March 31, 2011

Braised Pig's Head and Three Side Dishes

My grandmother Tiong Lian Tie used to tell me " No one can do things better than yourself. Don't depend on others." Because of the family philosophy almost every one of us equipped ourselves with a lot of skills by learning from others or from each other.

One of the skills I learned from home to be carried wherever I go to is preparation of food from scratch. (I only could not carry the stone grinder every where I go...).

Here's the preparation of my dinner with an Aunt who came to visitg.








A whole pig's head.- took about two hours to prepare - very patiently and lovingly. And of course I took photos as I went along......(Check my facebook if you like)









The bones went to make a soup with cauliflower and wild mushrooms.




The better meat all braised with extra cumins and fennel (no sugar)

Pineapple  shoots












Stir fried pineapple shoots (I did not use a food processor)


A friend from Kapit gave me a bunch of his Filipino salad leaves.






Stir fried Filipino vegetables.

March 30, 2011

Padang Kerbau of Miri

Most people newly settled in Miri would be wondering why there is a place called Padang Kerbau (Cow's Field) or what it is all about! Padang means field in Bahasa Malaysia. Kerbau is cattle. So it can refer to both cows and buffaloes. Miri as a town does not have a fresh milk industry although a goat milk industry has already been started.

When we first arrived in Miri my children too used to beg me to take them to see the "cows in the fields". We did go but we never saw any in fact.

And recently we saw one lovely buffalo and just had to stop to take photos of him. (Do female buffaloes have horns?)




This mature guy is really well fed.


The horns are beautiful.


We waited for him to "pose".

It was hard to get a car alongside him and him near to the road....the whole series took 10 minutes and we almost stepped on a few droppings....because we got so excited...

Luckily we were not wearing red !!

Thank you dear animal friend for letting us photograph you......You were really good.

March 29, 2011

Shocking in Miri - Double March Murders

The Catholic Church  and the Miri Community at large was in deep grief for a young girl whose life was cut short by another young male person. The funeral was held this morning at 9.00 a.m. when news of another stabbing occurred just about 100 meters away.


A little lane from St. Joseph kidergarten leads to this little kiosk in Hokkien Lane. I remember the kiosk best for the time when my children were younger. Here many young kids and their mums would buy their ice balls all those many years ago. Today many of us have grey hair and eating habits have changed and yet children still come to the friendly old couple who  now sell ABC and some kuih teow...Occasionally many hotel employees stop by for a small plate of fried noodles or some maggi mee......this innocent area will forever be changed by a strange murder this morning around 7:30 a.m.

A young rural girl who had been working in a nearby supermarket was stabbed to death. She was not yet 24...born in the year of the Rabbit.

she had rented a small room in this house.....




One stab in her stomach took away her young life.......I am sure details will be found in tomorrow's papers in Miri.

Actually another person had also been stabbed about two hours later in the same place.

The Winking Owl

Ancient Greek Urn with Owl image





Owls have always fascinated me. But I have never seen a life owl sitting on a branch any where ....may be I am not such a night bird myself after all. But the topic of owls in literature and social history has be touched on so often by writers that I would like to discuss it too here today.....


The modern West generally associates owls with wisdom. And as usual we find ourselves reading about the Western world's owls right up to references from Ancient Greece. Athens' patron goddess and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as a symbol.

The English Professional football club known as Sheffield Wednesday F.C. are nicknamed the Owls having an Owl on their club Badge and a mascot known as Ozzie the Owl.

Owls were considered funerary birds among the Romans.

Many urban centres in Sarawak are full of rats and I wonder if this bird has been studied as a potential solution to a long aged problem! Since the owl os a natural predator to control rodent population is a natural form of pest control, along with excluding food sources for rodents. Placing a new box for owls on a property can help control rodent populations (one family of hungry barn owls can consume more than 3,000 rodents in a nesting season) while maintaining the naturally balanced food chain.

But insteading of using the owl as a form of pest control some interesting stories about the owl have emerged. Malaysia has reported some interesting stories about owl meat eating. Athough owls have long been hunted, a 2008 news story  indicates that the magnitude of owl poaching may be on the rise. In November 2008, TRAFFIC reported the seizure of 900 plucked and "oven-ready" owls in Peninsular Malaysia. Said Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia office, "This is the first time we know of where 'ready-prepared' owls have been seized in Malaysia, and it may mark the start of a new trend in wild meat from the region. We will be monitoring developments closely." Traffic commended the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Malaysia for the raid that exposed the huge haul of owls. Included in the seizure were dead and plucked Barn Owls, Spotted Wood Owls, Crested Serpent Eagles, Barred Eagles, and Brown Wood Owls, as well as 7,000 live lizards.


