April 10, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Lau Pang Sing - Smoke House Owner

"Each period of rubber smoking would result in 80 to 90 TAN or pickuls," my third aunt, Wong Nguk Leng said. "Managing a smoke house in those days required a very strong man and your uncle Lau pang Sing was just the right man to do it."

What were the job description of a rubber smoke house manager in those days?
1. Must be able to paddle a small prahu to bring in  a stray log to the shore when it was sighted.
2. Must be able to saw the logs and get them ready for burning in the furnace, below the smoke house.
3. Must be able to look after the burning coals for a week, to ensure the rubber sheets are well smoked.
4. Must be able to manage the hanging of the rubber sheets properly and systematically on the racks before the smoking session.
5. Must be able to check the temperature of the furnace and be on the alert 24 hours during the smoking period.
6. Must be able to handle the individual rubber tappers and their rubber sheets before, during and after the smoking period. He must have the trust of the rubber tappers who have sent their rubber sheets to him for smoking.
7. Must be able to load the rubber sheets onto the motor launch when the rubber sheets have cooled down and "baled"
8. Must be able to keep a simple account of the fees collected for smoking and disburse the amount properly after the sale of rubber sheets (the money will be collected from the middleman,rubber exporting company, Hock Chiong, of Sibu.)

My uncle received 2 dollars per pickul from the rubber tappers who sent their sheets to him for smoking. He would not smoke rubber sheets every month also especially during the rainy season. So smoking rubber sheets was a very irregular business. But his irregular cash income for the month was just enough for him to raise his family of7 children, together with his wife and old mother.

To supplement the income my third aunt tapped rubber, reared farm animals, planted vegetables and rice. In this way they managed to send their children to school (Chung Cheng and Catholic High School).

As a niece enjoying holidays with grandma and uncle and aunty, one of the best memories I had was the way he would paddle quickly to get a stray log in the Rajang river. Others who owned smoke houses would also be on the look out for stay logs floating in the river.

Hence  his skill in paddling a boat was well known. The log belonged to the first man to reach it . So it was really a kind of Olympic paddling for my uncle.

After hooking the log with an iron hook ,usually after much hammering, he would pull the log to the river side near the smoke house. A very primitive winch with wire ropes would bring the log up,usually at high tide so that the log would slip easily on shore. The log would thus dry out for a few days under the sun.

Just before the smoking period my uncle would sew the log into three portions right on the ground floor of the smoke house. Once it was time to start the furnace for the smoking session, the sew portions would be rolled into the furnace for burning. Usually he placed two pieces of the log at the bottom and one piece over the two parallel portions. As the fire burned, he had to tend to the burning coals. It was a very very hot kind of job!!
This was how he would saw a log using a Two Men Saw or two handled Saw. But he had a special way of operating this kind of saw all by himself.

It was my uncle's job to arrange the rubber sheets for smoking like this.
Photo from http://jeciwuv.exblog.jp/i1

A comunall "mill" for wringing out the water from rubber paties once they set.
My aunt Nguk Leng and my cousins would be rolling out rubber sheets every day (if it was not raining) using rubber mangling machines like this.
 Photo from http://jedrzejmajewski.wordpress.com/sarawak/bengoh-valley-bamboo-bridges/

Have you ever seen a Rubber Coupon like this?
The days of rubber tapping and rubber smoking are all just part of our memories. Hope that by recording this article, I can help make known the life style of those days for the future generations of the Lau family especially and for the people of Nang Chong.

It is always good to remember my late Third Uncle who remains in our memories as one of the best relatives we had. He made excellent baos for our supper during the holidays and he would buy us some Pok Chui or aerated water whenever he could afford it.

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