May 31, 2011

Aki Sandom - Business As Usual on Gawai Eve

Every longhouse would have a master craftsman whose reputation is known up and down the valley. Today Aki Sandom is still an active old man at the old age of 87. He had never been to school and yet his craftsmanship is much sought after especially his carving on wood.

On the eve of the Gawai he is still tinkling with his tools and making some repairs. He has a lot of joy taking out his own creations and looking at them. Even though it is Gawai Eve...he is not going to stop for a minute and join the rest in waiting for the meat to roast...his job is to repair the scabbard of a friend's parang."Let the young enjoy themselves at the bbq pit!!"

In China famous folk craftsmen and women are pensioned by the Governement. Many communities used to say "artists do not earn much. Cannot starve to death and yet cannot eat well...." But Aki Sandom coming from a longhouse agrarian background would always have enough rice if there is little else on the table.

Aki Sandom has this to say..... "Vegetables can always be gathered from the jungle if it is still there. Rattan can always be found if one is hardworking enough. Wood is plentiful if the buttress roots of the trees are left to be shared amongst the people. for you see one only needs small piece of the big tree for a parang handle. You don't cut down a lovely tree of hundreds of years to make a parang handle....."

Aki Sandom spends all his time tinkling with his tools and help repair scabbards and walking sticks.

Aki Sandom is more than 80 years old and he never went to school. His parents brought him from Skrang when the Second White Rajah initiated the Iban migration to the Limbang Division to increase the number of settlements and to encourage economic development of the newly acquired division.

This is a special equipment made by him to split bamboo and rattan into exact halves.

This is the dragon head of the parang handle.

This is his personal parang helang which he has been owning for more than 30 years. The wooden scabbard has lasted a very long time and the carvings are still very clear.

In this photo he is showing me his white cane walking stick which is intricately carved by him any years ago. He would not be selling this item as it is for his own personal use.

It is a pity that this group of artists and talented natural craftsmen is growing smaller in number with the passing of time.

May 30, 2011

Seeds for preventing nail biting (Buah Kikau)

Do you have a nail biting problem?

The Ibans of Rumah Aling believe that wearing a special charm made from this seed(buah kikau)will stop a child from biting his/her nails.

The older generation (now in their 60's) would all wear them.

Today fewer children wear them because their own parents have forgotten about this special charm.

Whenever an elder finds a tree (akak) full of these seeds she will collect them and dry them carefully. A long string of the seeds can be hung in the kitchen or backyard for over a few years and the seeds would become hard as wood.

Anyone who would like to have some can contact Madam Pantan in Rh. Aling . She would be only too happy to give you some. Pl. write to her : Madam Pantan Jiram
Rh Aling
Ulu Limbang
(Attention : Pehnghulu Robert Kunyut)

Note : Pos Office Malaysia may not be so efficient when it comes to sending mails to longhouses. So we will see if your letter can reach her!! Give it a try...

May 29, 2011

Bario Pineapple growing in Miri

One of my Maktab Perguruan Sarawak KPLI teacher trainees upon graduation was posted to teach in SMK Bario thus becoming the first Sibu Foochow young man to teach in the school. The Principal by coincidence was a Foochow too but he was from Marudi. Andrew K stayed several years int he school and initiated himself in the teaching of the Bario youths using unusual methods of teaching.

However one great effort he made was to bring the suckers of the Bario pineapples to me and to his parents in Sibu. It was not easy to bring a sack or two of pineapple suckers by the small light plane from Bario to Miri!!

Today my Bario pineapples do produce a few if I am faster than the squirrels I get to eat one or two good fruits. The clump of Bario pineapples at the corner of my garden seem to thrive prettily as a hedge if not as a producer of good fruits.

here is one of them which the family enjoyed recently.

The fruit will not turn orange or yellow (so you actually have to watch the fruit very carefully and have it wrapped up with wire netting. Otherwise the squirrels will eat the whole fruit...

