Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lest we forget: Sandakan to Ranau Death Marches,1945

Picture in the Kundasang Memorial Hall - by artist, Non Meston in honour of her father, Alwyn CADWGAN who died on the Second March, 2 June 1945. Aged 43

The Sandakan to Ranau Death Marches made deep imprints in my husband's mind. He caught it by accident on the History Channel, ASTRO. Then, we had planned a trip to Kota Kinabalu ( formerly Jesselton). The story which unfolded moved him and he was determined to visit the memorial in honour of POWs who perished under the Japanese during WW2.

We stayed at Kinabalu Park during our recent holiday. Kundasang War Memorial, at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu was on our 'to visit' list. The taxi man took us there. A short ride away from the bustling colourful vegetable markets of Kundasang. In the Hall, with some Australian families, we watched an ANZAC Day video presentation of the story of the Sandakan Death Marches.

A silent audience watched and listened to the tragic episode of the war. Hearts weep for these brave men, some in their teens, mostly in their twenties who suffered severe atrocities by the Japanese army. Humanity must never walk down this road again.

The POWs in Sandakan were members of the Allied contingent transferred to Sandakan by the Japanese in 1942 -43 following Singapore's fall. They were forced to build an airstrip with not much more than their bare hands.

In mid 1943, the Japanese discovered that the POWs not only had a radio but were in league with a local resistance organisation. Discipline became hardened for the remaining 2428 prisoners.

As the war raged on and with the Allies getting closer, the Japanese decided to move large groups of prisoners at Sandakan. In Jan 1945 the first of the three forced 'Death Marches' began. The Japanese army decided to move 455 of the fittest prisoners to Jesselton (renamed Kota Kinabalu). The POWs were used as mule trains - carrying baggage, heavy ammunition, rice and other stuff on their backs for the Japanese battalions relocating to the western coast. Owing to Allied air and sea activity on the west coast of Borneo, the POWs were halted at Ranau, a small village on the flanks of Mount Kinablau. Then followed the 2nd march (570 servicemen )and 3rd march (537 servicemen ) to Ranau.

The POWs had to trek through swamps, dense, inhospitable jungles and mountain terrains. A trek of 265 km through rugged jungle of Borneo . Little or no medical aid was given. The POWs were malnourished or suffered from illnesses. On starvation rations, the prisoners were forced to forage for food. Those who were too ill to do any work were shot by the Japanese guards.

Bombardier Richard 'Dick' Braithwaithe, one of the survivors on the 2nd March who was helped by the locals in his escape recalls, 'It was a one -way trip when we started to hear shots and you felt there was no hope for anyone who fell out.' The ones who could not keep up were 'disposed of'' or left to die en route.

Private Keith Botterill, 2/19th Battalion recalls: 'No effort whatsoever was made to bury the men. They would just pull them 5-15 yards off the track and bayonet them or shoot them, depending on the condition of the men. If they were conscious and it was what we thought was a good kind guard, they'd shoot them. There was nothing we could do.'

In captivity for 3 long years and living in the harshest of conditions and under brutal treatment by the Japanese, these servicemen were walking skeletons, unrecognisable as human.

Back at Sandakan, 200 prisoners unable to undertake the death march also died - killed or suffered diseases like dysentery and many tropical ailments.

2428 prisoners were incarcerated at Sandakan. 1787 were Australian. The remaining were British. Only 6 survived because they escaped - all Australian.

The story of Sandakan and the death marches is one of the most tragic yet heroic. These POWs showed indomitable determination and spirit to live.

A War Memorial and Gardens of Rememberance was built at Kundasang, Sabah in 1962 to commemorate those who died at Sandakan and Ranau. The memorial also remembers the people of North Borneo who risked their lives to help the POWs.

Outside the Hall, under a shelter crammed with memorabilia - visitors get glimpses of the tragic story of the POWS

Australia honours her dead

4 interlocking gardens to represent homelands - Australian, English, Borneo and the Contemplation Garden and Pool.

Great Britain honours her dead

Borneo Garden - beautiful orchids and plants of Borneo

From the balcony of the Memorial looking down on Kundasang

Private Nelson Short, 2/18 th Battalion, one of the survivors . He wrote this song/poem

Lest we forget

By the pool where the rememberance roll of honour plaques hang

Contemplation Garden and Pool of Reflection

Grim reminders

Domima OKK Akoi, from Kg Paginata, Ranau helped the POWs. At age 12/13 years, she left food for the POWs at the same spot. For 6 days, food was eaten. On the 7th day, the food was untouched. She heard gunfire and the soldiers never appeared again.
Amazing find : 6 gold rings in a tobacco tin at the same spot as a token of gratitude. She still keeps one; the rest were given away after the war.

Dearly remembered - A face we love is missing

265 km slow walk through HELL!
( picture credit: Lynette Silver, author, military researcher and tour guide)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fashion Show with a Difference

A BIG day for the students of Economic Empowerment Programme (EEP), Selangor Cheshire Home

The exotic heliconia by resident,Yoek Choy

It was a hot sweltering day when I made my way to Heidelberg Kaffehause, Solaris Dutamas 1, KL to attend the charity hi -tea tagged Debut of Cheshire Designers in collaboration with Pink Jambu. When I arrived I was warmly greeted by familiar faces - Cheshire Council members and the residents themselves. 'Hey! we should be in bikinis to stay cool!' I joked! Well, what was to follow - the casual wear was real 'cool'. I have to say outright, it was a fashion show with a DIFFERENCE!

