A Company of Planters: Confessions of a Colonial Rubber Planter in 1950s Malaya (Monsoon Books, 2007)
Thursday, 17th March, 2011 § 6 Comments
Currently in the middle of this gem of a book, A Company of Planters, about the life of an English planter at a rubber estate in Sungai Jernih, Kedah in 1956. After going through the easiest job interview in history (they only asked him three questions: Are you over twenty-one? Are you married? Are you engaged?), John Dodd finds himself, after a month-long ocean journey, in pre-Independence Malaya trying to learn Malay, finding ways to not get bored for four years living at a plantation (four years is the minimum length of time that must be served at the plantation), trying to avoid getting killed by the Communists and trying to get rid of the cicak from his closet. Told through a collection of letters to his father, his best friend and his diary entries, A Company of Planters is a treasure of a memoir on the life of an English rubber planter in Malaya who didn’t really know anything about rubber. He just needed a job.
I’ve heard stories about life in those days from the old folks but their stories were naturally told from their side. This is the first time, for me anyway, that the story is told from the orang putih‘s side about how he coped being lonely and just slightly afraid in Malaya during the period known as ‘The Emergency’. Although from what I’ve read so far, he was more annoyed with the cicaks than with Chin Peng’s men because at least the Communists didn’t snuggle up with him in bed at night when he was trying to sleep.