It was towards the third quarter of 1980 when I was offered a job as audit senior with Lau Hoi Chew & Co. in Sibu after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in Accountancy) from Canada. I had returned from Canada in early August and had been staying with my second brother and my mum in Kuching. So within a month or so after my return from Canada, I once again packed my bags and left for Sibu.
In Sibu, I put up with my uncle Lim Poh Chiang and my aunty who were staying in Hua Kiew Road. They had a son and two daughters but all of the three children were overseas. My uncle and aunty operated Longhouse Arts & Crafts, a very successful handicraft and antique shop located at High Street, Sibu. My uncle had a general love for art and crafts. Starting the handicraft business was a logical extension of his love for arts and crafts. It has been said that if you love what you are doing, everything would fall into place.
From young, I did not see much of my uncle and aunty as I stayed in Binatang while they stayed in Sibu. I remember seeing my uncle every year during Ching Ming festival when he would travel from Sibu to Binatang by express boat. He would then go to our ancestors’ graveyards with a parang to clear off the weeds near the tombs. In some years, I accompanied him to the tombs.
Honestly I used to be a bit scared of my uncle because he seemed to be quite a strict person and not one whom you could joke around with.
It was only when I stayed with my uncle and my aunty that I really got to know them better. I could sense their feelings of loneliness. My aunty used to tell me then that I should have more children when I got married so that I would have at least some children with me when I grew old. At that time, I thought my aunty was right but I did not follow her advice when I got married. I just felt that it would be too heavy a financial burden to raise a big family. On hindsight now, I think my aunty may be wrong as I know another Binatang woman who has seven children and all her children are now overseas too. That woman is now staying in Binatang or rather Bintangor (the current name for the town) with her brother.
My uncle and aunty were hardworking people. I remember on almost every Sunday, they would polish a lot of their wooden handicrafts with black shoe polish. I helped out in ways that I could. It felt good to be able to do something for them. My only regret is that I never really tried to learn about the handicraft and antique business from them. Had I learned the tricks and skills of that business, it could have proven to be financially rewarding for me now in my Ebay business.
When there were good movies showing, I used to accompany my uncle and my aunty to watch them. They would make comments on the movies on the way home. My aunty was often critical of the pop songs then, saying that they were often laden with meaningless lyrics. She often told me that my mum could sing very well when she was young. That really came as a big surprise to me as I have never really heard my mum singing at all.
They had good moral values and placed emphasis of having healthy food. My aunty did not use Ajinomoto in her cooking so initially I was a bit unused to it.
My uncle was an avid orchid enthusiast. He had a wide variety of orchids in his garden and he tended to them with loving care. When the orchids bloomed, it was a sight to behold.
My uncle’s general love for art extended to photography when he was in his mid-twenties. He became a very well-known photographer, often sitting on the panel of judges for photo competition in Sarawak in those days. Because of his interest in the indigenous people of Sarawak, he travelled deep into jungles sometimes through dangerous terrains to capture priceless images of these people. He even travelled to the most remote interior to photograph the Penans. He realized that these indigenous cultures were on the threshold of change and may be lost in time to come. His photos have helped to preserve a pictorial record of their cultures, capturing the natural rhythm of the daily life in the longhouses, the attractive qualities of the indigenous people and the tenor of their cultural world. He hoped that his photographs would pay tribute to the magnanimity and the grace of the indigenous people of Sarawak.
In the Fifth International Photographic Exhibition held in Sydney in 1962, Sarawak competitors were successful in having their work chosen for display. They enjoyed a record number of acceptances for the exhibition. ”Bathing the Baby” by my uncle was one of the most appealing human interest pictures that marked the display.
In 1988, with the encouragement of my aunty and their daughters Ling Mei and Bea Fung, my uncle published his photos in a book entitled “Among The Dayaks”. The book is a pictorial account of life as it once was in the jungles of Sarawak. Now, as the jungle and the culture of its indigenous peoples are fast disappearing, these stunning black and white photographs taken in the 1950s and ’60s reveal with great poignancy a way of life that is all but gone. There is really no substitute for the honesty and integrity of the images in the book. Below are a sample of the photos from the book. I truly think the 110 plus photos in the book are priceless.
My uncle passed away a few years ago in Australia where my aunty now resides.
Looking at the life of my uncle yields valuable lessons: Our life is too short for regrets. Pursue your heart’s desires and dreams. Life is meant to be lived. Do what you love. Take time off to smell the roses. Just do it!