August 31, 2009

Chicks from Another Era

Post card from Old Malaya showing a Chinese Coffee Shop with two-tone bamboo chicks or blinds. The post card scenery hasn't changed much over the years. It is a beautiful sight to reflect on : different races inter-mingling with each other. I love the small stalls which sell Malay original lekor or pisang goreng alongside other Chinese or Indian foodstalls on the five foot way. It is a harmonious way of life.

This post card inspires me to write my posting today.

I must say today the word chicks can conjure up different meanings to different people.

Guys would laugh when they see this word. Children would think that it is just a word for baby chickens. But this word brings me to another world and another era.

A very old( probably from the colonial days) shop in Penang advertising chicks and furniture. I took this photo while wandering in the old part of Penang one night with good friends recently. Haven't seen this kind of advertisement for a long time.

Pretty bamboo chicks or blinds to enhance a luxurious and airy balcony.

A nice way of maintaining privacy when it is desired.

Bamboo chicks or blinds have been around for centuries.

The first bamboo blinds that caught my youthful attention were those in the Sibu Recreation Club which shaded the club room from the evening setting sun in the 50's. Then there were many blinds for the Residency where the late Mr. Ignatius Angking and his family used to live. The Sibu Government Rest House also had long blinds protecting the rooms from strong sun light.

In my childhood's Sibu beautiful bungalows in Sibu had names! "Rumah Merah" for example or "Rose Cottage". "Lee Ling" and "Jasmine" the two houses for Methodist Missionaries also had bamboo blinds. My own house in Brooke Drive and later the flat we had in Lanang Road Lane 2 also used blinds to protect us from the sun and the rain. My mother was also fond of bamboo blinds. After we shifted from the shophouse she rolled the blinds up carefully and we put them up in our new home again.

Almost all government Third Class and Fourth Class quarters in Race Course Road and Upper Lanang Road Sibu would have a bamboo chick to cover their small balcony. Some people would like to use the bamboo chicks as a screen from their prying neighbour's eyes and to have what ever little privacy they could have. Some would like the coolness the chicks can provide.

Many people believe that the original idea of a blind came from the Egyptians. But as bamboo has its origin in China many attribute the origin of bamboo chicks to the Chinese who promoted the idea of blocking the sun rays. And because of their huge trade in the old Silk Road and the maritime sea routes bamboo chicks became a household name in most countries including European nations and later American southern states.

For a while the British colonial power garnered a lot of trade for themselves and one of their trading items was architectural materials for expansive and luxurious homes in the hill stations especially in India and Malaya. Even many of the British country homes in the UK boasted materials from the Far East.

Today the bamboo chicks or blinds have become part and parcel of good sensible green living.

Made very affordable the blinds can be rolled up and down conveniently and is truly a great invention. They may gain even more popularity in the near future.

August 30, 2009

Sibu News : Bukit Lan or Hill of Cassia

Photo by Meng Lei - showing a holiday hut in Bukit Lan by a pool.

Bukit Lan has a lot of historical significance for the Foochows. The Second Rajah granted a large tract of land to the Foochow community in the hope that an agricultural school would be started and the well known Foochow agriculturalists would make that area very progressive. In a way the Rajah also hoped that the Foochows would influence the Ibans in the growing of vast tracts of rice like in China thus creating first British rice bowl in South East Asia.

Due to some economic changes this grandiose plan never took off. Instead the Foochows prospered by the growing of a new crop : rubber.

However the Rev. James Hoover did start a boys' school and an agricultural school in Bukit Lan. Later he and a few Foochows started a rice mill. My grandfather was part of his committee in the setting up of the machinery for rice hulling and milling. Very much later Rev. Ling Ung Choong was named principal of the boys' school if I am not mistaken.

The agricultural station was set up by Rev Davis and later missionaries like the Wiants and the Heaths took over the running of the agricultural school and station. A Methodist mobile clinic was also based in Bukit lan to provide home nursing and clinical services to farming folks and the Ibans in Bawang Asan and Tutus and the Foochows in Bukit Lan.

As for me I was fortunate enough to be able to serve as interpreter for a few months when Miss Mona Pengelley was the nurse there. One fabulous moment was when I looked through a window I saw this small man flying down the slope of Bukit lan on his bicycle. He was actually too small for the huge bike.

