June 30, 2009

Bell Guava (Jambu Air)

Bell guava is a common kampung fruit. As kids my friends and I loved to climb up the small trees and plucked them. I remember most homes had one or two trees of the bell guava. We loved to see the pinkness of the fruits hanging on the trees. The best time to eat them was around Christmas. My grandfather had a good bell guava tree which gave all of us a lot of joy . Each time we visited him we would be given plenty to eat.

Today due to climatic changes the fruit seasons have been scrambled. So guavas of different seem to be available throughout the year! Furthermore new varieties which fruit more often have been developed to cater for the world market! Fruits which only could be harvest once a year can now be harvested twice or even thrice a year!!

Nowadays we seldom get the old variety from the kampung. Many of the old trees have been chopped down to make way for road widening or other crops.

As years go by the traditional fruit gets pushed to the side when better breeds arrive from overseas. Local breeds are wormy very often and smaller. They sell at 3 ringgit per kg. Big varieties from Taiwan (or locally grown Taiwan breeds) see at RM12 per kg. My children love the bell guava and would anytime buy the older variety.

So even though our kampoung varieties pale in comparison there are still many loyal customers amongst us. Loyalty is a characteristic which is premium nowadays.

These are photos of bell guava in my friend's garden.

June 29, 2009

History of Christ Hospital Kapit 1957-1974

Christ Hospital Kapit (1960)

Deep in the heart of the tropical rainforest in what was almost just a little hamlet was a beautiful hospital with white uniformed nurses and an American doctor known as Dr. Bu Tien Siew. He was not Chinese but he had a Chinese name as he had a father who was a great missionary in China in Putien in particular.

Dr. Bu spoke excellent Henghua as he was born in Putien and later grew up there. His father was instrumental in bringing the Henghuas to Sibu in 1912.

Dr. Bu Tien Siew (or Dr. H. Brewster )was a practising New York medical doctor before he was called by God to establish Christ Hospital in Kapit.

A light moment with Dr. Brewster.

Dr. Brewster with his Kapit staff and Methodist Church employees.

(All Photos from Methodist Message Archives)

In the 1950's and 1960's no one in Sibu in particular and the Rajang River Basin in general would not have heard of Christ Hospital of Kapit. Most people would take the 2 days and l night (2D1N) motor launch trip from Sibu to see a doctor (Dr. Ting or Dr. Fan) in Kapit!!

Why would patients go from a bigger town to a smaller town to see a good doctor and get his life saved? Who mooted the idea to have a western hospital built there? Where is that hospital today?

Here's a little chapter of history for you translated from Rev Ling Kai Cheng's book "Fifty Years in Reminisence" published by the Methodist Book Room of Sibu Sarawak.

In December 1954 Dr.Brewster (Bu Tien Siew his given Chinese name) came to Sibu from his New York hospital for a Methodist Mission trip. Born in China he was brought up in the Fujian Province of Putien (Henghua) . Fluent in Hokkien and Henghua dialects he was also a very good speaker of Shanghainese Foochow and Mandarin (National language of China at that time). Immediately he saw the need of a good hospital for Kapit where there were a lot of indigenous people needing medical attention. Mortality rate was high and he applied to the colonial government then for permission to build a hospital.

By 1957 he had gained the various documents to set up Christ Hospital in Kapit. In March 1957 he was able to set up a temporary hospital at Pantu Kapit.

Together with Dr. Ting Lik Kiew (the adopted son of Mrs. Mary Hoover) he went into an enthusiastic and energized mission of set up a good hospital with all the modern equipment sent by ship all the way from New York!

In 1960 the Christ Hospital had a grand opening. Staff included nurses and doctors from multi nations and guests were dignitaries from Malaysia and Singapore and local Dayak Headmen and leaders.

According to the late Mr. Ling Kai Cheng it was an awesom opening ceremony.

