May 31, 2010

Disappearing Miri - formic acid bottle

In the 1950's and early 1960's Miri was progressing rapidly with lots of rubber gardens and pepper gardens. Many farmers grew rich not only from their rubber tapping but also from their market gardening. The Hainanese especially expanded their market gardens in Lopen. Oil of course was its economic mainstay. And lots of people migrated from other parts of Sarawak to work in the booming town. Timber also began its flourishing business by then. I heard that Kok Chee Restaurant and Amigo Nightclub saw thousands of ringgits passing hands most nights!! I think many of the local Mirians remember those days with fondness.

An interesting part of the rubber processing would include the use of formic acid for firming up latex to form the more solid rubber sheets. Formic acid usually came in big glass bottles and I believe that there was little control of this dangerous acid until many women started to drink it to commit suicide!! There were tons of stories involving the drinking of formic acid. There were lots of stories involving men and women having fights using formic acid as well. These were fodder for good novels !!

And as the rubber industry almost came to a standstill during the Communist Insurgency in the 70's the formic acid bottles disappeared from our social scene. Today not many people would even remember these beautiful transparent bottles.

Lucas Johnny (from Sibu) had the foresight of collecting a few while he was a civil servant with RTM. He has been using these lovely bottles for bottled fern garden.

Here he is explaining to Honey Bee who is admiring the fern garden in a bottle.

Lucas Johnny's fern garden in a bottle on exhibit in Pustaka Miri recently!!

P/s The Sibu Fuzhou Cultural Heritage Gallery also exhibits one such formic bottle.

May 30, 2010

Cikgu Kok of Kuala Belait and Nasi Katoki

I love listening to stories of brave pioneers who crossed seas to seek their fortunes.

Cikgu Kok a familiar and lovable retired National Language teacher of Kuala Belait (Brunei) is the son of such a pioneer. His father sailed in a small boat across South China Sea and landed on Brunei soils just before the Second World War. He worked the oil fields and every other job available. Finally he had enough money to send for a wife . Cikgu Kok was born in Brunei.

From young he was enrolled in a Malay language school where he cultivated a love for the language and especially Jawi.

He later trained as a teacher and helped many students to master the National language besides passing the Jawi component. Those who set for the Citizenship Test also obtained help from Cikgu Kok. Cikgu Kok himself has a Yellow IC - his pride and honour.

These days as a retired teacher (He told me that "we teachers can never grow rich - but we have just enough to eat") he goes around looking for friends like the fishermen on the beach to chat with and food to enjoy. My friends often say that if you find Cikgu Kok in one shop the food there must be nice. You don't need a GPS when he around. He knows his directions very well.

He told us that one of the stories related to the name Nasi Katok came from the Indonesian word "tok tok" which is the sound of two bamboo sticks hitting each other. Pedlars in Indonesia would beat the bamboo as they walked from place to place selling their tasty home cooked nasi bungkus in the past. Thus their rice came to be known as Nasi Katok. Do you have another origin of the name?

Nasi Katok from this home (Haji Yusuf) is excellent. The chicken is succulent and the rice adequate. I liked the bamboo shoot and the soup (which was beef stock) to which I added lots of spring onions. You can ask for extra sambal and I think that was charged. Otherwise the Nasi Katok here is the same as anywhere else in Brunei - Only Bru$1.00 . You cannot get anything better than this nasi katok and at this special prize.

this is the entrance to the nice little (8 tables) Nasi Katok outlet. It is in Seria. Hope you can find it.

I am sure our friendly Cikgu Kok can bring you there. He is such a remarkable man and always a teacher. He will entertain you with very educating kinds of stories.

He is related to one of my friends by marriage. Thus he is very often seen in Miri too....enjoying breakfast or lunch!!

May 29, 2010

Dublin's Organic Pigs

It is not every day we can get friends to sell us good quality organic pork in Miri.

My friend Dublin has been in the pig rearing industry for a while. This year he is advertising his new batch for the Gawai.....

