KUANTAN: Chan Chew Photo Studio has borne witness to 59 years of Malaysia's Independence and is set to celebrate its 60th year Merdeka annivesary.
Since 1906, the storied studio has stood along the bustling road of Jalan Mahkota here, with the outlet's interior decorated with photographs that form a timeline of Kuantan from its past to the present.
Studio's owner Chan Meng Sing had taken the photographs, signifying his depth of experience in witnessing the transition of pre-Independent Malaya to its Merdeka.
Meng Sing, 83, who inherited the studio from his late father Chan Chew, had until three years ago never failed to get into the spirit of Merdeka by taking pictures of the celebration in the heart of Kuantan since 1957.
“On that day (August 31, 1957), the whole town was overjoyed with the Independence declaration made by (then) Tengku Mahkota (Tengku Ahmad Shah Sultan Abu Bakar, who later became Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah).
“Independence holds deep meaning for me as each passing year brings one further from the trials and tribulations during the colonial era,” he said at the studio today.
Meng Sing recalled how he and other children were taught only the occupiers' national anthem during his studies at a Japanese-run primary school here during the Japanese rule of Malaya in the 1940s.
"Before the Independence, our celebration was the Japanese emperor’s birthday, when we sang the Japanese national anthem ‘Kimigayo’ and shouted ‘Long Live the Japanese emperor’ three times.
“During the British colonial era, we sang ‘God Save the Queen’.
“Every year then, we could only celebrate the national celebrations of our colonisers.
"It was only after the country was free from British rule that we got to sing with pride our national anthem ‘Negaraku’.
Meng Sing said Kuantan and Malaysia achieved greater peace and harmony after Independence in comparison to the situation under foreign powers.
With a distinct look in his eyes, he recalled during the Japanese occupation an event when a detainee tried to escape his Japanese captors and paid with his life.
“I remember one afternoon where a prisoner of the Kempeitai (Japanese military police corps) escaped, and a Japanese soldier chased him all the way to the field opposite my shop here (now known as Padang MPK).
“(After the capture) The prisoner was hang by his leg in the public area, had his tongue cut, his eyes gouged out and left to groan to his death,” he said, shaking his head.
“I am grateful that no such incident happens anymore in Malaysia following the Independence,” he said while gazing at black-and-white photographs of pre-Independence Kuantan in the studio.
When asked what Independence Day means to him personally, he laughed and said apart from being a public holiday, it was a day to remember and commemorate historical moments of Malaysia before becoming a sovereign nation.
"Independence means togetherness and unity among us, a lesson of being able to interact with each other every year," said the father of four grown-up children and eight grandchildren.
He then attended to a few walk-in customers at the studio, which faces the field in the centre of town where Independence Day would be celebrated as always year after year.