I have always looked at paper bags all my life with respect and awe and enjoy using or reusing them.I have a few very good ones in my collection as "souvenirs". You must think that it is unusual.
When we were young and having just lost our dear father my siblings and I had to help our mother make ends meet. My mother was just 40 and I was barely 16. And worst of all my youngest brother was only ll months old.
And one of the money earning means which all of us could easily do was gluing or makihg paper bags for a family friend's sundry shop - Chop Chai Hong - just near by and within walking distance. We kids would collect use-able paper (which included the reccyle-able hard parchment paper used to make cement paper bags)from the towkay or just any one who would not mind giving us useable paper. Luckily we did not have to go to a rubbish tip to collect the paper!
Mum would boil the glue (using tapioca flour) over the wood fire in our traditional Foochow stove. To this day I can recognise the sourish smell from boiling starch. In fact later on in life I used to make my own glue for my children when they had to "cut and paste" for their art work. (This is different from "cut and paste" of our computer age.)I taught my children that if we could make it ourselves we did not have to buy it.
And I remember how the whole brood of my siblings would be at the "home assembly line" making paper bags! From the parchment paper we glued together perhaps many tons of paper bags in exchange for rice and corn. Paper bags made from newspapers were used by the shop keepr to hold lighter sundry goods like green beans and red beans or peanuts. the strong paper bags we made were used to fill rice and corn kernels. Some were used to fill broken pieces of charcoal.
These were days before plastic bags or raffia strings in the 60's. Each paper bag of sundry goods would be tied together by a gunny or hemp string or just a kiam chow (natural straw). The straw or gunny string would come from a tin hung overhead. It was amazing how innovative Mr. Chiong was. (Mr. Chiong who was the owner of Chop Chai Hong was a typical Foochow shop keeper who on hot days never even wore s shirt! But later on in life he wore very well ironed Dacron shirt most probably from Ngui Kee.)
Mr. Chiong would use a felt pen to write the weight and the price of the good. So it was very easy to calculate how much the customer bought. This was also a very practical way of learning maths! I learned to calculate mentally in this way. We all had to calculate well because we did not want to be cheated of our precious money.
In retrospect we had a wonderful and memorable childhood albeit with a touch of great sadness and loss of a loved one - the gluing bonded us and we learned great economic and domestic lessons. Furthermore we learned to treasure time and would not waste it by lazing around.
In fact I am so glad that we "survived" and kept ourselves well above poverty line. Some selfish relatives would only have been happy to see us in the dumps. Sometimes whenever I think of the past experiences I am very tempted to write a TV drama including these childhood experiences as they would be just the right ingredients.
This is a paper bag used by Body Shop and I really like the social touch the company has.
I am glad that many school teachers are still teaching their students how to make paper bags as part of their English lessons. (Listening to instructions).
But for me paper bags always remind me of hardship and growing up without a father. But on the other hand they too remind me of my mother's selfless sacrifices and how the family worked hard but struggling in harmony and unity.
Some one said this to me a long time ago in Chinese : "Little weeds can only grow up strong when nurtured by strong winds and rain".
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