June 27, 2022

Sibu Tales : Masland Methodist Church

 To me the most famous road in Sibu is the Island road and the most iconic church is the old Masland Church.

The Island Road in the photo reaches the Lau King Howe Hospital at the end. Today, it still turns into Bridge Road which then joins up with Queensway , which is now the Tun Haji Openg Road, the longest road in Sibu. This road runs into the old Sibu Airport and the Sibu University of Technology or UCTS.

This photo was taken in the 50's when I was in the  Methodist Primary School. It shows a  bus which is an old Bedford. The best known bus company in the olden days was Sungei Merah Bus Company. But the first man who owned a bus was Uncle Wong Cheng Ding, the son of the legendary Mrs. Wong Ping Chuan, whom we all affectionately called Ping Chuan Moo Moo. I was too young to know the name of his bus company. He left behind a big property known as Motor Workshop next to the San Sun Rice Mill. His children also remember that.

The Church in the photo is the original Masland Church, named after Mrs. Masland who donated a large sum of money to Rev James Hoover who built this church. This is not the first Church built by the Methodist. The first church ever built by the Methodist Foochows is Sing Ang Tong. Named NEW PEACE church because the Foochow pioneers were seeking shelter from war, poverty, bad government, famine and banditry in the 1900, which was the end period of the Qing Dynasty.

On the right of the Masland Church is the original Methodist Book Room, which has now been completely rebuilt.

Island Road in those days was tree lined. Bamboo Hedges were planted to delineate properties. Besides,canna lilies also dotted  the  roadside making Island Road very pretty  to look at.  Many people said canna lilies were brought in to Sibu by the American missionaries.

Lots of people in those days rode bicycles, so much so that at one time Sibu was called the Bicycle Town of Sarawak.

This is a great photo for remembrance. And an Iconic photo. Photographer is still unknown.

June 24, 2022

Sg. Merah : License to Drive

 Family Remembrances.

My grandfather was very keen on motor cars or in anything that was mechanical. Relatives were in awe of him and they would sing praises of him by saying that he could fit any thing together if they were metal or mechanical parts. And in fact he was not at all highly educated. He was schooled at home in the old Minqing village of Wun Chieh for only a few years. But he was able to do very high level maths calculation (according to his cousins in Sibu). 

And one of the cars he bought for his own amusement was this unique "jeep" which he must have purchased from Kuching, bearing the plate K7827. He kept the vehicle on his hill top property in Sg Merah. When grand children came to visit, he would allow an uncle to drive it. And the driver must have a licence. 

In this photo, Uncle Sia Kie Ming is the driver. And he had a licence from Singapore. Here is a beautiful family photo for remembrance. Lots of positive vibes.

Later my uncle Tai Hieng and Aunty Laura all drove without Licence. And by then grandfather had passed on to prevent all the illegal driving on top of the hill. I believe my Aunt Laura was able to drive when she was 13. My uncle Tai Hieng was to become owner of many good cars like Mercedes and even a sports car later on as he inherited a lot of wealth from my grandfather and he also had very good connections.

Here in the photo,  Uncle Sia Kie Ming had come back from Singapore for a visit. 

In the photo : Aunt Greta, Aunt Chiew, Aunt Siew and Aunt Laura, with young 5th Aunty. Grandma Siew is third from the left back row.

Uncle Tai Hieng is first from the right in the front.

Those in the photos must be extremely happy to be in this record breaking kind of event...How many people can sit in a jeep?

The roof (on the right) in the photo probably is the roof of Wong Cheng Ang's house.

June 21, 2022

Sibu Tales : 1948 School Commencement

 Oh HOW I loved the word COMMENCEMENT when I was young!!

I learned that it was an American word from my Aunt Pick. She showed me the photo of Aunt Chiew's Commencement photo and in later days as I looked at Methodist School Magazines (The Hornbill) I would see this beautiful photo .

The photo was taken against a very familiar building, The Hoover House, in Sibu. At the time, the students were all studying in attap roofed, wooden buildings before the Methodist Secondary School was completed in  1949.

According to my Aunt Chiew, all the students and teachers wore white for the photo session.

