December 29, 2013

White Rice Cake : Recipe

This is the Foochow Bah Gui (White Rice Cake Recipe) from my Third Aunt, Mrs. Lau Pang Sing

Ingredients:
1 packet of rice flour (non glutinous)
2 heaped tablespoons of tapioca flour (not corn flour)
3 cups of boiling water (200 gm each)
l tsp salt


Mix the above together to form a dough. Knead thoroughly

Finally add 2 more tablespoons of  tapioca flour for a final round of kneading to make a soft dough.
Roll into a tube, l inch in diameter and about 8 inches long. Or you can make round cakes of  1/2 inch thick and  2 inches wide.
If you have a bah gui mould, use it.

Prepare a steamer for steaming. Oil a basket or colander for steaming.
You must steam the rolls exactly 15 minutes. Do not peep otherwise the dough would not be cooked.

After steaming, you can cut up the roll or cakes when they are cooled. They are ready for frying.


You can always soak the dried ones which you can buy easily in any supermarket or Asian store now.

Photo from my blogger friendm, Sunflower Food Galore



 My way of preparing the Bah Kui at home:
1. Stir fry the lap cheong (optional), onions, garlic and freshly made bah gui slices in good cooking oil.
2. crack as many eggs as you like into the rice cakes and turn  over with the ladle until they are well mixed.
3. In another wok prepare pork or chicken slices with leeks, (*optional bean sprouts) cook them until well done.
4. Mix this leek and meat stir fry with the prepared bah gui mixture. Add soy sauce and chilli sauce to taste. I like my bah gui full of pepper with a bit of fish sauce.





 






 Mix the two parts together and you get a well fried bah gui that does not stick to the wok!!


December 28, 2013

Dress Making, Dress Makers and Dresses

Today I remember the Ah Ging (Mrs. Wong Jin Hieng王政贤 , the art teacher of Catholic High School, Sibu) who helped me dress up well smartly as an undergraduate and as a young teacher. My first Baju Kurong was made by her and so was my first ball gown.  Apart from dresses and blouses made by her, I was mostly clad in uni tshirts and long pants, the uniform of all undergrads.

Unfortunately I do not have photos of those two awesome custom made clothes made by her. They would have paid tribute to her skills. Many lecturers of Sarawak Teachers' College in Sibu then, went to see her to have their clothes custom made. Later when teaching in the Methodist School I also went to see her to have many dresses made.  We all remember her with great fondness. It is a pity she passed away 3 months ago in Kuching after a short illness.

Mrs. Wong's tailoring shop was above her own father's barber shop in Market Road, Sibu and her husband's art classes were conducted on the same floor. Mr. Wong is well known for his Chinese brush painting.

My own cousin,Angela Wong,  who lives in Rajang Park also made dresses for my mother and I. She was such a meticulous tailor that every stitch was evenly done and all stitching was straight. I remember her rushing clothes to make the deadlines and she was really prompt. Her children (who later studied medicine) helped her with the hemming and sewing of buttons. It was a very family activity. Her husband would help her send the cut materials for "eding" in the town, until they bought their own edging machine.
Three Sibu Matriarchs whose blouses are all hand sewn and custom made by their chosen dressmakers. My mum (middle) usually has hers done by Angela.

 Many young Foochow girls would take up dress making lessons before they got married as dress making would come in handy as a part time job or as a full time job even after marriage. Those were the significant years in Sibu when most people were penny pinching and life was truly simple.

My mother's god daughter, Ah Sieng, learned dress making and stayed with us for about 2 years (after my father's death). She was such a nice addition to the family and I enjoyed watching her progress, how she prepared the paper patterns ( pah du) and how she carried her basket of uncut cloth, square rulers, measuring tape and pins.

My sister made almost all the clothes for my daughters, especially their school uniforms. She also needed to draft paper clothes pattern (which she has been keeping for more than 20 years in her dress making book) My sister Sing is a great haute couture designer. If given a chance she would have worked in Paris. But being an introvert she did not give herself a chance. Instead she was happy as an English teacher in Sungei Merah.


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At university I was keen to have dresses made, and a large amount of  my scholarship was saved to buy presents at the end of the year. So when I bought materials from Globe Silk Store for myself and for my maternal grandma, I was very very happy. If I spent less money on movies I could get myself some material for a new dress. Workmanship in Sibu was only RM15 per dress in those days. Ah Ging always gave me special rates because she was so understanding. To day in Miri I cannot afford the RM100 workmanship per dress.
Most of the patterns were in Japanese and I was amazed how my dress makers could read all those figures and copy the patterns.






