My Hometown

Posted on May 2005 at about 6:08 PM by hwa

Well guys, I’m originally from a small town called Ayer Tawar, but grow up in somewhere else. Anyway if anyone of you are interested in Ayer Tawar and the origin of Kutien, which is my dialect, here i found a very interesting story of it. Original post at here.

Ayer Tawar is a small town (in the state of Perak, Malaysia) on the Ipoh-KL highway. Cars rush through and kill people. Most people live on the road or nearby. The New Village, where my maternal grandmother lives was created during the Emergency caused by the Communist Insurgence (1948-1960). The other residential areas including Taman Dindings where my immediate family lives are all newer. Taman Dindings used to be rubber land. All around us is farmland, rubber and oil palm estates and jungle. All told, people in the town and on the land around numbered about 10,000 in 1995 when I was doing my Geography project. The economy is mostly agricultural.

The politics is mostly oppositional. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.) I suppose we have always been trouble-makers. ‘Chin Peng’ (real name Ong Boon Hua?), the leader of the Malaysian Communist Party (when it still existed) came from Sitiawan, which is next door. Last we heard (2001 or 2002) he’s still alive, kicking and running around in Thailand somewhere. The BBC interviewed him not so long ago. As for contemporary politics…suffice it to say we’re still making trouble.

The other thing Ayer Tawar and Sitiawan are famous for besides trouble-makers is good students. My family’s theory (we have many theories) is that this is because the towns are mostly Chinese (and hence discriminated against by government policies), but unlike the Chinese in much of the rest of the country, the people were farmers rather than businessmen. When you have nothing to eat and the government isn’t giving you handouts, the only way out is education. And I suppose those who didn’t feel like jumping through hoops started the Communist Party. Interestingly we have also produced 3 cabinet ministers. Some people from the cities are of the opinion that when you are surrounded by jungle there is nothing else to do but study. It could well be true, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

However, in recent years, with the overall increasing standard of living and all that, kids have been becoming lazy. It is said that threatening kids with starvation at the weekly assembly (at school) doesn’t work any more. And so we’re losing our edge in that sort of thing. But not entirely. The other thing is that having been so successful in the previous generation, people have moved away. You’ll find Ayer Tawar and Sitiawan engineers, doctors, lawyers and scientists…more or less all over the world. We can only use so many doctors and lawyers; engineers and scientists are useless in this little town. (Unfortunately this means I can’t go home. No, that’s not true.) Even so, we reputedly have one of the the highest concentration of doctors (as a percentage of population) in the country. If you take a walk down Jalan Besar (Big Road, i.e. The Road) you may well believe it.

Oh yes, where did we come from. In 1903, the Brits decided to bring people in to clear the land. They decided to get the help of the Methodist Mission because that Mission had previously helped with a similar settlement in Sibu, Sarawak in what is now East Malaysia and what was then British Borneo. So the Methodist bishop in Singapore arranged it somehow and the first settlers from Fuzhou, Fujian, China arrived in 1903. They first settled in what are now the various parts of Sitiawan and the surrounding villages. This important date (1903) is on Pioneer Church and is the founding date of the Anglo-Chinese (Methodist) School.

I’m always surprised when people from China, Taiwan and even Singapore think that all of Fujian speaks one dialect, Hokkien. It doesn’t. In fact, before the Communists, ten districts were under the Fuzhou (or Hokchew) prefecture, including Minchiang (Minqing), Hoochiang (Fuqing), Kutien (Gutian) and Changle. After the communists, Fuzhou became its own thing and the ten districts are now directly under the jurisdiction of Fujian. In any case, even these ten districts have only somewhat mutually intelligible dialects and I have heard that the number of dialects in the whole province of Fujian is about 70. The dialect known as Hokkien is spoken by some group I have failed to identify in the south, since the people from the former Fuzhou prefecture call them ‘nannuen’ (spelling very approximate to pronunciation, I don’t think the second vowel exists in English). My father says that random unidentifiable people from Fujian call themselves Hokkien after the province because their villages are so small nobody would recognize them anyway. Whereas we from Fuzhou know where we’re from. 😛

In any case, most of Ayer Tawar speaks Kutien, which means that you end up speaking Kutien no matter what your dialect was in the first place. Similarly, Kg. Cina in Sitiawan is mostly Hoochiang, Ipoh and KL mostly Cantoneese, Singapore and Penang mostly Hokkien.

I have yet to meet anyone from from Kutien or Hoochiang in the States. My family says ‘no surprise there’. After all, those ten districts are supposedly still dirt poor (‘why did we move to Malaysia?’) and produce mainly illegal immigrants these days. Naturally one wouldn’t meet them in academia. Good thing we got out, eh?

With the Methodist Mission and John Sung, you might imagine that there were a lot of Christians in the area a few decades ago. People are not so religious any more. That’s partly a global trend, partly other things. People say we were self-selected for stubbornness and ability to work like hell, having to clear farms from the jungle and so on. This may again be wishful thinking, but certainly people died and some people who couldn’t take the hard life went back to China. That was before Communism, of course.

Taken from Ayer Tawar.

One Response to “My Hometown”

  1. CommSie Says:

    Thanks for keeping a copy of that site alive, I only linked to it way back.

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