If you think Muarian Malays are very proud to be Muarians, then you have not met a Chinese from Muar, especially my contemporaries. The Chinese Muarians of my time were more proud than their Malay counterparts. Those days, my Chinese friends called Muar as Muarpo, and don’t you dare say anything bad about Muar, they will immediately say this to you..”Wa kalikong lu, wak pak lu see”. Hmmm, I don’t know what it means, maybe you should ask your Chinese friends what it means. Muarian Chinese of my days talked in the ‘teochew/hokien’ dialect.
On the left side of the Muar High School is the junction of Jalan Majidee and Jalan Mahmoodiah. A few yards away from the main road was a house owned by a Chinese man named Mr. Chua. Their eldsest son was a very handsome lad we called Daniel and he was a close friend of my elder brother. Daniel would always cycle to my grandma’s house and he would spent sometime with us and enjoy our company. Daniel has two younger brothers who are twins, one is Chua Kwong Kay and the other is Chua Kwong Ee. Kwong Ee is also known as Eddie and he was my best friend while we were in our primary school. In fact he is still my best friend until today.
Eddie would be at my house every afternoon before we both cycled to school, about four miles from our area. Together we would cycle and talk about many things and enjoy our ride and we would also cycle back home together. Everyday grandma would cook rice with some fishes and vegetables for my break in school, and I would surely share it with Eddie. Every time during recess, Eddie and me would sit under a big tree near the school football field and we both ate the rice, just Eddie and me. We had many memorable events together and there was one event I will not forget.
It was during one Chinese New Year when Eddie invited me to his house for some delicacies. Those days we pronounced the Chinese New Year as ‘Kong Hee Fatt Choy’. When I arrived at his house, Eddie was not around as he had to buy something for his mother and would be back pretty soon. His father invited me in and as I shook his hand I said, ‘Kong Hee Fatt Choy’ uncle. He smiled at me and invited me for a seat. His mother came out and brought me some home made cookies and a bottle of sarsi. While waiting for Eddie, his father told me that I must be able to pronounce the correct way when greeting my Chinese friends. He said I must pronounce it as ‘Gongsi Faa Chai’. “But uncle, it is not spelt that way” I asked him. He looked at me and said, “Aaah, ni orang putih mana tau. Dia suka suka pandai tukar. (Aaah, this English people what do they know? They simple change as they like). Eddie’s father spoke very good English but somehow he would always converse with me in Malay. Maybe he thought my English was not good enough. Many many years later, I noticed the words ‘Kongsi Fatt Choy’ began to change bit by bit…from ‘Kong Hee Fatt Choy to Kongsi Fatt Chai to Gongsi Fatt Chai and now it is Gongxi Fa Chai’. Until this day, whenever I hear this words, I will surely remember Eddie’s father and he was obviously correct.
On another occasion, when I arrived at Eddie’s house to invite him out, I shouted “Eddie, let’s went to town”. Immediately I saw his father’s head at the window and he said to me, “My son, you better tell your English teacher to teach you how to speak proper English. That’s the past tense you are using my son”.
When I attended the Muar High School, Eddie studied at the Saint Andrew School and although we were no more in the same school, we always got together and spent sometime at Tanjung and watched some movies along with my friend Halim. Later Eddie moved to Johor Bahru and set up his own hardware shop, got himself a good wife and are blessed with two boys. Every time when I visited Johor Bahru, I will surely look for Eddie.
There was one story Eddie told me that I must share with you readers. One day he had to go to Kuala Lumpur to buy some building materials for his customer. He ended up at the Petaling Jaya Old Town. He noticed one shop selling the materials he wanted and so he entered the shop and looked for the owner. When Eddie saw him, he asked for the products to be viewed. Eddie obviously spoke in the ‘Teochew’ dialect and he knows no other dialect. The Chinese owner replied in the ‘Cantonese’ dialect because apparently he spoke only in Cantonese. Eddie then replied again in the ‘Teochew’ dialect. The Chinese owner looked at Eddie for a second and finally asked him, “Lu mau apa?” (What do you want?)
Across the road where stands the present Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School was once a row of small single-storey semi-detached houses. One of the tenants was a Chinese lady we called as Mrs.Yap. Everyday she would ride on her Lambretta to work. She was our school dentist and I always avoided her whenever she approached my way, that’s because she would surely say to me. “My son, come here and open your mouth. I want to see your teeth”.
Mrs. Yap had a son named Ronald and a daughter named Juliet. Ronald apparently was a close friend of my cousin Kak Shidah. Every night without fail, Ronald would be at the front road of our house and together they would talked sometime for hours. They were not lovers but very close friends. It was through Kak Shidah that I became very close to Ronald. He spoke very fluent Malay and we felt comfortable talking to each other in Malay. He would spent quite frequently in my room listening to my guitar playing and sometime he would read his favourite novels ‘The James Bond’ series.
In spite of having a mother who was a dentist, Ronald somehow had two of his upper front teeth missing. One day when I met Mrs. Yap, I said to her, “Mrs.Yap, you are very concern about people’s teeth, why don’t you look at your son’s teeth?” To this Mrs. Yap replied, “If I put a denture onto his mouth, he would not be able to speak properly. Never mind, let him be the way he is.”
It was sometime in the late nineties when I went to the Wilayah Shopping Complex, Kuala Lumpur to buy something. Later I went to the toilet to have my face washed. As I approached the wash basin, I noticed someone washing his face right next to me. While I was washing my face, I sensed that this guy was staring at me. Then I heard his voice, “Hey Din, kau tak ingat aku ke?” (Hey Din, can’t you remember me?”). When I looked at him, I was most surprised to learn that this guy was my close friend in Muar town but I was not so sure until he said again, “Aku lah, Ronald”. (Its me, Ronald). We hugged each other and we both went to a nearby coffee shop talking about the good old days in Muar. Ronald had not changed a bit except that I noticed almost all his teeth were gone but this time I dared not ask him. While talking, he recommended me of one shop serving the best steak in town. I looked at him and thought to myself, “the steak must be very very very tender”.
