DRIVING one-and-a-half hours to his orchard is something that 70-year-old Book Ah Tak looks forward to each time he makes the journey.
The retired senior bank officer starts his trip at 6am sharp from his Subang Jaya home to his orchard in Karak, Bentong.
He normally reaches his destination, Kampung Baru Sungai Perdak, which is also his hometown, by 7.30am.
It’s a three-hour drive for a round trip, and he does this every alternate day.
The only son of his parents Book Kwai and Ng Siew Yin, Ah Tak has led a privileged life since young and inherited a rubber estate and orchard from his parents.
“I was the first person in my village to own a car.
“It was in 1972 when my father bought me a Peugeot 204,” he recalled.
His parents died months apart in 1980.
Ah Tak said his father, who hailed from China, was an educationist at heart. The elder Book had wanted to start a school in the rubber estate where he was a contractor.
“But the plan did not take off due to a change in management,” Ah Tak said.
His family subsequently moved to Kampung Baru Sungai Perdak near the estate in 1960.
The Book family was also the first to own a television set in the village.
Village chief Thu Yin Li, 46, remembers vividly how they looked forward to television time in the Book residence.
“The house was our cinema. At least 40 to 50 children and adults packed the hall to watch TV daily,” she recalled.
While Ah Tak left the village for Kuala Lumpur in 1965 where he studied, worked and settled down, he remained a familiar figure among the villagers.
Ah Tak, Thu and her 68-year-old mother Lai Chui Fun, shared stories of the good old days and talked about fruits when StarMetro met them at the village recently.
Ah Tak’s orchard has a variety of fruits including durian, mangosteen and rambutan.
With agro-tourism being the talk of the town these days, Ah Tak did not discount the possibility of exploring the sector further.
Asked whether any of his family members shared his interest in agriculture, he said his wife Wong Koon Yin, 67, was busy taking care of their three grandchildren. The couple has four children.
For a start, he said he would restore his ancestral home and the smoke house next to it.
Both properties are located next to the entrance to the village.
While Kampung Baru Sungai Perdak may be a very small village with about 30 households and some 100 residents, the villagers are certainly not taking things easy.
The Thu family’s small chalet built over a two-acre plot in the village is popular among tourists.
Thu said she and her brother were running the chalet together.
“It is easier to multi-task in rural areas because there is no traffic jam,” said Thu, a mother of six.
Besides her commitment as a village chief, she also runs a sundry shop in an estate nearby her village.
The chalet, she added, was first meant as a retreat for the Thu family during weekends or festive holidays four years ago.
“Friends from outstation also came along. They like their stay and the surroundings so much. And that’s how we ended up turning it into a business,” she said.
But she sees it as more than a family business though
It is a platform for her to promote her village and provide business opportunities for the villagers at the same time.
“There are many good cooks here (village) and I get them to cater food for my guests,” she said, reeling out dishes such as yong tau fu, mui choy choo yuk (preserved mustard greens with pork) and yam cake as among their specialities.
Thu believes in taking small but consistent steps together with the villagers to benefit from the development within and around their village.
Her mother, Lai, who is also a former village chief, is happy the village she called home since her marriage to Thu Fatt Kai in 1968, was seeing good progress in recent years.
“Almost all villagers were rubber tappers in the old days,” said Lai, adding that their lives revolved very much within their village.
The children travelled to school in Telemong about 6.5km away, she added.
A mother of five and living in an extended family, Lai said a typical day in her life then started at 4am.
She would cook lunch before heading to the rubber estate an hour later.
“Life was hard but carefree for the villagers. We planted fruits and vegetables during our free time.
Dinner time was between 4pm and 5pm before it gets dark and they did not have water and power supply until the late 1980s.
“After dinner we would move from house to house to chit chat under the dim lights of kerosene lamps.
“Those who were better off (economically) would have the tai kong tang or carbide lamps that were brighter and thus attracts a bigger crowd,’” she quipped.
Lai said everybody would be back home and hit the pillow by 9pm.
Another meeting place of the villagers was by the riverside. The river was their only source of water until 1986 when piped water came to the village.
“We washed clothes by the riverside and also carried buckets of water home for cooking, drinking, washing and cleaning.”
She said the village population was about 300 in the old days before many young people moved to the cities like Kuala Lumpur for a living over the last three decades.
All is not lost.
With development, agriculture, tourism opportunities and connectivity in this technology-driven era, Lai is hopeful of a reverse flow of young people to the rural areas.
The living environment in the village has also improved tremendously in the last two decades and she attributed this to Bentong MP Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
Lai said her family preferred to have gatherings at their chalet nowadays as they could do it on an ad hoc basis and without hassle or stress.
“On the other hand, whenever I visit them in the city, my children and grandchildren will have to take leave to spend time with me.
“Life in the city is very stressful and we have to plan everything such as where and when to go for dinner beforehand,” she said.
Sourced from: The Star Online, written by Foong Pek Yee