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September 24, 2014

Tales from the Kampung

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – As I was doing research in the kampung*, many unusual stories appeared that I would like to share with you. Enjoy!


The kampung is located on the side of the river away from the major commerce centers. It is like a bedroom community for the Malays. The river itself has two phases. One is a strong up current and the other a strong down current. Getting across is not easy and requires great strength for the guys who pull their boats across. Therefore, people come to them to sell goods.


One of these individuals was Ah Kueh. They all called him Ali because it was easier to remember and a typical Muslim name.


Ali had a typical store, a wooden shack we would call it. Remember, this is the tropics, so heat was not needed. He sold oil (both cooking and lamp), sugar, flour and cigarettes. Up until a few years ago, you could buy the cancer sticks one at a time from round tins. The government wisely banned this practice insisting they be offered in packs of 10 or 20 to hopefully stop the addiction.


Ali became a fixture in the community. Other than the staples, he offered a wide variety of merchandise – everything from cotton candy and shaved ice to seasonal fruits and vegetables. He was also very prolific – producing nine children, five girls and four boys.


The boys entered the retail trade also. Ah Boon sold Rojack (a Malay desert), Ah Kuek sold cotton candy and Ah Teng sold the gold, mined from the concerns in Bau, 28 miles up river. Some of the other boys went to the university, paid for by the government.


Ali grew old and died. The part of the kampung where his shop was located was moved to another location because the outhouses, at that time, were over the river and they could not run sewage pipes out that far. The whole water front was torn down in the early 1990s to make way for a river side park. The daughters and granddaughters, who have now entered Islam, run the shop from the new location.


Another interesting tale was the journey to Mecca. Being an Islamic community, the people, if they could afford it, visited the city once in their life time.


People who were selected would get their belongings together and make the journey. Some would die there, a most holy endeavour. The boat would come before the month of Haj and the people would load up with their belongings, many not expecting to return.


As the boat pulled out, they would waive their handkerchiefs in goodbye and the drop them over board into the river. Boys and girls alike would swim out and gather the clean white linen. They would then make sure their boyfriend or girlfriend received the traditional cloth. A nice long established way to tell the partner you were in love with the person.


Of course, everyone travels by air now so boats no longer ply the rivers.


...Life is good. . . . .


*Kampung – "a Malay hamlet or village”...


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