January 31, 2010

Disappearing Miri : Grated Coconut and Copra

Look at all these coconut husks! They have been lying on the five foot way after a morning's business has been done. But don't worry they won't be wasted as they will be used to make brushes.

the mature flesh of the coconut has been scooped out and sold for domestic uses like cooking of curry or making of nasi lemak.

think for a moment. Can we Malaysians actually live without coconuts?

Grated coconut is a dominant ingredient in Malay and Malaysian cuisine.

Nasi Lemak is not nasi lemak without the coconut milk and its fragrance. But with industrial technology being encouraged in the country and in some other countries too the traditional industry of opening an old coconut and taking the flesh out for grating seems to be something of the past.

I have not even seen the traditional coconut grater for a long time. And I must say I have tried to take a photograph of it but in vain.

These photos were taken near Kampong Luak in Miri and the young Indonesian maid was sporting enough to allow me to take her pictures. The shop is one of the very few old shops selling machine grated coconut at the front part of the shop. Old coconuts or copra take up a lot of shop space according to the shop keeper. But for convenience most housewives use packet coconut milk today. I use freshly grated coconut only when I have plenty of time and for certain recipes.

This is the mature coconut flesh taken from the coconuts and is a tedious work done by a patient worker. Two types of grated coconut can be bought in this shop. There is the white one (which means the brown skin is taken off by machine) and the normal one with the brown skin still attached to the grated coconut. Grated coconut must be used on the day it is grated if possible to maintain its sweetness and freshness.

This young girl is from Indonesia and she is very adept in using the special knife to remove the mature flesh from the coconut shell.

"How am I doing?"

This is a very special knife for scouring the mature flesh out of the shell which prevents the flesh from breaking into pieces.

Palmae, the palm family, to which the coconut belongs, is one of the oldest and most diverse of the plant families. The distribution of the coconut palm extends over most of the tropical islands and coasts. In South America however it has been recorded as far south as 27° and in North America, as far north as 25°.

The coconut palm is not simply an attractive addition to tropical islands and coasts, it is one of the most valuable plants to man. In Sanskrit the coconut palm is called “kalpa vriksha”, which roughly translated means “Tree of Life”

The fibrous trunk produces a wood known as porcupine wood, which is prime building material, and the huge frondy leaves are woven together to produce roof thatches, which last up to three or four years. When the fronds are stripped they can be used for lashing logs together, making baskets, mats and many other household items. The fibrous husk of the coconut known as “coir”– which is there to cushion the inner nut when it falls several meters to the ground, produces fibers for a kind of rope called “sennit”. The meat and liquid obtained from the fruit are used for a variety of foods and beverages, and the empty shells are made into household utensils such as spoons and bowls. The empty shells can also be used to make an excellent charcoal, which works as a cooking fuel and is also used in the production of gas masks and air filters.

Perhaps many of us have forgotten the word copra. Copra refers to the meat which is left to dry in the sun and it is from this coconut oil is extracted .

The residue is used for animal feed. And a long time ago chicken farmers and housewives used to buy it at about 10 cents per kati. Chickens fed on it were fat and tasty.

But this is a disappearing business and the neighbourhood shop would no longer have this kind of service once the demand is gone! So in a way I am lucky as I live next to a big kampong.

January 30, 2010

2010 Blacksmith Road of Sibu

I had wanted to write about "Blacksmith Road" for sometime. Before writing I wished that its name would never be changed to Jalan Tukang Besi! But my fears became reality when I went back to Sibu recently. Indeed the name has been changed and the new generation would never know that the road was once called in English "Blacksmith Road".(see above photo by Wong Meng Lei)

However the name "Blacksmith Road" will remain in the minds and  hearts  of my generation for a long long time.

