May 22, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Travellers on Foot

After the Foochows arrived in Sibu in 1901, agriculture began to expand along the banks of the Rajang, first along the East Bank. When more Foochows arrived in the next decade, many of the first pioneers began to open up more land on the West Bank of the Rajang River.

According to the History of Sibu Foochow Settlement (Wong Meng Lei), the Rajah Brooke Government alienated Sungei Merah land to the Ming Ching group of Foochows, Kwong Hua land to the Kutien Group. by a special agreement with Wong Nai Siong. The Rajah had the vision of creating a Rice Bowl by introducing the hardworking Foochows to his kingdom of Sarawak.

 By 1922, many Foochows had started opening up  more land , for example, in the present Bintangor township led by Tiong Kung Ping, Ling Ming Lok and Yao Siew Khing.

In 1926 my maternal grandfather, who by then had 7 children, decided to start his own rubber estate,away from the main family land in Ensurai. Through the kindness of his older brother Lau Kah Tii,who was by then recognised as the Leader of the Foochows by the Rajah, he obtained 100 acres from the Brooke Government for rubber growing.

In those early years, any hardworking Foochow with good intentions and reputation, could apply for a "grant of land" from the Rajah. 

This piece of land is still held by my cousins, in Lower Nang chong, slightly below Chung Cheng School in Sg. Maaw.

At frist my grandfather, Lau Kah Chui, built a house further up the river bank of the Rajang on its Western Bank,  nearer to the  present Lee Hua Sawmill but later he moved his family (by then my mother was already a little girl) to Lower Nang Chong, where he built 4 hostels (each with 4 new families from China) and his own main house. All Foochow owned houses in those days were constucted from good wood, hewned from local trees and refined with simple implements like axes,  two-men-saw, plane and smaller saws. It must have taken the men a long time to get all the planks ready by hand. But they did it. However, the workers quarters or hostels,prepared by the land owners for their rubber tappers were built with rough poles, attap and pieces of wood. For after all they were for temporary occupation. Plywood was unheard of in those days.

Roads were simple beaten earth paths and where small streams crossed the paths, a tree trunk was placed across the stream.

Foochow travellers in those days,on the West Bank of the Rajang River walked along rustic paths bare footed, of course, and fairly often they met Ibans,mostly hunters and fishermen, from Tulai area. It was a fairly good day's journey to walk from my grandfather's house to Tulai. Many Foochows had already settled in Tulai growing rubber besides other food crops. In order to go to Sibu, for example to sell their tuba, these pioneers had to walk from Tulai to my grandfather's jetty and take a boat.

These bare footed Foochow travellers from Tulai would have a bath in the river before boarding the river boat very early in the morning. Early morning river bath would allow them to see the warm vapours of the water rising up to the sky. A high tide would be a blessing because it would be easier for them to load their products into the river boats.

Sometimes when the sun set before the last boat arrived, these travellers would stay the night in my grandfather's house before proceeding home to Tulai the next day. It was not wise to travel at night. A home like my grandfather's would act like an original homestay. My generous grandfather would always provide them a free hot meal.

According to my mother, where paths were muddy and water logged, tree trunks were often placed across them for travellers to walk. It was not at all slippery on rainy days for them because with their barefeet, these foochows could easily grip the tree trunks with their toes!! But for those who had not been initiated into walking barefooted on huge tree trunks they would have found that rather intimidating.

A large log being placed on a railroad car at Batottan, British North Borneo in 1926. this was the kind of log a foochow man and his friends may find floating in the Rajang. They would either use it as wood to smoke rubber sheets or as a foot bridge across muddy and water logged areas.

My mother said that it was quite an experience all those long ago years to just walk in the rain when water was every where. On hot days, the sun would heat up the mud, dry the earth and caused steam to rise up from the soil.

Seen from a distance and with sun rays creeping through the leaves, the scene was one of mystery as well as beauty as the vapour rose up.

Landmarks were  recognised by the special kind of trees, creepers and even logs. Like an uncle's house was at the junction of a stream with two huge tree trunks near the school and you could not miss that.

Today, the villages are linked by good surfaced roads, which are linked to Sibu by bridges and by ferries. Wooden homes have slowly been demolished to make way for concrete houses. Huge factories and birds nests houses are now making inroads into the once peaceful rubber gardeners' villages. After more than 90 years naturally a lot of changes are expected!!

I am glad to note that the Third Generation of many families of Nang Chong are beginning to become Grand Parents!!

Kids will no longer remember jumping from one "batang" or "ma rang" to another to avoid muddy and water logged patches of land.Children are riding comfortably in cushioned seats in Hilux, Honda,Camry if they are not riding their own Honda motorcycles. They won't know the feelings of having mud oozing between their toes, or having to wade even waist deep in some water logged areas.

But they might be enjoy playing barefooted in the sun, in the sands of the beaches of Bali.

Nang Chong Stories : Warming Lunches on the Foochow Stove in Chung Cheng School

When my youngest aunt and her husband first started to teach at Chung Cheng Secondary School in the 50's, they had to bring their lunch ...