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The family was trying to recuperate from the devastation of the war. Our resources depleted. Financially ruined. Forget any access to a medical doctor. Or western medicine.
I was a little kid. It happened after the Japanese exodus from Malaya. Family members sensed something wasn’t right with me. “You are not your normal self,” according to their scrutiny. “Something is wrong somewhere,” they pronounced eagerly.
Somewhere? I knew where that somewhere was located. Down under. After persistent probing they were able to squeeze the truth out of me, like milk from coconut meat for curry. The cat came out quickly from the bag. I was suffering from constipation. A despicable word. Constipation. Why would anybody trumpet this personal tragedy from the rooftop? That was how I felt. Too poor to procure western medicine—blame the Japanese bastards for the family financial woes—the family applied the “soap treatment” without hesitation. Without wavering. The best they knew how. Without consulting me. The victim. Brother judiciously stayed away from this delicate operation. Only the women were in attendance. Stripped of my flimsy short drawers, belly down on sister-in-law’s sturdy lap, I could hear mother busy shaving away a piece of bath soap to the desired shape, size and length, with the dexterity of a sculptor on a wooden block. All of a sudden, in the stillness of a moment, without warning or lubricating first the bottom end of my alimentary canal, mother unceremoniously pushed the piece of sharp-pointed soap up my ass, like an aggressive missile into an enemy territory. And the rationale for this rather primitive behavior? To pave and grease the way, they told me, for a smooth painless discharge. Creating a slippery slope for the shy solid fecal mass to descend and discharge unaided. Faster than a baby eager to exit from a womb. Someone no less than a Margaret Mead would be aghast at this quaint procedure among the Hokchia tribe! I respected my ancestors’ resourcefulness but not this one. Sure it was quick and fast. Initially a fainting spell. A brief jerk of the body followed. Shivered, involuntarily. Slight pain lingered, like a thorn prick. Curtailed my misery, the much anticipated relief. Live or die? I chose to live. Miraculously the soap worked. Next time, there won’t be another next time, not after this invasive Chinese practice, I comforted and assured myself. But nobody was ever going to touch me again, I swore. Not my anus. Not anywhere. Next time, suffer the agony silently, avoid any public display of the constipated look, and pray fervently for a miracle.
The soap treatment wasn’t optional. Not when the family was destitute and compelled to apply one of the homegrown cures or remedies. I wouldn’t be the first patient, albeit a reluctant one, like an innocent sheep led to a slaughterhouse. But I cursed and cursed the
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Japanese bastards for my humiliation. Suffering. For years I declared myself an untouchable like some of those in India. I blamed the Japanese for the psychological scar that won’t disappear. And in my dictionary, constipation remains some indelible bodily pain associated with Japanese unwelcome presence and source of much of human
suffering. My suffering.
And not just my delicate anus. But my teeth, too. With coconut husk—readily available from our own trees—we used it to scrap dirty pots and pans. Also a practical toothbrush substitute, I used soot from the wood-burning stove, to brush my tenuous teeth. A few clung tenaciously to a deteriorating foundation, like a bird’s nest on a rickety branch. Dental hygiene wasn’t a top priority in the family during or immediately following the Japanese Occupation. It was, without doubt, survival for the fittest. Again I blamed and cursed the Japanese bastards for the dental problems that impacted my health, smiles and pretty face. For a long time.
The worse infliction occurred after the Japanese exodus. Mother would call me Nippon-yan (son of Japan in Hokchia dialect) an epithet she generously bestowed on me whenever she was frustrated with me, herself, father and the rest of the known world. By the tone of her perturbed voice and her twisted countenance, it wasn’t meant to be a compliment. Neither a praise of Emperor Hirohito and his cohorts in crime. By pitching Nippon-yan at me innumerable times she was saying to me, You are just like the Japanese bastards! Evil. Corrupt. Murderous. Diabolical. A rapist. You deserved to go to hell. A disgrace to the family. You short shit-head. You no good.
