To join the Bintangkian Lau Peng Yu Reunion, I applied for 2 days ‘ leave from my company. I flew by MASWings from Miri to Sibu at 8.35 am on July 6 but due to oversight during my online booking, I had to transit in Bintulu and only reached Sibu at about 10 am. I wish to express my sincere thanks to my Form One form teacher Mdm Constance Yii for being so kind as to fetch me from the airport and bring me to her house where I met her husband Mr Ngui. We then had a quick lunch at a coffeeshop near her house before Mdm Yii again kindly sent me to the bus station for my journey to Bintangor.
It was about 12.20pm when I reached the bus terminal. As the bus was scheduled to leave for Bintangor at 1.00pm, I went for a walk around the vicinity of the bus station, snapping quite a lot of photos.
The hour long journey passed by quickly and I was soon in Bintangor. As the bus approached the town, I was overwhelmed by nostalgia when I saw St Augustine’s Primary School and SM Kai Chung.
After alighting from the bus in front of Heng Chiong Bookstore along Wharf Road, I made my way to Ming Kiong Hotel. From the back side and the right side of the ground floor of the hotel building, it looked a bit like an abandoned building and I had to walk round the building to find the main entrance to the hotel lobby.
After checking in, I made my way to the lift. The elevator door opened only partially so I went to the check-in counter to complain to the only girl on duty there. She told me to push the elevator door but by the time I was back at the elevator, its door had closed and would not open though I pressed the elevator button many times. As my room was on the second floor, I decided to use the stairs as I reckoned it would be safer to use the stairs. I had no wish of spending hours trapped in the elevator in case it malfunctioned.
Stepping into the room that I had been given, I was surprised to see its spaciousness. On first impression, I thought the room looked impressive. But upon closer examination of the room, my opinion soon changed drastically. I could see paint peeling off one of the walls. I saw two towels on the table so I decided to have a quick wash up but when I touched the two towels, I could feel that they were still a bit damp in some parts. I did not dare to use them so I unpacked my own towel from my backpack.
Stepping into the washroom, I could see that it had not been properly maintained. There was a used small towel on the floor and the toilet cover was on the floor too. There was only a used soap in the bathroom. The service and the cleanliness leave much to be desired. It is a clear sign that the hotel business is real bad.
After a quick shower, I made a tour around the town. I headed first towards my late dad’s shop along Wharf Road. I did not see the Min Hing towkay who is renting the shop so I made my way to the Rejang River bank. The river aroused a lot of nostalgia, making me recall my younger days swimming in the river as well as catching small fishes to bring home as pets. It was low tide and I could see many mud skippers. I remember trying without success to shoot these mud skippers with a catapult when I was a kid.
I used my camera zoom to take photos of Sungai Siang, the village across the river where some of my ex-schoolmates used to stay. In my secondary school days, I remembered delivering tins of kerosene to the Sg Siang ferry for my late dad’s customers. My dad operated a business selling kerosene, fishing accessories, outboard engine spare parts, sports items, decorative items and sundries like toothpaste, tooth brush, hair creams, talcum powder, threads, needles and so forth.
The old Borneo Company building looks abandoned now. It was a place where I used to play hide and seek with my friends when I was a kid so the rundown place still managed to stir up sweet memories. The government quarters near the Borneo Company building built during the colonial days also evoked some good memories.
I next made my way to the Binatang District Council building. It still looked the same as in the old days. In my secondary school days, I spent a lot of evenings reading the Straits Time at the library located on the top floor of the building.
The post office building was a favourite of mine. I used to have pen pals overseas so I made daily trips to the post office in anticipation of letters from my pals. There was one occasion when I received a letter from my pen pal in New Zealand. She had sent some timber chips as a gift. Imagine my shock when I found that the flap of the envelope was still wet with gum. Some dishonest staff at the post office had apparently opened the letter thinking that there might be something of value inside.
After leaving the post office, I just wandered around the town taking random shots with my camera. I wanted to capture scenes of Bintangor for memory’s sake as I don’t know when I will visit Bintangor again.
Around 4.30pm, I met up with ex-classmates William Ngu and Thomas Ling at Good Companion Bookstore owned by William Ngu’s brother Pemancha Ngu Ming Kiong. William has been living in Halifax, Canada for more than 30 years. It was nice meeting him and his wife Angie and their two lovely daughters. I have met Angie once in Halifax just before I returned to Malaysia after completing my Bachelor of Commerce 32 years ago but this was the first time I have ever met William’s daughters. Thomas Ling has been based in Limbang for decades but I have met many times after our Form Six at Kolej Tun Datuk Tuanku Bujang in Miri. He and I were among the shortest guys in secondary school but his height suddenly shot up when he was in Form Six. He now towers above most of our ex-classmates.
It was about 5.30pm when I went back to the hotel. As I arrived at the hotel lobby, I met Mr Jay She who had just arrived from Bintulu and Ung Wen Kwong, one year my senior at Kai Chung. Mr She proceeded to check in and went to his room but I chatted with Wen Kwong for quite a while. We decided that we would go for dinner together that evening.
At about 7.30pm, I contacted Wen Kwong for our dinner appointment before calling Francis Chen to recommend a good restaurant. Francis dropped by our hotel to pick us and drive us to Sia Villa on the outskirts of Bintangor where a lot of the reunion participants had gathered. There was lots of yummy food and we had a fantastic time catching up with a lot of “lau peng yu”.
My good friend Dominic Ha and his wife Catherine Lo called me a few times to ask me to join them in a coffeeshop in town where another group of “lau peng yu” had gathered. As I did not have my own transport, I had to wait till about 10.30pm before someone sent me, Wen Kwong and his wife to the coffeeshop in town.
I had a huge kick when we arrived at the coffeeshop. Ling Liung Ong approached us when we got off the car. We shook hands and he said I must be Wen Kwong’s son! That had me in stitches. On hindsight now, I should have pulled Liung Ong’s legs by turning to Wen Kwong who was behind me and called him “dad”……that would have been hilarious!
Dominic Ha, Catherine Lo, Ting Pang Chuong, Ting Pang Keng, Tiong Leh Chee, Pemancha Ngu Ming Kiong, Lee Kie Chiong, Liung Ong and his girlfriend, Lily Chan and her hubby and a few others whose names I do not know were at the coffeeshop. We chatted till about 11.30pm before we dispersed.
After returning to my hotel room, I took another shower before I spent an hour or so reading “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” by Stieg Larsson, a most engrossing crime thriller. When my eyes got drowsy, I reluctantly put aside my book. What a fantastic day it had been! And I looked forward to the next day, the day of the reunion!