The Christ Hospital of Kapit became the pride of the Rajang Basin and an awesome arm of the Methodist

In 1974 the hospital was taken over by the Malaysian Government as it became too expensive to run as a private entity. Today the chapel within the hospital has become the laboratories and a newer five-storey hospital Kapit General Hospital has been constructed next to it.

(If there are mistakes here they are all mine as there were very few original resources I could lay hand on. Article was written in 2004 ( as part of my research on the rubber industry in the Rajang Basin) after interviewing Christian Henghua ladies about their faith and church work and rubber tapping experiences in Sibu and Bintulu and referring to Rev. Ling Kai Cheng's book. Changyi)

News : Tanjong Manis : The Bright Spot of Sarawak?

source : Sarikei-Time Capsule

Copied a Nasa (astronautical) view of the Rajang Delta for you to look at....Very interesting.

News of Sibu -

Many questions have been asked about the future of Sibu in recent years. While many cities develop well into the twenty first century we can see that Sibu people seem to be pessimistic about its future. Some cities did in our human history tragically were obliterated by sand - by disease - by conquest and even by mysterious change of sea level e.g. Atlantis.

Sibu has many physical disadvantages but its human resources are indeed impressive. Furthermore it is situated in a rich basin which is full of economically viable natural resources which have been supplying not only the needs of the population but have made many prosperous indeed.

Will Sibu get another wind of change for the better?

June 28, 2009

Snippets - the Henghua's Early Settlement Days

This is for sharing with all who are interested in this type of history:

Source : The Methodist Episcopal Church in Borneo (1911-1930) Ed. Wong Meng Lei of Methodist Message.

From Bishop Eveland "The Henghua colony stearted last year has had a hard time. They had not planted enough rice for their own uyse and then 40 more of their fellow countrymen came from China whom theyh had to feed in addition. Some of those who came had had no expeirence in hard agricultural work and have been a burden on the others.
They have wasted time in planting rubber on low land where it can never grow properly but where rice would have done well...."( page 18 ff)

"But amidst all this our Henghua people are not forgetting God. High on a hill in what is to be the very heart of their colony is going to be a spacious church building. In the place where their new home is to be they are building an altar unto the Lord." (Pasge 24 ff)

From AJ Amery 1913 " The Henghua colony arrived in May. It was located on the Igan river just on the boundary of the Foochow colony. They went to work with a will and in less than three months were selling vegetables in the bazaar....many more will be coming.

A colony self supporting in ten months must be a record. Mr. Davis spent much time with them which accounts for this speed." (P.186 )

From Mary Hoover " The new Henghua colony is fast gaining a foothold....They have found 'land flowing with milk and honey" and they want to share the good things with their friends. P. 192.

June 27, 2009

The Henghuas and Rev Brewster

It has been difficult to write about the history of Sibu as there are very few primary sources. Here's one digitalised old map of Kuching from a very old history book(Source :Google) written in Chinese. In order to do any research on Sibu history one has to know at least some Chinese and English. And historical records have been very scarce indeed. One of the greatest sources is the collection of books written by the late Mr. Lau Tze Cheng.

Below is part of one article I wrote in 2004.


On June 30th 1911, Charles Brooke signed a memorandum with Rev. Brewster, an American Methodist Missionary in Singapore, to provide Henghuas from China the opportunity to settle in Sarawak.

The memorandum was between the Rajah Brooke and the Henghuas. According to the memorandum only 300 Henghuas were allowed to settle in Sarawak. The Henghuas were to be given a reservation on the Igan River of Sarawak. Taxes were to be paid from the second year of their coming according to the individual holdings that had been surveyed. In addition, the American Methodist Mission in Igan was given a partial grant for an Industrial School building. Furthermore a yearly sum of $500 was also granted for the upkeep of industrial and agricultural experiments.

However only 101 Henghuas arrived on 22-5-1912 from Henghua, China. They were led by Rev.Ting Ping Chung instead of Rev. Brewster who remained in China and came to Sibu later.