That's where I spent most of my primary school days : afternoon classes meant we had some extra money for a chendol. When we had an aunt visiting we could have an extra bowl of noodles (without meat which was cheaper). When grandma from Sg. Maaw came we could watch two or three movies in one weekend in the Lido or the Rex! And of course all Foochows would have their wedding feasts catered for in Hock Chu Leu. How I loved the siew mai there. And at times I would just sit in front of the Chiu Nai Ding Clinic and watch the WORLD go by.

Blacksmith Road was a happening place then!! And I think it is still that special place in Sibu.

This road has such a special place in my heart.

Jalan Tukang Besi? The Hit Iron (Literal translation) Road?

It  seems strange now to read the name in Bahasa Malaysia. But as I walked along it last week I still have the same nostalgic feelings. I had that special longing to see an old friend or two popping up at corners. Sadly  most of the familiar faces have all gone. And the Beatles' "In My Life" kept playing in my mind. Yes  there are places I remember....but most have gone.....I have loved them all.....

This is the famous Hock Chu Lou (which literally means Mansion where Foochows Gather Together)According to my sources it has been around since the 1930's. I think it should be part of our Foochow Heritage Site.

This is the Goldsmith  Tieng Aik Shop which was established by the Sii family. After old Mrs. Sii handed over the shop to the son the shop operated for a while until very recently when the shop changed its signboard I suppose. The characters have almost the same pronunciation. One of the Sii daughters went to school with me like all her other siblings and so did her  nieces and nephews. Her own children went to the Methodist School too.

(The Chinese came to South East Asia with three "knives" only - scissors - choppers or cleavers - and razors and they prospered)

This men's tailor shop has been making trousers (western style or Ang Mo Koh - have you ever wondered why?) since I was a little girl. Still there and the smell of the wool is still there as I remember it when I visited it last week. The sewing machines are still the same. But the old towkay has left this world and the new one does not know me. We have allowed a whole library of knowledge slipped through.

By the way I was told that if the shop name starts with "Kwong" than the towkay is a Cantonese. If the shop name starts with "Hock" then it belongs to a Foochow.

When I was just "one bale of material tall" I liked to put my cheeks against the wool all rolled up and standing in the shop  and feel the tingling on the skin. If I remained silent I could listen to the gossips exchanging between my grandmother and the other ladies standing along the five foot way.May be that was how I got all the stories recorded in my brain.

This is the Tian Bien Hoo Shop (so Pauline from Kanowit if you are reading this...go to Blacksmith Road Sibu and look for Hin Wuong  at the back and along an alley..) which has been run by the same family for three generations. The grand father was assistant to the original tian bien hoo towkay Mr. Yew.  Here the fish balls are always fresh. The rice flour used is of good quality. And how I love the fusion of dried squid and lily bulbs in the soup!! A dash or two of ground pepper will bring you to gourmets' heaven.

This is the alley leading to the Hing Wuong Tian Bian Hoo shop. Motor cycles have replaced bicycles today. Just before going to the shop we little girls had to count our coins all tied up in our handkerchiefs first. Did we have enough?

Tian Bian Hoo is no longer just enjoyed by the Foochows only. These two Iban ladies who sell langsat (a backyard home grown fruit ) are enjoying a quick brunch. They are cheerful customers like all the rest who patronise this shop and the operators are very friendly and courteous. Very 1Sarawak. Not halal though so cannot claim 1Malaysia.

Wan Hin is now a coffee shop. It claimed to be the earliest Kompia makers of Sibu. It was actually the Toh Family's Biscuit Shop and their biscuits and kompia were famous up and down the Rajang Valley.

The proprietors were very kind people who sold the "seconds" of kompia ( not flat and beautiful ones) at a lower price. Those who did not mind would buy them - more for their hungry children. Today most people would choose and choose the best for their children and for themselves. How time has changed.

Hope these photos will provide some nostalgia for those who are not going back to Sibu for the Chinese New Year.

p/s Thanks Meng Lei for providing the first two photos.

January 29, 2010

Eating Dog Meat and Drinking Wine

I was teased recently by a group of visitors. "Do you eat dog meat?"