Damaging litany of invectives more appropriate for the Japanese bastards, now conveniently aimed at a non-combative defenseless child! A dutiful son, living in complete submission to mother’s control, I deserved my fate. But not to the extent to commit hara kiri—suicide by disembowelment formerly practiced by the Japanese samurai—to end one’s life because of disgrace or dishonor to the Ling’s family. But I suffered because of the Japanese bastards’ misdeeds. Psychologically.
The war in the Pacific had concluded with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese but they continued to haunt me. Like ghosts of the recently departed, visiting their loved ones left behind.
The ensuring peace was short-lived for many of our friends and relatives living in remote kampongs, ten or so miles away from us, suspected of communist infestation. During the war and the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), there emerged a group of anti-Japanese communist insurgents, mainly Chinese, in the jungles, ironically aided with arms by the British guerrilla units, together trying to rout the Japanese out of Malaya. What an unlikely alliance vis-à-vis a common enemy. The Chinese communists and the British! Unfortunately after the Japanese surrender, the anti-Japanese communist resistance
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groups tried to fill the initial vacuum only to be taken over by the British Military Administration. Disappointed, they resolved to destroy the economic recovery by ruthlessly murdering British rubber planters and miners, the backbone of the Malayan economy. And any Chinese who dared oppose their agenda. Confronted with the communist insurrection and killing rampage, a State of Emergency was declared by the Malayan government in June 1948 and lasted till 1960.
Translated that meant nearly half a million rural dwellers, including some of our friends and relatives, were herded into new villages, away from the depths of the jungle, walled in by tall fences, under constant surveillance, protecting them from communist depredations, while hoping to cut them off from aiding the communists with food, money, and able-bodied young men. Years later we heard that our village escaped the resettlement program because we were praised as the model citizens. We were anti-communist and less likely to join any insurrection against the British as they engineered to form a new government in postwar Malaya. Of course all our relatives denied vehemently any liaison with the communists—granted some communists were once fellow workers or classmates or distant relatives. Some joined the communists because they thought they were still fighting against the Japanese. At the same time total victory against the enemies, the government calculated, must go beyond military might. To win the unreserved support of the villagers and their hearts, the government wisely and immediately implemented programs and social services to improve their lives, especially those affected by the resettlement. Friends and relatives sang praises—amidst political turmoil and social unrest—of what the government was actively doing for them. New roads. Health centers. Midwife clinics. Community halls. New classes. Bridges. Hospitals. Modern methods of agriculture. Even a few small mosques—places of worship for Muslims. Islam is the official state religion in my country.
Tungku Abdul Rahman—a scion of a sultan—became Chief Minister of Malaya’s first elected government in 1955. That same year he held talks with the Secretary General Chin Peng of the Malayan Communist Party, hoping peace settlement would ensure Malaya’s independence from England in 1957. (Chin Peng’s real name is Ong Boon Hua. And his father Ong Sing Piau, a Hokchia, was once the Chairman of Yuk Ing School, a successor to Hokchia School started by my grandfather in the village.) The Tungku feared genuinely the communist emergency might give the British cause to postpone the independence. The Chief Minister’s dream was crushed when the communist leader Chin Peng rejected his peace term offer. “My ideas about communism were determined by that meeting,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I became convinced that once a communist, always a communist. They could never coexist with us in an independent Malaya.” True to his words, within three years after Malaya achieved its independence from England in August 3, 1957, communism met its demise. The State of Emergency throughout the Malay Peninsula was finally lifted in 1960. Many friends and relatives chose to stay where they were in the new settlements. Few returned to their cultivated lands in the
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jungle to live and raise their families. Mother and sister and I visited some of our relatives living in the new settlement.
The Federation of Malaya, like an independent ambitious young man, breaking free first from the stranglehold of the British and later a brief occupation by the Japanese, was free to pursue its dreams of happiness and prosperity, peace and harmony, for all its peoples—Malays, Chinese, Indians and others.
Happy days are here, again.