Well that is the situation in Malaysia.

In China an interesting story about The Winking Owl created some social dissatisfaction some years ago.






Spring 2000
Volume 26, Number 3







Excerpt from
The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description
by Eugene Y. Wang


Can a painting such as the one shown here (fig. 1) say anything at all? In Western academic settings questions like this either appear to be worn-out commonplaces that induce yawns or are suspected to be quibbles, equivocation and play on the different senses of the word say. In a different institutional universe, however, these same questions may carry frightening implications. In March 1974 a group of painters in China, specializing mostly in traditional ink painting, were charged by the Ministry of Culture with blaspheming "the Socialist system"--meaning the state.1 Their paintings were put on public display in China's National Art Gallery in Beijing, as the so-called Black Painting Exhibition. The organizers' captions constituted a de facto indictment of the artists' subversive political intent. Among the paintings showcased, the centerpiece was Huang Yongyu's Owl (fig. 1),2 which shows a squat owl perched on a sparsely budded tree branch, facing the viewer head on, with an enigmatic expression that can be seen either as a wink or as a one-eye-open stare. Its exhibition caption read: "Huang Yongyu produced this Owl in 1973. The owl, with its one eye open and the other closed, is a self-portrait of the likes of Huang. It reveals their attitude: an animosity toward the Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Socialist system" ("PH," p. 27). A grueling chastisement followed the Ministry of Culture's categorical pronouncement. Reprimand sessions ran for months in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, where Huang was a professor of woodblock printing, to coerce the painter into confessing his antisocialist stance.3
[...] It is easier to settle the political scores than the art historical accounts, and it is easier to exonerate the artist than the painting. There is a consensus now that the painter was a victim more sinned against than sinning, that he became an innocent pawn in a game of high-level power politics, and that the inquisition to which the painter and his painting were subjected made a travesty of art criticism. It is not clear, however, how innocent the painting was. Does the painting contain the message it was charged with?
[...] The owl's wink itself seems to reinforce the impression that the bird's enigmatic expression indeed contains an encoded message. For "to wink," according to the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, "is to try to signal to someone in particular, without the cognisance of others, a definite message according to an already understood code."11 The overwhelming central frontality of the owl, which claims the viewer's attention, makes explicit the painting's impulse to communicate with the viewer. Believing that the painting was wrongly charged with conveying a message it did not contain, one is likely to go about showing that it in fact means something, but not the kind of meaning that was unfairly imputed to it. This is an occasion for some radical alternative thinking. The enduring assumption that a painting is a deposit of meaning not only got this particular artist into trouble, it has also led art historians into a methodological morass. Wouldn't it be better for us to drop altogether the notion that a painting as such has an intrinsic message or cognitive content?

Eugene Y. Wang is assistant professor of art history at Harvard University. He is the author of several articles on medieval Chinese art and modern Chinese visual culture and has translated Roland Barthes's Fragments d'un discours amoureux into Chinese.


Actually owls do wink....I will leave the topic here....









March 27, 2011

Dance then where ever you may be......

Umbrella dances are popular amongst most ethnic groups. Today in Miri and in Sibu as well there are many groups who come together and have good physical exercises and dance to their hearts' content.

This group of Methodist Church Ladies at Grace Methodist Church of Miri prepare a dance for future concerts. But most importantly they get together for disciplined dance-exercise....
These umbrellas are part of an important dance routine.
Leadership is generated when the ladies get together.
Follower- ship is even more important.





Colourful umbrellas imported from China.






But at the end of the day it is the fellowship that will be remembered!! These ladies are still very shy...they said that they are only at rehearsal stage...please come when they are fully made up!! And dressed for the dance!! But I cannot wait....these are special moments of joy!!


The joy is in the dancing and sharing!!

To all children....dance whenever you have the chance even if you do not get to perform....teachers encourage your students and they will remember you in their hearts forever because you give them the opportunities....

And at whatever age we may be ....we DANCE!!

I leave you with this Youtube...and I do really remember Mr. Wiltshire my School Principal who introduced this hymn to us in our Sunday School lesson.......

"I am the Lord of the Dance said He.....and I will lead you all said he.....dance then where ever you may be ........"




March 26, 2011

Amaranth or Chinese Spinach( Herng Chai)




Amaranth species are cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. There are 4 species of Amaranthus documented as cultivated vegetables in eastern Asia: Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus blitum, Amaranthus dubius, and Amaranthus tricolor.[12]
In Indonesia and Malaysia, leaf amaranth is called bayam.

