Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane - Day 1

Meeting an old friend again after 39 years. Ahmad Saffian and me having dinner at a food court in Alor Setar.

Thirty years ago I was the manager of a Felda settlement known as Felda Sungai Tiang located some 30 km from Pendang, Kedah. It was one of the early land schemes by Felda as it was opened in 1960 with about 520 settlers covering an area of approximately 4,000 acres planted with rubber. When I first set foot in the land scheme, I was just 30 years old while the majority of the settlers were already in their mid fifties and some of the settlers had already passed away.
I left the job for greener pasture in 1981 and relocated my family of three young children with my teacher wife to Besut, Treangganu where my family increase by another one member with the birth of another daughter. At the time of leaving Felda Sungai Tiang, the rubber trees belonging to the settlers had reached the end of it's economic life and there were not much bark left for the trees to be tapped. Some lots have lost their stand due to diseases or fire which is a normal hazard during the dry period and the dry leaves that gathered at the base of the trees were tinder dry and all it take was a careless act of throwing a lighted cigarette to start a fire and scorch the base of the trees. The fire may not kill the trees immediately but the weakened trees will be exposed to attack by other diseases that attack the roots or the branches and by pest such as termites.
Replanting is a time of hardship for the settlers as their source of income will be severely reduced. Those who have the foresight to plant their 2 acres of orchards with rubber had a buffer during the 6 years gestation period before the replanted trees could be tapped and provide a new income for the family.
Now 30 years on, I came back to Felda Sungai Tiang to witness another similar cycle of the need to replant since the replanted trees had come to the end of their economic life again. Another time of hardship awaits them. This time it was the turn of the second generation settlers as most of the original settlers had passed on.
We had left Pasir Mas around 9 AM in our more than 7 years old Toyota Vios to visit the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia. This is probably our last drive to the states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang as health wise driving such long distance may not be suitable for people like me whose birthday cakes will be lit with 6 large candles plus a few of the smaller ones. So I will have to make the most of this trip.
The trip from Pasir Mas was quite uneventful until when we passed Jeli and had begun the climb on the Titiwangsa Range. A car overtaking a long heavy leaden lorry both moving downhill at a dangerous corner had swerved into my path. Fortunately for me I was driving quite slowly and managed to swerve to the road shoulder to avoid a direct head on collision. Some drivers are just careless.
We stopped at Banding Island to break journey. The place I used to know as Banding Island Resort is no more there. Either a new management has taken over or they have renamed the place.

Looking up I saw this name below.

Could Emkay be the new owner?

The rest of the journey was uneventful. Our only problem was in identifying the routes to be taken to reach our destination. As is normal with Malaysian road system, road signages are very sparse. When you see a road sign at a junction, it could be the last sign and missing a junction can only mean a u turn is necessary.
Roads to the west coast have improved tremendously over the past thirty years. They are much more straighter, level, wider and better surfaced and thus driving was quite a pleasure.
We had a sumptous lunch of Kelantanese dish at an R n R after by passing Grik as the road to Alor Setar need not go through Grik. It was a Kelantanese fare replete with budu, ikan tawar and ulam which both of us took it with gusto. My wife had an extra dish of her favourite boiled cockles while mine was another plate of angled loofah with pumpkin cooked in coconut milk.
Our next destination was Jeniang. After Jeniang we took the Kalai junction to reach Felda Sungai Tiang.
Heavy rain accompanied us to Sungai Tiang all the way from Kalai. It was unabated and we reached our friend Cikgu Mahathir's house. It was easy to locate his house as we were told to look for the biggest bungalow next to a bridal saloon. After giving numerous unanswered 'salams', I was on the verge of giving up when I saw movement from within the unlit house. My lucky day as at least one of them is home since I can guess for sure Cikgu Mahathir was not in. Cikgu Umi Kalsom the wife of Cikgu Mahathir, came to the door and after telling her my wife's name who was her colleague when teaching together in Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tiang, the door was opened wide for us to enter the spacious house.
True enough, Cikgu Mahathir was not in as he was in Alor Setar over a business. A quick call confirmed that he was on the way back and should reach the house in a while. Five mintes later, I was hugging Cikgu Mahathir, a man I had not seen since I last left Felda Sungai Tiang.

Cikgu Mahathir was the local youth movement leader when I was in Sungai Tiang and we had the same idealism to improve the lot of the people there with me on the authority's side and him on the people's side. Unfortunately my tenure with Felda was short lived and I left Sungai Tiang with just a minute but indelible impression.
There was so much to talk with Cikgu Mahathir as we updated each other and relived some of the old memories we had in Sungai Tiang. He is now as he was before, a very active person in politics and now contemplating standing up for election as a candidate for the state constituency in the coming General Election though his wife Umi was not really happy with the idea. I believe she was happy enough as they are but a man will do what a man wants to do and my guess is he will pursue his dream to be The Yang Berhormat as he will be leaving to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with a certain Federal leader.
The rain had abated and I left his home to visit a settler who was close to me when I was serving in Felda Sungai Tiang. His name was Haji Wan Ee and at 66 years Haji Wan Ee can be considered as very healthy. He attributed his health is maintained by constant activities working in his rubber plot and enjoyed his sea fishing which he did regularly.

I will forever be indebted to Haji Wan Ee as during my tenure at Felda Sungai Tiang, I had left my .38 Smith & Wesson Revolver in the restroom after doing an urgent call by nature at my office. Haji Wan Ee had entered the restroom and saw the revolver which he knew was mine and took it to me in my office. I just can't imagine how much trouble I would get if the gun had fallen into the wrong hand.
After some light snack and extremely delicious home brewed black coffee, we bid our good bye to his family and toured the village of Felda Sungai Tiang. Though many houses had been well renovated depending on how well the family of the settler is, some remain decrepit or left entirely unmaintained.
A typical Malay Kedah house on stilt after being renovate. Some had been renovated into a brick building.

