Monday, October 17, 2011

A Book, A Lion and Trains – By Peter Chan

A media producer once asked me the reasons behind my prevailing interests in trains. Was it because of the physics of motion when the locomotive “huffs and puffs” pulling the passenger coaches and good-wagons? I doubt it would be chemistry either because I often was penalised in school for giving flasks, Bunsen burners and pipettes the 3D and shadow effects. So what could it be then?
I believe I must have been stirred in part reading a book called “The Lion of Malaya”; a factual account of the courageous Gurchan Singh who led a one-man act of defiance against the Japanese during WWII. I would place 1965 as the probable year I started reading that book.

Photo 1: My grandfather was an avid reader of books and newspapers. He kept a small library in the store room under the staircase. Two books caught my eyes - one was the 1962 Annual of the Littlewoods Football Pool which covered sports betting in the U.K. The other book was “The Lion of Malaya” which was first published in 1948 but I read the 1959 second edition.

Singh warned Malayans to keep away from the Sentul and Brickfields areas which were the targets of Allied air-raids. He blew up trains, sabotaged railway communications between Tanjung Pagar Station in Singapore and Hatyai Junction in Southern Thailand, and distributed anti-Japanese newsletters concerning the state of the war. He was such a scourge that the Japanese put considerable resources to hunt him down. At the end of WWII, the Japanese didn’t know that Singa (Guchan Singh’s moniker) was “lion” for a Sikh.

I would read this book over & over again. Once at a meal time, I held a spoon of rice but it failed to move into the mouth. My eyes were so engrossed on that book that I didn’t notice my angry father standing next to me. I swear I saw “fire spewing from his eyes” because I must have been holding the spoon like eternity.

By the end of 1965, I must have read this book well over 25 times. The book didn’t survive the length of time - having changed ownership several times after the passing of my grandfather. I was very relieved that the Lee Kong Chiang Library of the National Library Board has kept a copy. Seated in reasonable comfort at one quiet corner of the Lee Kong Chiang Library, I read the book again and felt compelled to go for the real train ride; this time from Bangkok to Prai.

Like in any personal travel narrations, we could talk about Day 1 activities, Day 2 activities and so forth. I thought I would use photo-stories to tell about my ride on the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) train.

I left Bangkok about 2.45 in the afternoon and arrived in Hatyai at about 7.45 the next day.

Photo 2 : SRT # 35 started from Hualampung Station (Bangkok, Thailand) and ended in Prai (Malaysia). Before the train departed there was a “Guard Mounting Parade” where the cabin attendants were checked and given the last minute briefings. I bet the officer was reprimanding them for their untidy shoes.

Photo 3: We can’t miss this transgender. (S)he boarded train at Bangsue Station and peddled a food basket in the 1st Class coach. (S)he got off at Thonburi Station.

Photo 4: It is very important to check this part of the train because you never know when a critical situation develops. The benefit of travelling 1st Class is the luxury of cleanliness but I can’t say about 2nd Class or 3rd Class though. 1st Class has in addition a shower facility.

Photo 5: This is the reason why I travel 1st Class: You get room service in your cabin. So if you missed your favourite Thai dish in Bangkok, there’s still hope on the train. But make sure you ask for the menu otherwise you end up (like silly me) with so many “emperor” dishes after listening to the cabin attendant’s recommendations. 100 Bahts = S$4.20.

Photo 6: Only 1st Class passengers receive a complimentary fruit basket and a bottle of Singha beer and bottled water.


Photo 7: After dinner, your bed is made by this cabin attendant. Remember him from the “Guard Mounting Parade”?

Photo 8: Because I don’t need much sleep in the night and outside of the widow was still pitched black, I took walks down the aisle. Here you find a signage board continuously updated.
Photo 9: End of my journey when I see SIAM CENTER on top of that building. Now in Hatyai Junction I spent one night at the Lee Garden Hotel


Icemoon said...

Err .. what is the 3D and shadow effects? You vandalized them?!

peter said...

3D n shadow effects explanation:

I am not sure whetehr in your time when it comes to Physics/Chemistry practicals, you have a kind of Science laboratory book where there's a page for text and a page for drawing (usally artblock quality paper).

We were supposed to carry out an experiment with ample description of the Objectives/Methodology/Observations/Inferences. You needed also to use free-hand to draw the different scientific apparatus used during the lab work (Wee Kiat please correct me if I am on the wrong track).

Instead of simple line drawings, I devided to give an Rembrandt touch to the drawings. So we all know that light casts a shadow right? Thenany appartaus got to be 2Dimension right? So combing both I think I painted a picture rather than a simple line drawing of the apparatus used.

Stupid me this was not an Arts lesson!!!!!!

Thimbuktu said...

Hi Peter,

You are lucky to inherit the book "The Lion of Malaya” book from your grandfather and to be inspired by the story of Gurchan Singh. Thanks for sharing the book recommendation.