Miss Mona knew what he was in a hurry for. She grabbed her medicine bag and ran down the stairs all ready to deliver a baby - I cannot remember how many children this man had now but I can still remember Miss Mona saying that he had many many babies then. He then offered to put Miss Mona on the saddle of his bike and he would pedal her to his house which was in the "ow san" or land behind the hill. But any way Miss Mona decided humourously not to be "lumbang" (riding on the bike) and the two of them rushed away. I was not asked to go with her or else it would have been my first delivery of a baby!!

Another remarkable memory of Bukit lan was the house owned by Mr. Hii King Hing who was the Assistant Principal of Methodist School Sibu for many years. I remember his family and especially his mother who scrubbed their stairs with a steel brush until they were sterile and white!!

The Hiis were very friendly and warm people. And they too had a very big family. They had twin boys too! The girls were all very helpful Christians and they were really generous and kind. Their brother Charles Hii King Lee was my classmate and he has become a very successful banker in Australia. God has really blessed their family bountifully because of their faith in Him.

Later as we grew up and got married we lost touch with each other. Like the motor launches which used to ply in the Rajang river we have all been berthed here and there and perhaps many of us in different parts of the world.

Miss Mona Pengelley is now residing in Cornwall which is at the south western tip of England. And I am sure many Foochow and Iban mothers would remember her kindly ways.

Lan in the Iban language means leprosy. Lan to the Chinese is the word meaning orchid. But some how Bukit Lan remains a name and the Hill of Cassia is the other often quoted name.

Today Bukit Lan continues to be part of the Methodist Church property and is now a retreat for pastors and missionaries and church members. It is a beautiful place 25 minutes and 25 km away from Sibu. I have yet to go there.

Home Made Mint Tea - a slice of Morocco?

I was not feeling too well the other day because of the haze and the heat. A friend called me to have tea with her as a way of helping me change my mood. Bless her heart she has different kinds of tea in her cupboard and I could choose whatever I liked.

I settled for Earl Grey as I did not fancy other other brands. Some were from South Africa and others from Australia. And then we had a nice carrot cake and a great pie. What are good friends for? We drank our tea and had our cake right into the evening.

Soon our talk went to Morocco where another friend is now living and working as a volunteer. The heat over there is 100 degrees! And in her email she wrote that she was having only mint tea every day to soothe her nerves.

Actually my friend and I have been growing lots of mint in our recycled little polysterene boxes from our vegetable seller in Tamu Muhibbah. We decided to make some to try.

When we drained our last drop of our imported tea we decided to crush some levea and then added them to a pot of very hot water. We allowed it to brew for a while.

When the water turned into a yellowish colour it was ready to be served.

We waited for the tea to cool a little before adding some honey.

It wasn't bad at all.

According to my friend a leaf or two may even help ease some nausea or even stomach upset. So it isn't a bad idea to grow mint at all.

Mint tea is definitely a tea for the hazy season.

Special Coconut Stand found in Brunei

Look what I found....during the fasting month coconuts are very popular.

I think the welder must be very happy to create a stand like this. Besides the strong wraught iron stand each shelf has a ring on which a coconut would sit nicely. Very unique and I am sure because he is from quite a rural place in Brunei no one has really asked him to make more.

But I must commend him for his innovation. Great job!! A pat on your back!

August 27, 2009

Dried Wong Dang / Buah Asam Kundung

A long time ago my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping (who passed away in 1963) had a Wong Dan tree at the end of his garden. And being naughty kids we would climb the tree and eat the fruits even before they were really ripe!

Grandmother Siew and our adopted aunt Ah Hiong would always remind us that eating too many of these sourish sweet fruit would kill the greedy person: " Wong Dan Dan si nerng."

When we grew up and left Sibu we stopped eating the fruit because the property was abandoned as development took place and we even forgot about the fruit which was phased out by more trendy fruits. Today hardly any Foochow can remember the fruit or even own an old fruit tree some where in the backyard.

Today perhaps only the Ibans and other indigenous people carry on relishing the dried fruit in particular. Added to fish soup this exotic fruit is fantastic. Such dried fruits are only found in the markets of Brunei and Kota Kinabalu. Most of the dried fruits are enough for home consumption today. They are dried and packed in platic bags and sent to loved ones living in Kuala Lumpur and as far away as Amsterdam or Oslo!! This is called a slice of love from home.

I have tried cooking Ikan Senangin Soup with a few pieces of the dried fruit. Refreshing and Excellent! Last week I managed to get a few grams of the sour fruit and will keep them for my Christmas cooking when the children come home.

