It Takes A Village

20 October 2016

The unassuming Rasah New Village in Seremban reveals a rich history and charm in unique ways.

Driving through Seremban’s Rasah New Village, one immediately is struck by the change of landscape. Where modern residential houses stretch out in flat uniformity, the ones in the New Village sit snugly together on steep hills, flanking narrow roads that have just enough space for two lanes of vehicles.

‘Quaint’ is a word that comes to mind but only until one learns of the history behind these residential areas. During the Malayan Emergency (1948 - 1960), these villages played a huge role in the British’s fight to eradicate Communism after the Japanese Occupation.

At Rasah New Village, only a handful of surviving residents remember those years. Most of them merely young teens when the Emergency was declared.

Wong Kim Soong’s family was amongst the many that were going to be shipped back to China by the British. They had already been transported to camps in Johor preparing to set sail when the Malayan Chinese Association (now the Malaysian Chinese Association) managed to get them placed in a New Village. The village was called Zi You Xin Chun (Freedom New Village) but a flood in 1951 forced the residents to shift to a new site in Rasah.

Residents moved in batches into the new site, having to build everything from scratch. Some of the original wooden houses still stand today but most of them have undergone renovations over the years.

The Kuan Yin temple has a new concrete face but still maintains a wooden lantern from the Emergency era. Mr Liow is the caretaker of this building and lives in the back section with his wife.

He remembers vividly how every male that was over 18 had to act as home guards and patrol the perimeters of the village, making sure villagers kept curfew and that communists were kept away. Food and jobs were scarce. Many resorted to foraging and even eating rats to stay alive. He even recalls the number plate of the first lorry that came to transport the men out for work – a sign that came when times gradually got better.

Today, Malaya’s first New Village is a different creature. The racial demographic of the once entirely Chinese village is shifting as old family homes are rented out and new flats are built in the surrounding area.

Gone are the high fences and the police station. There are no obvious architectural cues left of pre-Independence struggles. Standing in the old police station’s place is a meeting space that attracts a lively community of bird enthusiasts that travel from all around town to congregate every Sunday morning.

 Although some remember the tough years as clear as day, not many speak much about it. As during the Emergency, a New Villager spoke to no one – not to the British officers, the local police, nor the communists. Today, however, there is anything but silence as the site of the old station fills up with chatter, cups of coffee and lots of chirping.

By Adeline Chua

Photos by Adeline Chua

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