When the fruit is of a good size tug at the top leaves. If the leaves come off quite easily the fruit is mature.

If the stump is large like this it means that the fruit is very sweet....Bario pineapple is the sweetest of the pineapples grown in Sarawak. However the down side is that the sugar content in most pineapples (whether sour or not) is so high that diabetics should never eat pineapples. Your sugar level will go rocking high!! And it has happened to me. So now I never even order fresh pineapple juice even as a treat although it is my favourite drink. Have to be safe.

so all these tips I have given to you is called Tribal Knowledge from Sarawak.....if you should choose pineapples in the future these tips would help you select mature and ripe ones. Blessings like good fruits and flowers are to be shared!! Thanks again Andrew.

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.........

May 27, 2011

Ann Chin - Sarawak born Author

This is extra-normal way of introducing a new author from Sibu.

Ann Chin (Chan) Kit Suet was born in the Rajang Valley. Her parents were both Cantonese from the Kwong Tung Pah (now Sg. Salim). I left Sibu in 1970 and she left Sibu in 1975.

How did I get in touch with Ann Chin after 40 years? This is an exceptional cyberspace tale.

In her own words "I.....was googling Billy Abit when I came to Sarawakiana's post on the boys hostel of Methodist school. The more posts I read, the more intrigued I was. I was convinced I knew who the blogger was. But this blogger would not reveal her ID for a long time, until I read the post of the blogger's dad's accident.So I  wrote: CY, I think I know who you are, don't let me stew in my own juice.
Finally, the blogger revealed herself. It was such a happy day, because the blogger was my hero in school.
The rest is history."

I couldn't be more surprised to be connected in this way. Here I was...blogging happily as a retired person who has been worried about Alzheimer's disease and Dementia. Writing a personal journal and taking a cyberwalk cost nothing but truly it has enriched me in more ways than I could believe. And being connected with a dear but long lost friend was really unbelieveable. She was only about 13 or 14 and I was already getting ready for university and the adult stage of my life. When I took off at the Sibu airport for KL I said to myself "I must leave my childhood behind and become a real tough female warrior....and nothing should stop me..."

My precious gem of a friend thus came in the form of Ann chin who encouraged me by her sheer strength and enthusiasm for life and writing via the blogging world in the last two years..

And on my part I am only too happy to help her connect with more people in Sarawak and the rest of the world.

She is no longer the shy little Form One kid in the Methodist School but a nice mature writer and teacher who has been inspiring people who have come in contact with her. She lives a full life in Auckland (New Zealand) .

My Photo
For several years she has been thinking in a very humble way how to get her book published.
Eventually it has come out. And it will be a hit with parents who have lost their children at a young age and for those who empathise with this agony.
Diary of a Bereaved Mother

For those who would like to know more about this Sibu born daughter of Cantonese ancestry she has done more than her share to serve Sarawak. You can read an article about her interview in a local newspaper or go to

Ann has been away from Sarawak since 1975, and not many people know that she has taught in Kai Chung School in Bintangor I(originally Binatang). Although some students have already found her on Facebook recently many may like to find her by other means. It is interesting to note that most Sarawak students like to find their teacher and thank them in the later lives.. Hence school reunions are very popular and I have also noted that many teachers get invited to their children's weddings especially in Sibu because the ties are definitely maintained for many generations.

Ann Chan Kit Suet (her full name) was educated in the Methodist Primary School from 1961 till 1966. She then went to the Methodist Secondary School from 1967 to 1973 which was then still an English medium school. After she completed her Upper Sixth she taught in Kai Chung School, Binatang, Kuching High School and SMK Binatang before she left for Canada to further her studies.

Today she is teaching in Auckland and is married to Singaporean Dr. Chin. She has two daughters and a son.

Several of her siblings are still residing in Sarawak while others are all over the world. Her father the late Mr. John Chan Yui Fei served a brilliant career in the Sarawak Education Service as an Education Officer. Her late father was also an alumni of the Methodist Secondary School and a former teacher .

