In the pre-fire ‘cowboy’ town of Saratok (popularly Segatok among locals) there was only one ‘meja bola’ (billiard table) run by Ee Tay, with his trademark — long and white eyebrow.
It was on the second lot at the block nearest to the river opposite the Min Ching School.
As a timid kid, I was always weary of some strange characters playing billiards there — and relieved as most of the time it was empty.
But I could not avoid using the five-footway as we used to lodge regularly at Chang Kok’s loft next door during a trip to the town that took nearly a whole day of paddling from our longhouse Kedap.
Now Ee Tay’s eldest son is still surviving on income earned from four billiard tables in the modern Saratok premises, thanks to many regulars, my eldest brother Edward Jelani, 80, being one of them.
And there are other shops with numerous snooker or pool tables too, thus making local enthusiasts spoiled for choice. Nevertheless, Ee Tay’s (we use the same name for the premises) remains the place for more senior — and experienced players, though not necessarily those with better skills.
Edward was not part of the early Ee Tay scene as he was studying in Seria, Brunei in the late 50s and later pioneered the Kuching Trade School circa 1963.
He actually sharpened his billiard skills while attending marine police training in Johor and Kuala Lumpur in 1964.
When studying Lower and Upper Sixth in Methodist School, Sibu in 1973 and 74, I was very much in the local billiard scene there, most specifically at the back of one coffee shop next to the HSBC premises at Wong Nai Siong Road.
On weekends I would help to record the scores of the billiard players — Edward included — for 20 sen per game and at times would enjoy free drinks and snacks from generous players.
It was a profitable position for me as there was a time Edward won an old bicycle after his opponent fell short of RM30 in bet and made it up with the bicycle — he later presented it to me.
At another time, one opponent paid him with a used Seiko watch — also given to me and the one I used throughout my undergraduate days in USM.
I am never good in using the cue despite presented with one good snooker cue branded 147 circa 1990.
It must have cost quite substantially but the most I ever scored in a break was 53.
This was during our intense practice at our own snooker table put inside one remote unused classroom of SMK Julau — four of us jointly bought the table for RM920 coming with a set of snooker balls and two cues.
A well-known state’s sportsman Joseph Lee once played with me there during his School Inspectorate’s visit in 1991.
We sold the table in 1992 to a Sarikei chap for RM1,200.
My 147 cue is really durable and is now kept at Ee Tay’s and only used by Edward alone.
At Ee Tay’s these guys play both snooker and pool too. But their pool is neither 8 nor 9-ball — they are betting cash and using five cards to determine the numbered balls to be potted.
In 1999 I joined my Filipino colleague Tony to welcome Elfren ‘Bata’ Reyes at Bandar Seri Begawan Airport.
Reyes, just two months my senior, then was already a multiple world pool titleholder. The amiable Reyes and I had a photo together at the airport, thanks to Tony.
We did an article about Reyes with a joint byline for The Borneo Bulletin. Reyes who was in the sultanate for the SEA Games won the snooker gold for his country.
He is a professional pool player who has won over 100 international titles. Nicknamed ‘The Magician’, he retired in 2019 from international duties but still enjoys playing in his country With most of his matches recorded in YouTube, I have seen most of them, notably his games against the likes of multiple snooker champions such as Steve Davis and Jimmy White but the most interesting one was his win against pool champion Mike Sigel of the US (known as Mike The Mouth) for the 8-ball King of the Hill title in 2005.
Reyes earned $200,000 for first place (the highest prize for first place at a pool tournament in the history of the game), while Sigel settled for $100,000 in second place prize money.
When asked to comment after being presented with the money (put inside a see-thru glass case), Reyes said with humility: “This money is too much for me.”
‘ Snooker players go into steady decline and lose their intensity after a while. But I will have real purpose the next five years. I want to prove people wrong and win a lot more tournaments. ‘ – — John Higgins, Scottish player