A slice of buah kundong.

Close up of the dried fruits.

A tray of buah kundong drying in the sun.

August 25, 2009

Vanity Cases of Yesteryears

I must have been a fairly normal Chinese girl wishing for a Prince Charming and dreaming of a grand wedding with lovely lace gowns and going away carrying a nice red leather vanity case like the stars in the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers movies.

In those days a vanity case in hand added status to a girl coming out of a plane. It also added value to a bride who was given such a case as part of her "peng" or bridal gifts. Thus even before her marriage if a girl owned a vanity case it would have indicated she had money and understood good breeding. One could see vanity cases every where in Sibu in the 60's:in the motor launches and in the hair dressing salons and even in the coffee shops. Several of my aunts owned very good vanity cases to indicate their wealth and awareness of beauty regimes.

Sometimes one could even catch a lady of the night (wink++)riding away in a trishaw with a vanity case in hand. Ha....those were the good days...

But all these years later I continue to wonder about vanity cases. Do all the brides end up happily married ever after? Must all girls own a vanity case? Are they really that important? A friend even told me that "Happiness is a Vanity Case" (re: Peanuts) And would a girl with a vanity case make all that difference to a man?

May be many of my friends did not know that I got married in a rented genuine cotton (Swiss?)lacy gown . My bouquet was top of the crop - White Borneo Orchids from Mrs. Ho Kah Moh. My shoes were handmade (yes at that time we had a simple street cobbler who could hand make tiny shoes for the likes of me with tiny feet at around twenty dollars). He was my Jimmy Choo but he had long passed on. I made my own pill box hat for the veil. I did not have a handbag nor did I wear the compulsory gloves. And I did not have a vanity case!

Vanity cases always remind me of the beauticians of Sibu. There are even more now. Like coffee shops they have sprung up everywhere. But beauticians no longer carry these leather vaniy cases. Looking at all the slimming and beauty centres you would like to think that every woman wants to look good and there is a great demand for services of beautician. One aunt told me once that a cosmetician or beautician would never starve but instead get a good catch. I am also thinking of the Helen of Troy who set sail a thousand Greek ships and caused one of the longest wars known to mankind!!

Recently almost all my teeth (not a full set mind you) dropped out as the saying goes when I found that a relative's wife is collecting vanity cases for her exotic treasures!! And so one afternoon last week I was invited to tea with the group of happy women and have a look at cosmetics and other things which can "attract" men!! hahahahaha.....

But three of her vanity cases in particular brought back lots of memories and nostalgia for this old girl who grew up in the 50's and 60's....and dreaming of Prince Charming to help me make a beautiful home on the banks of the Rajang River....The red one is the one I had envied and wanted to own...I believe a few of my Sibu friends still keep their bridal gift of a vanity case.

Enjoy the photos!

This is an Echolac Vanity Case.

this is a Diplomat Vanity Case.

By golly! It's a Coach!

This must be the "original" Coach Vanity Case.

August 24, 2009

An Unusual Collection of Jars

Fluted Jar for Pi Dan (Century Eggs)

Pi Dan Jars depicting Chinese Legends

A mini dragon jar and an unusal blue pi dan jar.

A friend of mine lives for her children and in her spare time she breeds a large number of dogs and collects Pi Dan and Salted Egg Urns or jars from China.

She told me that she used to drive up to Brunei along the old coastal and sandy road and even to Bintulu just to buy the urns whenever some one gave a tip. Sometimes she made losses because some of the preserved eggs were rotten ! But the worst incident was when the precious urn she bought was stolen and the eggs broken on the road! Her car was broken into just as she went to the washroom.

She said that the thief must have thought that she had a real antique jar in her car which was worth stealing. But then it was just a normal urn made in China which could be easily bought with a load of pi dan!!

Another jar was bought in Brunei when she was expecting her youngest son. The road was bad and it was raining heavily. She was driving alone with two kids at the back who were scared of the waves. She pushed on instead. later she met a friendly couple who stopped to chat with the children and gave her some drinks. What a wonderful incident of friendly travellers who lent a hand to help another soul! Her paleness soon disappeared and she continued to drive on to buy a jar in the shop her friend recommended. Wasn't that a crazy way to collect a pi dan jar she asked.

