February 28, 2010

The Night of the Monitor Lizard

It was fairly dark by seven without the moon in the sky. I was a little scared when my guard dogs formed a circle around some kind of animal in the garden. However I could figure out that it was smaller than my smallest dog. It was not wriggling or standing up so I knew that it could not be a cobra.

By the time the dogs sensed my  presence they had already killed what I thought was a small sawa or ripon( python). It turned out to be a small monitor lizard. This was the first time I actually had a minotor lizard in my garden. Usually I would see them near the river banks (either side) when I stand by my kitchen sink and they would slither away when I made some noise. Or when the neighbours' dogs pick up its scent they would start barking and the intelligent reptile would remain still for a while. Monitor lizards usually come around at about 11 in the morning when they know that the housewives could be killing a chicken or have some food remnants thrown out in the drains. But I have never met a monitor lizard at night!

Foochows have always enjoyed having monitor lizard soup. It would be very simply cooked. Slice ginger and stir fry it for a while and when the ginger is browned pour in one bowl of Foochow red wine and let it boil. When it has boiled add two bowls of hot water.

When the soup is boiling hot throw in the slices of monitor lizard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This is the Foochow style of cooking this reptile and I have eaten it once or twice in my life. Many of my relatives who grew up in the Rajang River villages would remember stories of having monitor lizard for supper. So here you are some pictures of my encounter with a monitor lizard.

Reptiles are not really on my food list. However as Foochows and many Chinese believe that this soup will do wonders to one's skin we should consider ordering it every now and then. Or if you have a chance to shoot one in the mangrove swamps you should get someone to clean and cook it for you.

As for this dog bitten very unlucky monitor lizard I had it wrapped up in a few plastic bags and thrown into my wheelie bin for the MMC to take away. If thrown back into the river the carcass would stink sky high for a few days should it get stuck on any part of the river bank.

It was quite a night for me and my brave mongrels with Bubba as captain.

February 27, 2010

60th Birthday Photo of Great Grandfather

This photo was taken in 1920 (?) when my dad was a bout 12 years old. My great grandparents were seated and the whole group was very well arranged. I am not too sure who the photographer was but it could be Wong Heng Kwong who owned Nan Kwong (the first shop on Blacksmith Road opposite Wan Hin). This is one of the earliest Foochow family photos in Sibu. It is a "second batch Foochow pioneering family" complete with three generations by that time.

The background is a rubber garden.

The original photo is very worm eaten unfortunately and my younger sister took it to a studio in Kuching to have it "recovered and reconstructed" and digitalized a few years ago. I am so glad we have this new  technology to help us retain our history and historical records. Now we have copies of it made in different sizes and distributed to several relatives who appreciate old photos.

The Chinese characters are important in this photo. My grand uncle and grandfather had put their name in the inscription for the Photo commemorating the  60th birthday of their father. The calendar used by the Foochow pioneers at that time was the Republic of China (Under Sun Yat Sen) Calendar or the Mingkuo Calendar. If it is Mingkuo Year  20 it would be 1911+20 or 1931 in our Georgian Calendar. Muslims would have to work it out by deducing from the Muslim calendar. The months and dates  however would be the same the normal/Georgian calendar. (It has been pointed out to me that the year is definitely missing in this photo).

This is one proof that my grandfather's brother (Tiong Kung Eng) truly existed. As there was no other photo of his in existence. What a pity! Grand Uncle Kung Eng's grave is in the Methodist Episcopal (Mee Yee Mee) Cemetery in Sungei Merah.

Interestingly  in the photo the whole family was wearing Republic of China costumes - Sun Yat Sen suit for my great grandfather and the normal Chinese cotton clothes for the others. All these clothes must have been sewn by my great grandmother (a well known seamestress then and had passed her sewing skill to my grand aunt Yuk Ging who later made cheongsams  and frocks by hand for almost every one in our family) and my grandmother who had to make so many clothes for so many children very frequently). But my great grandfather's suit was probably sewn by one of the  Sibu tailors. Cloth was bought in bales at 40 cents a Chinese yard (Chien).

Great Grandfather had leather shoes ( a mark of his wealth by then) and the others  wore white canvas or cotton shoes. Great Grandmother wore her bound feet leather shoes which she must have ordered from Singapore or China. Normally she would wear her own cloth made shoes. This was a time when most of the Foochow children did not wear shoes at all. I remember one of my relatives telling us that he did not wear shoes until the 1950's. When he went to school he was barefooted.

Photographs help people in many ways. For me it helps me reconstruct our historical background and help us learn more about the times our ancestors lived in. It makes me happy to see faces of loved ones whether they have passed on or are still alive.

