Tales from pre-independence

1 Japanese soldiers arriving in Malaysia on bicycles from the Thai border. –filepic2 Yau thinks back to when the Japanese invaded Malaya.3 The sign erected on one side of the Ipoh cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station. – filepic

Octogenarian shares her experience of living during the Japanese occupation

SOME people need a lifetime to forget the horrors of war.

But Yau Yin Chan, 88, chooses not to dwell on those harrowing days of cruelty and hardship when National Day comes around.

“I had witnessed many gruesome killings to the point where I became numb towards them.

“The Japanese soldiers truly had no conscience.

“They killed many people I knew and caught people at random to tie them to lamp posts and leave them for hours under the sun and burn their skin with cigarette butts,” she said, adding that they also raped girls.

“I had to cut my hair short, smear mud on my face and wear my father’s clothes to pass off as a boy,” she told MetroPerak about what she experienced during the Japanese Occupation.

Yau was just four years old when she arrived in Malaya from China with both her parents in 1931.

Japanese soldiers arriving in Malaysia on bicycles from the Thai border. –filepic

They started selling fruits to earn a living in the small town of Kampar.

And it was in 1941, when she was 14, that the Japanese invaded their land and burned down many villages.

“There were bomb explosions every now and then and the blasts fatally injured my father.

“He lost all his teeth and suffered a deep cut on his forehead.

“He couldn’t eat anything and in the end, he died of hunger,” she recalled.

“My mother had a huge round wound, the size of a tennis ball, at her upper thigh.

“She couldn’t walk anymore,” she said, adding that her mother also died shortly after.

Yau escaped unscathed as she hid under the bed in time during the blasts.

She lamented that she could not even bury her parents in proper coffins.

ipacenotaph130614 4... The sign erected on one side of the Ipoh cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station.
The sign erected on one side of the Ipoh cenotaph in front of the Ipoh railway station. – filepic

“We only placed wooden boards on top of their bodies.

“I didn’t even have the time to cry. I just needed to survive,” she said.

As for her little brother, who was born a few years after the Yau family settled down in Kampar, his left hand was severely wounded and he lost his little finger.

Life, she thought, could not get any more miserable than how it was back then.

“We only got by with potatoes and water. Nothing else.

“We were hungry all the time and we barely knew the feeling of having a full stomach.

“Sometimes, when our neighbours had leftovers, we’ll eat what’s left on their plates,” she said.

Because they were poor, Yau had to agree to an arranged marriage at the age of 16, just so their families could support each other.

“Barely a year after our marriage, he was killed by the Japanese.

“I saw how he died, how they applied pressure to his body that was full of water.

“Water seeped from his ears, mouth, and eyes. I was lucky to escape after he died,” she said.

Yau often regarded herself as a lucky person to survive such times without ever being caught or tortured.

She met her second husband within a year her first husband died – a wealthier man who worked as a tin miner, and 18 years older than her.

“When the Japanese left and the British came, life became somewhat better.

“We didn’t need to live in fear everyday anymore.

“My new husband and I could start up a bread business and start a family,” said the mother of four sons and four daughters, currently in their 50s and 60s.

When Merdeka came in 1957, Yau was grateful for the peace which came with it.

“These memories will stay with me forever, but I try my best to focus on what I have right now in the present, which is a far better life than I could ever dream of when I was 14,” she said.

Yau and two of her sons now run the famous Restoran Yau Kee (Roti Ayam) in Kampar, and she has more than 10 grandchildren.

She will usually sit in her restaurant everyday to see how the business is doing, as a reminder that it was the product of her and her late husband’s blood, sweat and tears.

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