Now thinking back she has a smile on her face. It was many many years ago and memories fade and she can only look the jars and think of those marvellous days which were full of energy and life!

Strangely I myself never looked at those jars in those days! May be I could have started a collection too. But my priorities thirty years ago were different and again I did not have the space at home for even a small collection.

She often tells me that whenever she is a little tired her jars give her a joy she never expected. She would look at them and dust them a little and think of the good old days.

She has seen me working at my computer and told me that she never grabbed the opportunity to go to school and regretted that she never went to learn a skill either. So she asked me what I would write something about her.

I think this is a very appropriate article to write - about her and her jars.

August 22, 2009

Daun Keropok / Natural Cover

In the by gone days most of the indigenous folks truly "by force of nature" processed daun keropok (local dialect word)to make easy and portable wall coverings and even roofs(atap) when they were on the move and / or especially when they needed to make a temporary hut. Usually called "attap" by other races the daun keropok were sewn together either with natural twines.

A Foochow friend commented that when he was working in the timber camp in Ulu Limbang the Ibans were very "resourceful" as they built their own huts fashioned out of "attap daun keropok" . Many people lived comfortably for many years using these materials and they came "free". I was thinking as I listened to him how much the company had saved in terms of costs when ever willing and gracious workers helped out in this way. When I look at many others who live in comfortable portacabins with air conditioning I just shiver when imagining the differences in living standards.

Today it is a very rarely seen material and only a small handful of men and women in the more remote areas of Sarawak would have the skill and knowledege to process daun keropok. Hence it is indeed a disappearing skill.

The processing is long and tedious and therefore if the local people can afford it they will just buy the less environmentally friendly lightweight orange or blue "canvas" (which is really raffia matting) and of course not the real tarpaulin.

These leaves which can measure up to 15 feet will be trimmed and the "skin" removed. They are then dried in the hot sun until no moisture is left. This drying will turn the leaves into very hard and sturdy but very lightweight covering material not unlike Venetian blinds. They are then cut into equal lengths and sewn together to form a long flat piece of covering material to make a wall or a door.

On the hand hand the women can also cut the leaves into very small and thin pieces. After some drying the leaves can be casing for tobacco quite similar to those of nipah cigars. (Reference: Sarikei Time Capsule)

The collection of daun keropok is most uncomfortable and difficult at they are full of thorns. During the Japanese times and the Confrontation period those escaping from their enemies would natural hide behind the keropok clumps (growing in the swamps) which are really hard to penetrate. Besides snakes are often found crawling amongst the keropok hence they are often avoided by the faint hearted.

This is a makeshift door fashioned out of many leves of keropok. They are waterproof and sturdy. The ability of the leaves to stand up like light wood is one of the advantages of using keropok. The makeshift door can also be folded and transported elsewhere when necessary. This kind of door is lasting too. Wooden doors may be too heavy and deem too expensive to use whenever farmers need to build their "pondok" or "langkau" just for a few seasons. Knowledge of the useful plants like the keropok is an economic advantage to the locals.Whenever the Ibans travel along the river by their longboats they are usually quite happy to use the attap to keep themselves cool if they have not built a permanent roof over their slim longboats. Unlike their Malay and Melanau neighbours their boats are usually uncovered because they need to maneouvre their boats over smaller streams and perhaps even rapids. So a light weight material like daun keropok is more applicable.

I am sure new uses would be made use of the keropok in the future. Environmentally friendly materials should be looked upon with greater favour. There are always lots of uses for the keropok if we care to find out more.

August 20, 2009

Engkuang - an old species from the old pre-disturbance days

In many ways the Engkuang tree is considered an "Orang Asli" or "orginal" tree in Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. Older generations of the indigenous and Malay people are very well versed with its growth/fruition/germination and significance.

According to a Malay friend who lives nearby ,Engkuang produces a sour to sweet fruit that his grandparents loved. Apparently the fruit is also a cure for backache and headaches. The leaves could also produce a poultice for wounds inflicted by axes and other sharp implements in the olden days before the arrival of iodine. But he said that he has not seen this tree since his youth in Miri.

There are plenty of Engkuang still standing in Limbang ,Temburong and Brunei. The tree is majestic in shape and foliage and is often standing tall and well preserved in Malay cemeteries (which would also indicate how old the Muslim cemeteries are).

