Our first car was a Fiat, and the license plate was S899. S stood for Sibu, and 899 meant it was the 899th car in Sibu. Margaret liked the number so much that for one of her cars, she bid for the same number. To the Chinese, 8 sounded like prosperous, 9 sounded like forever. 899 sounded prosperous forever and ever. Was that a good omen? We did not prosper financially, but we prospered in other aspects. The nine children who rode in the car have college or university degrees. Two have PhDs. Not many people could beat that.
We loved that car; it was a Fiat 1100 and had two tones in colour. The front seat was one entire seat across, not buckets ones like today’s cars. It suited us fine as there were so many children. On Saturdays, everyone except Mother would wash the car. Father was particular with the fabric we used. Old singlets were best as they did not scratch or leave behind any lint. We polished till it shone. We were happy washing because we were proud to be the only family in the neighbourhood to have a car.
That car was the only car I washed enthusiastically. The subsequent cars, and my own cars, I never wash or care to wash. If I washed, I told my husband, I would wash them reluctantly. I only washed my first car.
With the car, it meant we had wheels. We went for short rides and we went for long rides. The airport was a favourite destination, Maybe, we all thought so nostalgic of when Father went and came back from London. We saw planes landing and taking off, there was no aerobridge then and we actually saw people going into the plane. (In 2004, we all went to Sibu for a reunion celebrating Father’s 81st birthday, when the rest of the entourage went by Boeing 707, and used the aerobridge, Henry and his family flew Fokker Friendship, so his children can experience the feeling of going into the aeroplane.)
We went into the nearly constructed Oya Road to the vast hinterland of Sibu, and had picnics, waddled in a beautiful lake and climbed the mountains. We now drove to Grandfather’s Chan and Kong’s house. It was no longer hours of noisy and smelly petrol travel by motor launch.
We drove up to Grandfather Kong’s house the day before the grand crossing so that we would be the first cars to be transported in such a big boat that carried cars. We were fascinated by the ferry at Durin near to Grandfather Kong’s house. We were so happy to be among her first passengers during her maiden crossing. We had to get off the cars when we were crossing the river.
Once, a car failed to board the ferry properly and it fell into the river. In a matter of minutes, the whole family drowned. If I were in Sarawak, I would be the first in line to use the ferry on her swan song crossing in 21st October 2006. It was after all, so much part of my heritage.
899 About our picnic sessions with sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and fruits in picnic basket in Oya Road, we all crammed into the S899 - We went during the weekends and had so many photographs taken. People said we were so angmoh-sai (Anglophile) We bought the number 899 for our Honda car and Father had nostalgic feeling towards that Honda. That is why we are still keeping that car. He had his secret number to his James Bond briefcase as 899. All our suitcases also followed that number *** Margaret