Monday 16 January 2012

My story : In the begining

My first memories were when I was about 4 years old.

At that time, my family was staying at a small house in Bukit Batu, near Kulai, Johor.

I was born at a nearby town not very far away from there.

My late father was a laborer who had to move us from town to town depending on his work.

My late mom was a housewife. She was semi-literate. She learnt jawi at a religious school when she was young but could not read the roman text. Later in life, she self-taught herself to read by going through the newspapers with the help of my father and my older siblings.

I was closer to my mom as my father was always away at work.

My father was the garang type. My older siblings were always scared of him. He, however, mellowed down as he grew older.

Despite my family being poor, I never remember us as being so. That was probably because I never mixed around with rich kids. Most of my memories when I was young were happy ones.

At the labourers' quarters where my family's house was located, the richest family was that of a clerk's. Their house got three rooms while ours only two.

Occasionally, my mom would go to their house and I sometimes tagged along. It was marvelous to see all those luxuries - TV, fridge, washing machine etc etc. At our house, the most modern stuff that we got those days were a radio and an old sewing machine. My mom used a kerosene stove to cook and had to shop every morning for fish and vegetables as we got no fridge. We only acquired the other stuff when I was about 10 or 11 years old.

Somehow, I can't remember being envious of the clerk's family. Just admiration for their "wealth", but definitely there was no envy.

My fondest memory at that time was when my mom let me walk with her to a sundry shop nearest to our home. That was about three kilometres away. The towkay was a very nice old Chinaman who always gave me a sweet or two. Even that was considered as a luxury for me. Sometimes my mom bought me aiskrim kapit for five sen, which was really a treat.

My older siblings however always told me that our family was much better off by that time. They said previously we were much poorer.

I had always wondered how much poorer we could had been.

I was told that before I was born, during Hari Raya, the most luxurious food that my family had was ikan kembung sumbat. That is mackerel with its meat scrapped out and mashed with coconut and spices before it was tucked in back and fried. Our family couldn't even afford to have chicken or beef.

For vegetables, my mom would go to a nearby vegetable farm where the Chinese ladies working there would be kind enough to give her some kangkung, sawi or young yam stems deemed not good enough to be sent to the market.

There was once when my mom assigned my eldest brother to get those vegetables but he ended up only with yam stems of poor quality. My mom did some investigating and one fine morning caught him stealing yam stems from a nearby pig farm.

The yam stems was meant to be eaten by the pigs. Apparently, my brother was too embarassed to ask the nyonyas and amois at the farm for the vegetables. He would rather steal from the pigs. Of course he kena walloped by my mom.

My father would be at his work place during day time while at night he would go around doing part-time jobs, especially repairing cars. Those days his day job salary was only about RM150 a month.

 It was in the 1950s and 1960s and before the NEP.

My mom used to tell me that my father spent all his salary buying books and paying the school fees for my siblings.

For food and household upkeeps, our family had to survive on his extra income of repairing cars. At that time, there were yet to be any buku pinjaman scheme or free school fees.

My mom said my father had insisted for all of my siblings to finish school, something which he himself never had the luxury. He only managed to get to standard five of the sekolah melayu. Many kids in our neighbourhood at that time never finished school as their families could not afford their education. My father's dream was for his children to be better than himself, a labourer - maybe they could become clerks, supervisors, nurses or teachers. He never thought that any of his children would one day become engineers, surgeons, lawyers or corporate hotshots. That was beyond his comprehension.

My mom said my father's only true investment in life was his children's education. She said it was pointless for him to try buying land as what most other laborers did at that time because they do not have that much money anyway. She reasoned that, let's say a labourer like my father managed to buy 10 acres of land. After his death, the land would have been divided between us and each probably would get a small portion. What's the point then if we have no education? That was why my father was single minded in trying to give the best education for his children using all the resources available to him.

By the time my father passed away five years ago, he left behind only our family's kampung house and nothing else.

Just before he passed away, he told us to sell off the house. His dream however did come true. All of us his children are doing fine. I am the only laborer of some sorts in the family.

By the way, my father was laid to rest not far from my mom, who passed away much earlier. Their final resting place was at the Muslim burial ground of my adopted kampung. We managed to bring my father to be near our mom despite him passing away far from that place. That was another of their shared dreams fulfilled.



  2. Boss,
    Good one. Enjoyed reading it.

    I wrote something related to the "good old days" a few months ago. You may want to read if you have the time

    Have a good day

    1. thank you, MK!

      i must have missed this one. :)


  3. kitaran kehidupan begini akan kembali kalau kaum melayu yang juga pribumi negara ini masih lali dan leka dengan rebutan kuasa sesama sendiri. apa nak jadi dgn bangsaku kini? sedarlah, bangkitlah! jangan tidur lagi! kita sudah tiada masa.

    jangan marah kepada kaum lain sebaliknya bangkitkan rasa cemburu bagaimana mereka boleh berjaya sedangkan kita tidak.

    terharu membaca artikel bigcat kali ini, terusik terkenang kembali masa lampau aku. hampir 100% sama.

