Sunday, November 17

If only those walls could talk

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Flashback …

DID you go to any of the WAK’s activities while they lasted from Sept 28 to Oct 27?

If you did, what did you think of them? If you didn’t, there is always the next time.

To me WAK (What About Kuching) is a great idea initially mooted and innovated by a young married couple two years ago. Marina Foo and Donald Tan of Kuching were regular travellers overseas and during these tours they might have seen or attended great festivals. Those probably gave them ideas of how a festival involving a multitude of talents and skills in music, culture, art, food, and organising skill, could be organised in Kuching. All for the enjoyment of not only the Kuching residents but also for visitors to our shores.

WAK officially ended last Sunday. That doesn’t mean this is the end of activities of interest in Kuching, which has become the City of Festivals.

I must admit that I did not manage to cover even half of the number of the functions and therefore missed all the excitement. At least I got to enjoy the traffic jams.

What I went to I liked very much. Kuching has got talents, let’s congratulate ourselves.

Equally commendable is the synergised effort between the Ministry of Tourism with encouragement and a bit of finance, and the private individuals with good ideas, which could produce wonders. Congratulations for a job well done. Wak, Wak, Wak.

One of the events I attended was the Borneo Beads International Conference and Workshops. While waiting for some participants in the workshop to finish, I was having a cup of tea at the restaurant in the Old Court House. All by myself, looking around the venerable old building, musings about the good old days …

For more than 100 years, it was in that main room, in that House, that many issues of great importance were debated and decisions made which have impacted on the political and social lives of the people of Sarawak. Besides being a Court House, it was also the venue for the meeting of the state’s legislators. It was here that the cession of Sarawak to the British Crown was decided in 1946. And it was there that the motion for Sarawak to accept the Malaysia Plan in principle was passed, without dissent, in 1962.

My association with the legislature is a curious one. Towards the beginning of 1965, I had accepted a job from the Clerk of the Council, Peter Chong, as a trainee editor. My first job was to edit the Hansards (minutes of the Council’s proceedings), bind the sheets into a document and lay them on the tables where the Council Negri members would be sitting at the following session. The Clerk of the Council must see the first edited copy for further editing before the final copy was sent to the Speaker at the Lanka Building.

However, I was only there for less than two months before I was ‘pinched’ by Alfred Unteng Mason, political secretary to the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, to work for Temenggong Jugah Barieng, federal Minister for Sarawak Affairs.

I was also appointed as a temporary translator/interpreter by the Speaker of the Council Negri for a princely sum of RM30 per day while the Council had its meetings.

With me was Hasbie Sulaiman, from the Information Services department. At a corner of the raised stage about 20 feet away from the Speaker’s Chair was a cubicle made of glass, barely enough to accommodate two persons. From this ‘watch tower’, Hasbie and I could see and hear every Honourable Member of the august House. Sharing one microphone, each with ears plugged in direct communication with the YB, we took turns to simultaneously translate their speeches and questions and answers. Hasbie was translating from English/Malay/English, while I was doing from English/Iban/English.

There was never a boring moment during the meetings of the Council. Members were polite to each other and not allowed to use un-parliamentary terms.

Straight translation from text of a speech obtained earlier was the easiest, but most difficult was to follow the questions and answers especially at the detailed examination of the annual expenditure (budget). With members like Ong Kee Hui and James Wong, nothing was left unquestioned or a stone unturned.

Questions such as “Why are the cars for ministers so expensive?” (Nama kabuah meli motorcar kelalu mar kena menteri) and “What happens to the old car, auctioned”? (Nama penyadi motor lama deh, udah dilelong?) were easy enough to translate. But how would you translate into Iban or Malay “Why the necessity to vire expenditure subhead 2 to 4 Miscellaneous without a note of explanation?” At the briefing for translators we were told that at the Committee stage of expenditure examination, questioning the principles of the budget was not allowed.

During one sitting of the Council in 1966, I was covering a debate between James Wong, Member for Limbang, and Minister Ling Beng Siong. Wong was complaining about the lack of good roads in Limbang, especially why the road to Rumah Ngang in Ulu Medamit had not been completed. Both were talking in Iban to each other. I got carried away by their language and thought it would be all right to let them go on without my intervention. I did not translate the exchanges.

Time for a break. Dr Sockalingam, the Speaker, called me into his chamber. Before I could sit down, he asked me about the silence from the translators’ room. He asked, “What was the quarrel about between Wong and Ling?” I answered, “They did not quarrel, Sir James was complaining about lack of good roads in Limbang, and Ling was answering ‘no money for them yet’.”

He retorted, “Why did you not translate that?”

I felt like a real Charlie, and apologised, promising never to make the mistake again. It hadn’t occurred to me that even though the two disputants understood each other all right, the rest of the members mightn’t!

At the next WAK, I suggest, organise more talks on the history of Kuching. That Court House is full of history. While it functioned as a court, a few lively things happened there too … chairs were thrown on at least one occasion; an honourable member challenging another YB for a fist fight, outside. If only the walls, or what is left of the walls, could talk!

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