The War Years

My brother Abu was the first one who saw it. Look! he shouted. The sky is red! We rushed to the window and saw an amazing spectacle. The night sky had indeed taken on a deep red colour.

That was one of my earliest recollections of the Japanese Occupation. Several ships had been set on fire in the Penang harbour and the huge blaze had lighted up the night sky.

Another was the sound of shrieking planes overhead. After a lull of some seconds – BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The bombs would explode, pounding the earth, making me shrink into myself with fear. The target was a military base but what if the bombs fell over our house?

We needed a bomb shelter. My father and four brothers dug an L-shaped, six foot deep trench in our back garden, covered it first with tarpaulin and then foliage. The slightest sound of approaching planes sent us scrambling in there. I once dashed from the bathroom with no clothes on.

Food was scarce but my mother saved every grain of rice and every scrap, so we never went to bed hungry. My father worked at the main Military Base. It was hard labour. He lugged heavy rocks and stones up several storeys. They were used to build the barracks. But every month he brought home a bag of rice. So while most people existed on tapioca, we had rice, vegetables from our garden and eggs from the chickens we reared.

One day we got an awful fright. Some soldiers raided our house. They searched every cupboard and drawer, turned over every piece of furniture, shoved beds aside to peer beneath them, ripped mattresses and pillows and grabbed a few chickens before they left. My father had earlier burnt his prized collection of English books.

Ah! The Chung Ling School Canteen! One of my best memories. My father was given a contract to operate the school canteen. Suddenly there was not only plenty of food but a great variety of it. My mother had a different menu every day. When the food was all packed we carried it and walked to the school which was near where we lived. My duty was to carry the big clock. The Canteen was a huge success.

And so the days passed peacefully by. We heard stories about people being arrested and tortured. My Uncle who lived in Singapore was one of them. They cut his eye-lids, strapped him to a chair and left him out in the sun. His body, when they found him, was full of burn marks. But nothing like that touched us.

When the British returned there was a huge welcome ceremony complete with cannon shots and loud marching band music. Everyone seemed happy. I looked at my mother and she had a beautiful glow on her face.

Soon after my father bought me a large doll with long hair and the prettiest eyes. I put her down next to me when I went to bed that night and it closed its eyes. I jumped out of bed not believing what I had seen. Yes, it could open and close its eyes. Like magic! And that was my best memory of all.

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8 thoughts on “The War Years

  1. Another masterpiece. I look forward to reading your stories, auntie. Your writing style reminds of me Roald Dahl’s. It’s early days still but I hope you’ll get to compile these stories and put them in a nice book. Wouldn’t that be awesome? 🙂

    • Dear Azreen, you are too kind. It was something Aris got me into and all of a sudden I wanted to recall the old days. I don’t know how long I’ll persist at this. Wish me luck.

  2. please please please persist to write!! the journey of life in Malaysia and abroad, experiences, emotions, history, culture and lessons that you take us on with every entry is incredible! sometimes it’s cheerful, airy and amusing, sometimes chilling, numbing and overwhelming, sometimes just fascinating, and always so awakening, humbling and empowering! there’s a beautiful continuous synchrony of strength and elegance through both the content and style of your writing, with colorful contrasting ranges of reactions and perspectives – from amazement and light-heartedness of a child to witty humor, heavy reality, and extraordinary choices of a grown-up; from authentic beautiful details of everyday life to miracles and discovery of worldly opportunities seized and realized; from joy to pain; from hardship to perseverance.. and to be able to creatively depict it all in just a few paragraphs, with unique, keen and essential details full of personality and captivating flow is a remarkable mastery! thank you for guiding us back in time to feel, learn, understand and appreciate, and for encouraging to aspire to paths of hope, love, goodness, courage and resilience – with so much more than words!!

    • Many thanks for your comments. They are more than generous. They have, in fact, quite overwhelmed me. It was my son Aris who encouraged me to write the blog. We were having lunch at Bubba Gump in SF and were talking about blogging and by the end of the lunch he’d set up an account for me!

      I consider my efforts very amateurish but I’ve found something to occupy my time with. I’m back home in Malaysia now and am very jet lagged but I hope to find something to write about soon.

      I’m most impressed with your writing ability. You write exceedingly well. Are you doing any serious writing? Short stories? A novel?

      • thank you very much for your kind words and questions. Aris has been trying to convince me to write for quite some time now :), but i’m more of an ‘impulsive’ writer – whenever an emotion, an impression or an observation strikes.

        i’m so glad that Aris was able to encourage you to share your writing. you are a gifted storyteller! your every story is already independently enriching and enlightening, but together, they often intertwine and complement each other with elements revealing further depth and making reading new ones even more enticing and impactful.

        please continue to write, inspire and artistically delight so many of us!

      • It’s always a pleasure to read your comments. You write with great facility and I think you should seriously consider putting your talent to good use. Aris is a very persuasive person and he succeeded in getting me to jot some things down. I do hope he’ll succeed with you before too long.

        Aris is not only persuasive but also a task master! Ha! Ha! He was somehow able to get me to write something almost every day. Now that he’s so far away I’ve succumbed to laziness. Sigh!

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