Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Beggars, a-Begging or Demanding?

Beggars, a-Begging or Demanding?
The torn money
Apparently times have changed and attitudes have changed with times - beggars included.
On April 27, 2009, I went to Alor Setar trying to locate LCpl Ungkok's grave so that the next day I could just drive straight to the location for the ceremony to relocate the grave. My daughter, son and son-in-law accompanied me. We went to the famous "Pasar Rabu" to have a look around and buy things that might catch the eyes. We went to buy the "ikan pekasam". What ssurprised me was the cleanliness. I didn't see a single fly! Usually "pekasam ikan" would attract swarms of flies. I do not know how they keep away the flies here.
After the shopping, we stopped over for a drink. A woman beggar came over to our table and we gave her RM2. Another elderly man came over and shoved a piece of faded photostated piece of paper to us. It was the usual sob story he was diabetic, heart ailment, high blood pressure and so on and so forth. Though no words were uttered, we knew he wanted money. I gave him back the paper, less the money.
I thought he would go to the next table after that. I was wrong. I heard him mumbling something and in the next instance he threw a shredded pieces of two RM1 note onto our table. It caught me by surprise for a fleeting second. I was surprised I didn't react, not even a faster heart-beat! Thirty years ago I might have jumped up looking for a fight. Have I mellowed? Obviously - if this was an indication. I heard the men on the other table uttering "kurang ajar betul!"
All I could think of was: "Wow! this must get a mention in my blog!"

The Relocation of LKpl Ungkok ak. Jugam's Grave

The Relocation of LCpl Ungkok ak.Jugam's Grave

LCpl Ungkok ak. Jugam was a soldier of the elite Sarawak Rangers operating alongside the Commonwealth Forces at the height of the First Emergency in Malaya from 1948 to 1960. Attempts to find out how he died was unsuccessful.

However, it was believed that he died in a battle with the communist terrorists in the location where he was buried. His body was never found. The place(in the picture) was then thick jungle. Today, as you can see, it is part of a bustling City of Alor Setar (Km 4, Jalan Langgar).

The British Army tried to move the grave but was unable to because they couldn't locate his next-of-kin - a criteria which must be met.

According to some locals, the dual highway was built between 10 to 15 years ago. As the grave was smack in the middle of the highway, somebody had moved the headstone to the side of the road.

In November last year, I found a write up and the picture of the indignified grave you see below. Shocked, I vowed to take it up to the highest authority.

In conjunction with my book launch by the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, on November 6, 2008, I briefed him about the case and at the same time suggesting that Sarawak set up a Heroes Memorial in Kuching and bring back all the remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers killed during the First Emergency and buried in Malaya and Singapore. He agreed to this plan. However, he said, all the next-of-kins must give their written consent.

Sarawak, in particular, the Ibans, must remember the deeds of their forefathers who had been most courageous fighters and the greatest trackers in the world. This is a legacy that the Ibans must preserve for the future generation to see and remember by. Without this memorial, this piece of history will disappear with time.

