In connection with the article on opium dealing by J. S. A. Lewis, OBE , as an
anecdotal point of interest, when I served in the Malayan Police (1952-1958) I first
encountered one of the old opium ration books just near a coastal fishing village, Nanasi,
on the South China Sea coast, in the Pekan District where I was the Police Chief in 1953.
I and my team made a chandu raid on a shop house, acting on information. On this
occasion we found no evidence, but turned up an old opium ration book which belonged
to the householder, the first of many I was to come across over the following years.
Mr Lewis mentions the packaging of the processed opium or chandu as it was called,
in paper packets, or "decks" as we referred to them. The opium treacle hardened into
small, thin flat rectangular portions which were wrapped in red or pink paper. Red is a
traditional colour preferred by the Chinese as lucky and used for festive occasions and
for wrapping gifts. It was therefore appropriate for the purpose. However, it did become
a "giveaway" at times. One developed an "eagle eye" for odd discarded little pieces of
rectangular red or pink paper with fold marks which indicated that somewhere there was
a connection with opium smoking. This often led to a discreet follow-up and a later
successful case before the courts. Sadly, though, rarely did we ever catch the "big fish".
On raids it was necessary to be very quick to seize the evidence, as the addicts were
extremely adept at making utensils, pipes in particular, simply disappear! As a less
experienced officer on my first few raids I remember being quite astonished how things
just vanished - into thin air!
I developed the technique of being the first through the door or other opening with a
camera and flashlight, and still have some of the shots of astonished addicts and their
utensils as I broke in taking flash shots on the move! In this remote, conservative and
languorous locale near the mouth of the great Pahang River where it flows into the South
China Sea, with its charming old world ambience of history and romance and the
pervasive presence of the Sultan, tengkus and retinue of the Pahang royal court, such
goings-on were considered rather avant garde! However, there was testimony to the
success ratio of such raids with rows of opium pipes hung on the office wall behind my
desk, some crafted with great skill and love, with ivory mouthpieces and elegant, polished
Mr Lewis also touches on the experience of an opium addict 'colliding' with his stationary
car. I must say this quite surprised me because I had an almost identical experience in
1956 in the Batu Pahat District in North Johore on the Straits of Malacca.
I had just driven off the old ferry pontoon which crossed the river (now replaced by a
splendid bridge) and turned left into one of the main streets of the Bandar Penggaram
township when I observed an old Chinese cake-seller slowly shuffling along the street
towards me straight into the line of traffic. He carried his little cakes in a wide bamboo
and rattan tray balanced on his head, and, I couldn't believe it, his eyes were closed! He
was literally taking a nap while walking along. Fortunately there was no traffic behind
me so I stopped my car, a large 1948 silver V8 Ford Custom, and waited. I considered
sounding the horn but decided that this might shock the old man too much and he would
drop his tray and cakes all over the road.
A few curious onlookers on the nearby five-foot-way outside the shop-houses
watched agog and with heightened expectancy from the outcome of a collision of cakes
and car. They were not to be disappointed.
I had hoped that something would cause the old cake-seller to open his eyes. But no,
he just kept shuffling along until his knees bumped the front of the car. There was immediate
consternation as the startled cake-seller felt the shock of contact and saw a big silver car
upon him with the chief of police looking at him over the steering wheel! What thoughts
flashed through his mind in those split seconds I can't imagine, but I 'm sure they
remained a highlight with him to his dying day. One arm clawed the empty air for
balance, the other flew up to the cake tray on his head as it wobbled and tilted and miraculously not one cake fell off. In the seconds that followed, as raucous hilarity from
the five-foot-way filled the air, the old cake-seller straightened himself up and with
marvellous equanimity regained his composure to continue his way, slowly shuffling
past my car, hesitating a little as he came abreast of me to raise a hand to his temple in
tabek greeting, his gap-toothed smile belying his relief that nothing bad had happened to
In swinging, down-town Bandar Penggaram that warm and sultry evening the talk
around town in the coffee shops and eating houses was the story of old Ah Chee, the
cake-seller who had tried, single-handed mind you, to run the Police Chief's car off the
I can only hope that Ah Chee's fame spread far and wide and greatly enhanced the
sale of his delicious little cakes.