My Dad lifted a house…


“Please release me….let me go…”

My late dad used to sing this Englebert Humperdinck’s song. Dad had a pleasant and an almost baritone voice that would accentuate the song further, so that phrases like…

“….for I don’t love you anymore….”

…would have a grand effect on whoever happened to be listening nearby.

In fact, that particular song was one of his regular repertoire, and we would listen to it with a certain understanding.

You see, if you happened to hear dad singing “Please release me, let me go….for I don’t love you anymore”, chances were he would be singing it while flushing the toilet !!

Dad had a nasty sense of humour. You could see it in his eyes but he was also a bit of a romantic, now that I think of it. He would go in the kitchen singing, spotted my mum cooking….and scooped her up in his arms…just for the fun of it.

When he was studying abroad in the UK, he was once asked by a Briton friend his opinion about the people there. His answer?

“I like them…” Dad had said. “They’re a lot like your weather.”

The friend broke into a smile and said

“Aahhh…yes, we have pleasant weather…thank you..”

“No!” said Dad “That’s not it…”

“I like your people” Dad had repeated, “They’re a lot like your weather……very unpredictable!”

The expression on the friend’s face had been priceless, I was told 😁

Beneath the rough and ready humour however was a tale of a person who had grown up in extraordinary circumstances and had learned how to be self reliant and creative. He had to: both his parents had died when he was quite young and he was brought up by his sisters in Kampong Sumbiling Lama.

His creativity and self reliance is best exemplified by an incident that happened when he was around 8 years old. At that time, his house at the Water Village or Kampong Ayer had listed to one side as a result of a few damaged stilts. Back then, house repairs of the magnitude would literally involve the entire village community. You would need lots of people to literally lift and shove new supporting pillars under the house. On that particular day however, the adults had been out and busy but had scheduled the repairs to another time.

Dad however, had other ideas and relied on his thinking skills and creativity.

During low tide, he got hold of some wood, tied them to the problematic stilts…and waited. When the high tide came, the wood bits – which are less dense floated…and as the water level rises, effectively pulled the tilting house just enough to give dad the clearance he required to prop the house up with some additional wooden supports.

It was a simple engineering solution, he insisted.

When the adults came back, to say that they were surprised would be an understatement!

“Nobody believed me!”, he had told me, laughing off the episode. “But I did alright!”

But those were different times and children were given far more freedom than I would even consider giving mine today. Back then, children had a grittier existence – a veritable school of hard knocks.

Dad had more than his fair share of incidents…and near mishaps that indicated a stubborn defiance to hardship. In that process, you could say that he lived hard, worked hard and played hard. You could also tell from interacting with him that he had that intensity about him that showed a tendency to leap fearlessly into a situation just because it needed to be done.

“What happened to you?” his elder brother Haji Sumadi once asked him.

It was 8 at night. My dad – then a teenager was wet from head to toe, and had just knocked on his brother’s door.

“There is no boat at this hour”, Dad had said.

Haji Sumadi lived across the river from the town of Kuala Belait in a village called Sungai Teraban. The river was quite wide ……… and had crocodiles in it.

“So I swam…”, Dad had added, breaking into a grin.


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