This is the situation and location of Ungkok's grave when it was found.
On April 28, 2009, the plan to relocate the grave was put in motion. Here some Iban soldiers from 4th Rangers based in Kangar, Perlis are seen clearing the grave.
I was posing with some of the soldiers.
Some of the VIPs present. Right to Left: Me, Col Steven Mundaw representing the Chairman of the Rangers Regiment, Datuk Bandar Alor Setar Dato' Hj Khazali bin Hj Din, Ketua Pengarah Jabatan Hal Ehwal Veteran ATM (JHEV), Major General Dato' Zulkiflee bin Mazlan and Pengerusi Historical Society of Malaysia Kedah Branch.
I with the "Miring men" specially brought from Sarawak.
The miring ceremony in progress. Puan Irene Kilat, a relative of Ungkok is seen on the right.
A fowl is sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the grave.
After the fowl and the offerings have been buried, the headstone will be removed.
The headstone is removed and brought onto a Land Rover and brought to the new resting place.
This is the new resting place - the burial ground of the Cathiloc Church of St Micheal at Jalan Sultanah.
Placing the headstone on the new plot
Kol Steven Mundaw laying the wreath
Major General Dato' Zulkiflee Mazlan laying the wreath.
Final group photograph at the new grave of LCpl Ungkok.
My heart-felt appreciation to all those who have been lending a hand in making the event a success:
1. Ketua Pengarah JHEV, Maj Gen Dato' Zulkiflee Mazlan.
2. Datuk Bandar Alor Setar Dato' Haji Khazali Hj Din.
3. Rejimen Renjer DiRaja.
4. Bn Ke-4, Rejimen Renjer DiRaja, Kangar, Perlis.
5. Museum TD.
6. Cawangan Trafik Daerah Kota Setar.
7. Jabatan Kerja Raya Daerah Kota Setar.
8. Mutiara HK Enterprise.
9. Gereja Katholik St Micheal, Alor Setar.
10. To all that I may have missed here.
This was location of the grave after the headstone had been removed.

Monday, 20 April 2009

How a Whole Long House Embraced Christianity.

How a Whole Long House Embraced Christianity.
The old Church made from barks of trees and attaps has been rebuilt.
See picture above. The football field was where Father A.W Stonton's helicopter landed in 1954/55 when he made an official visit to the School which he established.
This is St Martin's School, Lachau, today. The original block was at the top left. It could easily be one of the oldest school in Sarawak. When it first started there were only 2 classrooms and only one teacher, Mr Massan. He was very strict. Even when we were in Primary 1, we were to talk only in English. Imagine how inadequate we felt as we knew only a few words - a pen, a man. The building on the right is the admin office cum staff rooms. The hostel is located behind the admin block.
This is the main original building. It has been rebuilt since.
I can't help looking back into my childhood days in my long house in Lachau, Sri Aman, Sarawak. We know, most Sarawak Bumiputeras are Christians - my folks included. But how did it first came to my long house? I remembered Father A.W Stonton very well. I can still see him in his white robes and a big cross hung from his neck. He must had been in his 50s.
The first time he came to our long house (must be around 1954), there were not many people around as most were away working in their paddy fields. It was the first time I saw a white man and my curiosity got the better of me.
There was no road then. To have come from Simanggang by long boat via Lingga, Mawang and Bandung and then continuing walking a few hours across hills and swamps, before reaching our long house must be a hectic journey for anyone – for Father A.W Stonton, it was a testimony of his iron will and determination.
That was not his first and last visit. He came the second time a few months later and converted the whole long house into Christianity (Anglican). In due time, a mission school (St Martin's School) was set up and built by the long house people – a wooden block of only two classrooms. Mr Massan was the only teacher.
A Church made of hand-sawn plank and barks of trees was also built at the far end of a field. Lachau was a-buzzed with activities then and our lives changed overnight.
One day, he made an official visit to St Martin's School. We was amazed, how he got a helicopter to fly him to Lachau. It was the first time we ever saw one. The occasion was awesome. We lined up from the helicopter landing point to the school. He shook all our hands and we were instructed by Mr Massan to wish him "Good morning My Lord."
I was nervous and trembling and was glad when it was all over. He came many times after that to conduct Sunday services, even without being flown in by a helicopter. I believed Lachau was one of the many long houses under his care.
St Martin’s School has grown since then. The old block has given way to a modern concrete building. So is the Church. Three more blocks have been built, an admin office cum teachers staff rooms, another block of classrooms and a hostel for students from afar that needed accomodations.
These missionaries were really amazing and most dedicated to their works. I wonder what would have happened if Islam had came in earlier to Sarawak? Probably the scenario in Sarawak would have been very much different from what it is today. Perhaps, Britain had known what would happen in Sarawak after they had left.

Friday, 17 April 2009

The Army Day Celebration Now, Then.

