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Night at Kampong Pandan
I lie sprawling on the lawn beneath the palm trees in delicious laziness and I see the evening sun creeping stealthily away in the distance. The western rim of the sky turns from molten gold to bluish yellow and the fine dust drifting in the air gives the atmosphere a reddish haze. In the distance I can see the trees tipped with the yellow light of the retreating sun.
The trees begin to fan the air with their branches as if in welcome of the departing sun. A sweet rising wind kisses my face and I inhale deeply the fresh air and feel the rush of blood in my cheeks. The land around me is enveloped by the fragrance of fresh young grass, and the overpowering sweet breath of budding flowers. The fresh grass and the thin blades of lallang sway joyously as the wind breathes through them. My thoughts are filled with the beguiling beauty of my surroundings.
Suddenly there is a hush. The wind dies into a low mournful wail and the trifling notes of the birds also fade into silence. It seems that the spirit of nature, wise beyond mortals, holds its breath as Day passes with silent wings.
Now, Dusk begins to unfold its grey sombre robes and settles, like grey smoke, over the land. The dust of night gathers and complete darkness envelops the land.
After a while streaks of silvery beams appear in the sky. Slowly, the silvery light is thrusted back and darkness advances like a great tide and spreads serenity over the land. Then the moon appears with full splendour, and rises in the sky. The sky, save for one small bank of dark clouds, is a deep unbroken blue. Minutes pass. A multitude of stars come out into the night and people the desert-sky. The sky is now sprinkled with stars and the Milky Way lies like a sparkling crescent of diamonds across the deep blue.
I stand here gazing at the scene before me and the minutes pass till I am weary and turn for home.
My Trip to India
On the 15th of August we started from our home, and the same evening we embarked on the S. S. Rajula at Port Swettenham. The ship set sail at 6 p.m. The following morning we arrived at Penang where more passengers boarded the ship. In the evening our ship started off, right across the vast ocean, for India.
Most people think that travelling is a great pleasure. But to me it was one of the worst kinds of sufferings I had ever experienced. The rainy season commenced in August and so the sea was rough. Sometimes the ship appeared to be in between two huge waves, hidden almost to its brim by the surrounding waters. At other times the ship appeared to be climbing a steep mountain of water and, on reaching the peak of the mountain, the ship was unsteady for a while; our hearts jumped into our mouths and, next moment, the ship glided downwards. The furniture of the ship swirled this way or that way with a loud rolling noise while the people clung on to any conceivable support.
This continued day in and day out without end. The blue sky and the deep sea below, the ship rolling across the unruly waves with most of the passengers down with sea-sickness, made our sea voyage boring and disgusting. Everyone except the crew longed to get ashore. The crew rarely sympathised with us but instead made a laughing stock of all of us. I thought how unhappy the sailors must be for choosing such a miserable career.
It took us five days to reach Nagapatam where a few passengers disembarked, and the next morning the ship entered the artificial harbour of Madras. After suffering from sea-sickness for so many days we disembarked; many barely had even the strength to walk. We spent the night at the railway station and boarded the transcontinental train the following morning, northbound.
In three days we reached Delhi. The train had gone right across the Deccan Plateau. On the way we passed through many towns, saw rice fields and Pater orange farms. We met all sorts of people, their dresses and dialects differing at every new station. The Indian summer was unbearable and besides our carriage was overcrowded.
It was on the second day of our train journey that a near-tragic event took place. It was two o'clock in the morning with the rain falling heavily and the air was rather chilly. At one station I got down for a drink. I had just ordered a cup of tea when the whistle of the locomotive sounded, and I ran back; but unfortunately I forgot the carriage in which I was travelling. So I clung to the bars of a door of some other carriage. The door of the carriage was locked from the inside and its occupants refused to open the door in spite of my endless begging.
The train was going at high speed and the rain was falling incessantly. My shirt was drenched and my teeth biting with cold. Half an hour had passed away and I was still in the same position. It seemed as if hours had passed away and the sun had refused to rise above the horizon. We had to pass through dark gloomy tunnels and over bridges with dreadful rushing torrents far below. My hands were giving away.
Before that time I had been rather careless of life. Only then did I realise how pleasant it was to live and I tried to cling to the bars as long as my muscles could permit. At last the long awaited station came into view. The train stopped and I ran back to my carriage to relate the tale to my friends. At that time I felt like shooting all those merciless people in the carriage, but today I pity their poor souls. I am really surprised about their being so inconsiderate and insensible towards a suffering fellow-being. It may have been due to lack of education.
When we first landed at Madras we had heard that on the 15th of August - Indian Independence Day - riots had started in Northern India. We were at the other end of the sub-continent, so we were not in the least worried about them. As we got nearer to our home, the intensity of the riots also increased. By the time we reached our native land most of the Muslims had been driven away. But still we could observe large refugee camps on the way. Many of them were still marching on wearily towards Pakistan. They were in horrifying conditions. Dead bodies were seen lying all along the roads and railway lines, and floating in canals, while the vultures devoured their bodies. At every moment our lives were in danger. All possible means of communications had come to a standstill and it was with great difficulty that we managed to reach our destination by travelling on horse carriages (when we were lucky) and at other times on foot.
At our village we heard daily of inhuman crimes being committed. No culprit was ever brought to book. Innocent people died. These atrocities were committed just because two sets of people thought differently. The horrifying atrocities remained indelible in my mind.
After four months' stay we decided to return to Malaya. We came back by the same route. No difficulty was experienced on the homeward journey. We reached Kuala Lumpur safely on the 28th of Jannuary, 1948.
