Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sandwiches and Sausages in Tanjong Lobang Volunteer Work in Niah

We were an interesting lot : Madang, Ali, Borhan and myself.

Small, dark and from the ulu we were chosen to help out the archeologists in the Niah Caves. Mrs. Whitefield was our teacher and her husband the Divisional Engineer.

When we were selected to go with her and the Niah Team  we were very excited. We went by a small prahu. Her husband later came with the government boat, very grand, very sturdy.

But what was memorable was our first trip up the river to Niah Caves. On the way, we were offered a package called Sandwich.
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To the four of us , that was the first time we had Sandwiches. Tasted Good!! It was also my first time meeting aluminum foil. Wonderful invention, I said to myself. And I did not dirty my hands in front of my lady teacher.

Then we were given sausages. That was my first sausage ever in my life.

It is strange how impressionable I was at that age. How food can remain so precious and so memorable in our mind. We were lucky students to have be able to volunteer for work in Niah, and then given special, European food.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fishing Club of Tanjong Lobang School circa 1960's A.D.

The native boys (Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Ibans, Bidayuhs), as the Chinese students had loved calling us, were always hungry and foraging for food in the early days of the Tanjong Lobang School(re:1959-1962). We were differently categorised from the serious, polite, quiet, studious, songkok wearing Muslim boys (who were mainly Malays and Melanaus). We native boys had a strange sense of humour, and the fact that most of us had a parang, and with a reputation famous all over the world as head hunters' descendants, we were , I must say, a little feared, if not sometimes avoided.

There were  three classes to start with  : one Form One (almost all natives and Malays and Melanaus), one Transition Class (all Chinese) and one Form Four (mainly natives and Malays and Melanaus) in the new school premises in 1961. I joined Tanjong Lobang when it was first started at the temporary premises at the Peninsular in 1959, on borrowed premises. There were about 80 "original "students for Tanjong Lobang to start with. We were collected from all over Sarawak , and from those who passed a special exam which tested us in Mathematics and English. Abu Bakar, Poh Ting and I must have done pretty well to be chosen especially from Limbang in 1958. (Sometime in October 1958) my father received a letter from the government telling him that he had to send his son to a school called Tanjong Lobang in Miri. He went to see the Resident in Limbang to find out more.....) In January 1959 we boarded "Aline" to finally arrive at my new heaven, Tanjong Lobang.

It was he late Kidang (died a commando death in Sibu in 1970), in 1962 on a weekly basis,who led us on a fishing expedition , mainly catching crabs between Brighton Beach and Luak Bay. Those days were easy. Access between the two beaches was easy. There was no competition at all since the population of Miri was mainly concentrated in Lutong and Krokop. It was our Sunday Activity for 3 of us from Limbang (Kidang,Enteman, and myself), Robert Madang,and a few others including our self appointed Manager, Maurice Bujang (who commanded us while sitting handsomely on a rock or a log), Steven Kuntai,etc.

By 1964, I was in Form Four and the native boys have not only developed academically but physically (with three square though spartan meals, regular exercise, and a more sedentary life style). We were a force to be reckoned with I must say. We continued to fish with towels, home made nets and even with our own bare hands at Hick's Bay whenever time allowed us. In the evenings we would help the fishermen to pull in their nets (Pukats).
Luak Bay - many fishermen and fisherwomen get into the shallow waters to net shrimps for belacan making.

Our precious prize was the small fish they could not sell to any one. Those of us who had some money to buy Japanese quick mee,shared a packet or two, boiling them in tins, and we would slowly roast our fish over the coals on the beach. What a snack!!!

I was quite sure the students from other races looked at us with disdain! But having come from our ancestors who were proud food gatherers and hunters, we were just as happy as larks! Mr. Nicholl saw us enjoying our free food from nature and concluded  that we were not harmful creatures at all but loveable and good citizens of the world.

The Principal, Mr. Robert Nicholl was a typical English gentleman who had the interests of the native boys at heart. Soon he decided to buy us a good pukat (long net) and hence the Fishing Club of Tanjong Lobang was born in 1966. We had members like Ding Seling (now Datuk), Gabriel Uking, Gerawat Nulun, and several other  Iban boys of the school.
This is a paka, a triangular net for catching bubuk. (In thr 1960's We did not do this because it was against our school time table and bubuk usually came in the morning when were in class. Any way we would not be able to make belacan, which was not a male, Iban thing in those days.)


We could not wait for Saturday to come. Saturday afternoon meant more food for the hungry and growing boys. It also meant warm camaraderie amongst the native boys who , some for years do not see their parents in the ulu, while some others could go home every year if they could afford the 5 dollars of transport.

Philip Assan was the self appointed Chairman of the Fishing Club when he came to join our group in Lower Sixth (1966). He claimed to know more about sea fishing than us. Based on his knowledge of the sea, since he came from Bintulu, and his special knowledge from his voracious reading of books, he was quite philosophical about how fishing should be done!!On my part, being brought up in the Ulu (Up river and far from the sea), Philip was the right leader.

By the time we were in Form Six, life was just a little better in the school. Most of us shared what little money we had. Alex Kaboy, one of our Iban leaders of the Fishing Club,who sometime made quiet remark about Philip's claim,  would get a bit of pocket money from his uncle Francis Umpau who came to visit for example and he bought us some town noodles wrapped in paper. Philip had some money from his uncle(Vincent Pilang) in Shell Miri and he would spare a bit to buy hooks, and books and even magazines, a few cinema tickets. A few girls who had some money would give us their left over pencils when they bought new ones. Even erasers were precious in those days. I remember wearing my Japanese slippers until the soles were thin as paper.

In 1967 Jelaing Mersat (Now a minister of Satawak), Hilary Kerish, Pele Aron joined the happy club. A few Chinese boys joined to our surprise, those Iban speaking boys from Kanowit, including Ting Hee King, and his brother Ting Hee Siong. Pau Kiu Ping was also a member by that year. Our usual programme was fishing from Saturday night after dinner, right through Sunday Morning. We sacrificed our Sunday Breakfast!! We actually needed Philip's expertise when we went into the sea. His knowledge of sharks and jelly fish (abundant in Luak bay) really helped us. Around the camp fire we had a lot of story telling.

We would occasionally pull in our nets and then pick the little fish for our intermittent eating. The late James Foh, our teacher joined us from time to time. He was the only teacher who was bothered about our fishing expeditions.

Every Sunday the happy gang of fisher boys would make our way back to our Refrectory (Dining Room) for our lunch.

 I don't know what happened to the Fishing Club after we left in  December 1967.

So with this kind of environment, roasted small fish like jarang gigi, sometimes coated with wind blown sand, was the best food any one could have on earth!! I wish my Tanjong Lobang friends would go out fishing with me again, to bring back all the good memories. It was really good company.
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(Dictated by Boss, typed by his steno...his steno does not know short hand......very 60's)