The Army Day Celebration Now, Then. Today, the Army Day is always celebrated with splendour and pomp in Kuala Lumpur. But not a very long time ago, it was a very modest affair, celebrated at Unit level.
The Officers Corps in No. 1 Dresses. The contigents came form every Corps/Regiments of the Army.
Parades like this were always held at the Ceremonial Battalion
(1st Bn, RMR in Sungai Besi, KL). The parade ground has
been extensively rebuilt into a stadium.
The Army Chief inspecting the contigents from
his ceremonial Land Rover which is specially modified.
It was a different affair in 1971. We were dressed in battle gear and marched around Taiping town, accompanied by our Drum Platoon. At a time when the communist threat was still very much a reality, such a parade was a necessity to get the confidence and trust of the people

The Bathing Place - Our Playing Ground.

The Bathing Place -Our Playing Ground.
My 2 - year - old daughter watched by my brother Upi. This picture was taken during a drought season in the late 70s. During the peak of the monsoon season, the water level could be as high as the wooden bridge behind my brother. On the far bank of the stream, there was once a big tree that we used to climb and jumped from. It is gone now. The big stump in the middle of the stream has been there for as long as I can remember. It is the stump of a bilian tree (iron wood) which is reputed to be stronger than steel. When submerged in water, it can be even stronger and could last a very long time. That stump was said to have been in the river for more than 200 years.
As always and as in the old days, children love the river. I remembered in the late 50s, the river was wide and deep enough for long boats to ply to Bandung and Mawang (Chinese settlements and shops), a few hours down river. Today, most parts of the stream are overgrown with weeds and trees. It is not navigable anymore , even by smaller boats.

The bathing place has been a part of my life. As kids in those days, we would spend hours there, swimming, diving and chasing each other, until we turned blue with cold. An early morning bath there would be unbearable as the water was almost as cold as iced water (our long house is near to the Klingkang Range and close to the International Border with Indonesia).

Today, a mountain stream is channeled to every homes by pvc pipes the long house dwellers had fixed themselves. This has made the bathing place less used and less popular. Nevertheless, every time I went back home alone or with my family, I would never miss going for a swim there. I felt I had left a part of me there.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

My Earliest Cats

My Earliest Cats. I started to rear cats when I was based in Penrissen Camp, Kuching, Sarawak in the 80s. A nice neighbour's female cat used to come over to our house and we used to feed her. It became attached to us and finally it was ours. Soon it gave us a litter of 4 hyper-active kittens that you see here.
Hi there! My name is Dottie. My master said because of my black marks on my head and backside, therefore I should be named Dottie. I hate the name. I prefer Sylvester (Stallone) or Steven (Segal) or Robert (Redford) because they sound more manly, but what choice do a cat has?
I love singing. You can call it natural talent. I hope to be
popular like Elvis Presley one day. My brothers love singing too. We hope to form a singing group one day.
My life is all play and no work. One of my passion is the aerobics. Once I start it I can never stop.
eh wah!
Sometimes I'm curious what my Masters swept under the carpets.
Sometime I look for my Master's ball of woollen thread
and chase it around the house. It's really fun.
At times we used to stretch mummy's patience to the limit
and she would give us a yell.
But at the end of it all, life as a kitten is good. Mummy would
pamper and pour out her love on us.

When I was transferred to KL in 1987, I brought three of the kittens, including Dottie. A month later, he died - he played and swallowed a poisonous frog. One more was attacked by a stray dog. Possibly heart-broken at the loss of his brothers, the third one disappeared and was never found.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The disappearing art of making machettes (parang)