I really love old photographs and will work harder to find  and digitalize them for the future generation.

We must be able to learn to respect our ancestors and bless them for shaping our present lives. God has a great purpose for all of us.

February 26, 2010

Keladi Tikus - News from Indonesia

(Photo: from Google)
This is keladi tikus - perhaps a common house plant in your area.
It has been studied in Indonesia and has been manufactured as a good  antitode for cancer and other related sicknesses! Kudus to Indonesian botanists and researchers for the steps they have taken.....

February 24, 2010

The Other Son : Tiong Kung Eng

Photo taken in Sungei Merah circa 1926. Grand Uncle Tiong Kung Eng ( second from the left in the back row) Aunty Jawa (first from left - seated) next to Mr and Mrs. JB Chong. Great Grandparents Chong in black Chinese suits in the centre. My grand mother (Chong JS) with grand father carrying Fourth Uncle. In the background you can see young rubber trees.

In 1913 while the First World War was raging in the European Front the Sibu Foochow pioneers were beginning to realise that their "promised land" was taking shape by leaps and bounds. The Reverend James Hoover had been with them for more than ten years.The results of the Foochows' hardwork together with James Hoover's diligent and strategic planning could be obviously seen. The Sarawak White Rajah was impressed: this was one of the main objectives of contracting these Foochow agriculturalists to come to develop Sibu. Rice was now in production and the fear of the government regarding agricultural underproduction was laid to rest. No one in Sarawak then would be facing shortage of rice or other food crops with such excellent agricultural success.

It was this kind of development that propelled my grandfather's brother Tiong Kung Eng to apply for a piece of land near Bukit Lan just below Ensurai where the Laus and the Tings have settled in 1901 (Rev. Ho Siew Liong 1950). He was granted 24 acres of land by the government to his pleasant surprise. He moved his young and beautiful bride to the newly acquired land and started to cut down the jungle and plant rubber.

However  his wife died of childbirth. It must have been painful for him to be in 24 Acres for another five years. He gave his new born son to a wet nurse to look after while he toiled away on the land. Finally when the baby boy died at age 5 he was totally heart broken. The locals believed that his mother's spirit took him away. With the loss of his son  my Grand Uncle Kung Eng gave up all aspirations and ambitions in his life and went to see his brother (my grandfather) who was at that time developing Bintangor. Grand Uncle was given the job of supervisor by his brother. Kung Eng sold his precious land to six families who developed the settlement but continued to call it 24 Acres to this day. (See a future posting on this title)

By then my gtrand uncle  had been quite sick spiritually and physically according to an old relative of mine.  Amongst one of the treatments was a small amount of government prescribed opium for his pains weekly.

Opium was dispensed to patients and at that time this was the kind of permitted medication for people who were depressed and de-motivated. Opium could alleviate their suffering and loneliness. Each week Grand Uncle Kung Eng would bring his little medicine box and the government officer would prescribe for him the permitted amount of opium to bring back to Binatang/Bintangor.

When he was in a better mood he would bring all his nephews and nieces for a boat ride and he would be so happy to row the boat up river .Those cheerful days would include telling of great stories as he was an articulate man.My grandfather had already started the Mee Ang Rice Mill and several more uncles and aunts were born.

But as the days and years went by he was obviously  needed more medical treatment which was not available at that time. According to another elderly aunt my grandfather was  actually very distressed by this as he loved his younger brother.

An opium smoker in Singapore.

When the Japanese came opium was not available any more and it was very difficult for Grand Uncle Kung Eng. One day he was so ill with influenza he had to be taken to an acupunturist in Sibu for treatment. Because he had already become an opium addict by then any other cure for any illness was difficult to find. It was a very very sad time for my family then. Grand Uncle Kung Eng had become so thin and so frail.

The treatment proved very fatal for him and he died within the week.

He was obviously a very compassionate man who had a lot going for him. And because his beautiful wife died too untimely he was very much a man stricken down before his prime.

My grandfather himself was also very saddened by this tragic death.

My great grandfather (Tiong King Kee) as head of the family was heart broken too but he had to lead the family to greater heights and fought a good fight until he too died just a few years later:two sons and a wife had gone before him. New Foochow (Sibu) had given him much but had taken its toll too.

May my grand uncle's soul rest in peace.

My thanks to these sources :
a)Family Oral Stories from Aunts
b) Fiftieth Anniversary of Methodist in Sarawak Souvenir Magazine - 1950
c) Old family photo from Mrs. Chong Chung Sing
d) Old opium smoker from Singapore website.

