May 28, 2011

Re-visiting my Foochow Childhood days in Sibu

Growing up in a rubber growing deltaic region of the Rajang River I did feel good about the way my elders lived their simple lives. We were close to nature and life was simple and by the rules. We were rather "black and white" and we had clear cut Methodist (Christian) principles "what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong". Unlike today's business practices each measure of rice was accurate and each weighing of products was according to the "chin" with no finger tricks.

I will always remember my grandmother saying " What ever it is will be decided by the chin or daching." I am glad that in those days fairness was so clearly determined.

Besides my uncle Pang Sing was quite special because he would use stories to help us know about our surroundings. His tales of funny people and incidents provided us with learning of moral values without us realising it at that time.

And then because we were surrounded by nature studying about the biological sciences was easy. I particularly liked studying botany  - and how I loved to draw the diagrams of plants and label each part. I am of the opinion that many of my peers from the Rajang River Valley were good in the sciences because we lived with the samples and real experiences (like rearing animals and catching fish).

 My grandparents having been brought over to Sarawak by the famous pioneer Wong Nai Siong lived a hard pioneers' life but  they managed to " conquer" and tame the tropical forests and made a home not only for themselves but for the next two generations. Today my cousins from my mother's side of the family continue to own some of the land my grandfather "opened" up in the 1900's and they all prosper because they have faith in God and remain good people..

As a child I crossed small streams in this way as illustrated by the image below. My uncles had fallen trees to build bridges. Bridges thus have become such icons to me. They connect and they help expand usage of land. They make life easier. They are the symbols of man's intelligence.....Each family's rubber garden in those long ago days was separated by the government's rules which stated that a ditch of six feet wide and six feet deep must be dug to separate the rubber holding. In England rows and rows of stones and rocks would separate the cornfeilds or meadows to mark property divisions called hedgerows..

Our bare feet would slip around these slipery buttress roots of the rubber trees (see pic below)...and our toes and soles grew rough and very formic acid eaten (caused by our stepping on the solidified but yet malleable rubber sheets) Many of my cousins and aunts had to have foot and skin treatment in Sibu because of their acid eaten skin problems. And their pains were unimaginable. While many of the olden day Chinese women would worry about the pains of their dainty and 3 inch "lily  buds" or bound feet the 20th century Foochow women in Sibu had to overcome the challenges of curing their feet from torn skin and defective tissues. Many in later years had bad scars to show. In comparison  to day my 21st century cousins and nieces have reflexologists to massage their panty hosed and beauty cream protected buffed and hairless legs and feet.

Sharp thorns from grasses as big as our arms like the keropok lined our paths....we would often cut them to make kajang for room divisions and also for making of  temporary enclosures.We were only too happy to see Melanau and Iban men  plying their kajang for sale from time to time to make a few dollars from us. that would release us from our chores of cutting the spiky keropok ourselves.  These kajang sheets were cheap building materials then. Occasionally my cousins and I would use a simple sheet of kajang as a "group umbrella" when a sudden thunderstorm struck!! I still smile when remembering this special memory of cousins-bonding.

We would pick the casing of the rubber seeds and make our simple a spinning wind wheel or pin wheel. These "ears" (I picked them up from a park not long ago) of the rubber seeds still make my heart miss a beat or two as they bring back good memories.

And the blue skies would help us expand our imgination.  We watched clouds rolled by as one of our "entertainment". TV was unknown and the sky was our huge TV so to speak. This big bird cloud could take us far far away and we would have a good education overseas in America or Great Britain!! Sometimes we saw sheep or even a huge castle. Talk about building castles in the air!!

Sometimes we would pass a Malay kampong house or an Iban longhouse and we might be given some terap - a native fruit...without having a knife we coold easily open this fruit and eat the entire fruit by ourselves without feeling guilty (We children usually had to share food and would never thought of eating something on our own without asking permission)...We had free fruits from the Ibans! And we even had some to bring home. You see one terap fruit can feed one or two families because they are hundreds of little fruitlets in one.

Perhaps these were some of the wild flowers we could find along our school or to another family's rubber garden. These seeds make a horrible noise when kept in a match box and teachers got so irritated by the din they could make. Seeds continue to amaze me -  for life can grow out of these small pin sized little dots. How amazing was the science which surrounded us!!

And when hungry these were the only "wild berries" we could pick and eat...this is Kamunting or sendudok. (also known as Singapore rhodendron)

Looking at these digital images (photos) only bring back sweet
memories of my childhood.

If my grandmother were alive today...she would be surprised to see these images...

How on earth did you get these photos she might ask. For you see she lived in an era when films had to be taken out of the camera to be printed in a shop in Sibu. Printed photos were framed and displayed in the living room because there were so few of them.

