Our family home was located at Jalan Tabuan (Tabuan Rd). This was the main road leading to Kuching town (and still is) and most people who went to town usually drove past my home. When I was young, I did not feel proud of my home. My house was a mansion but not built of concrete but wood hence I felt it was substandard. I envied my friends’ houses made of brick although they were just linked or terrace houses unlike mine that stood on over an acre of land with a mango tree, a rambutan tree, a jambu tree and a banana tree. There was also a lake in our garden which my aunts used as a landfill for dumping our garbage. Within the same compound of my house was a small ‘attap’ house. We called it ‘attap’ house because the roof was made of ‘attap’ (a kind of palm leaves probably nipah). This was tenanted out to a widow with six children, the youngest girl was my age . The rental was RM8 or 10 per month (out of goodwill to house the family) even up to the day our house was sold. There was never a tenancy agreement signed and when our family decided to sell the house in 1978 years after grandmother passed away, this tenant refused to move and my uncle (Ji Pek) had to get a lawyer to write an agreement that they move out and they were paid a couple of thousands as compensation not to mention the legal fees and the stress that it caused when the tenant’s son created havoc most nights bringing his gangsters (samseng kia) friends into the house after given due notice to vacate as the property was on the market.
Our house was a double-storey house. It stood at the slope of Tabuan Road so whenever the rainy season came, our house would be flooded ankle high and at times knee high during bad floods. I thought it was quite fun because we got the chance to miss school and stayed home. There were seven bedrooms in my ancestral home. I shared a bedroom with my aunt (2ko) with a window that looked into the ‘attap’ house and into my 2ko’s chicken pen. I liked my bedroom because this is where everyone came in to peep and shouted at petty thieves that came in the middle of the night to steal the ducks and the chicken in their gunny sacks.
My 3ko was the family’s treasurer and shopper. She biked to the wet market every morning around 6.30am to buy meat and vegetables. She taught my sister and me how to bike and our first bike trip was to the Padungan wet market with her one morning. We went real early before 6am as the roads would not be so busy then. It was easy breezy biking to the market but not to school because going to school, we had to paddle up the hill which was a huge effort on a bike with no gear, not that we had to bike to school often. I recalled the number of times I had to bike to school and it was only for extra curricular classes in the afternoon. We were privileged to be dropped to (primary) school in Ji Pek’s flash car and I was told that previous to this, one of his old car and was sold to the present Chief Minister of Sarawak in the 1950s when the CM first started work as a mere civil servant.
I attended two years of kindergarten. Pei Tee kindergarten was just a ten minutes walk uphill Tabuan Rd. I did not particularly like those times in kindergarten because I was soft spoken and often got bullied by other girls because I never reported them to the teachers. 2ko was quite surprised when I had to do two years of study because most students only had to attend a year of kindergarten and then went on to primary one. We were told I had to stay two years because I was underage to attend primary one in 1968. We started primary school aged seven in Malaysia. I was born on 6 January 1962 and turned two on 5 Feb 1962 according to the Chinese calendar after counting the months I was in the womb and every Chinese new year, you aged a year so I turned two years old when I was a month old. At the end of every school year, we had to perform dances, story telling, singing during an annual concert and prize giving. I was not good in any of those but my younger and only sister Lilian, a year younger than me was a star. She performed at the annual concert in 1968 and it was a dance performance holding a lantern with a lighted candle (similar to the lanterns we lit during Lantern festivals). Her lantern accidentally caught fire but this did not alarm her in the least. My sister carried on the act as gracefully putting out her hand holding an imaginary lantern. This drew huge applause from the audience.
I was and still am a cat lover although now I have a pet dog and not a cat at home. I used to have cats and cried my eyes out whenever one died and it was often due to ‘hit and run’. My 4ko was responsible for walking us to and from kindergarten and I believed my cat Bimbo (named after Enid Blyton’s Bimbo & Topsy) followed us up the hill and one day while walking home, we found our beloved cat lifeless body on the road. I lost several other cats in this manner. It was heart breaking for my little soul. My cats were named Bimbo, Cartoon, Snowy, Blue-eye, Tiggy, Kitty, Fee Fee, Fee Bee and Fee Tee to name a few.
I have a story to tell of Fee Fee and Fee Bee and will post one them one day. Todate amongst my pet cats, only Fee Fee is alive and she lives in a cage in Kuching and my email is named after her.
Snowy, Cartoon & Blue-Eye
Cartoon & Me
An Attap House