February 28, 2012

Josephine Siaw (Fong Fong) 蕭芳芳

I grew up in Sibu in the 1950's and 1960's where the cinema featured big in our lives before the age of television.

There were two Hong Kong child stars in our lives - one was Siaw fong fong and the other was Fung Bao Bao. the latter came to Sibu and was welcomed like a dignitary. She created quite a stir and Sibu woke up from being a sleepy small town. Motor launches from near by villages were chartered to work over time bringing full loads of fans to see her in the Palace Theatre.  In those days Hong Kong film stars went to small and remote places in South east Asia to promote their films.

One of the reasons why I can read Chinese quite well was because my China born and illiterate grandmother bought monthly Chinese  magazines like  Movie News and the Southern Screen and I had to read the words in Foochow to her to tell her all about the star news and movie news in those days. She would look at the photos in the magazines over and over again like a good student and remember the stories associated with them. One of her favourite stars was Siao Fong Fong. I am sure she admired her for her courage and achievements. Like Siaw Fong Fong my grandmother too left China when she was 6.

I could not have thought that I could be writing an article about Fong Fong (who is only two years old than I) in this blog of mine. Her life has been such an inspiring and amazing story.

Josephine Siao (Xiao) was born in Luzhi in suzhou (Jiangsu)  Her parents left Mainland China to live in Hong Kong when she was just two. She started acting at the age of six to support her mother when her father died suddenly> Her mother had to sew for a living.  The Xiao family was wealthy and scholarly during the old regime. However today her family home is a popular tourist must see living museum. Part of the home features the life and works of Fong Fong's achievement in the film industry.

This is the main entrance to the Xiao Home in Luzhi (Shangtang Stree) This house was built in  1889 during the Qing dynasty and occupies 1000 sq. metres

Achievements of Siao Fong Fong
1. She made her first movie at the age of six.
2. She became one of the the biggest teen idols in Hong Kong during the late 1960's. Unlike many other child stars she was successful as a porlific and popular actress. She directed many well acclaimed movies and  wrote screen plays (JUmping Ash). She has written a number of books too.
3. She is deat in her left ear and her hearing aid often does not work in noisy places.
4. As she missed out in formal education due to her "early acting career" she graduated with a BA in 1970.
5. She is married to Clarence Chang and is mother of two daughters.
6. Summer Snow is a movie story of a middle-aged hosuewife (Siao) trying to cope with a father in law  suffering from Alzheimer's disease. This movie won many international awards

Josephine Siao in Summer Snow (1995)
Fong Fong in Summer Snow

7. In 1997 she retired from show business and continued her work in child psychology and campaigning agianst child abuse. She founded the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation in 1999. She has a master's degree in Child Psychology
8. She received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) from the Queen in 1996
9. 2009 Life Achievement Award in the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards
10. She taught English on Hong Kong TV.(She speaks impeccable English).

Siaw Fong Fong will remain one of the most exemplary Asian women in the 20th and 21st centuries.

(The Reader's Digest" voted her "The Most Trusted Figure in Hong Kong" in 2010)

What an amazing woman!!

February 27, 2012

Buah Langsat

 The fruit season of Sarawak is over and done with. The excitement of eating durians and looking for them is a thing of the past and life goes on.. And the last of the langsat skins have been thrown away and town cleaners heave a sigh of relief. No more fruit peels to dispose off!! And it will be another 9 or 10 months before the fruit season comes again.

We do not have the usual four seasons of spring,summer ,and winter in Sarawak. But we have the rainy season, the planting season, the fruiting season and now in recent years the hazy season. Due to the global warming in the past decades the fruit season is no longer  fixed and exact  towards the end of the year in November when students go home for their school holidays. The fruit season this year was in January and tapered into February.

Each fruit season is a happy season and when the langsat arrives we know that it is the end of the fruit season.

Lansium domesticum, also known as langsat or lanzones, is a fruit from the family Meliaceae. The plant, which originates from western Southeast Asia. It is the provincial flower for the Indonesian province of South Sumatra

I love to see a langsat tree bearing fruit. It is  only a small tree and yet it can bear these gold skinned fruits in bunches like succulent grapes- and one just can't wait for them to ripen. But their arrival in the market is also a remarkable tell tale sign that the fruit season is over in Sarawak!!
The langsat is like the last runner coming up the finishing line and you know that the race is finally over.
When still on the tree these  fruits are firm and ready to burst out of their skin.
The thick leaves of the langsat tree.
Succulent and sweet the langast is a good fruit to eat when having a good family time.

Mangosteen displayed in an antique Chinese bowl

when the flowers of the durian appear every one in the valley gets excited and relatives from afar are told to come back to visit during the ripening period. In fact people get into a durian eating partying mood! "Durian party" "waiting for the durian to drop" are catch phrases and idioms in the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Iban vocabulary as only the locals can understand.
the buah langsat is a succulent fruit found in South East Asia . It is very sweet and tasty and almost every one likes it unlike the durian which some people dislike because of the smell..

