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I look for it ev'rywhere;
I'm going to look again,
SONNET TO VIE
As longs for cooling streams the hunted deer,
THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL
Defying the vehement forces of sun, wind and rain, a solitary dwelling stood amidst towering, tropical forest giants, and despite the coat of age given by Father Time, it still showed possibilities of withstanding the elements for many a long year. Without, nature triumphantly revealed the splendours of her wonderful accomplishments; within, man turned these accomplishments into utilitarian purposes; and the walls of that silent log building served as the boundary separating the domains of nature and man.
A little space around the dwelling served as the "neutral zone" where man found the means to supply the cravings of the belly, and nature the field to turn her abilities to other than forest-building purposes.
A stream, on its way to its preordained destination, meandered for some time within the immediate vicinity of that mute little building and, for that, its clear refreshing waters were yoked to the services of man.
At the moment when we are concerned, within that building, two men squatted before a fire, which supplied both warmth and comfort in the face of the biting cold of the jungle night, and between them lay a great pile of that yellow metal, which had been, and ever would be, the root of so much evil - gold.
Years ago, these two men had left their all, and with only what was absolutely necessary, had found their way to this silent, unpenetrated spot, which they had cleared, and within which they had erected that dwelling to protect themselves, according to the first law of nature. They were the third generation of their line to fall slaves to their greed; their grandfather (for they were brothers) had discovered the mine with his little son, who had eventually left that grim spot with a snug bag, on the death of his father, and had gone back to civilisation to live in comfort and luxury, but his sons had retraced their way to the source of their supplies (since the bag brought from there had been exhausted).
And so it was that after many years of patient toil, they were rewarded with the pile of dust which now lay glittering before them, and which had so lured them that they had made no efforts to resist its influence. Despite the fire light, it was impossible to distinguish the expressions of those grim faces, for many years of neglect had transformed a pair of handsome individuals into two shabby creatures with their faces hidden under a growth of tangled hair.
At that tense moment, the goddesses of virtue and of greed engaged themselves in a terrific combat for mastery, but ultimately the latter triumphed, for, into one of the two men, crept that devilish influence which nominated him, and then came the determination to be the possessor of all, whether by fair means or foul... soon all considerations in him vanished - he was resolved!
Phoebus announced another bright day; the jungle folks sought repose from the weariness of their night excursions; and along a pathway a human being plodded on his way with a huge burden over his shoulders.
This early traveller was quite alone. Where was his brother? The little log-hut held that grim secret!
Some three hours later, a limp and footsore being was climbing a sharp, rocky incline, when suddenly a piece of that on which he stood gave way under him, and in another moment, boulder and man raced down to the foot of the incline. No spectator was there to witness the tragedy, or he would have seen three lumps of something strewn about - their only difference being their shapes. They were the boulder, the man, and the bag of gold.
Just at the moment when a respite was given before the grim reaper gathered his harvest, the man looked earnestly at the two lumps before him, and mutely wondered at the difference which existed between them. The conclusion he reached was that there was none, for had he carried the boulder he might not have had the fall, the consequence of which he well realised. Greed had triumphed over him in a moment when he lacked his better part, and Nemesis had overtaken him sooner than usual - he would be dead in another moment!
My Holiday in Siam
It is in the month of December that Lower Siam reveals its beauty: the turbulent sea which washes its shore has now abated in consequence of the changing monsoon; the ferocious winds are now but cool zephyrs; the white sandy shores stretch far and wide; the roaring of the Indian breakers now sinks into insignificance - solitude reigns supreme, and the only sound which breaks the deep silence is the sharp voices of numerous birds of various species.
From Penang, a weekly-sailing ship takes excursionists to these two beautiful spots -Tongkah and Renong. The former, a township, owes its existence to the rich deposit of tin ore in its environment and the island on which it stands; the latter is merely a tin depot. Splendid facilities are offered for sight-seeing and sea-bathing, judging as to what they were twenty years ago. Ford cars maintain daily service between Tongkah and the mainland to which motor boats carry passengers across the narrow Straits of Papra. From this point, motor cars run to mining villages and Pungah, where the beauty of nature is fully realised:-
"........ a most living landscape, and the wave Of woods and rice fields, and the abodes of men Scatter'd at intervals, and wreathing smoke Arising from such rustic roofs..........."
Many snug homesteads appear on the horizon amongst the cluster of coconut and betel-nut trees which stand, as they do, like protecting genies, guarding them from the vengeance of the skies. An intermittent spring lies behind Pungah. This spring is venerated and its consecrated water is judged by the Siamese Buddhists as God-sent. Ignorance is a dangerous thing: they assign its cause to some supreme being who pours water forth at certain intervals. It is during the rainy season that the intermittent spring pours out water three or four times a day and in bigger volume. On one occasion, many Siamese officials visited it and they were there practically the whole day trying to get a glimpse of the rushing water, but it was the dry season and the spring had dried up, and so they had to deem themselves consecrated, because only a holy person could see it, so I was told by a Siamese.
Despite Pungah's bearing, it is able to support two wats - Siamese temples - where some forty priests incline at ease reciting their holy scriptures. Siam is governed by Buddhism, and on Wan Pra - the weekend - women congregate within the wat's holy precincts, as white stucco walls run round it. They offer sacrifices and devotion to Buddha, anticipating future happiness and a better reincarnation, as the Siamese believe in the transmigration of souls. In Tongkah alone there are four wats and they collect their dues by farming out gambling dens many times a year - during the Siamese New Year, Christmas, New Year's Day - which coincides with the King of Siam's birthday - and Chinese New Year's Day, besides many other days devoted to the many Siamese deities.
On such occasions, the parade ground of the "Wild Tigers" - a Siamese military unit - is well decorated and many gambling sheds spring up within a few days. Men, as well as women who tuck small children under their arms, make their way to the crowded gambling dens. Handfuls of Siamese coins and notes leave the counter and find their resting place among the winners, while the losers pale into insignificance. In spite of this, some persons always remain in the gambling dens while only a few witness the sports - such are the gambling dens' seductions. It is, indeed, a pitiful sight: small boys with cigarettes in their mouths crowd the gambling dens while the older ones are crushed in the centre. On such occasions, the Siamese do not regard tobacco and gambling with much prejudice. On this gambling ground, the soldiers assemble to demonstrate their training to the Siamese High Commissioner. A Siamese military band supplies music, but, alas! its monotonous "Dong! Dong! is enough to tire anyone, because the Siamese military adopts the goose step in marching. Opposite are seated the Siamese officials with their fashionable wives and daughters who are attired in gorgeous costumes reminiscent of Siamese beauty.
1. Little Wun Too,
BUDAK MAKAN'S PILGRIMAGE
A padang and a prison on each hand,
And saw some boys go past with busy feet
Which did not pause at any hawker's stand.
For youths to pass sweet dainties so off-hand
Abnormal seem'd: what reason could debar?
I tidings asked from Oriental bland:
"Oh please to tell me what they seek afar?"
He beamed, " The Tuckshop run by Mister R."
THE KEDAI MAKAN
And where with eager feet the scholars hie,
There, where the stalls all stand with bliss array'd,
Are smiling toil and bright-eyed wit repaid.
What art can show or poet's pen can trace
The gastric pleasures of that festive place -
The broken ice, the ruddy drinks, lye-chee,
The nasi-l'mak, the gaudy sweets and ghee,
Aunt Sally's, blachan kechil, meat on pegs,
The kachang goring, pisang, and black eggs?
Such are thy charms if one has 'wong' and luck -
Such charms are fundamental, Shop of Tuck!
Last update on 07 February 2000.