Words and phrases by Mayo Martin / Multimedia by Lam Shushan
RIAU ISLANDS, Indonesia: It’s a bright and early early morning as Mazlan Mohd Nasir measures out of the house to sights and sounds and smells that remind him he’s not among the superior-increase HDB flats of residence any longer.
His father is now up and about, leisurely watering the vegetation and sweeping the grounds of the complicated of one-storey houses by the sea. At the jetty close by, young children hold out for the sampan ferry that takes them to faculty on the upcoming island.
Down the dusty road, chickens wander freely while a couple of fishermen mend their nets and a woman peddling freshly-produced epok-epok helps make her everyday rounds.
Metropolitan Singapore is where by Mazlan was born and where by he and his household now live, in their Pasir Ris govt flat. But if residence is what reminds you of the location where by you grew up, then the island of Keban, in the southern Riau Islands, is like a homecoming of sorts.
Watch: Riau Island scenes, in 35 seconds
The 54-yr-outdated takes a deep breath. “I can notify you, even when I slumber only three to 4 several hours, I even now wake up emotion contemporary,” he claims. He’d absent to mattress soon after a luxurious dinner of steamed gong gong, flower crab, Keban-design and style otak-otak and contemporary-as-it-can-get fish caught just by dangling a line out the window.
He proceeds: “It could be simply because of the food and the air. But it is also the freedom. You have your own time, you don’t hear motor cars at night you can see the stars, the moon, the actual point. The rate is really slow, really great – that’s why you take pleasure in your life.”
Each individual so frequently, Mazlan and other kin make the two-hour journey by boat to this remote location. It’s not just that his father, 76-yr-outdated Haji Mohd Nasir Awang, now lives below in retirement. Or that it takes Mazlan back again to his island kampong childhood in Singapore, rising up surrounded by h2o.
This is also the location where by his household is resurrecting a thrilling sports custom from the earlier – very first in the Riau Islands and, Mazlan wistfully desires, one working day in his homeland.
A SOUTHERN ISLAND BOY
Mazlan’s father, Cik Nasir, was born to a household of village chiefs or penghulu in Keban, and sent to Singapore to even further his studies as a teenager through the publish-War decades.
As a member of the pioneer generation below, Cik Nasir became a civil servant who taught at numerous faculties, such as individuals in the Southern Islands in the early sixties. It was in these islands that Mazlan’s close marriage with the sea commenced.
Born in Eunos in 1962 (the second little one in a brood of 7), he and the household moved a yr later on to St John’s Island. Soon soon after, they shifted throughout to Lazarus Island, where by Mazlan used most of his rising-up decades.
“I used to cross over to St John’s for faculty, and the instructor would get there from the mainland each and every working day applying the ferry,” he remembers.
Then-Primary Minister Lee Kuan Yew going to Pulau Sekijang Pelepah (Lazarus Island) in 1963 with his son, Lee Hsien Loong. (Photo: Ministry of Data and the Arts Selection, courtesy of Countrywide Archives of Singapore)
From time to time, the island folks experienced people, this sort of as VIPs, or else intrepid vacationers eager on learning far more about how these kampong folks lived off mainland Singapore.
“(New) h2o was tough (to come by) and h2o rationing was practised. I would stick to my mother to the perfectly to clean outfits. In the night, I’d play, play, play,” explained Mazlan.
His father initiated him into island life. “When he experienced absolutely free time, he would convey me to go seem for crabs and fish… Lifetime was not so effortless like what we have now there was no handphone, no walkie-talkie to communicate… You just listened to the radio there was no Television.”
But there was one facet of island life that actually fired up the young Mazlan, and became a passion he under no circumstances shook off – the annual races of the classic wooden sailboats called kolek, or “dinghy” in Malay.
WHEN SAILBOATS Ruled OUR Coast
He distinctly remembers viewing one race when he was about 8.
“They organised a sea activity activity on the beach front of Pasir Panjang, ahead of it was formulated into a port,” he tells us. That was the very first time he ultimately acquired to see his own family’s kolek in a race. It was called Pujangga – or “poet-philospher” in Malay – and it finished third.
Mazlan was also young to sign up for in these adult races, but the sight of the swift-moving boats with colourful sails gracefully threading the waters fired up his imagination. He would even occasionally slumber inside Pujangga.
A kolek race in Bedok in 1963, with the Singapore flag in sight. (Photo: Ministry of Data and the Arts Selection, courtesy of Countrywide Archives of Singapore)
By the time he was 10, he and his close friends would get portion in mini-races for kids on Lazarus Island.
“I keep in mind we after finished very first, and the prize was three bucks!” he laughs.
Even back again then, these one of a kind races experienced been a way of life in Singapore for many years. There are newspaper stories, some relationship back again to the 1800s, that explain these annual activities getting location.
The most common of these was held at Clifford Pier, as portion of the annual New Year’s Day celebrations – like this 1905 regatta, in a picture from the Arshak C Galstaun Selection (courtesy of the Countrywide Archives of Singapore).
A person newspaper report in 1938 even compared the races to the prestigious Sydney Harbour regattas. It described how “thousands of Malays thronged the foreshore at Siglap” and forty boats from Singapore, Johore and neighbouring islands took portion.
