Saved in trans­la­tion

Then only 15, Yap Ch­wee Lan res­cued more than 300 peo­ple from death dur­ing the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By VIVI­ENNE WONG allther­ageth­es­

As a teenager dur­ing WWII, Yap Ch­wee Lan used her pro­fi­ciency in Ja­panese for good, sav­ing hun­dreds of lives.

AT the age of 15, girls were pre­tend­ing to be boys dur­ing the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion in Malaya, but Yap Ch­wee Lan was bravely res­cu­ing the peo­ple of Kam­pung Baru, Jo­hor, all be­cause she could speak Ja­panese.

“Ev­ery night, about seven or eight young girls from the neigh­bour­hood would come to my house to sleep be­cause they felt safer there. They knew I could speak Ja­panese,” re­called Yap, now 90.

“The Ja­panese sol­diers would come knock­ing on our door to ask for young girls and I’d re­spond in Ja­panese, ‘ Why do you need women? You need house­keep­ers?’. They were shocked I could speak Ja­panese.”

Yap learnt the lan­guage from her for­mer Ja­panese em­ployer, who was a hair­dresser in Jo­hor. The then 13- yearold picked up the lan­guage quickly, and was even treated well by his fam­ily.

Yap’s flu­ency in their lan­guage granted her favour in the eyes of the Ja­panese, and this or­di­nary girl found her­self hold­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary power – the abil­ity to save peo­ple.

She man­aged to save those who lived in her town, Kam­pung Baru, Jo­hor, by iden­ti­fy­ing them – in Ja­panese – to the sol­diers who would have killed them on sus­pi­cion of aid­ing the re­sis­tance.

And we were there to cap­ture her ex­pe­ri­ences as the R. AGE crew brought her around Jo­hor to film at lo­ca­tions that hold sig­nif­i­cant mem­o­ries dur­ing the Oc­cu­pa­tion. This is for The Last Sur­vivors, an in­ter­ac­tive on­line doc­u­men­tary pro­ject that aims to raise aware­ness to youths about the im­por­tance of preserving Malaysian World War II sto­ries.

Lis­ten­ing to her sto­ries when he was grow­ing up, one of Yap’s grand­son Se­bas­tian Chew, 18, is glad he didn’t have to ex­pe­ri­ence WWII and the Oc­cu­pa­tion as he thinks it will haunt him through­out his life.

“I can’t imag­ine go­ing through ev­ery­thing – from the bomb­ings, hid­ing, liv­ing in fear and when the Ja­panese made the peo­ple dig their own graves in one of the fields and killed them. I don’t know how my grandma did it,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s im­por­tant for young peo­ple to know about th­ese war sto­ries so they can pre­vent any­thing of this sort from hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture. It’s cruel and heart­break­ing.”

In her teenage years, Yap, whose father passed away when she was seven years old, had to work be­cause her fam­ily was liv­ing in poverty.

She got mar­ried when she was 15, and lived with her hus­band Chiew Seng Le­ung at his laun­dry shop, Kedai Dobi Shang­hai, in Jo­hor Baru. Twenty days af­ter their wed­ding, the Ja­panese started bomb­ing Sin­ga­pore.

Ja­panese fighter jets, based in Jo­hor, would fly across to Sin­ga­pore twice a day to bomb the neigh­bour­ing coun­try. As the Ja­panese was at­tack­ing Sin­ga­pore, lots of peo­ple walked over to Jo­hor for safety. Yap and her fam­ily evac­u­ated to Tam­poi.

“We packed food and clothes, and placed them on my hus­band’s bi­cy­cle. As we were walk­ing to Tam­poi, we were stopped by a sol­dier be­cause he wanted our bi­cy­cle. I told him in Ja­panese that it was ours and he let us through,” said Yap.

“The sol­diers would leave you alone if they knew you could speak Ja­panese be­cause it was like you were one of them. They’ll have more re­spect for you.”

Once they were in Tam­poi, they sought refuge in a tem­ple along with about 50 other refugees, but sol­diers came look­ing for com­fort women. Yap not only told them there were none, but also said she was part Ja­panese, hop­ing they wouldn’t come back.

But the next day, the Ja­panese re­turned. This time, they were with their gen­eral.

