July 29, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Bless the Hands

My mother was barely seventeen (born 1926) when the Japanese started to bomb Sibu (Christmas Day 1941) and turned the peaceful Sibu and Nang Chong village into a nightmarish settlement. A few thousand souls were in peril as the Japanese soldiers tried to find every reason to punish them and even execute them. Fear reigned.

Because she refused to be married off, for three reasons, the guy was very ugly, she felt that she was too young, and there were three younger siblings to protect as her father was ailing. She took the burden to take up three roles : provider/supporter, protector and housekeeper. My mother started to plant rice, continued with her pig rearing and stopped her secondary school education. Her teachers, amongst them Mr and Mrs. Chen had managed to return to China by the last boat. Their whereabouts are still unknown to this day.

She washed, she cooked, she cleaned out the pig sties, but she sang to help her young brothers to sleep while her mother, my maternal grandmother and second uncle were stranded in China. Mother did not know if they were dead or alive. Communication was cut off completely.

Photo: Good morning. Have you ever looked at your mother's hands? My mother's loving hands and <3  brought up three generations (maternal grandma was stranded in China for more than 4 years during the WW2  leaving her to take care of her younger siblings,she herself was barely 16 -fed pigs, planted padi, washed and cleaned her siblings and did the laundry), her  own 4 younger siblings and her sick father, her own 7  children and her grandchildren with love, and a heart that is huge. today think of people who have helped you in your life and praise God for such a blessing. I am learning to photograph hands today...So take a closer look at the human hands.....The last baby she looked after in 1987 has received his post grad diploma....That's her 14th "baby"...and we often say this prayer which is even more meaningful today..."Thank you Lord for the food on the table, BLESS the hands which prepare the food......."
70 years after planting so much rice during the Japanese Occupation.
While Japanese planes flew above the skies, mum went on collecting meedin to supplement their daily food, pulling out from the soils, sweet potatoes, and trapping fish too. Her greatest joy was in planting padi which would put white rice on the table. She was able to harvest, single-handedly, 38 TANG or piculs of rice every year, for three years. She became as dark as a "Ma Ga Li" she laughed, telling us the stories. Mum is very very fair in fact. She was not at all worried that her hands were roughened by the hard work and her feet cracked from so much soaking in the soggy mud or walking barefoot on the hot dried up roads. Her feet were stabbed by sharp thorns and once in a while, her toes lost their hold on the rubber roots and she fell in the mud. But to her, she was fighting a war to save her family.

Because she worked so hard, her eldest sister in law often rewarded her with two pieces of chicken on festival days. These she would pass under the table for her two young brothers so that they would grow stronger. Mum always denied herself of good food and thought of others first.

She married in 1948, after having been matched to a handsome and wealthy son of a businessman. She was tall, pretty, patient, kind and strong according to my father who thought well of my mum.  Mum was very much in love with him and we often teased her. (Her love helps her undergo again all the suffering she had to undergo when my father passed away pre maturely.)They had 7 children.

Mum again made another sacrifice in life. She had to give up her teaching position so that her newly arrived (from Fuzhou city) sister in law could have a job, since she was a college graduate and the school's headmaster was a cousin to mum. Also my mother after her marriage lived in Kerto, Sibu, too far away from the school. Second Aunt used to tell us that it was 40 minutes walking to the school and it was very hard on her because she was heavily pregnant with her eldest. Life must have been tough for her, a great difference from her comfortable Fuzhou city girl's life.

Mum was widowed at the age of 40 and overnight her hair turned white and her blood pressure went up. We were aged ll months to 15. Over night she lost an income my father was bringing in. In those days , insurance was new and my father never gave it a thought.

My maternal grandmother came to help us out from time to time, some times for a few days, sometimes a few weeks,to give mum moral support until she lost her eye sight completely. My uncle Pang Sing would drop by too to chat and to see the three of them reunited in that comfortable way at the dining table was so good and touching. Mum would take out a well reserved bottle of beer for uncle, as a token of love. He would only drink a small bottle,nothing more, nothing less and then he would cycle away again to Bukit Assek where he temporarily lived. He was a wharf labourer,road construction worker and an all purpose (or general ) worker.

Her hands rocked many children to sleep.
Borrowed this from Melissa...until I have the chance to eat my mother's mee sua again.....this will have to make do...



Her hands also cooked for many people who lived with us, who visited us and who need a place to stay for a few nights. Her most famous dish is the Foochow Mee Sua. I was very touched that one of my aunts, Mrs. (Prof) Chong Chung Hien or Aunty Julia, told me that when she first came to Sibu and had the first bowl of mee sua, she remembered that it was prepared by my mum, in Kerto at the Hua Hong Ice Factory. The late Professor Chong was best man in my parents' wedding. Aunt Julia was from Penang and it was really a compliment from her which touched our hearts. It was just so aromatic and delicious she said. Mum continues to prepare the best of chickens for any one who visits her and a special sized drumstick, a Grade A hard boiled egg, and two huge mushrooms would be in the bowl for the VIP guest who arrives at Kasuma Resort in Kuching where she calls home now.

Mum said she moved houses (Ensurai, Chien Nang Chong, Ah Nang Chong,Kerto,Kung Ping Road(Sibu,) Lanang Road Lane One, Brooke Drive, Airport Road Lane 7 and finally Kasuma, Kuching) 9 times in the almost 90 years of her remarkable life.

I see in my mother with different "foreign eyes" being educated in English. She has the traits of a good leader. Not only has she practised POLC, she is also a good mentor, because she sees the potentials in a person and gives her support. That is why she said that all those who have lived with her and rented rooms from her have become very useful people. I can mention, Mr. Lau Nguong Ting,or Ah Hang's father, who is now a multi millionaire. She is particularly fond of Ah Kuok, who is a self made entrepreneur in KL. She is always fond of her nephews and nieces (who came to stay with us in order to study in Sibu), particularly Siew Sieng who is now in New Zealand. She is definitely an "encourager". But she has a "dark side" for she avoids difficult and negative people, whom she dismisses with a phrase "no word to say" and she keeps mum after that. She refuses to tell us her secrets.

So whenever we say our grace at the table, we will ask God especially to BLESS THE HANDS which prepared the food. Please bless our mother's hands for the love, care and food she prepares.

And in the same way, she too says the same Methodist Grace, please BLESS the Hands which prepared the Food (her own mother's hands..)

And I hope our new generation and future generations will say the same grace before we have our meals. Praise God!!






July 28, 2014

Unique Pineapple : Superstitions of Yonder Years

When we were kids we were exposed to Old Wives' Tales. One of them concerned our habits of eating and selection of food.

Some aunties would tell us not to eat bananas which are joined together. We girls must choose bananas which are whole, as one. Otherwise in the future we would give birth to deformed babies, like Siamese twins.

Displaying 20140727_113105.jpg

We were also told tales of unusual foods which we must never eat like a duck with a strange web feet, or a chicken egg with two egg yolks.

Recently a friend Aminah Wong gave me a photo of this strange pineapple...We had a good laugh. Shall we tell our young unmarried friends they must not eat this pineapple? They may have kids with  6 legs!! Or may be SIX toes?

 Chrysalids first edition 1955.jpg

Now this brings me back to my English Literature book called " The Chrysalids". Lots of interesting tales there too.

Of course my aunts never read the book, but they were similar to those characters in the book, but the punishment was never dealt to us or to them.

What kinds of superstitions did you grow up with?