(Thank you Bert Tan for this photo.)
My Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping could not witness the arrival of the new Nation, Malaysia for he passed away in April of 1963, four months too soon. Otherwise he would have become a Malaysian.
He had lived a long life and went through several eras and political systems : the late Qing Dynasty of China (a Qing subject wearing a pig tail), the awakening of China to Sun Yat Sen's new republic (a Chinese republican, with hair cut off), the rule of the Brookes in Sarawak (a subject of Rajah Brooke, with a landing certificate), the arrival of the British colonial rule (a British Colony subject) and the beginnings of independence. He was foremost an entrepreneur who was aware of political changes and the issues involved. He had two Sarawak born sons who were Council Negri Members before 1963.
Although he might have the thought like most Chinese- "to have the Emperor as far away as possible", he also knew that a little bit of connection was good for business. He was able to read and write after a few years of home tutoring in China. He was farsighted and enterprising to work with (and for) the Methodist Church of Sibu, following the footsteps of his father, my great grandfather who was both a herbalist and a builder. He was a very skilled self taught engineer and a strong Methodist.
Besides my Grandmother Chong, who was educated in English and in Singapore, was a very helpful wife who helped him in all ways possible. However she passed away when she was 38 only. Being an English and Malay speaking, (she was part Nyonya) she was also very forward looking and helpful to all who came to deal in business with my grandfather.
My Mederka Day thoughts of him are inspired by this photo.
By 1962, and almost 84, my grandfather was very apprehensive about the coming of the new rulers from Kuala Lumpur. I was in Form Two then and often witnessed his coming over to our house in Sibu. He had serious discussions with my father that times might come for the people of Sarawak to "share" their wealth with the new rulers, i.e. we had to pay taxes like in the feudal times of China. He even was worried that the warlord system(in 1962 all Chinese who had guns had to surrender them to the Government) might be established in some areas in Malaysia, which would be such a vast land, with a huge sea in between. However, at the same time, he was very concerned about the Communists who were lurking in the jungles. He had undergone hard days in China with the Imperial Qing and he had seen Japanese soldiers who plundered villages in Sarawak. It is true, his initial foray into the new settlement of Sibu (1901-1922) was a difficult period of his life but he emerged triumphant and built a fortune which he protected with his life. He considered him fortunate.
He had been very saddened by the communist insurgency and the Confrontation led by Sukarno. The Confrontation resulted in the loss of communication with our Chong relatives in Java. My grandmother Chong had many relatives in Java. My relatives told me that when my father and his siblings were very young, and my grandfather was just a struggling businessman, his father in law, Senior Chong supported the family with food and other necessities for a few good years(1909-1922).
Like many of his Foochow friends , Grandfather would not spend hours in coffee shops. He would be happy to see Foochows working hard and spending their time wisely. If he passed by the coffee shop at the Lido Cinema, the most he would do was to tarry for a while, drink a cup of kopi-0 (He drank Chinese tea at home), and wait to tapau (take away) some Sibu special Kampua Mee for his only sister and his grand children who were studying in the Methodist Primary School then. Having gotten his order, he would walk to the primary school and see his sister, my grand aunt Chang Yuk Ging. My siblings would be watching out for tall grandfather to walk up the staircase of the Methodist Memorial Building where my grand aunt was accommodated, just before recess and goodies would be expected. Grandfather did not believe in wasting his time chatting away worthlessly. He would say hello to his Pastor Rev Ho Siew Liong, or Rev Ling Kai Cheng. Or he would stop by his first cousin's ( Tiong Kiu Dieh)shop in Sungei Merah by the bridge before going home at the top of the hill behind the Kwong Ang School. He was frugal and serious all his life and expected others to be the same.
Grandfather was famous for his upright, stringent and frugal ways. Cigarette tins on the coffee shop tables were put there so that business men could offer a cigarette to their friends, or "belanja a cigarette" but my health conscious grandfather would never do it. Offering a cigarette to a friend in those days in Sibu was a very "gentleman thingy". He was also a teetotaler, a Methodist who practised temperance. All the beer advertisement would not tempt him to drink or make him buy a beer for his friends.
My grandfather was very friendly with all the indigenous people of Sibu and Bintangor. He made friends with the Melanaus and the Malays. He helped them to construct bigger wooden houses and bought a few pieces of land in Kampong Nyabor. In fact when my grandmother Chong passed away in 1925, the Ketua Kampong of Kampong Nangka, the Melanau Chief then offered one of his nieces to my grandfather in marriage, but my grandfather was keen to marry a Methodist woman who was born in China.Grandfather was well loved by both the Melanaus and Malays of Sibu because of his respect and caring ways for them. He employed many of them as "kepala" in construction and later brick yard business
He had all his children educated in English after they received their basic Chinese education (1923 -1963). He was one of the first Sibu Foochow elders to allow some of his daughters to sail to the United States (yes in those days, they "sailed" to the USA) with the help of the American missionaries. While most of his (13 ) daughters were educated in Singapore, some also went to England and Australia. This showed that he was very much influenced by Mrs. Hoover's philosophy on Foochow girls' education. "Foochow girls must be well educated to bring about a very civil and future oriented Foochow society. They will become good mothers and wives to the hardworking Foochow men."
1963 - the year of my grandfather's passing was also the year Malaysia came into being. So 2014 is therefore also his 51th Anniversary .