People do not use poles or knives to pick the fruit. A lithe climber would be invited to climb up the small tree with a basket and each bunch of fruit is picked by hand like the way grape pickers pick their grapes. In the longhouse community where there is no fencing no one upon seeing the ripening langsat would climb up the tree and pick as they like. Each tree is owned by some one they know and property rights are very much respected by young and old.

. Usually when the last of the langsat is picked it can really be a sad time because it means that relatives would go back to town and the fruit picking season is over.

Money will become tight again for many of the poorer farmers who depend on sale of durians and better fruits to add to their cash flow. If a man has no skill and no regular jobs he will have to find an odd job in town. However a skilled person would have taken leave during the fruit season and when the langsat appear he will go back to his post which may be very far away from the longhouse.

So once again with the arrival of langsat in the market one knows that the fruit stalls may shrink and many of the rural fruit sellers would be packing their baskets and make their way home until the next season..and they will come back again!!

The atmosphere is like that of the last birds flying south for the winter....and the last of the flowers fade before autumn sets in.

extra notes:
L. domesticum is cultivated mainly for its fruit, which can be eaten raw. The fruit can also be bottled in syrup. The wood is hard, thick, heavy, and resilient, allowing it to be used in the construction of rural houses.
Some parts of the plant are used in making traditional medicine. The bitter seeds can be pounded and mixed with water to make a deworming and ulcer medication. The bark is used to treat dysentery and malaria; the powered bark can also be used to treat scorpion stings. The fruit's skin is used to treat diarrhea, and in the Philippines the dried skin is burned as a mosquito repellent.

The skin, especially of the langsat variety, can be dried and burned as incense.
The greatest producers of lansium domesticum are Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. The production is mostly for internal consumption, although some is exported to Singapore and Hong Kong.

February 26, 2012

Baby Boy or Baby Girl?

Since the beginning of the Chinese civilisation patriarchy has been the issue of the day. Every Chinese man would like to have a male offspring. It was common place to hear of Chinese marriages being terminated because of lack of male offsprings and all the blame would go to the female womb which was not "strong enough" to fight for the mother!! Indeed many  mothers throughout the history of the Chinese even committed suicide when no son was born after giving birth to 10 or more daughters!! And obviously female infanticide was most rampant in the 19th century from the documentation found in the archives.But the other side of coin if we look deeply many of these "unwanted females" fought and did more for the society  than the males!!Such is my Chinese background.

After I have given birth to THREE girls in the 70's and 80's...neighbours and relatives came around to give me plenty of advice.

Here are some :
An aunt who had many boys told me to eat more vegetables than meat to conceive a boy.

Then the usual belief that you need to conceive in the middle of the ovulation period to guarrantee a boy seem to be the most popular. Well that is good for people who have regular periods and can count well.

One man friend even asked me to put a huge axe underneath my bed which would guarrantee a male offspring.

A friend told me to wash with a special combination of leaves to wash away the "female spirits" from my body...

Another friend advised me to go for a special "drainage of the uterus" to take out all the wrong acids and alkalis and have a clean uterus for the next conception. (I did not dare!)

But I did enjoy all the herbs friends provided...Life was so good trying out all those herbal treats!! (Not treatments LOL)

Then came the fad of Feng Shui and all sorts of ideas circulated around but for a very big fee!!

Furthermore as I looked into all these options I also realise that Sarawak with its multi racial background there were other kinds of advice and theories . But I am glad that most of my friends were really caring enough to help me "get a boy".

However the following recount may not prove anything. But it was the desperate measure I took in order to conceive..and hope for a boy. I already had three girls and was quite happy with myself being the modern and educated woman I was.But again I was doubtful...what if I had another girl?

But neighbours and colleagues had started to cluck their tongues and continued to try their best to "educate" me in having a boy.

Apart from praying every day for a son I did follow this chart..or was it coincidence?


Throughout the pregnancy I did not go for a scan to check whether it was a boy or girl as I did not want to be disappointed. I allowed nature to take its course...I just waited for the delivery and it was to be in the Lau King Howe Hospital because it was going to be difficult as I experienced foetal distress quite early. I had pre-eclyampsia almost from the beginning.

This chart is derived from some Ancient Chinese research. You need to read the upper horizontal (umur) column which states your age. The month is on the left vertical column and you can read all the Ps and Ls in the other columns below the age..that will guide you on  sex of the baby. So should you want to conceive a  boy at age 31 you should try in March.P is for perempuan or baby girl. L is for Lelaki or baby boy.

 Now I am not sure if you should be following the Chinese Age only. But according to the chart I conceived my fourth child when I was .36 in May and the baby was born a boy!! My first baby was conceived in Sept when I was 26 and well..she was a bouncing curly haired little princess!!

Please check this out with friends who have already given birth...and it might not be 100% accurate.

By the way this chart has been circulating around for more than 30 years and I only used it in 1985 and 1986 when my colleagues shared it with me..

