Jalan Dato' Wilson revisited

Peggy [Centre] with sisters, Ruby [Right] and Pearly [Left]
seated on front porch of our home at Jalan Dato Wilson

I RECENTLY received a call from a man who said he was following my stories on this page and that he probably knew me when I was a toddler.

He told me his father used to work with my dad in Johor Baru General Hospital and that they also lived at the staff quarters in Jalan Dato' Wilson. This started me off on a quest to find out more about this obscure road in Johor Baru.

After quizzing mum about the possible location of Jalan Dato' Wilson, I took her for a drive to have a look.  Full of old and new buildings, the hospital compound had been transformed into a complex and renamed Hospital Sultanah Aminah.

My sisters and I with Mei cheh our mah jie maid



The quarters where we once lived had been torn down and replaced by other buildings.  We discovered that Jalan Dato' Wilson is now two narrow parallel roads with a U-turn at one end and it can be seen through locked gates from the corner of Jalan Mahmoodiah and Jalan Sungai Chat.

Revisiting Jalan Dato' Wilson opened a floodgate of memories and my parents started to tell me stories about the place.  After I was born and mum was in the maternity ward, dad was lying in the men's ward, hospitalised for jaundice.

When I was brought home to Jalan Dato' Wilson, a mah jie (Chinese amah) was hired to take care of me.  I used to sleep in the maid's room next to the kitchen with Mei Cheh, my mah jie.

Jalan Dato Wilson was flooded on Christmas Day 1960

There were 16 one-room units in each of the two rows of barracks. The space was limited so it was amazing how we managed to host Christmas parties. Somehow we had managed to fit in a Christmas tree and lots of balloons. 

Though they were packed like sardines in our tiny home, our guests looked like they were having a great time judging from their looks in old photographs. Dad would organise games such as passing-the-parcel with fun forfeits and we played outdoor games in the front yard.



Dad holding (distracted) me in front row - Christmas Day

Christmas Day in 1960 was most memorable because heavy rain and an unusually high tide had caused a flood in Jalan Dato' Wilson. 

But this did not deter guests from coming to our party. Armed with gifts and with babies in tow, they waded through the floodwaters to reach our house.  Someone even used my plastic bathtub as a tiny boat to ferry in younger guests.

Our neighbours were mum's and dad's colleagues and their families, so everyone was an uncle, auntie, kakak or adik. 


Peggy (Centre) with sisters in front of our house
It was a safe place where my sisters and I could go for walks with Mei Cheh. If we were playing in the front yard neighbours would stop by for a chit-chat.  As I was the youngest, and probably the cutest as well, the neighbours could not resist giving me a cuddle and carry me.

One night, when mum heard sounds in the ceiling, she suspected there was an intruder but dad brushed it off as her imagination.

However, a few days later the neighbours talked about how things were missing from their homes. Later, a burglar was spotted trying to get into the space between the ceiling and the roof. The barracks were built with a walk-through space between the units and the burglar was slipping in and out of homes through the ceiling.




Peggy in driver's seat of dad's car at Jalan Dato Wilson

The close-knit community decided to catch him and when they did they were shocked to discover that he was the younger brother of one of the residents. He was handed over to the police when stolen items were found in his room.  The experience haunted the community for a while before life returned to normal in Jalan Dato' Wilson.

As mum's suspicions had turned out to be right, dad took her insights more seriously after that.  I was too young to be affected by the happenings at the time but I was horrified when mum told me that the cat-burglar had cuddled and carried me!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Buzz on 1 April 2009

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