I was in love with buttons and threads. Still am. I fancied the four holed buttons most and would buy them even if I did not make any dresses or shirts. I used to have a drawerful of buttons, now I still have a small box of different coloured buttons, and they "would come useful one day".

With clothes available in departmental store and special boutiques we do not have to rely on dressmakers any more.

When I saw this in Fremantle, WA, I was thinking of all my nice dressmakers in Sibu, and how wonderful and skilful they were.

Angela and Ah Ging could have made the dress on the far right for me just by looking at the photo and with the help of their paper patterns.

But some special dressmakers would always be in our heart because they helped us to look pretty and have confidence in the society. And they were so kind hearted too for not over charging us.












December 26, 2013

Opium Smokers and Opium Dens in Sibu



I remember the first time my town cousins bringing me up to the Opium Den in Sibu and that was in 1958. The shop's first floor was full of wooden platforms but only one man was smoking his pipe in the early morning sunlight which came through the cracks of the wooden windows. But the smell of stale opium floated through the soured and thick air. We quickly made an escape before the man realised that we were peeping at him. We ran down the wooden staircase before any one came to beat us. (Photo is from Google tp show an opium pipe, as I do not have a personal photo of one)

A Fujian made special lacquered bamboo pillow. How many of you can remember your Chinese relatives' "head support"?
I heard that this kind of pillow, bamboo lacquered head rest was a favourite amongst opium smokers (My own photo)
This is what I have googled - Interestingly this is also a remnant of antique head rest from opium dens of the past. The Chinese words are Te (good value) Foo (blessing)
 
An opium den was an establishment where opium was sold and smoked. Opium dens were prevalent in many parts of the world in the 19th century, most notably China, Southeast Asia, North America and France




It is incredible that I can still remember clearly the sight of the opium den above the shop in Market Street. We had been told over and over again not to venture upstairs. We were hanging around the Hua Ing Book Shop owned by our uncle Mr. Lau, and not far along the five foot way was my cousins' maternal grandfather's barber shop. We had this awesome adventure while our uncle had his hair cut.

Later my Chinese teacher told us stories of opium dens in Sibu so that we would not fall into the traps of drug addiction. He told us that opium smokers in Sibu in the early 1930's and 40's were wasted fellows, who brought their whole families down to the bottom pit of the society and for generations they would be cursed. Their sins would be remembered for ever!! We were fairly frightened by what he told us, so we did not even like people who smoked. Being in the Methodist School, we were often reminded what Methodists won't do : won't smoke, won't drink, won't even dance, and of course won't even visit the brothels which were plentiful in Sibu in the 1960's.

And of course we secretly read about the Opium Wars of China and kept the stories of Lin Zexu in our hearts. Lin ( 30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850) was a scholar and official of the Qing Dynasty. And that made us pretty proud of this Foochow ancestor!!

He is most recognized for his conduct and his constant position on the "moral high ground" in his fight, as a "shepherd" of his people, against the opium trade in Guangzhou. Although the non-medicinal consumption of opium was banned by the Yongzheng Emperor in 1729,by the 1830s, China's economy and society were being seriously affected by huge imports of opium from British and other foreign traders based in the city. Lin's forceful opposition to the trade on moral and social grounds is considered to be the primary catalyst for the First Opium War of 1839–42.Because of this firm stance, he has subsequently been considered as a role model for moral governance, particularly by the Chinese. (All these facts were not found in the history books written by western historians for HSC and STPM exams)

Lin Zexu's statue in NewYork City (by Wong Meng Lei)



(I visited Lin's home in Fuzhou a few years ago and saw his life work and history)


The smell of the stale and sour opium smoke lingered around my nose for a long time. I could not tell my father about that special smoke in my nostrils. It was so different from the Lucky Strike smoke that surrounded my father.

Little did I know then that my grandfather's only brother was suffering from ill health and depression after his wife's untimely death in 24 Acres (Niek Si Gak). He later sold this piece of land to 6 families. When his supply of medication (opium) finished, he had to bring his little box to the then Brooke government clinic to claim his supply. When he was happy he would sing while paddling the boat in the small stream. I was told he never visited the Opium Dens in Sibu. His was a medical treatment case.

The Methodist Church in Sibu, under Rev Hoover, was able to control opium smoking to a certain extent. Those Foochow migrants would be shipped back to China if they were caught smoking opium, gambling or commiting crimes. Families often went to see Rev Hoover whenever they had problems and he would give them counselling or help them solve some of the problems. And a frequent question Rev Hoover would ask, "Are you telling the truth?"

