Saturday, January 17, 2015

Riding into the belly of the Malayan Communist Party - Preamble

Chin Peng in 1956


When WW2 ended in Malaya, the political struggle for Malaya's independence continued. The prestige of the British Empire had taken a severe beating in their dismal failure to defend the Federated Malay States against the numerically inferior Japanese Imperial Army, who took just over 2 months to capture Singapore, the prized jewel of Britain.

Though back in power after the war, the Malayan people had lost their trust and confidence in her former colonial masters, and they hungered for independence. The British failed to tackle the social and economic problems, especially for the marginalised Chinese workers. The Malayan Union Proposals which would give the Chinese citizenship did not materialise as it was objected by the larger Malay populace. Despite being allies against the Japanese, the Communists harboured ambitions in Malaya and wanted independence. The British were of course reluctant as Malaya was the biggest contributor due to tin and rubber, to Her Majesty's coffers.

Hence, they waged war against the British when they failed to give them concessions and continued on their oppressions. It started with the killings of 3 European Plantation owners in 1948 though this was done without the official sanction of HQ. The Malayan Emergency, technically a civil war, continued until 1960 where insurgency raids, assassinations and ambushes were carried out. The British Governor Sir Henry Gurney was killed at Fraser's Hills when his Rolls Royce (now on display in Penang) and convoy was ambushed quite by chance. This stepped up British miltary efforts and the Communists were driven back into the border of Thailand & Malaya. In 1960, the Emergency was over and Chin Peng, the leader went to Beijing where Mao wanted the struggle to continue.

One of these hideouts still exists in Betong, a small border town in Thailand and what is remarkable was that was constructed as late as 1977. Carving tunnels into a mountain took 50 able body man only 30 days to construct. A peace treaty between MCP, Malaysia and Thailand was finally signed in 1989.


The chance to see these historical tunnels first hand got me excited to embark on my my first bicycle adventure for 2015. A window of time presented itself in mid Jan and I managed to rope in the famous Uncle KC at the very last minute, who surprisingly have not been to Betong despite his vast touring experiences. Our plan was to take the KTM train from Johor Baru, up to Kuala Kangsar, the Royal Town of Perak and ride 150km north into Thailand. Going back was not planned, but one thing we try to do is always return differently.

Our foldie of choice had to be compact 16" wheeled in order to pack into crowded trains and tight bus luggage holds. KC was itching to try out his Flamingo, while I was happy to use my proven Bike Friday Tikit. A quick reseach on the terrain showed excellent tarred roads with some hills thrown in for good measure, something a 16" foldie should be able to handle.

Let the adventure begin!

                                                                                                                   Pic KC

Note - I have just finished reading the book "My side of History" by Chin Peng and came away very moved at the commitment and passion he had for his cause - to fight for the independence of his country Malaysia, against her colonial masters, The British. I have always believed the official propaganda that the Commies were the bad guys but this book allowed me to understand their struggles and the dire circumstances they faced. Definitely a recommended reading!

                                               For anyone interested to know unvarnished Malaya   (& Spore) history of 1940-1980s abt the Malayan Communist Party, this book truly is a riveting read. He fought with the British against Jpn in WW2, awarded OBE and then fought for independence against the British. Died recently in 2013 in Thailand ironically, on Malaysian Day Sept 16.

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