July 7, 2010

Bai Yu Lan

When we were staying at Brooke Drive my father had planted a beautiful Bai Yu Lan tree right outside our main window.

In the evenings we could smell the fragrance drifting through the window. Dad loved the good things in life like flowers and fruits. He read most of the time when he was home. His special magazine Chuern Chiew (Spring Autumn) would come in the mail and all of us kids would pretend that we could read just as well!! He sometimes would tell us what he was reading about. He subscribed to Readers' Digest from 1952 and we all got into reading and laughing when we read "Laughter is the Best Medicine" together. And perhaps in that way he instilled in us a good life long reading habit.

Grandma Lien Tie would always pluck the bai yu lan at this stage for her bun. She would take two and place them niecely at the side of the bun and we would all think that she smelled like a film star (not that we had any idea of how a film star smell like!) In the days when there were plenty of these young buds we would collect them for two little activities : string them into a necklace or preserve them in a good pretty bottle. I will always remember how we used candle wax to ensure that no air would go into the the bottle through the cork!! If we ever did it wrongly the buds would all turn black. It was lovely to have bottles and bottles of these preserved buds.

This is the bai yu lan at its prettiest. Grandma would say when a girl was 18 she was a beautiful as a bai yu lan at this stage.

Whenever we saw the flower at this stage we would be very sad because all the petals would be strewn all over the ground underneath the tree. The fading flowers make us feel that our beloved relatives and even we ourselves would age too. Sometimes we would say that nature should not be cruel to beautiful flowers.

Finally when the flowers really droop we know that one cycle was over and another cycle would begin. As we do not have spring or summer we pretended that spring was over and soon all the rambutans would be fruiting and we would be having fruits like in summer time in China.

It was very much later when China opened up we learned that each season there would be different kinds of fruits...hence the term "seasonal fruits"

We used to use to term to mean end of the year fruits or middle of the year fruit in the past. Today in Sarawak we might not even find it easy to use this term. Durians used to come with Christmas. But now durians seem to be available every day!! Global warming and scientific improvements have changed our lives a great deal.

the fragrance of bai yu lan will bring to our minds memories of our loved ones who have gone before us from this world.


Ann said...


how connected are we? Yesterday I refer my old post http://annkschin.blogspot.com/2009/01/magnolia-2.html to a fellow blogger.


to a fellow blogger. I had fun writing it with my siblings.

I just a post on the roundabout/merry go round playground equipment. The image is in our heads, but I can't find any photos. Have you seen one or can you imagine what I was writing about?

There are also pink/purple flowers.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Magnolia is not bai yu lan although many people think so. It is a kind of ylang ylang...may be your sister Prof. M chan can correct me?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Sorry Bai Yu Lan is a kind of ylang ylang..and a good ingredient for perfumes.

Greenspot said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

I believe bai yu lan and magnolia are related and belongs to the same botanical family: Magnoliaceae. bai yu lan (Michelia alba) , if I am not mistaken, originated from Yunnan, China and has white flowers. Cempaka (Michelia champaca), on the other hand is another species which is native to S.E.Asia and has different varieties which gives rise to different flower colours as mentioned by Ann. Magnolia is another different genus altogether.

My two cents worth

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Greenspot for your esteemed input. I actually wanted to call you for reference. Thanks so much.

We have lots of ylang ylang which are orange in colur in the various gardens in Miri.

I do wish we have a lake garden with lots of drooping leaves and scented flowers...to give an uplift to the resort city!! And at the centre there is a huge platform for old folks to dance under the moonlight!!

fufu said...

nice bai yu lan... but we have similar flower to bai yu lan here in germany too...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for your visit...European countries have some of the best flowers in the world to a certain extent... e.g. tulips and roses and very well manicured and landscaped gardens. Enjoy them while you are there!!

Ah Ngao said...

i remembered my mum like to pluck some and put some petals onto her handkerchief. do you still remember this perfume "Santalia" ? you ever use them? my dad bought a bottle whenever he could afford it or when my mum stock finished.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
That's nice of you to share with me about your mum. Your dad was a good man/husband.

Santalia I think is still available. My mum used talcum powder and a blue bottled perfume called Paris at Night..we kids could use 4711. My mother always had a bottle of Florida water like any Chinese mother in Sarawak.

Later at the university I really liked Charlie and Blue Grass. We could afford the more expensive brands.

Gaharuman said...


Ylang ylang (kanaga odorata) is not related to either magnolia or bai yu lan. The former belongs to the family Annonaceae while the later magnoliaceae. All of them have pretty similar flowers.

Magnolia is found in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hello Gaharuman
Thanks for pointing out my error. Is Magnolia the city flower of Chongqing? Probably I heard wrongly about ylang ylang...

so what are those popular bai yu lan looking flowers in many parts of Malaysia?

Anonymous said...


There are actually 4 kind of flowers here:

1. bai yu lan (michelia alba) - white colour flower (introduced to Msia from China)
2. cempaka (Michelia champaca)-with different varieties of many colours
3. Ylang ylang (Kanaga odorata)-white flower
4. Magnolia (temperate zone of northern hemisphere).

Nt sure if magnolia is the city flower of Chongqing but magnolia is certainly found there.


Anonymous said...

Apart from that, nowadays there are lots of hybrid making identification confusing. For instance there are hybrids of Michelia X Manolia.


Anonymous said...


Bai Yu Lan is actually a cross between Magnolia and michelia!!


Ah Ngao said...

oh coz,in university you can afford Blue Grass and
Charlie,..i can't afford yet becoz...back then dirt poor again,kekeke..!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Greenspot ..

Thank you for listing out all the names clearly. Now I understand. No wonder I have been so doubtful about Bai Yu Lan's relationship with magnolia.

thanks again.

Sarawakiana@2 said...


Thanks...will

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...sorry...left out a very important word....typo...We could NOT afford the more expensive brands ...25 years later I was given a present : Chanal 5...did not even dare to use it...but then it really lasted...Wow!! It was a present to remember.

Ah Ngao said...

orrr....ini maciam, hehehe...
you've a beautiful weekend,okey?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...thanks..same to you too....but I am writing this on Monday!! Left my lap top some where...hehehehe

Ann said...


in this post, I have three photos of New Zealand magnolias. They are very big, like a Foochow soup bowl.

Today, I notices, a tree already flowering. There are lots n Auckland.

My sis did not correct us, when the family was discussing this magnolia. I guess they are similar family.

Did you ever see the roundabout playground equipment I used to play in the Govt quarters?

Ann said...

I remember my other sis saying it is magnolia Alba. I checked wiki, and it has photos that look like this.

For the Kiwi tree, when it flowers, it turns complete purple with flowers.

There are white ones too.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
Thanks for the discussion on magnolias. Will look up.
The Roundabout playground in Archer road has long gone. In its place is the huge Land and Survey Building of Sibu. Very imposing building. Yes I rmember the spinning equipment in the play ground. I remember I saw many couting couples sitting on it. And I especially like the scenes where good fathers brought their young children to sit on the wooden seats. Missed my father at those times. Will look for one in Miri...They seem to be gone out of this world.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann

Thanks ...will look for Kiwi flowers too...the gooseberries were originally from China...

Anonymous said...

Where I can buy the plant - Bai Yu Lan - Michelia Alba - Pak Lan (grafted) -- 白兰 --白蘭 in Perth, Australia?

Please help, if you know please email to

Many thanks,

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