"I don't tell you lies" became the pass word of Methodists of those by gone days. Rev Hoover could not tolerate any liar. Probably that was the result of the great sense of justice that Rev Hoover had in him. "I swear on the Bible, that I would tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth.." is the oath one has to take on a Bible in any court in the USA or Great Britain and the Foochows in Sibu were taught that. I still remember many of my elders would raise their hands up and said that they were telling the truth whenever they had important things to tell others.

 Before the arrival of Rev James Hoover, Wong Nai Siong had  also signed agreements with the Foochows he brought out to Sibu. If these migrants broke the t and c, they were shipped back too. But somehow the opium dens of Market Road became a kind of fixed business for many years in spite of police and social controls. Perhaps these opium smokers were not Foochows but of other dialect groups. We Foochows call them Ah Pien Kui because they looked so ghostly thin.

It was a common perception that Ah Pien Gui seldom told the truth because they were desperate to get some opium to smoke in those days. Most of my relatives knew of cases of opium addicts who died early.

 But I am always very sad whenever I think of my grand uncle who died pre maturely because he suffered so much from his broken heart.




December 23, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : one for all , all for one

In the 1950's and 1960's in Nang Chong Village of Sibu, school going age children would either attend school from mid morning to mid afternoon or did not go to school at all. (Even though in 1953 the United Nations declared universal education for all children, including girls. I was in that group of children who must be registered by parents for primary school. However my indigenous sisters were not as fortunate because many native girls my age are illiterate until now).

It was a kind of time table specially planned for a rubber tapping community because it released able bodied children to help with the family daily work. Town schools however had either morning or afternoon sessions, or both. Children who attended afternoon sessions would have helped parents to earn some money in the morning. And by afternoon, they would have been too tired, and were therefore often beaten in the head by teachers.*(for sleeping in the class or for not doing any homework).

 When the government took over the running of most schools in Sarawak after 1968, a national type of time table regulated school management and pupils no longer could help their parents tap rubber, fish in the river, or carry water for the home.

The Chung Cheng School in Nang Chong in the 1950's to 1960's, however made arrangements for school to start later in the morning at one time, so that the children of rubber tappers would first tap rubber and then attend school after about ten in the morning. A good day's rubber tapping would have been done by then.

It was not easy for the tired children to keep up with their school work according to my cousins.

And often, the boys especially would have to stay behind as punishment for poor Arithmetic work. The teacher would help the "retained students" to finish their sums and at the same gain understanding of the particular chapter.

One of my older cousins Lau Kiing Nang, whose father was a village school headmaster and he went to Chung Cheng School. We never dared ask him if he was ever "retained" by teacher for maths. (Photo by Sarawakiana)


In a way it was very important for the caring teachers to do this but some parents did not understand and took it as a "face losing" incident.

Some kids got retained in the afternoons all the time.

And upon their return, they would be beaten or they would "eat the rattan" a second time. Double punishment for the day when words got home.
One of my cousins, Lau Chingm, who studied in Chung Cheng School, until she graduated from Form Five. This is my maternal grandparents large Nang Chong house. It was "slowly swept" away by the soil erosion caused by expresses in the 1970's, My uncle built a new wooden house further inland and my maternal grandmother lived in the new house for many years before she passed away peacefully.

But my cousins would wait for each other. If one was retained, all would wait outside the classroom and together they would "half walk and half run" all the 50 minutes rubber garden path from school to Nang Chong. It was really frightening to be running barefooted in the gathering darkness.
My older girl cousins would have missed the evening laundry hours by the river side and that would make my over worked aunts rather cross.(Photo by Sarawakiana)

The girls needed the boys' protection in their walk home from school, and the boys needed the girls' defence when they faced their mothers.


But by then, very naturally, my cousins were already practising the Three Mustketeers' motto : One for all and All for One.






December 22, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales : Passing of Winter Solstice with Grandfather



The shortest day in the year is the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere.

The Foochow Christians since 1903 have merged two important festivals into one. Most of them would celebrate the two festivals when children come home and eat a meal together with the parents. The Tern Chek or Winter Festival usually falls on 22nd Dec and a lunch or dinner is prepared. On Christmas day, the family goes to church.

However the Winter Solstice can be celebrated with just the making of simple Sii Yang or Chek, which is actually glutinous rice balls coated in sweet sugary, crushed peanuts and powdered roasted soy beans. This is the Ming Chiang's version. My Methodist, Foochow ancestors come from the Ming Chiang District of Fujian, China in the 1900's to Sibu. The other dialectic groups call these little rice dumplings Tong Yuen.

