A short drive out of town led us to a minor road on the left side of the main road to Taiping. This was Andersen Road in the 1950s but now has been renamed Jalan Matang Buluh. This particular area of Bagan Serai had always been referred to by the local residents as Matang Buluh, probably due to the growth of many types of bamboo (buluh) plants there, including the bamboo hedges around many government quarters. The narrow road was however named Andersen Road by the British authorities then. This road stretches for a few hundred metres from the main road to the irrigation canal just after the English school at the other end.
Most of the houses along Andersen Road then were government quarters, except for a few private houses. On the left side the first house was the house of the British engineer. Then there was the house of a Malay schoolteacher. There were then a few more government quarters before the school, then named the Government English School, Bagan Serai. On the right side of Andersen Road the first building was the ‘Sekolah Cawangan’ or a branch of the Malay School in the town centre. Then there was the ‘Balai Penghulu”, a government office. My late father worked here. A few buildings down the road was house number 313, Andersen Road. This was one of the many Government quarters along the road. My family temporarily occupied this house from 1949 to 1960 when my father served as Assistant Penghulu for Bagan Serai. Further on there were a few private houses until the irrigation canal. The school then was only on the left side of Andersen Road.
The British Engineer’s House.
In the 1950s the first building on the left side of Andersen Road was a huge double storey bungalow occupied by a British engineer, probably attached to the Public Works Department. As other large government quarters in those days it had a separate kitchen at the back, connected to the main building by a covered corridor. At the edge of the large compound were the workers’ quarters. They were the cooks and housemaids and the gardeners. The workers maintained the large garden around the house, including trimming the long bamboo hedges which made up the perimeter fences. Like other government quarters during those times, there were no gates to the house compound. Petty thefts were yet unknown at that time! I wander why things are so different today? When my friends and I played in the vicinity we would just stared with curiosity into the compound from the wide entrance, but none dared to be more inquisitive to enter. All that I knew then was that the house was occupied by an English couple and their dog. This was the residence of the person the locals referred to as the ‘Tuan’ or master. He had, after all, a large house with many workers, and he had a car. In those days the locals were sometimes referred to as ‘natives’ and should stay away from the ‘Orang Putih’ (white-man).
At this visit in 2010 this large house was no longer there, demolished and replaced by a newer building.
Next to the house of the British engineer was a small wooden government quarters. This was the house of a Malay schoolteacher, a respected gentleman in the community. He was a family friend to my parents. He was also my teacher in the Malay School, teaching me arithmetics or what we called at those time as ‘kira-kira’.
A few metres down and across the road was Government quarters number 313, Andersen Road. I lived there during my very early childhood.
313 Andersen Road
This was a standard design government quarters. It was a wooden house on concrete pillars. The kitchen was a separate building attached by a short covered corridor. This was the house where I spent most of my early childhood.
The house was on a large piece of land, probably over an acre. Behind the house were many fruit trees. I remember there were two durian trees, a setoi tree, a rambai tree, a machang tree and jambu susu. There were also two rambutan trees at both sides of the house. All these trees grew naturally from seeds and thus they were huge in size compared to present day grafted plants. There were also some pisang plants which we planted around the house. In short, the whole house compound was like a mini orchard.
The Fruit Trees
The fruits of the two durian trees were of very good quality. Thus my family seldom had to buy durians from others at that time simply because the fruits we had were not only more than enough but also of better quality the most others. During the durian season it was a practice among me and my brothers and sister to get up early in the morning to run to the back of our house to search for durians. There is one thing about durians: you do not pluck the fruits from the trees. You wait for them to drop naturally. Searching for durians in the early hours of the morning was a bit of an art. Imagine being in a ‘kain pelikat’ (night time dress for boys) and barefooted and moving about in the semak (roughs) looking for durians at dawn. During the day we normally studied the location of the durian fruits up high on the tree branches but when they dropped to the ground we had to estimate how far they would have rolled away into the roughs. One thing was certain: if in the early hours of the morning your feet stepped on something sharp then it was a pleasant feeling of pain! Most likely it was a durian that you had stepped on.
In fact during the fruit season my family had enough supply of good fruits. The only fruit that we liked but did not have around our house was the manggis (mangoesteen). Normally I got a lot of manggis from my friends’ orchard a few hundred metres down the road. It was said that when you eat the durian then you should also eat the manggis after that, simply because while the durian was heaty the manggis was supposed to be cooling.
The manggis tree was easy to climb since the tree trunks had lower branches. It was not as difficult as climbing a rambutan tree. The rambutan tree, grown from a seed, normally grew high with long tree trunks. The branches were usually up higher from the ground and thus the tree was more difficult to climb. Also, there were sometimes the kerengga or large red ants on some branches, and their bites were quite painful. Some of my friends at that time splashed mud on their arms and legs when they climbed trees infested with kerengga. But, for the love of the fruit this was a minor obstacle! Today, rambutan trees are usually grown from grafts and the trees are normally smaller.