Res John Burman
'A Postcard From Kuching' - Poem by Res John Burman
A postcard arrived here today
From a land that James Brooke cried for
That took me back to the rifles crack,
And the land I almost died for!
To the rivers and seas, the jungle trees,
On the island of Borneo,
And a dirty little war and so much more
Forty-nine long years ago!
I was twenty-one and just one day,
‘Twas time I earned my shilling! *
A silver ‘plane carried me away
Judged old enough for killing!
Little I knew, as away we flew
They'd sent me to Sarawak.
And over the years, through smiles and tears
That land still calls me back!
James Brooke had been the Rajah there,
His rule was fair but stern.
You could feel his hand upon that land
At almost every turn.
The people loved him dearly
And his rule had stood the test
And now even many years later
The land was different to the rest!
Bung ‘Karno* sent his troops a-raiding
Far and wide across the border.
Attacking defenceless people
So we went to bring back order!
We went because we had to,
But what was unexpected,
Was how much we came to love,
Those dear people we protected.
Jungle longhouse, kampong, town,
Back at Police HQ
From the people of that blessed land
Kindness was all we knew!
Though force of arms protected
The friendly people on our side
In the end what really mattered,
‘Twas "Hearts and Minds" that turned the tide.
Now as this postcard reaches me,
Over time and distance calls me back,
Is it to sweat and blood, the bloody mud,
Or the whip-lash rifles crack?
No, it's laughing eyes so deep you'd drown,
And voices that would say
"We love you, love you, love you here,
Oh won't you, won't you stay? "
We were always welcomed back,
People hugged us and they kissed us
From jungle swamp or mountain track.
They told us they had missed us,
Long-house base or back in town
Gave us fruit and sat us down.
Then we'd eat and drink so hearty
Every meeting was a party!
Be it song or poem to entertain
Christian Hindu Taoist Jain
Everyone would do their party pieces!
For there we had brothers uncles nieces!
Never a thought of racial strife
Would mar these peaceful peoples life.
Whether we slept ‘neath trophy heads,
Or cool on silk on Chinese Beds,
We'd friends in the market, thick as thieves,
We ate fried rice off banana leaves.
I remember well the wind in palms,
The friendly market places,
The clasp of silky dusky arms,
The beauty in their faces.
I remember all the kindnesses,
The words and touch of love,
And oh! Those magic tropic skies,
And the dawns that bloomed above.
Only a simple postcard, fifty cents or so
And satu ringgit* postage to days so long ago
And there it sat on my mat as if ‘twas yesterday,
When kit and gun, me so young, once again away!
But that is just a fancy of an old man's mind,
But how I yearn once more to turn to those people kind.
I still sometimes smell the markets there,
But no Mee Hoon Soup for many a year.
But it's little things that call my heart a-while,
The loving words that taught me how to smile.
Even today, people say, Sarawak is different, through and through,
And those of us whom Sarawak touched, we are all different too!
*Earned my shilling = Taking the Kings (or Queens) Shilling = Joining the Army or Navy and possibly Air Force, (though they'd have wanted more than a shilling!)
*Bung ‘Karno = Brother ‘Karno = President Soekarno of Indonesia.
*Satu ringgit = One Malaysian Dollar.
Words Copyright © Res JFB 16th October 2012
With thanks for the Postcard to my dear friend Michelle Sim, a lovely lady from Bau, Sarawak, Malaysia.
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