July 7 was D-Day for the Bintangkian Lau Peng Yu Reunion. Though I went to bed at almost 1.30 am, I was wide awake by about 6.30 am, after about 5 hours of sleep. As it was still early, I read “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” for about 15 minutes before taking a quick shower.
At about 7.15 am, I was out on the streets in Bintangor. I met my ex-teacher Jay She who was doing his round of morning walk (he seems to be an exercise freak now, haha!) and we walked together for a few minutes before going to the coffeeshop at No.13 Wharf Road for breakfast. Lily Chan and her hubby also joined us when they passed by the coffeeshop.
We made our way back to the hotel just before 9.00am as the longhouse trip was scheduled to start at 9.30am. There were already quite a lot of ex-Kai Chungians waiting for the bus outside the hotel entrance.
Our bus started the journey to Rumah Panjang Lubok Putan quite punctually. It was a short ride and we were at the longhouse within a few minutes. We were welcomed outside the longhouse by some of the longhouse folks, including two Iban beauties dressed in traditional Iban attire. The two beauties were like celebrities with so many of us clamouring to have photos taken with them.
Walking on the narrow wooden walkways leading to the longhouse was not much of a problem for most of us but for those who were wearing high-heels, it posed a little challenge as they needed to walk cautiously. Falling off the pathway into the dirty water is not an experience anyone would fancy.
Upon entering the longhouse, a team of Iban women welcomed us with servings of ‘tuak’ (rice wine). Luckily the glass contained only a little bit of wine, enough just for one sip. But we were each offerred a glass by a few of the Iban women. Not wanting to offend them, I did finish the wine offered to me. But there were some who turned down the wine offered to them as they were a bit apprehensive about using the unwashed glasses that had already been used by others before them.
Iban music performed by Iban women on gongs permeated the longhouse, giving it a festive mood. As we moved around inside the longhouse, we could see Iban kids, some antiques and a real human skull from the old headhunting days. Many of us were armed with cameras so we went clicking away, taking lots of photos.
Then the longhouse folks performed a miring ceremony. It was an eye opener for some of us, especially those from overseas. Although it is not a ritual completely unique to the Ibans, the ‘miring’ ceremony is nonetheless the epitome of Iban tradition. It is a ritual that is in the ‘blood and bones’ of the people.
A miring ceremony is an elaborate and very often colourful and noisy ceremony performed to appease the ‘petara’ (gods), spirits and ancestors and to ask for prosperity, good health and other blessings from them. Depending on the significance of the ceremony, it could be attended by just a few people of a family and their close relatives to several thousand people involving several communities. Grand Miring ceremonies are performed during the Gawai Dayak (Iban Harvest Festival), Gawai Antu ( festival to remember the dead) and in modern times, the welcoming of important guests (like us, haha!).
The rooster plays an important role in the ceremony. After two or more village elders or the guests of honor have chanted poems of good omen, the rooster is passed above the food and drink or other offerings in a circular motion several times. The cockscomb is cut slightly to obtain its blood as offering to the gods and spirits. The rooster may be killed for the cooking pot or will be freed. In this particular ceremony that we witnessed, I think they did not kill the rooster. I saw it on the longhouse veranda with blood dripping from its cockscomb. You can imagine how painful it must have been for the rooster. It was a pitiful sight!
After the miring ceremony, it was time for dancing ‘ngajat’.The origin of this indigenous dance is not clearly known but it is believed to have been in existence along with the Iban tribe since the 16th Century. The Ngajat dance is believed to have been performed by warriors on their return from battles. This dance is now performed to celebrate the most important harvest festival called ‘Gawai’, to welcome important guests (like us, lol!) to the longhouses and so on.
Upon invitation, a few of us (but not me) joined in the ngajat. It was fun watching them and many of the longhouse folks were in hysterics at the antics of the visitors.
We were then invited to feast on the Iban food that had been prepared for us. I only took a roll of the bamboo rice as I did not have much appetite.
