December 1, 2010

The Kampua Mee Seller from Sarikei

Do you meet unusual people in unexpected places? Do you get pleasant surprises when you least expect them?

Mr. and Mrs.Loh Mee Sing walked past a coffee shop in Sarikei and stopped to say hello to a total stranger. In Foochow this practice of asking a stranger some questions is "Chueh muong" or " borrow and ask" in English. And what a warm gesture it was. He found the sister of a long lost customer from 40 years ago! His haunch  proved to be very pleasing on a wet Sunday morning in a town like Sarikei. And in bigger cities and towns not many people are friendly and outgoing like Mr. and Mrs. Loh today.

Mr. Lawrence Wong Principal (white shirt standing in the middle; Mrs. Lawrence Wong is seated first from left)of Ling Chu Ming Secondary School with his relatives and former students in Miri in 2009. Photo courtesy of James Wong (former student of Mrs. Lawrence Wong and Madam Judy Wong )

It is quite common for some Foochows to go up to a total stranger to ask if she was "so and so". It has happened to me and it has happened to a lot of my friends. And  so last Sunday it happened to my friend Judy Wong the Principal of Methodist Pilley Institute.

I call it a  "Beautiful Foochow Recognition Moment" . It is a indeed a human Connection Moment.

My friend Judy Wong  and I were having breakfast at a coffee shop in Sarikei and an elderly couple passed by the shop. The man kept on looking at Judy and then asked her if she was "so and so...." because she looked familiar. He must have been reading lots of newspapers and he was a little certain that she was a "principal". Then they started to introduce each other like all warm hearted Foochows do. After the usual Foochow manner of greeting and introduction they started tracing their history.

Judy also said that she herself looked the most like her brother Lawrence Wong Liong Ming. And that got them talking even more. Social communication between two total strangers become warmer when both are humble and willing to reveal their relatives' names and their origins. If it is just an exchange of yes and no the conversation or communication would be killed. Genuine interest easily creates a better atmosphere for conversation and subsequent deeper understanding. There is thus the kind of social connection which makes people feel that the world is such a great place to be in. In many young people's vocabulary this yahoo moment is called "clicking".

Lo and behold Mr. Loh  Mee Sing remembered that he used to serve 30 cents kampua mee to her brother Lawrence Wong when he was still a Form Three student in St. Anthony School.In those days every one in Sarikei would be on the look out for each other and helping each other so to speak.

And this is the remarkable story:

Lawrence Wong was in despair because he really wanted to study and complete his Form Five. The Principal of St. Anthony School at that time was very sympathetic

(Photo: Sarikei Time Capsule)

and allowed him to leave school one lesson earlier every day so that he could teach in Sg. Bore (Boleh Gurng) as a temporary teacher to earn a meagre salary of $30 per month.(How many Heads would do this today?)

And before Lawrence went to the school he would stop by Mr. Loh's stall to eat his lunch. It was a bowl of 30 cents worth of noodles be it soup or dry. Sometimes when he had slightly more money he would eat two bowls.

It is only common knowledge for all of us that a growing boy's stomach could not be full with only one small bowl of noodles.

But Lawrence was determined enough not only to educate himself but all his siblings. In the next few years he worked hard and finally went to study in the US. He did not even attend his own graduation but return immediately to teach in Methodist Secondary School Sibu so that his father would have a lighter burden and his siblings could continue their studies who by then were in Sibu.

He took his siblings from the Methodist Children's Home (Sibu) and provided a home for all of them by renting the upper floor of a terrace house in Tiong Hua Road Sibu.

The rest is a story of success that we in Sibu all know.

And Mr and Mrs. Loh have definitely  been richly blessed in different ways for their contribution to Sarikei.

P/s We would like to know the name of the Rev Father who was the kind principal of SAS of that time who helped Lawrence. That was about 1957.


fufu said...

wow wish i could be a successful person like him... well 50% also enough :)

小洋 said...

Rev Father Rottinghuis, better known and remembered as the Tiger of Rejang, was the principal of St Anthony's School in 1957- a very strict but kind-hearted person who had made tremendous contributionts to Sarikei, particularly in the field of education.

abc said...

For those of you who are purchasing Faucets,we realize that this is one of the most important purchasing decisions you will make.

Anonymous said...

Our previous generations made it, by sending the kids, one after another to study overseas. I think such an era was over. We can no longer afford it based on our income and our lousy exchange rate with foreign countries. Previous generations managed to do it mostly because of the land properties left over by the grandpa.... There were many poor ones who got stuck at home.

Anonymous said...

Understand that Mr and Mrs Wong Liong Ming moved to USA years ago. Are they still there?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Many immigrants like Mr. Loh were frugal and bought property which translated into cash later. Their next few generations enjoy a better and more affluent life either locally or overseas...and of course better education. Sarikei and Bintangor people are rather outstanding in Sarawak and Malaysia too.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Siaw Yang

Thanks for the info. I usually refer to Sarikei Time Capsule to verify certain historical facts... I am sure the Wong Family would appreciate this bit of information. I will relay the info to them. At a later time I will try to place a photo of Father with permission from DY etc.

