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My First Solo Flight to Singapore
January 29th 1930 was a very busy day for me, as on the morrow I was to make my first solo flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and, full of pleasurable excitement and anticipation, I was completely occupied in plotting out my course. This was to follow the usual route taken by travellers from the Federal Capital - Malacca, Muar, Batu Pahat and Johore Bahru - but there is, in the air, no single main high road which you can scarcely fail to miss, no sign posts, and no one of whom you can ask the way if you should happen to take the wrong turning. Accordingly, landmarks must be chosen from the map, and lines of flight by the compass calculated; in particular, all spots suitable for a forced landing must be memorized and their locality fixed in the mind's eye.
The next morning I got to the aerodrome at 7.30 a.m., and had a good look at the machine in which I was to make my flight. It seemed to be perfectly tuned up and in every way ready for a long and important journey. The next thing to be done was to equip myself with the necessary documents. One of these is a paper stating that the bearer comes from a definite and recognised flying centre. This document is very necessary in the case of a forced landing in foreign territory. I then had a chat with the club instructor about the weather. This seemed pretty promising, although there were some fairly heavy clouds above the northern horizon.
At last all arrangements were completed and I hopped off at 8.10 a.m., heading for Malacca which is about 76 miles from K.L. as the crow flies, although the mileage by road is 96 miles. In about ten minutes I sighted Kajang, just to my left but far below me. It was rather misty but the building of the Kajang High School, our friendly opponents in many a keenly contested struggle on our respective padangs, stood out distinctly on its gentle rise of ground. Scarcely had Kajang disappeared from view than Nilai came in sight at the foot of Bukit Galla, a little to the right of me. A few minutes more and Seremban was beneath me, a charming little clean white garden city as seen from the air. Hardly had Seremban been glimpsed than it had slid from beneath me, and I was flying high between the shapely range of the Rembau Hills and the gleaming sea which lay well away on my right hand.
Now the plane was over Malacca territory and one could see those picturesque green strips of padi land which wind among the low hills of the ancient settlement. But now I was over Malacca town itself and rejoiced my eyes with a near view of the vast unharvested plain of the sea which lay below me like a sheet of blue glass. The sun was shining here and its rays glittered in golden laughter as they struck the surface of the water; but looking backwards towards K.L., I saw that the clouds which I had noticed on the northern horizon before my departure were now threatening to pursue me across the sky in massed formation. Still, one could never be certain what Malayan weather was going to be like two hours ahead, and these cloud masses might soon be blown out to sea, or up into the hills, or disperse themselves without ever reaching me. At Malacca I changed my course and headed for Muar, flying over the sea which made it easier to keep direction. A last glimpse at Malacca - a picturesque huddle of weather-worn roofs at the mouth of its little river spanned by the famous bridge which has existed in some form or other since the days of the old Malay princes - and I had left far behind me the ancient city of the Conquistadores.
Muar soon came in sight and was quickly overpassed, a pleasant-looking little town from the air, lying just above the mouth of its broad river. The clouds inland and behind me were becoming blacker, and if there was going to be a storm, I wanted to reach Batu Pahat before it burst. The wind, too, was getting up, but I had experience of flying in a stiff wind and felt confidence in myself at the height of just one mile above the sea. There was Batu Pahat with its aerodrome, some few miles south of the town, a better one than the Malacca or Muar landing ground. It was a fine big ground with a nice easy approach.
With a sigh of relief I said to myself that two-thirds of my journey were now over. I was feeling tired, and the wind was becoming rougher, but the clouds had largely dispersed and it was plain that there was not going to be any downpour before I reached my destination, unless something very untoward should occur. Still keeping to the sea, I left Gunong Pulai, whence Singapore draws its water supply, away to the left. A few minutes later I was over Johore Bharu looking down over the causeway, which was like a tight-stretched tape joining the island to the peninsula. Over the narrow strip of water I buzzed, straight for the R.A.F. Station. There were the Naval Base and the Floating Dock. Another minute and I had made a creditable landing, just two and a half hours out of Kuala Lumpur.