February 23, 2010

Food : Nibong - the forgotten palm

Oncosperma tigillaria
(Nibong Palm)

I will never forget the dinner in a small longhouse several years ago. The host went out with us to cut down a nibong tree just before the sun reached the top of the hills. He said it was time to prepare for dinner. He did not wear a watch. He then went to the small river which at that time was in pristine condition. He raised the traps he had put in earlier on in the morning and out came several prawns in each trap. He already had a few fish in his little boat when he came in from the padi fields. By the time we settled down for our bath in the river he had already cleaned the nibong and the prawns. He had all these in the bamboo canisters (pansur) over the fire on the rocks as we enjoyed our bath. The setting sun cast gentle shadows on the fire and the fragrance of the boiling fish and prawns filled the air. As the fire wood crackled and the charcoals spitted when liquid dropped on them I could tell that the cooking nibong was sweet and delectable.

His wife already had the rice cooked (in bamboo) and some nice vegetables stir fried  as we dressed . When we gathered on the mat (lampit)  he took out the bamboo canisters and poured out the food into the bowls.

We thus had a meal almost all from nature. How bountiful the earth was! Each morsel of food was appreciated by young and old. Very little cooking oil was used for our meal and I was amazed! The rise in price of cooking oil would not affect the financial status of this family.

Recently  during my land trip along the coast of Sarawak I came across some clumps of nibong trees and reminisced the pleasant longhouse dinner which have not been forgotten. This time round I had the opportunity to take photos of the nibong. That memorable trip was neither videoed nor digitally  photographed . But every image was imprinted on my mind. The fragrance of cooking nibong palm shoot would always trigger off the images in the future.

The Nibong Palm is often called the forgotten palm because in size it is nothing compared to the coconut which is very stately and ubiquitous. It is not as financially rewarding as the oil palm which fetches about 400 ringgit per ton. The nibong is slim and slender and often found in difficult terrain in the equatorial jungles.

In fact the Ibans have long woven its pattern into their pua kumbu. And this palm pattern has been  mentioned in "Iban Ritual Textiles" by Traude Gavin. Otherwise no many non Ibans would know of its significance in indigenous life.

The nibong wood is hard and very lasting. It can withstand the saline conditions of the open sea. On land the nibong is used as a building material like beams and posts. Many longhouses have been sturdily built in this way. Even termites cannot bite through the hard wood. The famous kelongs of Singapore and Selangor have been built using nibong. I have the opportunity of staying in the kelong when I was younger and had enjoyed life amongst the fishermen and their families. It was a memorable experience and the support from the nibong stilts/foundation was amazing. The sea was all around us and yet nothing would tilt or shake in the room!! At night we were safe as we watched by pressure lamp lights the fish and squid coming to the nets. Even when the wind blew there was nothing to be afraid of. I often wonder why the tourism industry would not make a kelong type of homestay to attract both foreign and local tourists.

For the women the nibong has proven its worth as good wood for utensils like ladles and scoops. Some are even custom made into special water containers and other decorative items for the stylish homes in the city.

Beautiful carved nibong trays for example have been specially ordered from the inner most parts of Sarawak for use in stately homes in Kuala Lumpur and even in London. Most of these become conversation piece for guests.

The two pictures show the slim nibong trees along the lowlands of Sarawak between Miri and Bintulu.

In Sabah the Bungkau (jaw's harp) is made from the bark of a nibong palm called bongkala)

The nibong also provides one of the tastiest palm shoots for the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak. The palm shoot is taken from a young sapling of the nibong. In fact when the nibong palm shoot is sold in the native market it is usually taken up as quickly as it is laid out for sale. For weddings in the longhouse the bridegroom's family members would go right into the jungle to cut some umbut nibong for the wedding feast. Thus is is a celebration food. Nibong palm can be cooked with coconut milk to make a nice soup. It can be cooked with ikan bilis to make a nice stew. Stir fried with meat and other vegetables it can appear in the choicest five star hotel restaurant as a specialty dish. The palm shoot can be cooked in as many different ways as the chef's imagination can bring.

The nibong should not be forgotten at all.

February 21, 2010

Ground Breaking Ceremony - more photos - 3

William Ting from Grace Methodist Church - my friend - came to give support.
Sharing some stories with his friend over a bowl of hoong ngang long.

The Tudan Iban Church give their moral support too with Pastor Chan.

Part of the congregation wearing their special T-shirt standing in the heat for the ceremony.

Ground Breaking Ceremony - More Photos - 2

The committee members also take part in the ground breaking ceremony.
A group photo

Church T-Shirt

Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade Leaders take part in the ground breaking.

The old cross remains standing overlooking the Canada Hill of Miri. It is a very Biblical scene.

