My first thoughts -
There is a popular Foochow saying which goes "Round also can. Flat also can." This refers to a person who is very malleable and congenial. He does not really have a mind of his own and he does what is asked. Go with the flow. Even if it is not just. In fact many people belong to this category. Men and women without a strong mind of their own. But to the leaders they are good people.
I am often reminded of this saying whenever I eat my Foochow kampua noodles. Each time I order a bowl of kampua mee the stall owner would ask me "round or flat'? I would always order round noodles. Why would I never order flat noodles?
I would say "I always order round noodles."
Now thoughts about Kanowit
It is a lovely riverine town with a beautiful Brooke Fort (Fort Emma) and was home to me for a whole year. I loved the way I had to cross the Rajang each evening for a lovely cup of kopi-o in the bazaar. I loved the way my colleagues and I paid special attention to the little food stuff we could buy in the few small shops (e.g. Hock Tong Seng ) and the coffee shop we frequented as a group.
I loved the way our SEDAYA boat man(Tinggal) would take us across the fast flowing river right on the dot at 4:30 each evening of the week days. I love the way my friends continue to be my friends until today. We still call each other and remember the happy days we had in Sedaya (acronym for Sekolah Datuk Abdul Rahman Yakub) and not KSS (Kanowit Secondary School) as founded by the Colombo Plan and New Zealand Government way back in the 1950's.
I died a few hundred deaths when my young husband had to send emergency cases (students with appendicitis) down the river in the school speedboat in the middle of the night. I would imagine how a log would hit his boat and he would drown or the speed boat would jump onto a sandbank where a crocodile would have him and the boatman for a midnight feast . The night would be spent waiting for him to return and another day would start with all the students having breakfast and he (without any sleep at all) announcing that the student was in good hands in the Lau King Howe Hospital.
So in this article I remember with fondness the ever faithful Tinggal the boatman who could sling a 40 horsepower outboard engine across his shoulders like an Olympian. My family and I have been wondering what he is doing now after his retirement. Did he go back to his kampong? Did the government treat him well? He gave almost all his life to the government as a boatman of a government secondary school. His rewards would not be a BBS or an AMN.....but I am sure all the teachers and students would rmember him well and "belanja" (give him a treat) in Kanowit.
And 35 years later I would come here again to sit in a new Kanowit coffee shop and enjoy a breakfast (for the first time in my life) of Foochow kampua mee and kopi-o with my young Sibu Foochow friends. We staff in those days would never cross the river to have breakfast in Kanowit. It would have been a great crime.
|Pulut Panggang (look just like all those years ago)|
|Slightly different in taste now.|
|Iban men using chopsticks|
|A group of Foochow men sharing a nice breakfast (there were very few Foochows then in Kanowit) And most of the Foochows from Kanowit speak good Iban which is the lingua franca here.|
|An Iban family enjoying a nice breakfast - Kampua mee is a food which is borderless.|
|The ubiquitous Kampua Mee - this is Kampua mee Black (ie with black soy sauce)|
|Is Kampua Mee the domain of the Foochows? You are right - the stall owner is a Foochow after we interviewed him.|
It is a small world afterall.
And then I look at the noodles and kopi-o in front of me and my friends - how much have really changed. Not one in the town recognised me....And I only recognise the names of the shops and remember the things they are selling. Most of the shop keepers are new or they were children when I was here. The very old ones are very very old.
Shadows fade away as the sun rises above our heads.
There is a special bitter sweet taste in my coffee.