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.|
|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 .....|
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
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!!