IN my case, writing began with an insatiable interest in reading anything about everything, over and above the textbooks, prescribed by my teachers.
In the early 1950s, the only newspaper available in English was the ‘Sarawak Tribune’; available in Malay was the ‘Utusan Sarawak’.
Another periodical, published in Singapore, was the ‘Week Ender’. It was sold at Toko Mustafa at Gambier Road, Kuching. I could not afford to regularly subscribe to it, but was happy reading from any unsold copy handed around by clients waiting for their turns at the barber’s shop next door.
The phrase underneath its masthead, ‘For Discerning Readers Everywhere’, has indelibly stuck with me to this day.
While in school in Kuching, for six years up to 1958, the writing itch got progressively worse. Essay and precise writing was mercilessly drilled into the students in Form 5 class by Mr Song Thian Eng, the headmaster of St Thomas’ School.
Anyone remember ‘Tiger Song’?
For me, this was a most precious piece of knowledge that was so useful in later life when I had to read voluminous reports prepared by project consultants.
My first article was published in the school’s newsletter called ‘The Square’. It was about the importance of a university for Sarawak. Ask any reporter how he feels about upon seeing his work in print.
I was in cloud nine!
A column in Iban
In Kuching, a Leong family was running a printing and newspaper company. My classmate, Leong Kok Wai, must have mentioned my article to his brother, Desmond. Desmond, editing the English Daily called ‘The Vanguard’ invited me to write for his paper.
I grabbed the chance, creating a weekly column in the Iban Language called ‘Randau Ruai’ – about the problems and the aspirations of the Iban community in Sarawak.
In 1965, I secured a job at the Sarawak Legislative Council office. Peter Chong, Clerk to the Council, gave me the task of editing the Hansard (minutes of the proceedings of the Council Negri). These were recorded in shorthand (Greg or Pitman) by the stenographers who had to type them out in several languages, except Mandarin.
The next year, Tom Harrisson, curator of the Sarawak Museum, asked me if I would help him with editing ‘The Gazette’. He was too busy with his other schedule.
The monthly government’s periodical was created and published in 1870, containing reports from the District Officers and news about big events taking place in each district.
The Rajah’s servants in the other districts would like to know what was going on outside their little fiefdom.
During my time, information of general interest, except the government secrets, was to be published in The Gazette after the texts had been vetted by the State Secretary.
Some texts were handwritten: these were typed out on paper on arrival at the Museum Office. Some records were written in clear good English (e.g. reports from Leo Moggie, District Officer, Kapit) or from Limbang, in Malay.
Others were a kind of hybrid; these needed deciphering and rewriting before they were dispatched to the Government Printing Office. Wait for one month before the reports saw the light of day.
When Abang Yusuf Puteh was the State Secretary, I was appointed Editor for Culture of the Gazette. When The Gazette suddenly appeared online, that was the end of my association with the venerable periodical.
In March 1971, I was a guest of the USA under the auspices of the International Visitors Programme. When asked what I wanted to see or do during my 30 days in the United States, I told my minders that I must visit my niece, Tilley Bunseng, studying in Waterloo, Iowa; that I must see the piece of the moon rock that was picked up and brought down to Earth by the astronauts now on display at the Smithsonian Museum, and that I must visit the White House, to see how really free was the American press.
A room, next to that of the Press Chief, Ronald Ziegler, was allocated to me to work in for a week.
I attended the daily press briefing (in Malaysia this is called the press conference). At the press briefing, only 100 representatives of newspapers were allowed to attend. No communist-owned papers were accredited to the White House Press briefings, held every day beginning at 10am.
It puzzled me how all the major newspapers in the US had reached the office of Ronald Ziegler so fast until one day I heard a faint noise coming from the direction of a machine. It was slowly scrolling out printed materials – the headlines in The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc.
It was a blooming fax machine spewing out those headlines, you idiot! The first one I’d ever seen.
These messages came all the time, day and night, so that the Press Officer could read them before he ritually sent the summary (headlines) to President Nixon, though the President must have read his own copies of the papers during breakfast.
Borneo Sun, Eastern Sun
In the 1980s and 1990s, I wrote for and edited the ‘Borneo Sun’ and ‘Eastern Sun’ before both newspapers disappeared into the sunset.
Sometime in 2009, the management of The Borneo Post organised a public talk to which I was invited. A day later, I got a call from Aden Nagrace that editor Rajah Murugaiah, was inviting me for lunch. A space would be made available for me in thesundaypost if I was interested to fill it up.
Pucuk di-cita, ulam pun datang! Exactly what I had wished for!
My first column article entitled ‘The Longhouse Economy’ was published in thesundaypost of Oct 4, 2009 – about the fire risks to the longhouses… “Stop building new ones”, I advocated. Still do, by the way. I drew a lot of fire for this article.
Association with The Borneo Post
On the 45th anniversary of the establishment of this newspaper, I am proud to be associated with it, as a cog in the wheel, for the past 13-plus years. I wish to thank colleagues for their friendship and understanding.
It’s amazing how we are surviving the competition from the social media. Nowadays, everybody is a reporter, a photo journalist, an editor, a printer and a vendor, all rolled into one.
Technology has truly revolutionised the business of writing. We have to live with it — the new normal.
I have had problems with handling the computer. Wishing I could go back to the time when I could easily make corrections and additions to the article I was writing on the Olivetti or Hermes!
Now with the Word processor, I sometimes lose what I have written!
What’s the word used to express one’s frustration? Beginning with the letter b?
My wife, reacting to my self-inflicted blasts, would say: “Save, save and save!”
I have had the occasional writer’s block or problem of meeting the dateline. This latter problem was solved by stocking a couple of articles ahead of the week, time and inspiration permitting.
But it involves a lot of reading for more inspiration and ideas.