God bless.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes I agree with you . The era of being able to send children overseas with just a small sum of money is over. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher saw to that...she was the one who foresaw the potentials of "selling education as a commodity" to the newly independent countries of the world. She also forgot that many of those countries had contributed wealth to the Greater Commonwealth. When the pound sterling went up in value the new countries suffered. But then there is no insurance against futures traditing and political changes is there? Yes today in Sibu many people are still enjoying Grandpa's rubber garden land and cash saved /stashed in Hock Hua Bank or Chew Geok Lin Finance....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Anonymous 2

Mr. and Mrs. Wong are in Texas. They moved over when Mrs. Wong was able to get her early retirement and their children need higher education. It was very good timing.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lawrence wong actually introduced many of us to tennis in Sibu. Besides he was also a very good ping pong player and was very famous for the SLICE which paralysed many opponents.
Please tell him we remember him fondly and would like to meet up with him when he comes back...we will be waiting for him in the foochow kopi shops in Sibu and Sarikei!!

Anonymous said...

The small ones enjoyed the rubber garden, the big ones enjoyed the natural forests

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakania, very interesting post.
I guess the Foo Chow people are very close knit among themselves.
Like the Hainanese.
And its fun when we suddenly realize our background or past connections.

And I guess where you are its not a very big city....was there in early '80s, and people more friendly.

But surprisingly, here in Toronto, a city of more than 2 million with neighbouring cities, all connected known as GTA or 'Greater Toronto Authority'....population of 5 million....people or strangers of different backgrounds will say hello to strangers, or in elevators...

And nothing like giving someone a smile. It might be the only sunshine he or she seen whole day.
You have a nice day and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Anonymous...I am sure Mr and Mrs. Wong would be very happy to know this...I remember Mr. Wong playing good table tennis too. And he was great on the tennis court.thanks for dropping by.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...I would think that when the immigrants arrived in the early days they were ordered to grow padi and plant crops...and by chance it was the time for some adventurous expat to try out rubber seeds...and the invention of the motor car by Ford also propelled the prosperity.
Then of course in the 60's another economic accident also happened - the sudden interest in Ramin by the then growing affluence of the Japanese. Many of these are economic coincidences.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Uncle Lee...
I am sure you were in Sarikei in the 80's. It is still a very friendly town.
Yes I agree with you that a smile and a nod are very important...and sometimes a short conversation in a small retail or kedai runchit is the only conversation an elderly person could have for the whole week of his lonely life...
so keep the friendliness going!! And you keep your whistling cheerful too....God bless.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarawakiana
Nice of you to write about this man. He is actually a very kind man and so is his wife. Most people who own stalls in the market and also the part near the water front (now all gone because of new development) are humble people ...we Foochow will say "change for a mouth of food " enough to eat is enough...I find your blog very easy to read and touch my heart. Simple stories but great messages. I think you are friends with Emelia and her sisters. Their parents were also cooks who fried very good yellow noodles. I still think about that dish.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Note : I received information from a friend that Mr. Loh's kampua outlet was burnt in the recent fire in Sarikei which also took the life of an amazing fireman!!

I did see the burnt area in the middle of town but difficult to take a photo of the site because of the temporary tall fencing.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous
Yes thank you!! I often get to eat with Mrs. Wong who can really cook and also make good paos....Yes I agree Sarikei people become very successful in life...and they are all over Sarawak!!Must be the water many doctors and clever people from there.

Daniel Yiek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Yiek said...

1. Yes, that's Fr Rottinghuis. Pls feel free to use his picture.

2. Mr Loh ran a stall at No. 12 Repok Road (of Block 3 Right Repok Road; burnt down already). Corner shop called 同桥 . Very good kampua noodles. I used to go to his shop with a container for takeaway and paid for kampua without meat (cheaper). His family lived upstairs of No. 35 Repok Rd.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Daniel
Thanks for the nice info...especially when I could not get so much background info during a chance meeting in Sarikei. Hope you don't mind me "poaching" on your grounds!! Cheers. I love writing about good people like Mr. Loh.

William Ting said...

Wah... nice story. That reminded me about myself. I used to eat kampua mee everyday during primary 6 for 30 cents a plate/bowl!

I am still interested to make good pau. Pls help to get organised when you are back here.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi...William..just noticed your response...I heard you have already made baos twice..from Mrs. Wong!!

Ann said...

Wong Liong Ming , he looked so different from when he taught in Methodist. Whereas Judy looked the same. I remember the sis is it Liong Nyuk, who was form 5 1969, my bro charles year. I remeber her living in the Children home.

Sibu people are very warm, I am from Sibu.

My time, kampua also 30 sens from across the road in pri school.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Wong and I used to play tennis for Third Division and Sarawak back in the mid 1970s. Lawrence was a very accomplished singles player. After that I left for overseas and since then I have not seen or heard about him until today. I am always wanting to know how those people are still doing. Glad to have read your blog and note that Lawrence does return back to Sarawak even though he now called Texas home.

James Lee

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