Her family photo below still brings a tear to my much I would like to have such a  family photo taken with my dad and mum and grandmother in this manner. This is the kind of family photo most Chinese Sarawakian families would still take in the 21st Century!!

You can read more of her writing in the three blogs she maintains. She is such an energetic and prolific writer. Sibu should be very proud of her!!

And the good news is - she would want to connect with you!

May 26, 2011

Teachers and Parents Working Together in Bukit Batu

The recent haze and heat wave have been causing great concern and river water level is dropping.

In the past many rural primary boarding schools would request pupils to bring some water to school when they return from home on Mondays as the school water supply is not really adequate. One such school is the SK Bukit Batu run by the present Guru Besar Laurentius thomas who has been proactive to ask for parents to help install more water tanks for the boarders.

I am using some of his photos for my blog today....Congratulations to him and the parents who rally together to capture rainwater for their children. bukit Batu is about 3 hours from Limbang Town in the Fifth Division of Sarawak. Thanks to Ann Chin for making me realise even more that we in Sarawak are also having to save rain water in many different ways.

the primary school is populated by children from the surrounding longhouses situated along the Sg. Medamit which is a tributary of the larger and once formidable Limbang River.. When these school pupils complete their primary school they will attend Medamit Government Secondary School or some may even be sent to SMK Limbang or other premier schools according to their results. Needless to say not many of the them score 5A's because of so many adverse factors.

. The River Medamit is too polluted by logging and oil palm. Government piped water has not been able to reach Medamit and Bukit Batu. It is definitely a challenge for the people here to produce university graduates and to raise the income level. Hovever it may surprise many that there are several university graduates and many professionals from this area since 1960's and have made it to the Who's Who in a recent book by a Lawas historian.

Many of these professionals have tales of their barefoot childhood and youthful scrounging for five sen or ten sen in Limbang river at low tides..

Fathers get together to put up a strong wooden platform for the water tank -more captured  rain water for toilet and bathing from now on. You can see the pretty pink toilets which is so typical of rural Sarawak primary school scene.

Mothers also do their share with great enthusiasm.

Parents and teachers meet to discuss their plans for the gotong royong or cooperative activity.

Here mothers with their rattan baskets roll the tank to be installed. Now they do not have to worry about sending water in jerry cans or orange bottles for their children for teeth brushing and drinking(boiled).

Little children may sometimes be so thirsty that they drink the polluted water if available and they all get stomach upset thus causing them to lose many hours of studying time.

Teachers are surrogate parents and change agents amongst other roles. And I am sure the teachers in this school are playing more than their expected roles. The local community places its hopes in their children and schools like this. A pro active Head Teacher is a ray of hope! And teachers bring sunshine to this little rain forest opening.. The future of these children is definitely in the hands of these respsonsible adults.

May 25, 2011

Disappearing Miri : Squatters' Homes Fire @ Pujut Corner

Fires frequently occur in old squatter areas in Miri. In fact Miri has the largest squatter community in the whole of Sarawak. Miri squatter areas which are very famous are Pujut Corner, Padang Kerbau and Kampong Api Api. There are several riverine squatter settlements along the Miri River and Adong River.

Why has Miri more squatter settlements than other towns in Sarawak? Why does Sarawak have squatter settlement when land is plentiful ? Why are some squatter areas more easily demolished than others?

Since the discovery of oil in Miri in 1910 thousands of rural people have moved to Miri looking for jobs . As they have no access to cheap and available housing,they construct houses which "squat" on vacant public land like Padang Kerbau which in the 1910's was the peripheral land just outside Miri town . There is a river behind which supplies water and an easy means of transport as well as a good source of food and indeed the squatters can  even walk home after their day's walk. Very convenient indeed.

Many squatters lived on Canada Hill before the 1990's. But that is part of history now as fires and political motives had moved them all away.

