October 2, 2011

Foochow Confinement Custom: Sending Peace

Culture in general and customs in particular change dynamically over time. The Chinese immigrants for example have lost some of their cultural ways over the last 100 years in Sarawak.

Looking minutely at the Foochows in particular one special social practice is "Sending Peace" to new born babies and to congratulate the happy family for their new addition. Beccause of many factors this practice is slowly fading away so to speak. Many Foochows in Miri do not practise it any more according to some of the younger people. They said that a party with invited guests seem more trendy with food catered from restaurants. Some of the older generations may not be with them to help them carry out the simple custom any way.

Besides some Foochows have even felt that cooking of mien sien to be rather troublesome because of the necessity to dry the freshly made noodles. "The factory dried noodles are not really that tasty.." one aunty did mention to me.

Well the rule is "if you wish to carry on with this custom...do so..and if you don't want to you can always tell your relative you are not having any mien sien party at home....." And sooner or later I am afraid this custom will disappear if elders do not insist. That is I think how culture of a people changes...for better or for worse.


Delighted relatives come around with gifts to "see" the new born baby (be it boy or girl).

In my own experience Miri has changed a great deal in the past decade or so. And personally I notice that it is not often the practice for the Foochows to come together for mien sien or mee suah gathering when a new baby is born. There isn't such a thing as a written rule really for a usual birth custom of "sending peace". Furthermore in Miri most marriages are no longer mono-dialectic. Many Foochows have intermarried with other dialects like the Hakkas and Cantonese and even other races. Some do not even speak Foochow any more in Miri.

However with a loving and understanding Foochow mother in law a new Foochow mother can be spoilt for 40 days or more! The Chinese in general and the Foochows in particular are concerned about post-delivery care. The new mother's womb has to recover speedily and the loss of blood during delivery must be replenished. This really means that the Chinese confinement will continue to be practised for some time into the future.

Besides the actual confinement can mean staying in the bedroom for at least 3 weeks and meals are even served by the bedside!! However in the modern days such traditional practices are not so strictly followed. But a confinement lady (an experienced cook and carer who is called in to help for a month at a special rate of RM 1600 - 2000)is such an angel in this difficult adjustment period. This lady is responsible for the "recuperation" of the new mother. Special food is cooked - which means five meals in a day so that the new mother can regain all her strength . A good health developed during the confinement period also means that the new mother can remain healthy for the rest of her life!! It used to also mean that she could recover (in the past) quickly and fall pregnant again and give birth to more boys for the family!!


I often enjoy visiting a new born in the Foochow way. When a cousin becomes a new grandmother for example all of us will pester her to "invite" us to the house to "see" the new born. This practice of going to see a new baby is called "Sending Peace" or Sern Ang. The visitors would be laden with bottles of red wine (Foochow red wine or now the popular European or Australian wines) and home raised chickens even!!  Some might even bring a basket of eggs (usually 30) for the family.

In return the guests would sit down for a good round table talk and sharing of chicken and noodle soup. Every one would be asked to eat one hard boiled egg. Some times two. It is not so much the eating the guests would enjoy. It is the bonding and re-bonding which makes the evening a wonderful sisterly do. Very few Foochow men would go along with their wives for this kind of function.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit my cousin in Miri for a welcoming of a baby function. It was really a good occasion for cousins and friends to get together and talk about all times. As most of my peers are growing greyer our hearts seem to be so warmed up when we welcome the new borns into our large extended family. Baby Melissa makes the fifth generation of the Tiongs in Sarawak.





Grandmother Mee Ing (my cousin) carrying the squirmy little princess.
New Father ( fourth generation Foochow Sarawakian )...so happy to welcome guests to the home.
Baby Melissa Tiong
Well prepared Chicken Soup and Mien Sien served in a beautiful ceramic Chinese bowl.
Hard boiled eggs. These are not coloured red because the baby is a girl. When a baby  boy is born the guests get red coloured eggs.
Free range chicken boiled with lots of mushrooms and wolfberries and Dan Gui. This is a very health giving soup. Guests are usually served this kind of chicken. The grandmother and confinement lady will prepare huge bowls of mien sien and slaughter two or three local chickens for the guests.

