February 26, 2015

Nang Chong Tales : A Man with a Handsaw

My maternal grandfather,Lau Kah Chui, was not particularly skilful with his hands but he was known to be able to do some tailoring, and build simple structures with the help of a handsaw. His greatest feat was his strength to carry heavy stuff during his youth. But that actually caused his illness towards the last decade of his life. His main occupation was however rubber tapping.

Interestingly, he made friends with those who had good skills. Like the friend he had for life, Hii Tien Ju, who son, Hii Wen Hui, eventually became his son-in-law, about 10 years after he passed away.

My grandfather and Mr. Hii Tien Ju together built the big house at Ah Nang Chong with the simplest of tools and the Tiing Nang Primary school, on the land donated by my grandfather.

The hand saw united the two of them together. Mr. Hii was a sort of barefoot architect and builder and grand dad was a rubber tapper. When they built the house together, grand dad would use his handsaw to cut all the necessary lengths of planks. When the village decided to build the primary school, my grandfather also was part of the cooperative team.

In fact for years, many housebuilders would carry a big Foochow basket, containing simple tools, like the plane, ruler, pencil, sandpaper. And the handsaw would stick out of the basket like a symbol of a man who was going to help people build homes. In the basket would be a bottle of water and perhaps just a bao or two. In those days many of the hardworking people did not have packed food or even Cheng Ark (tiffin carriers) or plastic containers.

On the other hand, if  they were contracted out, they would live in coolie houses or Mangsang and share cooked food with the rest of the contract workers.

And we have to remember that many of these carpenters actually became weakened because they carried too much stuff, worked too hard without good food and nutrition.

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