Usually these squatters have little resources, financial or otherwise, skills or access to them, the drastic option of illegally occupying a vacant piece of land to build a rudimentary shelter is the only one available to them. The problem is further compounded by the apathy and even anti-pathy of various government agencies who view the "invasion" of urban areas by "the masses" and the development of squatter settlements as a social "evil" that has to be "eradicated".

Such a confusing and knee-jerk reaction and attitude towards squatter settlements has not helped the more basic question of "adequate housing for all" as proclaimed by all the Malaysia Plans of our country.

A visit to any squatter settlement in Miri would reveal the lack of electricity and water supply and roads and drainage. Some of the huts are actually no better than chicken coops.

Indeed rumours also said that some one actually had attempted to burn down those houses for a housing project!!

But a fire like this one has left 17 families homeless and many children desperate about their future. Most of them were thrown out of their comfort zone and had to be housed by the Red Crescent Organisation for several days. Mainly illiterate the women folk suffer the most especially when many of them depend on daily wages from their husbands. If they are single mothers it is harder as they have to fend for themselves.Many women are working  as daily paid cleaners or grass cutters and they will have to forego a few days' earning just to be with the children.  Having no roof over their heads is now their biggest worry!!

According to one lady she managed to split her kids up amongst a few relatives while she works but then the children cannot go to school because their relatives live too far from the Padang Kerbau Primary School. Bus fares can eat up 1/4 of her wages. (School buses are 80 ringgit on an average per child per month. A cleaner earns up to RM400 - 600 a month) So it is very often you see a man riding a motor cycle with three kids on his bike in Miri.

It is most painful to see a sarong clad mother taking three kids to a primary school on a rainy day  getting splashed all over by a speeding Mercedes driving past them.

The illiterate squatters put their thumbprints on these documents to acknowledge that they have received the cooking utensils from the Welfare Department.

Parts of the 17 homes which were razed by the morning fire on 18th May 2011. (24 victims from 5 families were accommodated at a Relief Centre set up by the Miri Red Crescent Disaster management Sub-Committee). the youngest fire victim was 1 year old.

Sad homeless people waiting around and thinking about their future. A cigarette in hand is the only comfort now.

"Where can I put my head tonight?"

What next?

This lady is probably thinking about desperate measures with a sleeping baby in her arms.

A man receiving a very light box containing aluminium cooking utensils from the Welfare Department.

This lady feels rather lost...watching what the others are doing...waiting....waiting....
According to the people standing around only the Police know the cause of the fire. What would happen to these poor people? Donations have been given from the public and certain political groups. Definitely they cannot afford to rebuild on this land which most probably has been "earmarked" for some kind of project.
The public will have the chance to observe what happens next to the land while the squatters will move into the twilight zone of the helpless and the hapless leaving behind  17 thumbprints on official papers..furthermore with unknown addresses........

May 24, 2011

The Simple Life Goes On in Belawai

A photographers' outing in Belawai reaped a huge harvest for my friends and I. Thanks to Steve Ling I had an opportunity to visit Tanjong Mani (part of SCORE) these early years you can still find some unchanging landscapes and natural beauty of our habitat..

So go before the seascapes and landscapes change beyond recognition. But I do hope the wisdom and lifestyle of the people of Belawai will remain in the future. We are proud of their culture and lifestyle. Their true worth is God sent.

An old relative of the proprietor spends time helping her cut raffia strings for her "barang" He comes every day to help out in the "canteen" without expecting a salary. "Canteen" is a local term used to mean a little supply shop. There is a growing number of Kedai Makan (Eateries) which serve the freshest of sea food. And you order according to your selection by the kilograms.

Patience is still in the heart of this old man.

Walking along the kampong road we met this lively old lady (who has cataracts)...she is well dressed and wearing the Melanau Tapao. Graceful as the wind!! And she is very helpful..answering our quesitons with grace and kindness.

Signs of modernity around her while she walks with nipah fronds in one hand and plastic bag in another.

She is going home with a bundle of young nipah leaves to make kuih.

Melanau Tapao - an excellent hat on a hot day.....The biru leaves used for making this hat is an endangered species now. Biru leaves can last a good 15 years or more!!