After having reported to the Duty Pilot's Office and having had my machine safely placed in the Civil Hangar, I took a look round the premises. Near my plane there was a big four-engine liner about ten times as big as my machine. I had a good look at this, both inside and out. She could carry nine passengers and was installed with every kind of modern comfort. The aerodrome itself was a first class one, equal to almost any in England. After watching some interesting formation flying which was going on above the flying ground, I went off to town across the island to have tiffin with a friend, but got back to the aerodrome in order to start on my return flight.
Having filled up with petrol and got the aeroplane out of her shed, I informed the Duty Pilot of my departure and, soaring into the air above Singapore Island, headed for Batu Pahat at a few minutes past three. Ten miles beyond Johore Bharu, the weather got threatening again with black clouds that seemed to be circling all round me. It looked as if I should be obliged to alight at Batu Pahat, and perhaps be prevented from returning to K.L. that day. Before I reached Batu Pahat the storm burst and gave me a pretty tidy shaking up. The drops of water seemed to rattle on my head like small stones, and I could not see anything beyond my windscreen.
I throttled down so as to glide to a lower height from which I might be able to see the ground, for I felt that it would certainly be necessary to descend at the Batu Pahat aerodrome. The plane was tossed about as if it were a feather, but I managed to keep control and to get a view of the ground, which was what I chiefly wanted. But no sooner had this squall passed than another came fast on its heels and again deprived me of the sight of the earth. Once more I had to descend to get my bearings; but luckily this second storm passed off as quickly as the first had done, as is the manner of Malayan flurries. I found myself right over the B.P. flying ground and the sky overhead quite clear, though there were still ominous looking clouds on the horizon.
I had half a mind to descend and wait to see if the weather was going to clear completely, but I was eager to get home in good time and so determined to push on at all costs. Hardly had I passed over Muar when up came a shower behind me, and before I reached Malacca I was well in the middle of the ribut. The worst of it was the thick mass of cloud that enveloped me on every side. I climbed to about 6,000 feet to get above it, for the higher one is in the air the safer one is bound to be, but the clouds seemed to mount up and pursued me even into the empyrean, whereupon I dived down again to see if I could get below them. Clouds are a terrible nuisance in flying for you never know what is behind one. The rain pelted, the wind blew, but by now I had got the measure of these little squalls and was not concerned, as I knew that if I kept my head they could not do much harm to me.
The last stage from Malacca to Kuala Lumpur was largely a matter of cloud dodging. I had intended to follow up the coast to the mouth of the Klang River and then strike inland, but a rain storm came sweeping across the landscape and barred my passage. Luckily this squall, as so often happens in Malaya, was entirely local and, changing my course completely, I flew round one side of it and made Seremban instead of Port Swettenham. The same situation on a smaller scale arose on the last stage of my flight. I was shaping my course above Nilai when a huge black rain cloud intervened between me and my destination. I changed direction to the right, skirted its edge and reached home via Kajang and the Cheras Gap.
It was not raining on my arrival at K.L. and I could effect an easy landing, very pleased to be safe home again and to have successfully performed my first long solo flight.
A Visit to the Batu Caves and Mr. Kenneison's Concrete Works
After postponing our proposed trip to the caves for more than a dozen times, we four lazy slackers, Ng Fook Loy, Kwok Koon Kow, Low Kay Hock and yours truly, affectionately known as "The Lazy Quartet", trudged wearily on our bicycles to our destination one Sunday some three weeks ago.
On our way via Batu Village, we passed several other small villages. During most of the journey we saw rubber and coconut estates to the right and left of us, a typical Malayan scene. In some places coolies were seen tapping rubber trees. Just after we had left Sentul behind us, we passed a place where some people were busy extracting oil from what seemed to us to be coconuts, with a queer machine. Two bulls were yoked to a pole which was connected to the press. These bulls went in circles and as the pole went round and round, the press squeezed oil from the copra. Next we passed a broad river flowing parallel to the road. The banks of this river were covered with bushes and thorny thickets.