How did you take them? She would ask. My grandmother was a person who was always curious about how things were made and how things got done. She had a very scientific mind in fact. She was a tailor who first showed me to make  cotton underwear entirely by hand.And later she taught me to make those Chinese cloth buttons which is still my exceptional skill!!

And I know she would shake her head at the modern girls' skills ......
"girls today....they can do anything!! Praise God!!" And I would demurely lah...we cannot ferment toucheo and raise the whole litter of pigs by ourselves...and many others like she could.....

I hope my grandmother (whose bound feet were released and encouraged to regrow because she was sold to a family that would take her to a new land called Sarawak) can see these.........


Ikan Sembilang said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

What a nostalgic post, full of sweet memories of your childhood days!
I too always like to revisit the place of my birth. Every visit to my hometown Sarikei will always take me back to the years when life was carefree and happiness was made up of simple joys like catching jepun kamat and ikan sembilang in the Rejang River.
Wish you and your family Selamat Hari Gawai! “Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai Lantang Senang”

Anonymous said...

HI. I just happen to chance upon this. I grew up in Sarikei as well. My sisters and I used to make a pinwheel of sort with two rubber seed shells and tried to see who can blow and spin them the longest. They have two very sharp tips at the end of each shell so we had to be really careful. We also played with the smooth rubber balls or when we felt mean (on the rare occaision)we would rub one seed on the cement and then touch someone. It got really hot and could hurt quite a bit.

向日葵啊伯 said...

Indeed a memory trip to the past...walking under the rubber plantation, on the plank bridge, playing with the rubber seed pinwheel, having a game call "Ka nenji"...occassionally stealing the fruit call "Duai niko" and ate the "xue liukian" made our mouth purple to scare girls passing by....Of course all these were gone when curfew started.
Memories changed to Chairman Mao, CCO, soldiers with shoes or those called mountain rates...houses were deserted...plantations desolated...families broken...people relocated...and dead soldiers, dead CCO...killing at Ying kwong primary school, Sugei Bidut...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ikan Sembilang

It is good to know that some one originating is reading my blog!! Thanks for the Gawai greetings...My friends and I were looking for Pan ngi cheong the other but failed to find any. Sigh...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...thanks for dropping by...yes I used to make those pin wheels too and blow the way I was often frightened by boys who pressed the hot rubber seeds on our arms...the malicious onces could have been boxed for harrassment then...well...we just stuck our tongues out to them in the Chinese way...shame shame ...but your comment really cheers me up. thanks.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Pter...thanks for dropping by. yes I have a number of relatives who went to be barefoot soldiers and jungle rats and they were never seen or heard again. And the butchering in Sg. we know the family? I heard some stories which were really horrendous. Pity the families. Many of my Tiong relatives lived in Sg. Bidut (like Tiong Kung Chun..Tiong Kung Mieng etc)

Anonymous said...

please blog on the "CCO" period in detail. I am from kuching so do not know too much about that period. still remember the reading of 'areas under curfew' in 3rd division over the radio.
read you blog every day, keep it up !

Anonymous said...

It was so unfortunate that we did not even keep a list of those who were brought over by Wong Nai Siong.

Ann said...

your teeth is black? and your mum tells you that you will die from eating the Singapore Rhododendron?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous - thanks for the suggestion...A few books have been written by ex-Cco's...may be I could interview one or two of the returnees in Miri...
One of my friend's aunt is a widow of a "jungle soldier" and she already has many stories to tell..but terribly sad and personal too at the same time.

thanks for reading my blog. I really appreciate it.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...The Foochow Association of Sibu is trying its best to put details on the 1168 people who came to Sibu with Wong Nai Siong. They are represented by 1168 stars is in the Hoover Memorial Garden. I think one day the list will be completed.
I think all the families should come forward to say whether their great grandparents had come with WNS and give their names and birthdays. This requires a globabl effort and collaboration!! It is an act of volunteer archiving for local history. Thanks.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...hahahah We usually washed our mouth...she had no chance to scold us. (we had a tap in front of our back door - used to wash our bicycles and feet)....we were covered!! But aunties in Sg. Maaw would say.."wa we have nothing to eat ka??" and we would run away laughing....and frightening each other. Did not known in those days the black berries kept our stomachs strong against worms!! No wonder I have a very strong stomach today...

Ann said...

you city flocks.

My Ah Kung kept a big jar at the bottom of the stairs. the mouth is barely big enough for two legs to go in and rub the mud of.

As kids sometimes, we just went inside and symbolically wash our feet. The hullabaloo that followed, we siblings even LOl now.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...I do miss those jars for feet washing...I must find one and place it at my front stair case now....the rhodendrons are now flowering...could it be the season? I love to see all the purple flowers peeping out amongst the jungle greens.

Karmeleon said...

Spinning the Shells!

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