The river…

One of my all-time favourite movies is “Tom Sawyer”, the musical starring Johnny Whitaker who was very popular in the days of black and white TV in some American sit-coms and the then-very-young Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher – the girlfriend, with music by John Williams…and I love the theme song, “The River” by Charley Pride. You can click this link to listen to it but the song will only start somewhere in the middle of the video clip. Try catching the meaningful lyrics about a boy growing up to be a man – …only one golden time in his life is he free… – and that would be his childhood days, of course! Nice!

When I was growing up, my house was about 100 metres away from the river – a tributary of the massive Rejang that flows by Sibu town…and at that time, we had a whale of a time going swimming with our friends (Malay and Melanau) from the nearby kampungs. This rubberseeds’ photo from an earlier post of his certainly brings back a lot of pleasant memories to me…

Like in my younger days - rubberseeds' photo
Photo from

…and there was a stream that flowed by our house. My mother taught me and my brother how to swim there. She just threw us into the water and pulled us up by the hair when we were drowning…and the moment we could catch our breath, she would let go again; we struggled to stay afloat and managed to learn how to swim in a jiffy – dogstyle! We only progressed to the big river when we were a bit older.

And on certain days, my maternal grandma and aunties would come to our house and with my mum and of course, my brother and me, we would all go nangok-ing in that same stream. The tide must not be too high; usually the water was around waist or knee-deep. Armed with our baskets, we would go into the stream and catch fish and shrimps like this….. 

Nangok 1 - Gundot's photo
Photo through the kind courtesy of Gundot

So, for the uninitiated, that is what is called “nangok” in Melanau. We did not care about how muddy and murky it was and we did not even think about any danger that could be lurking in the stream. All we knew then was it was so very exciting and so much fun…

Nangok 2 - Gundot's photo
Photo through the kind courtesy of Gundot

Sometimes we would even put our arms into the holes in the muddy bank and catch whatever fish that might be hiding inside. How come we never thought of snakes then, I wonder? Boys will be boys, I guess! Look! Fiq has caught a big prawn!!!…

Nangok 3 - Gundot's photo
Photo through the kind courtesy of Gundot

Of course, we were all wet and covered with mud. I guess that was part of the fun…but no, we did not get to be as bad as this… LOL!!!

Nangok 4 - Gundot's photo
Photo through the kind courtesy of Gundot

We would start from as far upstream as we could go right down to where the stream entered the river. Then we would go home with our catch and the feast would start as soon as we had had our baths and changed into our clean clothes. We would have rebus – some of the shrimps and fish boiled in water with chilli and belacan together with the paku (wild fern) that we would have plucked from the jungle that lined the stream or pais – the fish and shrimps wrapped in banana leaf and panggang (grilled)…and we would enjoy eating the very fresh and sweet luit (shrimps) raw (Some would still be jumping around! LOL!!!), dipped in a special sambal (dip) made with chillies, belacan (dried prawn paste) soy sauce and sugar. Here is a photo from another one of rubberseeds’ posts for those who haven’t the slightest idea what luit looks like…

Luit - rubberseeds' photo
Photo from

That is why when I look at Tom Sawyer’s mischief and pranks, I think we were pretty much the same, more or less, when we were kids. Life was filled with so much fun, excitement and adventure…unlike the miserable sqeaky-clean children of today who would complain of the “stench” even when going past the wet market. I really wonder what kind of life they have – with tuition classes since kindergarten, this they can’t do and that they can’t touch and in a way, I sympathise with them for their lost childhood. Sadly, they will never experience all that joy that I had back then in that wonderful golden time when I lived in our house by the river…