April 18, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales :The Ten Commandments of the Ting Family

When I was young I used to visit my grandfather a lot in Sungei Merah, Sibu.

Whenever my grandparents went visiting relatives, which was a common practice in those days, my grandma would drive us down the hill towards Sungei Merah and one of the nicest places to visit was my grandfather's cousin's house by the river. She had a big house by Sibu standard in those days.

A very impressive part of the living room was the main wall facing the road. And my grand aunt's father in law who was a God-fearing man, hanged a huge hand carved wooden Board with Ten Commandments on the wall facing the road. I would never forget that impactful impression.

More than 50 years later I revisited the family home again with my photographer friends. The Ten Commandments plaque was still on the wall and I took this photo.

Emmanuel or Yi Ma Ne Li(The Lord has arrived) is still mounted on the wall. And suddenly I realised that the the sculptor had carved God's Ten Commandments. It is not Christians' Ten Commandments but God's Ten Commandments, given to us on Mount Sinai, a true historical event. The Truth.

Praise the Lord for the Ting  family Ancestors and the Ting Family which has kept this board for more than 90 years.

(Photo taken with permission from Mr. Ting on 27th March 2011, after the Foochow Anniversary Celebration).

P/s Sibu Foochow pioneers were strong Methodists and they brought many of their Christian Methodist practices from China like hanging the Ten Commandments plaque or poster in their living room.

April 12, 2013

Looking for a Lost Iban from Sarawak

by Robert Rizal Abdullah (Notes) on Sunday, 21 August 2011 at 23:24
Name: Gerinang ak. Sibat.
Address: Kerangan Bungkang, Tapang Nawi, Katibas, Song, Sarawak.
The Story: In 1943, when he was 3 years, he was adopted by a New Zealander family and brought to NZ. He joined the NZ Army and in 1956, enroute to Singapore and Malaya to join the Commonwealth Forces in fighting the Communist Insurgency, he stopped over in Sarawak to see his parents. That was the last his family ever saw him. They are left in the dark as to whether he is still alive or not. If he is dead, where is he buried? If anybody has information, please contact me at +6012 2751171 or email: rizalbob@gmail.com/

April 11, 2013

Salted Jelly Fish from Rajang Delta (Sarawak)

In the 1930's till the Japanese Occupation, the Foochows did a roaring business with the fishermen of the Rajang Delta regions. Small wooden boats plied between the mouth of the Rajang and Sibu, the Foochow town which needed sea products. The Foochows are a people who lived by the sea in China and favoured sea products.
Thai style salted jelly fish salad
Salted jelly fish from the Rajang delta found a new market, so did salted fish , nipah salt and nipah sugar. The middlemen who plied in their boats stopped at Ensurai for example to off load tins and tins of these sea products at Hock Kwong which was owned by my maternal grand uncle Lau Kah Tii and managed by my uncle Lau Sing Chiong.

A kerosene tin of jelly fish was only $1.20 while the coolie salary was only $10.00 per month. The coolie could have a whole month's food catered for $4.50. $200 worth of savings was a huge sum of money.

My mum remembers how good it was to get food from the boats . Freshly salted fish was heaven sent and as children her generation remembers such good sea food. But once the price of rubber fell due to international depression and also the Japanese occupation, that wonderful life was gone.

the foochows of the Rajang Valley had to look elsewhere for good business other than padi planting, rubber growing and fish business.

Hence those who were involved with timber extraction,export,international sales,veneer production, re-selling,overseas exploration and development in the 1950's began a new era of business boom which has continued to grow.

Sotong Bakar : new taste in the 60's.

The Lido cinema in Sibu was a long ago institution where many people who are now in their 40's and 50's and even 60's would remember their dating moments, centre of life, and a place of amusement.

A friend now dare tell us in a joking way that he used to hang out in the foyer and when the lights went out he would slip into the cinema to sit with his girl friend who had already been given her ticket by him. Once when the film projection mal functioned, the lights turned on too quickly for him to make an exit, he was caught by his father who happened to be there. His father gave him a good scolding.

Most of the girls of my class never went to Lido on their own. They would be accompanied by their family. I attended many movies with my grandmother. My mother never went to the cinema. She had at that time, sentence herself to a perpetual mourning period and furthermore, she missed my father so much she could not watch a movie without him.

My paternal grandfather actually was the first owner of the Lido Cinema and the family had lived temporarily , while waiting for their new house to be built.

But what really attracted me to the cinema was the opportunity my maternal grandmother would give me. And that was to buy 10 cents worth of  roasted dried squid, rolled up tightly with a red cotton string and kept in a small wooden box which also acted as a small counter for the sotong man.

The dried squid (sotong) was roasted over an open charcoal fire and then hammered (with a real hammer) into a very fine thin ,flat layer of exotic goodness.