This is the season to eat dog meat traditionally in South China. And with one of the coldest spells of winter in the last 30 years in Asia many people have taken special precautions to "heat up" their bodies. A traditional method is the eating of dog meat and drinking brandy or rice wine.

Caution : Those who have abhorrence of reading about dog meat eating please stop reading here......

Dog meat eating is nothing new in Asia.

Some people I know used to regale friends and acquaintances with stories of their escapades in the eating of dog meat and other exotic meats in some friendly restaurants in Sibu. I suppose officials in bygone days usually turned a blind eye and remained sporting. Some would have even joined such dog meat eating parties all for the sake of gaining some good health .

A few of my friends even took trips overseas and overland in fact to eat dog meat in Thailand and now Vietnam. Taiwanese restaurants serve good dog meat dishes too. There are no laws there against dog meat selling.

And I remember several times a long time ago my Sibu relatives could even buy black dogs to slaughter to brew some special hot pots to help the elderly gain their strength back after a bout of illness. In fact some older sinseh even suggest a pot of dog meat stew or two when strength seems to fail . Special herbs are available to cook the dog meat. However with the Sibu Municipal Council and the SPCA getting stronger dog meat eating is rarely heard of nowadays.

We Chinese have a saying "Hanging goat head to sell dog meat" which refers to fraudulence practices. But it could be literally true too as most people would not sell dog meat publicly.

In fact once in Sibu one of my black dog disappeared and I suspected that one of my "naughty" neighbours had taken him to his pot. I never would adopt any more black dogs after that. Mine are now either white or brown or spotted in black and brown. Black dogs usually end up in someone's pot (even those with license plates).

However I have heard that Sarikei is very well known for dog meat eating. Some some VIPs (sorry!)are even given special treats of the delicious and health giving meat. According to a friend they have the "jalan".

And as a cure for asthma dog meat is really good according to one old wife who continually gave her husband the dog meat treatment for several years. Finally according to her he was really cured. Believe it or not!! Saveral members of my family have asthma but they have never tried.

It is not for me to say that dog meat eating should be banned because eating of dog meat is a folk custom. I know many would condemn outright the eating of dog meat. And again some would also say that if it is really for a medicinal purpose then it is alright to eat dog meat. We have to consider animal rights and the health concerns surrounding dog meat which could be diseased etc. And please do not eat my dog.

My neighbour has a beautiful Alsatian and I do not think I could eat him. He is so lovely and he keeps good guard along all the fences. Remember the Ten Commandments "Thou shalt not covet your neighbour's dog/wife/bonzai."

But it can be one's personal choice to eat or not to eat.

All photos are from Google Images.
My sincere apologies to all those who eat dog meat for specific purposes.

January 28, 2010

Jasmine Tea and Foochow Kompia

There are many famous local legends around Jasmine Tea and Kompia the round and remarkably tastey Foochow palm sized bun which is akin to a mini baquette.

The Photo : Simple life at its best.

When the late multi millionaire Lau Nai Huat was a young and hardworking rubber tapper he collected rubber scraps besides harvesting rubber latex as early as 3 a.m. in the 50's and 60's.

Whenever he took the motor launch to Sibu it would only be on days when he could sell his rubber sheets.

The first thing he bought was a string of 10  kompia which would be his breakfast and lunch. Kompia during his time was ten for ten cents. After that he would deal with the rubber middle men at Hock Chiong. When business was done he went for his usual movie at Lido or the Rex. Again he would only buy the cheapest of seats in the front.

I can still remember as a child how he with his Fuzhou umbrella would sit alone in the front and enjoy a Huang Mei Tiau movie like "The Beauty and the Kingdom" (Chiang Shan Mei Ren) starring Lin Dai and Chou Lei. He would chew his kompia when he got hungry. Lau never sat in a coffee shop unless his friends invited him. (There is another legend involving this)

He later had big shares in timber and his children and descendants are all over the world every one of them millionaires.

