‘Meet me at the Museum Garden’

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IN the 1950s, this was intended to be a message promising a good romance between two lovers, after dark. As a rendezvous, it was also used by the Kuching gangsters for a good fight to settle a score over the collection of protection money from a section of town. The Sekama Gang and the Padungan Gang preferred the museum grounds for this purpose because it was neutral territory.

We Anak Polis, children and relatives of the policemen from the Badruddin barracks, who were studying atSt Thomas’ School, had to pass through theMuseumGardenevery day. At night over the weekend, four or five of us had to pass it again on our way to see the film shows at the Police Depot across theSarawakRiver.

We had picked up information about the gang fights from the bachelor constables with whom we had a good rapport. In fact, a few of us acted as couriers of love letters to their girlfriends in the Malay kampungs in the Satok and Haji Taha area. The handphone and SMS had not been invented then.

In the museum park, there was a bandstand. For some reason or other, the Constabulary Band has stopped playing there for quite sometime now. So the recent attempt to revive the tradition is most welcome indeed.

This was good news, for a change, against the backdrop of intense party politicking and talk of the impending general election.

Yes, yes, I’m all for it – the music. The romance, I’m too old for that. And politics, I have had a good dose of it.

FLASHBACK: This was the bandstand built for the Filipino Band about 1910.

A good tradition

Listening to music at the museum grounds used to be a Kuching tradition. Strolling leisurely on a fine Sunday afternoon amidst the greenery and admiring the flowers in bloom while the band played was a pleasant pastime for many families before the invasion of TV in their homes. There was a resident crocodile to feed with pieces of bread and an aquarium with exotic fish for the kids.

Carry on with the plans to revive the weekend concerts at theMuseumGarden. After all, the bandstand was built for the purpose of musical display for the benefit of ordinary citizens. Nowadays, they have other venues to choose from: the Waterfront or Taman Budaya for sounds of heavy metal, or else the Tun Ahmad Zaidi Auditorium for some serious intellectual stuff.

That bandstand in theMuseumGardenhas seen many concerts performed by the Constabulary Band – the police are not all about arrests! I remember well one fine Sunday afternoon in 1965 when the Chief Minister, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, suddenly made an appearance at the show. He took the baton from the bandmaster, Mr Freeth, and started directing the musicians to play his favourite ‘Tanjong Kubu’. The musicians obliged (who would dare to refuse?). The audience was amused – such a hilarious public relations coup for the Chief Minister.

Music for a Rajah

Sometime in 1910, the Second Rajah, Sir Charles Brooke, imported a group of Filipino musicians to form a band and had built for them a structure with a conical roof somewhere at the presentCentral Padang. The Rajah and his officers patronised the concert when the weather permitted.

Picture for yourself the old man beating time with his rattan tongkat and enjoying the music. Reminiscing his bachelor days in Simanggang, I suppose.

The venerable Sarawak Gazette, then the only newspaper, recorded a mention of the Sarawak Rangers Band playing at the horse races at Padungan. This could be the forerunner of the Police Band we know of today. Could anyone confirm this?

There were other musical groups in Kuching then – prominent were the Sarawak Union Club Minstrel Party, Mohamed Ali’s Malay Brass band and Kampong Tanjong Malay Band. Mohamed Ali’s band once performed at the wedding of Ong Siew Hong and Lim Cheng Soon; Siew Hong was the third daughter of Ong Tiang Swee, one of the most illustrious Sarawakians of the day, the leader of the Chinese community, and a philanthropic towkay of Sarawak Steamship Company fame. The Kampong Tanjong band and the SUCMP entertained guests at a charity bazaar to raise money for the China Relief Fund.

Those must have been happy days in Kuching. And for a long time the meeting point of attraction and amusement for the Kuching folk and visitors was theMuseumGarden. Now it fs the new shopping malls, rain or shine.

The rain

An open air show risks the vagaries of weather, especially towards the end of each year. The best period of the year for this type of entertainment is between May and September. Even then it is a gamble. Despite our scientific advancement, we have not been able to control the weather. Not even the bomohs; they may be able to make the rain clouds move away from a place where some function is ongoing but they cannot stop the rain from falling elsewhere.

The security and cleanliness

Another point is the security of the area, and the cleanliness of the compound. Can we make sure that no one tramples on the grass or plucks flowers and shrubs? Allow vendors of titbits to operate but make sure people don’t litter.

Government bands

It is not often that ordinary folks are privileged to listen to our own Symphony Orchestra or the band of the Ministry of Social Development. These are mainly meant for the entertainment of the VIPS during state functions, while the Police Band is sometimes required to travel outstation, such as accompanying the Head of State on his official visits to the districts.

Private bands

We can do with the private bands. There are many musicians from the village-based groups around Kuching. Some are really good, at any tune and in any language. Expose them to the public at the museum park on Sunday afternoons, weather permitting.

The big companies may like to sponsor their shows as an avenue to advertise their wares. They can provide transport for the residents of the Blind Centre, those of the Cheshire Home, the Boys f Home or from any of the orphanages. They would be grateful to be invited to a concert there.

Parking?

There is enough space for cars in and around the Museum Garden at the weekend – at the hotel nearby, at Jalan P Ramlee or at Saujana. Walk a little bit lah, it’s good for you.

There is a good coffee shop at the museum, and a coffee house at the nearest hotel. The old tuck shop selling my favourite Ang Tau Chi Peng (red beans in ice cream) is still there. Just across the road was St Michael’s Club; later someone ran a food stall there which was so popular for Kolok Mee and Laksa.

Visiting the Museum Garden is one way of spending a Sunday afternoon especially if there is music to listen to.

Postscript

The late CM’s favourite tune was actually ‘Bunga Tanjong’ but that Sunday afternoon the show was impromptu so the Sarawak Constabulary could only play the police recruiting song. It goes something like this:

 

Tanjong Kubu Nampak Terang

Siapa suka boleh datang

Bawa bayonet bawa senapang

Jangan tembak sebarang orang!

Tanjong Kubu Nampak Terang!

 

Roughly translated:

 

The fort shines on its promontory

Anybody can join the constabulary

Bring your bayonet, bring your gun

But don’t shoot just anyone!