The Disappearing Art of "Ngambuh" (making Iban machette/adzes etc)
My younger brother Linggir trying to kindle a fire during his "ngamboh". The two funnels on the left were used to pump and force the air out to feed the fire where raw steel bars were heated red-hot, before they were hammered into the required shape. Finally, the sharpened edges of the machette (duku), still sizzling hot, were dipped into a tray of cold water to give it that extra strength and sharpness that is the trademark of Iban "duku".
The art of making Iban duku (machette) is slowly being forgotten. Not many, if any at all, make their own nowadays. Why should they, when machettes of all shapes and sizes are easily available in shops just down the road? And they are at an affordable prices too.
But not so very long ago, it was something that Ibans must know. The "dukus" and "beliongs" were some of the most important tools the Ibans must have. Before the saw made their impact in the interior of Sarawak, adzes was of utmost importance. It was the heaviest cutting tool they ever had. Without it, it was impossible to cut down giant trees when clearing the jungle for their hill paddy cultivation.
A "ngambuh" session usually involve at least two people - one to ensure the fire is at its hottest by constantly blowing it manually with the wind funnels and the other, heating, hammering and shaping the steel bar into a machette. Of course one person can do all the job by himself but the work load will be heavier. Depending on the size of the working space, even three people could be overcrowding. However, in order to avoid cluttering the small working space, two is just right.
To make a "duku" may take anything between one to two hours - depending on your efficiency.
The trademark of the Iban "duku" is usually their sharpness, strength and durability. I believed this was because the steel was tempered, compacted and finally the sharpened edges were dipped into a tray of cold water - while the blade was still red-hot.
Today, sad but true, the Ibans, except those that make a living by making it, don't make their own dukus anymore. They buy it from shops. And the affordable prices are a contributory factor that has made the art of ngamboh, a dying practice among the Ibans.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Nostalgic Cries of the Hornbills.

The Nostalgic Cries of the Hornbills
For the past few years now, this pair of Hornbills have been
flying over Taiping's Lake Garden airspace, where the Zoo is located.
They would never fail to stop at my neighbour's roof and TV antennae,
while making the shrill and loud cries. They reminded me of those bygone era
when once, the cries of this birds were a part of our jungle. Today, there
is only a deafening silence.
  • It was not very long ago that we were very close to nature - about sixty years ago to be exact. We depended on nature for our survival. The rivers provided us the fish. The jungles provided us the vegetables and animals for our meat. But alas! Our greed was our enemy. Slowly, but surely, we were destroying the very environment that we depended upon. We over-fished the rivers and streams and even use poison (tuba) to catch fish. We over-hunted the jungles, until there were no more deer, wild boars, monkeys and even birds such as the hornbills. They were hunted into extinction.
  • Will they ever return? I doubt it very much. Given the same pristine jungle environment that existed some sixty years ago, I might have given it some chances. Today, as more jungles are being cleared for development, the chances are remote.
  • However, there is hope yet. A year ago, my brother Linggir said some of the animals such as wild boar and mouse deer had been sighted. With no big-scale hunting being organised, as in those days, I feel some of the animals might return.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

My Story Teller

Mujah, my Story-Teller.
Mujah, one of my story-tellers flanked by my brother-in-law,
Medang and sister Impo with her granddaughters
In the days when there was no radio stations to listen to, story-telling was an art and a premier form of entertainment. Talented and good story tellers were hard to find. That was in the early 50s. Even at that time, the art of story-telling (ensera) was slowly disappearing. By mid 50s, elaborate story-telling sessions had ceased. I managed to see a session once. A story teller was perched on a swing hung from a beam in the ceiling. The listeners sat in a circle around him - all ears.
In undulating voices that captivated his audiences, he sang and praised the brave exploits of the legendary and mythical warriors of Panggau Libau. It was usual for these sessions to run throughout the night.
I used to accompany the elders into deep jungle to hunt or looking for rattans or clearing the jungle for hill paddy cultivation.
At night I used to beg Mujah, my story teller, to tell me stories of these warriors. Sometime, if he was not tired, he would oblige. The stories, though might be a repeatition, would always mesmerised me. I could almost feel I was there among the mythical warriors. No wonder it had a deep impact on my life at a later stage.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

My Grandmother Kemau - An Amazing Woman.