I have just found out that the root of a mature amaranth is an excellent vegetable. It is white in colour and is cooked with tomatoes or tamarind gravy. It has a milky taste and is alkaline.

In Sarawak the leaves and stems are used as a stir-fry vegetable, or in soups. We Foochows call it Herng Chai and in Mandarin it called yin choi (苋菜; pinyin: xiàncài; and variations on this transliteration in various dialects). Amaranth greens are believed to help enhance eyesight.

In the olden days the Foochow mothers would purposely grow at lot of the red leaved species when their daughters were having their first periods. As it was recommended by some doctors for people having low red blood cell count. Thus it is also known as a poor widow's iron supplement.

A red dye can be obtained from the flowers  the 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth. (used by the Hopi  - a tribe in the western United States).


A good recipe- Red Amaranth with three different eggs :
1. Get two bundles of this vegetable from the market and clean them well.
2. Boil three different kinds of eggs - 1 century egg , 1 chicken egg and 1 salted egg.
3. Prepare some garlic and boil the veg with three bowls of water (for three persons). Add the chopped eggs into the soup. Boil for a short while. Serve.
A Foochow Recipe from the farm
1. Get two bundles of  red amaranth. Clean and cut into suitable lengths.
2. Prepare some garlic and boil the vegetables with some chicken meat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add soften enough big mee hoon or Foochow Hoon Ngang to serve a family of five.

The amaranth is an easy vegetable to plant. We used to plant the small leaved ones even along the sides of the road and every one was welcome to pluck them. The green species is nice too.  Our Malay neighbours like to turn them into keropok. ( photo above shows them at the back of the red amaranth).
This is my good sister Hileria's garden patch of green bayam... She is self sufficient in vegetables!!
May God bless her always.

March 25, 2011

Indigenous Melon or gourd? The Entimun

The Ibans of Sarawak have a fascinating vegetable which they can eat raw or cooked as a soup with dried fish. This entimun is grown whenever the Ibans start planting their pa or just in their home backyard. They also plant ensabi (a kind of small mustard green) and sweet corn. Thus in this kind of diversification of their agriculture they are actually perpetuating a very sensible and environmentally friendly life style. It is no wonder that many of the Ibans in the past were octogenarians because of this green diet.

By the way the word entimun can be shortened to the Malay word "timun" and the Hokkiens simply call it di bun. The Chinese call it a Kua (which is more a melon than a gourd). Gourd in Chinese is Bu. According to Wikipedia entimun is of the gourd family and is a cucumber or Cucumis sativus. It belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which includes squash, and in the same genus as the muskmelon. The cucumber is originally from India, and there are 3 main varieties of cucumber from which hundreds of different cultivars have emerged on the global market. I often wonder why the local entimum has not been commercialised for the global market. It is so good!


The entimun is a "savior" vegetable. When there is no time to do any cooking a few fruits are plucked from the vines and cut to bite slices and eaten with salt. That's a decent lunch for most farmers. At home one can do real justice by cooking this vegetable in many different creative ways. It is really up to your imagination!!


The entimun minus the seeds....

This is how an Iban will cut the entimun....for soup. Often the some of the slices are gone before the cook starts cooking.

I know many people miss the soup (Entimun and Tahai soup) when they go overseas. The sourish and yet sweet taste of this organic melon is just so exquisite and memorable!! It is a pretty soup too because of the lovely colour of the almost ripe entimun.

March 23, 2011

Sungei Merah Bridge 1901-2011

This post is dedicated to all the missionaries and Foochow and Heng Hua elders who lived in Sungei Merah. And to my Grandfather's descendants.




A very old photo which could have been taken by Rev James Hoover in 1903 is often wrongly ascribed to Sungei Merah for a long time by me. But after being pointed out by Local Historian, Wong meng Lei, the photo is now confirmed to be the Methodist Church shop house  in Old Street in the early 1900's.. However the photo is a good indication of how the Foochows built their shop houses in the early 1900's in Sibu.

Sungei Merah is remembered by the Foochows warmly. The first Easter Sunday was held here when they  arrived with Wong nai Siong in 1903. Bishop Warne of Singapore accompanied them from Singapore to give them moral and spiritual support.