Another Melanau lady who has been weaving Melanau songket since 1991. Some of the songket (sarongs) sell at RM20 000! Their business is so good that they can only take orders. No one can buy as a walk in customer.
Adam - cutting nipah palm for a living. And a helpful and enthusiastic person who taught us a lesson or two about nipah palms.

A happy Melanau lady taking a rest - no prawns and fish today for drying and salting.....The hammock is a gift from her son....
Now with the road connected to Sibu --business is brisk....however at mid day the sun is too hot...she can rest and put her legs up!! (Literally) These little "gerai" or stalls sell freshly bbq fish and prawns. But a popular snack is the nipah leaf wrapped "pais" ikan or pais udang.

May 23, 2011

Governor's Transport

Before 1963 August 31 the Governor of Sarawak or any of the Sarawak Colonial Residents would travel by a special motor launch which was meant for riverine and coastal travelling. I remember there bing some other official government boats and these were their names : Aline and Zahora. But then I could be wrong too. May be some one could correct me. Were there other names?

I am sure many of the old black and white photos have disappeared from Sarawak records. When I find some of the old photos in friends' old albums I would quickly ask permission to digitalize them and indeed it has taken me some time to find this precious photo.

After Malaysia was formed Sarawak's transport modes changed tremendously and government figures and politicians travelled faster and in other modes of transportation. Today almost every YB could board a heli and could be whisked to their destination in minutes.

It must have been slow and steady for a Governor like Sir Alexander Waddell to travel to Limbang or Lawas in those long ago a boat like this....and furthermore Sarawak must have been very safe and secure...I wonder too if the Governor then was heavily guarded. It was definitely another era!!

May 22, 2011

A Day's Outing with Old Folks' Home Inmates

World Red Crescent Day was celebrated on 18th May in Miri this year. There has been a few events held in conjunction with this annual celebration.

I was involved with the city tour organised for the Old folks from the Home for the Aged in Miri.

The Organising Chairperson of the event was Miss Honey Bee and several of us went along to help her. Gifts for the Old Folks were sponsored by Ms. Shi (Kawaii Clothings) and the Imperial Hotel sponsored a special lunch for the inmates of the Old Folks' Home. The Red Crescent paid for the MTC bus which took the happy old folks around the city for half a day.

According to one of the older men in the group it was good to have transport as comfortable as the MTC bus. He was happy to catch sight of a wedding party at the Taman Selera. Every one waved to them and the wedding party was definitely taken by surprise.

Hajjah Judy Morshidi presented a token of appreciation to the Banquet Manager of the Imperial Hotel for the sponsorship of the special lunch.

Ms. Honey Bee the energetic Organising Chairperson of the event.

Ms. Shi - one of the sponsors.

Sister Ursula the Catholic Sister in charge of the Old Folks' Home. She is a very caring supervisor.

A table of the old folks....

One of the older men in the group who went for the outing.

The wedding party who were surprised by the happy old folks.

four the old gentlemen sitting in Taman Selera...happy to be in the Taman.

Getting ready to go for lunch after the outing...

End of the outing after the special lunch at the Imperial Hotel.

It was an activity which made all the Red Crescent volunteers feel very much rewarded. Helping others is a good act. The community also grows because it cares for the less fortunate. On World Red Crescent Day we thank all those who have contributed generously towards helping others and at the same time organise activities to help the less fortunate have a good day.

One of the lady in mates of the Old folks' home remarked " We always look forward to a special meal like today's.....we have good food during Chinese New Year. Perhaps we could get some special meals during the other festivals....

Special thanks go to the family of Chung Kim Onn who did not come for the lunch at Imperial Hotel. They sponsored the packed lunches (14 pax) for the inmates who are bed ridden and could not come for the outing.. Besides they also sponsored the eco-bags and many other gifts for the special day.

Thanks to all those who helped in one way or another. See you all next year for this annual activity. New Volunteers are welcome.

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...