Grandmother Kemau - An Amazing Woman
Grandmother Kemau with some of her great grandchildren.
This picture was taken about 20 years ago.
She really was a wonder woman. She must have been a beauty when she was young - even at the age of more than 100 years (in the picture) she still looks pretty and almost without the ugly wrinkles that come with old age.
Grandmother Kemau had 12 children. She outlived 8 of them. She had so many grandchildren and great grandchildren that she had lost track of them - almost every kids in the long house called her "inik" (grandmother).
She lived with her youngest son Kujat, my uncle. Kujat's eldest son Uding is my nephew. He was one of my close playing partner. I used to fight and armed wrestled him. He could never beat me in the arm wrestlings but he was better at the fist fights as his reflexes were faster. Uding's youngest brother, Masir, is now a Member of Parliament for Sri Aman.
I had never seen Grandma Kemau shout or lost her temper. She had that perpetual calmness about her and the smiles were always lingering on her lips. Her mind was free of worries. No wonder she lived to more than 100 years old.
Even at an age when most people would have been on wheelchairs, she still go out on her own to the river, which was a good 2 kilometres away through hills and swamps, to pursue her interest - fishing. At least once or twice a week, she would don her fishing gear - wearing a knee-length sarong and a worn-out shirt, a small basket slung across her shoulder, a fishing rod made from a long bamboo in one hand and a small knife in the other. Bent almost double, with failing eyesights, she would slowly walk the length of the long house, down the narrow ladder made from a log and towards the Semeruang River to catch her fish fries of "ikan seluang." Catching bigger fish like "ikan baung" (fresh-water catfish) would certainly be a welcomed bonus.
That was my memory of Grandma Kemau. When not fishing, she would be relaxing at the "ruai" (common verandah). Every time I came back to the long house for a holiday, she would always look for me. I knew she couldn't see me clearly and she was a lady with little words. She would feel for my hands and softly said, almost in a whisper, "Meri aku duit anak. Kita udah kaya amai nya." (give me some money son, You are now a rich man!" It was a request I could never refused because I knew how things were to them. About being a rich man - that I refute but in front of her it was a yes to everything she said. I cannot remember when Grandma passed away - will have to ask Uding. As I was in Malaya most of the time and because of the lack of communication, I was never told of most happenings in the long house - deaths, marriages etc. I believed she died peacefully. I couldn't remember her being sick. Her heart just didn't have the energy to beat anymore. She must had been well over 100 years old then. Good bye Grandma. I wished I could have been closer to you when you were still alive. God bless you and may you find the eternal peace in Heaven. Send my love to mother and father. I miss them so much.

Some Iban Songs to Ease My Nostalgia.

Iban Songs Sometimes, when it is a quiet Sunday like today, my mind will wander off to the place where I was born - my long house in Sarawak. Visions of my carefree childhood, the pangs of hunger and the little games we played in the river, in the vacinity and attics of the long house. I began to wonder where all my friends are now. I know, some had passed on, some are still eking a living in the same long house, continuing what our fathers had done. Some had gone elsewhere in search of greener pastures but I know they will always come back to their birth place. For me, my journey was destined to be a journey of no return. Today, I decided to ease my pangs of nostalgia a little by listening to some Iban songs. I found these in youtube: h Care to listen? Happy listening.