10 cents was able to buy me two small pieces. A small bowl of dipping sauce, made of pounded chili, some vinegar and sugar was placed on the small table. We would dip the rolled up squid into the bowl of chili sauce, trying to get as much sauce as possible and then pop the squid into our mouth. Some girls would prefer to chew the sotong bit by bit, slowly and with relish. The roasted quid was exotically chewy and aromatic at the same time.

That was a real treat for a Foochow girl  like me who did not get a lot of spicy food at home. In fact to be able to eat hot and spicy food was something my "down river" cousins would go shivering or what the Foochows would say "bu lun chung..." or having goosebumps....They would laugh and say..."Hey, you have become so Malay now living in town.."

I did not realise, at that time,that that our taste buds do change when we change our environment.

April 7, 2013

Judi Millar, Daughter of Sgt. Frank Wigzell

AFTER years of silence, the soldier wrote a book about his war-time experiences in Sarawak – his final task before passing on.
More than six decades have since passed. Would the soldier’s loving daughter still find his connections in the state — the people he had touched from the day he parachuted into the Limbang Valley on March 25, 1945 to fight the Japanese?
To find out, Judi Milla flew all the way from Auckland, New Zealand, to Miri and then Bario for a small but meaninghful event on March 25 (2013), armed with a copy of her father Francis Wigzell’s book titled New Zealand Army Involvement : Special Operations Australia – South West Pacific World War II, an informal invitation from Jack Tredea and stories her father had told her when she was young.
The event was to commemorate the 1945 Semut Operations for which 23 young Kiwis, including her father, had volunteered as part of Allied war efforts in Southeast Asia at the time.
The commemoration is proof that the contributions of Frank Wigzell and his mates have not been forgotten.
And in Bario today, visitors can read their names from the special framed roll of honour brought over from New Zealand by Judi for the commemoration ceremony in the highlands.
Unknown to many, the band of Kiwi volunteer soldiers fought as commandos in Semut Operations under the Z Special Unit. This special campaign was “practically” unknown, in particular to Sarawakians, for a long time.

Wigzell who had also written several books, described the Z Special Unit as a special Allied Unit formed during the Second World War to operate behind Japanese lines in Southeast Asia. The New Zealander volunteers and their names were recorded by Wigzell in his book.
The book detailed Wigzell’s duties as a radio expert, especially in the Limbang Valley, and the whole Semut Operations from his perspective.
In a nutshell, the Z Special Unit conducted surveillance, harassing attacks and sabotage behind Japanese lines in Borneo as well as the training of natives in resistance activities.
The New Zealand volunteer soldiers were trained on Fraser Island, Queensland, in parachuting, unarmed combat, explosives and the Malay Language.
Judi remembers her father teaching her and her siblings the Malay language as they were growing up in Hamilton.
Her father “was linguistically inclined and happy to part with his knowledge of Sarawak and its people.”
Besides Wigzell’s book, information on the Z Special Unit can be found in former Sarawak Museum curator Tom Harrison’s book World Within and also in an episode of the PBS television series Secrets of the Dead called The Airmen and the Headhunters as well as the memoirs of Jack Wong Sue, who died not long ago in Perth, Australia.
There is also a fantastic monograph by Major Tim Truscott et al Voice from Borneo: The Japanese War.
In an article in New Zealand’s Western Leader (April 22, 2004), it was stated: “After nearly 60 years, Frank Wigzell and his fallen friends can officially be remembered as being part of special operations in World War Two.”
The covet nature of the units’ work meant it had been shrouded in secrecy and there has been limited recognition of their contributions.
ut with the last of three memorials, marking the dedication of individuals who served in three special units during World War Two, having now been erected in Bario, the sacrifices of Semut Operations heroes will be perpetually etched in stone.Judi and her husband, Gary, were very touched by the warm reception they received in Bario. Accompanying them is their Miri contact Leong Siew Yin. Her photographer brother came along too.
The group was pleasantly surprised to meet up with some local visitors from Miri, among whom were some writers, including Cikgu Reman Apong Gumbang, a Lun Bawang from Limbang.
Reman’s husband, Cikgu Gumbang Pura, is a Bisaya from Limbang and a history buff himself.
A special book-sharing was arranged by the Society of Sarawakians Writing in English and some local Miri photographers at the Gymkhana Club.
The event brought Judi closer to one of her objective of coming to Sarawak – to find her father’s friends or their descendants from Limbang.
Judi is very happy to make all these connections which will prepare her well for her next visit in two years.
An invitation has also been extended to the Kiwi couple to visit a longhouse in Ulu Medamit. Judi’s father must have stayed in the late Temenggong Ngang’s longhouse and some other longhouses in Tanah Merah and Meruyu.
Perhaps her father’s footsteps in Limbang can once again be traced by those who remember the remarkable Tuan Pukal who spoke good Malay, “played the radio” and walked the paths with their ancestors through the jungles of Limbang Valley.