My grandfather Tiong Kung Ping was a fastidious eater but he was fortunate to live out his final days with Grandmother Siew who was a good cook and a good carer, with the help of two adopted daughters, Ah Hiong Koo and Mee Hiong Koo.

Photo: Foochow Chek or Sii Yang

One special point about Grandfather is very dear to my heart. Grandfather, from the point of view of a young girl, under 10 years of age then. He was a very far sighted man who believed in adopting of girls for the family, especially when very poor farmers came to his door and offered their daughters for adoption in the 1940's. Thus came to our Tiong family 6 wonderful adopted "daughters" who were really good to my grandparents and their  adopted sisters and brothers, my aunties and uncles. They all turned out to be excellent women of substance with good fate and good marriages.

I was eager as a child to visit my grandparents in Sungei Merah . A good Winter Solstice Festival in Sungei Merah would start early in the morning when my grandfather would asked Aunty Ah Hiong to cycle to the Sungei Merah market to buy some pork and a local chicken. The Sungei Merah market would be busy selling all the special items for the festival.

Grandmother Siew would then prepare a good meal for grandfather, putting a good wood fire in the Foochow stove and heating up the huge kuali. Those were the days when wood was used for cooking and gas was unheard of. Fire wood came in two ways. It could come from one of the felled rubber trees which would be cut up by a long saw and then axe. Or pieces of ramin "cast offs"  would be purchased from the sawmills in Sungei Merah. I remember these would be already bundled up in good pieces, which Aunty Ah Hiong would splice into smaller pieces for the stove. These would come in a small lorry, and they would be tied by a strong wire.

A stir fried lean pork dish and a chicken soup served with mee sua would be the favourite for my grandfather. The vegetable would either be a leek or a cabbage dish or both. I remember, my grandmother was good in frying up a good Foochow Char Mien or Fried Noodles with thick black soy sauce and some yew chai or mustard greens.

Before the festival, in those days, some of my uncles and aunties who lived near by .would bring live chickens to my grandfather to "pass the festival". That was the kind of token respect a Foochow son or daughter would have for his parents in the 50's and 60's. In return, fruits, a slice of fresh pork,or  a dozen eggs would be placed at the bottom of the basket for the son/daughter to take home. Most of my married aunties would come to send the presents a few days before the festival. This would make my grandparents really happy.These exchanges of gifts need not be on the exact day of the festival. The exchange could be done one or two weeks ahead, at the convenience of the giver.

 The house would be very very "loud and hot" meaning "now yek" in Foochow. We kids would have a good time running up and down the stair cases and making a lot of noise on the wooden floor.



 The huge balcony upstairs would be a very "happy" place to hang out. One year, the Christmas tree was outside and the Carollers came around mid night and enjoyed a star lit Christmas Carolling time. Rev Ho Siew Liong said a very special blessing for the Tiong family that year. As kids we all believed that Rev Ho was the "image of Jesus Christ".
Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to all Tiong Relatives

I had spent only two or three Christmases with Grandfather in Sungei Merah, especially when Aunty Pick Sieng and Aunty Gie Sieng were in Sibu. The first Christmas with Grandfather in Sungei Merah also gave me my first experience with a nice Christmas tree decorated by my two pretty aunties. (Grandfather passed away when I was 14 years old and I believed then that he had really lived a very good life and was very very old at 85.)

That special year also saw all of us enjoying some really good Sii Yang. Grandmother Siew made very small sii yang, and we all helped with the stone grinder, to grind out the rice batter and later in the day, when the stone grinder was drier, we ground the soy bean powder and crushed peanut. This was our practice before the coming of the electric blender in the 1960's.

Photo of a toothless old Hakka Man by Kirsty Mitchell (Google)
The rice dumplings would be served in the morning and any left overs would be steamed for the next few days. I remember Grandmother Siew made quite a lot of these dumplings for Winter Solstice for both young and old. 

Another memorable point about my grandfather was his careful grooming. Besides being careful with his dressing, he was particular about his teeth, and later about his dentures. I gathered this from my various aunts. Grandfather was blessed by the services of Dr. Pok Ai (I might have the wrong name here though) who made special dentures for him. With his dentures, he was able to enjoy good food for many more years than other men who started having bad dental health even when they were in their 40's.  He was fortunate that Grandmother Siew cooked wonderful food for him. Many older men, friends with him, were less fortunate because they were toothless and passed a simple "porridge as meals" kind of life for many years. Sometimes their conversation touched on toothlessness in a very humourous manner.