Congratulations to him! Towkay Kingsir!


While stock masih ada !!!


JUALAN HIDUP !! (Live Pigs for Sale!)

50 KG KE BAWAH(50 Kg and below) : RM14 / KG
50 KG KE ATAS (above 50kg) : RM 13 / KG

SILA HUBUNGI/Contact TEL : 0138343566




May 28, 2010

The Gawai Dayak around the World 2010

 Nearer to Gawai as I see many of my friends and relatives leaving for their kampongs I get a little misty in the eyes. How are  friends celebrating theirs in Saudi or Qatar? Some are even as far away as Florida...may be Gawai will just pass by like any other day or may be Gawai would be a nice reunion for some. I heard one family in England had a street party and the neighbours had a great time one year some time ago..

I was talking to my colleagues that it would be nice to see how  the Ibans and other indigenous Sarawakian communities have spread around the world. And it would be even nicer to see how they keep their traditions alive!! But they all think that the community is too small to have a big do...may be a small bbq would suffice ... But again my colleagues say that when people are overseas traditional celebrations may be set aside because people would be too busy working!

Having studied some statistics and having searched for  photographs of Gawai  and news available both on the Net and elsewhere I must say that I did not get much. info at all to show signs of Gawai around the world.

Very well designed (See the Terong) ticket.

Ted worked in Sibu Old Airport in the 1960's and has been blissfully married to Menai for more than 30 years! He has a large collection of antique and new Sarawakian books.

However from Perth my friend May Dan has done us PROUD!! Perth has a thriving and very healthy Sarawakian (Malaysian) community. And to let you in the Malaysian community has been holding a Gawai bash for several years now.

This year they have celebrated Gawai with a gusto again at the Willeton Community Hall.. Thanks to their chairperson Mrs. May Dan Lingoh!! Well done! I have her permission to use her photos (as I was not available for the celebration over there). So many cross-cultural married couples turned up for the makai and the entertaining programmes. The costumes every one  and even the guests wore were colourful and vibrant.

Tourist(?) Joseph Jinggut - elegant with his Sarawak scarf and camera ready to shoot!

May - the organising chair and her daughter Kirsten -one of the two MCs of the evening.

Great food!! All Sarawakian fare

Lovely ladies from Sarawak....

OOOOOOOhaaaaaaaaa Toasting the Sarawakians and guests and wishing them success and great harvest.

The organising committee with our favourite aunty Menai (Advisor) from Aup of Sibu.

And so the next Gawai will be again in May and in  2011.....Be there

And with this post I wish all my Sarawak friends Happy and Blessed Gawai.....

besampi ka nuan enggau kita sebilik gayu guru gerai nyamai lantang senang nguan menua. Ngarap ka Tuhan majak meri berkat ia ngagai kita seblik.

All photos courtesy of May Dan Lingoh. Thanks May.....

May 27, 2010

Pre-Gawai Reflections

Today I am delighted to share an old Kodak box camera photo belonging to my friend Robert M.. Retired Colonel Rizal Abdullah (Robert Madang) came from Lachau of Sarawak and is now part of the Kedah society..He continues to take great photos (with upgraded cameras of course) and write.

He had this one  brilliant opportunity to take a photo of his brother Linggir who was making parang in the traditional style sometime in the 1960's..He wrote

Mr younger brother Linggir doing the "Ngambuh" (making parang, duku etc). Is "ngambuh" still practised in long houses? In my long house Lachau, the practise is gone. People buy their parang/duku at the nearby bazaar. The quality? Questionable!!

May be many people say that a picture is worth a thousand words (quoting from Confucius ). I would say this picture is worth a fortune to an archivist or a beloved sibling. I would like to thank my good friend for allowing me to use this in my blog. With a grateful heart Sir!