En route one saw different species of trees, plants and flowers, mostly wild; the birds on their branches chirping and twittering happily, the fragrance of a cool breeze and the sight of lofty trees, all helped to make that morning a glorious one, and refreshed and invigorated us. When we were about three miles from the Caves we passed a village called Kent, and one of our party who appeared to have been dreaming all the way, exclaimed, on seeing the board, "Wot, are we in England!" We assured him, however, that we were still in Malaya. Continuing our way, we stopped at the house of one of the party, where we had a drink and had a go at an old accordion lying there. One fellow, thinking himself a 'great gun', tried to play a hot rhythm, but I can assure you he was quite a dud. All we heard were a few squeaks and groans from the instrument! We then proceeded on our way, passing the mines of the Ampat Tin Dredging Company Ltd.
The Batu Caves boast a small railway station which nestles at the foot of the hills. There is a station-master's office and a few benches. Rising sheer from the surrounding level plain are the remarkable limestone hills known as the Batu Caves. Such limestone hills are a characteristic feature of Malaya, being best developed in Perlis, Kinta and Kelantan, and Pahang near Pulai. Most of these hills, though far inland, are flanked by precipitous cliffs and rise from low ground. They are riddled with caves, some of great size. In the wilder parts of the Peninsula the aborigines use these caves as dwelling places, while in Kinta the Chinese use them as temples. The Batu Caves, though made of limestone, appear green from the road. This is on account of the number of trees growing on them.
Parking our bicycles at the foot of the steps, we looked up. The sight which met one's gaze made one feel that the hill was going to fall on one. We then started the tedious climb up. The steps - it is obvious that they lead to the top - number 150 in all. The first fifty are even and smooth, being man's work. The rest are of various sizes and shapes, one broad, another narrow, and so on. After what seemed several hours, we at last reached the top. We then proceeded to examine the various names and such like inscriptions, carved on the rocks, some in very high places, showing the visitor's agility, nerve, courage, pluck, daring and a hundred and one things. Looking out, we saw nothing but a green sea of tree tops, with a background of dim misty hills in the distance which so inspired us that we could, for a time, pay no attention to anything else.
After a time, we turned away and went inside the bright cave. This cave is known Cathedral Cave, and the dark one as the Snake Cave. The rocks inside have a smooth, beautiful and attractive green coating which, on near inspection, we found to be moss. Suddenly one of our party, wearing rubber shoes, executed a neat step dance which even Fred Astaire might have envied. I leave it to my honorable readers to guess the reason!
There are many stalactites and stalagmites in the caves. Water from the roof of these caves, leaves an accumulation of limestone, when it falls. Every drop that drips adds a little more limestone, and so the deposit grows. The deposit formed on the roof of the cave is called a stalactite, and that which is formed on the floor is called a stalagmite. In many cases the stalactites and stalagmites meet, forming, as it were, pillars that seem to support the roof. There is also a lot of guano, the excrement of the bats which cling to the roof of the caves. The bats are numerous in this cave and are probably the chief inhabitants of the dark cave. The guano is used as manure. The inhabitants of the light cave are a solitary Sadhu and his pigeons, the bats and, perhaps some snakes and insects. Water dripping from the roof of these caves forms pools here and there.
Finishing our tour of this cave, we entered the entrance of the second cave, namely, the dark one. Here a cool breeze blows, but unfortunately it is polluted by a disgusting aroma, which infects the entrance of the caves. Hence we hurried inside. This cave is long and dark, and contains a variety of curious animals, including cockroaches, toads, spiders and white snakes. As we plodded on, the ground became very soft and boggy and we could not see since it was now very dark and because of insufficient light from our torch which let out a beam as thin as a pencil and was - dim! So we had to beat a retreat.
Climbing down the stone stairway, we went to the limestone quarry at Kenneison Brothers Works. This visit was most interesting. The road leading to the works forks after a little distance, one branch leading to the quarry and the other to the works. We chose the road going to the quarry. Here some coolies were at work on a precarious job. They sit on things like hammocks, suspended from trees growing on the hillside, a few hundred feet off the ground, and dislodge pieces of rock which they send hurtling down. On the other side of the hill the rocks are dynamited at noon, a much quicker way of loosening the stone. But this method is not used on the side that was facing us because there is a danger of the rocks being flung on the sheds, we believe.