If we can remember our traditions it would be no trouble at all to practise them if it is for the joy and happiness of letting people know what our real culture is all about!! Sending Peace to Melissa and her parents would not make us less Malaysian and more Chinese...it only means we are more obligated in bringing up another good generation of citizens. And may God the Omnipresent God protect and bless Baby Melissa and her family.
May she develop into a healthy and happy child and later...a good adult!!

10 comments:

Ann said...

you want me to have a baby again. I did get pampered when I had my 4th in Singapore, but I was ching cai and my confinement maid was very happy.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hahahaha Ann...if you have a baby again...let's practise this custom..I will bring chicken and eggs and mee suah....I might even play confinement lady and spoil you rotten....hahahahah!!!!

Anonymous said...

When you wrote sern ang, I was thinking if it is another terminology. Our Foochow pronounciation has deviated quite a bit, and usually we say "sern ngan". it is like the rice noodle (hung gan) that has become "hung ngan"

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Anonymous...thanks for pointing that out...Now I remember...sern ngan..that's the way it is spoken now...I tend to think in term of Sern (for send or Soong) and Ang (Peace)...and most people write the Quickly spoken Foochow...hoong ngang...kuoh tuong...which becomes kuoh rong...Jour ga..(frugal) becomes jour wa...now the list goes on and on.....Good point.

Ann said...

Some of us Cantonese also borrowed your Foochow Mee Suah soup when visitors came.

Ann said...

Hi CY,

You can not only play my confinement maid for 1 month, you can play my permanent baby sitter.

I was going to have the confinement maid for 2 months because my husband was going to USA. She stayed 6 weeks, she said, not that I don't want to work for you, it is the OW YEA, interupted sleep.

Confinement maids earn a lot of money, but the work is very hard.

Anonymous said...

I had the 'BEST-EST'& TOP CLASS confinement treatment. It was totally different from my mom's ... Penang Hokkien practice. Truly, I was so amused by it all. I didn't know I had had to have 6 meals a day!! Not drink water unless dates and dried longan were boiled in it. Daily mee-sua soup made from steamed kampung chicken (awesome), steamed crushed black chicken with brandy and the best part...Salt baked chicken...my favourite and my mom-in-law (Mama Goh KING Lui) does it better than anyone else. Dessert was stories after stories on everything and anything Foochow and of course I had to visualise the family tree...tis huge sprawling global tree and still growing!! Sarah, born in 1990, grew and learnt fast and about 6 yrs (I think) asked Mama 'I think your name is wrong. You should be Goh QUEEN Lui and not Goh KING Lui because you are a girl. King is for boys...Mama had such a hearty laugh. Mama truly gave me the best confinement care, love and concern. I learnt how to cook her special dishes like Mee sua, Chow chye beehoon, fried ladies fingers without seeds!!...and loads of good advice. I am so lucky. Words are just not enough to thank you Mama. I love you Mama. Pearly

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann..I am glad the Canotonese enjoy Mee Suah just as much as we do....as I am writing this to you..I am already homesick for Foochow Sibu Mee Suah...ooooooooo sigh.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes it is true. Today the confinement lady can call the shots...T and C according to her...leave it or take it!! But I have now quite a good list of CL names...to recommend to others...One is a Hakka lady who is very good and willing to travel. A widow with grown up kids. I cannot empathise with you more when you hubby had to leave for the US. Sitting the month out is very stressful. lots of tears....some even have post natal trauma!! Loving husband must be around to play his role...For me that is rule no. l...but not many husbands understand...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Pearly...you must be my cousin...from far away KL....nice to read you comments about Fifth Aunt Goh Queen Lui (I agree). She is a good cook...and cooks from her heart. I like her noodles...her duck...her curry...her pork dishes..My mum (from down river village) learned how to cook curry from her and I will always remember that.
I am sure she will be pleased to know your appreciation. Take care.