The Henghua settlement started with two attap houses and 100 acres of land. Another batch of 40 pioneers arrived on 17 June in the same year.

With the help of Rev. Hoover, the American Missionary, the Henghuas started to plant rubber in Sungei Teku, which is not far from Sungei Merah and Sibu town. Another area, called Panasu, was also settled and rubber was cultivated.

The Henghuas established the Tiong Hing School and Sing Hin School in Sungei Merah and Panasu respectively.

During the Second World War the Japanese took away the rubber gardens of the Henghuas in Sungei Merah to build the Sibu airport whcih continued to be used until 2002!

The Henghuas continued to work on their rubber gardens and helped Sungei Merah and Sibu to prosper. Many Henghuas became wealthy and acquired more land in Sungei Merah and Sungei Teku.

Today, in the Third Division of Sarawak, the Henghuas have made a name for themselves as hardworking, God fearing people. They have created a strong community with an identity to be proud of.

Most of their rubber land in Sungei Merah has been converted to prime residential areas, while the land in Sungei Teku remain under rubber cultivation. In years to come, when Sibu sprawls over to Sungei Teku the rubber trees will make way for roads and houses.

Ninety years after they arrived in Sibu the Henghuas have established a strong foundation in education, business and agriculture. They have indeed helped Sarawak develop and progress into the twenty-first century.

(Based on interviews with Henghua women of Sungei Merah and Chinese articles found in the library of the Sarawak Chinese Cultural Association, Sibu - Chang Yi June 2004)

Additional Information for those who are interested in Heng Hua initiated bus companies of Sibu:

Lanang Road Bus Co Bhd
No. 8, 2nd Floor, Lrg Pahlawan 7, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak
084-33 5973

Sungai Merah Bus Bhd
Jln Airport, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak
084-31 4999

Teku Road Bus Co Sdn Bhd
No. 65, Ground Floor, Jln Mission, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak
084-33 2561

June 26, 2009

A Ten Dollar Note

This ten dollar note was able to buy my family lots of groceries and meat for a week!

I still remember it was very thrilling if my mother had two pieces of this note in her purse. And folks would always marvel whenever some timber guys had a stack of ten dollar notes banded by a rubber band.

One red note would always be a great angpow to receive and also to give to some one in need.

Very often a ten dollar note would go a long long way to help a needy student when many would never have seen a ten dollar note at all.

So a red note is always something very treasured and something which can stir up a lot of beautiful memories.......a beautiful thing on my mind.....is it the same for you?

Sibu News : Made in Malaysia Exhibition

What news of Sibu have I picked for you?

Rajang Basin blogged about Made in Malaysia or Buy Malaysian Products Campaign in Sibu now being heldf in the new Trade and Exhibition Centre off Island Road.

Check out the photos by Meng Lei yourself!!

Green Fertilizers any one?

Tony Hii (another blogger friend) and his Tourism promotion booth.

When young most of us who lived by the banks of the Rajang dreamed of owning a bo bo chiar (motor cycle)....and today we still dream on....

Have a good day! Buy what you need not what you want. Always save for the rainy day.

June 25, 2009

Grandfather's Guns

(My father and his beloved siblings and nephew Michael Oon )

As a child I used to be fascinated by my grandfather's guns. There were two of them. My fifth uncle was very handy with the second one. Grandfather would use his own. The two guns were very well displayed in a glass cabinet to which grandfather had the key.

Talking about keys in those old days - one would always know who was a towkay or a towkay neo - the big towkay would have a lot of keys in his huge key chain. Mere mortals did not even have a key chain!! So we all enjoyed watching grandfather and his key chain and large number of keys. It only showed how many cabinets or safes he had.

There were lots of stories associated with his guns.