The pieces of rock are then picked up and taken to a shed where a coolie feeds them to a machine which breaks them into small pieces, some of which are passed underground and picked up by V-shaped cans and emptied into another contraption which grinds them into a smaller size, the size used in making metalled roads. These are then taken in trucks to a place where they are loaded into railway trucks and taken away. Some of the stones are taken to still another contraption which grinds them into a powder. The noise in this shed is deafening and the sun at its zenith casts scorching rays that are almost beyond endurance.
A little farther up from the office are the works. This is the place where all concrete articles such as garden seats, ornamental flowerpots, pillars, fence posts, etc. are made. All the cement used is imported. In one place they mix it with sand and water and make pillars with reinforcement of iron inside for use in buildings. This, as is the case of nearly all things made here, is done with the help of moulds.
As it was getting late we left the place. After taking a rest at Low Kay Hock's house, where, of course, he remained, we remaining three soon found ourselves homeward bound, by way of the Pahang Road and Setapak. When we sighted K.L., we were dead beat, and dispersed to our respective homes for a slap-up feed and a well-earned rest.
An Unnatural Brother
Many years ago, there lived in China a very wealthy District Officer named Har Lim, who was seventy-five years of age. He had a wife and a son named Har Kee who was a very hard-hearted man. When his wife died, Har Lim, although very old, was still very healthy. He had retired on a pension and had become a householder and landowner.
One day, Har Kee came to his father and said, "Father, you are very old; why don't you enjoy the life of an old man? Let me take care of your property and act as householder in your place!"
"As long as I live," replied his father, "I shall take care of my own property".
A few days later, while out walking, Har Lim beheld two women washing clothes by a stream. He went nearer to them and noticed that one was young and the other was old. He was so attracted by the beauty of the young lady that he stood as if rooted to the ground. He enquired of someone, and found that the object of his passion was an orphan-spinster named Mooi Ying and that she was seventeen years old and lived with her grandmother.
In spite of the opposition of his relatives he married the girl. A year later she gave birth to a son who was named Choon Yang. Not long afterwards, Har Lim gave a grand banquet in celebration of the eightieth anniversary of his birthday.
His first son, Har Kee, was very jealous of his step-brother and went about telling people that Choon Yang was not of his own blood. Choon Yang grew up to be a fine strapping lad and was the apple of his father's eye. At the age of five he was so intelligent that his father sent him to school.
As a result of frequent quarrels between him and his elder brother son, Har Lim became so worried that he fell ill. His wife prayed day and night in the hope that he would recover, while his elder son was wishing he would relieve the world of his presence. As Har Lim lay on his deathbed, he summoned his whole family to his bedside and made a will bequeathing almost all his visible property to his elder son and leaving only a small portion to his young wife and Choon Yang.
When Har Kee had departed the room, Har Lim's wife protested but her husband merely shook his head and replied, "After my death, you will know why I have left so much of my property to Har Kee. As you are very young, you may re-marry if you wish. But if you wish to remain a widow I have left something for you. It is a portrait. Wait until Choon Yang has grown up, then take this picture to some competent judge. He will know what it means". So saying, he handed a portrait to her and passed away peacefully.
On the next day, Har Kee called all the old inhabitants to act as witnesses to his claim to his father's property by the will. He also called his stepmother and stepbrother to come and receive their small share, which consisted of fifty-eight acres of waste land and a small thatched house. They were asked by Har Kee to remove to their own property that very day.
Ten years passed by with rapidity. One day Choon Yang asked his mother to make him a new suit. But his mother replied, "A new suit! Where am I to get the money from to buy the cloth?"
"Where does my brother, Har Kee, get so much money from?" asked Choon Yang. "I'll go to him and ask him for some money to buy the cloth".