A Moment of Reflection on Childhood
There is no gainsaying the fact that we cannot help smiling when we call back to mind the sweet reminiscences of our childhood. Many a time we admire, scoff, and laugh at ourselves at the recollection of the past records of our life which is not only full of nightmares of unavoidable examinations but also fraught with frantic pranks and whims. For a moment or two, as we linger in the vast realm of imaginative fanciful reminiscence, we are inclined to slide into oblivion, forgetting that the world in which we live is fast changing in every aspect. We tend to indulge deeper and deeper in fathomless recollections of our childhood life.
Out of those dim, misty, eventful days we begin, slowly but steadily, to remember the triumphant days that were passed with festivity and mirth - the days we celebrated our birthday or the days we celebrated for being the Victor Ludorum or Rodger Medallist of our Alma Mater - and the grim experiences which we had to undergo in time of infancy. The innumerable tricks and escapades we played on our teachers the moment their backs were turned, the cock-and-bull stories we produced as our excuses for being absent or for being late for an appointment, all these come creeping up to our mind as we plunge ourselves in the sea of our pleasant reminiscence. Not only do we feel delighted at recalling these memories but unquestionably we cherish them as our treasure of treasures!
In our infancy, we seem to fear nothing in the world; nothing haunts us, nothing troubles us, and, except for some unsolved school problems, nothing cudgels our fast-developing brain. We only know of going to school in the morning and returning home in the afternoon. Though quite a number of poor boys may experience some difficulties both in coming to school and at home yet, all the same, they attain the same mood of gaiety as any other Tom, Dick or Harry.
Not for a moment do they pause to think how and from what source do their parents obtain their means of sustenance. Except during hours of agony, privation and sickness, we are at all times happy, mischievous, fastidious and inquisitive in everything we see and admire. Everything in nature which the adults regard as familiar and prosaic, to our young mind looks new, appealing, sublime, gorgeous and inspiring. These facts are indications enough to prove that we are still innocent, unschooled, unsophisticated and harmless juveniles. At this rung in the ladder of life we are not prepared to face the impending thousand and one difficulties which an adult has to overcome. This is why we need the sanctuary of the school to guide and educate us so that we can face the oddities in life unflinchingly and without a grain of fear.
As a child we are careless of fate and destiny. This is illustrated by our happy-go-lucky temperament and the fact that, as a rule, we sleep soundly and undisturbed like a log of wood, entertaining no cares whatsoever of the days to come. We can be easily taught, influenced and forced to believe whatever superstitious beliefs our parents have entertained. What is taught to us is readily imbibed and applied; and we are careless, too, in our application. In fact the carelessness of our childhood life is comparable to that of a stream. At its source the stream stumbles over sharp-pointed ragged rocks; runs down steep, sinister-looking deep precipices, seeming careless of life. In no small measure, therefore, the beginning of a stream is the verisimilitude of a child's life.
The Fascination of Travel
"If you were allowed to do anything you like doing, what would you like to do?" a friend of mine asked me. I replied that I would like to travel round the world. It is not that this is a new idea to me, for I have been brooding over it ever since I understood the meaning of the word "travel".
I remember quite well the evenings our family used to gather together when we were still children. I used to pull out from the sitting room cupboard the pile of albums with fascinating photographs inside. Sometimes a photograph with my mother sitting by the side of huge statue of a sleeping Buddha would strike my fancy. Then, with my childish inquisitiveness, I would ask, "Mama, what is this ugly thing?"
"That, dear," my mother would reply, "is a Buddha. It was taken in Peking".
I would then venture further, "Wasn't Mama frightened of Buddha?"
My mother, hearing this, would smile her pleasant smile and say sweetly, "There is nothing to be afraid of, child. Besides, the Buddha isn't a living thing."
However, the two new words "Buddha" and "Peking" so suddenly added to my vocabulary were still unreal to me. But I thought my mother was very brave, and that I would like to be like her. So I thought I would go one day to Peking to visit the Buddha.
A photograph of a fanciful boat also came to my notice. This I found out to be taken in a famous resort in the Lake of Soochow, in China. Another photograph with a suspended bridge was said to have been taken in Java. Many other place names were mentioned when I went through the numerous photographs but to go through them here one by one in detail is impossible. At that time, the places signified nothing to me but only their images remained. I thought one day I could see them with my eyes as my parents had seen them with theirs, notwithstanding the distance they were from our home.
But as I grew older, I began to understand more about my parents' talk of travel. They had done much travelling I gathered. Both of them had spent their childhood in Dutch Borneo. My father went to study in Singapore for some years and then continued his study in Shanghai. My mother, meanwhile, studied in Nanking. During their vacations, they went sight-seeing through various famous places in China.
After their marriage they stayed in Singapore for some time when I was born. But I think the blood of travelling must be in their veins, for, soon afterwards, they went back to China again. Not more than two springs had passed before they sailed to Borneo, and then to Java, and finally back to Malaya again. What has made them stay in Kuala Lumpur ever since I do not know; perhaps they have learnt the lesson that rolling stones gather no moss, or are enchanted by this place.
Nevertheless, I hardly can realise that I have travelled during my infancy. I do remember seeing a crocodile once in our Borneo home. Our relatives had caught it in the river behind our house. I remember hearing them say that the crocodile had eaten a human being for they found a ring in it. Another incident that is vivid in my mind was when we were eating some delicious cakes, given as a treat by our parents in Java.
What makes me believe, apart from my parents' words, that I really did travel is that I still have a clear picture of myself lying on a bed in a cabin and looking out from its port-hole. There I saw the mounting waves coming with white foam towards the steamer. The cabin was rocking all the while which made me feel I was in a big cradle.
Apart from this, I seem to have spent my whole life in Kuala Lumpur, except for some short holidays outstation. I really regret my travelling in my infancy for to me it is useless. What have I learnt or seen? All that I remember is of no value. But, at least, this spurs my ambition to travel more and I hope to do so when I have the opportunity.
Last update on 31 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng