June 29, 2010

Tamu Day in Kuala Belait - Saturday

Kuala Belait Tamu day is Saturday. Many would flock around it and enjoy buying the freshest of the greens.

This Kou Ji Choi or Wolfberry leaves. Very nice stir fried like cangkok manis. Or cooked in soup with egg beaten into it.

A nice bundle of kow Ji choi.

This is the Nagasaki Bitter Gourd - very tasty and good for one's longevity.

Softened squid. Nice in a photograph.

Close up of squid.

this is the rattan shoot. Nice for stir fry with a bit of meat.

Tepus...also a kind of jungle shoot. Good with chicken.

Fern tops.

Banana flowers.

Laila is locally produced rice from Brunei. Nice for making of porridge.

Local Brunei herbs - great for the balancing the body's yin and yang. "Cukup bagus untuk badan Mak Cik!!" I was told.

This is the famous Binjai Pickle from Brunei.

This fish is 6 kg!! Have to buy the whole fish. (Which I did not)

I love the red colours all around the tamu - different kinds of chillies.

Lovely bananas...any type you want...cooking ones and ones for eating!!

Colourful umbrellas.....

Lovely lovely time spent walking around the stalls on Tamu day in Kuala Belait....And one can fill up the whole car with fresh food!! But what I miss most is buying lots of food for a growing bunch of children. Now that they have flown the nest I just wonder what I should buy ...some of the vegetable bundles are just too big for the elderly people!! Any way...it is good to stroll along as the sun sets and we have to get home.

Perhaps it is nice to savour the freedom one gets when the kids are not around and one does not have to rush home to prepare a large dinner.

On the other hand it is alright to buy some vegetables and fish and present them to a good neighbour!!

June 28, 2010

Kai Dee Primary School of Labaan - Sibu

The bridge of Labaan has made this area very famous. But little is known that this village was settled as early as 1903 by the Foochows who tilled the land and planted rubber and rice.

Thus Labaan or Lo Mah Ang is a fairly well known foochow village amongst the Chinese of the Rajang Basin. Many Foochow tycoons and community leaders hail from this place.

Kai Dee Primary School is one of the earliest Chinese schools set up in Sarawak. The year 1914 saw several fervent Christians wishing to have their own Methodist Church and school. By 1917 a school Kai Dee was in operation. Mr. Wong Liang Kiu donated a piece of land for the church which was constructed in Nov that year. It was called Hung Ang Church.

Many Foochows became Christians after the establishment of the church and school. But it was the strong support of the local brethrens and dedicated pastors which helped this area to progress. Amongst the pastors who helped this area was Rev. Ting Siew Che (grandfather to Meng Lei)and father in law of my uncle Lau Pang Hung. Several lady missionaries also helped establish a firm foundation of Christian faith in this area.

The architecture of the wooden building consists of a low uplifted ground floor to allow air to circulate. This brings about a cooling system for the whole building.

Here you see a strong foundation of belian wooden posts or stilts for this 1917 building. The lattice work under the roof also helps to bring about good air circulation. It was most probably designed by Rev. James Hoover.

this school has two names : Kai Dee Secondary School and kai Dee Primary School. Today the school has less than 100 students and 12 teachers and non teaching staff. Kai Dee Secondary School has been relocated to Bintulu about 15 years ago. In fact the old signboard should also be kept as a historical artifact!

Meng Lei and his schoolmate Thomas Ling in front of the Hung Ang Church. It still serves many Methodists on Sunday. This area is a strong hold of the Pingnan Foochows. They have their own cemetery actually.

June 27, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan

A friend is interested in Tai Chi Chuan of Miri so I went along to investigate.

I was first introduced to Mr. Yek who is the Master Trainer. He has been training TCC in Miri for more than 40 years with dedication and commitment.

Well organised training room for the trainees.

Mr. Yek watching the disciplined students doing their training.

A big mirror to enable the students look at their own reflection and moves of course.

This little boy of 7 is pretty good. He is called Ah Niu!!

Hope he is the future Jet Li!! He looks good and has a certain charisma.

June 26, 2010


 Brunei has a NAAFI store in Seria(Brunei) and is now opened to the public. turn in at Tucker Lines.

