Desperately seeking number 14

November.20. 2011

I must confess I have an obsessive streak in me. Take my fascination last summer with #14.

What’s #14, you might ask?

It’s a local Sarawak brand of hand forged iron tools, specifically knives – parangs (machetes) and cleavers.

It all started when I went looking for a parang to open up coconuts. (I’m a firm believer in the health properties of coconuts.)

I went to downtown Sibu, Market Street, to be precise, and the first hardware store I walked into, the storeowner handed me a fearsome looking object and said, “You want one of these, it’s a number 14.”

I had no idea what was #14 so he enlightened me. Apparently, it’s some ironworks place in Kuching and they specialize in forging knives from springs – the stuff that’s in the shock absorbers of trucks.

I bought the parang and was soon opening up one coconut after another. It really was an exceptional tool.

And then it occurred to me. Do they make cleavers as well? I have fond memories of my mother’s old cleaver (handmade by one of my cousins) and had wanted to get one of those for years.

So I went back to the store and the man said no, they don’t have #14 cleavers because, as he said, they don’t make them. They only make parangs.

Undaunted, I tried other hardware stores. I found a lot of handmade cleavers, but none made by #14.

As it so happened, I went to Kuching the next week and guess what I was doing for most of my trip, going from one hardware store to another, looking for #14.

No luck. I did find out where the factory was located, somewhere in Bintawa, but my obsession only went so far. No side trips to Bintawa for me.

And as it so happened again, I took another trip out of town the next week, to the town, or should I say, village, where I grew up, Kanowit.

I was walking down the main bazaar, close to where I used to loiter in my pre-Sibu days, when I noticed a hardware store, barely five doors down from where I lived as a boy.

Out of curiosity, I went into the store and asked the lady behind the counter if she had a #14 cleaver. To my amazement, she said yes, and produced not one but six of them.

Success finally. Mission accomplished.

Needless to say, it was a happy camper who left the store clutching four of those cleavers.

#14 cleaver

The object of my desire

#14 logo

The famous logo

So back in Texas, with my prized possessions, I went to the local supermarket to get a coconut, one of those from a Central American country.

Trying to get the coconut open was another story entirely. I had never known that a coconut shell can be so hard. It literally became a battle of spring cleaver versus hard coconut shell. In the end, spring cleaver won, but the flesh turned out to be almost as hard as the shell. Since I didn’t want to have a battle of teeth versus hard coconut flesh (knowing what the outcome was going to be), the whole fruit ended up in the trash.

So what happened to the #14 cleaver?

Sitting patiently in my kitchen drawer, happily rusting away. Occasionally, I still take it out to admire its workmanship, and the love and passion that went into its fashioning.

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