This used to be my playground

When you dr ive along Crookshank Road in Kuching, you would probably notice a big house on the hill overlooking a field. The house is white, with lots of big windows and a long driveway that leads to the house from the gate down below.

There are many big old colonial houses in the vicinity of Crookshank Road. But this particular one stands out, to me anyway. I used to live in that big old house. It was where I spent a good majority of my childhood.

We started calling the house “White House” because of its colour and the size of it. On weekends, the field below would be a hive of activity when it became a football field. When we moved there, I was already in primary school and my younger brother was in kindergarten. Our two sisters were older and being closer in age, the house served as a big playground for my little brother and I. I have great memories – some happy and some sad – of living in that house.

While some are clear memories, others are hazy instances, fleeting moments that flash through my mind and fade away. I will always remember the trees around the house and the green grass. There was one particular tree that we loved to climb. I would hook my legs on a branch and hang upside down. I couldn’t imagine doing that now but as a little girl, looking at the world upside down made the world seem all the more interesting.

Not far from that tree was a wooden playhouse. It was large enough to accommodate a few children. An adult would have to bend down a little to get around in the house. It had a door and two windows, and if memory serves me right, it even had a little porch in front. We had a lot of pets. We had a dog called Whitey (I cannot remember what breed he was) and a German Shepherd called Lobo. Whitey was my oldest sister’s dog and Lobo was my brother’s dog.

We had a parrot and a monkey. And lots of chickens. We we r e t o l d t h a t t h e whi te house was used during the Japanese Occupation.

Apparently, there is a tunnel that leads from the house to under the main road and across the traffic lights where there is a crossroad now. Af ter the war, the hous e became a residential home for government officers. When my father became a cabinet minister, we went to live there. It was a big house inside and out. To access the main house from the car porch, we had to climb a huge flight of stairs. Well, as a kid, it looked huge and I used to dread lugging my school bag up those stairs, although I always felt a sense of accomplishment once I reached the top.

The front door led to two living rooms that were separated by big white columns and a set of steps. The larger of the two rooms was rarely used unless there was a gathering at the house or for when my parents held their annual open house dur ing Gawai or Chr istmas. The smaller living room was where we spent most of our time, watching television if we weren’t playing outside.

Just beyond the living room was the ki tchen, which you entered through a set of swinging doors, which always reminded me of the ones you see in those cowboy movies. You know that saying “the kitchen is the heart of the home”? For my mother, it truly was. It was her domain.

She would always be there, cooking up a storm and often joined by her younger sisters or cousins who lived with us on and off through the years. It was the epicentre of the home and some of the strongest memories I have of living in that house were in the kitchen. It was always a hub of activities, full of laughter and chatting amidst the delicious smell of something cooking on the stove.

From the kitchen, a door opened up to the back where a long path led to a row of maybe 4 or 5 living quarters.

Our Uncle (mum’s cousin) who stayed with us for many years occupied one of the rooms. He would chase us around in the garden, his big Afro (it was the trend in those days) hair bobbing up and down as he ran after us. Back in the main house, a long staircase led to the rooms upstairs. At the top of the stairs was another living room with big windows that had great views of the entire front garden of the house. From there you could also see the main road and that football field. There were 5 main bedrooms upstairs.

But there was a small room that connected the master bedroom to another larger room. That little room eventually became my room once my older sisters moved into the bigger adjoining bedroom. One of my favourite memories of the house was of the big wardrobes found in all the rooms because they made the per fect hiding places whenever we played hide and seek.

As little children, we thought nothing about climbing into those cupboards and hiding in a spot where it took the others a while to find you. Playing in the garden was like going on a treasure hunt.

I have these vague memories of discovering objects in the garden that could have been relics that survived from an earlier time. Perhaps they were from the war? I have a much clearer memory of sliding down a slope in the garden on a lawn water slide with water shooting at me from the sides, screaming away as I hit the muddy grass below.

It would probably be deemed unsafe now but back in those days, we were fearless as children in our big playground.

These days, the house on the hill is still there. It is now called Wishesland, a non-profit organisation, which provides an avenue for counselling services, rehabilitation and consolidation treatment to children and adults with Celebral Palsy as well as members of their families. I drive past there a few times a week now whenever I go to my sister’s house.

The long driveway is still there and the house is still white. From afar, I can’t see the green grass and the slope where I slid down that water slide has now been replaced by cement. It looks like work is being done to the landscape. I would often think, “This used to be my playground” whenever I drive past the house. It may no longer be my playground but it is still serving children for a good cause. For that, I am glad.