All through that sad heartrending night, blinding bright lightning streaked unrelentingly and violently across the ink dark heaven, followed almost immediately by explosive thunders, guttural and feral. Heaven did indeed wept inconsolably that fateful haunting night. The ferocious storm for dominance of the heaven continued unabated until both were summarily dispelled by the balmy comforting crack of dawn. Finally, a sense relief pervaded a closure to all the sorrow suffered and grief endured.
Japan had surrendered! Japan had capitulated!
In the immediate aftermath, the MPAJA attempted to fill in the power vacuum. They marched into key towns expecting rousing welcome but only to be met with suspicious whispers behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Soon, they realized the futility of their takeover attempt, thwarted unwelcome, they slowly faded back into their jungle sanctuaries to continue their armed struggle for many more years with much bloodshed and anguish.
The British had arrived! The British had returned!
The good old pre-War days were back to Malaya. The days of suspicion and fear, hostility and death, want and hunger were over. Freedom, justice, peace and prosperity had returned.
However, such could not be said for Kai Chang’s country of birth. Hostilities between the Nationalist Kuomintang and Communist China flared up even before the ink dried on the surrender papers. Old enemies were at each other throats since their common enemy was no more. The war time uneasy truce and temporary collaboration against the common enemy quickly turned into a total war of annihilation. The enemy of one’s enemy was no longer bosom friend but bitterest enemy, most fiendish.
Hope of Nationalist victory quickly petered out as early advances soon turned into disorderly routes. Battle fronts fell like dominoes gathering momentum, cascading and culminating into an utter and total rout of the Nationalist from mainland China onto their last bastion of the Island of Formosa, today’s Taiwan. But for the intervention of the US Naval Fleet, Formosa Island would go into the annals of history as the Nationalist Kuomintang’s Alamo, and Republic of China would be still born and Taiwan would never had existed.
Kai Chang followed the news back home tirelessly with a heavy heart. As more and more of his relatives and neighbours migrated south to Nanyang to escape poverty and war, he saw the writings on the wall for the Nationalist and their inevitable defeat. He often wondered how pitch-forked peasants could prevail over such well equipped armies of the Nationalist Kuomintang. He reasoned that it was resolute will power that prevailed against modern powerful weapon. Perhaps, patriotic blood had more steel than soul-less bullets.
His birth country, his familial home and his ancestors’ was no more, all but ravaged and destroyed during the early days of the Japanese Invasion. Kai Chang was grateful that he had brought his two younger brothers and their immediate families before the Invasion, and they had survived the War. Once again he was looked upon to make a decision that will affect all those around him for he was the patriarch of the family.
The decision came surprisingly easy for Kai Chang for he had made Sungai Petani his home away from childhood home, and he was no communist. Further, there were no tangible reasons, no familial ties, to go back to Ling Sen village other than some fading childhood memories and distant relatives. Sungai Petani had provided well for his immediate and extended families. It was time.
In that historic year, 1949, Kai Chang together with every member of his extended families swore new allegiance to the Sultan of Kedah. Kedah was one of the unfederated states during the pre-independent Malaya. They were all Kedahans. All but Kai Chang who passed away in May 1957 would live to becoming Malayan in August the same year and thereafter Malaysian in 1963.
Kai Chang immediately set out to rebuilding his business. The sacks of “Banana” money earned were only useful as fire fodder. He dug deep once again for strength for he needed to provide for his young family and all those around him for the last lap, he knew.
He had aged dreadfully from the tolls of Occupation, eating only leftovers if any after his family. Usually there was none. No more the vigor and vitality, immortality and invincibility of youth. His crown had begun to turn silver rather early, his back hunched from the heavy burden and his forehead creased prematurely from anxious worry. He prayed fervently for enough days to at least see his children grow up for they were still very young, his oldest the author’s father was only 7.
Slowly and surely, Kai Chang ploughed on unremittingly, driven by his love for his family, to rebuild his almost devastated business to bring home enough bacon. The main ingredients, Robusta or Arabica coffee beans and sugar, of his business were scare. He had to add corn for sweetness and bulk when roasting his meager supply of coffee beans, a blending in adversity, out of scarcity, thus creating the uniquely Northern coffee blend, sweet, thick and aromatic. In no time, days of want and despair were a distant fading memory.
With life back to normalcy, Kai Chang was back to his mischief of being the chief match maker for his fellow clansmen and their children in Sungai Petani. His theology was a Foochow must marry another Foochow or celibate. The Foochow bloodline must be kept pure untainted. No other way around and no negotiation would be entertained. He even matched make his adopted daughter to the eldest son of a fellow clansman from nearby town, Guar Chempedak. It was during their wedding when Kai Chang set his eyes upon the youngest daughter of the same clansman, the author’s beloved mother.
She was sweet, petite and shy. Though still very young, Kai Chang saw her strength and endurance, and tenacity and loyalty. He was well pleased. She would be his eldest son’s anchor in life. Someone to tame him for the ear-ring was not working its charm. Well, at least the ear-ring did attract the attention to the hilarity of his future daughter-in-law. It was settled then she would be the one.
Throughout Malaya, there was a political awakening and the cry for independence reverberated in every nook and cranny of the country. Lam Seng became the cacophonic cauldron, over a cup of coffee, of passionate debates, earnest discussions and conspiratorial whispers on the latest political development mingled with market gossips. Exciting times ushering in roaring business. Kai Chang was not complaining despite the exhaustion. He was euphoric.
Pre-Independence Malaya held its first and only General Election on 27 July 1955. Kai Chang voted Tunku Abdul Rahman from the Alliance Party for the Kuala Muda seat. Tunku went on to becoming Malayan first Prime Minister two years later on 31 August 1957 when Malaya was granted Merdeka or Independence. He continued as Prime Minister for Malaysia with the entry of Sabah and Sarawak on 16 September 1963.
Kai Chang’s oldest had finally come of age. His ear-ring charm had long been removed. He had finished his Middle Secondary at St. Theresa’s Secondary School some 3 years ago, and now apprenticing with Kai Chang at Lam Seng. He was ready. Kai Chang remembered the young girl who caught his attention during his adopted daughter’s wedding.
Wedding bells soon tolled. The marriage ceremony was as intricately elaborate, and the celebration was as auspiciously grand, as his some 20 years ago. Kai Chang vividly recalled the pride and joy on his father’s countenance. Now, it was his turn to be proud. All the fellow Foochow, clansmen and friends from surrounding towns turned up. Most were relatives or “Chi Ya Neng”. Food and drinks all around, and the feasting lasted 3 days 3 nights.
He doted on his daughter-in-law affectionately. More so when he found that she was with his first born grandchild, so soon. He mused hopefully and silently muttered his prayers let the baby be a boy, a firstborn grandson to the Ong family, to continue the family line. He was smiling contentedly to himself not just from the day’s takings for his prayers were most assuredly heard.
It was almost midnight after a busy day that Friday night. Kai Chang looked at the calendar on the wall beside the clock. He would tear off the number 17 first thing tomorrow morning. He rubbed his tired eyes. He felt a bit exhausted. May be a catnap then finish up his ledger before retiring to his bed. He sat back, closed his eyes for the short rest. His right palm was still resting on his old faithful abacus. There was no pain or anguish, just peace and contentment, and Kai Chang went into the night.
There was wailing, much wailing, on the next morn.