Living in a metropolitan city, speaking English in the corporate world and in everyday life , it’s easy to forget one’s roots. My roots as a Malaysian-Chinese were never deep; my parents went to English missionary schools and didn’t observe many traditional customs/practices. Heck, I don’t even speak my mother tongue well!
So when I visited a Chinese New Village in the heart of Rawang, it evoked a sense of nostalgia and melancholy that I didn’t know existed within me. I listened to stories of the struggles of my forefathers, many who came to Malaya decades ago on boats in search of a better life, and saw with my own eyes what they had built in spite of persecution and hardship. And I felt.. connected. I’ve never been prouder of my heritage as a Malaysian-Chinese.
Tucked deep within the suburbs of Rawang is Kampung Kuala Garing Selatan, a Chinese new village. The ‘new’ villages are special because they were all formed during the 1950s under colonial British rule, and there are hundreds of them scattered all across the country.
Malaya was under the threat of Communist insurgents, many of whom brought ideologies from China. Back then, we had a huge overseas Chinese population (this has since dwindled to less than 20% today) and the British were worried that the people would support the communists, who fought guerrilla style in the jungles.
So the administration segregated the people (mostly Chinese – some 400,000) and placed them in communities called New Villages. These were gated and guarded by patrols, and had a curfew. In this way, they were able to curb the flow of info and the smuggling of essentials to the guerrillas. Even after the Brits left and the communist threat was lifted, the villages remained and became part of the community. Many of these ‘villages’ are now developed and sit surrounded by towns in urban areas.
Kg Kuala Garing Selatan (named after the nearby Kuala Garing river) is one of these villages. Many of the homes have been rebuilt to resemble modern homes, but there are still some which are made of their original wooden planks and zinc roofing. There is a mini mart out front run by an Indian family which has been around for decades. The road into the village is tarred, single entry only.
A villager tells me that back in the days, there was nothing on this plot of land – everything was built from scratch. The road was a dirt road made by piling sand and earth; there was a water tap outside which everyone had to line up for, while others dug wells in their compound. At night, they used oil lamps as there was no electricity.
I am typing this in my air conditioned room after a hot bath with all the lights on.
At the village entrance, the villagers have built a shrine for the local Chinese earth deity, or ‘Latuk’.
One of the older wooden houses that is still well-maintained. There are 60 houses with about 350 people living in the place. Most are Chinese who speak a mix of Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien dialects.
The pride of the village is their Fatt Heng Gong temple, dedicated to the Six Deities (Luk Yan Seen Si) in Taoist beliefs. What started off as a wooden hut has transformed into a nicely built, bright yellow building with a large and clean courtyard, as well as adjacent meeting hall.
The first temple priest was a villager, and the sifu’s picture along with how the original temple looked like can be seen from photos hanging from the walls. They were yellow and peeling with age. The temple grounds keeping has since been passed on to the priest’s wife.
The community organises a banquet for the deities every year on the 28th day of the 12th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, where they invite a priest from a neighbouring village to come and perform rites. The festivities include food, prayers and blessings.
At the other end of the village is a ‘clubhouse’ – basically someone’s house which has become a gathering place for the older villagers who come to sit, drink tea and play mahjong. The porch, although cluttered, has a charming, idyllic quality. There are lazy chairs in the back, and paintings of deities and traditional Chinese calligraphy/animals/flowers hanging from wooden beams.
Had a chat with two villagers – a husband and wife, Mr and Mrs Wong – in their home. Their kids have moved out. They were kind enough to show me around the house and told me many stories of how life was back in the days. They were one of the families who dug a well in their yard, since it was bothersome to line up for water in the mornings and evenings. Wong lamented how everything was green and surrounded by jungle before development encroached; but he is happy that it is very convenient to get essentials now.
They had this cool old stove which uses charcoal for cooking. They still use it once in awhile to boil soup coz apparently it tastes better. My aunt had one of these really old irons which were super heavy and had a compartment to put charcoal (coz there wasn’t electricity back then).
It was a really eye opening trip, and for the villagers I spoke to, I’m sure it was a trip down memory lane to simpler times. Sure, there aren’t skyscrapers or attractions in their village, but to them, this is home – that hopefully will not be forgotten or lost with the passage of time.