Pehin Lim: Learn Malay for a happier life

From Borneo Bulletin Archives

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (December 16, 1972) – If Brunei’s Chinese want a happy, stable life then they should learn more Malay, according to Brunei’s Chinese Privy Councillor, Pehin Datu Temenggong Dato Seri Paduka Awang Lim Cheng Choo. Earlier this week, he said he would like to see more teenagers learn the native language.

Most Chinese, he said, could speak a little Malay, but few were proficient at it.

“They must make a more serious attempt so they can mix more freely. Then everyone will get on better,” he said.

In an hour-long interview, Pehin Lim also said he would like to see the capital’s commercial centre expanded or modernised – and the State putting greater emphasis on agriculture.

He said that 100 shops were far too few for a capital, but neither did he want a conglomeration of skyscrapers.

Brunei should also become less dependent on other countries for its supply of food. There was plenty of available farm land which he thought could be cultivated for vegetables and fruit.

Pehin Lim, probably Brunei’s most respected Chinese leader, had no idea where the State was when he arrived with his father from China in 1915.

His mother died when he was young and his father, a hawker in Kampung Ayer, returned to China to collect him.

“We spent a whole month going by steamer from Hong Kong to Singapore and then several days more to Labuan,” he said.

From there, the two crossed to Muara where they boarded a small wooden boat for the final leg of the journey to Brunei Town (now Bandar Seri Begawan).

The town then had only one street – now Jalan Sultan – and the first big shop was owned by a friend from his village in China, Mr Ong Boon Pang, the father of Mr Ong Kim Kee, well-known businessman and cinema owner.

Pehin Lim, who had attended school in China, continued his studies at a private school and when he left, worked for Teck Guan, owned by Mr Ong.

Although only 16 at the time, he was already showing his business ability and Mr Ong let him run his pawn broker’s shop.

Business was indifferent, he said, as the people were poor and all they had to trade were gongs, brass and clothes.

Ten years later, when he married Mr Ong’s daughter, he was fully introduced to the business.

When Mr Ong died, Pehin Lim was one of four names to continue the Teck Guan interests.

Pehin Lim, known for his honesty, annoyed the Japanese when they occupied Brunei for his refusal to talk about the business or give them any information.

He was jailed for three days and beaten, but returned home still smiling wryly.

A friend said: “I’ve known him for years and he just will not lose his temper.”

Pehin Lim said it was a tradition among Brunei Royalty to appoint three Chinese officials. The others, he said, are Mr Lim Teck Hoo, who is Kapitan Cina, and Mr Hong Kok Tin who is Pehin Bendahara.

As Pehin Datu Temenggong, he has the highest rank of the three, but he had to be asked twice to accept it.

In 1959, he was one of the signatories to the British-Brunei agreement giving the State internal self-rule. The same year, when the Privy Council was formed his name was again on the list.

He said he received no salary, but was pleased to be of help to the Sultan. – Nigel Coventry

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