My aunt and I had a good laugh this Winter Solstice. It is not easy to eat sii yang without a good set of teeth...Praise God we have good dental health care now.

Today Winter Solstice and Christmas are two festivals that Christian Foochows would often celebrate together and not really separately in Sibu in particular and in Sarawak in general.

December 18, 2013

Bean Sprouts and Salted Fish



My mother has many relatives who were salt fish mongers in the main market in Sibu. We have a friend who is even called Tofu Cheong  because his father, a Lee, was a maker and seller of tofu in the Central Market and the family lived quite near us on the next road, Hose Lane. There were two Lee families selling tofu, the other one being Lee Kok Leong's father.

In Sibu, Mum would always buy bean sprouts together with tofu. The two would always be bought together as if they were inseparable sisters. And for occasions she would buy tofu wan or  the harder tofu cakes. We loved tofu wan, fried in peanut oil, and dipped in a nice soy sauce with chillies, limes and crispy fried onions. Sometimes when mum was not so stressed, she would make a nice brown bean sauce which would be an extra effort on her part.

As kids we were not fond of eating bean sprouts becaue they were so bland, without any taste of its own. We did not even like it in the street rojak that we often bought from the hawker who walked from road to road, pushing his three wheel cart. (Another story)

After my father passed away, we often had bean sprouts on the table almost every day because it was the most affordable vegetable mum could buy with her meagre income. Ten cents of bean sprouts would bring out a whole dish for the family. Mum would cook it with eggs, with tofu, and sometimes mixed with other vegetables. At one time we even had bean sprout soup, which was actually quite nice!!

We often had salted fish, and as mum was always lacking in appetite. My maternal grandmother when she came visiting and she could eat some very watery porridge together with just a few small pieces of salted fish. They would be talking quietly and "pass" a meal together.

Salted fish was usually bought from Datuk Clement Tiong's father, Tiong Chew Thye who was my grandmother's nephew, and as the Foochows would say, closer to her side, and further away from my Tiong 14th District side...... And naturally salted fish was almost "half sold and half given" to my mother. But then salted fish was extremely affordable in those days. We were so well taught about all the different kinds of salted fish available in the market.
 
After frying the salted fish, mum would save the cooking oil in a small enamel mug for another round of deep frying of salted fish. And the oil at the bottom of the kuali would be heated up to fry a wonderful dish of crispy and crunchy bean sprouts.

From her I learned a lot about kuali and kitchen management through keen observation. A clever housewife would not need to wash her kuali from the first dish to the last dish. Just with a rinse of hot water, the kuali woud be ready for the next dish. That is one of the kitchen wisdom I gained by watching her.

My sister Ni has just reminded me that our ancesters' homeland is near the sea and hence fish and salted fish form a very important cornerstone of our culinary history.

But it was only very recently that the restaurants in Sibu started to stir fry bean sprouts with salted fish. Used to be called the poor man’s dish when many could not afford seafood, this is now a popular restaurant dish. “Clever housewives used a small piece of salted fish to let the family enjoy the taste of the sea, with the fresh crunchy bean sprouts,” a Foochow chef once commented.

Today in restaurants, the best of the salted fish like kurau, thick and fleshy, is used to prepare this delectable dish. Indeed Sibu’s bean sprouts are always fresh, fleshy and sweet because the vendors use the best of the beans to grow them. Kurau is a very expensive salted fish.

The best of the chefs can stir fry the crunchy bean sprouts briefly  and salted fish adds an aromatic, savoury saltiness to the dish, making it very appetizing. 

 Chillies,red capsicum and spring onions add pleasing colour, and nutritional value of this dish.

At home we would always express our delight whenever we have bean sprouts on the table because the topping and tailing of the bean sprouts would be done by my second sister, Sing, who would so patiently do her task. And now my mother already in her 80's would be able to have a good appetite with a bit of salted fish in the  dish.

What a wonderful dish  bean sprouts and salted fish is!! It not only brings a taste of the sea to our home, but a whole legacy of Foochow culture.

(This article is dedicated to all our uncles and their families, especially Catherine Tiong Siew Hong, who formed such an important history of our Sibu Central Market...thank you for the memories...)

December 17, 2013

Hua Hong Ice Factory Stories : Great Grandmother and her Ducks

As a young child I loved visiting my grandparents in Sungei Merah. One of the added attractions was the presence of my bound footed Great Grandmother who would always welcome my parents and the two young girls, her great grand daughters. She would be sitting by the window in the upstairs living room waiting to be taken downstairs by aunty Ah Hiong whenever we came to visit. It was difficult for her to walk by herself down the well shellacked stair case. My grandmother was an excellent housekeeper who never ever allowed any speck of dust to settle any where in the house. All wooden surfaces had to be either wiped clean twice a day or more, or brushed with water and a steel brush!!

