I was probably 4-6 years old then. I'd be sitting sideways on the bar of the bicycle, between Dad on the bicycle seat pedaling away and the bicycle's handle-bar that I clutched.
It was one of those large Raleigh bicycles that the padi farmers would employ to load their gunny-sacks of padi to transport to the rice mills. But Dad's bicycle had no rear seat or anything to put gunny-sack or my butt on. We rode from our house to Bukit Merah town for my haircut every month. Bukit Merah town was and is a one-street "cowboy town", we would say. The road was a small dirt road. The 5-mile journey was very bumpy, but I felt safe and comfortable on the bicycle bar with him. Never once did we fall.
The bicycle was the only vehicle he ever owned. This bicycle was provided for his work and when he finally retired, the bicycle was his own -- yes, the same old faithful! Not that he ever needed a car initially. The dirt road could only take bicycles and motorcycles then. I remember that if we came to Bukit Merah from my Grandpa's house in Parit Buntar, it would be by train. The train ride past Bukit Merah train station to Taiping was and is on a scenic narrow causeway on the Bukit Merah lake. On the bicycle ride, I noticed the long stretch of railway line over the water, and I thought it was going to sink. At that time I never had a chance to take the scenic ride because we alighted at Bukit Merah station. Then we'd ride a boat to our house. One of the boats was named "Belibis" -- I'm sure that's a bird. Or a fish? Boats were parked in a boathouse, then we'd walk 500 yards to our house.
But even when they built tarred roads in Bukit Merah, Dad could never afford a car. He had a family with 8 children to feed. He had a small salary as a Junior Technician in the then DID (Drainage and Irrigation Department). But he was the overseer of the lake. It was and is indeed a huge lake. I thought he was a very important man. Because he had many labourer workers under his charge who'd have the various duties to take care the lake. I would watch him every morning giving instructions to the assembly of workers on the tasks for the day. In the late afternoon, they'd regroup in front of him and they'd do a de-brief.
I was fascinated by the huge water gates of Bukit Merah lake which Dad was responsible for -- the gates that needed to be opened when rain might swell the lake or when water was to be let out to irrigate the padi fields when it was padi planting season. The water gates nearest our house was gigantic. I'd watch agape when Dad supervised his workers to open the gates -- the trickle of water when each gate started to open grew into a loud and high avalanche of water as the gate opened fully! Then when all 6 gates opened, it was a deafening roar and gush and rush of the angry lake wanting to be let out to quickly fill the river, or really man-made drain, then becoming white water as the rush hit the rocks.
Yes, my Dad was an important man. He had to make sure the lake was at the right level -- there were posts which were gauges -- markings of height of the water like enlarged rulers planted into the water. Dad had to make sure the water level was within some acceptable range.
Unlike those water gates nearest our house which were opened only to regulate the water level, the set of gates further away were always open -- the water downstream not only provided irrigation water to the padi fields, but also was channelled to a filtration house for drinking water to the whole Krian district. My dad. Source of water to the padi fields and to the humans needing to drink. My Dad -- source of life.
We drank from the same lake. Piped water did not come to our house till much later. So Dad would push-pull push-pull push-pull the lever of a pump that fed water from the lake to an overhead tank that provided water through pipes and taps. In the house there was a large cylindrical porcelain contraption about one-foot in diameter and 3 feet high. Dad filled it with water by uncovering the lid on top, and clear water would flow from the chromed little tap at the bottom. Then Mum would boil it. From time to time Dad would lift the lid, take out the rows of cylindrical rods within it which would be brown in colour, clean them and put them back into this neat filter device.