Within  a few months Sg. Merah had 4 attap hostels for the new Foochow "agriculturalists" (Sarawak Gazette) and Wong Nai Siong and his people had already built some houses like the ones above. 1 -Home of the Hoovers. 2 - Jetty (doh tou) 3 - boat or prahu used by the Hoovers when they went travelling down the the villages like Ensurai. 4 -  Ing Hua School Hostel. The small wooden  bridge across Sg. Merah had already been built. It had a covered portion (ting)  to protect the travellers from the sun and the rain. Really good idea....Foochows and later the Heng Huas  (1912) would walk to Sibu where the Hokkiens and Cantonese had their little wooden shops already.

My Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping and his brother Tiong Kung Eng and their father, Tiong King Sing, were among those who started out their new lives in Sarawak in this way in 1903. They were in the second batch and were allocated to move to several different parts of the Rajang Delta. Whatever land they could "open" up, the Rajah Brooke would grant them a title. perhaps that is how the word "Nga Rang" or GRANT  became a Foochow term. (Land title)

Several photos could tell the history of Sungei Merah Bridge very simply.

1940's Sungei Merah

Compare the above photo with the one below. Almost from the same angle. The one above was probably taken in 1940's. with two windows on the roof level.. There are eight big windows on the first floor in the front which probably means that there were only four shops.

2011 Sungei Merah

This is the modern block of the Sg. Merah Methodist Philanthropic Association Building.



1960's - 1970's  Sungei Merah.

 1960's Sungei Merah compared with my latest  March 2011. The bridge here has been improved by this time.but it still has the bicycle lanes which is indeed heart warming. This is during my grandfather's life time. The first wooden shop house by the river riverside facing the camera, was owned by my grandfather's cousin, Tiong Kiew Dieh. He was one of the kindest men I have ever known in my life.

March 2011....A bazaar which has a heart for cyclists!! This should be a real resort city......and one that has a lot of history. Sungei Merah now is developing fast with more than 8 new blocks going up between the river and the old airport.

2011 Sg. Merah Bridge (my own photo)

The bicycle lane is still there!! Well done to the committee who designed the bridge!! Thank you.

I have very fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Sungei Merah, and riding a bicycle across the bridge to run errands. But my grandmother already was a good driver and she would drive my grandfather every where. Any way riding a bicycle in Sungei Merah and especially across the bridge was a childhood thrill.

My grandfather passed away in 1963, 60 years after he landed in Sungei Merah. He must have seen quite a bit of changes in those 60 years. But now Sungei Merah is a very modern suburb which can even be called a township.

The old Sungei Bridge is still thee after 110 years. How much has gone under the bridge? What tears? What blood? What stories?

(first written 2011, edited 2013)

March 22, 2011

Sights and Sounds on the Rajang..A thing of the past....

Growing up on an island at the confluence of the Igan and the Mighty Rajang I have the privilage of experiencing a fantastic childhood. The sights and sounds have remained in my mind often to be taken out for re examination and to savour with friends which in the past was just chatting in the school during the non studying class room hours. But today I have the privilege of sharing them in a blog for friends and relatives to read.

My Foochow ancestors left Fuzhou via Ma Wei by Hong Bee. (Photo from Foochow Association Gallery)






From Singapore they took a smaller boat(probably arranged by the Brooke Government and Wong Nai Siong) . This is a ship model which you can find in the Sibu World Foochow Cutlural Gallery in Upper Lanang Road. (Photo courtesy of Wong Meng Lei). 1118 Foochows came in three batches arrived in Sibu. Almost a 1/3 of them perished within five years due to diseases and exhaustion. It seemed that there was a plague sweeping through the Rajang Valley at that time.


The Rajah Brooke (Photo courtesy of Straits Steam Ship)


In those days the Rajang was deep and wide and amazingly fairly huge sea going boats could come in. The Ang Bee and the Rajah Brooke for example were big sea going boats to name a few.

Even before I was of school going age I would sit by the window of our Hua Hong Ice Factory house with my elders to watch the busy Sibu town nestled along the confluence of the Igan and Rajang. They woudl point out to me the name of the ships. And I remember this clearly..."listen to the sound of the horn...that is the Bruas leaving Sibu...the ship is talking to us...."Always use your eyes and ears and learn for goodness sake! Listen...carefully.

And so perhaps because I used to hang out with my grandmother and aunts and watched them and all the things around me I have a strong attention span and also a good memory for things historical.

And below because I cannot find the horn of Bruas to recap the souns of Sibu then...I have found an alternative for you....Enjoy the past sounds...as I remember fondly my uncle who left in 1954 for China to go to his "promised university" . The horns blowing across the Rajang would tug the heart strings of my maternal grandmother because she never saw her youngest son again. While she died at age 84 he survived along a few years after that in China.

