THE MESSAGE NO. 142 SEPTEMBER 2013
SPONSORED BY HARBANS SINGH
Harbans Singh rang me saying he had a story of his experiences about train journeys back in the 1940s and 1950s. That would be so interesting I assured him. The following are his anecdotes:
The Damned Trains of Yesteryears
by Harbans Singh
1. My first train trip that I vaguely remember was from Kundang to Batu Arang a few miles away. I was following my elders to sell mooru to the Indian labourers at 10 sen a cup Japanese money.
2. The next was to Kuang to go to K.L. We boarded a single wood-fired coach in Kuang but it refused to move. So everyone got down and started pushing it.
As it moved everyone reboarded it and off we went only to backtrack to Kuang because it could not climb the hill. Then it picked up steam and off we went again. This time we made it.
3.The next train I remember stopped at Kuang for us to feed a marriage party on its way from Singapore to Tanjong Tualang. The station master was a friend so he stopped the train long enough for everyone to have a feast.
4. The next train I remember visiting was at Rawang. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was visiting along with his daughter Indra Gandhi.
With the huge crowd I could not see either one of them.
5. Then one day I was travelling in somebody's car from Kundang to Kuang when we reached a railway gate which had not been fully closed for an oncoming train.
The gate swung and hit the car as the train went by. After that there were many train adventures as I used to travel to Batu Arang to school. Ocassionally I took a bottle of mooru to bribe the train driver. We became friends and I was allowed to hop into the engine and drive the train doing shunting in the yard, sending off empty wagons and attaching the coal-laden ones to the returning train. One day I rode on the engine on the way home after school. Once I followed the train to Kuang and was operating the engine when I got spotted by the signalman in the control tower. The driver had to explain my presence there.
6. Now for the terror trains. When I was crossing the cantilever bridge near my house and a train happened to be passing, I would get to the side with my trusty bike and enjoy the heaving of the bridge as the train passed. One day my dog decided to try the ride.
He sat beside the rail and as each set of wheels passed he would put up his nose to see if all was clear. Unfortunately for him one of the wagons with a double set of wheels came next before he had time to retrieve his nose. The nose was crushed and in pain the dog jumped into the river below never to be seen again.
The next time I was in the bridge when a train was coming brought me even worse luck. As I waited for the train to arrive to my horror it stopped at the corner near the hill. The train had crashed into my buffalos killing seven of them! Immediately on noticing this I rushed to the crash site. One of the dead buffalos had got entangled with the train's wheels. The driver was trying to dislodge the carcass. (Did they compensate you?)
7. One evening my stepfather who liked walking on the sleepers between the rails was on his way home with a friend. Suddenly we heard the train whistling. My stepfather had slipped off the sleepers and got stuck between the sleepers. Luckily for him his friend managed to pull him out in time. Otherwise his entrails would have travelled many a mile.
8. The next episode was when we were returning from school in Rawang. As the bus approached the hump at the railway crossing a train came charging at full speed. The gatekeeper had snoozed off. However our bus driver found divine help and shot the bus across the railway line beating the train by a hair's breath.
One day at the Rawang railway station we noticed an old lady trying to cross the tracks on to the platform. In charged the train and luckily people waiting on the platform quickly grabbed her and pulled her to safety. Whew, that was real close shave!
Still in Rawang, a pilot train that runs before the mail train at night had come to grief just outside the station. Then a Singaporean millionaire visiting K. L. decides to return to Singapore by train. As the train moves he tries to step onto the train but instead slipped on to the rails. Oh my gosh! His wife who was with him watched the whole tragedy life! She could do anything but cried and cried and cried!! Pitiful and sad sight.
9. My next train trip was to Taiping where I spent almost two years in the wilderness, even failing my standard exams. It was shifting house.
10. Years later, when I got a job in the Methodist English School in Bentong, I had a train ride to Batu Pahat in the hope of meeting the girl in the picture taken with my sister. I did not meet her then but it caused quite an upheaval in my life. On my way back I missed the train at KL station and returned to Batu Pahat.
This time I met the girl but I was having mums. With a friend I went to her house, sitting at a factory gate opposite side of the road watching her write a letter to me. When she waved at me to collect the letter I walked over to collect it but refused the invitation for a drink. The next part was hell. My friend and I had been waiting at the gate of a factory whose watchman was her relative. When he saw us reading her letter my friend and I bolted from there. We returned to the temple where my sister stayed.
Soon the relative turned up and startrd to throw tantrums. I calmly told him to calm down but he became very confused.
He went and called the girl's brother who came and told me not to mind the relative. However I decided to return home.
AN EVENTFUL VISIT BACK TO WHERE WE BELONGED
We hit the road at 9.30. Who were we? None other than William Joo, Nancy and me. It was a smooth drive with William at the wheel cruising along the Karak Highway towards Bentong. When we arrived we were famished. So we went to an eatery and with a little money we already filled our tummies. Then we went to my little abode in Bukit Chamang to take a rest. Even a nap was possible but our conversation stole our siesta and kept us awake. We contacted Haji Mokhtar Mat Piah a Mesian to help William in a mission.
At 2.00 we met Haji Mokhtar at the District Office to inquire about or the whereabouts of the piece of land that William's dad's (calling latter the late is more appropriate) house was standing. What! With no evidence of black and white what was there to enquire!! It was a futile attempt like trying to touch and feel the solid mailbox in cyber mail. So the mission failed, though Haji Mokhtiar tried very hard to help William. Physically, the land is there but what now stands on the land is a modern structure with much more modern architecture.
