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Watching Merdeka go by from a hospital bed

This was written by my colleague Chuah Bee Kim at the Johor bureau.

Johor Bahru: Whenever Aug 31 draws near, 90-year-old Datuk Boon Weng Siew cannot help but reminisce about the good old days, especially fond memories of the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock’s contributions to the country’s Independence. 

For a person his age, the good health enjoyed by him would be the envy of many. His sharp mind and power of memory would also put many younger people to shame. However, he walks with a slight difficulty due to an injury suffered in a car accident in 1957.

Boon, the president of Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) and vice chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) has nothing but praise and admiration for Tan, the founder of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) which was formed in 1949.

Under Tan, often recognised as one of the founding fathers of modern Malaysia alongside Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak Hussein and Tun V. Sambanthan, MCA played a significant role in negotiating Independence from the British.
In 1954, together with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), MCA formed the Alliance, the predecessor to Barisan Nasional. “He was a firm believer in inter-racial harmony. His foresight and wisdom had helped the country to progress and prosper,” said Boon.

When Boon first met Tan in 1947, Tan was the chairman of the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action. Describing the man as a great thinker, Boon said the council had organised a strike to protest against Britain’s Malayan Federation Plan.

The Plan contained various clauses deemed unfair such as the appointment of a governor whose authority could not be questioned by Parliament; citizenship rights and political inequality among the various communities in Malaya.

Boon took part in the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action strike in Singapore.

Boon, who was former Malacca MCA executive secretary in 1950, noted that Tan was also a strong believer of the doctrine of “jus soli” (son of the soil) which is the right of anyone born in Malaya to be given citizenship. Tan was also of the opinion that those who had lived in the country for more than 8 years should be entitled to apply for citizenship.

“It was the post-war years and the Emergency period was probably the most trying time for the Chinese community in Malaya,” Boon said.  

The British had planned to deport about 500,000 Chinese squatters and plantation workers back to China for allegedly helping the Communists.

Boon recalled Tan had successfully dissuaded the British from doing so by proving that many Chinese fought hard in shielding villagers from Communist threat. Through the concept of New Villages, the British deprived the Communists in the jungle of food supply, a determining factor that led to the end of the Emergency in 1960.

 “Tan had also told the British government that the Chinese squatters and plantation workers had contributed tremendously to the economy of Malaya. He often stressed on equality of status and constitutional rights between one and all, irrespective of race and religion,” recalled Boon.

During pre and post-Merdeka, Boon said people seldom talk about race. “As we celebrate the country’s 56th Independence Day, it is commendable that we pay tribute to our past leaders such as Tan, Tunku and Sambanthan. We must thank them for their wisdom and foresight which have brought development and peace to the country.”

He felt that Malaysians, especially the younger generation should make an effort to learn and understand the country’s struggle for Independence, freedom and regain of sovereign rule.

Boon, born and bred in a rubber estate in Malacca where his father was a contractor. currently lives with his wife Piong Kim, 89, in Johor Bahru. The couple has six daughters and a son, 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

On a personal noted, Boon said he remembered the 1957 car accident occurred along the Yong Peng-Ayer Hitam road, which rendered him bedridden in hospital. 

 “I was sitting next to the driver on the way to visit an estate in Gelang Patah. The car overturned and I was flung out of the vehicle. I broke my thigh bone and had to spend seven months in the hospital, followed by four months of home convalescence.”

Looking back, Boon said it was unfortunate that while the whole country was in a joyous mood celebrating Merdeka, he had to watch the historic day pass by from a hospital bed.

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