We Didn’t Have It Good Then.

 

Part 1.

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We didn’t have it good then. I mean there’s a high degree of separation between our childhood formative years and our adolescence period. We had it sweet in the beginning but after those years transcending till teenage and adulthood, it gets more bitter as time passes. Then came the plunge.

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My sister was the more brilliant of us two so she had the privilege to go UK for her further studies whilst I was, at my usual naughty self chasing skirts. I was brilliant in my primary but I guess after a few cracks on the head (one of which I can still remember the blood streaming down my face in Wellesley Primary), I think it took a toll on certain cognitive areas which affected my studies. My strength lies in creativity, I’m highly imaginative, expressive, organised, and a little obsessed with details. I am a sucker for system and to design and arrange things. Other than that, I have poor learning skills and I was always caught crying everyday when it comes to homework.

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My parents weren’t highly educated because they were the caught-in-between the Japanese Occupation and most of the time, they were busy thus, mom always relied on my 2nd Ee( mom’s sis) for the planning part. Mom has two sisters , the last (3rd Ee) was younger.

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Then, we were rich. In 1966, dad struck lottery. 2nd prize in the social welfare and for a reward of $60K at that time, he saw his goal changed thus he became a businessman. We moved from Jockey Road to Jones Road after my paternal grandpa passed away.

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Both mom and dad thence became instant celebrities, well at least to the Chinese fraternity. Mom was a socialite and so was dad. Dad’s was more of an obligation and duty. We had everything we wanted as a child. Dad bought us games and sports equipments. And taught us all he knew. He even had a basketball net installed at our balcony so we could have fun. Compared to my brother, I was the skilful one either in aiming, in roller skates, or in cycling. He dropped out from Kungfu classes. I did not. And I earned the privilege to demonstrate my skills at Han Chiang indoor stadium at a tender age of 13. And I learnt to net balls jumping on skates by myself. We had lived in amahs, drivers, gardeners, car wash boys. And though they were both Chinese educated, they sent my sis and I to English schools whilst my brother went to a Chinese one. I guess they did not have the luxury of time to even think nor worry about our future because things were going alright. Three cousins were staying with us and sort of help to guide us when my parents weren’t around. We also have our paternal grandmother around most of the time. And most evenings, we’d be tagging along to their numerous involvement in Chinese associations, clan, societies, temples that both my parents were involved in or one of their numerous dinners . My dad had a hall named after him in Presgrave Street, being the largest donor, and he was also Chairman of his alumni for years. They also organised regular getaways for their friends – picnics, bungalow stays, travels etc and as children, I must say we were made to feel wholesome. Dad was great with children and I’m proud to say that unlike his friends who usually attends functions alone, we are always there where he was. As for my mom, she can never get attached to kids.

Dad bought a 7 acre farm in Jalan Tengah where Sunshine Square now sits, and there he reared pigs for sale. We were then the second largest pig farmers in Penang, if not the biggest. And the returns was good. (He gave that up eventually because everyone was caught in the factory bug and he found it hard to find workers to clean the pig sties. Eventually the government acquired it for a pittance claiming they wanted to develop it for low cost housing. My dad counter offered to have it developed and share the earnings with the government but was declined. It went to court. We lost. That land never got developed. It was sold to Suiwah Group instead 40 years later with Chong Eu being made the Group chairman. The government bought ours for Rm1.38/sq foot but sold it at RM44/sq ft.

That farm was the place we spent most of our Sundays at, playing, catching fishes, perching on rambutan trees etc. We had our fun whilst dad took care of his itenary and stuffs. We also owned a land in Telok Kumbar, a house in Jalan Bunga Pudak, Tj Bungah. At that time, we were living in Jones Road. The home is still there after we sold it and the owner till today, did not change the facade.

