Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cultural Beliefs.

                            The Chan Family 1970 January

The capsize of the recent Kawan Mas express boat in the upper Rejang River reminded me of another, almost 40 years ago. This one at the mouth of the Rejang River.

In the December of 1973, an overloaded ship Pulau Kijang from Kuching to Sibu sank at the mouth of Rejang River. It was at the height of the torrential monsoon. A few hundred people drowned, there were few survivals. Most of the people were from Sarikei. 

While there was no one we personally knew who were affected by the drowning, the Chans were involved in the aftermath of it.

Father was in the committee for the Pulau Kijang Ship disaster. Mother was a “volunteer” as the wife of a senior officer. She was to accompany relatives to identify the dead.

They set up a temporary morgue. It was next to where Father was staying. Mother said, she could smell the terrible stench every time they passed by the building.

The bodies were bloated, there were many missing parts. He had to comfort grieving relatives. He accompanied the Chief Minister, Datuk Tan Sri Yakkub. The CM cried, Father and Mother were sure those were real tears. Mother said she could not eat for days after seeing the drowned, body parts and their grieving relatives. 

Mother told us that people believed that when a blood relative went to identify a body part, the part would bleed, but a non blood relative will not, even if they were a spousal relation. 

She did not know how true it was, but she did not poo poo them. It was gut wrenching to see relatives going from one part to another. Mother respected this, and matter how much Mother wanted them to rush through, she just stood by letting them cry out their loved ones name, and then in disappointment, move to another body part. They didn’t want their relatives to be homeless ghosts.

A 3rd Chan was involved. In 1977, my oldest brother Charles returned from New Zealand to work for the law firm that represented the ship owners.

We were all involved indirectly. Father moved to a class 2 senior servant quarter at Repok Road. The immediate previous occupant was the pilot who was supposed to drive the ship safely into the river. Some people asked us if we dared to stay in the house. People say the ghosts of the victims might come and haunt us.

Cultural beliefs are very sensitive issues. There is no right or wrong. I am an ESOL teacher, I am trained to respect another's culture. In New Zealand, I have seen where there are drowning at the beach, people come and leave flowers. 


  1. I got to your blog through Sarakiana's blog after googling my father's name. My father is Chew Chiong Tack. Yes, he was your father's good friend. He even remembered your father's black eye from football injury. My parents are now staying with us in Kuching. They are both 90 and have fond memories of the good old days.
    Paul Chew