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.

12 comments:

Ann said...

very lovely. I know of accidents with the formic acid too.

I used to enjoy visiting my Ah kung and help in his small rubber holding. The best part was to step on the rubber foam. Later we thought it was the stepping on the acid laden rubber foam that is causing what we called SAN BA feet aka cracked feet. Some one even told me that it cause cancer.

wenn said...

that's lovely!

fufu said...

nicely written! now i know how the little history of formic acid bottle

Ah Ngao said...

eeeeh? so creative lah - collector's item indeed.even the Dragon depits salted egg urns are also a sought-after nowadays becoz they dont import anymore,right? yes,...formic acid cheaper than paraquat,but slow "process".aiya...chor,chor chor..!
btw,Sarawakiana any idea where they import this big bottle from?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
Yeah...I used to step on the rubber foam too..and get cracks in my tender feet. My cousins had swollen toes and swollen feet. So they could not wear pretty feet. I am glad I am still size 4 or a small size 5 nowadays...

Must tell some of these formic acid related stories....

i did not hear about the cancer scare...My uncle locked his formic acid in the wooden shed away from the house. Just in Case....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Wenn

Thanks...lovely fern garden...Lucas Johnny is very creative..he is also good in making cakes and has broadcasted with RTM...I mean about his cooking tips.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Fufu...

It is good to know that what I write can be of a little interest to a young man like you!! It is heart warming to hear from you. Thanks.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ah Ngao...

I can only think that these glass bottles must have been made in England..Europe in general had a very flourishing glass bottle making industry in 1930-1960's...and then plastics spoilt the enterprise...

Ann said...

CY,

Don't know why my uncle and aunty stored their formic under their old fashion double bed in the San Ba where the bed was never cleaned underneath.

One day, my crawling cousin crawled in and spilled the acid on her side from waist down. She had horrible scars waist down to her legs,

She is the only cousin who is barren. The rest of us had children like laying eggs. We conjectured that may be the acid had something to do with it.

Ann said...

I can still remember the metal cage these glass jars came in. My Ah kung used them for temporary chicken cages. You remember them?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann

This is such a sad sad story....I think it must be blamed on the formic acid...

Now I am wondering where else our forebears would keep their formic acid.

So sad to hear this.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
Now that is something I cannot remember. I can only remember the glass bottles my uncle would buy and then have them transported by the motor launches..it was always one bottle at a time.

May be some one had already taken the casing....??

Will double check with my Third Aunt who has a good memory...and one of my sources of reference.

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