Malaysian Ingris

Malaysian Ingris This is one of my favourite anecdotes. It never fail to tickle me. 1. An employee applied for leave for a “bercukur ceremony” of his baby son (shaving his son’s head rites). As I want to shave my son's head , please leave me for two days.” 2. Another employee’s daughter is getting married and he applied for leave. “As I am marrying my daughter , please grant a week's leave..” 3. Another employee applied for leave, as his mother-in-law has just died. “As my mother-in-law has expired and I am only one responsible for it , please grant me 10 days leave.” 4. Another applied for ½ a day’s leave for a burial rite. “Since I've to go to the cremation ground at 10 o-clock and I may not return , please grant me half day casual leave” 5. A sick employee applied for leave. “I am suffering from fever , please declare one-day holiday.” 6. A sick student applied for a day’s leave from the Headmaster. “As I am studying in this school I am suffering from headache. I request you to leave me today” 7. Another sick student applied for leave. “As my headache is paining , please grant me leave for the day.” 8. A Clerk wrote in his covering letter. “'I am enclosed herewith...” 9. Another Clerk wrote….. “Dear Sir, with reference to the above , please refer to my below...” 10. An employee whose wife is sick applied for leave. "My wife is suffering from sickness and as I am her only husband at home I may be granted leave.” 11. A well wisher …… “I am well here and hope you are also in the same well." 12. A candidate responded to a job advertisement. “This has reference to your advertisement calling for a ' Typist and an Accountant - Male or Female'... As I am both, for the past several years and I can handle both with good experience , I am applying for the post.”

Friday, 3 April 2009

At Last I'm in Contact With My Former Commanding Officer

Lt Col Philip Lee Khiu Fui - a Commanding Officer deeply etched in my memory I was searching in vain for my former Commanding Officer, Sarawakian Lt Col Philip Lee Khiu Fui who retired as a Brigadier General. Captain (Rtd) George Ngau and I did go to his house in Damansara in the 80s once, but that was a long time ago. He had moved. He was commanding 3rd Rangers from 1973 to 1975. It was under him that the Battalion became famous. The year was 1973. It was the greatest year for the Battalion and it was mine too. The Battalion had scored the biggest success - 30 CTs killed in a single year. That was a record that stood till today. It will remain so as there is no more armed conflict. After the dawn attack on the CT camp in the inaccessible swamp of Asajaya (Nonok then), Lt Col Philip Lee and Commander 3 Brigade, Brigadier General Hassan Mohd Salleh took the risk, flew in an Allouette to rendezvous with me in a clearing about 1000 metres from the enemy camp. They couldn't stay long as the helicopter couldn't land and it was hovering a few inches above the swamp. They shook my hands and congratulated me. I could see and sensed their joy and pride at our success. Not long after we came back to our base in Serian, Lt Col Philip Lee wrote my citation and before we returned to our main camp in Taiping, Perak at the end of 1973, I was awarded the nation's second highest bravery award, the Panglima Gagah Berani ( PGB). I owed that to Lt Col Philip Lee. Thank you Sir for the honour. After about 20 years, Army Admin wanted me to collect the "gong" from the office personally or send a runner. I refused and insisted it be given in a proper manner. I must had ruffled a few feathers by my demand. However, I stood by my principle that an award of that stature must be given in a dignified manner. Lt Col Philip Lee stood behind me and wrote a letter to the Department in support of me. Thank you Sir! A special ceremony was arranged in MINDEF with all the top brass present. I was satisfied. Many were not. When I began to write my autobiography two years ago, I wanted very much for Lt Col Philip Lee to write the foreword to the book. It would have been befitting indeed. I called the Veterans Department and some of my colleagues to find out his home address and telephone numbers. But alas! The address and the telephone numbers were outdated. He had moved. I was disappointed and dismayed. The book has no foreword. I never give up though. I wanted to present him the book, as he was one of the main characters/players. I mentioned in my blog and in one of my paper report. It paid off. A few days ago Lt Col (Rtd) Dato' Martin Kam called me. He read in the Malay Mail about my wish to contact Brigadier General Philip Lee. He said he has met General Philip and has his telephone numbers too. He would give them to me when he gets home. He was in Sungai Petani. So today (April 3, 2009) he gave me the telephone numbers. I kept my fingers crossed that they are still in use. They were! An hour later, I have the books sent to him via the Pos Laju. My wish is partly fulfilled. Now that I'm in contact with him, it is still not too late to write the foreword and have it included in the next edition!