Jasmine tea is well known amongst the Foochows as a cleansing drink. Jasmine tea originated in the Foochow district of the Fujian Province where jasmine flowers grow abundantly and have the best fragrance in the world. Timber workers were provided free Jasmine tea in a huge cask in sawmills. School children were also given free tea by the Headmaster . This practice was very prevalent in the 1950's and 1960's.

According to a local legend a few of the oldest Foochow men and women lived more than 100 years because of their tea drinking practice.

So do have the habit of drinking Jasmine Tea. And we used to say chewing kompia makes one as rich as Lau Nai Huat.

January 27, 2010

The Unique Lady Sape Player - Jennifer Santa Liman

Jennifer Santa Liman a Sarawak born Iban lady lawyer is famous for her accoustic sape playing. And for the record (Guiness or otherwise) she is the only female Sape player from Sarawak of good repute. Sape players from Sarawak for centuries have been men only. For that she deserves a pat on her back.

If she is in China she would be considered a national treasure and would be receiving a national pension every month.

Recently at the 2010 Legal Year Opening Gala Dinner in Sibu she staged a remarkable performance probably never seen before by most of the learned audience. Her talented and nimble fingers flew across the sape and produced some ethereal music bringing the sape to a wider world audience.

Jennifer is a friendly and soft spoken young lady from Kuching and has been playing the sape for more than five years.

She is self taught and plays by ear. But not having formal music education does not mean that she cannot play classical numbers. Her "Amazing Grace" number was most impressive.

This sape was hand made specifically for her from a single tree from the Baram.

The sape is a traditional lute of many of the Orang Ulu or "upriver people"of Sarawak and Central Borneo. Sapes are carved from a single bole of wood, with many modern instruments reaching over a metre in length. Here in the photo you can see that her sape is more than a metre long.

Initially the sape was a fairly limited instrument with two strings and only three frets. Its use was restricted to a form of ritualistic music to induce trance. In the last century, the sape gradually became a social instrument to accompany dances or as a form of entertainment.

Jennifer's sape is a four string instrument and is therefore very versatile.

You can also find her on Youtube.

ref: http://www.asza.com

January 26, 2010

Renovated Ching Ang Church as Local Museum

In 1901 the first batch of Foochows arrived in Sibu under the guidance of Wong Nai Siong and accompanied by Bishop Warne. Most of the pioneers were from the Ming Ching area of Fuzhou and they were mainly settled in Sg. Merah. When the second batch of pioneers arrived it was decided that the Kutiens should be given the Ensurai area. Later these Kutien pioneers parcelled out the land and called the villages Siong Poh (Upper Area) and Ah Poh (Lower Area) and a remarkable place was called Or Dieh(or within the river. Some people would recognise it in terms of Hanoi as I did before). Thus was born the area in Sibu famous for people with money and style. Indeed a kind of Rich and Famous area.

But more importantly the people were God fearing and orderly. Led by Ting Hing Chung the area prospered and built a church and two school . Sg. Sadit or Or Dieh became well known as a prosperous settlement with hardworking Kutiens. Ting Ing Mieng and Senator Ting Ming Hoi (to name two) were all born here.

Recently their Ching Ang Church (circa 1924) was partially damaged by fire. Within months the community leaders and congregation began reconstruction and renovation. Soon it will be completed and become a community based local museum.

This is the facade of the wooden church. There are three doors and three bell towers following the original design (Rev. Hoover). The highest bell tower has three small towers. the best tropical wood has been used .

One of the pastors reading the special 1926 Bible (published in China)

This is an orginal photo of Rev and Mrs. James Hoover saved from the fire.

Iban construction workers have taken over Foochow labourers - a remarkable change James Hoover would be happy about.

Yong Chong Chung - former Methodist School student now a leading community elder

Belian wood tiles and wooden windows in blue (original colour)

Meng Lei sharing with the others.

One of the three Church doors.

This church will be a museum and a gathering place for future church activities.

