Saturday, December 03, 2011

What shall I say about Mingo?

What shall I say about Mingo?

His name had been mentioned in the same breath as our most famous—and infamous!—politicians. But until recently, I knew practically nothing about this man. Not even his real name. To me he was just Mingo, the great cartoonist; Mingo, whose fans followed his caricatures avidly during the state election campaign of 1976 and collected them to stick onto office walls or to paste in scrapbooks or to pore over with friends during coffee breaks. 

Now I know more about him than I do my next door neighbour or even my MIL!

I’m reading his book—lent to me by his daughter, a new friend—in which he has scrawled a poignant dedication: This book is for you to read and keep, to remember me by. Love, Daddy

One of Mingo's cartoons in his "Mingo's Meanderings".

And just the other day, I had the pleasure of being invited to meet Mingo himself! When I told my friends my unexpected good fortune, one said, “I love Mingo cartoons. Would love to meet him. Any chance?”

No chance, sorry! Oh, well... maybe. 

We talked about the good old days. In August 1946, Mingo left Singapore where he grew up, and after enduring a lengthy eight-day boat trip as a deck passenger, he landed in Jesselton. The town, the new capital of North Borneo, had been razed to the ground the previous year. Mingo described what the town was like in his book and I’ll copy an extract for you in a while. First, let me tell you what he said about coffee drinking and coffee shops in the good old days.

“The towkays were Hainanese or Foochows. Not Hakkas. In the coffee shops, they had this huge copper pot where water was always kept boiling and constantly being replenished. The towkay used a big metal dipper to take the hot water.
When the towkay made coffee, he always poured more water than the thick cup could hold so the water overflowed into the saucer. Everybody drank by pouring the coffee into the saucer and blowing at the hot coffee before sipping it. The coffee was poured into the saucer little by little until the cup was empty. No one seemed to drink from the cup itself!

The towkays were experts at preparing soft-boiled eggs. They scooped boiling water from the big pot, poured it over the eggs and always produced perfect eggs with cooked whites but in the centre the yolks were still soft.”

Mingo mentioned about the strong sense of community among the Chinese towkays. “When one of them was in trouble because of debts or other ill-fortune,” Mingo said, “the others would rally behind him by lending their hands, by contributing money towards a fund to pay off their friend’s debts and to provide him with capital to revive his business.”

I am amazed and touched by the people’s spirit of community and their feeling of brotherhood. These characteristics have been illustrated in other instances among the Chinese of Jesselton.

And now a short excerpt from “Mingo’s Meanderings” about Jesselton after WW2.

“The town had been hastily rebuilt with two blocks of 10 units two-storey, and four blocks of ten units single-storey shophouses, built of bakau round timber for the frame, sawn plank walling and attap roofing. The floor was lined with planks. These buildings were meant to last a year or two when the permanent structures would be going up to replace them, but they lasted almost ten years. When the attap roofs deteriorated and leaked they were conveniently covered over with thin, galvanized, iron corrugated sheets. Rainwater, collected from the roof and stored in metal drums was used for drinking, while the brackish water from open wells in the open courtyards of the shop was used for bathing and washing.

Two public latrines built over the sea served the whole town. Each of the ten compartments had a seven by sixteen inch hole through the plank floor. It was quite a thrill to watch the fish snatching at the tasty morsels during high tide, and crabs daintily picking at the solid pieces at low tide. I used to feel quite nervous when fishermen in their row boats passed too close below to the building. What was there to prevent them from poking a pole through the hole?”

So what shall I say about Mingo? I think he is very brave; the type who faces adversities head-on and who gets up every time he falls; the type we'd want to have on our side. He's also a fine painter and an amazing cartoonist whose works have appeared in our newspapers. He has other accomplishments, of course, having designed many of the buildings in KK and making contributions to the local communities but I'm not listing his achievements here. 

Note: I feel privileged to have been given a peek into “Mingo’s Meanderings” because, for personal reasons, the author doesn’t want to have it published.


  1. I was hoping you'd show us a picture of you and Mingo :)

    It's quite surprising to know that the coffee shop towkays in those days were Hainanese and not Hakkas. Makes me wonder how Hakkas seem to dominate the Chinese population in Sabah.

    Another interesting post Tina! We've missed you :)

  2. How very lucky of you to meet Mingo in persons. His cartoons were really good and certainly carry the messages he wanted to convey to people and I can still remember that almost every body during the dark political era of Mustapah's time were eagarly looking forward to see what were the next messages Mingo wanted to tell people. The Sabah Time papers where his cartons were published did very good business when ever Mingo's cartoon appeared.

    Why didn't I think of collecting all the cartoons he drew, I would have had good collections of the story of how Mustaph rule with iron claw. Mingo was a graduate of Kepayan University of which many youngster do not know its existence and it is not far from where I live.

    Tina, I thought you are my best friend because you could have put in nice words to Mingo's daughter so that you could tag me along to meet my cartoonist hero and you are also very naughty for not responding to my sincere wish to meet My Mingo. Now I don't to friend-friend you la!

  3. Hi Lizee!
    Yes, it has been a long while since my previous post. Thank you for dropping by!

    The Hakkas (Hubby is one, btw) came in large numbers in early 1900s. They were recruited by the NBCC to open up rice/vegetable farms. Others came to work as labourers in the government-owned rubber and tobacco plantations. (See my post on Early Chinese Settlers in NB.) The towkays probably came on their own specially to trade or open up some kind of businesses in their adopted country.

  4. Hi Andrew!
    Thanks for visiting!
    The newspapers which published Mingo's cartoons are kept at the archives. You can ask for photocopies if you really want to have your own collection!
    I'm sorry I didn't ask you to go with me to meet Mingo. Please understand, I couldn't tell his family I was bringing someone else. After all, he might have wanted to see only the 'writer' as he had just asked for my 'Footprints'! If there's a next time?