First of all many of the Ibans who worked in the Kiong Ang Brickyard would often run up to my grandfather to ask him to shoot the monitor lizards and the snakes which preyed on the chickens and other animals in the longhouse. I remember my aunts telling me how brave grandfather was even when he was in his seventies. He had no problem shooting the reptiles.

There was one time when some one saw a crocodile in the Igan and he was summoned to shoot it. He saw a head and shot but he did not get the croc. The children were all very happy to see a Chinese man with a gun trying to shoot a crocodile. It must have been quite a Crocodile Dundee moment for those kids.

Guns were quite useful in the rural areas of Sibu. And often Grandfather would be the one to shoot snakes and monitor lizards. The Iban workers would have a feast after the kill.

Later after my grandfather passed away my fifth uncle took over the supervision of the brickyard and he too took over the guns. But it was not for long because he had to surrender to the guns to the government during the days of Confrontation and Communist Insurgencies.

After that period I never saw any of my Chinese relatives owning a gun.

June 24, 2009

MV Pulau Kijang and the Unidentifiable Bodies

Dec 26th 1973. Many would not remember the tragic date in Sarawak history.

Timothy is the first on the left of last row - the First Sixth Form of Tanjong Lobang School 1964.

I have two inside stories which some how have come to light over the years:

The Graves in Sarikei which mark the tragedy and commemorate the unidentifiable victims and the inside story (The JKR story)

When the Pulau Kijang tragedy happened the whole Sarikei town was actually paralysed by over work! Every one was on over drive. They helpful people from all the government departments including KD Rajang personnel from Sibu worked around the clock. Outsourcing was the rule of the day in fact as Sarikei was a small town then. Personnel was short and so much had to be done according to a cousin of mine. Every one was helping out amidst the wailing and the gloom. It was unbelieveably tragic. And it was happening to folks from all races. The people were all united in grief.

As usual the JKR was given the task to do most of the preparations for the burial of the victims who were not claimed for burial as they were unidentified. If it had been a Chinese tragedy the onus of the task would be in the hands of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce or another Chinese organisation. If it had been another race I suppose it would have been farmed out racially. But this time the dead bodies could not even be recognised at all racially.

According to the then JKR Engineer -in- charge Timothy Liaw Aik Hon DNA testing was sadly not available in Dec 1973.

More than 40 graves were dug almost non stop manually by the JKR staff. Timothy Liaw said "Each grave was dug by 4 workers as the site was very very soggy and JKR bulldozer and excavator got stuck in the muddy hill.The rain was continuous for weeks and the site chosen was a previously cultivated pepper hill which was easily soaked with the rain water,making it inaccessible to any machinery."

The then CM (now Tun Abdul Rahman Yacob) was to be present at the burial ceremony. Because the JKR staff were not undertakers and (they were doing all these on top of their daily laborious work )they forgot the essential ropes for lowering the coffins!

According to Timothy Liaw he was able to instruct one of his very trusted and capable staff at the last minute to rush to the town to buy them. He rushed back while the ceremony was about to start. Bless his soul!

The ceremony was attended by all the Sarawak dignitaries who could come and many other religious leaders !

It was a nerve wracking experience for all the JKR staff and especially the Engineer in Charge.

Timothy who is a former student of Tanjong Lobang School Miri today lives a very retired but enriching life and he continues to contribute to the society.

More than thirty years down the road of history it also surfaced that three Ibans from Limbang were travelling in the ill fated MV Pulau Kijang. A father (Sangah) and his son and Sangah's brother.

Apai Sangah was very sick at that time and was also an asthmatic and when the boat listed he was actually suffering from an asthmatic attack. His son Sangah and his brother saw that he was already very weak and help was needed. It was very chaotic with screaming every where and decisions were hard to make. All they could do was to grab something which could float for him to hang on to.

However the uncle and nephew tried their very best to swim in the heavy rain and strong ocean currents. They were lucky they said for they found each a biscuit tin and they floated for what seemed a long time in the sea. Finally when day light came some fishermen helped them out of the sea. They thought they were quite far away from their destination.