Grace is being said to bless the refreshment and the hands which prepared the food.

We are thankful for God's Providence.

500 hard boiled eggs.

500 bowls of rice vermicelli or hoong ngang. This is a Foochow celebration dish.

Ground Breaking Ceremony at Mei Ang Church Miri - 1

 (Psalms 91:1-4)
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” 3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (NASB)

 More than 40 years ago when the Sibu Foochows moved over to Miri to seek jobs. Many also found work in the  Foochow owned timber companies . In order to gather together for Sunday services as Methodists they initiated a plan for a property to be bought. In just a few short years they were able to build a church and called it Mei Ang (Beautiful Peace) situated next to Chung Hua Primary School.

Since then Mei Ang Methodist Church of Miri has grown tremendously  with three services on Sunday (to packed house) and different activities for the members and their children on other days. And it is now time for rebuilding. Today this is a precious piece of prime land and the best plans have been made to maximise land usage. Furthermore today the church does not only serve the Foochows only as Hakkas and Hokkiens are also worshipping here.

On 21/2/2010 the Mei Ang congregation and President Datu Dr. Su Chii Ang held a ground breaking ceremony to mark the beginning of rebuilding of the church.

This brings to mind what Winston Churchill was once quoted "We shape our buildings and then they shape us."  To many of the in-coming new population of Miri the construction of the original Mei Ang Church has indeed shaped the population of Miri to a certain extent. One obvious social change in Miri has been the opening of business hours. Shops before the coming of the Foochows were opened only after ten in the morning. When the Foochows arrived in the business scene Foochow run coffee shops open at five in the morning. The markets start selling fresh vegetables as early as 4 in the morning.

Meanwhile the congregation has rented part of the first floor of Mega Hotel Building as its temporary meeting place and the Parsonage has been re-sited too.

The old church which has been stripped bare. Only the walls and the beams are left.

Dr. Su presiding the ceremony.

Ground breaking...cangkul-ing sand.

Part of the joyful congregation!!
The happy Datuk Ting Ong Hua who will build the new church.

Hallelujah!! We shall build up a strong church!

Part of the group ....waiting for the photographers to snap and give instructions.

At the end of the ceremony the Women's group dish out the Hoon Ngan Long (egg and rice vermicelli) into white bowls.....equivalent to Size No.1 Foochow soup bowls

Dr. Su and friend enjoying the Foochow refreshment.

February 20, 2010

Hakka's Thunder Tea (Lui Char) on 7th Day of Chinese New Year

Olivia -my Hakka friend- invited me for Lui Char today as it is customary for her to prepare this dish onthe 7th day of the Chinese New Year. Lui Char is one of my favourite Hakka dishes and indeed I can eat it every day.

Olivia's Lui Char is very rich and I reckon that it is 50 times better than what you get in a commercial lui char outlet. And she is very particular about this special dish. Almost all the herbs she uses are from her mother's garden at the back.

The soup is made up of blended peanuts and peppermint(poh hor) with lots of basil and the bitter Ku Ley Sim. Besides she also uses "nya" another Chinese herb.

All the side dishes are arranged neatly at the table like a buffet and the guests fill their bowls with rice and all the side dishes . The peanuts with give the rice crunchiness and the salted radish will give it the sweet and salty taste.

The milky and greenish soup looks unappetising but it is better than Campbell's mushroom soup.

Olivia is the first lady on the left. In the middle is her sister who is newly married to Lee (a Foochow from Sarikei now working in Singapore). Very polite Lee is extremely well brought up and a treasure to any family. Lee is a vegetarian and loves Lui Char. Now I have company - a fellow Foochow who loves this Hakka dish.

This is the fried shrimp (the photo is a little over exposed). It gives the mixed rice a more savoury taste. Those who are not vegetarian will add this side dish.

Coriander or Chinese Parsley.

Stir fried four angle bean (or Kacang botol).

Sweet potato leaves.

Chinese greens

Fried preserved radish or lobak.

Fried long beans.

Small cubes of fried bean curd.

Rice (over exposed by accident)

Plain roasted peanuts)

Group photo. Today is like a family day with only relatives and next door neighbour coming for the Lui Char. So it is very warm and friendly.

Everyone having a bowl of Lui Char..choose your own combination. The new son-in-law is acting like the director....Smile. Olivia's mother is busy with her relatives in the living room.
The body language - be appreciative of  the food /lui char you are provided with. Pretty girls in their new dresses. Children learn about family values and kindred-ship when visiting relatives. Mothers are around teaching their children what to say and how to behave. This is passing on good education from one generation to another.

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). ...