Mom never need to cook for us because we have amahs so all she does was to order them around. She enjoys that Tai Tai lifestyle. Mom hardly stayed home. She chooses to eat outside everyday and every meal if possible. So between both of them, there’s so much going on. And of course her duty of fetching us home from school which left me stranded a few times. It never happened to my sister nor my brother. I was the unlucky one I guess. We owned a Gas Shop in Hutton Lane where dad’s trading company was also based, a motorcycle dealer shop in Jln Sungei Ujong, a petrol kiosk in Chain Ferry , Butterworth, and a beauty perm parlour at Kinta Lane. Dad even had his name on his own shampoo brand called ‘Lebon’ and we were then, sole distributors for Misasa Cosmetics. Each of these companies were helmed by their trusted friends. But little did it occur to them that fate would take a down turn. How? I don’t know. We were too naive to understand but as children, we were caught in the plethora of the storm.

In between their numerous fights, I could roughly gather that dad was promiscuous. But news in later years as gathered from cousins also claim that my mom also had her fair share of flings. During one fight, my grandma was also ploughed with a flower pot meant for my dad’s head when she tried to mediate. And we cried and cried. Mom also dragged us to follow her at times because she received tips of my dad’s whereabouts but it turned out to be false news. I guess she spent a lot of her money hiring investigators to trail him. One day, mom decided to leave, taking my sis and younger brother along with her. But left me with my dad. That wasn’t the time when they officially moved. When they officially moved out from Jones Road, I was in Singapore.

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Back to when chao truly happened, my sister was forced to return and so was my 2nd auntie’s daughter, both of them in UK. This eldest cousin of mine from my 2nd aunt, my parents help support them for awhile because my 2nd aunties husband, my 2nd Tniau, suffered a misfortune in his own investments. Then, he was GM of a big Singapore company. In fact he was caught first and my dad had to sell off the Jalan Bunga Pudak house to help him. (As how my dad puts it to me in later years, he succumbed to my mom’s pressure and my 2nd auntie kneeling and begging him for help) He also blames my mom for foiling his bid to get Honda motorcycle dealership direct from Japan when they came over because our sales outclass Boon Siews.) That enrages my granduncle very much because my grand uncle trusted my dad alot. My 2nd Tniau was brilliant, but succumbed to ambition and he was later sued for criminal breach of trust, which landed him in Changi Prison for 3 1/2 years. But this 2nd aunty of mine was quite enterprising in a small way even as a ‘Tai Tai’, like my mom is. Before her husband’s fate, she herself had a thriving event planning company and also serves as a ‘pop-band manager’. She organizes live appearances and performances for the rising stars of Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan music and film industries to perform in Penang. That was in the heydays and we as kids get to see these shows for free and had dinners and lunches with them. One of the stars wanted to bring me to Hong Kong but my parents thought I was too young to follow. I guess you could say my aunt’s family and ours was quite close at that time. And so, she ended up having to feed her three daughters in a rented apartment in Singapore and her eldest daughter has to start working to help feed their family. They lost their Green Lane house (Singapore). Eventually her two daughters grew up and flew with SIA till today, as senior flight stewardesses and the last, once Janice, now Dennis, had her sex changed, legally in Singapore. And so it was like this, ever since young, it was party, party and party for us.

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And I was a dandy. After my MCE, I was asked to help in the petrol station. I rode my brother’s bike there everyday (for two years? or so) and everyday without fail, I fooled around after coming back home. Because then, I only have eyes for women and I was dead bored at the petrol kiosk. The petrol business and gas shop was in my mom’s name. And there I was, in the midst, growing fond of a woman a year older than me, who came from a gloriously rich background from Kangar. At that time, as I found out, they were the second richest family after the Kuoks in Kangar. In between, I made trips to her hometown in Perlis, stayed in her home, and she also bunked in with me once, in Penang. Before that, there were other attachments but not like this one. The next minute I knew, her parents were visiting our place. Mom didn’t like that thought I think because both of us were very young. And so I thought in later years, she arranged with my 2nd auntie to have me sent over to Singapore, to get me away from this girl, got me a job in an architectural firm and also a place in Poly. So there I landed. I was worried for myself and asked my dad if I really need to go Singapore? He said “you better go” I guess being influenced by my mom about my attachment with that girl from Kangar. Years later when I was back, this girl I was subtly stopped from seeing passed away at 22. If I could remember clearly, from brain tumour. Those days when there was no internet, we literally corresponded and anticipate the slow mails. At one time it stopped. But little did I suspect anything amiss. I did go back to her parents holiday home at Ooi Thiam Siew Rd when my days in Singapore was over, but it was all totally dark. Neither did I suspect anything because people do move. It was only one fine day at the office as I was flipping the days newspaper did I come across her obituary which was already a year old.

