Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chapter 13: My First Home

I grew up in a small house built on a rented plot of land in Harrington Road (now renamed Jalan Istana). My father had it built when he moved to Jesselton from Beaufort after marrying my mother. Rental then was 8 dollars a month.
The house was of a very simple design: a typical rectangular layout. The only bedroom (approx. 12ft x 15ft) occupied one end, and adjoining it was the so-called living room (approx. 15ft x 15ft). The wall was made up of pieces of 6in wide by 3/4in thick timber planks nailed together vertically side by side. The floor was similarly finished with timber boards. A cloth curtain hung at the door opening at the partition wall between the bedroom and the living area. In those days, it was common to hang a piece of cloth rather than a lockable door like what we have nowadays. Next to the living room was the kitchen cum dining area built at an elevation approx. 5 steps lower. The floor was just simply dirt floor. Bathroom was a simple enclosed space next to the kitchen. The whole house was covered with an attap roof.

A detached hut of 10ft x 10ft was built about four feet away from the bedroom end which was occupied by my paternal grandfather.
The house had no electricity, no piped water and no gas stove. Water was "piped" from a creek nearby using split bamboo connected all the way to the bathroom. Water flowed non-stop to a metal tank which was once used for containing petrol or diesel. However, at time during dry spell, water source from the creek would become dry. Under such circumstance, we had to dig into the creek bed to source for more ground water. Water at that level could not gravitate to the house along the bamboo duct due to level difference, we had to manually carry water back to the house using two buckers slinked at two ends of a pole. There were also occasions when even digging deep into the creek bed yielded no water. We had to go even further: a kilometre or more away to look for water. These sources were usually wells dug deep into the ground and situated at the foothill. Since carrying water from such far away place proved too burdensome, our solution was to take the dirty laundry to the water source and to do the washing and bathing there. We only carried the very essential amount in buckets back to the house for cooking and drinking purpose.

Lighting was only available from 6pm to around 10pm. The light source came from the kerosene lantern which was activated every night at around 6pm. The lantern was hung in a wall opening in between the living room and the kitchen area. With the lantern's light, the kids did their homework soon after dinner around the dining table. Dad would then proceed with his extra tailoring work to earn extra income. The lantern would only be switched off after dad decided it was time to sleep normally at around 10pm. For the bedroom, a dim light was made available by the kerosene lamp. As there was no "entertainment" liked radio or TV, the kids would have long gone to bed by then.
Firewood was the only "fuel" used for cooking and boiling. I remember one of the main tasks during school breaks was to gather firewood from the nearby hill. We normally had to gather enough stock to last for 2 to 3 months. Gathering firewood was no easy task. The first thing was to chop down all sizable trees and trimmed off all unwanted branches and leaves. Then, we had to drag or carry them back to the home compound; cut them into lengths of 2 feet a piece, split them with parang or an axe into smaller pieces to dry. Finally, we stacked them neatly after they had been sufficiently dried.
Over the years when my younger brothers and sister were added to the family, another room was built at the back of the house to accommodate the growing number. I stayed in this house for over 21 years and we finally moved away to a new place in 1972. One obvious thing I remember most about staying in that house was the non-existence of theft and house break-in. The whole family could go out even with the door left unlocked! Those were the days!

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