January 24, 2012

Nang Chong Stories :Shelter from Rain in Nang Chong Village

The heavy deluge yesterday brought a lot to my mind as I watched people trying to get out of the rain looking for shelter in the darkened and deserted shops and lonely and even eerie five foot way. Miri was fairly quiet during the first day of the Chinese new year but a few shops were open to serve the non-Chinese population in some corners of the town especially the one and only 7-11 shop in Miri.

Sheltering from rain is not just something in passing. When one gives shelter to another person it will long be remembered. When one has been sheltered like during the Communist Insurgency with lives at stake one can remember how fragile life could be and at any one time one bullet could end it all.  When one is wet from the rain and a warm watery porridge is offered every nerve in the body is thankful and that can be remembered for ever by a grateful soul. Shelter is such an important word to me in my life!!

My mind was on my grandmother's concept of Open House 24/7...not just for Chinese New Year!!

My grandmother and her five pretty daughters. They are lined with No.1 on the far left to  the youngest on the right. My grandmother loved her rattan chair ...my son also happens to love that particular style of rattan chair and owns one. This photo was probably taken in 1953 shortly before my third aunt passed away at child birth which still had a high mortality rate in the early 50's in Sarawak.
Firstly I thought of my late grandmother (Tiong Lien Tie) whose kitchen was always a welcoming place for passers-by.who had to stay away from the rain which often came suddenly in the afternoon. Grandma and my aunts would always have some food ready for relatives usually and even for some strangers who might be visiting their friends in the Nang Chong Village. Folks would stop by to say hello to my very generous grandmother. The house was "open" every day" 24/7.. What is that for Chinese Open House concept?

A double decker motor launch...this type plied between Sarikei and Sibu..and also between Kapit and Sibu.
Smoke house for rubber sheets. When I was young I was very amazed by these ..and the activities which surrounded rubber tapping. I continue to love the smell of smoking rubber. The aroma gives me great comfort...like the warm arms of my grandmother when I needed comfort .....
The rubber smokehouse owned by my grandmother and uncles would also welcome neighbours to smoke their rubber sheets perhaps four times a year. And that was when there would be a beehive of activities. My third uncle would even slaughter a pig for every one to share and food would be cooked in a large kuali set up espeically in the open.

Many Ibans used to live beyond the hill (aw sang) in Nang Chong and sometimes they even stayed the night under my grandmother's smokehouse. They had their parang and cooking pot and in no time they would be cooking their meals. At times they would buy some extra supplies from Uncle Tien Ching's shop like salted fish. In fact I never saw them cooking with bamboos. After a night's stay they would push off in the long boats .Some fishermen would also come to sell freshly caught fish and might even ask to stay the night in the smoke house which when not in use was a nice sleeping place in fact. The outhouse was just next door to it.

The little sundry shop was owned by an uncle Wong tien - ching. He kept that shop running until he was too old in his seventies!! Each day he would come  to the shop (the first apartment of my grandmother's large wooden house). My grandmother's house was divided into four apartments - one for each of her sons. The upstairs was for her and for storing rice (which was in one huge wooden container - it must have been 15 feet cross in diameter!!)

Tien Ching Goo Oo was a very patient shop keeper...and when it rained and he could not go home..he would just sleep on top of his wooden cashier desk!! He had a secret slot in the desk where he slipped his money into a top drawer. He held all his keys in a chain which was tied to his waist with a cotton "rope" and he wore his blue cotton trousers every day. Whenever he wore his Ern Moh Koo (Western Red Haired Trousers or Xi Juan) we woujld know that he was going to Sibu to get supplies for his shop. There was no refrigerator or freezer...but his shop was the best "happening place" in those days in our village. I often tried my best to catch up with him and learn about world news. He had a small radio he would listen too...and especially at five oclcok when there was the Foochow news from Radio Sarawak.

And then there was the lovely "landor" or the special " bridging" verandah where people could sit and enjoy the fresh river breeze. This was where kids and grandmother would sit while aunts and uncles were doing washing in the Chia Pan (open platform adjacent to the house) or tending to the garden. This was a vantage point where we could see the motor launches stopping to let passagers off the Pang Sing Jetty. More than 200 people used this jetty which was maintained by my uncles for the convenience of the villages. No fees were ever mentioned. It was all good will and good neighbourliness of those days.landor
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There were four kitchens in this house...so as kids we could scramble around and tried food cooked by the different aunts. We would not sit at their tables of course..but we could get a few slices of meat when offered. But the aroma of aunts' cooking would always be in my mind...the aroma of Chinese Nien Gao cooking or the steaming of yam cakes...I think my vaourite smell from those days would be the bao steaming in the huge kuali in the evenings. Whenever I spent my holidays with my grandmother ...I would be eating from Third Uncle's kitchen....In Foochow household management my grandmother chose to "be with her third son" and that would be "shared living". Each of her sons had already gotten their share of property in terms of rubber gardens etc....while my grandmother still kept some for her old age. That was a good arrangement and every one was happy. Later she did try the circuit method but it was not as happy as the Nang Chong Household management...

It is strange that a heavy rain can bring so much memories back to me...and I felt as if my grandmother had called out...please go and ask those people to come in from the rain..."We have so much space here...and there is warm food in the kuali for all..."

