|The old house as I remember it|
Melaka, Batu Berendam: Childhood memories of kampung life
by Wan Chwee Seng
They paused to listen, ears straining.
From somewhere in the distance they heard the unsettling sound _ the ominous and relentless drone of approaching planes.
As two black specks appeared in the distant sky, the bigger children were hurriedly rounded up, the little ones scooped into adult’s arms and the babies snatched from their cradles.
They scurried, in a flurry of excitement, toward the air-raid shelter, a long rectangular trench, sited at the right side of the house and obscured from view by a clump of banana trees.
Moments later, loud explosions were heard and they learned that the nearby railway godown and the Batu Berendam airport had been bombed by B52 bombers.
I cannot remember much about the whole incident which was related by mother , but I did remember seeing the planes, perhaps my earliest recollection of the war when we stayed at our grandpa’s kampung house, in Batu Berendam Melaka .
Before the outbreak of World War II, father was working as a clerk in Kuala Pilah , but when news about the impending Japanese invasion reached him we were all despatched to our grandpa’s house.
The house was a wooden structure with palm-thatched roof and a floor of hard-beaten earth that gleamed like polished cement. A dirt track flanked by towering coconut trees, fruit trees and lallang ran from the house to the main road. To the left of the track, just before the main road, was a pond: the remain of an abandoned tin mine.
The three other wooden houses in the neighbourhood belonged to our close relatives: two granduncles(kukong) and a grand auntie (kimpoh).
When the War ended we all moved back to Kuala Pilah and it was only during the long school holidays that we returned for brief visits.
Then in the mid-fifties, father passed away, and while waiting to move into our own house which was still under construction we stayed in our grandpa‘s house. After the relatively easy life in Kuala Pilah where we had electricity and tap water, adjusting to kampung life was quite an experience for us.
We had to learn how to draw water from the well and carry it to the house. My siblings and I found out that, with the aid of a long pole, it required two of us to carry a water-filled kerosene tin to the house. About a quarter of the water would spill out from the tin long before we even reached the house. The lush grass that lined the dirt path bore testimony to our generous contribution. Meanwhile we watched with envy as our more experience cousin could carry effortlessly two big pails, suspended from each end of a long pole slung across the shoulder, without spilling the water. We learned that to prevent the spill all we had to do was to place a yam leaf on the surface of the water.
|Carrying water from a well|
In spite of the little inconveniences and shortcomings we found that life in the kampung was carefree, full of fun and there were lots of things waiting to be discovered.
I remember following my cousin, Eng Kim to the bushes behind the house where we searched for edible wild berries such as buah pelandok and buah kemunting.
|The edible berries|
Once we stumbled upon some eggs under a wild rhododendron bush (senduduk) and my savvy country cousin said they were the eggs of the nightjar. The find became a closely guarded secret for the two of us.
|A nightjar nesting under a rhododendron bush|
We also saw a flock of green pigeons alighting on the branch of a tree and I was told that to snare them the hunters would smear glue on the branches where the pigeons roost. As we picked our way through the dense vegetation we found ourselves on the bank of a pond and Eng Kim pointed out to me the nesting holes of the kingfishers.
|Green pigeons and a kingfisher on a langsat tree|
The pond was also the place where my cousins Alan, Fook and Swee had their swimming lessons and I was told Swee nearly drowned while learning to swim in its deceptively placid water. A guava tree at the edge of the pond with branches that droop into the water provided them with a convenient 'diving board'.
I used to follow my cousins when they went fishing for carps and catfish at the nearby pond. I learned from them how to dig for earthworms and how to thread the worm to the hook. Sometimes, they would hunt for frogs among the tall grass which they used as live baits when they went fishing for snakehead fish ( ikan haruan).
Without electricity night descended fast on the village. In the tranquility and stillness of the night we studied and talked in low whisper under the pale glow of the flickering oil lamps.
However, when there was a full moon, we would sit with Grandpa on the small front porch while he regaled us with classical Chinese stories and tales of his travels.
I remember one moonlit night we even played rounders under the pallid light of the moon with my brother and sisters, cousins and our young auntie, Yeoh Neo. Our ball was an unripe pomelo and our bat a branch of a tree. The silence of the night would often be broken by our boisterous shouts and the jovial voice and spontaneous laughter of our auntie.
|The road leading to the kampung house|
Today, as I drive along the road of a housing estate leading to my parents' house, it brings back fond memories of my childhood days as the road was once the playground of my youth. In fact, mother told us grandpa once owned the land where the housing estate stands, but had to sell it to pay for his medical expenses.
|Grandpa's house hemmed in by retaining walls and tall buildings|
My grandpa's house, now a brick building, still stands in the old spot, but the fruit trees and towering coconut trees have been replaced by retaining walls and tall buildings that looked down on it like some unwelcome custodians.
Now, as I look at kids playing computer games in the comfort of the living room, I think about those carefree childhood days in the kampung when we spent a great deal of our time outdoor: playing, exploring, discovering, learning and enjoying the beauty of nature.
Listen to Isla Grant sings " Childhood memories "
Daniel O'Donnell : "Home is where the heart is".
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Bonds that last a lifetime
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