My boy was born in Sibu during the Rabbit Year of 1987.at 7.02 p.m. on a Friday...The delivery was almost a disaster . However thanks to a special and caring  gynaecologist who  had to come to rescue  . He was in the middle of his dinner. The doctor in attendance also came to monitor the foetal distress. And I was told to be strong and not lose my vision!! A simple and successful delivery can be carried out by experienced midwives - and I had no doubt about their expertise!!. My cousin Dr.T had been monitoring my pregnancy from Kuching . Here I would to thank all the nurses and midwives and doctors who formed to team to deliver the healthy baby boy who had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck...

He was welcomed to the world by a loud applause from the team which had been so expectant and worried..

Yes indeed..a boy and I do believe that the whole Sibu was happy that he was a boy....

..and he would soon be 25!!  God blessed me with a boy and he has grown up to be a very responsible and caring son.

(This chart can surface every now and then in magazines or even newspapers...but what you can do is have a check on the children you already have. Is the chart accurate? Did I get a boy really on that specific day?)

February 25, 2012

Putih - the White Pony in 1974 - The Story of two Peace Corps Teachers

In 1974 I was posted to Limbang Secondary School .

I have very good memories this school which was thriving under Mr. Phang and a whole load of bumiputra and non bumiputra teachers and students who were future oriented and hardworking against all odds. But a large part of my life in Limbang was Putih - the white Sabah pony.

I did think of running away with the circus when I was young. So Putih featured really big when I taught in the school for a year. He was the resident horse (even though he was really a Sabah Pony).

Photo courtesy of George Matthias (1970) Putih with Anthony Berauk

Putih and his partner a young filly were bought by Richart Shaltz and Len Edwards who were Peace Corps Volunteers teaching in Lawas Government School in 1968. The two ponies cost $100 each - rather cheap to many but it was one third of their full month PC allowance. They shipped the two ponies from Sabah to Lawas and the students were exposed to horse riding and stable work!! Many teachers and students enjoyed interaction with the two ponies and perhaps a few Lun Bawang students became very attached to them. Every one who could ride rode bare back (without saddle).

Many single teachers and Shaltz and Edward ate in the school dining hall and that was another part of shared lives which both teachers and students appreciated.Food was simple but the school non academic staff and the academic staff were like family. These are some of the best memories of Lawas teachers and students.

The years passed by and when Mr. Goh and a few other teachers in Limbang Secondary heard that Putih was very abused in 1973 Mr. Phang (who was then the Principal of the school) was convinced that Putih should be brought to Limbang . He decided to deputise the late Balang Lasung (who was then a junior teacher in the school)and a Lawas student who was familiar with Putih - to fetch Putih. It was an amazing and gargantuan task for Balang to put Putih on a cargo coastal ship from Lawas..and from Lawas Putih came to Limbang.

Putih was much loved in Limbang. Students all wanted to wash and feed him. He was given a nice stable or whatever you call it and out of no where there was food for him!! Naturally the school management did not have any budget for a pony in the school which was supported by meagre government allocation. Even food for the students was like $1.60 per head (lower than Prisoners according to some quarters). But Putih put on weight and Balang looked after him really well.

Thus Putih became our school pony.

If Putih had helped students grow in stature and character then it was a real bonus.

Students who went together to groom Putih developed a real relationship with each other. As they cared for him they also developed as great love for animals and compassion for living things.

For me I was just so touched by Balang's love for the animal and how he could ride Putih. He brought cowboy and horses to reality in the small town of Limbang.

Most of the boys loved patting the pony and every now and then they would speak to him like a friend. It must have been very therapeutic for some little Form One boys who were homesick for their families and kampongs which were far away from Limbang. Many of these little boys were from places like Long Semado and Long Lellang - two or three days away..and one or two days of walking again from the end of the road!! Probably many would like to own a horse so that they could ride one whole day and one whole night to go home...and then come back to school again. How they wished for Horse Power!! I myself even entertained such thoughts too..of riding a horse all the way to Sibu where I came from. High adventure that is...

If we had lots of memories of a good pony in a special school and lots of tales about him then we have to thank the two Peace Corps volunteers for bring Putih into our lives!! Thanks Richard and Len for buying us Pets!! We also have to thank Mr Phang and the late Balang Lasung for bringing Putih to Limbang Government Secondary school.

Well you see...when people want to do something and you get people around you to do it together...things move!! Even an abused pony could be brought "home" where it was loved and cared...and our lives became richer because of these acts of kindness.

Indeed the caring of a special white pony in our school was a special part of my life. My 1974 year was remarkable and unforgettable.

1974 - touched by Putih - a white pony.

(P/s if you have personal encounters with this pony please write in and let me know..and I am sure Richard Shaltz and Len Edwards would like to know too...Cheers)

February 24, 2012

Flying Horse Brand Soy Sauce of Miri

Just a drop of soy sauce and we could eat our porridge rapidly. There is just so much taste in soy sauce during our childhood.

Soy sauce is indeed a comforting condiment . My childhood was really remarkable because of just a small dish of soy sauce every day be it the thick verson or thin watery version. And we were not aware of the nastiness of too much salt in our lives.

