by Andal Krishnan
I was 18 when I was transported, along with my chemical engineer husband, from Singapore to Ulu Bernam Estate, United Plantations. Krish was to work in the research laboratory in the estate.
What a culture shock it was for me.
It took 3 hours on a boat to get to the estate from a jetty called Mont Repose, near Hutan Melingtan, to get to Ulu Bernam; and once inside the estate, the occasional speed boat rides out of Ulu Bernam Estate felt like a lucky strike. The two children came along, and I was fully occupied caring for them.
We certainly had adventures! One late evening, when my husband and I, with our six-month-old baby, were returning from Teluk Intan (then known as Teluk Anson), the speedboat stopped, and we were stranded in the middle of the Bernam River, which was, at the time, infested with crocodiles. There was no way we could call for help. Finally, one good Samaritan from a village along the river saw our plight and came in a sampan to see how he could help us. By this time, my little girl had been bitten raw by mosquitoes. And she was hungry; her last bottle was over an hour ago before we got into the boat.
Krish got into the sampan to get help, and more importantly milk for a hungry wailing baby! They finally returned, after an hour or so, with a bottle of milk, boiled, they assured me, and we waited gratefully for the rescue boat to come get us.
I grew to love this place. It was truly beautiful. There were a number of scenic spots that we could drive to where tea was grown. The Clubhouse was quaint and homely, and Sunday afternoon curry lunches were welcome interruptions to the quiet life we led.
With no shopping malls to distract the homemakers, the wives of the “executives”, as we were called, became good cooks and bakers. We met for coffee mornings while our toddlers played in sandboxes – substitutes for playschools.
After a time, I stopped missing my life in Singapore and instead of us going to Singapore to visit my family, they came to Ulu Bernam estate for the school vacations. It was no longer “ulu” to them. My two younger brothers loved the motorbike rides with our gardener; all that dust in their wake not bothering them a bit. They continue to tell wistful tales about their youthful sojourns to their children, whom having lived in Singapore all their lives, simply could not imagine what that would have been like at all.
Bernam is different now.
I haven’t been back for quite a while. When this pandemic goes away, I must make a trip to my first stop in Malaysia those five decades ago.
About the Author – Andal is the Director of Talent and Operations at Crest Excellence Centre Sdn Bhd