A far cry from the hard life of yesteryear


  • Focus
  • Tuesday, 07 Feb 2017

The main entrance to Kampung Baru Machap Baru.

HER world pretty much revolves around the place where she was born. Lai Kok Lian, 62, has been living in Kampung Baru Machap Baru in Malacca all the while.

“This place is convenient and security is good,” she said when met at her house.

Kok Lian and her 68-year-old husband, Cho Lian Heng sell noodles at the porch of her house three days a week.

Because of poverty, Kok Lian, the eldest of eight siblings, had to stop school after Standard Four.

She said she remained at home to do household chores, including helping her mother who was a washer woman to supplement the family income. Her father was a tailor.

Her mother, she added, was a good cook and later opened an economy rice stall at the village coffeeshop.

“I was helping her since young.

Certain roads in Kampung Baru Machap Baru are turned into open-air dining areas for street food on Friday, Saturday and Sunday since more than a year ago.
Certain roads in Kampung Baru Machap Baru are turned into open-air dining areas for street food on Friday, Saturday and Sunday since more than a year ago.

“She even asked me to take care of the family house after she died,” Kok Lian said as she recalled her close relationship with her mother who passed away in 1995.

While life was hard in her younger days, Kok Lian had no complaints, saying she felt blessed to have a place called home in the village.

“Life is the same. We know our neighbours.

“There is no need to lock our doors during the day,” said Kok Lian, who spends her free time watching television.

Another villager who wanted to be known as Madam Kong said she loved life in the village which was actually her husband’s home.

Kok Lian and her husband Cho (right) sell noodles at the porch of her house three days a week..
Kok Lian and her husband Cho (right) sell noodles at the porch of her house three days a week.

Kong, 52, from Limbang, Sarawak, met her husband while they were working in Brunei.

“We shifted to the village 18 years ago for our children’s education,” she said, adding that she did not take long to adjust to life in the village because the people were warm, friendly and helpful.

The couple have three children who are in their 20s. Two of them have graduated while the youngest is still in university.

At 65, Datuk Lai Meng Chong remembers vividly how his extended family of over 30 people lived in their village house.

The British had sent the Chinese villagers from nearby areas to Kampung Baru Machap Baru at the start of the Emergency in 1948.

He said it was MCA who helped to rebuild their house which was just an attap shack in 1952.

“The rebuilding cost 4,000 Malayan dollars and this was a lot of money those days.

“At that time villagers earned two or three dollars a day and jobs were very hard to come by,” he said.

Kong (right) selling cookies in front of her house in Kampung Baru Machap Baru. On her left is her neighbours daughter.
Kong (right) selling cookies in front of her house in Kampung Baru Machap Baru. On her left is her neighbour's daughter.

Many other families also got help from the MCA, he said, adding that villagers who endured abject poverty received a lot of help from the party then.

“The families were poor with most of them either rubber tappers or vegetable farmers,” he said.

Life was tough for almost every family, he recalled.

Meng Chong was among five out of 38 pupils who passed the Standard Six examination in 1963.

“My parents were too poor to send me to Malacca High School which is about 30km from our village.

“I am thankful that a relative came to our aid.

“I cycled to school daily. I left my home at 5.30am to arrive at school about 7.30am,” said Lai.

Meng Chong was a rubber tapper for two years after completing Form Five.

He then worked as a clerk in a sawmill while studying Form Six part-time.

He joined the MCA in 1973 and later worked for former Human Resources Minister Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan On from 1990.

Meng Chong contested and won the Machap state seat by-election in 2007 following the death of its incumbent Datuk Poh Ah Tiam.

He retained the seat in the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

Meng Chong moved to Kampung Baru Machap Baru when he was nine years old.
Meng Chong said MCA helped villagers rebuild their attap shacks.

Meng Chong and Kok Lian are siblings.

Fast track to the present, he said the standard of living for the villagers had improved a lot.

Meng Chong said there were about 300 houses in the village in 1952 and at last count there were around 700 units with development at the surrounding areas.

He said there were also eight temples and one church in the village.

The village facade is currently a blend of new or rebuilt houses and old wooden houses co-existing side-by-side – a testimony to the improved socio-economic status of the villagers.

Their hardwork, perseverance and priority for education and also better learning opportunities saw many sending their children for tertiary education.

While some villagers are rubber and oil palm smallholders, Meng Chong said there were those from the second and third generations who became businessmen, professionals and teachers.

The new village also gained popularity a year ago after its project, Machap Walk appeared in social media.

The project where hawkers and petty traders lined the main roads in the village selling local delicacies and goods every Friday, Saturday and Sunday attracted visitors including foreign tourists to the village.

Tang Kok Meng, 48, and his 46-year-old wife Lin Kim Kiak who sell oh chien (fried oysters) at Machap Walk were all praises for the project.

“The project’s concept is very good. It gave us a chance to enjoy better business,” he said of Machap Walk which is the brainchild of Meng Chong.

The couple, with the help of their three teenage sons also sell oh chien in night markets around Malacca.

Loh Kok Sae, 51, who sells traditional Chinese biscuits said he was glad that he got a chance to do business in Machap Walk.

He and his wife Ee Chiew Por, 47, make the biscuits at home to keep costs low and sell them at affordable prices to keep his business afloat.

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