In fact so many families I knew of honestly claimed that it was soy sauce who saved them when they had so little to eat!! Just rice..a bit of soy sauce and some peanuts or bean sprouts every day until the bread winner could bring back more earnings!!

The Flying Horse Brand of Miri was started with the recipe of a wonderful woman!! So indeed behind a successful man is a strong and intelligent woman.

One of the most popular soy sauce produced in Asia is the Flying Horse brand. And not many people actually realise that the factory is actually situated in Miri itself.

for years the factory in Krokop Miri has a huge bottle of Flying Horse Brand Soy Sauce at the gates as its landmark.

The compnay is family owned and actually the soy sauce recipe came from the great grandmother who originated from China. Today the well educated third and fourth generations are running the company using modern techniques and systems of management.

Established in year 1967, Hua Chan Sauce Factory (Miri) began producing soy sauce in bottles in Krokop in Miri.

In 2004 the compnay moved to its new premises. The  company in  2005,  was accreditated with the RvA Quality & Food Safety Management System (HACCP) certificate (Reg. No. 051101h) and HALAL Certificate (No. Jakim / (22. 00) / 492 / 2 / 1024-11 / 2004) .
Furthermore in 2009, the company successfully obtained ISO 22000:2005 (Food Safely Management) certification. In the same year, the company upgraded its RvA HACCP to MS1480:2007 HACCP certification.

The soy sauces are naturally brewed and high quality soy bean from Canada and the crystal white seawater salt from Australia are the main raw materials. the soy sauce is aged for full flavor to give the wonderful flavor and aroma.

Products' name: Dark Soy Sauce, Light Soy Sauce, Thick Soy Sauce
Brand name: Flying horse
Place of origin: Sarawak, Malaysia

February 22, 2012

Stories from Nang Chong - Jelutong trees

Imagine 1905 in Sibu and a young man from China who had the determination of Dick Whittington and the pioneering spirit of Johnny Appleseed!! He was faced with this thick jungle of huge trees and lots and lots of creepers. And underneath him was this swamp land and his feet had disappeared into the soft black marshy and peaty soil. He looked around and he could not find his north!!

He was lost and the mosquitoes were eating him alive!! But he grit his teeth and clamped his lips real tight and moved on. Inch by inch - one foot pulled out of the sluggish mud after another until he could find that jelutong tree which would bleed white liquid for him to sell to the traders for just a few cents. And the few cents he would collect until they became a dollar!! He had met with Melanaus and Ibans in Sungei Merah and Sibu and found out from them the important jungle products he could harvest from the forests. He was young and strong and he had nothing to lose. If only he could some some jelutong trees!!

His sweat streamed down his face - something he had not gotten used to yet. The sweat was salty and his eyes smarted. Was he lost? He must pressed on and find one jelutong tree before he could turn back to his wooden coolie house. He moved on as if his life depended on it. He must not give up after travelling so many thousand miles from Fuzhou to set up a new home in Sibu. He must carry on!!

And God must have shown him the silhouette of the jelutong tree like he did to me that day at Sg. Liang Forest...the lovely leaves and the straight trunks!

For years I have been looking for jelutong trees to photograph. And I am so glad that I have finally found a few in the Sg. Liang Forest Recreation Park recently. I believe my grandfather must have felt exhilarated when he found his first jelutong tree in Sibu and started to tap it.

Indeed when I looked up at the rustling leaves of the jelutong tree the sounds they made were like the clinks of small pieces of  thin silver hitting each other.

Jelutong (Dyera costulata), a hardwood tree with an unbuttressed trunk grows to 60 -80 metre tall in the tropical rainforest. Its straight grain, low density and fine texture properties are popular with model makers. Its roots are used as a cork substitute . 

In the early 1900's the jelutong was sold to traders in Singapore because Europe had a demand for it . It was an important source of chewing gum.

My grandfather according to our family stories was often lost looking for jelutong and fruits like an explorer. Through his sheer hardwork and expertise he was able to raise a large family and built a large personal fortune. He did indeed achieve his dreams of becoming someone significant in his society. The Fuzhou street fortune teller had told him when he was about 8 years old "Tieh Tieh (young brother) you must go by boat to a distant land far far away where you will find fame and fortune."

There are very few jeluitong trees left in the forests of Sarawak. However I do hope that some could be grown in some of the parks of Sarawak to remind the younger generation how hard the pioneers and the indigenous people had worked to earn a little bit of money to feed their families!!

Many a tree is found in the wood
And every tree for its use is good
Some for the strength of the gnarled root
Some for the sweetness of flowers or fruit
-Henry Van Dyke ( 'Salute The Trees')

The term Lok Dong Dai (aka chiew neng dai) in Foochow refer jelutong bands or rubber bands. I believe few people actually realise this connection with jelutong trees.

And indeed whenever our uncles and aunties talk about lok tong chiew (jelutong trees) they would shiver because of the difficulties of collecting the latex in the swamp.

There are two kinds of jelutong trees in Sarawak - swamp and hill jelutong trees. Brunei at the moment has many along the highway from KB to Bandar and Sg. Liang Forest park showcases many jelutong trees.

(Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping who arrived in Sibu on 16th March 1901 )

February 21, 2012

Hammerhead Shark - 1950's and 2010's

In the 1950's my father's hobby in photography took him to many places in Sarawak where he took many black and white photos and developed them into the 3 inch square copies. The Anna Studio and the Art Friends of Sibu used to print his photos. Indeed their work is very commendable because these prints remain in very good conditions after almost 60 years!!

In those days photography was an expensive hobby and my father being quite frugal did not make many copies . Furthermore he did not buy many of those Kodak films for his Rolleiflex camera. His hobby was simple and I must say he was not overly productive where his photographs were concerned. Not like today when photographers who use digital cameras  DSLR  can "click away".and delete when the photos are not that delightful.
This photo was taken in the 1950's. A juvenile hammerhead was hauled up after it was hooked.
Lovely eyes of a hammerhead.

Hammerheads are very overfished because they have huge fins and they are furthermore commonly found in South East Asian waters and the Pacific.

In fact Fuzhou(China)is one of the largest exporters of shark meat (both fresh and frozen). Salted shark meat is also very popular amongst the Asians in general. A lot of the shark meat is made into fish balls. Sibu also has large frozen fish and fish ball factories which provide not only a good income for the locals but also has made some of the local Foochows multi millionaires.

By the way the ancient native Hawaiians consider sharks "gods".
I am not a shark expert but this looks like a scalloped hammerhead.

Full body picture. I thank the fishmonger for allowing me to take this photo  of a  seldom caught hammerhead

Today the Hammerhead is on the endangered list.

 But when an occasional hammerhead arrives in a market it does not mean that our fishermen are the culprits of overfishing of the hammerheads. This hammerhead is one of the rare ones caught and is put on display. For fish fans like me I really appreciate such a view.and the friendliness of the fishmongers who are very knowledgeable.

February 17, 2012

Quarters for Methodist Secondary School Teachers (Sibu)

One of the longest standing living quarters for teachers must be the first house from the gate of the Methodist Secondary School. Built in 1950 this house is still standing there bringing lots of memories to the students who have gone through the gates of the school and are now more than 50 years old!!

I wonder if someone can come up with the whole list of families who had lived in this house!

Each time I revisit my mother school I see this house and I can hear the children's voices and even imagine the tricycles they rode along the safe roads in the school compound....and I really relish the thought that we stduents never really trespassed (e.g. hang around the unfenced compound) . Without fences we had an "imaginary out of bounds" delineation!

I remember when I entered Form One I was exhilarated by my own "educational success" and felt top of the world for a year. Learning was such a "freedom" gained for me. I could sail into a unknown and uncharted sea and let my imagination run wild!! I absorbed everything the teachers taught us and especially science. I read the amazing book by Tom Dooley and realised how important it was to have democracy and freedom.

Mr and Mrs. Wong Bing Sing and Wendy (they lived in the house for a long time)
Another important part of my life then was observing how great it was to have a family..loving couple with happy children growing up together in a safe school compound...all riding tricycles and chatting away in English!!! I nursed thoughts of having a life partner who shared the same working working environment and living in a school compound like this. One can really keep the family safe and together. And no never for me a husband who would work in Indonesia and come home a stranger!! The married teachers in my former school really set very good examples and God has really blessed them with prosperity and good health.

Those were the days....what are your thoughts of your former school and its compound?

February 16, 2012

Deep Fried Bean Curd

Can you still remember the first time you tried to deep fry something? Meat? Vegetable?

Actually one of the first things my mother ever deep fried was Tou foo. Hence I remember how we love Deep fried Foochow Tou Foo which  has been around since my younger days.

I will always remember them as my first deep fried food. In the 1950's no Foochow actually knew about deep fried Southern (American) chicken (ala KFC).

According to my aunt deep frying is a method used for "frying" snacks. Hence Pisang Goreng and all the cucur...

The Foochows make two kinds of tou foo - one is called the water tou foo or the soft tou foo which is usually used for soup.

Many Foochows would consider deep fried food too heaty. We usually preferred steaming,braising and just plain stir frying. Baking was troublesome as most people in those days did not have ovens with good temperature controls.

And then we have the hard tou foo which is sometimes called the tou foo cake or in Foochow Tou Wan. This is good for making of meat balls and steamed minced meat There is one dish that I like too : stir fried tou foo with bean sprouts.

Each is peculiar in texture and taste.

Sometimes I wonder if we could ever live without tou foo!! It is really a God given food.

As Confucius had asked "Why is it possible to have a cake from such a small amount of liquid?"

Tofu, made of soybean, is a traditional Chinese food known throughout the world.

Tofu is said to originate in the Western Han Dynasty. At the time, Liu An, the grandson of Emperor Liu Bang, was eager to learn the magical art of immortality, so he went deep into the mountain to refine immortal pills. He failed in his efforts to produce immortal elixirs, instead, a pile of white and tender material with enticing fragrance was produced after combining the bean juice with bittern. The brave local peasants tried to taste the product, only to find that it was delicious. And it was named “bean curd” or “tofu”. Liu An became an unexpected inventor of tofu, and his hometown, Shouxian County of Anhui Province, has been dubbed as “hometown of tofu”.