Time passes by so quickly when you are having fun. It was soon time for us to say goodbye to the longhouse folks.
Our river cruise was scheduled for 12.30pm and we made it to the wharf well in time. The motor launch Sin Hua Ming (its name in Chinese was Sin Hai Ching) is a very old boat built in the 1950s. In the 1950s to 1960s, it plied between Bintangor and Sibu, carrying not only goods but also passengers. It was the main mode of transport in those days before the advent of express boats. If I am not mistaken, a trip from Bintangor to Sibu took about 2.5 hours.
Only about a handful of us joined the river cruise. The old boat chugged along the Rejang River, giving us a good view of Bintangor town and its outskirts. The half hour cruise gave us more opportunities for photo taking.
I hurried back to the hotel as the Kai Chung School Tour was scheduled for 2.30 pm. I needed a bathe and a rest as it had been a very hot and tiring morning.
My eldest brother Chin Tian had already checked in to the hotel with my sisiter-in-law Christina and my nephew Terrence. They had travelled from Miri to Bintulu where they spent a night before continuing the journey to Bintangor. I went with them in their car to SM Kai Chung instead of using the bus.
Seeing the Kai Chung school gate evoked a lot of nostalgia. After passing through this gate to enter the school compound, we were welcomed by the school bands. We felt like we were VIPS, haha!
The school has undergone tremendous changes since my Kai Chung days. There are now many new classroom blocks and the school compound looks very well-maintained and tidy. Kudos to the school!
We were led to a packed briefing conducted by Ting Pang Keng, the principal of the school. Pang Keng was one year my junior at Kai Chung. It is good to see him at the helm of the school. If the school compound is indicative of Pang Keng’s overall performance, he is doing a fine job at Kai Chung.
After the briefing, we visited the computer centre and the library. The computer centre, set up with contributions by the ex-students association, has about 20 computers.
I was surprised by the limited number of books in the library. If I am not mistaken, I think there are fewer books in the library compared to my days at Kai Chung but I could be wrong.
After the visit to the library, we were entertained to a wushu demonstration and a Malay dance performed by some students.
The school had prepared food and refreshments for us. There were quite a lot of local delicacies including ‘kueh’, Bintangor oranges, curry puffs, cakes, the famous Bintangor rojak and many other items.
It was then time to say goodbye to the school. We walked back to the cars parked outside the school gate. It was later that night that I heard that Thomas Wong’s car parked outside the school gate had been broken into and a bag on the car seat containing a camera and many other items had been stolen. I guess Thomas must have thought that it was safe to leave his bag in the car in a small town like Bintangtor.
Returning to my hotel room after the Kai Chung trip, I took a hurried shower before making my way to Kim Hock Lin Restaurant where the reunion dinner was going to be held. Registration started at about 5.30om and by about 6.00pm, the registration area was beginning to get congested. Upon entering the restaurant, we were asked to sign the reunion card.
After registering, we were each given a souvenir pack comprising of a small recycle bag, a Kai Chung reunion VCD , a small towel with the reunion logo and a programme sheet for the night.
Standing at the registration area, I was able to take photos of people arriving. It was really gratifying to meet schoolmates and teachers whom I have not seen for over 30 years. Moments like these make life so meaningful. I am particularly delighted to meet my ex-teachers Mdm Lai, Mr Ning, Mr She and Mr Hwang. I gave Mdm Lai a small token of appreciation, telling her that it was just a book. She asked me whether the book was written by me. That is a good one, Mdm Lai! No, it was Chicken Soup For The Soul : Stories of Faith.
The dinner was scheduled to begin at 7.30pm so it gave us ample opportunities to mingle with our “lau peng yu” (old friends). I could see people gathering around in groups, happily catching up with old friends and trading stories and maybe gossips too, haha!