In Foochow coming into a place for shelter from the rain is called "Dor Yu"..a term which may be very very ancient or unheard of...That kind of hospitality may be construed as antiquated..especially after 9/11 and lack insecurities in our land.Philanthropists in the past would build a special TING/pergola to provide a shelter for travellers along the road.

By the way  today bus stops CAN provide such a shelter but very unfortunately most bus stops have been torn by vandals or used for small trading. And people have to wait for their buses in the rain....one misfortune over another!! Layers and layers of misery....

50 years have changed many things...I am still in close contact with my cousins like Lau Kung Meu from the next house...and my cousins who lived in the big house like Mee Gee and Kung Sieng.....and now I have some cousins living in China..the children and grandchildren of my mother's youngest brother who went "back to China in 1954"....I have some cousins in England who used to stay in that big house and had a share in jumping amongst the smoked rubber sheets!! Such happy memories....and such lovely good food from the huge kuali...And such hospitality from uncles and aunties and especially grandmother!!

Happy Dragon Year!!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

When a mother shields her child from the rain using an umbrella she gets wet herself. Years later when she is suffering from athritis I hope her child can remember mother's sacrifice...I will remember my mother's care and sheltering me from sun and rain.
Not many people remember what you write about. Thanks

ah sian

Ann said...

My mum's sis, one of the first Hakka married to Foochow, the in law had a smoke house in Lamamang road. They had a smoke house, when they are not smoking rubber sheets, Ibans who come up the river, use the empty place for shelter.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lovely to know about old smokehouses...these went out of fashion in the 1970's. Pity my relatives who had to let go of the land. Now rubber prices can be very high and many in Bintulu make good money. thanks for the article.
Yes my parents often talked about bringing rubbers sheets on their bicyles to smoke their rubber. I was born in Sibu and never experienced rubber tapping.

Bintulu .

Anonymous said...

i used to help my sis processing the rubber sheets thru' 2 different machines & crushed my ring finger!

Bintulu

Philip Lu said...

My uncle, the late Lau Nai Kong, used to run Huo Ting shop at Lower Nan Chong. Is Lau Kung Meu still running the hardware shop in Miri.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Sian..It is always lovely to think of the past especially about events which involved your own loved ones...It makes life easier today too...Memories oftentimes make us happier than ever...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...yes I wish I can collect and compile all the stories which involved rubber smoke houses in the Rajang!! It would be just so lovely....Your aunt's children still around in Sibu?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Anonymous Bintulu 1
It is a real pity your relatives let go of their land. Yes I do remember how the neighbours came with lots of rubber sheets on their bicycles. those were happy and lovely times at least for me.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous Bintulu 2
I am so sorry to hear that your ring finger got crushed. Are there scars to show? What about the bones? Yes small children were scolded and smacked for not being careful!! I had the opportunity to step on the soft rubber to make them into plain sheets and later my older cousins would crank them with the 2 different machines..the plain ones and the criss cross ones (patterned)... You remember the RSS 1 and RSS 2...ribbed smoked sheets. I was so proud of my English then and was able to say RSS in full!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Philip
Happy Chinese New Year to you..May the Dragon bring more wealth and health to you and your family...I must ask my mum about your late uncle Lau Nai Kong. We call the Lau Nai Huo and Lau Nai Huat grand uncles too. Kung Meu is still the proprietor of Kaledi (Hardware) in Miri. Coming to Miri for a visit? I don't remember the Huo Ting shop..but I remember the cooperative shop.

Anonymous said...

hi Sarawakiana... Gong Xi Fa Cai ! my father's brother-in-law gave shelter to my papa and grandma in the jungle during the bombing of Sibu( my papa told me ) . so im very grateful to them,anyway most of their children overseas already(already became "ang mo nan ")

- Ah Ngao

Ann said...

Philip,
so you are related also to Lau Nai Huat? Do you know Choo Siang who I believe lives in Australia. The last time I saw her was in 1999. They knew me as Chan Kit Suet.

Ann said...

My aunt's MIl is the woman who sold empty bottles at Lau King How Hospital.

Some of her younger kids are in Sibu. Her old son, about my age is in Sydney, has a franchise of smoke meat called smokerama. I just found the name yesterday. ( isn't it funny? Grandpa had a smoke house for rubber, and Paul smokes meat?)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao...that's a lovely story!! You must write it down...I am glad your father and his mother had shelter during the Japanese bombing..otherwise you would not be enriching our lives nowadays!! I am glad and grateful too....what a good man your uncle was...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...that's interesting..smokerama..Ann..I think Philip knows your brothers...All from Sibu lo...
Tell me more about the lady who sold empty bottles in LKH hospital. Paul is a Lau?

Ann said...

Paul is Wong.

The lady who sells bottles, her bro is Hii Kui Kui, Sacred Heart Pri school principal. First ever non Ang Mo/bro principal. U know William Hii who studied in Auck Uni, and taught in MSS?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
Of course I know Mr. William Hii. He is married to a Miss Wong (MSS too) and his wife is my cousin's wife's sister...all the potato vines.. Mr. Hii KK was a legend!! This Paul must be really smart to start something like that.
Must try.

Ann said...

apparently smokorama is American franchise. Paul Grand Uncle mr Hii would have to eat his words when Paul dies and goes to meet him. Tell u abt it when u come here. or I msg u FB.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hahahaha..ann...this is funny!!

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