Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Chinese New Year Visit

Justice will not be served if I fail to blog about this journey.

What was supposedly a visit turned out to be a journey that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life – A journey into the past, most probably, Malaysia in the 60-70s, the good old days.
Where life was routine, pleasant and carefree.
Showcase of traditional Chinese life-style of our forefathers that traveled south from China in search of a safer and a better future.
Yes, I was in Pekanbaru, Indonesia last weekend till Tuesday.
My friend – Mi traveled 7 hours from her house to meet at the airport. Mi is a Chinese Indonesian whom I met during my undergrad days. She was a member of the IET in UCSI, and subsequently completed her Masters at Nottingham Malaysia. But after securing a job in KL, unfortunate circumstances popped-up, and Mi took the decision to head back home to help up with the family business.
On the first day, we managed to visit 大姐,二姐, and spent the night at 大哥’s. 大哥 owned a mini-market somewhere in the out-skirts of town. Like typical Chinese business everywhere, the shop lot is made up of like 4-5 shops in a row, and has like 3-4 stories. Business as usual on the ground-floor, whilst the family stays up-stairs.
大哥 brought us for breakfast the next morning at downtown Pekanbaru, and we had a walk down the morning market. 
So it's Chinese New Year

I was quite fascinated with downtown Siak. Well to use the word “downtown” doesn’t really describe Siak. It’s like Jonker Walk in Melaka, minus all the tourist, cars and crowd. Siak is just a pleasant little Chinese settlement in the middle of, well, no where. We visited a few relatives, and rode around the village on 四姐’s motorbike. Safety helmet was somehow not required.
A place to ber-santai
And it was Chap Gor Mei!
Lovely. The streets were full with lanterns, and there was stage performance adjacent to a 大伯公temple just next to 四姐’s place.
Fireworks lit up the night sky.
To be honest it was quite surreal. I didn’t imagine I would see these scenes in Indonesia.
Maybe it's Jonker Walk in Melaka, in the 70s?
 四姐夫, who was really kind and helpful, took us for some ikan bakar later that night. Nice food again.
Should be one of the best in Siak?
On Monday morning, Mi and myself left 四姐’s place for Bengkalis on a packed minivan. Bengkalis is also a small Chinese town. Two rows of shops to be exact. Kak Sani, then fetched us back to Mi’s house, at a place called Bambang.
Was quite a ride in the wilderness
To be honest, I was quite taken aback when I saw Mi’s house.
From that moment onwards, I finally understood the meaning of 华人刻苦耐劳。(I need to use mandarin, because it’s how I can best describe)
Mi’s place is a wooden house, by the river, with warehouse to the right. They do some trading of coconuts and some other commodities. And there was Mi’s father – Feather-weight, tanned, but full of energy, working hand by hand with the workers.
Most of us have stereotype Indonesia Chinese as very rich people, and the perception stops there. But we left out the fact that some of them, in fact most of them work hard for these hard-earned money.
The core business
Batu Pahat bound
Mi's younger brother working hard (Far left)
The magnitude of the task at Mi’s place exceeds my abilities. I can’t take the job Mi’s younger brother – Xiong was doing.
Mi’s father is those typical Chinese father – Words are scarce, work is priority. But his vision was great, and you can only have utmost respect for him. The way he sent all his daughters for tertiary education speaks volume. (Mi has 10 siblings, and all 4 daughters all went to university)
Not many Malaysians nowadays can take this kind of hardship
Sometimes it's not about the money
It's a way of life - Working hard to make ends-meet
I shared a room with Mi’s youngest brother that night. I slept quite early, around 11pm I think. The traveling was tiring.
The initial plan of returning to Pekanbaru the next day to catch my flight back to KL was called off. My return flight departs Pekanbaru at 2.30pm, and from Bambang to Pekanbaru takes a whopping 7 hours (including an hour of ferry).
The alternative was a 2-hour ride to the Bengkalis jetty to take a 1.5-hour ferry back to Melaka, which sounds sensible.
I once foolishly thought I would sail with these people
I haven't seen the world yet
I am impressed
So the next morning after waking up at 7am, and after having breakfast, I bid goodbye to Mi and her family. I thank them for the hospitality and care they gave me.
The 2-hour motor-ride to the jetty, with not the best road condition, was quite a challenge. Thank god the driver was quite skillful! I arrived at quite an empty Bengkalis jetty at around 9.30am, and bought my tickets.
When the ferry depart at around 11am, there were a sea of people there. Most Indonesian Chinese cross the straits to seek medical treatment at Mahkoda Hospital in Melaka.
The 1.5-hour ferry ride was quite pleasant. Never in my dreams I’ve imagine myself crossing the Straits of Melaka on a ferry!

The hot-seat
Inside the ferry
In Melaka, my cousin brought me for tea, and dropped me at Melaka Central, to take the 4.30pm bus to Seremban. The bus actually took me on a ride to Tampin using the old road rather than the highway. But I wouldn’t care-less, and continuously dozed off inside the bus. I think it was until 6.30pm that I reach Seremban bus station (to my dismay).
So I swapped a ferry for flight
I walked to the KTM station in Seremban to take the commuter back to Nilai. To my surprise, it cost only RM 2.30. From the Nilai KTM station, a cab back to my house at Taman Melati cost RM 15.00.


I think this trip stands out with the rest of my backpacks. Full credit goes to my lovely friend Mi as my guide and companion.
This trip, though short gave me enormous insights of life. Finally I understood the struggles of life, and that as Chinese, we have the might in us to work hard, be thrifty and yet humble. The hardship in life meant the limits and capabilities of ethnic Chinese is more than what I imagined.
Maybe, just maybe, I can finally imagine how was life of my grandparents when they first set foot in Malaya those days.

I am not afraid to strive, work harder and walk the extra mile in life anymore.
Till I see you again