On a recent visit I was intrigued and bought a box of NAAFI Break a special tea for
for the armed forces . It has been made available to the public for the first time in its 90 year history.
The not-for profit-organisation, which serves the armed forces by providing home comforts to the Services and their families, and has tasked Ptarmigan Bell Pottinger to manage its consumer and trade campaign to commemorate the public launch of brand NAAFI Break Tea.

Fifty pence from the sale of every box goes to the Help for Heroes charity, which assists wounded service staff returning from wars overseas.

A very interesting product indeed in this part of the world. The tea is pretty good but is not for those who like their tea strong or kow kow......

June 25, 2010

Mum's Place (The Old Place) inSibu

Last Saturday (18th June) I went back to my birth town to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of First Sibu Company Girls Brigade and to meet up with my good friend Mona Pengelly who was the founding captain in 1970.

We went to Bukit Lan where she ran the Bukit Lan Clinic (which also had a mobile clinic)for a few hours by road. Now a road goes right to Bawang Assan and soon Tanjong Mani. (We used to go by a slow wooden motor launch which would take 4 hours.) Four of us Steve Ling and Yang Yi Fang who are Sibu journalists and Mona and I were driven by our ever popular Sibu tour guide and friend Wong Meng Lei. Now the journey is about 1 hour.
After the hot trip we decided to have lunch at Tang Kee a very popular restaurant across river but unfortunately it was closed because they had outside catering. So we went to Mum's Place which is tucked in a little corner in one of the lanes of Jalan Osman. If you know where Wong Ho Leng Advocates Office is you can find this. It is just below the Parliamentarian and State Assemblyman's office. The restaurant was recommended by Meng Lei and we were not at all disappointed.

This is Foochow Braised Pork Knuckle in Soy Sauce with a new accompaniment : fried Sayur Manis and Egg. Mona liked the tender and juicy pork knuckle and it reminded her of the feasts she had in Bukit Lan.

This is the Egg and Toufoo Soup but without the oyster or razor clams.

Here's two-coloured broccoli with scallops and other assorted vegetables.

Tapah is a lovely fresh water fish and is seldom available. This style is called "steaming with ginger and onion hot oil" or Chin Chen Style. Hope I am not wrong. It is supposed to be a spin off from the Foochow steaming in Soy Sauce. If you do not wish to have sugar in your diet you have to let the proprietor know to reduce the sugar in the cooking. Foochow cooking is on the sweet side.

At this popular restaurant we met Madam Judy Wong and her family having their lunch too and Mona showed the slides she made of her (as a little secondary school girl) in the 1960's. Slides were in in those days!! We found it difficult to get a studio to make copies of the photos from these slides.

Thus the five of us had a wonderful meal at Mum's Place in Sibu. It is always good to have conversation about food and comparing what are fashionable dishes and what were available a long time ago!!

I can imagine how difficult it would be for me to swallow Foochow Egg Nog which is a fresh egg in a glass of hot milo. I would also not be able to eat a whole big Foochow bowl of mee sua with hot chicken soup at one sitting. In Miri noodle bowls are very small and on an average we get only one or two chopsticks of noodles with about 1 cup (250 cc) of soup. May be William Ting could clarify this point! And I don't think many of us could eat through a 10 course Foochow dinner.

But definitely I would like to have Hock Chu Leu's almond pudding with laichees and peaches in lots of icy syrup for dessert!!

Mum's is highly recommended for any one who would like to have  good Foochow dishes for lunch. But don't be too disappointed if some of the dishes have been a little modernised. Dishes do evolve and new ingredients added. Fushion is the word!! Even the presentation keeps on improving.

So see you at Mum's Place sometime. Our meal was less than two pieces of RM50 notes including posh and slush drinks!! Do ask for the Sour Sop Juice/smoothie. Thanks to Meng Lei for taking us there!

The Methodist Message Office where he is the Chief Editor and Manager is just two lanes away.

The Chinese name is Old Place....lau di fan....lau di fan chien bah!

June 24, 2010

Coffee Shop Towkay Neo of Kuala Belait

Kuala Belait is a small town at the mouth of the Belait River in Brunei Darusalam - Malaysia's Eastern neighbour.

