Where rags-to-riches stories abound


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  • Tuesday, 03 Feb 2015

Village pride: One of the Chinese schools in the Pandamaran New Village.

HOKKIENS in Klang call the Pandamaran Chinese New Village, Xincun.

Pandamaran derives its name from a tropical tree known as damar (shorea javanica) where the unusual pale ochre coloured sap is used for producing paints and varnishes.

Pandamar means a person who collects the damar resin.

Xincun is one of the most inspiring new villages as it has produced millionaires in various industries who had risen from humble beginnings to achieve success in life.

“The first generation of Pandamaran settlers were able to see opportunities where others just saw obstacles.

Back in the day: Attap houses built in the Pandamaran New Village for the Chinese resettled from the jungle fringes of Selangor.
Back in the day: Attap houses built in the Pandamaran New Village for the Chinese resettled from the jungle fringes of Selangor.

“They were risk-takers who eventually succeeded as real-estate investors, chemical company owners, manufacturers, gold traders and restaurateurs,” said former assistant resettlement officer (ARO) Lee Wee Cheong, 86.

According to the Klang District Office, the people in Pandamaran prospered and benefited from the nation’s economic progress more than other Chinese new villages thanks to its proximity to Port Swettenham (now Port Klang), which was the largest port in Malaysia.

While much of the development in new villages is owed to the efforts and initiatives of the villagers themselves, the Pandamaran Chinese New Village community’s cohesiveness was also a contributing factor that brought them greater progress.

Lee was the ARO responsible for resettling to Pandamaran some 1,800 families living close to the forest fringes of Jalan Jiamat in Kampung Jawa, 5th Mile, Jalan Langat, Black Water Estate, Sekinchan, Kuala Selangor and Dengkil in Kuala Langat.

“All the land area in Pandamaran that was turned into the Chinese new village was state-owned agriculture land. It was under Temporary Occupational Licence and it was taken back to establish the village. Setting up of the new villages was the idea of Sir Harold Briggs, the director of operations for the British Army in Malaya,” he said.

Still standing: An old house that has remained unchanged in the new village
Still standing: An old house that has remained unchanged in the new village.

“Briggs was an intelligent man who knew that the communists used guerrilla tactics and continued to squeeze assistance from the Chinese who live at the forest fringe of rubber estates. Communist activities intensified and threatened British socio-economic and political interest,” he added.

Lee said Briggs realised that military might was inadequate to defeat the Communist, and that cutting ties between the Communist and the local villagers was critical.

Under the Briggs Plan, the British employed a stern policy, practically forcing all Chinese to resettle.

Relocation of Chinese living near forest areas and rubber estates began in June 1951 where the government provided men, finance, transport and barbed wires.

Lee explained that the families were relocated to transit camps within the new area.

“All the families were given one lot of land measuring 4,000sq ft and $100 (Malayan dollars) as compensation. British officers also allowed the Chinese to dismantle their wooden houses and rebuild on the site in Pandamaran where the new village was divided into four divisions — A, B, C and D,” he said.

Each family had to pay $67.50 (Malayan dollars) for the housing lot while those who wanted the land allocated for shoplots had to pay $82.50 per lot that measured 25ft wide and 60ft long.

Only 42 lots were allocated for shops.

Classic: One of the old wooden houses in the village.
Classic: One of the old wooden houses in the village.

Lee, aged 22 then, was the youngest of six AROs who acted as welfare officers issuing identity cards, recording new births and even resolving conflicts among the people. AROs were paid $380 per month with allowances that added up to $420 each month.

“Every five houses had one stand pipe for drinking water and washing. Sometimes quarrels occurred over the usage of the pipe so AROs had to go in to resolve the matter,” he said.

He said most of the Chinese who relocated to Pandamaran worked as rubber tappers and earned “good amounts of British dollars.”

“Rubber prices tripled during the Korean War from June 25, 1950 to July 1953. Rubber tappers were paid well during this period, so the Chinese who had saved did not face much hardship in Pandamaran,” he said.

MCA Village Development Committee chairman Yap Boon Feng said the Briggs Plan had changed the population distribution and settlement landscape of Klang and the whole country.

He said most of the settlers from the village worked as cargo handlers at Port Swettenham that was 2.5km from the village, while others planted cash crops and reared pigs.

“Our parents and grandparents were given land where the Workers Institute of Technology is now situated to rear pigs and plant vegetables.

All this is no more. From the 1990s, a number of people turned their houses into seafood restaurants, coffeeshops and even grocery stores but these are also disappearing,” he said.

He said museum authorities should create a miniature model of the Pandamaran Chinese new village in the 1950s, with its barb wire fences and two check points — one at the current Jalan Raja Lumu junction and another in Jalan Polis where the Pandamaran police station once stood.

Reminiscing: Lee (right) having a chat with Yap outside the Nan Tian Gong temple in the village.
Reminiscing: Lee (right) having a chat with Yap outside the Nan Tian Gong temple in the village.

Lee said the contributions of the Australian Peace Corps where six Australian nurses and a Ceylonese doctor, who was killed in a helicopter accident, must be documented.

“Old photographs of the dispensary, which was demolished for a petrol kiosk, must be archived for future generations to appreciate the struggles against the Communist.

“People loved the Ceylonese doctor as he would come and dispense medicine. We must also note that the Malaysian Chinese Association had championed the cause of the Chinese New Village,” he said.

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