A slight figure emerges from the doorway at the sound of our approaching vehicle. We hear his booming welcome even before our car engine dies down.
“Apa khabar semua? Lama tak jumpa!” (How is everyone doing? Long time no see!)
Pak Long walks over to us and shakes each of our hands. Despite being 70 years of age, his grip is still firm.
We met Pak Long while scouting Kampung Teraling on one of our community engagement visits in Pahang. Kampung Teraling is one of the beneficiaries of the Safe Water, Safe Communities project in collaboration with Nestlé Malaysia. He comes from a mixed Chinese-Asli background, has completed his education up to GCE level, and has worked in Singapore for close to 30 years.
Yet, we found him living a simple life in Kampung Teraling where there is no piped water supply and no electricity. We interviewed him to find out more about his life. This is Pak Long’s story.
Growing Up on the Cusp of History
“I was born in 1949 at Kampung Runchang, Pekan, Pahang. My father is a Chinese immigrant who came to Malaya to work. During the Japanese occupation, he fled into the jungle and ended up in Runchang. That’s where he met and married my Asli mother, and where my five siblings and myself was born.”
“When Malaya gained her independence, I had the opportunity to go study. At that time, my father had to leave our family to make a living burning coal near Pulau Tioman. Although I’m the second child but I’m the first son. It fell upon me to help my mother take care of our family, look for food, and forage for forest resources. There were many days when we had to go hungry because we didn’t have food. Life was very hard back then but I still kept studying and we kept surviving.”
“In 1963, my father moved my family to Mersing where we led a new and better life. I continued to attend school and completed my LCE and GCE. When I first entered secondary school, I was selected to be the class leader. After Form 3, I was selected to be Head Prefect of my school. There were other better and smarter students than myself but my teachers placed their trust and confidence in me. I even gave a speech during my graduation.”
“When I was younger I was arrogant and playful. I did many things without thinking of the consequences. As I approached my teens, I found that I changed. I felt compassion and empathy towards others. I couldn’t stand bullies and I would always fight to defend those being bullied.”
“I have my father and mother to thank for that and for the person that I am now. They never raised a hand against me, they gave me freedom, and most importantly, they gave me education. Because of them I had good opportunities come my way and a good path in life. I think of them with fond memories.”
Going Out into the World
“In 1970, I had the chance to go to Singapore to work. I worked as a contractor in the construction field, constructing buildings and such. It was tough at first because the rest of the contractors spoke in Cantonese. I remember during my first week there, one of them asked me to bring him a plank and I brought him nails instead!”
“Little by little, I picked up the language. I mingled and made friends with people from all sorts of backgrounds while working there. Now, I can speak around nine languages; Asli, Malay, English, Mandarin, Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien, and passable Hakka and Hainanese.”
“I worked for eight years as a general worker in carpentry when I finally gained enough experience to study a course in construction. After that, I was promoted to a foreman supervisor and that was my career for the next 20 years. I learned a lot during the 28 years I was in Singapore.”
Chinese with an Asli Heart
“In Singapore, after work I would walk home to my rented room. The only sounds were those of vehicles rumbling past and people chattering. I would lie on my bed and look at the four brick walls until I fell asleep and start the next day all over again.”
“I was bored with that life. It had no meaning. I yearned to find a place for myself where there is tranquility, gentle sloping hills, and a river where I can spend the day fishing. I hoped to find my peace there.”
“I could have applied for Permanent Resident status in Singapore but I did not as I had no attachment to the place and the people there. At 52, I moved back to the outskirts of Johor Bahru for four to five years and I felt happier than I did living in the big city. But still, I felt that something was missing.”
“I continued looking for a place to make my home when I remembered that I still had relatives on my mother’s side living in Muadzam Shah, Pahang. I returned to my roots and after wandering for a while, I finally ended up in this village, Kampung Teraling.”
How to Help the Orang Asli
“I am half-Chinese and half-Asli but thanks to my upbringing and experience, I got to see new places, meet people from various backgrounds, and learn about the world. The Asli people however are far, far behind. Some of them have never even laid eyes on an aeroplane before.”
“There is no way for the Orang Asli to compete with the modern world. If the government truly wants to help us, first of all, give us a way to generate income for ourselves. Allocate land and seeds for us to farm systematically and set up proper channels for us to sell our produce without being taken advantage of.”
“Secondly, help our children to go to school. Help our youths stand on their own two feet and make a living with their own abilities. That’s why I make sure each of my children go to school. No matter the difficulties, I will make sure they complete their studies.”
“Don’t give us PPR houses (low-cost housing by the government). We’re not used to living in brick houses and we would end up building a hut outside to stay or return to our wooden farmhouses.”
“Don’t give us a lump sum of money. We’re not used to having that much at one time and we’ll spend it all at one time on things like cars, motorcycles, cigarettes, and gadgets.
“Give us a livelihood, give us an education. That’s the only way to help the Orang Asli community catch up with the rest of the world.”
It was truly an honour to be able to interview Pak Long and hear his story. He became very lively when talking about the past, eyes dancing with vigour when he recalled the antics of his youth. It gave us a glimpse of the young man that he once was.
His unique heritage and upbringing makes him a truly striking individual. He has a wealth of stories and experiences to share, told from an eye-opening viewpoint of a person who has experienced the ups and downs of life, who is not entirely Chinese nor Asli, who does not chase after material things but longs for peace and the simple things in life.
Pak Long married rather late in life to an Asli woman and they have four children together. He used to go around the neighbouring Orang Asli villages selling food that he cooked himself like fried noodles but he stopped after his car broke down. His health condition also makes it difficult for him to do physical work for long hours at a time.
His wife is the sole breadwinner of their family but she was stricken with illness recently, which left her paralysed on one side of her body and lethargic. She is slowly recovering but the couple have exhausted most of their savings on medical and living expenses.
If you’d like to help Pak Long, his wife, and their four children, please reach out to us. You can also make a donation (monetary / food or household supplies) or start a fundraising campaign for Pak Long’s family.