March 26, 2012

Nang Chong Stories The Merlin of Nang Chong and the Eating of Fish

The eating of fish was part of village life as many Foochows were fishermen who went to sea then using the small "kotak" boats. And many of my uncles were fishermen when the rubber prices were low ..Many even doubled up as wharf labourers when times were bad and the seas were rough literally!! So in many ways they were multi-skilled in their simple ways.

The Rajang is the sister river to the Min River of the Fujian Province of China where the original Foochows came from in 1901.

An uncle of mine (Head Master  Hii Wen Hui-..he was always called Head Master by fellow villagers.)..taught us about fish..He impacted all the students he taught and many more like his associates and his colleagues...

His home was a little inland from my grandmother's house in Nang Chong and he was a great reader besides being a good decision maker. Many would go to see him for advice. I thought he was rather like Merlin in the tales of King Arthur . If only he could cast some spell too. He was my Merlin.

The wisdom from the Merlin of Nang Chong..

He taught us well...and one of the lessons was from eating different kinds of fish.

Bakrik or terubuk is sweet and the cheaper of the fish but the soup is sweet. So don't look down upon it. In the same way...a man might look scrawny and untidy...look into his good heart. Never look down upon a poor man.

We kids loved to eat terubok. Steamed terubuk in those days were very sweet. When we had more cooking oil..we had crunchy and crispy deep fried terubuk..and even the fins tasted good..they lasted longer in our mouth when we chewed them.

The Ngo Ngii or Thread fin is a higher end fish to the Foochows. It is fleshy and round. So according to my uncle..that would be the best fish to cook for an older member of the family. Uncle Hii showed us how to love our parents by example. He loved his parents like no one else in the the Nang Chong village. He was filial and philosophical about parental care and would never cross words with his frail father especially. But what was very impactful was how he treated his mute uncle (Pang Nga Ka ka) with the greatest respect any person could give. Pang Nga Ka ka never drove a car for he cycled until the day he passed away. Uncle Hii never failed to roll out the red carpet for his most people would ignore their physically challenged relatives when they are with very important people but not my Uncle Hii. He treated his elders with great respect and especially my maternal grandmother his mother in law. He would call her " Neh " non stop - more than my own uncles!! The Foochows call " Suong nian neh ah riang neh" non -stop calling Neh...And he would buy Ngo Ngii for her when she came to town.

I would never forget how Pang Nga Ka ka cried at my maternal grandmother's coffin. He was inconsolable. He too had loved my grandmother as much as his own nephew. Such was the great bond amongst the Nang Chong Foochows in those days. Because of Uncle Hii we kids learned to accept the physically challenged members of our community with great respect and love.

Uncle Hii taught us about different fish swimming in the sea from young. He taught us another  good lesson : there are hundreds of species in the sea and they have mutual respect for each other. Schools of the same species swim together. Can we do the same? Unfortunately there are lots of sharks around. So we have to be on the look out for each other. I think few of us actually look out for others nowadays. We tend to ignore things and when situations get worse..we say..."I knew it would happen" and then..too late..matters get worst! It is a pity we have too many of such uncaring people around us.

Uncle Hii was an expert in buying of fish. And to this day I would always think of him whenever I see fresh terubok and Ngo Ngii in the market.

But most important of all if you have the skills of a strategist or a help out your fellowmen and fellow women..Find your own Merlin.....I am glad we had our Merlin...

He knew I love history of the Foochows. He gave me the whole set of books by Lau Tze Cheng before he passed away. He did say to me once only (he said things once only when I was a naughty teenager- should learn more Chinese and play less hockey ...well as a young and energetic tom boy...I played too much hockey and later too much tennis - and indeed I live to regret it... But I am trying to make it up by learning more Chinese now...)

Yes if only the Merlin of Nang Chong could live forever.

(These photos were taken in Bintulu at the wharf just as fish was being unloaded in the early morning. A very memorable photography day indeed for me)


Anonymous said...

Talking about fishermen, I think Heng Hua are supposed to be more well known as fishermen than Foochow, but may be in the first Division.

While passing through Sg Merah, I used to see a lot of small boats along the river sides. This is no longer the view.

Anonymous said...


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Ann said...

This Mr. Hii, is he Mee Gee's dad?

Did he teach you too how to turn the fish over? We actually learn from the Foochows who had fisherman in their blood?

My parents said sometimes during the Makans, some idiots try to be GA KIANG, and flip the fish. and flip the wrong way. The foochow eldest get very angry.

Ann said...

when a cantonese baby is 100 days old, we are given the best steamed fish. That we, we don't choke on bones. My non cantonese husband says it is old wives tale. He is the one who chokes a lot.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous
the Henghuas of Sg. Merah and Bintawa were/are famous as the Chinese fishermen of Sarawak. The Heng Huas of Sibu however have grown in prosperity and have moved on to other businesses and opportunities. One of these days I will feature some of the old photos of Heng hua fishing boats berthed in Sg. Merah taken in the 1980's.
thanks for pointing this out.

(There was a Foochow fishermen's village in Belawai too and I was very fortunate to go out fishing with them for one whole day...
The Yu family)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann..yes he is Mee Gee's dad..very filial. You remember the old couple who lived with them? I learned sign language from Pang Nga ka ka (uncle)..but when I went to the uni I realised that I was signing in chip plak Foochow!! So I had to do the universal sign language..and did not do well. Mother tongue influence...hehehehe My classmates said they did not understand Foochow

No he did not teach me how to turn fish over..I suppose my grandma did...We also have a simple way of cooking fish with very little oil.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...ho ho ho....I love the choking part...May be I should tell this tale to friends who have new grandchildren..

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