Just before Gawai I am sure one would become nostalgic and think of the past and how far the indigenous people have come. In 1958 my grandfather (TPK) carved out a little bit of Bukit Aup to manufacture the first machine made bricks in Sarawak and provided jobs for the Ibans in the vicinity. My Foochow clansmen and women lived alongside the Ibans in peace and harmony. When three of his sons passed away the brick factory went into disuse as no one wanted to take over. Only the land was left after a decade or two. It was only very recently that my large extended family sold off the property and as the saying goes  our last roots have now been pulled out of Sibu. None of my immediate male relatives reside in Sibu now.

Today Aup has indeed produced Iban lawyers and engineers and several teachers and other professionals. The padi fields are still there. Many of the rubber trees are still standing. The Chinese used to rent the rubber land from the Ibans and tapped the trees. In less than one generation they made enough money to send their children overseas or move to Sibu or Miri. They perhaps also used their savings to buy a piece of mixed zone land. One of my cousins even rented  a few  acres of padi land from an Iban landowner in the 1950's. Now this family is in Kuching.

Today cars can reach the various longhouses right under the ruai. The community spirit is still intact. But needless to say progress is still not complete. A quantum leap must still be made.

In many ways many Linggirs of modern day Sarawak have a lot to catch up as good education and fair opportunities and even having a chance to become modern farmers might be still illusive. If it is survival of the fittest than many of our brethrens are not able to run to first base to a certain degree. The goal posts of modern days have been changed (or as I often say - they keep changing) and survival in the jungle and survival in the concrete jungle are totally two different things. But I am glad that several are now overseas earning a decent income to provide for their children's tertiary education.

There are so many challenges ahead of every one. The vicious cycle of poverty must be broken first.

I support  "No Child Left Behind" campaign!!

My Gawai wishes to all my Iban friends who grew up with me in Aup and Sibu - Jugah - Yat - Bulla - Peter - Catherine and others...oh yes.. don't forget :  Agi idup agi ngelaban!

Photo courtesy of Rtd Colonel Robert Rizal Abdullah

May 26, 2010

Bakelyn in Bandar Seri Begawan

My friends Olivia and Honey Bee went along with me to Bandar Seri Begawan a week ago and we stopped by Bakelyn Bake Shop for a snack. For me it was my first visit so I was pretty impressed by the " greenery" and eco-friendly decor in this trendy upstairs cake and snack outlet! Actually the windows were the first to impress me as they gave the outlet a large spatial feel.

The music was pretty good and many of the songs brought an air of nostalgia to the cafe too and I am sure this would appeal to a large spectrum of customers. I never like the loud music often heard in our part of the world.

The the food was elegantly served by a nice waiter who kept smiling. I wonder if it was his smile that cheered us up or the nice tea which was served in a tea set which was  a shade of a lovely green and black. The tea set reminds me of some very classical Japanese earthenware and there is this fine touch of earth and forest.

Obviously Olivia was pleased. She has been here many times.It is nice to be back she said.

Tea came with some biscuits which were fresh and crunchy.

The windows  let in a good light and there were flowers in the window boxes. Very delicate and very European.

I ordered one portion of Vietnamese spring rolls.  Came out in threes and just nice for the three of us. Delicate again and very fresh. The coriander and basil within the roll gave the rolls a distinctive Vietnamese flavour. If only they could serve some really good sauce to go with them.

 We also ordered a pasta carbonera. Well done!! Creamy and not at all heavy.

Bakelyn is  not exactly a new bakery at Kiulap, just next to Baiduri Bank. It was opened sometime in 2007.

You would like the cake display even though there are not many choices. You can order fudge cakes and an array of other chocolate cakes.  Their cakes are usually $40 per kg.

The menu is pretty decent with a good selection of pasta and several Asian/Asean items.

You can spend a quiet afternoon with friends upstairs (for a change).
The other customers were politely quiet when we were there. And I really think that was a nice and appealing feature of this cafe.

It would have been even nicer if the rain had come down heavily and I could watch the raindrops on the beautiful windows.