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Eventually, after my parents separated (but not legally, because my dad didn’t sign the papers), dad moved to Hutton Lane in the gas shop we owned, with my 3rd Kor’s entire family, whose son worked for us. Dad paid for their bills even whilst his son gets his salary. My dad was always kind to his own poor siblings. whilst my mom moved to my grandma’s home in Barrack Road. I wasn’t with them when they moved and thus I didn’t have the privilege to take what was mine. At first my dad moved there too but was chased out by my mom after my Tua Ku allegedly claims my dad brought home a woman. Our family home in Jones Road was already sold then. And so are the rest of his properties except for the petrol kiosk and gas shop which was registered under mom’s name. My mom went to manage my grandma’s tyre shop in Prangin Road, after my grandma died. Unfortunately, my mom’s siblings were all vultures to a fault. No one wants to get involved in the running, but everybody wanted their share. Mom was named to manage the business because my grandma doesn’t trust her second daughter, my 2nd Ee. My mom was a kind soul and she never refuses anyone in need. And so her siblings depleted my grandmas savings and my mom, in need of cash, siphoned it from the petrol station which eventually made us lose the license. Dad was enraged. But she allowed my dad to operate the gas shop in her name. That was also the very last business we ever had. And moved my brother to work with him because he failed in his studies. Eventually they had my name and my brothers name inside the company but that was because my 3rd Kor’s son and his wife made a proposal to invest and dad agreed. After some years when they decided to venture on their own, my sis told my dad to relook at the accounts and that was when discrepancies were found. My cousin’s wife begged for mercy and eventually my 3rd Kor’s entire family moved out , so the company was again transferred back and remained with us. When dad passed away, my mom gave the key to the safe and running of the business to my brother because he was already working there with him and knew the ins and outs. I was caught in my own problems and gave my share in the company to my sis in law. That company was a disaster and day by day, I saw my dad continuously ran short of funds that he needed to borrow. Not like there wasn’t business and his overheads was low. I suspected something amiss and not until a year and a half later did I manage to convince him to look into his accounts and discovered that the company was actually making money! But that he spent it all on his gambling! He spends roughly RM6K per week on four digits alone. So before I left the company, I updated his accounts till the day I left. I liase with his accountant and they were all amused at my hurried effort. Apparently, dad did not update his income taxes for more than 15 years. The rest, I thought, was for my brother to worry about. I devised a plan for him to settle the sum owed and the loans he borrowed from. In three years, he’d be doing well and so I hoped. He agreed. The money came, his debts settled and as fate takes its toll, a few months later, he passed away. Somehow when his loan was settled as I sat there talking to the lenders, I could see a relive in him like a heavy burden came off his shoulder. But he didn’t live the day to see a better future before him.

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And so there I was, living with my 2nd auntie in Singapore whilst shuffling day and night working in an architectural firm, and nighttime, Poly. After some disagreements with her, a year or to later, I moved in with my 3rd Ee. I guess mom had a little arrangement with my aunties then but as for my own expenses, sometimes it didn’t come on time and I had to borrow money from my classmates, for my daily living. Mom ran grandma’s business and when coffers depleted, she borrowed alot to keep us going and trying her luck at the one-armed bandits at the Chinese Merchants Club. She struck twice but being greedy, she gave everything back. On her first strike, she let me keep her money. We convinced her to buy a home. But only two days after, what went into my account came out and returned to the one arm bandit. On her second strike, she let my sis kept her money. My sis didn’t return her. And so I thought it better to fend for myself when mom was in her darkest of days. What I got from the architectural firm was mere pittance, as I was only an apprentice then. So I went into modelling for some extra cash. Not that I wanted it, but I needed it. Also, I thought I was young, energetic and able and thus, I can exploit my looks to good use and that helps keep me alive so that I do not need to further burden my mom. Four years I stayed in Singapore, and came back to Penang in 84.

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(To be continued)