Monday, May 10

Of games and the good old days

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Photo, taken in 1934, shows the pupils of Christchurch School with Cikgu Margaret Hugh – the columnist’s first teacher of ABCs, writing, and arithmetic.

THE beauty of being driven as opposed to driving your own car is obvious — except for the occasional conversations with the driver, partly to keep him focused on what he is doing (eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel), time is at your complete disposal.

I was enjoying this freedom for a couple of hours during the Easter Week. As the family convoy was passing by my old village Stunggang, memories started flooding in – both sad and good.

The sad one – the old church built by the Anglican missionaries and consecrated on Sept 2, 1863 by Bishop Francis McDougall is no longer there.

My son, Brangka, and his cousin Ramos (RIP) were probably the last to be baptised in that church on the Easter Sunday of 1968. It was the Rev Hope Hugh, aged almost 90 then, who conducted the service. He was reading without glasses.

By the paper in his own fine handwriting, he invited us to tiffin.

Nowadays, it is simply lunch.

The Mission House 

This house is no longer there; all the flowering shrubs, the flowers of many colours, the huge saga tree (Adenanthera spp) and the durian trees behind the house, the mangosteen trees (called ‘mengain’ by the locals) lining the riverbank – all gone. The durians in season tempted the boys (me included) to sneak into the night to collect a couple of fruits while the priest and his family were asleep. The teacher would have spanked us if she had known that we were breaching one of the ‘Ten Commandments’.

We boys wanted some adventure; we wanted to eat the durians and the mangosteens belonging to the Mission and we were the children of that Mission. Taking away fruits for own consumption without permission from the priest, but leaving plenty more for his family, was the boys’ idea of equitable and fair-sharing – a charity of sorts.

School

The school started by Fr Gomes in 1853 was resurrected in the Mission House by Rev Hope Hugh in 1924. It was closed during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) and reopened on Dec 17, 1946. The teacher was Hugh’s daughter, Margaret. Incidentally, she was my first teacher of ABCs, writing and arithmetic.

On the way to Tanjong Purun, we passed through the Malay quarters of Stunggang. Some boys from this village had gone to the Mission School. If my memory served me right, they were Abdul Hakim Bin Haji Bujang, Hipni Bin Adi, Hamid Abu Bakar (all graduates of the Batu Lintang Teachers Training College in Kuching) and Hamid Bin Mersal (the talented artist). They were my contemporaries.

At the same village, there was a mosque with a ceramic brown ‘tajau’ (jar) on top of its ‘kubah’ (dome). It was unique – I don’t think there’s any other mosque in Sarawak with a jar on top of its ‘kubah’. I wonder who has been keeping that jar, if it’s still good …

Sports and entertainment

The games we played – there were kite-flying and ‘Main Telong’ (‘improvised cricket’).

Badminton had just been introduced, and it was about the only foreign sport.

Soccer consisted of a hard leather ball being played on a small pit, as the school had no football field.

In terms of entertainment, no one in the village possessed a radio to listen to for music. However, there was a violin player named Yugo Junit. Now, ‘Uncle Junit’ was an interesting character. He told the boys about his job on a ship plying between Singapore and Japan. Smiling like a ‘Cheshire cat’, he showed us a photo of a Japanese girl whom he knew.

We chuckled.

An accomplished violinist, Uncle Junit was in great demand by the ‘seh gendang’ (drummers) of the village. He would accompany the drummers – who were always ladies – all night long, fiddling away as the ‘seh’ were singing out their favourite ‘pantun’ (quatrains).

The Malay ‘gendang’ was the village’s main entertainment. Any cause could serve as an excuse for a party – to celebrate a good rice harvest, a wedding, the ‘pulai bejalai’ (coming of a relative from a long and successful trip away from home), or an occasion called ‘malas niat’ (thanksgiving party for someone who had recovered from a serious illness).

Besides the violinist, I don’t remember about anyone else with musical talent until years later when a boy from the village, Joshua Angie, joined the Police Force and became the Director of Music of the Sarawak Constabulary.

The other musical instrument was the ukulele – there was only one player in the whole village.

The stringed instrument belonged to my cousin, Jenggi, who had bought it in Sambas.

The handphone had yet to be invented, so during the school holidays, the boys would entertain themselves with outdoor activities – fishing, hunting and jungle-bashing.

Carolling during Christmas and devotional services during Easter time were popular among the pious boys.

Me? Not one of them! I belonged to a group fond of tree-climbing and jumping off from the branches into the stream – there’s more fun in that.

Now, back to our trip. Feeling a bit tired because of the heat, I snoozed – it must have gone too long when the driver woke me up.

We were on our way home when we approached the family’s favourite restaurant, the Red Dragon, off the Lundu/Bau Junction, where we stopped by for late lunch.

One’s memories are normally fast-fading as age is catching up, says a psychologist. Until one sees a familiar building or place, that can trigger memories.

Nothing in terms of memories was worth recording on the way home to Kuching after the late lunch at Red Dragon, except to ask the highway authorities: “When, oh when, the Pan Borneo Highway is going to be completed!”