May 25, 2010

A Good Long House Style Meal - A Cyber Birthday Card

Today is my eldest daughter's birthday. It has been too many years she has not celebrated a birthday in Sarawak.

This is a birthday card which includes photos and text on a possible feast for her - organic food from the longhouse.

This is her favourite dish - ubi leaves cooked in the same as Mrs. Kuntai our relative would cook. Young tapioca leaves (the top leaves - yes as in tea leaves) are plucked and then pounded using pestle and mortar)and then squeezed with salt. This is then fried with ginger and some pork or ikan bilis. The texture is lovely and the taste heavenly.

This is Winter Melon - a soup simply cooked by throwing in cubed winter melon and ikan bilis into a large pot of boiling water. Add salt towards the end.
 For better taste use a chicken stock.

Kampong chicken or free range chicken cooked in oyster sauce slowly over a wood fire until the flesh leaves the bones at the touch of a fork.

Bell chillies cooked with ikan bilis and belacan. You can eat double portion of rice with this alone.

Long house rice - black organic rice from the hills. Very fragrant and very sweet.

Iban terong - cooked slowly over a wood fire - until the sugar present in the golden brinjal caramelises. It is all at once sweet and tangy at the same time. It can be eaten cooked like this or it can be used as part of tom yam prawns or fish or masak asam.

Our all time favourite - home grown and organic cangkok manis fried with free range eggs.

Freshly plucked jungle fern (paku) stir fried with some belacan and home grown ginger.

Happy Birthday to you across the Pacific.

May 24, 2010

Thoughts of Pancakes

Do you ever think of when was the first time you ever ate pancakes?

I was probably only 13 when Ai Ing came back from the US and she wowed all of us in the school. I often visited the Methodist Girls Hostel because I had good friends there like Tiurida Manurung and Minar Sirait who were in my class. Then my cousins were also there. I would be there for a good hour before Hockey in the afternoon.

Ai Ing was one of the first Methodist Children's Home "orphans" to receive an American education. She later went back to the US. The Methodist Children's Home has been instrumental in educating hundreds of children with an American education and helping them to become very successful members of the Sibu society. This was all started by a great American missionary - Mrs. John Pilley in 1949 in Sibu. (More in another post)

One Saturday morning Ai Ing who together with Miss Ida Mamora decided to make American breakfast for us girls and we were thrilled. I did not know what American breakfast was so it was really something to look forward to. I even forgot to do the chores at home just to be early in the school hostel on Saturday morning.

My mother said probably I was the only girl in the world who wanted to stay in a school hostel. (Smile) So many girls did not want to stay in school hostels because of the strict discipline (think Mrs. Lu) and even poor food. I would have fried peanuts and soy bean sauce and porridge any time if I could be with my friends 24/7!!

I was so play- oriented then.

My SIL's pancakes.

All the things we needed for a pancake breakfast and more!

Later one very important recipe we learned in the school Form Three Domestic Science was how to make pancakes. And I remember I really begged my mother to buy a frying pan (not Tefal mind you) just for making pancakes. Foochows with their Foochow stove did not have to buy saucepans or fying pans because we had the big wraught iron kuali. But when my aunts came home from the US we not only had saucepans  but  a very good  New World gas stove which was the rage in Sibu then. (We continued to have our Foochow stove until we demolished the wooden house in 1970's.) I cannot remember how many pancakes I have made in my life since then.

One of the first things I would teach my children was to make pancakes. By the way I did forget to teach them how to make "rock cakes".

Talking about pancakes and Ai Ing also bring to mind that the Methodist Children's Home would celebrate its 60th Anniversary this year!

Ai Ing left Sibu not long after our pancake breakfast. And we lost contact.

How many years have gone by since my first pancake and my exposure to American breakfast culture?

Where could Ai Ing be now?