Several of my aunts also left by boat to study in Singapore and created a future for themselves during those hard and difficult days......I am sure many other people from Sibu also left by boat for a brighter future and heard the boat horns and they would too probably remember this sound in a nostalgic way.........Good bye my hometown it seems to say.....Till we meet again.

Youtube of QM2

March 21, 2011

How Kanowit 1975 impacted me - The Empurau

I was teaching in Kanowit in 1975 and shared my life with wonderful people like Clare and Janet  to name just two. Tingang and Mr. Penns were non academic staff who ensured smooth administration.

Besides the wonderful school life and ever helpful students I learned many special things in life.

I was introduced to the strange and enormous fish called Empurau (cousin of the the Mahseer). Each one would cost us about RM30 only. But at that RM 30 was a big sum of money. In fact not many Foochows knew much about the fish. I was also given some salted empurau by the father a colleauge. It came in a huge biscuit tin. It was really amazing. Today this kind of gift is only for the YBs.

In those days we were quite limited in our knowledge of good fish actually. For example we Foochows were more interested in the Duai or white pomfret from Sarawak Cold Storage founded by Datuk Tiong Su Kuok who was also our school supplier at that time.

Today   35 + years later the Empurau is almost extinct and the rare fish has made its way to the dinner tables of the rich and famous at RM800 - RM1000 per kg!! This fish can only live in pristine riverine conditions like in some parts of the Himalayas.

Enjoy the video below.



Our life in 1975 then was a series of weekends in Sibu and weekdays in Sedaya. We had to wait for the express boats(no air conditioning) to come near our school's jetty. Jumping onto the motor launch we had to be careful because we might step on exotic meat (all wrapped up in gunny sacks) and fish strewned on the bow. Vegetarians and environmentalists might have found this scenario most offensive.

At that time our environment was still very naturally clean and fish and wild meat was plentiful. Wild boar meat was only RN3.00 in Kanowit bazaar and we always had it fresh and not frozen. Snake meat was plentiful but due to choice I did not eat it. I did not eat the river turtle at all. Now considered a delicacy I would probably eat one or two slices of river turtle meat or labi labi. These exotic meats are actually acquired taste like blue cheese. But I have really grown to love the tapah which is a wonderful tasty fish.

There is always such a sense of loss whenever I see or think about the Empurau.

March 20, 2011

Piasau Bridge of Miri - A newer bridge to be added

Piasau bridge was "fixed" by a Chinese contractor  in the early 1900's. And the materials literally came out of a box.

This might be the last few photos taken of the Bridge as it will soon have a new look. Construction is going on at the moment. So friends from Miri and Sibu do enjoy these photos!! The one lane bridge with its historical traffic light and Shell Police traffic controller would soon be HISTORY.

But it has been a "boon" to the people of Miri in general and a special short cut for the residents of the Piasau camp - the residential area of Shell senior employees which is equivalent to "a tropical dream resort under coconut trees" actually.

In olden days this bridge also provided a short cut for people who needed to go to the Miri Hospital located at the tip of the spit, especially those who had to come from Pujut. The Nightingale, the ferry operated only until 11 p.m. Thus anyone requiring medical attention had to use the bridge. It had saved quite a few lives!!

Bicycles are still popular here - the Piasau Camp has more than 300 houses of good standing which require maids to clean and wash. The Kampong folks also depend on bicycles. The bicycles give this place a very homely and resort feel. This fuel-less vehicle should be encouraged.


The first traffic lights of Miri continue to regulate the flow of traffic here. Vehicles go one way only.

A recent sign board put up here to prevent people from jumping into the river at the bridge....Could this also help prevent suicide?


Wong Meng Lei (Rajang Basin) in a serious mood.......


A slim "pedestrian" walking towards Miri City....Note the good quality Sarawakian wooden planks.

Blue signboards of Miri....Many drivers visiting or passing through Miri find it hard to EXIT from the city. Some maps should be put up in vital points to show new "visitors" where to go to reach Brunei or Bintulu......Some signs like "This route to Asean Bridge" or "This route to Miri/Bintulu Exit" would help. Furthermore when asked many young locals also find it difficult to describe directions because they only speak the local dialect or Bahasa Malaysia. And of course some may be helpful and some not helpful at all. "Don no " is often the answer. Try asking!

I shall miss the nostalgic bridge in the future.....



Sarawakian Local Delights: Ikan Buntal

Photo of Yellow Puffer fish , taken in Lingga. These are yellow ikan buntal or the yellow buntal. According to the locals, they are ver...