When the medical doctor Han Suyin arrived in Johore Bahru of Malaya in the early 1950s, what was Malaya like? What was the smell of Malaya?
I have a few still images to show you.
These images were captured from a precious video clip on Youtube uploaded by Michael Rogge. I will embed this video entitled “Malaysia. Troops, helicopters in Johor, 1952” at the end of this post.
Malaya was a multi racial society. From the sign of the place name of my hometown Johore Bahru, you can see that Chinese characters, Tamil and Jawi alphabet were all used.
I believe the smart man in army uniform in this video was the British High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer. In February 1952, following the assassination of the High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney by the communists, Sir Templer was sent to Malaya to assume control of both the civil government and military operations. Sir Templer is also credited with coining this phrase “Winning the hearts and minds” of the Malayan community to fight the communists.
I was born in Johore Bahru (also spelled Johor Baharu, Johor Baru, Johore Bahru; abbreviated as JB) in the south end of Malaysia. These images taken 15 years before I was born gave you a taste of the life of the ordinary people under the British rule during The 12-year Malayan Emergency from 1948. The images formed the background of Han Suyin’s vivid portrayal of the brutal guerrilla war in Malaya in her novel, And the Rain My Drink.
Reviews of “And the Rain My Drink”
And The Rain My Drink is certainly not Han Suyin’s most famous book. In the west, people were possibly more drawn to her other autobiographical works, such as The Crippled Tree and her history book The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese revolution, 1893-1954. To many, Han Suyin was their first trusted writer who introduced the closed and mysterious China to the outside world. Who would want to discover the insignificant Malaya?
Peggy Loh from Johor Bahru wrote a touching review Fondly remembering Han Suyin in the New Straits Times. A remarkable young scholar Xie Kankan, who specialised in Asian Studies, also wrote a thorough review of the book, the best and the most insightful review of high academic value that I have ever read about And The Rain My Drink. In his review, the ambitious Xie Kankan presented “a panoramic outlook through the analysis of the novel by mainly looking at the historical backdrop of pre-independent Malaya, representative characters and their relationships between each other, and finally the effect of the Emergency on present-day Malaysia.”
“…Although killing was generally under control, the common people, especially those who lived at the edge of the jungle, became the major victims of the Emergency. On one hand, they had the moral obligation to help the People Inside, the Communists, who were either friends or relatives of the rubber tappers and the tin miners; on the other hand, they had to be submissive to the British authority, who dominated the fate of these poor people in all respects. What was worse, the British adopted an extreme strategy that there should be “no food out of fence” (39) in order to “starve the bandits into the open” (114). The situation was exactly like Han Suyin depicted that people “stand between fire and water, between the Police and the People Inside” (40), the two inescapable terrors endured in the dark days of the Emergency.”
There is a new commemorative edition of And The Rain My Drink in March this year published by Monsoon, a leading publisher of books on Southeast Asia. I was surprised to read that Han Suyin’s former husband, Dr Leon Comber, wrote one of the forewords in this unique commemorative edition:
“Dr Leon Comber, former husband of Han Suyin, tells the untold “inside” story of how the book came to be written (which has not been presented before), the actual source of the material which Han Suyin used, how General Templer on one of his visits to the Colonial Office, London, attempted to have the book withdrawn, and the repercussions which followed the publishing of the book.”
From the website of Monsoon on “And The Rain My Drink” by Han Suyin
It is fascinating to know from Dr Leon Comber, the man who pursued Chin Peng, that General Templer attempted to have this novel by Han Suyin withdrawn. In my last post, Chin Peng, Leon Comber and Han Suyin, I wrote that the second half of the Chinese translation of the book was rumoured to have been banned by the British government. This book was simply too sensitive to many. With this statement from Dr Leon Comber, it suggests that the rumour spread in the Chinese community had its root.
Below is a 4-minute video clip of the charm of Han Suyin’s Malaya, in the 1950s.
The Chin Peng series was inspired by Blog Exercises: What story should I share? by Lorelle VanFossen. You can find more Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress. This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.
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