Mission not accomplished. I comforted William by asking him to drive us to the outskirt to get some fresh air. So William maneuvered his South Korean signature vehicle, his is now a jalopy in the direction of Chamang. The road was narrow and snaky. We drove past the National Service Training Centre. Then we entered a rusty iron gate. We were now in the territory of 'THE GATE'. Our car stopped at a new building labeled G1 (presumably meaning Gate 1.) We met a Mr. Tan. The place is a sort of Prayer House and Mission Lodge. According to Tan even people from as far as Australia, Singapore, America, Europe etc. come to visit and lodge there. There are hostel style accommodations for the visitors. It is quite a big and expansive site covering 27 acres. Looking down from the slope we saw a sprawling banana plantation with thousands of plantains waving in the wind and taking in the afternoon sun.
We drove out of the gate and hit the road out to population polluted areas now. On the way out, I called Dato' Ted Miles's care-giver Lai Mei. It was a sort of pre-emptive notification to say that we were coming to visit him. Lai Mei told me to enter through the back door and to refrain from making our visit an uproar.
I was surprised. When we came to the Third Mile, our surprise was multiplied. Near the entrance to our mentor's bungalow were parked a row of cars by the roadside. What was happening? Something fishy? Something Lai Mei had not explained. The driveway to his house was blocked with traffic cones.So to reach his house we had to walk. Halfway up the driveway there was parked an MPV with the logo rtm. As we walked up we saw more vehicles, vans and even a lorry. The last named was tagged as POWER HOUSE!! And it was running an engine plus dangling with huge red cables.
Surprise! Why all these vehicles parked outside.
Lai Mei was waiting. She led us in via the back door. As we walked she explained that the place was being used for filming a movie. The dining hall was sealed off and so was the sitting room. We were led to ascend the dark and eerie back door staircase. Even the rest room at the back upstairs was stacked up with various household items. We entered the mentor's sleeping quarters via the upstairs wash room. Here on a rocking rattan chair our mentor sat there. We exchanged greetings and enquired how he was doing. He looked fine. He spoke well and his speech was refined. We broke into a light amiable chitchat session and he seemed to enjoy our presence and our conversation.
I asked what film the SKT (the filming company) was making. He said "Seventh" a Chinese scary story. It has something to do with scenes of the other-worldly. Immediately I recalled it is a belief among Chinese that a dead person's soul would return to his house on the 7th night after his demise. And the deceased family members would pray on the first 7th day, 2nd seventh and so on until the seventh seventh day.
Later the care-giver Lai Mei also told me that the filming people have transported a casket into the house for the scary scenes. But I felt nothing strange for there is always a coffin bed in his room all the time.
Now from Lai Mei the care-giver I learnt of our mentor's recent falling sick story. That afternoon at about four, she was sitting with our mentor. Suddenly looking out of the window he said, "Lai Mei, I see a colourful birdie flying just outside. It's so pretty." Lai Mei looked around and said nothing of that sort she could see! Strange, not long after that his hands turned blue. Then his feet went blue too. He could not utter a word anymore. He fell unconscious!
Lai Mei had studied herbal medicines before. She recognized the symptoms show a stroke was imminent! So she took a safety pin and released blood from his fingers and earlobes. He was still weak and unconscious.
With the help of some youngsters who were doing some repair work in the house, they managed to bring him to the guest room and lay him down. Then she called for the ambulance. He was sent and admitted in the Bentong Hospital.
In the dead of that night, our mentor ran off from the hospital ward. He groped out to town in his patient's gown. A youngster saw him and asked where he was going. "I'm going home," he replied. The youngster noticed how he was dressed and brought him back to the hospital ward instead.
"How many days did you stay in the hospital?" I asked.
"I don't know. Ask Lai Mei." He said.
When I asked the care-giver later, she said two nights and three days.
Our mentor talking to Nancy.
He had injured his spine when he fell. Now he is nursing his injured back sitting on a rocking chair most of the time. Our visit to see our mentor ended there.
WE HAVE A FLAT WHEN THE TERRAIN IS NOT FLAT
At four William straight away hit the Karak Highway. We were on our way back to Kuala Lumpur.-The traffic was not heavy but there were quite a number of heavily-laden lorries.
William's jalopy was climbing a slope just before Bukit Tinggi, when the car developed a strange sound. Nancy, Williamfs spouse said she thought the car had a flat tire! William stopped the car and sure enough the back tire on the left-hand side was rim-pressed. It was totally flat. The tire had even been torn at several places - rubber in shreds. We did not panic. William just said he could change to the spare tire. So he opened the car boot. Oh my gosh! The spare gaped at us with some huge gaping holes. Even the spare tire had had a puncture which William had forgotten to replace with a good one.
We were desperate. Nancy nagged.
Standing by the roadside with the stalled car, we were wishing that help would drop from the sky. Time ticked away. Then a car came by and stopped in front of us. Out from the car emerged a guy. He was a highway accident seeker - a highway helper. He offered help. William haggled and negotiated. Finally the guy took the spare tire away heading towards Bentong to have a tire fixed. He would bring it back and change the flat. Meanwhile, William inched our way to the few shops in Bukit Tinggi to wait there.
While waiting we had dinner. Soon the guy came back with a changed spare. He helped to fix the tire. For that he had to charge us. How much? RM170. RM85 for the used but useable tire and the rest for his service and and labour, etc. Well, it was his day. We soon drove away. What an eventful day!