A few days later they realised how terrible the tragedy was and Apai Sangah could not be found.

Sangah as he was only a child then could not even identify his father's body with his uncle's help. Uncle and nephew went went back to Limbang very tragically disappointed and grieving.

Until today the family had not been informed of any new findings. They would never have a grave for Apai Sangah. It was good that the JKR had helped bury so many dead bodies.

Could one of the dead be Apai Sangah?

My previous post on the tragedy in Sarawakiana:


June 23, 2009

Home Made Chrysanthemum Tea

It has been really hot these days but it looks that some gale is blowing our way. And hopefully once again the green green grass will appear. Too many brown burnt trees are around now with the raging bush fires and also uncontrollable open burning with undetectable causes.

Prices every where seem to be going up too. And very recently goods from China have also gone up in price (What else is new?). There has even been talk that some of the China goods might stop coming for a while. But this could be real or it could be a gimmick to up prices. And the Chinese community would go into a frenzyh of hoarding in response.

Let's go back to the topic : heatiness. My old favourite way of cooling down has been to make a pot of my own Chrysanthemum Tea at home with some rock sugar. It used to be something very very cheap. I cannot even remember how much a paper wrapped packet of chrysanthemum tea from China cost before! It seemed so long ago when we paid like 2 or 3 ringgit for a huge packet.

Now China goods come in nice plastic packets. How I miss the old paper wrapped packets with real strings binding them! I like to read the old form of writing on the brown paper. They looked very safe and traditional.

Today we are spoilt for choice in the Chinese drug (?) outlets where we can get a thousand and one different kinds of stuff to make our bodies strong (cooled/heated up etc) on the nice glass shelves. Even the old smell of gangchou (Chinese licorice) and gingseng is gone! I used to go to Hock Choon and Chew Hock Choon in Sibu and enjoy the fragrance of Chinese medicine floating in the shop! I sometimes can imagine that my headaches just go away because of the nice old smell of the old Chinese drugs store. There was really a certain sense of well being.

Sometimes I still automatically want my pulse taken. Putting my right hand on the old sweat soaked little pillow was like going back to old times and old comforting days. Today all these seem to have disappeared from right under our eyes. And to know that our next generation may not experience what we have experienced! What a pity this life style has gone!

Perhaps only movies which cost millions of dollars can bring back a few of these memories for a few fleeting and albeit blurry moments. I heard some Chinese movie makers had a spend a few millions to create a street in Hong Kong of the 1900's for a movie on the life of Sun Yat Sen. We have living history right in front of our eyes and slowly they are being taken away. But at what cost in the future people will have to re-create history !

If only we can love our heritage and preserve and conserve always. Sigh.

Have a cup of my home made chrysanthemum tea and think of long ago happy days when we did not have to de-tox - buy bottled mineral water - wear face masks - read the prints on packets of stuff to find how much preservatives we are taking in with our food etc.

June 21, 2009

News from Sibu

My news of Sibu today!

My friend Steve Ling and His wife will be celebrating their 30th Anniversary next year. But being the thoughtful husband he had given his wife a pre-30th wedding anniversary gift by giving themselves a Singapore trip! Well done the two of you!!

Steve was my junior in the Methodist Secondary school in Sibu and he is always respectful towards me calling me "sister" all the time. Thanks for the recognition all these years which I really appreciate. He is a great and admirable photographer - journalist from Sibu.

Most newspapers would publish congratulatory messages for VIPS who get their datukship or tansri-ship....

But for today on this blog : my congratulations to Mr and Mrs. Steve Ling for their long and happy marriage!! Ever lasting happiness to you both!! Cheers!

Grace Methodist Church Social Concern Activity in Permyjaya Miri

The sky was down cast as my friends and I set forth towards E Mart in Tudan for our Social Concern Activity this morning. We were heading for the Tadika Perpaduan Permyjaya where the Society of the Blind had arranged for a multi-facets health check for the residents of the new township. Many of the volunteers had already started their work at 7:30 a.m.!

