Sometimes hidden treasures can be right in front of you and you don't know it. Each of us has a history of unique personal experiences that makes us who we are.
Last Sunday, my wife and I visited her elderly uncle. It was our 15th Hari Raya visit there and other than fulfilling our duties, I guess we just went there to say hello, how are you and bye. We normally stay for about 15 minutes tops. My uncle and his wife were not much of a conversationalist and in most visits, it will be one question and one answer. I always ask him about his business (he runs a small business) and how many people that has come to his house and which of my wife's siblings had been there and which hasn't. Nothing much really.
This time when I got there, my better half said why not change where I usually sit. It struck me then that I have been sitting at the same sofa more or less in those 15 visits and the interesting bit was that the sofas too have not changed position! I decided to change my questions too and started by asking him how old he was. He was 80 turning 81. I realised that this elderly gentleman who have lived through World War II and plenty of changes throughout Brunei history would know a lot about Brunei. I asked a number of questions, being an amateur Brunei historian for quite sometime, some I already knew the answers and needed verification. Some information completely new.
We talked about the war and what he did. He was around 16 or 17 when the war started and he was drafted in as a policeman during the Japanese occupation. He was sent to Kuching to undergo Japanese education before being sent back to Miri when the Allied bombing of Kuching and Borneo started. He made his way back to Brunei and he was arrested by the Allied and kept for about 3 months in Kuala Belait to ensure that he was not one of the wanted ones. Everyone thought he was dead as in those days, Kuala Belait was like a different country. There was no road and don't even talk about telephones. He later joined the Forestry Department and worked until the early 1980s before retiring. We talked about what he did when he was in the Forestry Department. All in all, time just passes by before you know it. It was the first time I regreted having to leave him as we had a number of other relatives to visit. In the car, all I kept thinking was I could have asked all this 15 years ago and during each of those visits and I would have been able to compile a sizeable knowledge bank. I would have to wait till next time and you realised thata the phrase 'kalau umur panjang' became a reality there. It is a sobering thought.
You know, young people, and I was one too, of course, often head for the door when our elders start to talk about the past or "the good old days." Interestingly enough, I read somewhere, by sharing their memories, our seniors are able to preserve their identities, see their contribution to life, and experience positive feelings about themselves, which promotes mental and emotional well-being. By allowing them to express themselves, it actually help them. And on our side, there is this satisfaction in getting close to the person, enjoying their stories and learning from their experiences and wisdom. We should allow our older family members fulfill a natural and important role by relaying family history, ethnic heritage, and folklore, which promotes intergenerational understanding and sharing. These bonds add meaning to our lives.
We still have a couple of weeks left or a week at least of this Hari Raya. When you visit your elderly, ask them all the questions that you want answers to. It will help them and it will help you too. There may not be enough time if you were to wait longer.
So, what did your grandad do during the World War?