole was made in the cork and we would shake the solution out of the bottle after we used the outhouse.

Many years later, my grandfather was one of the first men in Sungei Merah to instal a flush toilet. That was also the time when Sungei Merah's population was blessed by a special water tower and piped water was available for household consumption.

In retrospect, we never experienced an epidemic of cholera or dysentery, although most children did have their NORMAL bouts of intestinal worms, as it was a common ailment.

 God had really been looking after us very well.


Anonymous said...

Ya, I remember seeing a tube well at the base of a small hill at Tong Sang primary School, Oya Rd after St Elizabeth's School. Tube well is also important in peat swamp area as a large part of Swak was covered by peat swamp. Peat swamp acts as sponge for freshwater, without which, the sea water will encroach further inland. And if you dig tube well in peat swamp area until you reach the clay layer, you would get salty water, thus the usefulness of the peat which unfortunately has largely been converter to oil palm plantation!.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I remeber you posted something on your visit to Sheepstor. How do you get from Plymouth to St Leonard in Sheepstor? Any bus service? or can you walk there?

Ensurai said...

Thank you for your input. I must let my cousin who used to live in Tong Sang Primary school area know.

Ensurai said...

We went by a hired coach. But I think when you get into Plymouth (usually in the morning) you will be able to get a taxi or a bus to Sheepstor. I will get the bus map if I can for you.