Emcee for the night, Benson Chew, got the ball rolling by welcoming everyone to the reunion. A group of Bintangkians then presented a song called “From Bintangor With Love.”
A video depicting bits and pieces of Kai Chung and its ex-students and teachers was shown, bringing back sweet memories of our Kai Chung days. Francis Chen has uploaded the video to Facebook and you can watch it here.
Francis Chen took to the stage to acknowledge the sponsors and all those who had helped with the reunion. He touched on the reunion theme “We Love Our Hometown, We love Kai Chung” and explained the meaning of the tree and leaves depicted on the backdrop banner. The leaves represent all ex-Kai Chung students and the tree represents Kai Chung. The reunion witnessed the return of so many ex-students because of their love for Kai Chung.
The six members of the reunion organising committee were invited to the stage and given a warm applause for their splendid efforts in bringing the reunion into fruition. I wish to once again express my heartfelt thanks to Francis Chen, Ivy Lee, Lee Kie Chiong, Benson Chew, Jenny Chew and Magdelene Chew-Chia for the most unforgetable reunion. Thank you Benson for your jokes that had many of us laughing heartily.
Tokens of appreciation were then presented to the sponsors for the reunion: Nicholas Ling Kie King, Sia Sung Leong and Ivan Lu Su Chiu.
Gifts were given to ex-teachers, ex-principal and the current principal in appreciation for gracing the ocassion.
After the gift presentation, it was time for the reunion buffet dinner. The sumptuous dishes included braised seacucumber with shark’s fin (红烧海参鱼翅)， baked big prawns (闷烧大头虾)，foochow fried mee (福州炒面 )， Mani-chai with fried eggs (马尼菜炒蛋), butter pork spareribs (奶油排骨王)， mixed Sweet corns with century eggs ( 金玉米弄皮蛋)， steamed fresh Tapah with spicy sauce (酱蒸鲜打巴鱼)，steamed dumplings (玉皮烧卖)，and Kim Hock Lin fried Donfen/vermicelli (金福临炒冬粉 ).
While we were enjoying our dinner, a Chinese orchestra entertained us with their music. What more could you ask for?
As it was a buffet dinner, we mingled around and chatted with “lau peng yu”, including two old and very sporting “lau peng you”. It was such a fun dinner!
There was a lot of photo taking. Luckily we now live in the age of digital cameras or else we would have spent a small fortune on films.
There were so many lucky draws but I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Ling Liung Ong (the one who initially thought I was the son of Ung Wen Kwong on my first night in Bintangor) was one of the lucky winners. The 50/50 ticket winner was none other than my ex-classmate Annie Tiong.
During the course of the night, the principal of SM Kai Chung and some alumni members made their way around the restaurant, collecting donations and pledges for building a multi-purpose stadium. At the final moments of the reunion dinner, it was announced that total collections was an incredible RM200,000 which included the pledge of RM100,000 by Ling Kie King, the Kai Chung Alumni president. Great job, ex-Kai Chungians!
As we made our way out of the restaurant, we were given a small box of New Zealand chocolate courtesy of the Chew family.
We the proceeded to the Bintangor Basketball Court just opposite the restaurant for a short photo taking session. Many had already left, so instead of the 260 or so headcount earlier, we were left with less than 100 of us for the group photo session.
The final activity for the night was the wish-lanterns releasing ceremony. In the field near the basketball court, teams of people started to inflate their balloons with burning candles. When enough hot air from the candles had provided sufficient bouyancy to the ballons, they were released. Off into the night sky they flew. This was my first experience to witness the release of such balloons. With so many lighted balloons ascending into the dark sky, some unknowing people might think that UFOS were flying over Bintangor.
It was almost midnight when I returned to my hotel. I was dead tired but very happy. What a memorable day it had been!
P/S. A million thanks to Francis Chen for his clarification on certain facts about the reunion dinner. Without his help, I would have been unable to complete this blog post. By the way, this blog post has become my longest blog post and also my blog post with the most photos.