June 10, 2015

Hua Hung Ice Factory : Processing of Rubber Scraps

Rubber tappers before Malaysia tapped and collected latex from cups attached to rubber trees and dutifully processed them later in the morning. It was very hard work.

Besides collecting latext, they also collected the dried up residue on the tree. After the latex had been collected from the cup in the morning, any more latex oozing out of the tree will form a layer of dried latex.

This layer would be collected the next day when the rubber tapper came. This is called Neng Si, and it would be wound up like a ball, and placed in a rattan basket tied to the waist of the rubber tapper. You can imagine how much Neng Si a rubber tapper could collect if he had 100 trees to tap.

from Google
After peeling off the Neng Si, the rubber tapper would cut gently again into the tree bark, and the white milk of the rubber tree would ooze out.
rubber ball made from raw dried up latex scraps from tree. This is the closest photo I can find to explain what Neng Si is.

Some trees yield more latex, others less, depedning on the breed and age of the tree.

In Ah Nang Chong, the rubber trees planted by my maternal grandfather were not of the best because they were planted in 1926-1930. He singularly planted rubber trees on 100 acres of swampy land. Thus the rubber trees grew up crooked, some were uprooted even, but the roots formed a formidable obstacle to my aunts and cousins who tapped rubber in those days. These raised rubber roots were hard to walk on and very often, the feet of the rubber tappers were damaged. Some even developed widely spaced toes due to the frequent gripping of the slippery rubber roots, Nevertheless rubber tappers, who worked barefooted, had very strong feet.

Getting bitten by snakes was a frequent occupational hazard. Some bites were fatal.

My maternal grandfather also employed initially many tappers who had just arrived from China. They were called Sing Ka or New Arrivals (guests). These tappers stayed in the Coolie Houses (*4)  my grandfather built for several years before they moved on to other places for better lives once they had saved enough to be independent. Those were good days when rubber prices were very good.

In those days, these employees and my grandfather shared the profits. Besides my maternal grandfather being a very generous uncle gave 10 acres of his land to his nephew to start off his life. In those days the Pioneers from Fujian were very generous to their closest relatives who came  out later.

Foochow generosity like this has helped many to prosper in Nanyang.

But the neng si was another matter.

The neng si was collected and sold to Hua Hung which flattened and put the dried up rubber strips together to form a flattened sheet. These rough flattened rubber sheets were then baled up and exported to Singapore.

Raw rubber scraps had a terrible smell whenever they were loaded on to motor launches. Very stinky indeed and very dirty looking.

We really did not know why my grandfather decided not to continue this business. May be he felt that it was not a worthwhile business.

Later I found out that Hock Chiong, as a middle man, exported just simple balls of neng si, or unprocessed neng si.

The raw neng si continues to be an important export of Indonesia today.

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