Saturday, February 28, 2009
KUALA LIPIS: MY HOMETOWN
I love Kuala Lipis because it’s my hometown. This is where I grew up and full of many, many past and unforgettable sweet memories of my childhood and schooling days.
My late father’s shop was ‘Bakauwali Tailor’ (百嘉洋服), a very unique name suggested to him by his Malay and Indian friends. Loh Sow Hiang was a professional cutter and employed 6 -8 tailors in his shop. In 1986, he surrendered back the shop to the owner and together with my late mother, moved to Kuala Lumpur and stayed with my younger brother, Kong Fatt and family. At the time, I had settled my family in Segamat, Johor, since I was then working in Mekassar Estate in Keratong, Pahang. The shop was located on Main Street, No. 63, and since then it had been converted to ‘Low Kuan Restaurant’ operated by Peter Kuan, the son-in-law of the shop owner.
We used to refer Kuala Lipis as small K.L. and as time went by, many Lipisians had settled down in Kuala Lumpur, the big K.L. In our younger days, when we took a bus to Kuala Lumpur, the journey took more than three hours as the road from Raub to the Gap was very winding all the way up and then from the Gap winding all the way down to Kuala Kubu Bahru. I remember my late mother used to ask when she looked over the bus window,” How come there is a road down the hill slope?” The journey continued from there passing through Rawang town before reaching Kuala Lumpur. When my wife travelled the long winding journey for the first time, she vomited several times. Later on, we preferred to travel to K.L. via Bentong way after we owned a car. The journey was less winding than the Gap route.
Many of my friends in Segamat have never heard of hometown. When I told them I came from Kuala Lipis, they always mistook it as Kuala Pilah in Negeri Sembilan. Then I told them to look it up in the map, “Kuala Lipis is actually located right at the center in Peninsular Malaysia”. If you don’t believe me, please make a trip to Kuala Lipis and you will find the “0” milestone near the Post Office.
I also told them that “Kuala Lipis has the biggest ‘Round About’ in the country”. I and my old buddies, especially Tan Jing Ming, a retired headmaster still residing in Kuala Lipis, used to walk around from Main Street（大街 ）to Jelai Street（下街）and back to Main Street in circles mainly in the evenings on weekend and we ended up at ‘Charlie’s stall’ along the Cross Street (横街) for drinks.
Kuala Lipis, situated at the confluence of two rivers, namely Lipis River and Jelai River, was the former capital of Pahang for 57 years from 1898 until 27th August 1955, when Kuantan was picked as the new capital. The visitors can still find some grand colonial buildings, such as the imposing District Offices and the Clifford School, the Pahang Club and the British Residency house on top of a hill, now the Kuala Lipis Rest House.
As young boys, we used to take bath in Jelai River, where we learned how to swim the river-type freestyle swimming by turning our heads left and right above the water. Along the river bank of Jelai River, there were many floating houses built on bamboo raft or “rumah rakit”, once the famous landmark of Kuala Lipis. I was told that these “rakit” houses along the river bank had been washed away during the great flood in 2000 and since then had been relocated quite a distance downstream.
In 1953 I started my primary education in Chung Hwa Chinese School (立卑中华小学) located in Batu Kurap, and in June 1955 we moved to the new school building on a hill top when I was in Standard Four. Those days I used to walk more than a mile to school and carried along the text books, exercise books, pencils and ruler etc in a rattan busket as ‘school bag’. Of course, I did not walk alone. Liew Chow Kong who stayed at next door was my usual walking partner. At times we would pop into a bus for a ride so that we would not be late to school. Nonetheless, we would rather save the money, about 10 cents per trip, for a bowl of ‘Ah Chong Ko Men’ (阿章哥麵), the Hakka Mee.
When I joined the Romoved Class in Clifford Secondary School in 1959, my father bought me a bicycle and from then onwards I cycled to school together with other schoolmates. At that time, my English was not good, so was my Malay. My dad had to send me for tuition classes to catch up. My Malay tuitor was Encik Solong, the captain of ‘Balai Bomba’, and he treated me as one of his children. He even taught me how to read some basic Jawi. I completed my Senior Cambridge (Form 5) in 1964. In those days, students of all races (Malays, Chinese and Indians) mixed well in classes and played well in extra curriculum activities. I still kept a photo taken in the studio with my classmates, Nazri Yahya and Muthusamy. I remember Nazri became a teacher and Muthusamy worked in Police Station. Unfortunately, we had lost contact with each other.
When we were young kids, going to old ‘Paradise Theater” to watch cinema movies was a big event for us. It was initially located in Jelai Street and later it was shifted to its new building just outside the town before crossing the railway line, opposite the old ‘Home Guard House’.
Unlike the kids today playing computer games, our childhood games were playing marbles, throwing a tennis ball to knock down a standing brick from a distance, jumping on blocks drawn on cement floor, catching ‘fighting’ spiders usually kept inside a match box, catching ‘fighting’ fishes in small streams, catching grasshoppers to feed the black and white bird known as ‘Oriental magpie Robin’ kept in cage, so on and so forth.
The last trip I went back to my hometown was in 2003 when I was visiting plantations in Sri Jaya. Taking the opportunity, I left early on a Sunday morning with two estate managers, Khoo Wan Hoo and Tan Guang Hui, taking a short cut route to Jerantut from the back exit of the plantation. Then we took the new road to Kuala Lipis via Mela. Once in the town, I met up and shaked hand with so many old faces including old friends of my late father. After all, Kuala Lipis was a small town and somehow everybody knew each other though might not be well acquainted. On the way back we followed Ng Swee Pen to his plantation, Budu Estate, and later we had durians in Benta before we returned to Sri Jaya via Jerantut.
Perhaps I will be able to write more tales of Kuala Lipis when I make a trip back in near future.
Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6MW_C9ldis & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id_95xprGIk & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAYBHzj3hnE to watch and listen to Paul Anka singing 'MY HOMETOWN' in YouTube.