I had my American dream too, but I was never to reach the USA , until 2018, when I was nearly 70 years old. I did reach San Francisco to visit my daughter and son in law...but I never had a chance to have an American Commencement.

White is a very formal, Methodist colour then.

(Commencement = a ceremony when degrees or diplomas are conferred to students.)

June 18, 2022

A Poem by Robert Frost - Birches

 Have always loved trees.

I would rather be in a forest,

Than in a Mall, with lots of people.

I would be lost among the faces,

Wont be able to sit and rest,

Even though I may love all the races,

Who mill around me harmony to attest,

I would beat a little, my chest,

My heart's palpitations, my heart races.

My anxieties.

---Chang Yi June 2022.

When I am anxious I will read poems to calm myself down......And this will be one of them...

Thanks, Robert Frost.

Birches - Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

— Robert Frost

June 15, 2022

Sibu Tales : Uncles and Aunts

My father's siblings were all very close especially those who were living in Sibu.

Those who lived outside Sibu, namely Binatang and Singapore, and elsewhere would visit often, especially when my Grandfather was still alive.

When they visited each other, they would take photos for remembrance. This was a very nice practice, "for remembrance".

Thus my parents left us a few albums of photos for remembrance. I am glad they made "memories" for us and we remember every in their photos. What a great legacy in photographs.

 Here in this photo are some of the siblings visiting Third and Fifth Uncles in Bukit Aup, Kiong Ann Brickyard, my grandfather's last foray into business. He left the business to the sons. But unfortunately my father passed away two years after him. And two years later, Third Uncle also passed away.

Left to right at the back - Fifth Uncle, Cousin Chiong Whye, Third Uncle, Third Aunty. Goo Poh

Front row : Uncle Lau Pang Kwong, Aunty Pearl , Aunty Greta, Aunty Ik Ding, Aunty Carrie

June 12, 2022

Sibu Tales : Chapel of the Theological School

This building was a popular sight in the 60's and 70's in Sibu. It was the chapel for the Methodist Theological School, Sibu, Sarawak.

The building also had classrooms for lectures and there were only a few students. The courses were conducted in English, Chinese and Iban. After graduation the students became pastors and served in various parts of rural Sarawak especially. Those were the early days of Chinese and Iban Methodist Church history. A few of the graduates were able to further their studies in the USA and UK and they returned with BA or MA in Divinity or other Theological Studies.

Other theological school students also went to Singapore to further their studies.

Most of the lecturers were Missionaries (until 1987), Chinese and Iban pastors with experiences.

On Sundays the Wesley Church conducted its evening service at the Chapel at 5 pm and I enjoyed singing in the choir. One of the reasons why I enjoyed singing in the choir here was because the choir members sat at the back of the chapel. I did not like to face the congregation when I sang.

Three conductors were remarkable during my time, Mrs. Charlotte Hipkins, Mrs. Catherine Chew Ing Seng and Miss Jackie Fries. One of our favourite choir hymn was "How Great Thou Art". The hymn still evokes a great deal of memories for me.

The Sunday School helped us improve our English in particular. And the Sunday Service also helped us grow in our Christian belief.

A few of my own classmates and school mates developed themselves and became pastors like Sie Nguong Siong and Wong Sing Mee. May be a few others did I am not aware of their career as I left Sibu in 1987 and lost touch with many of them.

After about 60 or 70 years wooden buildings give way to concrete high rise buildings.  Let not our memories of the past fade.....

A poem by Emily Dickinson

If Recollecting Were Forgetting
Then I remember not.
And if forgetting, recollecting,
How near I had forgot.
And if to miss, were merry,
And to mourn, were gay,
How very blithe the fingers
That gathered this, Today!

June 9, 2022

Nang Chong Stories : A Family Educated the Girls

During the late 60's and early 70's many Nang Chong families were still too poor even to pay for their children's school fees. The Government then did not have any specific programme to help poor families in the Chinese villages.. Aided schools were partially funded by the government and in the Chinese areas, at best there was Text Book on Loan program. Even though with hostel facilities, had to require their students to pay for food at least. Most students would choose to walk an hour to and fro school, or even row their own little boats across the river, than stay in the hostels.

In the early days many older teachers were even using Foochow to teach their subjects! As a result most students could not even read in Mandarin properly. English was a killer subject, and Bahasa Malaysia was not well taught. Learning then had many obstacles.