But his mother protested, and reminded him of his brother's hard-heartedness and cruelty, and added, "If you study your lessons well, I'll make you a new suit on New Year's Day".
But her son was obstinate and said, "If you have no money, I'll ask it from my brother now".
So saying, off he went to his brother. But instead of getting any money he received a sound thrashing from his elder brother and went back to his mother howling with pain. Choon Yang complained to his mother that it was very unfair of his father to have given them only a small cottage, while his brother had all the good and fertile lands, and added, "We must go to the judge to settle this matter."
This reminded his mother of the portrait which her husband had given her. So the next day they went to a well-known judge in another district and requested him to solve the mystery of the portrait. The judge looked at the portrait and was puzzled by it, for it was merely the portrait of an old man resembling the features of Har Lim, carrying a baby whose features resembled Choon Yang's, in his right arm, while his left arm pointed towards the ground. The judge told Choon Yang and his mother to return home and give him time to solve the mystery.
After several days of thinking the judge became more puzzled than ever. One day, while he was having his breakfast, he took out the portrait and laid it on the table. While he was scanning the portrait, he accidentally knocked the teapot over, spilling its contents over the picture. The result was that it became detached from its mounting, and revealed a slip of paper carefully hidden behind it. On this was written a codicil to the last will of Har Lim, stating that hidden under the floor of the house, where Choon Yang and his mother were then living, were twenty jars of silver and ten jars of gold. In it was also stated that whosoever solved the mystery should receive a jar of gold as a reward.
Choon Yang and his mother were very excited and ran home and dug up the floor and found, to their great joy, the treasure. They became rich beyond their wildest dreams and put up a magnificent mansion and began to lead a life of peace and plenty, honoured and respected by all their neighbours. Meanwhile, Har Kee had been wasting his money in the company of evil counsellors, drinking and gambling. In time to come he became heavily in debt, with the result that he was sent to gaol, while Choon Yang and his mother lived happily in their new mansion.
A Glimpse at the Seamy Side of Life or
The large, grim, ochre-coloured building on Pudu Road is a familiar sight to all readers of the Victorian, but very few, or perhaps none, have had the opportunity of catching a glimpse of the life within its walls. Such an opportunity fell to the writer's lot last Christmas Holidays when he was invited to join a party of twelve boys from the M.B.S. who were visiting the gaol under the aegis of one of the school societies.
It was at 2.30 p.m. on a very hot afternoon that we arrived at the main entrance of the gaol. After a short wait the gate was opened by a policeman, and locked again behind us the moment we had entered. We were taken first to the head office where we saw five clerks at work. The Chief Warder received us very kindly here and sent for another warder who was to be our guide round the prison. The first thing we noticed was a big board hung on the outside wall of the office. This gave the number of prisoners actually in the gaol at that time. On it the prisoners were classed according race, and were entered either under "Simple Imprisonment", "Rigorous Imprisonment" or "Condemned". As far as I can remember there were little more than two hundred prisoners all told. The poor condemned wretches numbered two.
Leaving the clean and tidy office, we were led first to the Prison Kitchen by our guide, a stout genial European gentleman, not at all what one imagines a grim Head Warder to be. Here we saw the prison cooks preparing the evening meal. These cooks were all prisoners themselves, and cookhouse work is the easiest and most coveted of all the tasks performed in the prison.
We then passed on to another section where old and feeble-bodied culprits were engaged in work suitable for their strength. These were occupied in stripping the fibre from the husks of coconuts. This fibre is then used for the manufacture of doormats and rough matting. These poor fellows looked rather uncomfortable, in spite of their not too laborious work, for their bare backs were exposed to the pitiless heat of the sun. It was interesting to see the different demeanour of various individuals in this gang. Some of them looked ashamed, and even turned their faces away from us, as we approached; but others stared at us boldly and grinned as though callous to the punishment which the law had inflicted on them.
Our guide then took us to a gate, where he rang a bell. At this summons a policeman appeared and unlocked the gate. Passing out, we emerged upon a big strip of cultivated land along the railway. Here we saw twenty to thirty prisoners, a few of them women, hard at work digging and planting. They were watched over by two policemen with guns in their hands. The crops grown were potatoes and other vegetables for use in the gaol.