KB as we fondly call it is an Oil Town like Miri. Just a few row of shops make it an urban centre catering for commercial and financial needs. Development has been slow but steady and not overwhelmingly suffocating. Business goes on rather discreetly and you do not see any grotesque show of wealth flaunting itself like a colourful street walker of old times.

I like KB a lot because the drivers give way politely to peadastrians. At road junctions you do not have to wait for long minutes to get into the main road. Some kindhearted drivers would wave you on and with a good smile. If you have been to KB more often the shop keepers remember what language you speak even!! So I feel very welcome in a way.

I love these lamps!!

This is the coffee shop which has probably the best Hainanese Chicken Rice in town!

And this is the lovely towkay neo who sits at the cash desk. She has a warm personality and customers are often on first name basis with her. She can still call out "Kopi -O Noh"(two black coffee for the customers who have just walked in!!). And this loud calling style of service never fails to deliver your orders in just minutes!! It is an operation system that has been well tested and is famous in Malaysia and Brunei!! Perhaps that is a Hainanese Delivery System? She has a gentle and gracious demeanour.

Her rice dumplings are big and tasty. You can get them every day.

Another aspect you will like in her coffee shop is the number of old marble top coffee shop tables that she has. She has two of the rectangular ones and they must be more than 50 years old. Accompanying these tables are some very antique chairs. So having a coffee break in this shop is like having a slice of KB history.

The family also owns a coffee shop in Limbang and her brother was one of my former students. Perhaps because of that she shows a kind of kinship with me whenever I have my lunch or dim sum in her shop.

Let's raise a cup of coffee to a great manageress of a kopitiam of KB!!

June 23, 2010

The Parang and the Iban Woman

The parang is a knife that is homemade by the local people of Sarawak and especially the Ibans who have their own style of blacksmithing. It is more than an implement to a Sarawak person who is a proud owner of a wll made parang.

Traditionally an Iban blacksmith does not make parangs in bulk. So you cannot find one actually and buy several from him at any one time without prior arrangements. In the past a parang maker could only make a one after he had a good dream. And that parang could even have some mystical powers. This was particularly important during the days when the Iban warriors went to war for heads and other ceremonial purposes. In every longhouse you may find only a few men who can make parangs nowadays. So you can actually approach an Iban parang maker and have one custom made to your specification. Perhaps you may grow to love that parang so much that you take it every where you go. Some men are even identified by their parang!! Store bought parangs are not good at all.

Normal hunting knives made in the European or American style can not be used in the jungles of Sarawak as the vegetation is hardier and requires strong chopping action. The thick undergrowth would also require a longer blade. Imagine going through a thorny rattan thicket a person would really need a parang that is both a protecting weapon and a sharp chopper.

There is also a difference between a parang made for womeonfolk and menfolk amongst the Ibans. For men the parang is heavier and meant for outside work especially in cutting down bigger bushes. For women the parang is slightly smaller and is used for household chores like cutting up a chicken or some bamboo. The parang is thus a complete kitchen utility or even a food processor for her. Iban men used to carry a parang as a customary identity in the past similar to a Sikh who has his special knife. Slaughtering of larger animals like wild boar would require a fairly larger parang with a strong blade.  For this a man is needed to do some good work.

The parang is usually less than 2 kg. but some can be 3 kg for special purposes. The blade is usually curved slightly. Sometimes the Ibans do make straight blades.

Usually the Ibans admire the suspension (metal) of cars and would hoard up a number to be made into parangs as and when they need. Workshops used to give away the recycleable metal to the Ibans in the past.

I wonder if today car workshops still generously give away the unwanted metal( to an Iban man who requests for a good piece of metal for his parang)with scrap metal being a pricey commodity.

In this photo my good sister-in-law squats nimbly in the backyard  peeling off the bamboo to make lemang for the Gawai recently. She wakes up early in the morning just as the sun first break its rays on the hills behind the longhouse. I love the shadows mottling the lovely backyard scene.

Life is not all work for her although she is one of most hardworking women I have ever met in my life. When the Japanese generator is on in the evenings she can watch Indonesian channels. As her longhouse is quite near the Indonesian border and Astro cannot beam to this remote area TV is only TVI (TV Indonesia). She is amazed by Astro channels in my house in Miri. I am impressed by some of the Indonesian programmes too. Getting a newspaper to read means having to drive one hour over timber road to Limbang. She has recently purchased a freezer which is on in the evenings only to make ice and stay cool. For the whole day the next day without electricity she can have ice for her drinking water. That's a luxury. Sometimes when I am around I get manufactured ice for her.