After a brief welcome by Council member, Mej Habibah and then a speech by our ever- hardworking president, Datuk Paduka Khatijah Suleiman, the show got underway.

In walked the first Economic Empowerment (EEP) student with a model to show off her artwork. Together they walked towards the VVIP table, to much applause all round. Ooops! in her excitement, being the first artist to start the ball rolling, she tripped and fell. We rewarded her with a bigger round of applause - jitters is so normal. But hey, it's her BIG day - her artwork of the dragonfruit is imprinted and turned into high fashion. Eyes followed with much expectancy as more students took their turns down the Kaffehause catwalk.

I enjoy the dragonfruit - the deeper the colour the more I relish it and try to bite at the black bits(reminds me of the selasih seeds!). But watching more display of the dragonfruit as motifs cleverly and aesthetically imprinted on tablecloths, table runners, tea cosy, soft toys, etc. slowly but surely, I fell in love with the unwieldy looking cacti. Art by these residents have turned the tables on the dragon fruit - a beauty to behold!

To think the humble dragonfruit grown in their backyard is not forgotten! The plot of land beyond the residential quarters of Cheshire Home grow dragonfruit. As I have observed, the EEP students have been faithfully tending to this garden as farmers - learning a new skill . Fruits are harvested and sold . Drawing artistic inspiration from the 1000 plants, a new extended activity of the garden holds even more promise of sustainability for the EEP programme.

The feather logo, representative of Cheshire Homes worldwide, also got its oohhs and aahhs from the guests. Pn Khatijah, president of Selangor Cheshire Home was seen wearing a lovely chiffon outfit with the feather embellished on corners of her flowing selendang. It really had a delicate touch to it. 'Stay with us and don't fly away!', someone joked.

The luscious red dragon fruits!

How prettily the dragon fruit sits on the apron!

Good looking jumbo

Each and everyone of the EEP students have every reason to be very proud of themselves. Under the guidance of fashion house designer and owner, Tengku Marina of Pink Jambu, this collaborative programme makes a lot of sense - not only in ringgit sense but in empowering the disabled to enhance their skills . I was especially thrilled to witness Doris, Yoek Choy and S. Ming, our regular attendees at the Sunshine Group activities doing their lap of honour among the guests. Doris' art was a Christmas theme. What an eye-catcher and a great conversation piece too! So, come Christmas, I expect more sales will be generated.

Everyone, including some royalties among the VVIPS enjoyed the debut. Even the few men who were present were really appreciative of the display of artistic talent.

Judging by the generous applause and comments of the guests, the fruition of some months of brain storming work have reaped positive response. The smiles on the faces of the artists say a lot too, though nervous as they were on the their catwalk. This platform to provide more artistic expression for the EEP programme is really innovative.

Food was nice, delicate little bites of canapes, buffet-style. Singing and dancing filled in to make it informal and lively.

Council member, Dato' Ghazali in his element entertaining with Besame Mucho. Close your eyes and just listen to him croon!

All in all, it was a short and sweet event - to showcase the artists' work which have turned into beauties that they themselves would not have dreamed of had it remained on a piece of paper. I would say, Cheshire Home folks, its a feather in YOUR cap! To add, let's take it to the world!

Proud artist, Doris beside the model

Tie a knot for the pretty top - simply gorgeous with the dragonfruit motif

Artists at work in Cheshire Home with Tengku Marina Ibrahim and her team of helpers. Colours of inspiration and hope.

S. Ming waving to me . A happy and colourful day indeed!

The Cheshire feather, symbolic of relief of suffering , making its debut - on tops, cushion covers.

Simple and attractive - tea for two, anyone?

Spread the cheer, celebrate the power of empowering the disabled - with style you can even wear a tablecloth !

Guests in lovely attires - adding dollops of colourful splashes to the event.

The attractive display of home items in Pink Jambu shop

President Datuk Paduka Khatijah Suleiman and owner of fashion House, Pink Jambu, Tengku Marina Ibrahim with the team taking a bow. Kudos to a great accomplishment!

Selangor Cheshire Home
Batu 71/2,
Jalan Ipoh
68100 Batu Caves, Selayang
Selangor Darul Ehsan
Tel: 603 6138 7118/ 6136 6151

Pink Jambu
Solaris Dutamas 1
Jalan Dutamas 1
50480 Kuala Lumpur

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Say it for our TIGER!

I wrote to a few friends to ask for contributions for Tiger Blogfest 2010 in conjunction with Earth Day. The plight of our Malayan Tiger is obvious. Would they pen a few lines and let us know their thoughts?

Thank you contributors! Your views/ideas are important to us.

Sugurajah Ramalingam, retired civil servant
Melbourne, Australia

The idea is laudable but it is the implementation of it that faces enormous hurdles especially in a country like Malaysia with so many competing demands politically, economically, and socially.

