Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
MUAR, Johor -- A severe drought lasting for three months took place in early 1990s in Bukit Gambir, Ledang. Everyone in town was talking about "the life-saving well." In fact, the underground water from the 20-year-old well indeed saved the lives of more than 20,000 local residents.
Residents interviewed by Sin Chew Daily said the 17-foot-deep well had saved residents living in the vicinity of Bukit Gambir including Gerisek and Kangkar Baru during the drought.
Although the incident happened two decades ago, the drought situation is still vividly remembered by local residents today. The most unforgettable scene was when villagers living around Gambir made a beeline here to get the clean water from the well. The water seemed inexhaustible no matter how much it had been drawn.
According to local residents, a total of twelve wells had been excavated in the area but only this particular well had the most abundant water flow and yet the water quality was better than that of other wells. Due to this reason, early Teochew residents named the well "Dragon Lair", reflecting the preciousness of it.
Residents believed Bukit Gambir would be badly affected back then if not for the life-saving well.
Bukit Gambir village chief Chen Lai Shou said the life-saving well meant a lot to local residents because it served as a contingency to the largest ever flood happening in the southern region in 2006, apart from the drought.
Chen pointed out that local residents suffered tight water supply for more than a week during the flood, but thanks to the underground water from the well, the basic needs of residents could be met.
"Underground water from the well was believed to have been derived from nearby hills, unlimited supply and clear, and was suitable for cleaning and consumption. Although the well is hardly used today, it is not totally abandoned since it is located within the premises of the Fire & Rescue Dept," said Chen.
Keep the water flowing
64-year-old Wang Jin Biao told Sin Chew Daily he started to plant something beside the well from 1992 through 2007, and used the water from the well to irrigate his crops to keep the water flowing, for fear the water would become stagnant due to disuse after the drought season.
A voluntary firefighter, Wang said the life-saving well was discovered and excavated in 1987 after the original well was damaged. He hopes the Fire & Rescue Dept would set up an electric pump to facilitate water withdrawal for day-to-day use.
Significance of well slowly neglected
84-year-old former Bukit Gambir village chief Feng Luen Guang recalled the abundance of underground water supply during the olden days, but owing to the massive crowd, residents had to queue up until late at night in order to draw the water.
"Some Malay residents even had picnics beside the well for convenience of getting water supply while some residents modified their motorbikes so that they could fetch more water at one time," added Feng.
Feng said the significance of the life-saving well slowly drifted into oblivion over time. To many young people, fetching water from the well is outdated and incomprehensible.