Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Childhood memories

In 1905 my grandfather, Chin Yu, left Kwangtung province in South China because he wanted to make his fortunes in South East Asia. He heard from his Hakka friends in British North Borneo (now Sabah) that all the new immigrants from China, on arrival in Kudat, were given 25 acres of free land by the colonial government.

This land was already planted with rubber or coconut trees. If the tenant could sustain continuous production from his plot for 10 years, the East India Company promised to buy, at market value, all the rubber and cobra that the new immigrant could produce from his plot of land. After that, the land will be registered in his name under freehold title for 999 years.

first photo
Grand father therefore worked diligently to make his piece of land productive as he intended to make his home in this new land, British North Borneo and to raise a family. When he had worked the land for 10 years successfully he was indeed registered as the lawful owner. He went back to China, got married and brought his wife (Wong Siew Yin) with him to help him work the land. She bore him two sons: Voo Sang and Yet Onn (James) my father.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My parents

mum & dad
I remember that my father was among the first person to own a motor cycle in Miri town. It was a BSA Bantam which had a single flat exhaust on the right side. Later he sold it and bought a bigger bike, a 350 cc Norton and then a 500cc BSA which had a side car attached. He used this to send the whole family to church on Sundays. My mother, Theresa Thien Nyuk Lan, was a catholic educated in the Carmelite convent in Jesselton (KK) and we, the children were all baptized at St. Joseph’s Church, Miri as little baby Catholics soon after birth.

We lived in Pujut in a small wooden house built by my father with help from friends and neighbours. I still remember that the beams holding up the roof were round timbers which were thicker at one end![1] The roof was covered with rusty galvanized iron and the walls were made from horizontal wooden planks which overlap each other. The windows were very crudely made, with hinges along the top edge and we used a stick to probe the bottom end open. Later on, my father added another building to it, the master bedroom! This time the posts were 8”x 8” belian posts salvaged from the old Miri wharf when it was demolished and replaced by a new one constructed in reinforced concrete! Thirty years later, after all the rest of our house has rotted away, these belian posts were still standing there for many more years!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My best friend Paul Voo (Min Choi)

My cousin, Paul and I were very close childhood buddies and we have spent many happy times together. During our early teen age years the two of us were inseparable. During the school holidays we often went to Seria by bus to stay in the SRC bachelor flats with Peter, Paul’s eldest brother who was a surveyor. Next to the flats[1] was the SRC swimming pool where we spent all our days swimming until our finger tips looked like prunes. Peter worked in the topographical department in Brunei Shell. He gave us a lot of cash to spend on toys and other boys stuff like Roy Rogers’s comics and cow boy jeans. Paul and I were among the first to wear genuine Saddle King[2] Jeans in Miri. Levi jeans did not make an appearance until years later; maybe even after Amco. However, as we grew up, Paul and I went our separate ways. I went on to further my studies in Australia. He went into the Baram jungles to seek his fortune. He married his girl friend, Helen Lai. They had two sons and lived in the house next to our land in Pujut for a few years. Later on, under pressure from Helen, he sold this house in Pujut for 23K and bought a terrace house in Krokop. Paul was a very ambitious businessman.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Brigid, Rose and Alice
In 1998, I went back for holidays in Malaysia; I went looking for my other aunt’s daughter, Brigid Voo. She was not doing well. She was very pretty and she had many suitors when she was still in school; but she chose to marry Loke King San, the most handsome but, career wise, the least successful of all her suitors. I liked Ah San-ko because in my opinion he only reacted to all her attempts to leave him! She opened a stall at the trade fair and had an affair with the organizer. Later eloping with him to KK! During this period when Bridget was in Sabah, Ah San-ko retired from Shell and was living alone in the terrace house in Krokop. He was vulnerable and lonely. He fell victim to a massage girl’s gold digging tactics. He took her on an extended holiday to Disney land and Hawaii, came back, spend more money on renovating the little house, getting ready for her to move in with her two little children!
the Thiens

When the family heard about these developments, they ganged up on this cunning woman! A plan was made by one of the children. I suspected it was Annie![1] All the children united together to invite their mother home from KK [2] to live in Krokop again. Even Johnny came home with his Indonesian wife and baby! Shirley was living alone in Bintulu. Her own marriage has failed and she came home. All of them took up residence in the renovated old terrace house to give their mother moral support! Their father knew that he has lost the battle even before it even started. His girl friend never had a chance! I heard that the old couple has patched up their differences and are together again in their twilight years.[3] I am glad to hear this bit of good news and I am really happy for them. Unfortunately, both of Bridget's brothers Paul and Martin suffered broken marriages also. Martin’s whereabouts is still unknown. Paul married a Foochow woman in Bintulu and seemed to be doing well selling ngao chap min.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Later, in 1981 I moved into a larger house. It was a detached three bedrooms, elevated double storey, wooden bungalow, No. 500, near Lutong Bridge. My neighbours were Bong Kueh Lian, Alistair Aing, and Tan Boon Chiew. John Liaw, Yee Kow Tuck, Lau Sam Lee, Edward Lingan and Jeffrey Pasang were living in similar SSS quarters close by. When I first got married I was staying in a Shell quarter in Miri. John Liaw was my neighbour just across the road. After I moved out from Shell quarters into my own house in Pujut, John was again living across the road in his own house! Apparently we were destined to be neighbours for life! John is now helping me look after my house in Pujut, maintaining the house and looking for tenants, mowed the lawn, collecting the rents etc. I am very grateful to him. I wonder whether he has made plans to come to NZ and become my neighbour once again in Hamilton?!

896B, Lutong
During the early 60’s, there were not enough secondary schools in Sarawak and it was decided by the government that all 12 year olds should stop going to school if they were unable to pass the selection tests at the end of primary six! It was in fact a life sentence! It made the difference between wealth and a life of poverty: a steady job as a clerk with the government or working privately as a carpenter, painter, taxi driver or hawker. Many of my Pujut neighbours seem to do alright in spite of not having attended secondary school at all. This situation soon changed. Form 3 became the minimum requirement to get a job, and then form 5. Soon, every one was doing form 6 and trying to go overseas to get a university degree. Then a university degree was not quite enough. You need an MBA and a Ph. D[1]