Unknown to us some advertisement had been made to encourage the local people of Permaijaya and Tudan to turn up for a popular Eye Screening Blood Pressure and Diabetes Checkups. The turn out was great and all together the Grace Methodist Church volunteers and the Society of the Blind gave free consultation to more than 350 eager patients from 8.30 to 3 30 !! More were still coming but our Specialist doctor had to stop his non-stop work!

Well designed forms to help the participants to ease their queue to have their eyes examined.

Very keen volunteer - recording the visual/acuity reading records.

A very dear child - so innocent. Hope he receives lots of blessings and grow into an upright and God fearing man!!

Aminah doing a pin hole reading test - expert now.

Husband and wife team!! Jacklyn and Sim .

Pastor still in his Sunday attire came to give support together with a patient Kelandang from Long Tiru.

A shy lady from the Orang Ulu Community coming for eye screening.

A proper computerised eye check in another room.

One of our Social Concern Committee members and former chairman Mr. Wong Leh Pek. the Organising Chairperson of this Social Concern Activity today is Mr. Chia who was so busy I could not catch him for a photograph! May be you could find him in other blogs : William Ting and James Wong.

It was a good outing for the Grace Methodist Church and the Puang Eng Church on the whole - a wonderful dream team with a big heart for social concerns on Father's Day.

Our Heavenly Father would be smiling - Every day is Our Heavenly Father's Day!!

Happy Father's Day too all fathers.

Father's Day

Father's Day is always a day for me to think of my grandfather and father who had passed on many years ago. But on such a day I would rather be pensive and dwell on the past.

Grandfather had some good father's days in his life time as his children all loved him terribly and wished him "happy father's day". The Methodist Church too celebrated parents' day each year religiously and I think Grandfather loved such celebrations. I remember Sing Ang Tong would make a special dedication to all parents on that special sunday and the Pastor would preach a good sermon on how parents must be obedient to God and only then their children would be obedient too.

As thoughts of my father would be dwelling on his special behaviour.

What would I say about my father?

Firstly he would risk his life to give his young and thirsty daughter a drink. We were travelling in a river motor launch from my maternal grandmother's house in the hot afternoon after a wedding feast and I wanted a drink. He had saved a bottle of Tai Fong Aerated Orange for me. He was able to open the bottle but there were some rusty stains on the mouth of the bottle and he did not want me to drink from the bottle. He took a small bowl which was a little dirty and took it too the back of the launch and bent down to wash the bowl in the foaming and swirling water . I imagined him falling into the foaming river and drowning at that time. Drinking the orange from the bowl was a once in a life time special offering from my father. What a father!

Father was a Sibu Town Councillor and he was once given a life chicken as a bribe . The guy was probably not well liked by Father. He asked the man to take the chicken away or else he would set the chicken free. There was a slight argument. But FAther said in the end "If you deserve the licence you would get it. But I do not want you to tell people that you got it because you gave me a chicken for it. Thanks. I am embarrassed." Not long after that he passed away. I learned that it was never a thing to do to accept any form of bribery.

Father would always get up early to boil water and make coffee first thing in the morning. After making the coffee he would walk upstairs and wake up mum. He would say " Chuo here's your coffee." I never knew about breakfast in bed. But I was a child very much comforted by my father's early morning offering of hot coffee for my hardworking mum.

And then besides so many other great memories of him I would also remember how respectful he was towards my maternal grandmother. He would also be the first to agree to do anything for her and chat with her for long hours whenever she visited. The mother-in-law and son-in-law relation was really good. They would "nga-lang nga-lang all day long during the holidays...." That is the Foochow way of saying " very communicative".

I am posting the two photos of my father's grave and my grandfather's grave so that all my children and relatives can have a look at them on this day. Hope they are reading...

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...