By 1920 Sim had slipped into Sulu. The Tausug, and not the Gypsies, still lived in bamboo houses reached by a maze of shaky walkways built over the sea. Sim descended on these people with his small boat. He was determined to raise their standard of living and make a profit for himself. With a pox Americana, the Tausug, by and large, accepted American rule. Along with the boat people they enjoyed a prosperity that they hadn’t seen before. As well as capturing firearms, collecting taxes, and branding cattle, America introduced paper money proving how ready people of Sulu were for Sim and his bargains. With a variety of goods to sale he always departed a richer man than he came. His ability to move around safely proved that he had the right connections.
Sin Ah Lah never lost sight of his obligations and employed his brothers. With one brother in Sandakan, and another one in Jesselton, he control his costs and maintained a personally link with a region-wide system of trade. This was how he became very rich and powerful.
He realized God had been very good to him. He started with one boat filled with chintz, chinaware, tea, drugs, and many other things; next a bigger boat and then many boats; and finally the monopoly of Crockett’s day. Above all he furnished the inhabitants of Sulu with many things they thought they needed.
Immediately after the war, with the availability of modern weapons and violence on the rise again, he had to hire a security force. In spite of a good relationship with the constabulary and most datus, he always had to be on the alert for pirates. Hence Sin learned battle tactics and expected to see bloodshed. Some of them attacked in broad daylight and highjacked ships because they were afraid of nothing. Sin had to sail through a no-man’s land, where only guns and powder spoke. However this situation proved beneficial, because the Tausug respected a show of force and believed that killing was a legitimate way of avenging shame.
It was considered bad to seek revenge, but also bad to suffer shame. Unless a man sought revenge, he suffered shame, so either way it wasn’t a simple matter. Many hot liverish feuds existed to this day. Accepted by Allah, friends were always a step away from becoming enemies. Members of rival families, having been allies and once close, in an instance one of them shamed, for which the other was held accountable. The affront often was small. Something blown entirely out of proportion. Then pressure from the community would build until someone got killed.
Crockett was accepted into Sim’s Sandakan family and then passed a series of tests that gave him an edge. Just when the British were giving up their territory in South East Asia, he took over the Sin family business in Jolo and lived the life of a true White Rajah. This may have been an exaggeration; but it was fair to say that he lived quite well. Back in Sandakar, Sim thought he could trust him. He had become an adopted son.
In spite of discrimination, the Sims became respected members of the community. In spite of having left Amoy with almost nothing, they accepted the difficulties they faced and never expected to fail. They knew if they stumbled, they could get up. They had a community they could go to for financial assistance, and that was true for all of the Chinese. Crockett met all of the relatives, who frequently visited him, when he never knew any of his own relatives.
Smuggling got the better of the law. Crockett’s first taste of it came from riding over the sea in fast speedboats. For his education, he would race full throttle towards Sitangkai or Tawi Tawi. He rarely slept nights. Sometimes making two runs before the sun came up, his boat would be full of contraband.
Both sides looked out for each other; and each side considered darkness a friend. However the Constabulary had to sometimes recover some of the goods. This everyone knew; but the boats for some reason were never confiscated. Sim personally knew all of the Philippine brass and knew that some of his runs had to be intercepted or else heads would roll. The recovered contraband also helped grease palms. For looking the other way, Naval officers were only too happy to accepted cartons of fresh American cigarettes. For a long time this had been a routine.
This was Crockett’s inauguration into a life of crime. Here crime was considered legitimate, and everyone accepted smuggling as a necessary evil. And it was a rather large business; yes by any reckoning, it was difficult to know exactly what was not smuggled in. Take an ordinary recipe for meat sauce. There would always be one or two ingredients that only could be obtained from smugglers.
Three hours out, through monsoon waters, following engine problems, which Crockett and Sim’s son Chu could do nothing about, anxious to recover lost ground, the two young men were surprised by pirates. They weren’t particularly smart. Chu recognized the distant sputter of a panboat and should’ve known that that type of outrigger was the favorite of pirates. At first Crockett thought that they were about to be rescued. Only after seeing their bodyguards’ reaction did he sense how ominous their situation was. Before that evening ended Crockett learned how to use a machine gun.
This brief engagement raised Crockett’s stock with his adopted family. It gave him another reason for perfecting the hide-and-seek game of smuggling. By then he had a grasp of the territory, which stretched from North Borneo to Zamboanga, with the ports of call at Sitangkai, Isabela, Bongao, Siasi, and Jolo. By then Jolo had one of the best harbors in southern Philippines. Then without applying for them, Crockett had a number of different passports from a number of different countries and used a number of different aliases.
When he traveled as a tourist to Singapore, Manila, and back, he ran into difficulty over carrying too much currency. It was something he learned the hard way. It was better to be hanged for something such as that than thrown into jail for smuggling dope. Without knowing his real name, which might have embarrassed his father, a magistrate locked Crockett up for a week, a lesson he never forgot. Later when his legal difficulties grew, he thanked all the loopholes in the law. This only happened outside of his domain. In the Sulus, he and Sim’s family held a position above the law.
Their success was so great while admittedly corrupt that they were envied. Often shots rang out. And shouts of “Chinaman go home! Foreigners! Foreigners!” showed how their neighbors felt about them. Malays armed with krises more than once chased the Sim family into their compound and threatened their lives. Though respected but hated, they never went anywhere without bodyguards. This animosity spread throughout Sandakan. It came from small but vocal groups. Because of bad PR, Sim used Crockett more and more as a go-between.
Finally martial law had to be imposed. Fearing a widespread revolt the police cracked down, and a curfew was set. Unfortunately this tough stance hurt most the very people it was designed to protect.
Shouting the Royal tongue as he went, Crockett shuffled between the two camps. He reminded the Malays that the British and not the Chinese had colonized them. “Why speak of the Yellow Peril? Before you ever saw a Union Jack, Chinamen came with the goods you desired and never tried to change you. They became your neighbors. They also keep their shops for you open all the time. They brought you cloth, salt, kerosene and biscuits way before Sandakan was a beautiful city. You have the advantage of a superior religion and have a sultan. So favored, what do you have to fear? You own the land and to have a little land is everything.”
Out of gratitude, Sim gave Crockett control over Jolo Island. His house was constructed of white coral; and those of his employee also were nice. With hardwood floors and imported furniture, these houses were built to impress even a datu.