Learn from the past

  • Nation
  • Friday, 20 May 2005

THE youngsters must be taught about the hardship and sufferings of the past so that they will appreciate what they enjoy today. 

That is the view of octogenarian Tan Siew Eng, who has lived through the brutality of the Second World War and the hardship during British rule. 

She struggled through poverty and deprivation from the pre-war years to the post-war era, making ends meet with her bare hands. 

A farmer at the tender age of 13, she later worked as a maid before moving on to washing dishes and cooking in coffee shops. 

Tan, 84, is the grand old lady of the Miri Home for the Aged, the longest-staying resident at the home, located on the outskirts of the city. 

Speaking in Hokkien and beaming a toothless grin, this elderly Teochew was a picture of contentment even as she spoke about the hardships she underwent during the difficult days before Independence. 

Tan: Life is now so good. Everything is nice and easy.

She has seen Miri's transformation and thinks the younger generation of today are “extremely lucky” and blessed. 

“Young people now don’t know what it is like during those days. Today, life in Miri is so good. Everything is nice and easy. These young people should be very grateful for the things they enjoy today. 

“Those days were tough. I started farming when I was 13 years old. I helped my parents to plough the land and plant vegetable on our farm in Bintulu. Whatever we can plant, we eat. Not enough to sell sometimes,” she said. 

And when she was 17 years old, the Japanese came.  

“They were very cruel. I once saw a group of Japanese soldiers dragged a man into the streets, tied him up to a pole and beat him viciously with all kinds of weapons. 

“I ran away as fast as I can. I don’t know what happened to the man or why they were beating him up like that,” she said. 

She recalled that her family worked hard on their land, tending to the farm animals and vegetable plots, and tried to avoid the Japanese as far as possible. 

After surviving the war and the Japanese Occupation, she went to work in Kuching and Brunei as a maid and in coffee shops.  

Tan, who is single, finally came to the home here 17 years ago on the advice of friends who saw her living alone. 

“This home is a good place. We are well taken care of,” she observed.  

And, she added, Miri was also a good place to live in.  

“You can find all kinds of things here now. The only thing you need is money, but you can see young people today with everything – handphones, money, cars and computers. Their papas and mamas buy the things for them.  

“These youngsters must be educated about the past history, those difficult eras. They must respect their elders more and obey their parents and teachers,” she stressed. 

According to Tan, young people ought to look for challenges in life, like taking up part-time jobs during the school holidays as well as learning skills like cooking and doing chores so that they can learn greater discipline. 

This old lady does not seem to comprehend what gaining city status means for Miri and she is not bothered about it.  

She has no plans to go out to join in the celebrations because it will be too noisy and the streets too crowded. Moreover, she is afraid of all those very fast cars.  

Tan is content to spend Miri City Day and the days to come cooking her favourite vegetables and enjoying the late afternoon breeze in the garden.  


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