A brief history of Ching Ang Tong (Church of True Peace)

Struggles at the beginning
From 1903 to 1905 the small Methodist congregation at Sg. Sadit worshipped in the homes of members. At the end of 1906 Ting Sieng Ong and his friends Ting Tieng Soon and Tang nguong Chie proposed to build an attap roofed church . However the following year Rev Wong King Huo and the other settlement leaders with about 10 families agreed to build a church called Hock Ang Tong.

Japanese Occupation
Like all other pioneering settlements the beginnings were often a little chaotic due to economic upheaval and furthermore faced with downward spiraling of rubber prices the small congregation of Sg. Sadit worshipped in the Kwong Hwa Assembly Hall. It was in 1941 that the actual wooden church called Ching Ang Tong was constructed. But then the Japanese Occupation stopped all Christian worship until the end of the Japanese Period in 1946.

Interesting and remarkable artifacts

1. 1934 - Three wooden tablets carved on belian and then mounted on a second piece of belian. No termite could eat away these carved words. These three tablets are hanged at the front of the new church. The artist was from Sg. Merah and it did not take him long to carve the words of the Lord’s Prayer; the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. This could be the only ones found in the world.
2. 1946 – Special candle stand with seven candlesticks (“…and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches...” Revelations ) presented to the church by Rev. Ling
3. 1950’s – the specially carved wooden altar was presented by the church elder Madam Ting Tiing Sing and the specially carved pastor’s church was present by Yong Su Tuong.

4. 1947 Ting Hing Choon commissioned local artist Lau Mang to paint Jesus in Gathesame on the reverse on glass. This huge glass painting still hangs above the door of the church.
5. 1960 – Two special rice jars made in Sibu were bought by Rev Ling Ung Lik for parsonage use.

The opening ceremony will be on 28th Feb 2010.

January 24, 2010

Revisiting Su Lai Primary School

I felt as if I was visiting a studio in Hong Kong  making a 1930's movie.

It was a nice sunny and hot Thursday morning (after several days of rain)when I had a chance to revisit this old and abandoned primary school located in Ensurai the area our Foochow pioneers started their agricultural projects in 1901.

Since many of the Foochow settlers have moved to the town of Sibu the elders and community leaders thought that the Primary School should also be relocated in Sibu. Not too long ago the new Su Lai Primary School was established in Sibu.

Stepping into the lower floor with all the wooden floor having rotted away my mind was full of past images and noises...all of a sudden I could hear children's ghostly voices resounding upstairs. My imagination went on overdrive. I could even hear the voice of my relatives teaching Chinese lessons.

The lower floor was the assembly hall to commemorate the contributions of Mr and Mrs. Lau Kah Tii. (My maternal grandfather Lau Kah Chui was the second brother of Kah Tii.) The usual photos  honouring Mr. and Mrs. Lau hanging on the beam remain there for some reasons. It is a common practice for the Foochows in particular to name a hall after the benefactor. Mr. Lau Kah Tii was an exceptional man who would always include his wife in his benevolent activities.

The name of the school continues to have permanence - etched deep into the concrete. When I was small the words looked extraordinarily big and the school seemed so big and beyond my reach. Later when I went to the Sibu Methodist Primary school I realised that the two school buildings were similar in design.

The stairs going upstairs used to resound with happy feet.

The Chinese four-word slogan.The moss greened walls are dappled with sun spots made by the sun shining through the cracks in the asbestos ceiling and the holes of the belian roof tiles.

When we were young we used to feel sad when visiting friends whose roof needed repair. We were used to stories about  rain coming through  holes in the roof  and children and their mother had to use every container and aluminium buckets available to catch the rain water. You can imagine how one could pass the night if the bed was wet . And there was even a story of a poor widow who had to marry another time so that her little hut could be repaired at the encouragement of her neighbours who pitied her situation. It was a story in which a poor woman had to exchange her body for a roof over her children's head.