Simple in production and cheap in cost, tofu soon became people’s favorite delicacy. After the Song and Ming Dynasties, the culture of tofu spread even more widely. Many scholars and celebrities also took part in spreading the culture. The great writer of the Northern Song Dynasty Su Dongpo had a special fancy for tofu, and invented a tofu dish called Dongpo Tofu. The poet Lu Yiu of the Southern Song Dynasty also recorded the preparation of tofu dish in his anthology. More interesting is a record about tofu and Emperor Kangxi. When in Suzhou on his inspection tour to South China, Emperor Kangxi granted not gold, jade and curios to his high officials, but the dishes of tofu which were infused with a strong local flavor.

As tofu culture spread far and wide, people of different areas have continuously developed and enriched the recipes for the preparation of tofu dishes on the basis of their own tastes, such as Mapo tofu, stinky tofu, and uncongealed tofu pudding, etc. Simple as tofu is, it can be made into a table of Chinese dishes complete with beautiful color, sweet smell, and delicious taste.

Today, tofu and its derivative products has become a common food has gone globabl Two small pieces of tofu can satisfy a person’s need of calcium for the day.

Several times the toufoo I bought broke into pieces or smashed under some yams due to an oversight or a car breaking suddenly...and there was nothing to be alarmed about. Broken toufoo? Make a great Foochow Soup!! We can always have a good laugh too.

Or even Mapo tou foo...

To me tou foo is an excellent food because it is different with different sauces and I can never be tired of it and I am glad my children love it as much as I do. I can say..through thick and thin, in times of troubles and joy...tou foo to the rescue!!

February 15, 2012

Tapioca Leaves with Torch Ginger Flowers Stir Fry

Quoting from my friend XXXX "If I cook this dish for my husband...he will love me ten times more!!"

I too believe that this is almost the National Dish of Sarawak!!

This dish is without doubt an all time favourite amongst those who have grown up with tapioca leaves in their backyard and those who have accept the Iban culture as their own.

Tapioca growing in a backyard ...a good Iban housewife would plant this immediately when she moves to a new house.

this is the traditional way of pounding the tapioca leaves - a big wooden mortar with a wooden  pestle. You can however use an ordinary mortar and pestle..or just use your hands to crunch the leaves.

In my family...love is a plate of tapioca leaves stir fry...or daun ubi goreng.....

February 14, 2012

Would I cook you a Valentine Day's Dinner?

What shall I write on Valentine's Day?

A Poem perhaps?

A Little Love Goes a Long Way

If I am in the mood and you fill my heart
 I can heat up my stove for you
May be that little spark is still there
And it is enough to ignite a love deep within

But that depends on if I love you enough
And so if I do love you enough...
I would go to the beach and catch crabs
...trap a soft shelled tortoise

If I do love you enough
I would go into the jungle
and pick some meedin
and fry up a spicy dish of the ferns

That is...
if I love you enough
and you love me enough to make me love you enough.....
But may be ..EVEN if you don't love me that much

I will cook you a fine dinner...anyway...
For may be a little love goes a long long way.

Feb 14th...

To all my friends and loved ones...Valentine's Day is a day for dreams...and  never let disappointments cloud your sense of judgement...

Make your love for the world a special energy to get you set your sights and ambitions at another and higher level!

You have a heart and let your love flow out to those around you...

God has a good plan for you!! All of us are surrounded by love in all its manifestations and even the loneliest can find that sparkle somewhere if he cares to look for it.

Food for thought!! And these photos will sum up my feast for you.....

Labi labi (soft shelled tortoise) cooked in special herbs..
Deep fried three egg crabs
Stir fried mee din in Foochow Red Wine

Happy Valentine's Day from Sarawak......

February 12, 2012

Chap Goh Mei "Reunion" with loved ones

I did not want to write this article earlier in case it rubs my readers the wrong way.

Do some of your older relatives "call their dearly departed" home for the New Year and Chap Goh Mei reunion dinner? A few of my aunts and cousins do this while some of them are Christians some are not. Some have learnt this ritual from their own mothers in China as one of my cousins told me. She had witnessed how her own mother cried such such "reunions" in China.But not all Foochows practise this today.

Here is a description of my aunt's Chap Goh Mei Reunion dinner with her "dearly departed"

this is an ancient Chinese painting. the empty seats are for those friends
who have already gone from this life.

When the food was all ready my aunt invited her "guests" by opening her main door and calling them to come into the living room. After a short while when she had seen that her table was all ready she went to the photos (usually we Foochows hang photos of our dearly departed on the "main wall" by calling them individually asking them to take their seats at the table....

And then she sat  down at the table and started talking to them one after another in the family's hierarchical order. She reported whatever had been happening throughout the year. It was like a counselling session with the elders paying attention to her. ( Occasionally in the past when there were other living relatives within ear shot she might even speak louder for both sets of people to hear ..I know my aunt sometimes cries very loudly but most of the time she is serene and collected.)

