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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finding our way home

Finding our way home

Story by
Wan Chwee Seng
Photos courtesy of Joon 

I used to reminisce and dream about it. Whenever my six siblings and I gather on festive occasions at our ancestral house our conversation would invariably gravitate towards it, "One day we must visit our childhood home in Kuala Pilah," we would say wishfully. Busy with our lives, sixty years slipped by unnoticed. The trip remained an unfulfilled dream. Then early one morning the phone rang and my brother's voice at the other end of the line inquired, " Do you like to make a day trip to Kuala Pilah, tomorrow?"
"Sure," I said without hesitation.
On the morning of 30th December 2008 my brother, youngest sister and I accompanied by my wife and niece, Joon, made the much-awaited trip. After more than sixty years we wondered if the old house was still stamding.
Leaving Tampin town we soon found ourselves on a winding road flanked mostly by forest-clad hills and interspersed with palm and rubber plantations. At intervals we passed through small towns with a few row of shop houses.
As the car hummed its way towards our destination, my brother regaled us with tales of his schooldays. He recalled the time when he and the other members of the school relay team traveled along the winding and hilly terrain of Bukit Putus in a convertible with the principal, a white man, at the wheel. Because of its strategic location, Bukit Putus was then a favourite spot for communist ambushes during the Emergency. A white man driving a convertible was a veritable sitting duck. However, as innocent schoolboys my brother and his friends were oblivious to the danger and thus able to enjoy the cool evening drive.

Our animated conversation were interrupted by the shout of "Tuanku Muhammad School!" 
Tuanku Muhammad School

We had arrived in Kuala Pilah. We made a brief stop over at the school where we received our early education. As we set eyes on the school and its surrounding they brought back fond memories of our school days. Then it was time to search for our childhood home.The car was soon making its slow descent down the narrow bitumen road leading to the Residential Area.
Residential Area Kuala Pilah

 "That's the area behind our old house," my brother said, as he pointed out to us the once familiar landmark. The sight that met our eyes was greeted with sighs of resignation and look of disappointment. The whole area appeared as if it had been flattened by an earthquake. Broken concrete and twisted irons lay in scattered heaps.
"Take the next turning to the left," my brother instructed Joon. A decrepit and abandoned house stood at the corner of the road. I recognised it as the place where the bachelor teachers used to stay. The bamboo hedge where we used to source for our 'hockey sticks' and hunted for fighting spiders was sadly missing. Two more abandoned buildings came ino view, but there was no sign of our childhood home.
Then we noticed three houses with curtained windows. Our hope soared. We cruised the narrow road to locate our childhood home. Suddenly, we had come to a cul-de sac . Joon made a U-turn. Then something jogged my memory. " Look for 246 B, " I said excitedly.

246 B Residential Area

Tired, myopic eyes scanned the small number plates posted over the doors of the three houses. 'There!" someone shouted. We were excited and thrilled at finding our childhood home as it was one of the only three houses that was still occupied. But as we took in the sight we were overcome with mixed emotion. It brought back pleasant memories, but we were stricken with disappointment and felt a tinge of sadness as we noticed its dilapidated condition. .
As Joon brought the car to a halt on the road shoulder, I noticed a slight movement behind the curtains. I approached the house and an old worried face peered anxiously from behind a hastily drawn curtain.

I approached the house

"Auntie, we used to stay in this house, a long time ago. May we take some photos?"

"Sure, my daughter has just gone to the temple across the field."
The playing field

A young woman and her daughter soon hurried across the field and we told her about the purpose of our visit. As others chatted with the occupant of the house, I took in my surroundings

Talking to the present occupant of the hou

I noticed the verandah where we used to sit and enjoy the cool night breeze and watch the flickering fireflies was now partially covered with welded wire mesh. No wonder we had failed to locate the house on our first attempt. Across the field the low brick buildings of the labourers' quarters had been demolished. Gone too were the houses on the slope behind the old hospital. The Ulu Muar Club where my father used to spend many a happy evenings with his friends was now covered with a tangled mass of vegetation.

The Ulu Muar Club. Across the narrow lane was the tennis court.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Deva,. Devamp37@gmail.com

All that is left of the Ulu Muar Club
Photo courtesy of Mr. Deva

 The clump of tembusu trees where hundreds of birds came to roost at dusk had all been uprooted. The well manicured lawn in front of the house where we used to play 'rounders' and the field where we played hockey and soccer were now covered with ankle-high grass.
I strolled to the side lane where we used to play tops, marbles and the game of kaunda kaundi. Untended, it was now overgrown with trees and shrubs.

The side lane

Everywhere there were signs of neglect and disrepair. As I stood there looking at the rather disconsolating scene , voices from the past floated eerily across the still morning air. I heard once again the incessant chant, of 'kaunda-kaundi, kaunda-kaundi 'as a boy raced breathlessly towards the home base. I heard the boisterous laughter of childhood friends as they chased a tennis ball with home-made hockey sticks.

"Seen enough?" Joon's voice from under a mango tree inquired.

Without realising it, we had been standing for hours on the sun-drenched lawn, soaking in the sunlight and the memories of our childhood home.

Notes: In 2010, three of my sisters took a trip to Kuala Pilah to see our childhood home. They came back sad and disappointed as all that was left of our childhood home was the concrete steps.

Daniel O'Donnell _ My lovely island home

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