Yet, Yap wasn’t afraid. “Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. He was im­pressed that I could speak Ja­panese and praised me, say­ing it was good be­cause I could help the Ja­panese sol­diers,” she said. He pro­ceeded to ask Yap if they had enough food and made sure they did by send­ing them rice, sugar and flour so they could cook.

He also of­fered her a job in Sin­ga­pore as a li­ai­son of­fi­cer be­tween the Ja­panese and the lo­cals. She took the job af­ter the is­land was in­vaded, but later learned that the Sin­ga­pore­ans she had li­aised with were all even­tual- ly killed.

The dis­tance was too much for Yap to han­dle as well, as she didn’t know if her fam­ily was well and alive. She re­turned to Jo­hor one week later, and things were un­for­tu­nately sim­i­lar to what was hap­pen­ing in Sin­ga­pore.

Chiew’s boss had been ar­rested, along with a bunch of other peo­ple.

“There were black flags all along the streets,” Yap re­called. “It meant ev­ery­body was to stay home, be­cause the Ja­panese would ar­rest any­one on sight.”

Those who were ar­rested were taken to a house in Jalan Ab­dul Sa­mad, be­hind what is now the Mak­tab Sul­tan Abu Bakar, to be held be­fore be­ing taken to Dataran Ban­daraya, where they would be ex­e­cuted.

“When I got to the house, the peo­ple were kneel­ing on the ground, their hands tied be­hind their backs with thick wire as the Ja­panese sol­diers pointed bay­o­nets at them,” said Yap.

“A lot of them called out my name, beg­ging me to save them. Then the Ja­panese asked if I knew th­ese peo­ple.”

“I said, ‘ Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neigh­bour­hood. When I identi- fied them, they were freed.”

The rest, whom she couldn’t iden­tify, weren’t so lucky. Her mother’s friend’s son was one of the un­lucky ones.

“I didn’t see him there, I was dev­as­tated when I found out. His mother was cry­ing in the street,” said Yap, re­call­ing the hor­rors of wartime Malaya.

Those re­mained were brought to the field. They were asked to dig holes in the ground, sit at the edge of the holes and were shot with ma­chine guns. As the bod­ies fell in, those who were merely in­jured were kicked into those holes they had dug them­selves and buried alive to­gether with the dead.

While a great num­ber of peo­ple died dur­ing the Oc­cu­pa­tion, many more owe their lives to Yap.

Her fam­ily, though, re­mained safe, thanks to Yap.

“Be­fore I went to Sin­ga­pore, the Ja­panese gen­eral gave me a per­mit for my fam­ily,” she said. “He told me, ‘ If any­body dis­turbs your fam­ily, ask them to re­port to one of my of­fi­cers’.”

To­day, Yap and her fam­ily still live in Jo­hor, where some of the sur­vivors’ de­scen­dants still recog­nise her.

“I was walk­ing around town and sud­denly some­one called out, ‘ Ah Ma!’. They told their kids that I saved their grand­fa­ther or grand­mother,” Yap said with a laugh.

Fol­low­ing Yap’s video, The Last Sur­vivors will be a monthly se­ries. Help us keep it alive by con­tribut­ing your sto­ries to allther­age@thes­ my or leave a com­ment on our web­site ( last­sur­vivors). Se­lected sto­ries will be filmed.


The R. AGE crew brought ( from left) World War II sur­vivor yap Ch­wee Lan, 90, and her grand­son se­bas­tian Chew, 18, to the tem­ple in Tam­poi, where she sought refuge while the Ja­panese at­tacked sin­ga­pore.

Fro the tem­ple where she sought refuged dur­ing the ja­panese at­tack in Sin­ga­pore to the laun­dry shop where she hid young girls from the sol­diers, World war II survi­ror Yap Ch­wee Lan brought the R. AGE crew around jo­hor for The Last Sur­vivors shoot. ― HAFRIZ IQBAL/ R. AGE

a as acco anied her grand­son le t e as­tian he , 1 , and her son right hie e h e, , d ring The Last Sur­vivors shoot at her ho se in ohor. he has 11 chil­dren, 25 grand­chil­dren and 10 great grand­chil­dren. ― HAFRIZ IQBAL/ R. AGE

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