Like the maritime equivalent of the neighbourhood football club, just about every kolek represented a particular kampong, while the crew comprised villagers. And while the activity was connected mostly with Malays, it wasn’t shocking to see some Chinese getting portion.
(Photo: Activity Singapore)
The regattas were held up and down Singapore’s coastline, but Mazlan didn’t have to travel also far. The Southern Islands were a common place for kolek racing, and it was collectively nicknamed the ‘5S Races’ to denote five of the islands in southern Singapore: Sudong, Seking, Semakau, Seraya and Sekijang – which referred to Sekijang Pelepah, the outdated title of Mazlan’s residence island of Lazarus.
But by the time the 1970s rolled in, things were modifying quick for the men and women who lived in the Southern Islands and Singapore’s coastline.
Reclamation and modernisation initiatives were encroaching into the kampongs and numerous experienced to move inland – such as Mazlan’s household, who did so in 1974.
“All the islanders were shifted to the mainland,” he claims. “We very first stayed in a rented house in Jalan Tauge in Kampong Ubi. Then soon after the redevelopment (there), we shifted to a flat in Eunos Crescent – on the 10th flooring, I even now keep in mind. Then my father utilized for a flat in Bedok North Avenue 3.”
Watch: A way of life disappears, in 1:thirty min
Currently being uprooted from the sea took some finding used to. Even though in secondary faculty, young Mazlan joined a junior sailing club, but over time he was drawn to land sports this sort of as football and rugby, which was fantastic for his perfectly-designed, athletic physique.
Many from the more mature generation were not used to out of the blue residing in small, cramped spaces far from the open up waters. It was a tough time for his father, who even now clung to just about anything that reminded him of island life, claims Mazlan.
“He ordered one (fishing) boat from Keban, which we saved at East Coast. We necessary a allow to retailer it but soon after a handful of decades, the boat collected dust and it was hard to keep it.
“A handful of decades later on, he made a decision to buy an additional boat, so on Saturdays and Sundays, we went fishing. We’d go to Changi, the Tanah Merah aspect, or Siglap aspect, where by they’ve acquired prawns. If selected areas experienced no fish, we’d attack the Southern Islands which we realized perfectly,” he claims.
Island life was significantly easier, for Mazlan and his father. (Photo: Lam Shushan)
But even their outdated haunts didn’t seem acquainted for extensive. The so-called 5S-es gradually changed: Seking was swallowed by Semakau and turned into a landfill Seraya was sucked into the mutant landmass now called Jurong Island and Sudong became a live-firing zone.
And where by Mazlan used to experience the boat to faculty, crossing from Lazarus Island (Sekijang Pelepah) to St John’s Island (Sekijang Bendera), a bridge would sooner or later be designed to hook up these two.
A Tradition DISAPPEARS…
There was also an additional, lesser known casualty of the mass relocation: The tradition of kolek racing.
Storing the boats – that were mostly used just for racing – was also highly-priced for numerous of the regular folks, who experienced moved into landlocked flats anyway.
“Most of the islanders sent their koleks throughout to the Riau Islands, where by they experienced distant or quick kin. But no one organised (races) any longer,” claims Mazlan, who himself misplaced track of the family’s kolek, Pujangga.
In truth, kolek races were only held sporadically in the decades that followed. The very last documented race in Singapore was in 2001. It was through a sea carnival at Sentosa’s Siloso Beach front and one hundred participants took portion – but they all came from Indonesia.
In spite of relocation, the sea continued to get in touch with out to Mazlan and his household. Many of his kin took maritime-connected work opportunities this sort of as diving, becoming in the marine police, or performing with the Maritime and Port Authority.
Even in his latest position as an operations supervisor at a logistics business, Mazlan isn’t far from sea-connected initiatives this sort of as developing barges.
Other than, just when he considered he experienced listened to the very last of kolek racing, Mazlan produced a startling discovery far more than a decade soon after moving inland. Throughout a journey to Keban in 1987, he noticed a acquainted-searching boat. It was Pujangga – destroyed, but even now intact.
…. AND IS REBORN IN RIAU
For Mazlan, it was a lightbulb second. “I explained, why is my (family’s) kolek sitting down below? Why not we have a race?”
Shots of when they very first acquired the Pujangga sailing once more. (Photo: Lam Shushan)
After correcting its destroyed hull, he suggested they convey back again the races he experienced so fondly remembered as a little one.
“We started off to speak to the kampong men and women (in Keban) to consider and revive it. ‘Never thoughts, we’ll just play and build up the kolek again’,” he remembers. “And it worked – we held a race with only three koleks from the region.”
Just like in Singapore, kolek racing experienced also disappeared in the Riau Islands. But Mazlan’s enthusiasm was so infectious that news sooner or later distribute that the boats were back again in small business.
A yr soon after Mazlan’s three-boat mini-race, a greater race was organised at Belakang Padang in 1988. Kolek races would once more turn into an annual party – even if it wasn’t in Singapore.
In Part 2 tomorrow: Thrills, capsizes and the hard work of rebuilding a kolek custom.
Watch the full CNA Insider documentary (7:45 minutes):