By Mei Kuan
A charity book project titled “If the Sky were to Fall – Second Edition” is a labour of love by Singapore-based, Perak-born Gary Lit Ying Loong.
The St Michael’s Institution Ipoh (SMI) alumnus is a prolific newspaper columnist and currently holds a number of visiting professorships with universities in Asia as well as Europe.
Ipoh Echo spoke to the 63-year-old retired academic from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore in order to learn more about his first published book.
Aimed to promote the rich heritage of the Kinta Valley, Gary expressed: “It is rather unfortunate that many people, especially our youngsters, nowadays seem to know more about Hollywood fantasies than the true struggles and sacrifices of their forefathers. My book describes and depicts the most tumultuous period of Malaysian history as seen through the eyes of my late father, Lit Kam Chong, who then worked as a driver. Reading our book should instill among our readers, especially our students, a resilience in their spirit, compassion in their hearts and openness in their minds.”
The fascinating memoir of an intergenerational journey was launched recently at SMI in commemoration of the 110th anniversary of the school.
Printed by Gerakbudaya in limited copies of 500, the 312-page paperback is priced at a minimum of RM50 per book with 100% of the proceeds going towards the Michaelian Care COVID-19 Charity Fund.
He also donated more than 100 copies to over 10 schools in Ipoh and beyond.
“I have always wanted to write my father’s memoir. Due to my busy schedule overseas, I did not have the luxury of writing it. The Covid lockdown provided me with the opportunity to do so. I feel it my humble duty to document his life experiences and journey to enable our youngsters to appreciate the rich heritage of Kinta Valley. Besides the oral history as told to me by my late father, I had done some research to fill in the gaps and enhance the validity of his stories, e.g. through data and methodological validation,” the amiable author explained.
At the heart of the narrative are two periods of intense conflict, the Japanese occupation and the postwar Emergency, portrayed through the eyes of an ordinary person.
Gary observed that history has too often been told through the official narrative and with a top-down perspective: “The time has come for history to be seen through the eyes of the common man, the subaltern. This is what Professor Wang Gungwu, one of the top historians in the world today, described as the ‘Sang Kancil’s perspective’. My book attends to the need of telling history from the bottom-up to empower the common man and society.”
“It attempts to review and retell history in order to discover the hidden truth,” he stated, citing Foucault, a French historian, who reminds us to be alert to both the dominating and subjugating discourse.
He expressed his gratitude towards Professor Wang Gungwu who penned an elucidative foreword for the book. According to him, the 92-year-old Wang, a University Professor at the National University of Singapore, had experienced the war as a boy in Ipoh.
Seeking to give voice to the voiceless and face to the faceless, Gary shared, “Although my late father may not be rich, his life experiences are nevertheless quite rich. He had experienced living in the harsh Malayan jungle to escape the Japanese army during its invasion of Malaya. He had survived the brutalities in the hands of the Japanese soldiers and helped some British stragglers after their defeat in the Battle of Kampar. He was harassed by the communists during the Emergency period and had seen how his friend was forced by the dire circumstances of war to join the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army.”
He also recalled how his father had several narrow escapes in his life: “He was supposed to pick up some rubber wood in Sg Siput. Due to heavy rain, he missed the appointment. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The next day, he found out that three British planters had been ambushed and killed in Sg Siput which led to the declaration of the Emergency. Had he gone to Sg Siput at the appointed time, he could have been caught in the ambush. Also, he missed the grenade attack in Kampar due to being late returning home. It was a tragic day for Kampar as its hospital was overflowing with the dead and injured, including some of his friends.”
Present at the momentous launch were Sit Wai Yin, Principal of SMI; Joseph Michael Lee, representative of Board of Governors of SMI; Chan Kok Keong, Chairman of the Regional LaSalle Educational Council and principals of various schools.
Immediately after the launch, he brought a group of enthusiasts for a guided tour to Kampar and Temoh to illustrate the various places and events described in his book.
“Ipoh has a special place in my heart. I spent part of my childhood in and around Ipoh. I studied in SMI under the inspiring leadership of Brothers Paul and Vincent. Who can forget all the delicious food in Ipoh?” Gary enthused.
Interested Ipohites can purchase the book through St Michael’s Institution which can be reached at 052540418. For more updates, Gary can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org .