And from young I could tell the cultural differences easily and speak with the correct language to the person wearing different clothes. But what is very memorable is the different kinds of food we have which divide us - What is Eastern and what is Western cuisine..My western educated aunts would have tea at about four and they baked cookies and made cakes using butter and milk. My neighbours who were Malays would have their kuihs in the morning. And then there were the street stalls which offered different kinds of Chinese snacks which were usually steaming hot from the bamboo trays..We therefore had many opportunities of crossing cultural barriers growing up in Sibu.
A story from my mother would come under a child's "My most embarrassing moment in my life" essay. Her story taught all of us and now including her grandchildren...lessons about life...Read on....
Do you remember your first slice of western cake with icing? My first taste of western cake with icing on top was with the Girl Guides when our Company Captain Mrs. Lora Temple made for us a cake. We were so amazed by the demonstration. The cake was heavenly. My sister and I wished we had an oven like hers at home.
Here's my mother's most embarrassing moment in her life......
My mother was a primary school teacher in a very small village in Sg. Maaw (down river from Sibu) before the Japanese Occupation closed the schools in the Rajang Valley completely. During the later part of the Occupation she raised pigs and grew vegetables rather than get married to any young men. Indeed she waited out the years which could have been very very dangerous and precarious for a young lady who was cheerful and rather outstanding in personality.
My father came along looking for a bride and he chose her in 1948! He passed away 15 years later..
The photo below shows the huge Tiong clan she married into. My aunt Lily is seventh from the right on the second row. She is wearing a cheong sam.
My mother was very nervous meeting her Singapore relatives who were well dressed and very genteel in their ways.
Mum thought herself rather Sang Ba (provincial). My dad had already bought her a nice pair of leather shoes which she wore and it was hurting her a lot. And she could not get herself to wear the stockings!!
At tea time when the family gathered to meet the new bride who had come all the way from Sibu by ship (She was definitely FOB and felt like one!!) she was asked to sit down on the smart rattan settee. (She was used to very crude home made stools at home and in the school).
She saw her tea being poured into the nice dainty ceramic cup with a saucer and a small teaspoon. She was definitely like a fish out of water. She told us that she was a little hungry but she was more than nervous. Mum was pretty but my aunts were outstanding beauties!!
She did not touch her tea as my dad was not so much of a tea drinking person. He had a mug of beer then..so my mum had no one to look at and copy how to hold her tea cup. But any way she waited and my aunt Lily started to serve the cake slices. When my mum was given a little plate with the slice of cake she was happy to hold them for dear life.
After being persuaded to eat the cake she decided to hold the cake with her fingers. She had forgotten that the teaspoon was on her saucer in front of her in her nervousness. And the soft icing that she touched shocked her. It was a cultural shock to her because she had expected the icing to be hard!
Her face turned beet red. But aunt Lily was very observantly gentle and understanding. She immmediately passed my mum a piece of tissue paper and held mum's hand . She told her not to worry at all. She understood.
Mum never stopped loving and respecting my Aunt Lily from then on. The two of them became friends forever!! Mum had been able to cross the cultural chasm with the help of my gracious Aunt Lily who with one understanding touch helped her for the rest of her life.