Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Fond Recollection

In 1929, my great grand-uncle, Reverend Paul Chong En Siong founded the oldest school, St. Columba's School in Miri, Sarawak in East Malaysia during the reign of the Brookes. Classes were held in a bungalow belonging to a Police Officer. 13 boys and girls from ages 8 to 13 were the first batch of students.

The Japanese invaded Sarawak in December, 1941 and the school was closed. Revd. Paul Chong's beloved brother, Catechist Chong En Fui who had been a teacher in St. Columba was murdered by the Japanese. He had been betrayed by a friend who gave false information about him to the Kempeti (Jap Secret Police).

Today, the late Catechist Chong En Fei's son, Chong Yuk Hien, an honorable and well-respected former church leader, is happily retired and enjoying his golden years in beautiful New Zealand. He has also written a very interesting book entitled The Rise and Fall of the Rising Sun.

Not too long ago, he wrote to me commenting on the fact that I had misspelt his middle name in my historical book, A Time For Us. With merely an additional letter 'n' I had made his name feminine! I have apologised and remain apologetic to him for the grave commission of the error on my part.

I have fold memories of this uncle who was once awarded Sarawak's most courageous award by the last outgoing British governor of Sarawak back in the early 1960's ( He had led a small band of equally brave natives in defending Miri from an outside invasion by foreigners). He and his family members used to give us wonderful treats and ang pows (Chinese New Year red packages of money) in his home at Pujut on numerous occasions. He was also one of my mentors in the absence of my dad who could only reside and work in Sabah for over 16 years. There were also many times when I went with his family during those 16 years of Christmas caroling.

I pray the good Lord will allow me to see him someday. We have already learnt of the sad news of the demise of his brother whom I also love a lot. He passed over in Australia. I wouldn't want to miss, for all the tea in China, the chance of seeing this great hero of mine !

The picture above is of an unknown person, believed to be the long-serving school clerk, the late Tan Kheng Hee. He is seen standing in front of the Belachan (prawn paste) store which was used as a classroom right after WW11 in 1945. Today the store would be where the car park is in front of St. Columba's Parish Kindergarten.

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