Turning drawbacks into benefits


On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.

— Gregory S. Williams

No doubt, moving from the longhouse to a small langkau kebun (rubber garden hovel) in 1962 had been a wise decision by my family.

It was thanks to my dad, who did have a plan for our future, especially for his then school-going kids, comprising my elder brother Jon — six years my senior — and yours truly.

Dad had built a simple residence among our rubber trees at Bukit Tinggi in upper Melupa, about 25 minutes on foot from the newly established Nanga Assam Primary School, half-way in between Bukit Tinggi and our longhouse Kedap in lower Melupa basin, a Krian tributary in Saratok.

In that year, the school was only reachable over a journey of about five hours using longboat from Saratok town.

Going nearer to the school and staying at our own rubber plantation — and also nearer to another one further upriver — meant saving travel time and energy.

It was also a way of sorting out and avoiding a journey where we — back then, the school was still without boarding facilities — needed to overcome our fear when passing by the scary traditional Iban cemetery at Nanga Burui halfway in between Kedap and the school. There was no such frightening lot from Bukit Tinggi to Nanga Assam.

Simple as it was, our hovel was always full of love and care. Apart from us two brothers and our parents, our maternal grandma was also with us.

And we used to visit or be visited by our paternal grandparents, who were both still around and healthy then. Their longhouse Munggu Embawang, Dad’s birthplace, was about 30 minutes’ hike from our residence.

During weekends and school breaks, I missed the opportunity to be with my peers in Kedap but instead, I either joined my two distant cousins (and classmates) living nearby for excursions into the nearby jungles and streams or be contented going alone on fishing trips.

Later in between 1968 and 1972, I would borrow at least two novels during weekends and school breaks — then studying as a boarder at Saratok Secondary School, we were allowed to borrow two books each for a period but little did the school know that I made use of another non-reading friend to borrow two books (that I would take home) using his quota.

There was a favourite tree nearby our hovel that I would climb and did my reading up there. My only company was my cat Embin, which would wait for hours at the tree foot and at times meowed its impatience, which was a reminder that I had been up the tree for a while. My lack of friends and peer company became a benefit as I ended up reading most, if not all, of William Shakespeare’s simplified versions from Hamlet to Julius Caesar, from The Tempest to Macbeth.

Apart from Shakespeare, novels by Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and many more were my favourites too.

By the time I studied Form Five in 1972 — I returned to head the school 13 years later — most of the novels had my name in their lists of borrowers.

I even borrowed reference books too. It was a rewarding experience as I scored distinction in my English Literature for School Certificate/Senior Cambridge exams.

Over the years since 1962 — the Kuching-Sibu trunk road only passed by Nanga Assam in 1966 — we were almost totally confined to the jungle edges.

But such isolation thought me much about jungle survival, fishing techniques, backwood cooking (a scouting term), about overcoming fear of darkness and the forests, self-sufficiency and preparedness to face hardship.

Since becoming a scout commissioner in 1979, I have shared with the scouts and rovers such knowledge of jungle survival, including using the topic for my Part 4A thesis to obtain my two-bead woodbadge in 1984.

Since moving to Bukit Tinggi, there were times when people laughed at Dad when he used dry cloth to wipe the wet bark of the rubber trees, thus enabling tapping to be done despite an earlier downpour. That would be not possible if we stayed further away from the plantation.

Around our hovel, there was ample space to plant vegetables. We had dozens of banana trees, many of which were bearing fruit simultaneously.

We had more than 200 chickens and about a dozen pigs at one time, roaming freely at our rubber garden that finally needed fencing.

Isolation thus became an advantage. In fact, my parents were proud that we fared better than most, if not all, households in Kedap in all fields, including their children’s education and family bonding.

Trienekens pay courtesy call

Trienekens (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd represented by Julan Yu Abit Corporate Communications Division manager (second left) and Anthea Lee, Corporate Communications senior executive (second right)...

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