NAMES of roads and places bring soul to a geographical area. They tell the history and the remarkable achievements and life stories of the inhabitants, leaving an indelible mark on both the land and the mindscapes.
It is said in many old places of the world where scripts and languages have been frequently changed by politics, people continue to remember the original names of their roads. Politics may even change the use of a language but the memories of the people remain loyal to their ancestral lineage.
When the first itinerant Chinese trader named Ah Chong arrived in Miri, he was said to be living in his boat.
By the time Claude Champion de Crespigny was installed the first Resident of the Fourth Division in 1883, there were reportedly some Chinese trading shops in Miri and about 20 kampung houses, believed to be the original dwellings in Kampung Pulau Melayu.
According to oral history, the Krokop area was established by a few Chinese pig farmers before World War II. These smallholders were able to till the swampy land to grow some vegetables while foraging for edible ferns like midin and paku to sell to market vendors.
So even though the land was swampy, drained by a few small streams, pig farming thrived and some fruit trees and vegetables were also grown.
On the other hand, pepper farming, rice, and fruit cultivation in the olden days in Miri were carried out in the hillier Riam area, a few miles further inland from the Miri River.
There is a small stream called Sungai Krokop, which flows from the hills to the Miri River, passing by the Ching Loong Confectionary Factory at Krokop 3.
According to the Sarawak Gazette, when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Miri in 1959, 100 or so students and teachers from the Sungai Krokop School lined up to welcome him.
This Sungai Krokop School must be the Krokop Chung Hua Primary School set up in 1946.
In Chinese, Krokop is Ju Bah, which means Pig Estate or Village. Today, two Chinese words which sound like Ju Bah are used – Pearl (Ju) which sounds like pig in Chinese and Bah which sounds like bazaar. Regardless, Pearl Estate is now the preferred term of reference.
Unique road names
The Krokop area begins from the Chinese and Muslim Cemetery at Sungai Baong and ends at the Sin Shang Hai Furniture Company at Krokop 10. This remarkable biracial cemetery may be the only one in the world.
In the early days, and even right up to the 1960s, the Chinese cemetery along the Miri River was the most convenient to the community in other parts of Miri, Bakam, and even Subis.
Rituals were held in the Chinese temple near the Miri fish market by the riverside with the funeral procession proceeding to the cemetery by boat. So it wasn’t necessary to carry the heavy hardwood casket to the Krokop cemetery from Miri town.
On the eastern side of the Krokop boundary is Jee Foh Road, while on the western side, the Miri River. At first, there was only a mud road for the farmers but the government gradually started to improve the road system.
In the early 60s, Krokop was still considered a backwater by the town folk. Many young people preferred not to venture beyond Sungai Baong separating the town from the villages beyond.
Today, there are 10 major roads in Krokop running like a grid system, branching out from Krokop Utama Road – from the west to the east. Crisscrossing these roads are small lanes named after Chinese pioneers, flowers, and plants, depending on when the lanes were developed.
Chan Chak Road is a long lane named after a man who came in the 30s. It connects Krokop 10 through to Krokop 6, intersecting Krokop 9, Krokop 8, and Krokop 7.
According to former councillor Chong Kong Kee, more than eight roads have been named after the Krokop Primary School founders, who played significant roles in developing Krokop through the 50s and 60s to what it is today.
The naming of roads of a city like Miri is the prerogative of the city council. The road and traffic section take cares of the signboards, development, and maintenance.
Chong, one of the oldest members of Krokop Chinese community, is the grandson of Chong Poh, a founding father of the Krokop Chinese Kindergarten and Primary School. A road is named after him.
According to Dr Vincent Huang, a study of the Krokop cemetery tombstones can reveal more history of the people of Krokop.
Gravestones tell stories of where the people of an area originated and can provide a useful insight to understanding an area.
A study of the gravestones will prove Krokop was settled perhaps more than 100 years ago and also the narratives of Chinese pioneers setting foot on the shores of Miri 120 years ago.
Buildings and schools
Krokop is a predominantly Chinese residential area and hence has the most temples – and also churches – per square mile in Sarawak.
The largest temple is the Taoist temple in Southeast Asia known as the Lian Hua San Ching Tian Temple, situated at Chong Foh Road.
The Huai Ang Methodist Church with a seating capacity of 2,000 is located at the north-eastern end of Krokop. It is one of the biggest Methodist churches in Sarawak.
There is a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Krokop as well.
Krokop also has several kindergartens, the biggest being the Tadika Chung Hua Krokop. There are other BM-based kindies serving the Malay community in the area.
The Pei Ming Secondary School has developed its own network, giving its students the option of studying in Curtin University and several affiliated Chinese universities.
The Krokop Chung Hua Primary School has one of the longest histories in Miri Division, starting from 1946. Today, it has an enrolment of 1,200 pupils on average.
Equipped with several blocks of three-storey classrooms and an indoor assembly hall, the school faces the Krokop Road at the front and the Miri River at the back with a constant breeze blowing in from the nearby river.
Bazaars, hawker stalls
Two bazaars at Krokop 10 and Krokop 5 serve several businesses to not only meet the needs of the local populace but also those of Miri.
Two hawker stalls at Krokop 3 remain popular.
Hawker Stall No. 1 is owned by Chin, who was born in China. He worked his way up from shop assistant to stall owner. Chin was the first Chinese hawker to be granted a Miri council licence to sell food and drinks to stevedores and wharf labourers.
The other popular stall, which sells kolok mee is owned by Chen whose noodles dish has been a favourite of two generations of Krokop residents. Today, he still makes and sells noodles after more than 48 years in the business.
“Everyone knows him and his kolok mee,” a regular customer told thesundaypost.
“Many people come here early in the morning to tapau (takeaway) his kolok mee to bring to Kuala Lumpur. He has been opening for business at 5am for as long as I can remember.”
Because Krokop is situated by the Miri River, multinational companies have set up base in the area where landing and shipyard maintenance facilities are readily available. Even the Miri Port Authority has an outlet in Krokop.
The riverside is now full of boats berthing alongside the Piasau Bridge leading to Kampung Wireless, indicating a successful commercial shipping business.
There are also several furniture and timber yards in Krokop.
As a pig farming area, Krokop 3 not surprisingly has one of the largest abattoirs in Sarawak. It is managed by the Miri City Council, including its water treatment plant.
Many butchers have been living here for over 40 years. Incidentally, Chong Kong Kee’s father started as a butcher in Sandakan in the then British North Borneo before coming to Krokop to carry on the same occupation.
Interestingly, Miri has supply of underground water. Wells dot the coast from Siwa Jaya to Kuala Baram. The pig farmers and residents of Krokop dug several wells to sustain supply before the Japanese Occupation.
One well has been providing water to the Chin Loong Biscuit factory since the business started.
Another well near the Krokop Chung Hua Primary School had supplied the residents in the 50s. The Miri River was salty during the dry season, so well water was life-giving and convenient. In later years, the residents had to buy water from Shell near the present SEB headquarters.
Well water together with purchased water was enough for laundry, cleaning, and cooking, and washing the pig sties. Wells were used in Krokop until the 1980s.
According to Lim, a local, the area around the small stream of Sungai Krokop was a good picnic spot during her younger days. The stream also provided water for washing and cleaning.
“Krokop will always be a good place to stay because of the rivers and friendly residents. We have a good childhood, a good environment and fond memories. Not many villages have grown like Krokop – from a pig farming to a well-developed commercial and residential area in less than 100 years.”
Dr Huang commented, “Krokop is truly a multiracial place. There are so many different places of worship and different types of kindergarten and businesses. We are truly a harmonious Malaysian micro-society.”