(P/s Pancake news : all ingredients can be easily obtained in Brunei and Miri supermarkets . Even premix pancake flour is available. Maple syrup still costs a bomb. Honey has gone up in price and good imported honey costs an astronomical sum. Varieties of pancakes have new names like flapjacks etc. )

May 23, 2010

Buah letup letup or Wild Native/Cape Gooseberry

I am posting this for my Sibu brother Bahrin.

Just in case in later life one is suffering from high blood pressure and high sugar count in the blood this is the kampong cure !

letup letup or cape gooseberry according to many of our elders is a good home remedy. The whole plant can be used.

The  very ripe and reddish fruits are often eaten by children and adults alike whenever we see them in the fringes of the jungle or kampong.

Indeed today many wet markets in Singapore even sell them in punnets or little baskets!! So I hope Sibu still has some of these growing wild. If not one can always come to Miri get some seeds and grow them in your garden. When rather tall these plants look like tomato plants in your garden. They may however look a little bit  unruly because the branches are uncontrollable.

the leaves can be boiled as ordinary tea and taken throughout the day. You can dry them too and put in a bottle.

I like boiling the whole plant flowers and roots and all (of course after washing several times). and the drink is really bitter. The roots look like ginseng roots.

And I do hope that you can try a little bit of it if you are not convinced.

My nephew's Muslim father-in-law who hails from Ulu Selangor and a retired armed forces man drinks this several times a month to keep his good health. A cousin who is 75 walks every day and takes this tea whenever she has a headache. She has these plants at all times behind her kitchen. I have started to look for these plants and loving them.

How nature is always there to help us!!

May 22, 2010

Breaking Records in the Rain on 22nd May 2010

A small group of friends and I were hanging out near the Indoor Stadium when the early morning downpour caught us by surprise. Unprepared as I was I knew that I could not possibly note down anything or even see anything with my glasses being all misty!! My camera started having its crackling sound again. I would not be able to break my own record of having more than 200 shots in one morning for sure!! My friends quickly left because they were all fairly weak in the knees and low in energy. Almost all the coffee shops were full with every seat taken!! The event was not for old ladies like us.....

But I  heard later that the crowd in front of the dignitaries stood without moving in the rain and waited patiently for the announcements ....

I had started writing this.....
"About 7 a.m. The heaviest rain in Miri drenched the more than 4000 Mirians gathered in City Stadium.

It was the much expected lMalaysia Mammoth Dance and Cultural Performance under Miri Fest 2010."

Later I heard that three records were created. And I asked for photos from friends.......Here they are:

The most number of ethnic groups in a performance. (45 ethnic groups with 6000 dancers)

The most number of seasonal drums (168)in a performance.
The most number of lions (160) in a Lion Dance Performance in the Indoor Stadium away from the rain.......(the primary school teachers were getting the young lion dancers ready for the performance of their life!)

Our Miri children were marvelous!!

Photos courtesy of  by Peter Yong. (Thanks!!)

Foochow Salt Fish Monger

When we are spoilt for fresh food from the farms nearby and the supermarkets we easily forget the salt fish monger and what he can offer.

And muang ngii is a salted fish many people have forgotten. Some even call it a thing of the past because of health reasons. But then I feel that once in a while we must taste the food of our forefathers in order to remember our roots.

This is the famous Foochow delicacy - salted muang ngii or salted eel. (smoked unagi is a Japanese favourite)

Here's the Miri salt fish monger (one of the few men) who shows me a portion of a very long salted eel.

This is the skin side. Hope you can recognise the fish (fresh or salted)

Salted mustard green - a staple soup ingredient for the Foochows.

Kong Chai (literally jar vegetable) salted mustard greens/cabbage

Salted jelly fish - we Foochows like to eat this at least once a month. It is often served as an appetizer at banquets. The Thais love it in their salad!!

My comfort zone will always include my personal salt fish monger who will tell you tales of the old days and the problems of the present day. He could be the friend you need most on wet days or the wet season!! (when no vegetables can grace your table and no fresh see food can be bought - you will have to devise good meals with his expert guidance e.g. toufoo with salt fish and kiam chye with some meat and of course salted muang ngii or eel bones with winter melon or old cucumber.)