For a long time in government aided schools like Chung Cheng, the board of directors , at the most,could provide some remission of fees for the extremely poor but bright students. Usually poverty would thus force the poor students to leave school,tap rubber or learn a skill in Sibu or elsewhere. Many villagers had to beg from the Board of Management to keep their children in school.

Students from those days remember some very stressful school practices. Whenever parents could not pay the monthly school fees, the usual practice was to forbid the children from taking the school exams. This would be recorded in their individual report cards. 

Thus a few of my cousins were often in a dilemma when they could not find the extra cash to pay their fees. Cousin Ah Leng remembers that her mother, my aunt,  had gone to ask the wife of a motor launch owner , Ah Lang (owner of Sin Hai Huong Motor Launch) for a loan of $3.00 so that her three girls could sit for their exams, as the fees were only $1.00 a month. 

Unkind villagers would comment "If you have no money to pay for fees just withdraw your girls from the school."

Cousin Ah Leng remembers that many of her fellow students and herself who could not pay their fees would have their names posted on the school notice board. This embarrassment would stay in the minds of these poor kids for ever.

Leng's family then decided that the older boys must go to work after her second brother reached Primary Six. The oldest had to work in a bicycle shop in Sibu where he learned to repair tires and bicycles. The second boy went to a timber camp to learn to be a mechanic after he passed his Primary Six.

Old photo of Chung Cheng Primary School, Sibu at Nang Chong.

My aunt insisted the girls must study hard as the boys would be bringing home some earnings. The boys also agreed that the girls being brighter should continue to study. This situation became the most unusual social occurrence at that time. People started to ask why the Lau girls stayed in the school! 

Cousin Leng was injured in the eye while swimming in the River Rajang. As a result of her loss of one eye and lack of medical treatment at that time, she suffered for a long time socially, physically and emotionally. She was called names, "One Eye Girl", "One Eye Monster" etc. Children followed her and laughed at her and she had no courage to fight against them. 

But she studied hard and suffered in silence, while her mother coaxed her to complete her studies and never give up. She is the eldest among her daughters.

The determined mother encouraged the girls to study hard, as it was the only way out of poverty and to independence. She had more vision than most Foochow women in her days. Thus in this Lau family all the girls were educated, while only the youngest son finally reached university level . 

Another memory Ah Leng had of her early days in Chung Cheng School was how her mother was willing to pay teacher Lau Nai Meng $1.00 a month for tuition in English. Mr. Lau said that Ah Leng must have tuition to raise her chance of passing her Common Entrance Exam as her other subjects were all good except English, which she was scoring like 9%! So after three months, Ah Leng was able to raise her English marks to 60% and her chances of passing the CEE were raised much to the delight of her mother.

Ah Leng went on to become a pastor, and even trained in the UK. Today her sermons in English are excellent. Now in her 60's ,  she is ever ready to help people when they need her in and outside her church. Besides she is quite a linguist, being fluent in Bahasa, English and Chinese.

The family left Chung Cheng School area one day after her Form Five Exams because of the Communist insurgency in 1973. She remembers that day very well, how she became a town girl after Form Five. 

The Communist Insurgency in Sarawak was still at its height and folks were still living in fear. Rubber prices had plummeted and villagers flocked to towns like Sibu, Kuching, Bintulu and Miri.

She was then very courageous as she immediately started a tuition centre for children around  her new area of abode. She converted  the living room of their rented apartment, an upstairs floor of a shop lot in Lanang Road, Sibu. She worked 5 days a week, morning, afternoon and night. She was able to help keep her family together with the $400 she earned every month which was a good income and her parents were so proud of her.

She operated her tuition business for 10 years but in 1983 she became a Church worker with an allowance of $50.00 per month.

Today she, as a pastor, has testimonies to share with all who know or don't know her.

God blessed the family because all the boys prospered as well as the girls in so many ways. At the end of 10 years of t heir moving to Sibu town, the family started to prosper in more ways than one.

Sibu Tales : Masland Methodist Church

 To me the most famous road in Sibu is the Island road and the most iconic church is the old Masland Church. The Island Road in the photo re...