May 29, 2012

Stories from Nang Chong : Ferns and Snakes during Japanese Occupation F

Do you know why my mother does want to eat Meedin or fern tops today?

When my mother's family and almost all the other Chinese families in Sarawak were in dire straits during the Japanese occupation the women folks took to the field to look for food from any source possible. My mother was still in her teens and together with her sister in law took to the jungle behind their riverine village in Nang Chong  They had to be careful because there were huge snakes lurking about. She had never seen so many snakes in her life!! I suppose snakes in those days were also running away from human disturbance...and some miss read their routes and slithered into human settlements.

The ladies had to rise early. As the saying goes the early bird catches the worm...They had to be early to get the best of the meedin.Any late comers might not gather any meedin at all.

.It was a very difficult period of time in Sarawak. The Japanese considered the Chinese their traditional sworn enemies who had to be "subjugated". The natives and Malays and Melanaus were spared the torture and inhuman treatment.

Few people would dare to plant rice because they would be in the field and exposed to any Japanese gun at any time.Chickens and any other farm animals would also be "arrested" by soldiers whenever they dropped by. So to be safe the Foochows kept a very low profile and kept their farm houses looking as empty as possible. Girls had to hide in jars and the huge rice bins at times. Any sound of a motor boat would give my mother goosebumps today. In those days it was really hard for the girls especially.

 God was provident at all times and looked after every one in those days. Prayers often helped and in his special provision food just popped up in the proverbial backyard!!

However malnutrition was rife because the people were not eating the right kind of food. Civil security in the rural areas was unheard of and padi farming (the Foochows were allowed to settle in Sarawak because the Rajah had planned to make the Rajang the Rice Bowl of Sarawak) was almost at a standstill. However the natives continued to practise their subsistence farming away from the threats of the Japanese. Indeed one of the causes of my maternal grandfather's early and untimely demise was malnutrition. With his health conditions he was not getting the right food for those three years and 8 months and even before the dropping of the Atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki he passed away...It was just so tragic!!

My mother and her sister in law (Hii Ngiik Giu) would start out early in the morning as the sun rose on the eastern banks of the Rajang to look for meedin with their Sibu made aluminium buckets. They had to work hard to get the freely growing meedin before other women got to them!!

 Mother used to tell us that if we woke up early we would never be afraid of starvation. (meh gian moh sieh) Within a few hours both of them after harvesting the quick growing and never ending supply of meedin from the footpath leading behind the house to the primary school....would come back with two bucket full of meedin and that was food for the day. Meedin would be made into soup for the whole family of more than 10 accompanied by boiled sweet potatoes . The 3 years 8 months of Japanese Occupation saw my mother and her family having this kind of food every day.

The sons of my eldest uncle Pang Ping were still very young and they too had these supplemented by their mother's milk. My late cousin ah Jiew was born during this time. Before him were two older brothers and a sister Kiing Huong (Mrs. Tie Chi Hua).

This is a lovely spoonful of the pink soup of the meedin which is enhanced by adding some Foochow red wine too.

Recently I visited my mother in Kuching and took the opportunity to gather some meedin to cook in the morning  for my sisters. We enjoyed a special Foochow soup and talked about old days!! She on the other hand sat there reminiscing in her quiet ways and shook her head saying life was really tough in those days especially for her brothers Pang Sing and Pang Teck. My maternal grandmother was stranded in China with another son Pang Kui. They were to be absent at my maternal grandfather's funeral.

These memories might be very sad but once my mother got talking we really enjoyed the session. Food is a way to get an old lady talking about old days and  it also strengthened her whole being spiritually and physically!!

She is now 88 and continues to have an excellent mental state. Praise God!!

But meedin is  now not her "food" ...even though we would even order it in the best restaurant in town....It just brings too much painful memories...

Suggested recipe:
1 knob of ginger (smashed)
some garlic
a drop or two of cooking oil
a handful of meedin (better if gathered in the jungle)(1 ringgit worth)
some water
a drop or two of Foochow red wine
some salt

1. heat up the oil and stir fry the aromatics
2. stir fry the cleaned meedin (two inch long)
3. Add hot water to make enough soup for five people
4. Add some wine and salt to taste.

Japanese Occupation Meedin Soup is ready!!


Anonymous said...

those were the days of medin and paku cooked with sambal belacan..there were plentiful cos sibu still had lots of wild vegetations..these were the comfort food then........

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Today most people would like to order paku and meedin when they go to good is something they don't have the time to prepare.

Tourists find these two wild ferns very interesting also...and their photos often appear in travellers' magazines...

I personally think of them as organic vegetables.

Ann said...

My dad would not eat pumpkin and yam!!!!!

Why didn't your mum go catch fish?

The joke with the Chans was, Mum went back to her family home, and caught fish in the mud everyday. One day, Dad came to visit unannounced, she was coming home with fish and she was covered with mud. She refused to go inside the house, too embarrassed, the clan teased her, why you don't go to your husband. Mum was barely 16.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Good story there...mum had older brother to catch fish..but she was a padi farmer so no time to catch fish...not much fish in the river too...

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