Our knowledge of her life stories only came in bits and pieces as we grew older, and from our older relatives.

My great grandmother was a very soft spoken gentle lady who came from a good scholarly family in China. She probably arrived in 1907 in Sibu.

According to one family story, she was allowed to marry a pioneering widowed Foochow man from Sibu because of her father's enthusiasm to marry her off to a hardworking husband after the failure of her first marriage.

Her father had  married her off to a wealthy land owning family when she was young in Fuzhou City, China. However from the earliest days of her marriage to this rich man's son, she was most discontented because he was a well known gambler. And within a very short time, this young husband of hers abandoned her and she returned home to her parents.

My then widowed great grandfather was seeking the hand of a well read Foochow woman who would not mind to throw her fortunes into the wind and follow him to hot and wet,  Sarawak, where mosquito infested jungles and a budding town with only one street, awaited her. Great grandfather was already quite a prosperous man by then with two grown up sons and a big clan of the Tiongs in Sibu.


My great grandmother, small in size and bound footed, was willing to leave China and have her adventures in a foreign land. She was tougher than she looked according to many of our elders.


She lived across the river from Sibu in the Hua Hong Ice Factory quarters and raised ducks with her adopted daughter, Yew Ping during the Japanese Occupation.  With my great grandfather's help, the two women raised many ducks which laid a lot of eggs for the family.
Pekin ducks with yellow beaks are good meat ducks


Duck eggs were a favourite food for the early Foochows while duck was also highly valued in those days.


The Foochows raised chuong wan (full bred species of the duck or Muscovy or locally called serati), buan wan (half breed which do not lay eggs) and chai ark ( could be either Campbell Khaki or Mallard )


Duck eggs ffrom the good egg layers chair ark or Campbell khaki or Mallard ducks, were sold when the family had more than enough. And ducklings were also shared among relatives. Often, my great grandmother also barter traded them with friends.

chai ark (translated as vegetable duck)

Yew Ping remembered that when she was a little girl she quarrelled with the neigbhours who accused her of calling their ducks "home" to the Tiong family duck cages. But then Yew Ping, being very short sighted asked the neigbhours to personally come and catch their own ducks in the Tiong cages if they wanted. When the neigbhours came to our Tiong quarters all they could see were the very docile ducks belonging to my great grandmother who did not say anything rough. She just waited for them to count the ducks. A little embarrassed the neighbours went home. Soon they themselves found their ducks hiding a little further down the road, and having their own little brood of ducklings.The Chai Ark are known to keep away from the main brood when they are hatching eggs, under some bushes or trees. And when the ducklings are hatched, the mother duck would bring the brood home.



All was peaceful after that. My great grandmother used to say, "Take good care of your own belonging  before you look over the fences." My goo poh , her only daughter, Chang Yuk Ging was mild mannered like her and also never raised her voice when injustice happened. But all our relatives would rally to her and help her.( During the Japanese Occupation, my Goo Poh was stranded in China with her children and husband.)

My great grandmother would always slaughter ducks and make duck soup whenever her grand children came home from school during the holidays. She later moved to Sungei Merah with my grandfather and passed away in 1954, having lived a rather interesting long life.

 My elders used to say, "When you study well, make sure you bring your brains with you, and don't embarrass your family."

My great grandmother had a great sense of justice and a very controlled, reflective personality, very becoming of a well brought up member of a scholarly family.

December 1, 2013

Sibu Tales : :Love Overlowing at the Table


I often wonder who actually started serving aerated(CARBONATED) water (or pop chui OR KANG CHUI) at banquets and family feasts, Foochow Style, in Sibu and the surrounding villages. As far as I can remember I had always enjoyed many bottles of pop chui whenever I attended wedding banquets in the villages and in Sibu. In those olden days, all the drinks were bottled in brown bottles, until F & N flooded the market in the 60's. Then clear bottles were trendy and preferred although the 72 bottle crates of Tai Fong, Ngo Kiang, etc drinks were still sold every where.

For banquets in the restaurants, the standard catering would be almost the same . The drinks would be placed at the centre of the table, alongside a bottle or two of brandy, two packets of cigarettes with matches!! There would also be a small plate of sliced oranges too. Peanuts and Kua Chi or melon seeds would also be placed on the table for the guests.

