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The Neighborhood I Grew Up In

Life Story Club Contributor

May 6, 2020

This is the city where I was born and grew up. This is Pontianak, Borneo in the early 70s. Okay, so this is a photo of me with my friends and my neighbor. I am the one who is in the front eating something. I’m not sure what. My best friend is the one on the left with a green dress with the frilly things in the front.

I grew up in this house. The house still exists. I grew up in this house. I have four sisters and one brother. My friends were mostly our neighbors. On the side of the house we had a lot of trees. We had guava and a lot of other fruits. A variety. So what we’d do is when we play, we would climb in the trees, taking the fruits with our neighbors and friends.

In my house, where I lived, the neighbors were mostly Chinese people. They don’t have any problem with us by because we are Christian and we ate pork. The other side of the house are some families who are Muslim. They are opposing with us.

Many families have lots of students. When we grew up, people had like five brothers, five sisters. Some families even had thirteen, so I grew up with a lot of friends and families.

So one of my friends was Alang. She was my mate at the time because December is the month where the tide comes. The flooding. It’s not high, only up to the waist, but it was the time for us to take our banana trunk. With the banana truck, if we combined together and took just one stick–my parents normally had one big stick—it could become a kind of raft. This was our play. We didn’t have money to buy anything else, and at that time, there was no concept of buying toys. This was our toy. This is our game.

We were happy when it was December, and when it was flooding, because that our time to go outside and play. Alang would come with the other people and then we would play together, and we would feel like a kind of pirate because we were in this canoe. I can say that now, but at the time canoe want’s in my vocabulary. We just called it a kind of raft and then we played.

This is where I grew up. And the neighborhood, at the time, if you look at the houses, more or less people have more or less the same house. But on the other side of town, in the big street, you would see better houses but that was a better economic area, what we call a commercial area. In my neighborhood, we were all more or less the same level, but at the time we believed that we were rich, because when we went to school or church, we walked, but my parents had a bicycle, so could see that we were better than the others. And even though at the time we didn’t know about working class– both of them were working. My mother was a nurse. My father was working in some company and both are riding a bicycle. But for us, we considered ourselves rich. Everywhere you go you would just walk, even 10 kilometers or however many kilometers. You just walk and it is a normal thing.

When I went to school at like 9, 10 years—I went to a Catholic school—I realized I was night as well off as the other people because kids would come to extracurriculars in what I had considered “dressed for church,” while us, we just had our uniforms on. We didn’t change. And I would look around. My mother said, “Oh but it’s a school activity. Surely you don’t need to change your dress. Just wear the uniform.” I was confused.  

At that time, I started reading poetry and then I won an award. You know when you’re nine years old, you know that you go out, you have to dressed. And the teacher said, “Oh, you need to go to the radio to represent the school.” I tell my mom, and then my mom said, “What? You have to dress, and the school doesn’t pay? Oh no, we don’t do that.” And then my mom went to the school to tell the teachers, “Oh do not let her go reading anything because it doesn’t make her more clever.”

My mother thinks if you go to school, you learn math, not reading poetry. What will you do with reading poetry? My mother put a stop on that. And at time, who would accompany me if I needed to go to the schools, if I needed to go perform anywhere, so I didn’t go. At that time, you didn’t challenge your parents.

My mother said, going to school is to study, not to read poetry. What will you do with reading poetry? And then you are still so little this and why would the teachers ask you to go to everywhere with no one to accompany you and ask you to buy new clothes? And why wouldn’t you go there in your uniform because you represent the school? Something like that.

My friends and neighbors said, “If you can read, why don’t you read at home?” But I felt like I’m not encouraged to share reading poetry because at home or with my neighbor they were laughing when people read something. They don’t think is it something like a game or something that you aspire to.

I’m good at painting and singing and other things, but you go to school to just study. At that time, Pontianak was a very multicultural city. Pontianak was a kind of economic city also. There was a tension between the local indigenous people from the island they think the Chinese people come and that they want to take all the business. But we, as children, we just played with the others. We don’t think about this tension. Alang would sometimes come and stay in my house until late in the evening and then my mother would come home and say, “Oh, you don’t hang out with them.” But no, we just we played up with everybody.

May 6, 2020 This is the city where I was born and grew up. This is Pontianak, Borneo in the early 70s. Okay, so this is a photo of me with my friends and my neighbor. I am the one w...

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