She plants glutinous and ordinary rice. Some of these she still pounds (de husk) herself. But a neighbouring mill with "engin" for her. Barley and lots of pumpkins are also grown by her. Each year she sells her rambutans and durians in Limbang. In fact she is very much a subsistence farmer like  all the Iban women who lived before her.

There is a new difference though now. Her son has started planting oil palm in their NCR land which has been handed down for three generations. She has two sons working in Kuala Lumpur. But she is not resting as yet.

When you hear the slow tempo of a parang chopping away some wood or a parang slicing some bamboo mingling with the bird song you feel that life is good and gentle and the earth is ready for you to enjoy another good day .

June 22, 2010

Where can we park our bicycles?

Being Sibu born I am a great (bi)cyclist. And the bicycle still is a humble vehicle that is still being used in any part of the world without fear and favour. Sibu was once known as the bicycle capital of Malaysia. Today with affluence and various dangers associated with riding bicyles on the roads of Sibu the bicycle is almost non existent. May we really have to re-invent the bicycle for Sibu again!!

However one burning question in Miri and Sibu and several other parts of Malaysia is this: Where can we park our bicycle safely?

Almost all students cycled to school in 1950-1990's. The Methodist Secondary School used to have long covered bicycle sheds for the students. Today these sheds are all gone. Today it is normal to see huge cars blocking traffic on roads leading to the school. In fact not too long ago I stood at the school road junction and reflected : How I missed the school traffic wardens in the Methodist Secondary school who directed cyclists and motorists in the past. Indeed it was very good leadership training for the prefects in past years.

If I may say so it is a pity that many places do not offer parking for bicycles . But nevertheless the more green conscious people in Miri and other towns are beginning to take to this green vehicle. I do admire people who are beginning to ride bicycles every where. It is both healthy and economical. Along Luak Bay one Malay lady cleaner would be seen riding her cute bicycle every day. On weekends a large team of cyclists would cycle up to Bakam on their high tech mountain bikes.

I WAS DELIGHTED TO SEE THIS SIGN!! Sungei Merah in Sibu has one of these rare signs:

I was in Sungei Merah at 6 a.m. not long ago visiting its market and drinking in the cool morning air like I used to do in the past.

It is indeed lovely this see this sign....Thanks to the very thinking officers who thought of this. Well done!!

June 21, 2010

A Dish from the Heart of Pantu Palm

Normally most people would just buy a palm heart and happily go back to prepare the organic dish ...

Recently a friend reminded me that not many people realise how difficult it is to get a palm shoot from the jungle and how long it takes to prepare. It is also important to know the origin of the palms and their nature. Some obviously are lethal. And a wrong paku or a wrong palm or rattan may be fatal.

An Iban woman is usually a real expert in jungle food gathering. "Have parang can get food" is the slogan. How often do I toy with the idea of setting up a food gathering expedition to improve cross-cultural understanding!! That would really be a brilliant thing to do.

First the family will identify the palm to cut for the festival/welcome the guests. This palm (called pantu) was identified by the family as old enough to cut and it has been growing in their plot or temuda for sometime). The pantu is full of thorns.

Another view of the pantu in the farmland.

The palm has been cut by Grandfather and this is the heart of palm brought home for the festival. Note the special Flinstone markings... or claw like patterns. Whenever you buy a palm heart it is very important that you can see these markings and other markings.

More and more layers are peeled off with a small parang expertly by Jelia the granddaughter in law.

Only a small "heart is left"

Here you are! A large organic palm yields only a small basin of palm heart..enough for about 20 people or roughly a day's food supply.

A simple long house soup can be prepared from this. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add onions and ginger and some ikan bilis. When the water has been boiling for sometime throw in the palm shoots. When the palm shoots are soft and the full aroma of the soup fills the kitchen add salt and pepper. No oil is necessary for this dish.

You can apply this method of cooking for any vegetables you have in town.

But eating pantu palm heart soup is really really superb and especially if you remember how hard it is to prepare the dish.

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). ...