And when the food is served, depending on the occasion, the dishes would be served one by one. If it was a family, self catered dinner, all the dishes  would be prepared at the same time and they would cover the whole table. Some times as many as 10 dishes were cooked by the hostess.

Here my teacher Miss Ida, Miss Gail Williams , a missionary to the Ibans and another family ( looks like Mrs. Waint), sit in front of a huge array of food prepared by the host and hostess.






But the F and N, 7 Up, Coca Cola stand out so obviously. This is a very good example of village Foochow hospitality which I dearly miss today.

the Menu would probably include :Foochow Fried Noodles (Char mien),Braised Black Fungus, chicken and Hard Boiled eggs , Bok Gie or Onion Chicken, Kampong Chicken soup, Mee Hoon, Mixed Vegetables, leeks with chicken liver and gizzards, Pork leg, steamed duck, home grown vegetables, and white rice of course, etc.

 Bowls would be a good mix of enamal bowls and chicken bowls of different sizes. Frugal Foochows in those days (1970's) would not have Corelle or branded bone china.


Look at the F& N on the wooden window ledge.

This photo brings back wonderful memories of village dinners when guests  or relatives came from overseas.

 I think this house is in Bukit Lan.


November 29, 2013

Sibu Tales : Love Overflowing

My father was a very quiet but well read man, the first of two Sibu Foochow Pioneering families' sons to graduate from university, the Yieng Ching University (now Peking University) in 1937. The other famous son was Wong Cheng Ang. My father always put educational pursuits above all else. And perhaps as a result my siblings and I never really took a fancy to making of profits or wheeling and dealing.

A gentle way of life was one of the most important lessons he taught us when we were young.

He would take me his first born to the market every morning.

His first stop was the Lok Huen Coffee shop, on the ground floor of the Palace Cinema.

Lok Huen was a special place in those days. In the day time, it was a coffee shop, served by the towkay and his sons. There were no Indonesian waitresses in those days and nor were there young girls from the villages. Every coffee hand was a man and every waiter was a boy who had wanted to learn a business. He would be working for food and board only. At night Lok Huen was a restaurant which catered for five tables. The towkay wanted to handle only a small business and he was not at all competiting with Hock Chu Leu.

The towkay(Mr. Hoo) was my father's friend and my father would buy freshly ground coffee powder from him. The aroma of the roasting coffee beans would weft out from the back of the coffee shop. The buttery flavour was unforgettable. People in those days practised "friend's price" and my father would always be happy to go home to mother and telling her that he brought back "special priced" coffee for her. Family budget was healthy if father was blessed with such special prices.

The coffee shop, which was quite near the Maternity Clinic (where my mother would in the years to come give birth to my younger siblings) would often see some anxious fathers waiting for the birth of their new ones. Fathers were not allowed into the clinic until the babies were delivered. I saw those new fathers waiting with their cheng ark or a soup container I was thinking how nice it was to be given chicken soup after the birth!! But naturally there were old grandmothers waiting for the birth of their grand children too.

Father would order a cup of coffee for himself and chat with the towkay about the day. Nothing very crucial, just nice chatting. Often words of wisdom would come out of their mouths, which I gratefully collected and committed to memory.

When the coffee arrived,he would pour more coffee into the saucer to cool. I suppose he was happy that he had two thirds of the cup and I could have the coffee in the saucer. In my young mind, it was a good way of sharing with my father. I did not consider it as something negative or otherwise.

How nice it was to sit in a coffee shop every morning with my father!!

But I did glean a lot of wisdom from the conversations my father had with his friends.




Perhaps I learned to be confident, self assertive, careful, cheerful,frugal and soft spoken by holding on to his hands, walking with him along footpaths,  and drinking coffee from the saucer in the coffee shop.

One of the best lessons I learned from him was clearly stated in the Foochow saying, " Strong words are taught in gentle tones".  We must never raise our voices when we need to teach a good moral lesson.

He was really teaching me by example.

Thank you Phyllis Wong for this photo which inspired me to write this reflection.

November 21, 2013

Sarawak Iban Annual Conference 65th Annivesary 2013



 Methodist Church Sarawak Iban Annual Conference, will be celebrating its 65th anniversary on November 29, 2014. A a thanksgiving worship  will be held at 2pm, at the Iban Methodist Centre, Hornming Road, Sibu. This will be followed by a grand dinner at Happiness Restaurant, near the bus terminal, Jalan Pahlawan, at 7pm.