Neo was a small size Chinese lad slightly lower than me in height and two years older. He was schooling at the Saint Andrew School just like Eddie. I became close to him because he was a very good guitarist and he played the guitar with ease. He stayed along the row of shophouses facing the town market. Along the same row where he stayed was a Chinese shop selling the best ‘pau’ in town and the name of this shop is ‘Kedai Ali”. I can’t figure out why the name was ‘Kedai Ali’. After completing his Form Five, Neo hitch-hiked to Switzerland together with some of his Malay friends and since then I have not heard of him.
In front of the Tai Tong Textiles was a row of shop-houses that linked to the Muar Bazaar. Next to the Muar Bazaar was a Chinese/Buddhist temple and next to it was a restaurant where the best ‘Mi Bandung’ is served. There was once a boutique selling ladies’ dresses and those days we Malays called it as ‘Kedai Jahit’. One of the daughters was a cute girl, innocent and always smiling. Her name is Jenny Chong. Jenny was schooling at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School and most of her friends were Malay girls.
One day sometime in the year 1966, together with my cousin Ungku Safian, we decided to compete in the Talent Time show to be held at the Cathay Cinema. True to his own self of being very creative and innovative, Ungku Tik (household name of Ungku Safian) suggested to me that we should have our own ‘Shindig Dancers’. “Where are we going to get all these dancing girls?” I asked Tik. “Come on Din, I know you have lots of girl friends, talk to them and suggest the idea”. Now that was one hell of an idea, I thought to myself. I may know a number of school girls, but I am no Casanova. My only hope was to talk to two of my close friends, Nazly and Zaleha. After few conversations with them, they thought that was a good idea. One evening while I was sitting with Yem at the stairs of his house, Nazly and Zaleha came cycling together. According to them, they managed to convince six other girls willing to be the dancers just for the Talent Time.
Those days we did this kind of thing just for fun. There was no monetary gain because even if we won the competition, the prize was a trophy and that was all. So everyone of us had to come out with our own funds and we did it willingly and we were very excited to be a part of this competition. And so it was.
I set the days for the practice and it was decided that we practiced at Yem’s house. On the first day, everyone came after their school was over. Then I noticed one of the girls was a Chinese girl, so innocent looking and sweet. She happened to be Nazly’s good friend and I was introduced to her. “Can you dance?” I asked her. “A bit, but I can practice”, she answered back. “What’s your name again?”, I asked her. “Jenny Chong”, she answered quite in a shy manner. “Ok, Jenny, I hope you can make it”. So they all practiced for about a week and when the time for the show was up, they were well prepared.
The show started at around 8.00pm and the vocals began first. The contestants sang all the latest…from Elvis to Cliff Richard and some took the courage to sing the Beatles songs. The battle of the bands began and there were only three bands taking part, The Dreamers, The White Devils and us The Kool Kats. The Dreamers started with the song of The Shadows called ‘Geronimo’, then it was our turn and we played a fast number which I have honestly forgotten the name. While we performed, the girls danced gracefully to the tune and we received thunderous applause. However, we failed to make it to the top but we truly enjoyed our performance. Weeks later, another organizer met me at my house and requested that we perform as a guest artist together with our dancers. I declined the offer because I thought it would not be fair to the girls.
Jenny became one of my close friends but our friendship was not for long because by late 1967, I left Muar town. Sometime in 1976, when I was working with an Insurance company in Kuala Lumpur, I met a young Chinese executive working with an American Insurance company called AFIA. We met quite frequently in my office discussing on some insurance matters. His name was Robert Lam, a very good looking young lad but what impressed me was his proficiency in speaking the English language, very sharp and articulate. Later, I was informed that Robert married a girl from Muar whose name is Jane Chong and it was quite sometime later that I found out that Jane Chong is the same Jenny Chong who was once my friend in a small town called Muar. What a small place our world is.
Muarian Chinese are very proud of their home town, sometime too much. One evening, while attending a tea party at my brother’s house in Ampang Hilir, there was one Chinese lady who talked so much about Muar. She even boasted that the Muar Lion Dance was the best in the whole world. I thought she was a bit too much but somehow I decided to talk to her. “Madam, are you from Muar?” I asked her. “Yes, I am from Muar. What about you?” she said as she looked straight into my eyes. I smiled at her and said, “I am from Muar too”. Immediately she shouted at me, “Waa, same kampong, how are you man? You don’t know aah, our Muar Lion dance is the best in the world you know”. I was so embarrassed because she talked quite loud and almost everyone was looking at us. I guess I must accept the fact that most Muarians are very proud of their home town, whether they are Malays, Chinese or Indians.
I still remember some of my other Chinese friends who hailed from Muar town. I remember Loke Chua, the son of MCA’s chief Dato Chua Song Lim, Jeffery Gan the son of Gan Cheng Lock a famous builder of Muar, Charles Lee who now works in the food industry, Roland Neo a self-made businessman and few others. I will always remember my teachers… Mr. Charlie Chua, Mr. Henry Tan, Mr. John Tan, Mr. Quek (can’t remember his full name) and the beautiful Chinese lady teacher whom I thought looked like Sandra Dee, Miss Chua who taught at the Sekolah Ismail School.
We do accept the fact that most people are very proud of their home town, but Muarian Chinese of my time were far too proud.