Saturday, July 08, 2006
The human toll of Opium addiction
My parents lives in Toronto, Canada. They were here for a month long visit. Oh! The feasting and revelry when they were here. I have become an amateur student in Chinese culture. I'm planning my first trip to China scheduled for next fall (07) and besides reading up on the various historical sites, I am also reading up on Chinese history, the Chinese Diaspora(the migration of Chinese) all over the world and my own family history. We were born and raised in North Borneo, then a British outpost and now part of Malaysia. My grandfather arrived in North Borneo from China, like many others, as "coolies", laborers exported from China. Not all arrived as Opium addicts but many picked up the habit while working as laborers. It was to help them cope with hard labor and lack of family and human comfort, most laborers arrived on their own, having left home and hearth. My grandfather picked up his habit while working for a relative who had arrived years before and have made it. His addiction continued till the day he died. My father has a first hand account of the toll and devastation of addiction. I always took the opportunity of plumbing his brain of whatever he remembers and then writing everything down. He is going to be 81. When he leaves this earth, I and generations to follow or maybe even the world would be deprived of this knowledge. What would it do for anyone, I don't know. I know what it does for me- make me appreciate my life, my family and people and country even more. Being appreciative and grateful, I work harder at everything; at my career and even on this blog. I don't know if anyone reads it but I know it is a repository for all this information and for my writing. It is a form of archive for my writing and rambling. This is before I too forget or leave this world. We've been eating so much the month my parents were here. It was not always the case in my father's life; growing up as the middle child of 8 children. He had an older brother who died during world war II.His brother joined the resistance to fight the Japanese; the resistance were made up of more of a Marxist/Leninist ragtag group of Chinese boys who were ill equipped and inexperienced. They were all to perish at the hands of the Japanese. My father's brother died in the jungle of Malaria trying to join up. No one knew where he died, just stories from friends who said they had to leave him because he was too ill. When he was alive he was mostly in school in China. That left my dad to be the only son and to bear the brunt of supporting a family because my grandfather was an opium addict and used all his money on his addiction. They never saw much if any of my grandfather's money. My dad remembered of just one time, when grandfather threw a wad of cash (not very much) on the table. My dad and my grandmother grabbed the money and went to the store to get provisions. Most of the time, my grandmother worked as a Chinese laundry. In those days the British wore heavily starched shirts and khaki pants that require washings and ironing. The irons were heavy and primitive and were heated by live coals. At 8, my dad remembers carrying heavy bags of laundry, both from their owners to be laundered and back to them after they've been washed and pressed. It is hard and back breaking work for a boy of 8 years old. He remembers the constant fighting between his parents. I have first hand knowledge of my grandfather's tactics. We saw it growing up, we also were the brunt of his abuse(verbal). It is a daily affair, when he needs money for his fix. He took money from whomever would give him or he'll throw such a verbal tirade and wouldn't stop till he gets some. Growing up, my dad never remembers a time when he had enough to eat. He was always hungry and all through his adolescence, he was skinny and underweight. They had to move constantly, at least 3 times a year because they never had money for rent. He, hardly had anything to wear other than the clothes on his back. When he was older, he would chop wood for sale or make into charcoal. They use the wood for cooking and the charcoal for the laundry irons. It is extremely backbreaking work. My grandfather was in the same trade, except every cent he made went to the opium den. There were times when he stole charcoal from my dad. It was hard staying in school when one is hungry all the time. Then WWII happened and the Japanese occupied all of Asia. My dad left school and never went back. He reads and writes English; he is self-taught. The existence of the family was dependent on strangers and my grandmother's father, my dad's maternal grandfather. Things got so bad once, they had to move out os state altogether, to a place south called, Miri. Things in Miri did not improve, it was just as dire. They were in danger of starving to death. The rest of the girls were plagued by Malaria; they were so weak all the time; they were bedridden. My dad had Malaria too but had to work through the attacks of fevers and chills. In fact the girls should have died from Malaria but by the grace of God, none of them did. My dad remembers asking a ship captain to let him on board so that he could return to find his grandfather, to tell him of their plight and to seek his help. He had no shoes, all he had were the clothes on his back. He had no money for the passage. The ship captain let him on board for free. Once his grandfather heard their desperation, he chartered a boat to go to Miri to bring them back. Recently I have heard of other families' tragedies because of opium addiction; of families who sold their kids into slavery. I asked dad if grandfather ever considered that. It was considered but word got to my grandmother's father and he put a stop to it. Auntie Mary has never mentioned this. My parents wants to go to China with me. My dad is going to be 82 then, He is still strong; he dropped to the floor and did 24 modified push ups. Pretty good. Now let me try 24 modified push ups!