The jungle will soon creep into the building and colonise the whole block.

Windows are old and rotting away. Cracks on the wall are appearing and the white wash has turned brown. Everything seems so cold and decaying except for the sunbeams which penetrate the room casting shadows every where.

The bamboo which used to to so dainty and pretty are now old stumps covered with moulds and moss.

P/s Thanks to Wong Meng Lei (Rajang Basin) for arranging this one day trip to the East Bank of the Rajang River. He took time to drive us along the small roads (Lau Kah Tii Road and Chew Kung Road)  and then we "fell into the kuali" of a church man who gave a treat at Tang Kee in Engkilo. Thanks for the wonderful organic lunch!

January 23, 2010

Mother's Love

 When I was young I thought that "love was a whole drumstick"!!

How does a Foochow mother or any mother show her love for her child who has been away for a long time? How many ways can she show that she loves her child or children?

The Foochow mother like any other mother would use her cooking especially to show her love. Words are not necessary.

Here is one way - a great way to show her love : steam a special black boned free range (In Sarawak it is called kampong chicken) with ginseng and red dates (with some wolfberries too).

Black boned chicken (often just called black chicken) is excellent in taste and is top of the range. My son likes it especially and would always like to have one whenever he comes home for his holidays.

My own mother would steam one for her hardworking children - but far in  between as the chicken is pricey. So when we were young we really appreciated having this kind of chicken soup.

When my maternal grandmother was still alive my mum would steam this black chicken soup for her to show how much she valued her!! Each time she needed to steam a black chicken for her own mother she would walk to the market early in the morning to purchase a life chicken and then she would walk back home. She would then slaughter the chicken herself. We thus learned from her example how to show love to others.

The black boned chicken is usually small at about 1 kg but it is very tasty and sweet especially with ginseng. Sometimes we use only one small bowl of water to steam the chicken with. The essence of the chicken is thus very concentrated and full of nutrition. When grandmother was with us we kids would just have the meat and she would have the soup. Actually there was not much to go around. So mum would fry extra eggs for us to eat with the chicken to give us enough protein.

The black boned chicken has very thin bones and the flesh is good and not at all chewy. Smooth and silky. So having a black boned chicken is really a memorable treat.

There are so many ways a mother can show her love for her child/children. Let us count the ways every day.

January 22, 2010

Innovative Trishaw

I am wordless today.

Trishaw occupying a parking lot in Padang Kerbau market.

A closer look : very innovative of the creator of this trishaw.

January 21, 2010

Look Mum's Neglecting Me!

Many parents have to bring their children to their workplace. They are the ones who do not have support from grandparents or good neighbours. Nurseries tend to be only for the educated and working professionals. So here is a little girl who has to follow her mother to work and mother just cannot do better than this. Bo ban huat (Cannot be helped or no way..)

It has always been a very traditional albeit bittersweet kind of lifestyle when women tie their babies to their back while they collect pepper or tap rubber. Many of own relatives were put in a box when they were young while their parents were planting padi or digging fish ponds according to the stories they told. My own uncles and aunts would leave their small children at home in the bedrooms while they tapped rubber early in the morning. Grandma would get ready some breakfast when they woke up. By eleven a good day's work was done and the adults would be home. And then another set of chores would be carried out.

Here you see a small girl dressed up nicely sitting on a small stool watching her mother sell her jungle produce at the tamu. I believe it is unthinkable for the mum to spend money on nursery.

May be the Municipal Conncil could think of a volunteer service for such children in a nearby space. May be the government can think of a small funding to help establish good nurseries for poor parents who are enterprising and hardworking like this girl's mother so that Malaysian children from all backgrounds can have equal opportunities.

In China government nurseries were established to enable all Chinese women to "contribute to the fast economic growth of the New China". In the 60's and 70's Chinese kids grew up to be Little Red Guards and nationalistic.

Life could become more complicated and difficult if the economy does not fare well.