  4. your stories opens up forgotten paths of memory lanes. They are absolutely true and relevant even now...especially the vision of your late father concerning the need to 'educate' the children. But the kind of education back during that time is bit different..more inclined towards that of sistem omputeh.. you know where english lessons are grammar based and the text book used is a thick red book ( can't recall the title..)and for english lit. its macbeth,midsummer nite dream,alice in wonderland and so on. Later on , the education system assumes more nationalistic profile . In comes 'communicational english' , modern maths' and a host of other changes resulting in the kind of rojak system that we have now..( neighbour down south stuck to the OLD system and now their school and uni. product is acknowledged as one of the best in the world.
    Your old man invested in education - a true blue chip investment..but the system we have now has lots of bells n whistles and the product ? jinglings n whistlings n following the batons of politicians who reads a political script of song " Dumbing the national education system"...

  5. thank you for this poignant account, BC!

    certainly puts things in perspective for those of us who opened our eyes to a world of ease and plenty.

    your parents sounded like wonderful people. solid citizens with great values that we hardly see anymore these days. no, your family wasn't poor at all. on the contrary, you grew up with the kind of wealth many should envy.

    al-Fatihah to your parents!


  6. Dear Big Cat, whoever you are, I love your story and lately I have been reading your blog quite interesting, keep it up.
    BTW Malays, majority of them are beoming line kaang lupakan kulit! Cheeers!

  7. Hey Big Cat,
    A very humble story from you almost similar to mine. Al Fatihah to your great parents. They sure have shown great values in life and done good job in bringing up their children.
    My father once said to me that without the stability in our country, we can't achieve what we have now. I learned it the hard way through my living and working experiences in Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and others. Whenever I come back home, I feel very-very lucky that I was born and raised in Malaysia with all the opportunities that are available here. My family now lives comfortably well and we will never forget our early and humble beginning.

  8. Wonderful real life stories which will never diminished. I hope the rich will be grateful with the wealth of the land and appreciate their humble beginnings. Please stay united and protect our religion at all cost irrespective of our different political ideologies. Without the power, we will be beggars in our own land. God bless us all.

  9. Bigcat,

    Your post made me think of my late parents and thinking back to how it was for me and my siblings.

    I wish to comment further but all there need to be said is, it is a simple yet definitely poignant and wholly moving post.

    Further comments in Part 2, you must.

    Thank you

  10. fucker la you.
    almost cried reading your entry. not same as mine, but met lot of those kids when going to primary school.
    btw. congrats for making it.

    ps jgn lupa pada tanah yg memberi
    pada mereka yg berjasa
    pada keadaan yg selesa
    pada diri yg reda


  11. majority of the Malays who are succesful now especially those 40 and above had experienced humble beginning and arose to higher position due to good education policies promoted and upheld by the BN gomen....

    i came from a big family. 18 of us.. all were given basic education what my late father can provides and given chances to study further abroad and in the local higher learning institutions by the good policy of the BN led gomen ( majorities were during Tun M era).

    i hope the present gomen will keep investing a lots on education as in the previous BN leadership ( minus the dollah badawi leadership lor..paling teruk dan aku rasa takde PM dari BN yg akan lebih teruk dari dollah bedawi).

    muo mari

  12. Hahaha...couldn't agree more with you la "muo mari",especially that dollah!
    Ipoh mali.

  13. Your father made the wise choice - Education is what make the differences in your life.

    It has nothing to do with NEP. Without education and the will to progress, NEP will only prolong our hardship.

  14. Bigcar,
    Can anybody imagine how Sharzat's kids , Dr M's kids, Prof Jamilah's kids, Naza's kids would write their life history?

  15. To those who wrote kind words about my late parents, thank you very much.

    1. First time commenting here although I've been following your blog since your IRDA postings.

      This is certainly good write-up and hopefully more of such nature will come-up and help us to reflect ourselves and where we are today as a Malay and Malaysian.

      Cheers !

  16. Parents during those generation were amazing lot....illiterate, lived under constant hardship, meagre income, but had strong will to survive, sacrifice, persevere and barely enough to send their children to school. No instant cash handout and artificial goodies back then.It did not matter to them. Instead, the government support was very genuine with sustainable effect - skim pinjaman buku teks and scholarship. The result was again poor illiterate mom and dad (with the right support from the gov)managed to send all their 10 children to universities and colleges world over, producing engineers, doctor, scientists, lecturers. Must be barakah all round that is. I wonder when we will be having those combinations again....