A book written in Mandarin, by the Taiwanese missionary Rev. Ting, will be on sale, and the funds raised will be for the Iban Church  Building funds.






http://stevelinglt.blogspot.com/2013/11/112965-iban-methodist-church.html


The Bare Foot Missionary traces the work of Missionary Chen Run Foo who worked amongst the Ibans of Sarawak in the 1960's. An excellent documentation of the life and times of Sarawakians in the 60's. The book is available in the Methodist Book Room and the Methodist Message office. For Fund Raising the Price is 50 Ringgit. Please come and support.




(Photos by Steve Ling)



November 15, 2013

32 Inch Bicycle

In Sibu, the old men and ladies were good at cycling their tall 32 inch bicycle (see photo). In my memory, I feel that they truly made a lot of money out of their two wheeled vehicle. They used the bicycle as a mode of transport in every since of the word. They used the bicycle, to travel from one point to another and to carry their home-made goods like toufoo, their vegetables, and even their children.

(The 32 inch bicycle is slightly taller than the normal bicycle by several inches and its handlebars are different too. Raleigh and Flying Pigeon of China are two brands which make this Gentleman's Bicycle in the 1950's until recent years when more designs (like mountain bikes) are appreciated by the younger set. Yi Chang)

Sometimes we would catch sight of an old lady placing three or four of her grand children on her old bicycle. She would push the bike along and her grand children would scream with delight! How much love she had for her grand children. We often clucked clucked our tongue and said would these grand  children remember their grandmother with love?

I can still remember,as I am writing this, we would get up early in the morning in Brooke Drive, Sibu and try to hear the " Ngi Ngek Ngi Ngek Ngi Ngek" sound made by the Apek down the road when he cycled by and we knew then that it was time to get up and get going for the sun would rise higher and we would be late. His old rusty bicycle was our morning alarm clock. That was before the Honda motor bike's arrival on the shores of Sarawak.
Photo by Victor Chin. A Lady from Mantin, Hakka Village

File:BicyclesMilkChurnsKolkata gobeirne.jpg
Photo from Google. Old Indian men carrying milk in metal canisters on both sides of their 22 inch bicycles. Still a common scene in India.



Many of my Chinese school mates, the boys, especially would ride their grandfather's bicycles to school! And of course, they would look so old fashioned. None of the "modern" and fashionable girls would want to caught cycling with a boy who rode a 32 inch bicycle. A few of our friends decided that they would not "fall in love" with such fellow boy students. However, many of these boys became millionaires after they left school. Although some went into the jungle and were never heard again. We can still remember some of those Chinese school boys and their humble 32 inch bicycles. They were really nice boys and we did not mean to offend them really. We were just a bunch of giggling girls then.

Some boys were  too short but they could pedal with one foot and then with the other foot. They managed to cycle that way, and it was quite a sight!! And of course we were rude, we giggled and had fun. Poor boys.

Nonetheless, it was a well known fact that the girls would prefer boys to ride more fashionable looking bicycles like these owned by Leonardo Dicaprio and girl friend. I remember my school mate, Daulat Mamora, owning a bicycle like that. Most the Malay boys in the Kampongs had fancy bikes. Some even had sports bike, to the envy of other students. And definitely, many girls were stealing looks at them. And a few good girls would deliberately left off the air in their tyres and these nice guys would come running to help them. This was a good gimmick.

The Methodist School (Sibu) had a good administration. In the Dean's Office I remember, there was a bicycle pump. His office was always open, even during lunch time. So whenever some naughty boys let off air from the girls' bicycle tires, we could always get the school's pump.

Interestingly, the bicycle was not only for transport. Some of our naughtier friends used them for other purposes. One way of passing notes or messages to boys or girls in those long ago days was to slip a note in their bicycle bags. These notes were of course innocent and were not at all political or saucy notes. It could be "MYF Meeting on FRiday, as usual." "Lin Dai Movie is very good." "Mei Ling got a new hairstyle" It was much much like advertisers sticking flyers on our cars nowadays. It was fun and our principal could not intercept such secret messages. (sORRY I cannot find a photo of the bicycle bag of olden days)







In long ago days, Sibu youths could be seen cycling like this. Today, it is out of question perhaps because of the road dangers and modesty too.



Sometimes the police would come and catch boys who were naughty like this : We were not allowed to LUMBANG or correctly tumpang, a sibling. So when we saw a police man coming towards us, we would get down and pushed the bike instead, passing by him quickly, sheepishly, and red and hot in the collar. But of course he knew that we had broken the traffic law.


Movies made in China and other countries often show very poignant scenes involving cycling. It makes my heart so full of joy. But there is also a touch of sadness that youth is fleeting and has
 passed by.



An era has gone!!





To all my friends who rode bicycles in Sibu. Happy memories.