Saturday, September 18, 2021

Uncle Kapitan, the old man of Jelebu

Lim Tiap Beng, fondly known as Uncle Kapitan in his village in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, has lived alone since his mother passed away 34 years ago. While he still has a sister and other family members, he will spend Chinese New Year alone in his rickety old house as Covid-19 movement restrictions remain in place across most of the country.

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He has been single his entire life, preferring not to get married as he says life is easier this way.

His home is built on land belonging to a Malay landowner who has given him permission to stay there for free for as long as he lives.

He gets his supply of water from an old well outside his house, which has no running tap water or even electricity.

Each morning Uncle Kapitan gets ready to go to work, doing odd jobs for villagers in the area.

Despite his age, he is strong and in good health, and has never had any chronic issues.

He travels to work by motorcycle, earning a living by taking care of gardens and cleaning the Jelebu Chinese cemetery.

He and four others are responsible for taking care of the burial grounds which stretch for 10 acres.

Uncle Kapitan uses a hoe to keep the grass and weeds from overruning the graves.

At home, it’s time for a short rest.

He also does his best to keep his house clean, sweeping and tidying the place each day.

With Chinese New Year around the corner, he makes sure that the lanterns hanging from wooden beams in his porch are clean as well.

His kitchen, while humble, is neat and orderly.

Normally, Uncle Kapitan eats the food sent to him by his relatives. Today, though, he boils some water to make himself a bowl of instant noodles.

He eats in the living room, enjoying the peace.

The lanterns, a small pile of Mandarin oranges known as ‘kam’, and a jar of cookies make up his Chinese New Year preparations.

‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home’: Uncle Kapitan’s house is also a favourite spot for many of his friends to sit and chat.

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