On re-entering the prison by another gate we came to a section where another batch of weak-bodied prisoners were twisting ropes and making mats with the coir which we had previously seen extracted from the coconut husks. A little further on, we saw some other immates making rattan chairs and tables. We then visited the central building of the gaol. This may be compared to the spokes of a wheel radiating from a common centre. Each of these spokes is an oblong building containing a large number of cells, all opening on one side or the other of a long passage. The cells were empty, for all the prisoners were out at work. As we threaded through several of these long corridors, our genial guide told us all sorts of things about the prison and its inmates, and entertained us with many amusing wisecracks. We then came to a very big room in which were confined the oldest and feeblest of the prisoners. These are given no task to do, and were just sitting about or lying down on their plank beds. We were allowed to exchange a few words with some of them.
We recognised one old man as a familiar figure in the streets of the bazaar, and asked him how he had been so unfortunate as to find himself in gaol. He told us that as he was plying his grubby trade of scavenger, he happened to make a fire of some useless litter and paper by the roadside, whereupon he was arrested, tried and condemned for attempting to reduce to ashes the Federal Capital. That was what the old man said; but we suspected that he had found his way to the lock-up for burning seditious literature so that it might not fall into the hands of the police.
We felt sorry for the poor old human wrecks that were littered about in this room, but we could not linger longer among them and were hurried off by our guide to the Prison Laundry, where we saw a tidily-dressed self-respecting set of inmates at work.
A prisoner's cell is not a very comfortable place. It is about nine feet long by about five and a half feet broad. The height is about twelve feet. Light and air are admitted chiefly through the door which is made of open steel bars and is about 10 feet in height. The only other ventilation is an oval air hole fitted with steel bars and communicating with the next cell at the same height as the top of the door. The furniture consists of a wooden block to sit on, a plank bed about 2 feet wide and nothing else whatsoever. Our guide then led us into the very heart of the building and stopped halfway down a gloomy corridor which was lined with the usual cells. The spot he halted at was opposite one of the usual iron-barred doors, but this door did not lead directly into a cell as the others did, but into a small inner passage, and above its lintel were inscribed two words that sent a shiver down our backs - "CONDEMNED CELL".
Inside that awful passage there were actually eight condemned cells, four on each side. There were two occupants of these grim premises, both of them Sikhs who had done to death a compatriot. One of these unhappy men was sitting in his cell looking very despondent, as he well might do. The other was pacing about a small courtyard into which the passage containing the condemned cells led. Two burly warders, one of them armed with a rifle, kept watch night and day on these poor wretches who had forefeited their lives to society.
We were glad to escape from these dreadful surroundings and to be conducted to the Prison Hospital. Here a doctor kindly showed us round the ward, where the patients seemed to be every bit as comfortable as they would have been in a third class ward in an ordinary hospital. The place was scrupulously clean, and reeked with the pungent but healthy smell of drugs and medicaments.
Our steps were now directed to the quarters of the female prisoners, near which we saw some of these unfortunate ladies busily engaged in cutting grass and clearing drains. Their cells were distinctly larger than those of the men, but I cannot give the reason for this, perhaps two women are confined in a single cell. Their costume was a sarong and baju of unbleached coarse cloth for Malays, and a baju and trousers of the same material for the Chinese. Their chief occupations were sewing and weaving, at which several of them were very expert.
The presiding genius of this wing of the Prison was a stout Indian lady who beamed amiably upon us and did not look as if she would be too hard a task-mistress for her unfortunate charges. Having now made a complete round of the Prison, we returned to the entrance and, after thanking the Warder and our guide for the trouble they had taken and the kindness they had shown us, we took our departure from the gaol at 4 p.m. The visit had lasted about an hour and a half.
The Kuala Lumpur Central Prison is undoubtedly one of the most interesting places to be seen in the Federal Capital. I strongly advise any of my readers to pay a visit to it if they should have the opportunity of doing so.
Last update on 28 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng