the last dredge

there are certain things that make up a childhood. mine was bike rides around the neighbourhood, catching moths in the vegetable patch, and lots and lots of books. one of my favourite things to do was to cycle to my uncle’s house and go through his extensive collection of Lat comic books.

every malaysian knows who Lat is. he’s a chubby cartoonist who looks exactly like his caricature. his most famous work is “the kampung boy”, which tells of his childhood in a small village in perak. i’ve read “the kampung boy” countless times. in one of the stories, Lat mentions a tin dredge near his home and describes the mining area as a forbidden place, guarded by a dredging machine illustrated as a monster, ready to devour any child that comes too close.

that image has stuck with me through the years. as a city girl, i could only imagine what a paddy field looked like, or how a river clean enough to sustain life would be. i, too, pictured a tin dredging machine to be a dangerous creature, something to be feared.

when i got posted to perak, it didn’t immediately occur to me that i am in Lat’s hometown, that i have the opportunity to see the things he grew up with. it was only sometime last year that i realised there could still be a dredge with a dredging machine in the state. to my excitement, i found out that there was one on the way to a town popular for its huge freshwater prawns! sadly, arranging a trip there was a logistical nightmare for a houseman who works shifts, so it was only today that i managed to gather some no-longer-housemen friends and made the journey to the dredge.

it. was. huge.

it was exactly as Lat drew it – a 3 or 4-storey monster with menacing extensions on either end, arms reaching to unknown victims, a metal structure made for horror. no photograph can fully capture its grandiosity. you have to be there.

the interior was less intimidating. in fact, i felt a little sad that it was so poorly restored. the non-functioning machinery lay in disarray and there was no attempt at putting up signs describing the various parts of the machine and their intended uses. it’s a shame the upper floors were not open to public access as they were unsafe (though admittedly the only form of restriction was the lady at the entrance telling us “you can go in, but you can’t go up”). i would have appreciated an alternative view of the inner structures.

still, i was satisfied with what i saw. it fulfilled a childhood kinda-dream and i guess i can’t really ask for more.

as we left, a family of 8, including 4 kids, walked through the entrance. i wondered if the children had ever read Lat’s comics or if they’d appreciate the significance of the machine that was before them. i doubted they ever looked up from the iPad one of them was holding. i smiled at the young-ish parents and knew that this stop, probably after devouring several delicious steamed prawns, was more likely to be for their benefit rather than their children’s.

either way, more than one child’s dream came true today.

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