Reminding them of what the younger generation has been doing my aunt was like submitting a report card for each of her children to the grandparents and dearly departed father!! Others might interpret this differently. It could be her way of doing reverse psychology.

Again more often than not her own married children would not be with her when she carried out this ritual as they would be doing their "living reunion" with their own children. I guess when a mother lives alone and she does not want to spend her new year with her children she must have a good plan to fall back on. And this aunt of mine chooses this ritual for herself for reasons best known to her.

Another way of "reuniting with the dearly departed" was how an elderly cousin of mine stood before the photo of her dearly departed husband and with tears in her eyes she recounted her own stories for example about the 13 months her husband was in the New Village "prison" in Kuching because her late husband was suspected of taking part in  Communist activities or was a Communist sympathiser.

She went on to remind him how she raised their children while he was away for 13 months and how she tilled the land and saved money to visit him in Kuching...and then she told him how she suffered when he was dying from liver cancer.

This monologue before the photo took about half an hour and I witnessed it only once when I was her other guest at her special chap goh mei dinner. In fact I found it quite hard to eat the dinner with her after her special reunion. There were only two of us as she is a vegetarian and I happened to be free to be with her.

I am sure deep in my aunt's heart she still misses her late husband especially. And as for my cousin there is no doubt even up to now she still loves her late husband very very much. She came all the way from China to marry him without even knowing him in 1950. She was a child bride of those long ago days. And she had really helped him through thick and thin and now with all the wealth that she had accumulated she is spending them on her children and grandchildren. Indeed to my knowledge she was the one who did all the farming and hardwork to buy land and property.

These are two rituals which several of my Foochow elders continue to take part...I wonder if there are other rituals left in this modern world?

February 11, 2012

Chicken Rice Balls in Brunei

A few years ago we visited Melaka as a family. We did what tourists did and enjoyed the various programmes.

Then we had to look for some nice food. And of course on the top of the list was Melaka Chicken Rice Balls.

The shop was crowded with diners and we had to queue. It wasn't a joke to queue in the hot sun - way down the dusty road too. Temperatures must have been hovering around 100 degrees... and tempers were equally hot!!

We must have been waiting for about 30 minutes and you know what malaysians do best? Some people jumped Q!!

Well we had to wait again for our turn and finally after ten minutes more we got our HALF table. By that time the whole family was not speaking to each other..and we were quite full with roadside food - t he rojak and the biscuits and the drinks my young children were buying...

the diners who shared our table were NOT what the Malaysian advertisements say...Malaysia..truly Asia..with all the smiles and nice body language!!

So...what' the moral of the story?

These are really huge rice balls. The sauce is not quite to my liking but the chicken is as good as any Hainanese styled chicken.
Photos are pinned up above the order counter. A few tables found in this cafe are clean and the staff is quite friendly. There is enough space for young parents to bring in their prams .

May be we should make our own chicken rice balls and give this shop a miss....in Melaka..

or Never go to Melaka to eat Chicken rice..

or don't queue when the queue is long....

We came home thinking..what's so great about the chicken rice balls..

This shop in BANDAR has good CRB...have a try...

February 10, 2012

Buah Puak or Tampoi

Buah Puak is the Iban name for this lovely fruit.It may not be as fleshy as an avacado or a Thai mango but eating it according to a nice Iban young man is nostalgic. The sweetness reminds him of his parents and his grandparents in the longhouse.

"You can eat all the mangoes your wallet can allow you but this fruit is special because it is only found in my village specificially and in Borneo." He explained.

Buah Tampoi / Tampui 單貝果 Baccaurea macrocarpa is indeed a very unique fruit .

It is dark when young and it starts to turn its colours as it ripens. From a distance the red colours become very attractive to those with a keen eye. In Limbang buah puak trees are found from time to time along the road and usually quite close to the kampongs. This tree is a cultivated tree although many people believe otherwise. But then perhaps it was five or six generations ago when the Iban settlers who were brought by the Brooke government to this part of  Sarawak that they grew the fruit seeds they brought from Skrang!!

The leaves are luxuriant and often times you need to have a keen eye to find the fruits. First you must recognise the leaves and then find the fruits underneath.

A fully ripened puak tree!! As beautiful as a cherry tree.

The beautiful puak when still young - it has a greenish dark brown skin and is thus unattractive. Animals like squirrels and monkeys are not attracted to this colour. The law of nature thus makes the fruit pretty in colour when ripe so that it can propagate!!
The skin of the ripe fruit is easily bruised like all fruits. To harvest the fruit you have to be a good climber of trees or you can use a stick to fell the fruit which usually leads to bruising. But bruising does not destroy the quality of the flesh as the fruit has a thick skin. Monkeys and squirrels love this fruit.

This fruit is divided into three sections. You have to take time to suck the sweetness out of the lobe . The flesh sticks to the seed. and is not what people call "kopek" (flesh leaves the seed)

When the durian season is over the longhouse residents continue to enjoy their rambutans and langsat.

