When I was young, I live with my grandparents in a dilapidated house in Kampung Chenong Ulu on the outskirts of Rembau Town. It stood on wooden stilts and had a steeply sloping roof of corrugated sheets.
We seemed to live in perpetual darkness. Daylight from morning to evening was blocked out by the surrounding trees. I enjoyed listening to the sweet chirping of the birds. The night was a different situation altogether. It was dark and frightening with shadow that seem to lengthen and shrink with every gust of wind. My imagination worked overtime as I crawled into bed and pulled the blanket over my head. My fears were compounded during ‘Cheng Beng’ (Chinese All Souls’ celebration) and the Hungry Ghost month.
From the outside, the house looked dreary and creepy. Friends shied away and there were whispers that our house was haunted. I used to play in friends’ house but never invited them over out of a sense of shame. My grandpa used to encourage me to invite friends over. But, I felt too ashamed to do so. Grandpa pointed out the paintings and antique treasures that they would appreciate. The compound was big enough for tic-tac-toe or “galah panjang”. No, I kept telling myself – my house was not worthy of my friends. It was rotten and ugly.
Life was not so terrible all the time. My siblings and I had good times playing hide-and-seek and climbing the horizontal plank walls. The paintings and antiques had many stories to tell.
I left my village to continue my education in elementary school in the Senawang, where my parents lived. I left with a happy heart, glad to be out of the rotten eyesore. But within a month, I was so homesick for my rotten eyesore that I almost gave up my studies. Images of the houses came to mind. It was so lovely to look at with a character of its own. My father had extended the house until it was double its original size.
How could I look down on my village, no, my home! I had been so busy downgrading it. I never took the time to appreciate the love, warmth and ties it had acquired throughout the years. I had been blind to its beauty out of my prejudice. My greatest regret!