In the olden times Iban children would stop by to eat the fruits when they were hungry on their long way home. A friend remembers very well that he would get out of the boat with his friends to climb one particular engkuang tree and pluck the fruits. They would thus fill their stomachs and have some frolicking time before reaching home. Paddling in a boat to school was the only means then to get an education. When he was in secondary school he was able to live with an uncle so that he could complete his education. Now he has a fairly good position in the government he is very proud of his achievement and his very memorable childhood. He had lived in an equatorial rainforest and lived on what was available as a poor student. The childhood he underwent made a sterner stuff out of him.

He has one of the best set of teeth I have ever seen! He is also a very strong man and a renown athlete. According to him his kampong mates are all like him - physically strong and tough. And they continue to live on a diet of wild vegetables and fruits and fish as often as possible and for as long as possible. According to his wife(who comes from Kanowit) he only likes to eat boiled food. There is not an inch of fat on his body (I am writing this with envy)! While I on the other hand grew up in the Rajang next to a huge animal farm and with an uncle who owned a fishing boat!

The Engkuang has very small white flowers which drop easily when a wind springs up.

The leaves are fairly large and easily recognisable.

The fruits are the size of langsat or grape and they grow in nice small bunches.

The trunk spreads out as a buttress and has a large root system. This is the gift of God according to my friend because the root system holds the soil together and prevents erosion. Because the tree is "rather clean" children used to hug and climb the trees. So an Engkuang tree is often a meeting point for ulu children. It was always a good place to picnic too for adults as the canopy is big and grass does not grow much under the tree.

Apart from the beauty of the tree the fruits help many to overcome hunger when lost in the jungle.

August 19, 2009

Sibu News : Hoover Square Dedicated

The blog owner of "Rajang Basin" Meng Lei explaining the history of Methodist Message one of the oldest and longest running magazines in Sarawak and may be even Malaysia.

A group photo of the community leaders after the dedication ceremony.(Photo by Tony Hii)

The Island Road of Sibu has now been given a totally new face lift - a 21st century look. The Hoover Square occupies the frontal playground of the old and orginal block of Methodist Primary School. The new Primary School block is now behind the Hoover Mission House and the Hoover Square.

Where does God live?
God is Omnipresent but he can be found in in the heart of the truly repentant.

August 18, 2009

Lenke or Wild Bananas

The flowers of wild bananas are exotic and not easily available in the supermarket or local indigenous markets. However it is the preferred food of the indigenous people in the ulu as it is wild and free.

The usual mode of collecting the wild banana flowers is an excursion made by a group of ladies who are preparing for a feast or celebration be it a birthday or a gawai. The ladies armed with parangs and each carrying a "raga" or back basket would set out in the morning to collect wild ferns and other wild vegetables. However an a daily trip to the farm the housewife could always slash a bunch or two of the flowers along the way when she comes across some blossoms. She would never take more than she and her family needs.

Being very perishables these edibles must be cooked and eaten within the day or the next day.

The flowers in the photos were taken during my own excursion to the ulu not long ago and I took the photos from the comfort of my own vehicle!! Unfortunately only two flowers were sighted.

Here's the indigenous recipe for you should you one day come across a bundle of these wild banana flowers for your table:

You will need half a chicken which has been freshly barbequed (marinated with salt only)- a bamboo for the pansur (preferrably but optional) and lemon grass.

Slice two wild banana flowers nicely.
Prepare the lemon grass
Cut the chicken into bite pieces.

Prepare a nice charcoal fire in your backyard if you are going to do a pansur (cook in bamboo).

Mix the chicken pieces and the wild banana flowers well.
Add the slices of lemon grass.
Place the mixture in the bamboo/pot.
Add some salt and garlic too if you like.
Put a bunch of bruised tapioca leaves at the opening of the bamboo. (This is definitely not necessary if you are using a pot)
Cook the bamboo/pot of the delicious exotic mixture over a gentle fire.

Excellent in taste and pretty in looks this dish is fit for a king or queen!

August 17, 2009

Timber Camp Mobile Homes

Many young men would remember the days when they lived in homes like these. Built sturdily these homes have bases which are made up of two logs.

When moving to another camp site the house is dragged and the round logs are just easily pulled by a good bulldozer.

they are definitely different from log cabins and other mobile homes. Usually they are dusty on dry days and muddy wet days.

Life was definitely difficult for the bachelors. Those who had wives with them also suffer just as much because domestic appliances are very limited and water can be insufficient most of the time.

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). ...