A vacant house left to rot.

A rubber plot at the end of their economic life. The tree is being slaughter tapped to maximize income due to the high price of rubber. There is not much bark left to be tapped.

Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tiang where my wife had taught before. Cikgu Mahathir had been promoted to the post of Headmaster before his posting to the State Education office and finally reached his retirement age.

We made a final stop at the mosque in Sungai Tiang. At the time that I left Felda Sungai Tiang in 1981, the fund to build this mosque was just started and many of the settlers had pledge a certain amount each for the fund and later I was told they had managed to collect more than RM200,000 from among themselves. The cost of the mosque was estimated at RM500,000 at the time.
Some settlers had just performed their Asar prayers at that time and I shook the hands of many of them.
After performing my prayers I left Felda Sungai Tiang for Alor Star with a heavy heart as this land scheme had been dear to me. I had fond memories of the place though I was there only for about two years.
The hotel in Alor Setar had been booked online for two nights while I was in Pasir Mas. The Sentosa Regency Hotel is comfortable enough for me to saty in. Above all it has wifi which is a necessity for me to be incontact with my family and friends and also to make postings in this blog.
That night an old classmate by the name of Ahmad Saffian Mohd Nor came to the hotel to take us to dinner. Ahmad Saffian was my group mate during my study at Kolej Pertanian Malaya and since we parted after graduation in 1972, this is the first time we are meeting up.
Ahmad Saffian had not changed much in look and I could recognize him anytime. Ahmad Saffian I am so happy to meet you again.


Pak Idrus said...

Thanks for narrating your journey to the past. As for driving you are still young and I think could do more mileage than me.

BTW what is the average income of a Felda settlers now since I notice the official are paid very well indeed.

Thanks and do have a nice day.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

How fascinating! I didn't know that you had been a Felda settlement manager before! It is good to meet up with old friends, and say all the Thank Yous and Sorrys and I Love Yous that maybe could not have waited for another time.

Wan Sharif said...

I believe you must be a very friendly guy back then to have so many friends who could not wait to have you visiting them now.. That is what our Peribahasa of old say.. Kawan biar seribu.
How nice to be with friends again after so long..

Pak Zawi said...

Pak Idrus,
The way to go is to have as many break journeys as possible. That will give our body and mind some rest from being in a driving position and stressed up all the time.
Settlers income are dependent on the productivity of the crop and price of the commodity be it rubber or oil palm. My guess is a settler household with a rubber plot should be making about RM1000 to RM1500 now based on the old trees but with a good price of RM6/kg of rubber.
I am not so sure whether the officers are well paid or not because when we compare with the estates, what we are paid in semi government agencies are a pittance. When I was the manager of this plantation I was only drawing about RM750 a month. That was 30 yrs ago.

Pak Zawi said...

Ee Lynn,
Yes it is a great feeling when we are meeting up again. Above all they feel great when we came from so faraway looking for them and most said they had been thinking about us. There must be some form of extra sensory perception between us that made my wife and me to decide to visit them.

Pak Zawi said...

Just be humble and it is easy to make friends. Sincerity is another good attribute to have to maintain a lasting friendship. How true it is with our pribahasa. The more friends the better. I can't wait to do Johor next where I was there for 7 years when I started working for Felda.

Pat said...

I was thinking exactly what Wan Sharif wrote!!! That you must have been a good friend to them then, that is why they remember you so kindly.

I loved your account, and the pictures, Zawi. Thank you for an enjoyable read.

Uncle said...

Salam Pak Zawi.

Saya pun tak tahu yang Pak Zawi pernah berada di Kedah dulu....anyway, memang asyik kalau dapat bertemu semula dengan rakan2 lama....

glassman said...

Sungai Tiang, I've been there before. One lady use to be in our family employment at one time. We were just kids at the time. And we'd sometime send her home maybe once in a month or so I guess. Too bad I cannot recall the lady's name. But she can tell a really good ghost story, which kept us children under the sheets. LOL I think we called her Mak Mah.

InaSazlan said...

blogjaley2 di sini :)

Pak Zawi said...

When you treat a friend like a friend, they will remember you forever.
The joy is mutual.

Pak Zawi said...

Dapat juga la merasa duduk di Kedah dulu.
Kalau dapat jumpa you lagi seronok. How I wish our path will cross one day.

Pak Zawi said...

Since you had been there before, I guess you can relate to the story about the place. I know of a Mak mah in Sungai Tiang but my guess is non of them is alive anymore. Maybe you should make a trip there to confirm orr at least walk down memory lane like I did.

Pak Zawi said...

Terima kasih kerana sudi berkunjung.

Temuk said...

As-Salam Pak Zawi
Indeed a nice narration and lovely pictures. Indahnya pertemuan yang kadang-kadang memang tidak dijangka akan berlaku!

Whatever people say about Felda, I'd like to remember it as one organization that has managed to help quite a substantial number of landless people from our rural areas. And certainly, I think, we can be proud too of the barisan anak-anak Felda who have made themselves succesfull in various areas. I wonder how and where would they be now without Felda, especially during those difficult moments earlier on.

Pak Zawi said...

Memang indah pertemuan tersebut. Begitu juga pertemuan yang seterusnya.
Felda did a great job to develop jungle areas into a productive plantation and contribute immensely to the nation's coffer. I truly value those years I spent working for Felda as it was the formative years of my working life.