Monday, February 29, 2016

FORMER COMMUNIST PARTY OF MALAYA (CPM) CADRES AND THE CHINESE VERNARCULAR SCHOOLS

…AND VISITING THE FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE AT PIYAMIT TUNNEL NEAR BETONG, SOUTH THAILAND AND GETTING TO KNOW BETONG TOWN AND ITS PEOPLE.
By Mansor Puteh


Not many knew exactly where the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) were hiding when they were launching attacks on Malaysia up to the late 1980s, when they tried to do the unthinkable and impossible of freeing the country to establish their own version of a Communist State.


And how and why did the Thai government allow them to be there and in large numbers?

I remember trying to tune into their radio transmission when I was young and sometimes managed to hear what they were saying mostly in Melayu but could not understand what they were saying all the time.

They were probably transmitted by their station in south Thailand where their camp was, which is now opened for public view as a memorial of sorts with the staff manning it feeling happy to tell their experiences and also the history of the CPM without showing any remorse or guilt and they would sometimes even laugh about their past experiences being in the movement.

They were all very young then and they are not too old now today with them having children of their own who are not totally oblivious of the CPM and how their parents got to be where they are now living in the Friendship Village in houses given to them by the Thai government with a piece of land.   

When the CPM was disbanded on 28 April, 1987 it soon became apparent that there was a huge camp near the Malaysia-Thai border, five kilometers from the town of Betong, where the Chinese CPM cadres were camped.

It is now called the Friendship Village and it is opened to the public.

There are still some former cadres looking after center which is a tourist site who still can talk about their experiences when they were in the CPM, and they can even laugh when recalling those times.

Here is a photo of some photos of the CPM cadres undergoing training then and a tunnel in the camp which is opened for the public to walk through.

What is most startling but not surprising is how most of the Chinese boys and girls who had joined the CPM were from the vernacular Mandarin schools and those living in the Chinese New Villages that the British had opened to house them, in order to protect them.

No wonder Lee Kuan Yew did not want to have anything to do with such schools and go them disbanded, because he feared Singapore was infested with the communists.

I had heard a bit about the Piyamit Tunnel as it is called which is near Betong, a small town not so near the Malaysia-Thai border, but had not bothered to check it out until quite recently when in September, 2014 I was invited by a friend to go to Betong which I immediately accepted, so I could visit the place.

I returned there two months later.

Betong turned out to be such a pleasant place, a small town which is unlike the others that I had seen and been to; it is clean and the people are disciplined.

No one park their cars or motorcycles indiscriminately.

And the temperature is Mediterreanean and pleasant with low humidity so one does not sweat even after walking for long distances which I had to do often to go to some places.

But after a while Betong looked very easy to be in with the hotels that I stayed at which are in the city center and walking is the best way to move about.

The town receives many visitors during the weekends and on public holidays especially those from the states near the border, and they are mostly men who are out to find some excitement.

Life is open here in Betong as much as most of the country and there are bars and nightclubs everywhere but no one seems to bother with them.

And things especially food is are also cheap, and Melayu or halal food can be found everywhere.

In fact, Betong has a large Melayu population; it was a Melayu area before it was seized by the Thais. Even the name Betong is Melayu to mean a certain type of bamboo.

And Phuket at the other side of south Thailand is the Thai version of the Melayu word for ‘Bukit’ which is ‘Hill’.

So no wonder many Thais in Betong are able to speak good Melayu.

Driving from Kuala Lumpur to Betong takes about five hours and most of the time the roads are those that pass through small towns and in the middle of vacant land so traveling there at night won’t be good or advisable as there might be some animals crossing or sitting on the deserted roads.

In the old days, there could even be communists waiting to ambush anyone passing there so I could imagine that the roads were clear there at night but chances are even in the day no one would dare to come by, except for the locals who live in this area.

From Betong, it is five kilometers to get to the Piyamit Tunnel where the Communist Memorial is and the road winds through a jungle which is still verdant where some small towns and villages can be seen at both sides.

And there is also a hot spring near the Tunnel which is a favorite tourist site for the locals mostly as there are not that many foreign ones who would venture this far to enjoy it. 

My friend had planned to return to Betong in a while but there were things that happened that caused this to be delayed.

Chances are I might join him again to make my third trip there while he makes his half a dozen or so trip, so I can enjoy being in Betong. But I am not sure if I want to return to the Piyamit Tunnel after being there twice before last year.


I might just stay in the hotel and write and enjoy my two or three-day stay there by taking photos and recording videos.  

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