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STORIES WITH PLENTY OF HEART… AND HISTORY

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STORIES WITH PLENTY OF HEART… AND HISTORY

A review by Liow Moi Lee

Where to start with a collection of stories that is part memoir, part social commentary and part reflection on our history? Perhaps we can start with our community of feisty and energetic senior citizens with a love for writing and a penchant for telling stories. Then, one woman’s vision to create a platform for these stories, capture their essence as a legacy and share them as our collective heritage. This is possibly the first book of its kind in Malaysia. 

‘Our Stories, Our Legacy’ brings together 38 stories of growing up in Malaya/Malaysia of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, three decades of big social and economic changes for our then young nation. With the passage of time, this ‘world’ is fading fast but for the recollections of our senior citizens, the Merdeka generation. Each story in this book, deeply personal and lovingly written with clarity, humour and plenty of heart, is a testament to the power of memories and lessons from rich life experiences. 

From ‘Life During the Japanese Occupation’. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In Pre-Merdeka Years, six stories about the Japanese Occupation, World War II and British rule offer vivid recollections of the horror of war on ordinary families, the impact of foreign rule on life in the kampung, on food shortages, on hiding and escape, on conscription, and later, on organising to fight for independence. A rickety old bridge stirs up fond memories of a child’s daily anxiety and amusement. Till today the remnants of the British colonial period continue to colour the lives of many, in both physical and emotional ways as described in ‘The Hill of Education has no Summit’ and ‘The Polished Rock’. 

School dance competition from ‘Secondary School Years in a Mission School’

The 10 or so years we spend in schools are hugely influential in shaping our young minds and preparing us for our future as adults, whether in the 1960s or today. The eight stories under School Days are full of fun, adolescent energy and innocent charm. From glowing admiration of teachers, forming of lifelong friendship or witty remembrances, parents and teachers’ arsenal of discipline tools and keeping scores, simple games for amusement to the first brush with sexual curiosity and raging hormones, we know it all so well! 

From the story ‘A Weekend Sleepover with Grandma in the 1960s’.

Family Ties are, as expected, where our writers have the most profound recollections. The 11 stories in this category offer glimpses of family life from 1950s to 1970s. The colonial-era shophouse is emblematic of the practicality of merging family life with family livelihood. Appreciative tributes to fathers and mothers who made do with so little, and yet provided a loving memorable environment for their children. The sweet role played by grandparents, the lure of the cinema with mom including shopping and sweets, simple observations of life as a child of a government district official or on a daily trip to buy groceries all recall a world of resilient, resourceful families in those early days of post-1957 nation-building. 

Nowhere is change more rapid and obvious than in the work place (Memories of Work). From the perspective of a young typist/office worker, the ever-increasing array of new and more complex typing and documenting equipment is evidence of the fast pace of change in society, even then. We needed to adapt, and adapt quickly. The nursing profession was, it seems in the 1960s-70s, a popular choice of vocation of female school leavers, especially if it involved a foreign country, usually the UK. But cultural discovery could also be experienced at home as a big-city girl got an eye-opening adventure from a teacher’s posting to a far-off conservative East Coast state.   

From ‘Deepavali Nostalgia’

The nine stories in Fun and Festivities convey the spirit of family togetherness during festivals and holidays, our great obsession with food, and priceless recipes and skills passed on by our mothers . There are cheeky accounts of childhood adventures at the cinema and kids being kids playing with each other. Alas, that cinema in Malacca is now in a sorry state of disrepair while children in 2022 play with tech toys indoors, not hopscotching outside. A trip to a popular park provides gentle flashbacks to a less crowded and more innocent time, while ‘Getting Old’ reminds our Warga Mas that there is life in us still, so stay healthy and enjoy it!  

The images above did not make it into the book, but we remember them well growing up
in the 60s and 70s.

‘Our Stories, Our Legacy’ is thoroughly Malaysian in character and flavour. In every story, on every page, we discern common threads of a shared culture and values system through our upbringing and schooling, family life, sense of humour, love of food, friendships, and even entertainment, amongst many things. Despite our different ethnicities, religions and customs, we are Malaysian at our core. Whether set in Klang, Kuala Lumpur, Teluk Anson or Temerloh and Kota Bharu, the writers’ stories feel like a warm hug or a nice teh tarik on a rainy day.  

A collage of vintage photos that we couldn’t include due to space constraints. They tell of the old days when the pace was slow and leisurely, and there was always time to relax and enjoy life .

For younger readers, perhaps from the later Baby Boomers onwards, this collection of stories is a legacy to you from the Merdeka generation. If you are in your 20s, 30s or even 40s, you may not recognise the world of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, but our senior citizens, growing up then, had fun, with similar hopes and aspirations for their future.  While we all now wrestle with the latest flip-phones, 5G, AI or hybrid work place in a post-Covid world, do take time out to give ‘Our Stories, Our Legacy’ a read. It may make you relax and smile, and you will certainly look at our senior citizens, including your (older) parents and grandparents, with new eyes.       

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What others say about the book

‘This book is a treasure that documents the different webs of life and trajectories of Malay, Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia, culminating in harmonious cohesion, away for life that is truly Malaysian.’ 

‘This is a book I cannot stop reading.’

‘This is indeed a huge contribution, the first of its kind, by a group of seniors to leave behind priceless memories for themselves, their families, the community and future generations to come.’

“I started reading the book which Angeline kindly delivered today. I could not put it down!”

“My mother also read a story from it (about BB Park) and she loved it. So the book is for anyone upwards of our age group and would make great gifts.”

“I recognised so many things mentioned, from collecting autographs to eating shaved ice balls to the description of playing five stones and hopscotch. The best thing is that I can share the book with my children and they will know what growing up was like for me.”

“Can’t wait to read mine. Also thought they would make great gifts. It’s great that all these stories are written down before they’re lost. We have a very different new generation today that doesn’t even know what fountain pens, rotary phones etc are.”

Copies of the book are available for sale at locations in Mont Kiara, Bangsar and Ampang. Please contact Lily for more info. Thank you. 

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