P/s Making the salted fish bone stock : you must always soak the muang ngii bones for at least a whole morning before using them for soup to get rid of the saltiness. And then boil the bones in  water for a short while. through away that first water and then start boiling again until the flesh can come off the bones. Then it is time to throw in your vegetables for the soup. Cheers.

This post is dedicated to all the friendly salt fish mongers in my life - whether in Sibu or Miri!! Thanks!

May 19, 2010

Young Long House Musicians

For months on end Iban longhouse folks only see their youngsters below the age of 7 and the very elderly.

The youth would be either boarders at school or are already working young adults (some work below the age of 18). Other adults would be far away working off shore (as far as Solomon Islands or Russia) and in fact some of the elders are still working in Bintulu or Miri. The women folks and the elderly have to keep "longhouse".

Last weekend I went to Rh. Chendang where the norms prevail. Most of the boarding students did not return home during the weekend because they were kept in the school for Teacher's Day.

However I was happy to see so many of the growing children especially those who are still in kindergarten and in the primary school nearby. Many are also attending a primary school further away where they are boarders. Three children are captured in these three photos. What will their future be like?

His grandmother looks after him. His parents are working in Ulu Kapit for a Chinese timber camp.

He is one of the youngest but already a good gong player. He beats a good timing.

Still sucking his "pepep" he sits with two nice "sisters". He can't wait to get his hand on the sticks to beat the gongs!!

May good music be played in the longhouse. May hope reign!

Children are the future of every race!

May 17, 2010

Short Term Missionaries' Kitchen

Over the weekend (15th to 16th May) my church sent out 27 short term missionaries to Rh Chendang in Ulu Balingian to bring the good news. Besides we were also to share with the long house brothers and sisters practical knowledge of dental care and study skills. Our able and energetic youth group also prepared their personal testimonies in BM . Lina led a special women's fellowship with the ladies. Through our prayers in the past for the longhouse people three mothers have great news for us!! Through their strong beliefs these three were able to conceive in the last few months. They shared their great joy with all.

Specifically my task was to ensure that our "special kitchen" was activated to enable the women folk to enjoy Christian sharing and activities. Lina and I with a new recruit Mr. Pao of Emmanual (Bintulu) took charge of the cooking with the help of three very able and well trained kitchen hands (whose work is equivalent to a food processor!!) We also had two very special chefs to help us do the BBQ.

Benedict Ling also prepared a special Sibu styled Foochow breakfast enough for 70 people!!

Our provisions originally were enough for one dinner and one breakfast but we had enough to extend to another lunch at the Balingian Church for another 80 people!! God's grace was provident!!

My thoughts were of two fishes and five loaves all the time. It was good to praise God and cook at the same time in the kitchen.

First our meat was 15 kg. Part of it was fried over wood fire like this by Chef Lina.

Second portion of the pork was sliced thinly for BBQ with pandan flavour by Chef Benedict and Assistant Chef Lisa.

This is Grace Methodist Church's special BBQ. You can guess our ingredients.

These are my kitchen angels - Bee Yien - Elaine and Pearly.

5 a.m. in the morning preparing breakfast - kompia from Sibu!! (with sliced meat prepared by Benedict - special taste and flavour!!)

Early morning - 5 a.m. fried rice with luncheon meat and well sliced cabbage!! There were several rounds of rice frying!!

This is Mr. Pao. Preparing the Aussie Cabbage with mock corned beef !! We needed the strong Foochow arms to stir the dish for lunch at the church.

Who are these little mice peeping through the hole? Prizes if you guess right. Email me!!

Here you see...pickled cucumber (properly chilled in the freezer) and curried eggs (Mother's Day celebration - must have eggs) and various other dishes!!

It was by the Grace of God that we prepared more than enough food for everybody and our cup runneth over.....

Thanks to all who helped to make our Feast on the Table a glorious witness for God.

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). ...