Category Archives: economy

Tugging At The Hard Strings

Once Upon A Time in Penang before the construction of deep-water wharves in Butterworth , the harbor waters were teeming with tugboats, each with one or two or even three “tongkangs” in tow.

These formed a vital sector of the marine transportation industry and was an iconic feature of life in Pulau Pinang in those days.

A crossing of the channel onboard a ferry would see me peering out of the windows, to watch intently how the poor little tugs labored in a gentle rock-and-roll fashion against wind and water, with black smoke spewing from their funnels as they hauled the bigger unpowered vessels.

These days, such a scene is quite rare; and when I come across one, it never fails to tug at my heartstrings.

King Of The Forest

The Chinese in Malaysia used to call them “San Tai Wong” (in Cantonese, which means King Of The Forest).  Others called them Lori Hantu or Ghost Trucks.   Now you see them, now you don’t ?

In the old days, I used to see a particular type of truck being used to haul huge logs (kayu balak, in Malay) to the sawmill near my house.  They looked rough-and-tough but pretty beaten up and, they did not have license plates on them.  My research seems to say that these were probably ex-WW2 surplus Chevrolet CMP trucks used by the British.

I believe some of these veterans are still running around and the remains of many others are scattered around the country.

R.S.S. Rubber

Your favorite Bak Kwa ?   Or perhaps the name of Singapore Navy’s latest high-tech naval vessel with bounce-around capability ?

Nah, RSS stands for Ribbed Smoke Sheet.  This was the most common form of rubber that was exported from Malaysia.    After the latex collected from rubber trees had coagulated,  it was passed through multiple rollers to squeeze out the excess water, and then the sheets were dried and finally “cured” by smoking them in a giant kiln.

The finished sheets were usually formed into bales for export.  Those were the heydays of the rubber industry.

Our youngsters may not know them.  But I used to see lots of these in the past.

Great Mines Tin Alike, Pools Stannum Offered

Tin,  together with rubber, formed the backbone of the Malayan/Malaysian economy for decades until the late 70s.

In those days, a journey from Butterworth to KL through the Kinta Valley — by train especially — would take us past a number of big open pits which had powerful water jets blasting away at the side slopes and mounds inside.   Yellowish muddy water collected at the bottom of these pits, forming large pools. Later in our Geography lessons we learned that these were called Gravel Pump mines — and the precious stuff the people were looking for was tin ore.

(the other big time method was the kapal korek, or tin dredge).    Those were the ore-some days.   Alas, falling prices of tin globally had devastated the industry and now, many of the old mines have been turned into recreational parks.

note : stannum = chemical name for tin