One of the last remaining fruits would be the Puak. As the sun sets behind the hill it is nice to sit down by the river side and enjoy the clean fruit...the skins can be thrown back into the river for fish to bite. Then it is time to set up the net or pukat ..ready for another exciting day. Early morning will be glorious as it would be time to check the pukat for fish...and then more fruit harvesting while the season can still hold its ending!!

N.B. It is also a good idea to build a compost with all the fruit skins of the season or even make enzymes.

February 9, 2012

Jakar - Breakfast

If you are on a road trip from Miri or Sibu to Kuching you have to stop at Jakar for a R and R break.

Most people would prefer to hit Jakar in the morning before noon!! And for only one reason - the Prawn Noodles!!

Happy is the man who can enjoy his Prawn Noodle.....with good chopsticks skills and all...

This is Mr. Benson a retired Headmaster from Miri who is enjoying his noodles.

A very exceptional characteristic of Sarawakians is that all of them try their very best to use the chopsticks and enjoy the food or culinary art of other races.

Being able to enjoy each other's food or sharing of food is such a comforting sight in Sarawak.

Many restaurants today depend on the support of all the races. Hence menus do cater for the taste buds of other races.

Service of the waiters and waitresses also have improved over the years. Customer service is just so important to maintain profits and reputation.

And it is good that the chefs and the proprietors can speak the local languages. Indeed the Jakar Chinese towkays all speak excelent Iban and BM..and some even speak Melanau. Linguistic skills often endear the business people to their clients.

And for the noodles...extra heat from the extraaaaa chillies do go a long long way...

A warm reception is always a good sign for good business.

February 8, 2012

My Gipo Detergent " Prizes" or free gifts

Setting up home is not really that easy. In the western world a wedding would often be the time for friends and relatives to collaboratively help the new couple equip the home with some basic gifts for they will ask the bride to make a list of what she wants for her new home. The normal Chinese practice is the "ang pow" that the bride's parents would give to the daughter on the day she gets married. The groom's family will usually give an "ang pow" which traditionally has been the "bride price" or dowry. Some parents putting the two sums of money together would give the bride her "bridal gifts". The last time I saw the bride gifts czrried from the bride's home was in Limbang. Five gifts carried in bamboo poles all the way down along the Kubong road behind a brass band. The car was decorated and turned into a bridal sedan with the lovely bride inside.

My wedding was not at all like that as it was not traditional. By my time bridal gifts tied to bamboo poles.and carried by bare chested men  was out of fashion !! Furthermore mine was a simple low keyed event.
How did I collect 36 stone ware plates in one year?

My friend's Dinner table

Our Foochow and Sarawakian cultures are not quite the same so to speak. Most newly weds would stay with the in laws in those days and there was little entertainment of friends in the formal and western sense. And culturally a dinner set would not be part of the bridal gifts.

One of the most interesting "collection" I made was the 36 stone ware plates..It was a frenzied time because I had to buy 2 packets of Gipo detergents per week to get one free dinner plate!! That was a very nostalgic year for me in Sungei Merah where we bought our own home.

And I do believe that this free gift was so popular that we had to hover around the sundry shop to wait for the new batch of free gifts and Gipo soap powder at weekends!! I remember I would bring my two small children then to Sungei Merah and wait for the goods to unload even!! It was also an anxious time because there were quite a number of ladies waiting for the same purpose. The "towkay" was kind and the most he could allow each one of us to buy was 4x2..That meant that I could buy up to 8 boxes of Gipo and take home 4 plates...In the end my whole collection took me a year ..That was both tense and fun.

And cousins would compare their collection over the phone. It was almost like our younger days of collecting marbles and stamps...

A friend once commented "You still have them? None broken?"
And I answered "Yes...almost complete set...and I have not been throwing them at my husband ...It is just not a Foochow habit to break bowls or plates when angry!!"
He answered..."Ah...more men should marry Foochow girls..."


Recently to my surprise my friend brought her set all the way from Miri to Perth!! And she owns one of the bigger serving plates too to match the dinner plates!! How delightful!

Naturally I have broken some of the stone ware plates through wear and tear but after 30 years I still have 28 of them left.

Today I suppose lagies (and some men) will continue to collect stamps) to buy some items in Parkson's or Supa Save.....

Collecting these free gifts can be quite memorable..and it does make one quite proud of one's achievements.

Ever since I took a course on Chinese Ceramics in my university days I have the habit of checking the hall marks of any ceramics/ware. I don't consider myself rude at all when I turn plates over to look. I am just like any interested ceramic lover...trying to look for that famous hall mark which may make the owner rich beyond her/his dreams...may be a Tang Dynasty ware? A celadon? or a Ming Dynasty blue and white?

The Gipo plates have these marks..

Mountain Wood Collection
Dried Flowers
Oven to Table
Microwave Oven and
Dishwasher Safe

thank you thank you Gipo for bringing so much joy to my table for so many years!!

Now I am wondering if I should ask friends and readers to let me have some more of these plates if they want to retire them.? ....

(Please also note that my friend has a good collection of other dinner sets over the years besides these lovely stoneware..)

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