You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.– Warren Ellis, British comic book writer
Despite serving slightly more than four months in the Rajang Area Security Command (Rascom) starting Feb 1, 1975, the stint provided me first-hand knowledge of an office job, especially pertaining to journalism.
Aged 20 years four months, and perhaps the youngest Rascom headquarters employee, I was appointed as assistant editor of Iban newspaper Berita Rayat, an eight-page monthly broadsheet meant to reach out to Iban readers within the Rascom area as part of the psychological warfare against communist terrorists.
Put under the Information Department, the Info/Psywar section was a vital tool for Rascom, especially in reaching out to locals, some of whom were either sympathisers or victims of the terrorists.
Apart from translating relevant news from English to Iban, I was tasked with illustrating half a page featuring government soldiers prevailing over the terrorists or at times, a drawing suggesting Iban or Chinese farmers being
victimised by the terrorists.
One or two of my depictions of the terrorists certainly made a lot of people laugh — they looked like cowboys with their hats on. I took the laughter as a compliment to my good self for being a greenhorn.
There was also lots of typing to be done — using an old Olivetti typewriter that I struggled with. In putting the translated news into the broadsheet, we had to manually count the number of words per line, making sure they were orderly and each line ending on the same margin.
The printing was done at Lee Ming Press in Sungai Antu. I remember meeting the late Lau Hui Siong, the man in-charge of the printing company at that time.
My monthly pay of RM400 was perhaps just higher than the two junior office boys and our two clerk-typists.
Nevertheless, it was a huge amount for me compared to the RM270 annual scholarship I received from Sarawak Foundation during my Form Six days at Sibu’s Methodist Secondary School.
Our clerk Wong didn’t mind preparing my pay as early as the 20th of each month but by the time others received their pay, I had gone almost broke.
In early March, I attended an annual general meeting of Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU), Sibu Branch. Temenggong Jonathan Bangau — the first Iban to visit China (for the Canton Trade Fair in 1960) — was elected chairman while his deputy was Edward Kechendai (who became my father-in-law nine years later).
I came to know William Mawan Ikom (now Tan Sri) through the meeting where we were both elected committee members.
It has become an interminable relationship as we remain friends until this very day.
In those days, we used to call each other for breakfast or lunch as he was attached to nearby Rajang Port that also shared the canteen with Rascom — a few times we shared a packet of nasi lemak during days of empty pockets.
I became close with Bangau — we first met in his Bawang Assan longhouse back in 1972 — after a few trips to nightclubs where my singing could earn two bottles of Guinness Stout per song. He was related to my eldest brother Edward’s wife Mary, also from Bawang Assan.
A historic but a moment that saddened most of us in Rascom then was the death of ASP Mohammad Johnny Mustapha (he was head of the 15th Battalion Field Force, Lanang Camp) in an ambush by communist terrorists at Stabau River, Sibu on April 6, 1975.
He was posthumously made a Datuk with the Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak award in 2018. Iban music lovers would remember him for a patriotic song Tanah Ai Menua Aku (My homeland).
Another hilarious moment was when Tun Jugah was picked up and brought to Rascom by a Red Crescent ambulance from nearby Tun Tuanku Bujang field where his helicopter landed.
All Sibu dignitaries, including Rascom CEO Abang Mohamad Sharkawi and Sibu Resident Abang Zainuddin (later Datuk), were waiting for him at Sibu Airport.
They had to be informed by fixed phone as handsets only came to Sarawak about 21 years later. By the time the CEO came back, Jugah was reportedly ngantuk (sleepy) while occupying Sharkawi’s seat.
We also used to be amused by one senior officer who came to work on bicycle but put on his tie later.
By June 26, I had to leave as I got accepted by USM, Penang.
My short stint was taken as a major credential when taken to serve with The Borneo Bulletin in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei in 1997.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.