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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Granpa's Rubber Estates

The War Period
My grandfather owned a rubber estate and a facotry to process latex into rubber sheets, in Chai Chee, Changi. He employed Javanese workers to tap latex from the rubber trees. They were housed near the factory as they had to start work before sunrise each morning. In the afternoons they collected latex from the trees and brought them in containers to the factory.

Manufacturing of rubber: Latex collected from the trees were put into flat metal trays and mixed with formic acids to coagulate and harden the rubber. The solid rubber went through a pressing machine with two rollers to make solid rubber into rubber sheets. The rollers could be adjusted to obtain the required thickness. Next, the rubber sheets were put through a similar machine to press out a design. The last part was to put the company's name onto the rubber sheets by using a stencil. The wet rubber sheets were taken to the two storey smoke house to dry. The final product were packed into bales and exported to Europe and America. During the war, production of rubber in the rubber estate stopped completely.

Grandpa  evacuated all his families from Joo Chiat Road to his rubber estate in Chai Chee. The 2 storey smoke house and one of the workers' quarters were hurriedly converted into dwellings for us to stay. Both buildings were close to each other. The smoke house was on a higher ground which slopes down to the workers' quarters. Third grandma and her children lived in the converted single storey workers' quarters. The rest lived in the 2 storey smoke house. We dug an underground air raid shelter. As there was no time to dig a large one for everybody, it was decided to put only the children and women there. The men had to hide somewhere, usually behind the rubber trees. When we heard the 'alarm' signal (wailing blasts signal) that an air raid or shelling was imminent, all lights were put off and we went immediately to the air raid shelter. Once inside there was complete silence. All of us were very frightened and waited anxiously for the Japanese planes to go away. Men hidden under trees looked up towards the sky for Japanese planes as well as smoke trails left by the firing of British anti aircraft guns. When the 'all clear' signal (continuous blasts) sounded, we left the shelter for home. The air raid shelter was covered with coconut leaves on the top as comouflage. It was dark, stuffy and warm, and often flooded on a wet day.

News came to the estates that Japanese forces had landed in Singapore inspite of the causeway linking Singapore and Johore was blown up by the British. Fierce fighting continued for a week. Finally the British surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Forces on 15 February 1945 which happened to be first day of the Chinese New Year. Basic food items such as rice, cooking oil, sugar and salt previously obtainable easily and cheaply were then hard to come by except through black market. We had to supplement rice with tapioca and sweet potatoes from our vegetable garden. Meat came from my mother's  poultry and pigs farm. She also made coconut oils for cooking. There was a wet market which was about 600 km from our house. Occasionally we went there to buy provisions such as rice, sago flour and others.

I remembered how my mother made coconut oils. It was a very simple process.

1 She grated some coconuts(can't remember how many) into a container and added some water. A piece of white cloth was used to squeeze out the coconut milk into a pail.
2 She covered the pail of coconut milk and kept it overnight.

3 Next morning she scooped the the scum of oil above the water and put it into a kwali(Chinese frying wok) to cook until oil was produced.
4 The contents were allowed to cool before the sediments in the oil was removed. The oil was put in bottles by means of a funnel.

My elder brother worked for the Japanese military and every evening brought home cooked rice and coffee given by the Japenese. My father sawn rubber trees for fire wood. I liked to swim with other kids in the stream nearby. We also catched fish, prawns and eels there. The water was cool and clear, and appeared clean until animal carcasses floated down from upstream. Fronting the house was a very tall mango tree (buah quini in Malay). The fruits were very sweet with a very strong mango smell. I loved the fruits and always waited for them to drop. But, I had to be quick to pick them up or the pig would eat them. There were bushes and undergrowth around the mango tree. The pig could smell the fruit better than human eyes could see.

Water supply was from a well, about 200 meters from the house. It was a crude well with undergrowth inside and around the mouth of the well. My mother fell into the well once. Fortunately, she got hold of the undergrowth and shouted for help, and was rescued. A properly constructed well with cement apron and concrete wall was far away. Many villagers used that well and was often crowded. Occasionally my mum would go there to wash clothes. We had a latrine but no bucket. In fact, it was not necessary. The faeces would be eaten by the pigs. Papers and news prints were scarce and leaves from nearby trees were used as toilet papers.

The rubber estate had many durian, rambuttan, mango, jackfruit, pomelo and other fruit trees. During the durian season, a small wooden hut was built near the trees. We made torches out of dried coconut leaves. At night my dad and I would be in the hut waiting for the fruits to drop. We got a good harvest when there was a strong wind. Not only we had to listen to the durians' dropping but also to keep the mosquitoes away. In the morning we brought the fruits back and distributed them to family members and friend.

When the situation in Joo Chiat became normal again we returned to our old home to start our new lives under the Japanese occupation.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No 73 Joo Chiat Road (continue)

I grew up at No 73 Joo Chiat Road. The best time for me then was before WWII. I was below school going age and had a carefree life with no stress and worry, and everything was taken care of by the adults. I like to play marbles, hide and seek and spinning disused bicycle wheel (wheel frame without spokes) with a bamboo stick. I could keep the wheel going for a long distance without it falling to the ground. It took some skills to balance the wheel and to change directions, either to the left or to the right and also on non metal road where the ground was rough and undulating. I also liked to play spinning top (gasing in Malay) and challenged with friends to see whose top could spin longer. But I disliked playing striking match because it was dangerous. Each player tried to knock out his opponent's top with his own. While doing so, it could accidently hit somebody instead. Having played with friends the whole day, I usually returned home with my clothes dusty and dirty.

Left to right: My elder brother, I and my parents.

Before WWII, the people who lived in the house were my two grandmothers, my uncle and an aunt (from second grandmother), my parents, my elder brother and me. My four younger sibblings were not yet born. Grandfather lived nearby along the same road with third grandmother. He came to the house occasionally for visits. I remembered going to Happy World amusement park with my parents. The park was a popular entertainment place for adults and children in the eastern part of Singapore. It had a mixture of both the western and the easterm entertainments such as Chinese opera, bangsawan(peranakan opera), cinemas for Chinese and English movies, a caberet and a joget(dance) also called ronggeng. Ronggeng was like a caberet. The different was that it had an open dance stage with Malay dance girls. Dancing with the girls were paid for in the form of coupons. Malay dance music was provided and sometimes accompanied by singers. There were gaming, shops and photo studios in the amusement park. The photo above was taken at one of the studios. At the centre of the park was an indoor covered stadium for sports matches such as boxing, wrestling, and basket ball. In 1952 it was the venue for the world badminton championship, The Thomas Cup. I was a scout and our troop was asked to be on duty as ushers and I watched the matches free. I felt very proud when we won the Cup.

Towards the end of 1941 I registered for primary school in Choon Guan English School at Koon Seng Road. But, World War II had already started. On 8 December 1941 Japan invaded Malaya (now West Malaysia) and on the same day dropped the first bomb in Singapore. The people got panic and many evacuated from town and suburban areas to the rural areas where it were safer.
My grandfather had a rubber estate in Chai Chee, Changi and he moved all his families there.