Saturday, February 29

Reminisces of a school boy – places and faces


See how that part of Kuching has developed since Apoi and I walked to school 66 years ago.

Simpang Tiga

SIXTY-SIX years ago, the whole area, now developed for the King’s Centre, tHe Spring Shopping Mall, Land and Survey Department, and the Department of Agriculture (present campus of the University of Swinburne), the Federal Government Complex (the divisional police HQ, departments of Immigration and National Registration, and other agencies), was a large area of land planted with rubber trees.

Subject to correction, one of the rubber plantations belonged to Taukey Angi. At the time, I wasn’t interested in who owned the rubber garden through which I walked every day to and from school. It was years later that I found out the name of one of the owners, Ng Shak Ngee. He was married to one of my mother’s relatives – the late Madam Barbara Bay.

By the way, the Tabuan villagers called her simply Ini (grandma Mendu). Mendu Bayang and Auntie Jane Jitam were possibly the first two Dayak girls in Kuching to be trained in Melaka as nurses for the Medical Department during the Brooke’s time.

Back to the rubber garden. If you have a map of Kuching with you, please come with me for a walk of discovery.

We begin at that village behind the King’s Centre. Its original name was Tabuan Munggu Tebelian on account of the few trees of the Borneo ironwood (E zwageri) found there.

The early settlers are believed to be some of the people who had settled at the Padungan Creek before the arrival of the Brookes; their original home was in the Undup, it is claimed.

I came to this village in early 1953. There were a few families at the time – single houses, one of Kunjan and his son Roja, another of Aki Jelian and his grandson Barau, another of Stu and family and, the fourth of my uncle, Ellen Nyuen. He was the chief. There was a three-door longhouse where my aunt Temaga Nyuen and her daughter, Nawa, had a bilik (room). Into this short house I was to move and stay for two years while studying in Kuching.

From the village, people going to Kuching had to wade through the swamp (flooded during the landas), cross over the Tabuan River on a bridge made of a slippery tree trunk, and then to carry on towards the high ground at the edge of a rubber garden. There began a path towards Simpang Tiga.

This jungle ended at the T-junction of the present Jalan Batu Lintang/Jalan Mendu – a distance of about two miles as the crow flies (flew).

For two years, I walked on this path every day, except one day when I had bad influenza, to and from St Thomas’s School, a distance of some 5 1/2km.

That basket

In front of our own bilik in the ruai, a basket was hanging; it contained a dried human skull, a trophy obtained by our relative, Jalak the Brave, during the headhunting days.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive but as time went on, it was a matter of course to accept the antu pala as part of the family heirloom and to respect it. My aunt would feed it with a cup of tuak (rice wine), an ilum (roll of sireh leaves and pieces of areca nut (pinang). She would light a small fire below the basket in the early morning hours, “To keep him warm,” she said.

To school  

I had to start early after a breakfast of black coffee mixed with lots of sugar and rice.

The journey started at about 6am, bashing through the swamp and crossing the river on a slippery tree trunk, before trespassing on the rubber garden after passing by several farm houses of Chali Sengong, of Aki Chap or Eliab Bayang, and of Sadi with her Chinese husband, and pig’s farm.

This jungle path was a new outlet to Kuching Town for the villagers at Munggu Tebelian; in the past, they had paddled up and down the Tabuan River that joins the Quop.

This path led to a small cluster of houses, just a couple of hundred yards or so from the present Batu Lintang-Jalan Mendu junction.

This was the area known as Simpang Tiga. There were houses of Dayaks, Chinese, and one Malay family. To digress a bit, that house belonging to Pak Jepek was made of belian. Jepek had a son called Endon and grandson Apoi. Every day, Endon walked his son Apoi to and from the Chung Hua school at Tabuan Road.

That was the same route that I had taken daily during 1953 to 1958 to school, mine was the St Thomas’s School at McDougall Road.

By 1956, I had acquired a bicycle (Rudge) costing 120 Malayan dollars, courtesy of my brother, Bunseng. I had moved from Tabuan to Auntie May Emai’s house at Simpang Tiga. Another relative of my mother, Auntie May, was the kindest soul on earth, treating me as one her own children – Reginald, Robert, Jupiter, Rosalind Dora, Sline, and Irene. Her house was a double-storey building with concrete floor and belian roof.

Alas, by the time I came back from overseas in 1965, the house had gone! There was a massive infrastructural development in the area and all the houses had to go. If you drive along the road today on your way to tHe Spring Shopping Mall, from either direction, you would have driven right through that great house belonging to Auntie May and Uncle Martin Kallang.

There were several other houses in the area – belonging to the Chua Family, Tan Beng Siew family, the Jamuh family, the Cheng family, Luk Ngie Leong family, Bujang Suboh family – all gone. All good solid buildings.

There was, however, another house that I cannot say I’m sorry that it was demolished; the people or descendants of the people mentioned above would remember this place of ill-fame.

I’m missing two more houses at Simpang Tiga – house of the Sim family (Peter Sim Boon Kheng was my fellow scout) and the grocery shop belonging to towkay Loh Pan. The only grocery shop at a strategic spot at Simpang Tiga has made way for a supermarket.

That Simpang Tiga has become Simpang Empat! Each simpang with a dual carriage road.

See how civilisation has done to Simpang Tiga. The members of the various families whose land was acquired for development are now dispersed all over in the various localities in Kuching. Wherever they are, I wish them Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Remember that your parents and grandparents gave up their land to make way for modern development of that part of the city. I mention your names because many people in Kuching may not know that your families were well established with good looking houses.

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