January 20, 2010

Disappearing Miri : Selling and Buying of Rubber Sheets

Rubber used to be the mainstay of the economy of the Baram and in fact the whole of Sarawak. But by 1970's the industry fell to chaotic times because of political upheavals in the East Malaysian states. Urban and suburban Sarawakians were put under curfew and the economy almost came to a standstill while the Communists (which probably numbered only 1500 according to conservative figures) exchanged intermitten cross fires with the Malaysian soldiers and Sarawak Rangers. While the Gurkhas and some British soldiers meanwhile maintained civilian security in the towns they too saw some real action during planned "operations". The rural population more or less abandoned their economically viable farms and rubber gardens and moved into squalid squatter areas or one room flats above shops. Many were resettled in New Villages planned by the Sarawak government.

30 years later see some revival in the age old but still important natural product. Today as rubber prices rise to unbelieveable highs many brave people have gone back to claim their farms and start tapping rubber again. Those who had not moved out are reaping a good harvest.

However "pranksters" as I call them are around have halted their endeavours and rightful earnings.

Rubber sheets have been known to be hijacked while being transported to the city for sale. Some rubber sheets left drying in the sun are literally stolen from the lines. Some trees are even tapped by strangers who claim their rights to the trees while the owners had to remain quiet - paralysed by fear! Some stories also tell of Indonesian tappers who have been "employed" by the "landowners" to tap the tress and they come face to face with the real landowners who are tapping the same trees.

One rubber tapper I know of would go to his trees - tap them and bring the latex to his town house to process as quickly as possible thus making a small living now that he has retired from gainful employment. He has been playing a cat and mouse game with the so called Ali Baba's thieves.

Can the honest rubber tapper remain the supreme owner of his own rubber trees and garden without fear and favour?

The scene in the photo was a familiar scene to many but in the near future it might be gone from sight and from our memory. My children and their children will not have the opportunity to smell the sweet smell of rubber smoking in the smoke house and the nice scent it leaves behind when loaded into ships bound for Singapore.

January 19, 2010

Old Foochow Ways : Yisao and YiMei

This is part of a pre-war black and white photo of a working committee of Methodist Church of Sibu. As was the common practice of that time ladies sat in the front. Here I zoomed in on two of the married ladies to show their hair style.

(Photo from my father's collection)

This is a photo from China of my aunt Chiu Ik Chen and her foster mother before she came out to Sibu to join her mother my Grandaunt Tiong Yuk Ging. Note that she has has braid. Her foster mother has cut her hair short as the Communist Revolution has swept across China by then. (Photo : Courtesy of Madam Chiu Ik Chen of Sibu)

Wouldn't it be easier for men these days if they could tell easily whether a woman is married or not?

In early times in Fuzhou City, South China, married women and unmarried women could be distinguished from each other according to their hairstyle. If this happens today many problems would not develop at all.

In the period after theQingDynasty (1616-1911) and at the beginning of the Republic of China (1912-1949), married women there
arranged their hair in a bun while unmarried women arranged their hair in a plait, which was a generally accepted custom, and no one should go against it. Those with a bun were called respectfully "Yisao" (married women) while those with a plait were called "Yimei" (unmarried women). So the mark was clear, and the borderline was definite: you can judge at first 

sight, without mistakes.

(Photo : http://www.maiall.com. Note the TAMBUONG as a significant part of rich family's lifestyle then)
In the 1920s and 1930s, married women's hairstyle changed gradually from the bun to the modish perm. On the wedding day, the girl went to the barber's to have her hair permed, accompanied by her female friend or relative. After the perming, when she walked on the street, every one (no matter acquaintances or strangers) could understand that she would become a bride soon. In that period, the boundary betweenYisaoandYimeiwas still clear, so you would not make a mistake if you call someone according to her hairstyle.

Later on, unmarried teenage girls also had their hair permed, and someYisao who had become mothers still plaited their hair, so it became hard to tell aYisao from aYimei according to the hairstyle only.

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). ...