However, one can still try despite all the ever present constraints to evolve a strategy towards the objective. I feel that before anything is done, one needs to carry out some sort of a survey to at least guesstimate the number of tigers by tracking them by implanting micro chips in them. That will enable one to obtain their geographical habitats or the extent of it as well as indicate their numbers.

Besides one needs to know their approximate current numbers as that will serve as a benchmark against which one can monitor the outcomes of the strategies adopted to save the tigers. That should tell one whether the strategies in place are a success or failure and if the latter, whether one needs to look at alternative strategies.

Ho Ce Line, 11 years

Round and round
there they roam
until they are found
please do not destroy their home

On all fours
they walk around with their paws
save our Malayan tigers to be fair
please think of them with care

While the young tigers play
at the place they can stay
leave them alone
they have enough trouble of their own

Tiger skin bags
tiger skin boots filling up the shoe racks
is it the best we can do?
let the tigers continue to rule!

Linda Tan Lingard, publisher of OYEZ! Books, president of SCBWI Malaysia ( Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)

Do check out Friends For a Tiger by Peter Worthington., author of The Tipee Hipee Animal Adventure Series. Please click on the link to view.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tiger Blogfest 2010 - Kids get to know our Tiger

Cool tiger!

What I've found time and again, when storytime comes along, you gotta inject fun into the learning. Children are keen to learn and if we do some things right, we've got them with us - eyes, ears and mind open for as long as they're with you.

More so, this time when I've a 'mission' to accomplish. Earth Day is round the corner and together with over 100 bloggers, headed by the King Monyet, we're zooming in on ' Save Our Tiger' in our special Tiger Blogfest 2010. I had the privilege of 2 sessions with some kids in the MBPJ library and Times Bookshop , all within an hour each. Big task? Yes, but like they say, chunk it and for the young kids, keep it simple.

Truth be told, the kids fear the tiger for all the stories they hear. But then, there's a part of the story missing . Exactly why do tigers kill humans. What's the underlying reason/s for tigers to leave their habitat and create havoc? And what about Man's irresponsible acts of poaching tigers. For the young ones, this information is something new. Unheard of! I could sense some uneasiness to know that the tiger falls prey to man's bad acts.

To get to the core of the important message, I made up a simple song for all to sing.We sang about the Tiger Is A Cat to the tune of The Farmer In The Dell. Simple, catchy and easy to sing -along. Thumbs up for the Tiger - Save our Tiger ! screamed the kids. Here are the lyrics:

The tiger is a cat (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

It lives in the jungle (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

Hunted by Man (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

Killed by Man (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

Eat the tiger? NO! (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

Save the tiger? YES! (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

The tiger is a cat (x2)
Hi ho the derry o
The tiger is a cat

Then, it was time to settle down to a beautiful story Tigress by Nick Dowson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Well, not before I encouraged the children to growl their best to kick off a tigerish start. Would you have guessed? A little 5 year old wanted to be a tiger alright and that got the bigger kids going. So, altogether, we growled!

I love the excellent text. It brings into focus in the 32 pages so much to know about the tiger without wordy prose. How is it possible? Well, the high standard of illustrations go hand in hand with the text so beautifully. I gathered from the children's attention that what misgivings they had of the tiger , it was slowly shedding away. On and off, at various points, I brought their attention to the similarities of the domestic cat with our wild cat - in nursing their young, their mother's ever tender loving care, and the way the mothers carry their litte ones in their mouths, nary hurting.

Tigress takes the children from the cub stage to adult independence. The young tigers at 18 months will have to find new homes for themselves. With excellent brevity, it comes to a lovely ending as the majestic grown tiger seeks its own life in the jungle. I certainly recommend this stunning , nature storybook to parents. Such a lively book to get to know about the tiger and familiarize its behaviour.

Have fun with a juice carton - a tiger lives there!

Tigress at play and work!

I brought along a craft - tiger, of course! Out of recyclable juice cartons, the kids made their own hand puppet tiger. Very soon, the tiger earned its stripes!! - all lovingly from torn strips of black colour paper and then glued. The 2 sides of the carton were used to to write messages FOR the tiger.

Parents too can play - kids learn tons through play

Some parents were around and I really appreciated their presence. For the fact that it is bonding time and they are fully aware of what a session like this can reap the benefits of informal learning through play. Talking about play. Initially the kids were shy to don the masks. Me, big tigress took the lead. Then, shyness was lost and we had roaming tigers!!

Will our tigers be able to roam free in the jungle? The answer lies with with each and everyone of us. Ignorance is not bliss if we are to save our tiger for now and posterity. Yes, the kids need to know and love our tigers .

As a storyteller and a parent, I say besides the general public awareness campaign, let's invest in our kids. Granted, some are too young to know the implications. But when the love of nature, also our heritage is planted, it will only grow through the years. Storytime 's over but the knowing and learning has begun!

My friend, the tiger
49, SS23/15
Taman SEA
47400 Petaling Jaya
Tel: +603 7803 3772
Fax: +603 7803 5157