Memoirs of a Kampung Girl – Childhood

When I was nine years old, we moved from a thriving, bustling town, full of fat, prosperous Chinese businessmen with gleaming Mercedes Benzes to a small, rural community full of rice fields and water buffalos in Northern Malaysia.

My father had accepted a posting there to become the headmaster of the village’s largest Chinese school.

Overnight we turned from town kids to village kids.

In 1979, Kulim had one main street with several small streets meandering the hub consisting of one post office, a mosque, a police station, a clock tower and a markethall. It took us all of five minutes to drive around town. There were no traffic lights in all of Kulim in 1979. There were no traffic lights in all of Kulim until the 20th century was drawing to a close.

It was a quiet little settlement. Modest and unpretentious. There was a newspaper vendor, some coffee shops serving wanton noodles and very black coffee, a photo studio and a stationery store called The Night Book Store. I have often wondered why the choice of name since the whole town went to sleep by 7 o’clock every evening.

It was a place where nothing ever happened. If there was Google Earth back then, Kulim would have shown up as a patch of thick undisturbed jungle on the map. It was a place where we were to spend the rest of our growing up years in. Thirty-three years later, my parents are still living in Kulim in our old rambling house up upon a hill.

Kulim is my home. Village life is in my blood.

There were no supermarkets and latest toys to keep us occupied. No museums nor art galleries to impart refinement and culture. No private piano lessons nor language tutors on our time-table. We were completely cut off from all the buzz of town life. With wide, open spaces and long, languid days with time and only time on our side, the adventures of The Two Terror Boys & Little Miss Prim began.

That was how the legendary Jumping-In-A-Mud-Pit game came into existence.

This all-too-clever invention involves digging up a patch of garden lawn and filling it with water till ankle deep. Then with barefeet, we would plunge into the brown muck and splash and squelch and squish the soggy mulch with our toes until everything turns into a thick gloopy consistency.

I tell you, you haven’t lived until you have tried this.

It is all at once deeply satisfying, comforting, fulfilling and need I even say it – fun! We also discovered the wealth of earthworms that lived just beneath our garden that way.

It was an instant hit with the neighbourhood kids as word spread of the mudpit at No. 47 Taman Permai. Our garden resembled a large muddy crater and wild shrieks and muddy kids traipsed through daily. (I thank my father and mother profoundly for putting their children’s recreational indulgence above their own reputations.)

Having two brothers certainly livened up the long monotonous days that stretched out before us living in rural county.

One memory stands out in particular above the many escapades I found myself reluctantly embroiled in with these two. It was an exceptionally hot and dry season. Everything was shimmering in the heat. This was the day when my brothers discovered that their appetite for arson was impossible to curb.

That was the day the sons of a respectable headmaster and an English school teacher started a fire that had our sedate little neighbourhood humming for days. That was the day the brothers of a 10-year old supremely law-abiding citizen, almost burnt down the family home.

Trying to strike some matches near a clump of dry bristle grass, a stray spark flew out and started burning the hedge. Within seconds a frightening ring of fire engulfed our house. Shouts of alarm could be heard from neighbouring properties as the licking flames soared and crackled savagely sending dry ashes to the sky. Our house sat cocooned in the middle of a raging blaze.

Neighbours from all sides came rushing out to douse the fire, afraid that it might spread to their own properties. I was inside the house at that time and as I peered out the window, I balked at the scene of panic, chaos and destruction that two little boys had created. My face burned with shame as I cowered inside listening to the anxious voices of our neighbours and the anguished squeaks of my brothers.

My two brothers ran helplessly and pitifully trying to erase all signs of their latest misdeed with their small little beach buckets. If it wasn’t bad enough that our garden resembled a mud wrestling pit, our house now sat sorry and grey on a smoky, smouldering heap after the neighbours finally managed to douse the fire.

I cannot think back of my childhood and not think of my brothers. They are there woven into every memory from my earliest childhood. When I return to my childhood memories, I always see them lurking around corners with gleeful eyes and crafty smiles whenever I approached.

I was a prim, grim and rather serious little girl with leanings towards nunhood. My brothers on the other hand were natural clowns. Armed with a feral sense of humour, a love for capturing farts in plastic bags and an over abundance of imagination, they turned everyday into a sparkling adventure.

And all I can say is thank God for brothers!

It would have been half the fun if you guys hadn’t been there!  To Jon & Dan, with much love and happy memories from your Big Sister. (Stay tuned for more Memoirs of the Kampung Girl).