My Childhood Tale: Rubber Tree Girl…

kebun-getahWHEN I first saw this video (below) a few months ago, it stuck in my mind like no other (video).

I remember watching the video with a big smile on my face as the cute adorable munchkin walking purposely from one rubber tree to another to collect latex.

I played the video hundred times. I told Jeff and Danny how excited I was after watching the video that I wanted to write about my childhood growing up among rubber trees, having smelled latex every day.

It brought back my happy childhood. My village was surrounded by rubber trees. At that time palm oil hasn’t been introduced to smallholders like my parents and other villagers.

Life as rubber tapper was hard I can tell you that much. Our lives were harsh and always have been, living in semi-poverty. Yet these are the very people who had contributed enormously to Malaysia’s wealth. And despite the hardship, I remember life filled with love and laughter.

Tapping latex from a rubber tree in the garden** Note: Shallow depth of field

I remember early in the morning, mom and dad would be all wrapped up from head to toe to ward off hundreds if not thousands of buzzing mosquitoes. For them mossies bites was nothing but for me, it was horrible. I could see from time to time they would adjust the wick of their crude oil lamp just by using their fingers, to ensure there’s adequate lighting as it was still very dark.

As I followed my mom closely behind (mainly due to the fact that I was half-scared in the dark, among the trees) I could see her using her tapping knife and rapidly making a cut the tree’s bark, using earlier cuttings as guidelines.

Occasionally my mom came across a broken cup and replaced that with a new one which she carried in her bag strapped by her side.

rubber-tapper-446x300On the weekend we would take turns to accompany mom to tap rubber when it was still dark such as 5am. I enjoyed it very much except for one thing – that I had to wake up very early. That’s my only complaint. Because I love being outdoors.

I guess the reason why we had to accompany mom because dad was worried about her safety. Tapping rubber in an ungodly hour, who would  know if any animals could be lurking behind the bush even though we never heard of such incidents when I was growing up then. It was very peaceful then. Hardly any murder committed. Living in a village was very peaceful then. Any child could roam around on their feet or bicycle without having to worry about organ-snatched syndicate or bad people looking for victims like we do today.

Living as rubber tapper child, rainy night or day would spell dismay on my parents’ faces cos they couldn’t tap trees due to wet condition. No tapping meant no money coming in as they couldn’t sell any latex.

20151105_181509After decades of not having rubber trees, my brother (pic, right) decided to plant the trees in our back garden. Now, he would tap the trees in the late afternoon after returning from work. My offer to help tapping was politely declined as he said the tree would be too shy to shed any latex if I was to tap the trees… Lol!

And we decided to test the children to handle the dried rubber latex but as we expected they failed miserably. Mainly due to strong smell. My little nice Ika was throwing up when she tried to get near the latex. And these kids were born and raised in my village.

Am just happy that my brother decided to plant rubber instead of the boring palm oil trees. It was definitely a welcomed change.

Look at the pictures here, there’s something about rubber tree plantations that was soothing to the eyes.

I remember John and I would have leisure drive aimlessly looking for rubber plantations just to enjoy the view.

For the uninitiated, rubber tapping is the process by which the latex is collected from a rubber tree. An incision is made in the tree’s bark, which cuts through the latex vessels, from which the product then flows. Timing of the incision must be planned within the planting cycle to optimise the latex yield.

I remember John was telling me that rubber plantation is an environmentally attractive land use. Jungle rubber is essentially old secondary forest, strongly resembling the primary forest. Its species’ richness is about half that of the primary forest.

800px-Rubbertrees_malaysiaThe best part is , jungle rubber supports about 137 bird species, against 241 in the primary forest itself. Jungle rubber is expected to resemble primary forest in its hydrological functions. Rubber tree plantations have far less of an environmental impact than other crops, such as coffee or especially oil palm.

If done carefully and with skill, this tapping panel will yield latex for up to five years. Then the opposite side will be tapped, allowing this side to heal over. The spiral allows the latex to run down to a collecting cup. The work is done at night or in the early morning before the day’s temperature rises, so the latex will drip longer before coagulating and sealing the cut.

Depending on the final product, additional chemicals can be added to the latex cup to preserve the latex longer. Ammonia solution helps prevent natural coagulation and allows the latex to remain in its liquid state. Plastic bags containing a coagulant have replaced cups in many plantations in Malaysia. This form of latex is used as the raw material for latex concentrate, which is used for dipped rubber products or for the manufacture of ribbed smoke sheet grades.

Naturally coagulated latex, sometimes referred to as cup lump, is collected for processing into block rubbers, which are referred to as technically specified rubbers (TSRs). The serum left after latex coagulation is rich in quebrachitol, a cyclitol or cyclic polyol.

For this cute little girl in the video and the person who uploaded it online, thank you for bringing back happy childhood memories… for me and many out there… A