Because of his expertise, the Ibans in Limbang called Wigzell Tuan Pukal or Tuan Prank (Frank) as most of them could not pronounce ‘F’ for Frank.
Readers might like to connect with the family of Ramlee anak Kaya and relatives of Temenggong Ngang who remember Tuan Sandy and Tuan Pill. They would be the ones who remember the Japanese soldiers in the Limbang Valley and the work of the “radioman Frank.”
Any connection made can be forwarded to The Borneo Post Office or this writer.
During the function, Judi said: “My father never came back to Sarawak because it was a terribly sad part of his life to lose his friends in untimely deaths in a tropical war. He was a starry-eyed volunteer soldier from New Zealand called up to help the Allies. He was just a boy of 20.
“Out of the 23 who left New Zealand, most fell during the war. He lived to remember the horrible days. I was horrified when he told me four of his friends who parachuted with him in Semut Operations fell right into the Japanese camps. They were beheaded immediately.”
Wigzell’s book also mentioned that Tom Harrison who had been to Borneo before 1945, was chosen to lead the commandoes in training the locals in Bario.
The units of the Z Special Force were each given “a few hundred locals to help do the scouting, spying and patrolling — and even killing.” They were actually training local guerillas to fight the Japanese.
Later, as part of Semut Operations, Wigzell was to set up his radio station in the Limbang Valley.
“Dad was a radio expert. The commandoes depended on him to receive news from the US and the UK. He had to carry his huge and heavy radio set on his back. He would usually set up a hut up on a hill. He had to plan on his own and set up his radio station in the jungles all by himself — with only the help of a few tribal people.
For Frank Wigzell, 1945 was a year of diseases, jungle life, hardships and uncertainties, Japanese firefights and all the war-time horrors in Sarawak.
His uniform was totally worn out. By the time he was met by other allied troops, he only had a piece of loin cloth on him. This was, indeed, a traumatic image for Judi to carry in the recesses of her mind.
However, according to Judi, when her father wrote the book, he was very professional. He took painstaking measures to make sure it was a good documentation of the work he and his 22 friends did for Sarawak.
The book also carries several never-seen-before photos of the Japanese war period, a careful collection of newspaper cuttings Wigzell kept from the wartime.
Judi showed her new friends the part in book where her father wrote about Jon, a man of Kelabit parentage and a faithful companion.
Her father had given Jon his “trusty old US carbine, web-gear, ammunition and magazines, plus all the army gear he possessed, including a blanket.”
Zigwell wrote: “I came to Borneo with nothing and did the same going out with the exception that I carried a couple of souvenirs to remind me of this adventure.”
He almost lost his life and for years after returning to New Zealand, suffered from terrible bouts of Malaria which never left him until his death at the age of 93 and Judi had been witness to his terrible suffering.
Malaria is still a scourge in our part of the world.
Foreign tourists pay as much as RM800 for malaria injections or medications as part of their personal protection in their home countries before coming to visit Malaysia and other parts of the tropical world.
Judi has said she and her family are planning to return to Sarawak in two years and will be visiting Limbang specifically. She hopes to meet up with the descendants of people her father knew in 1945. Would she find the descendants of Jon?
There is now a memorial in Bario to commemorate Semut Operations. There is also a mini Bario museum with a small gallery dedicated to Second World War events where the Kelabits had provided the manpower for the war effort.
In a recent search, it has been found that the new jetty at Rockingham, Western Australia, has commemorative plaques to the Z Special Unit on each lamp post.
For all the heroes who had gone before, there should be a sense of gratefulness to bring about a closure to the chain of events.
May the souls of those who had fought a good fight rest in peace. And for those who live after them, may they find peace and courage to go on with their lives, bearing the significant memories of their heroes.
For Judi, the journey to trace her father’s footsteps and his friends may just have begun. She is thankful to the people of Bario for the wonderful ceremony held to remember the heroes of Semut Operations.

April 6, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : The Blue Enamel Pot

Double boiled pork leg in Foochow Red Wine

Grandmother Lian Tie loved pork leg and so does my mother. They used to rear their own pigs in Nangchong. According to my mother, pigs fed with vegetables like yam leaves and water lettuce produced the best meat. Mum from a very young age, cooked warm food for her pigs. She would up her trousers and washed the pigs in the morning, clean them up and enjoy chatting with them.

Later she would be cutting the yam leaves in the open field, meeting a few creepy crawlies and sometimes a snake. These creatures frightened her a lot but the thought of having meat in the future made her strive on.

Image may contain: indoor

Her pigs grew fast because she made sure that they had more than enough to eat.

Pigs were fed twice a day so she had to gather a lot of these wild vegetables for them.

Life was easier for  her because the pig sty was just above a small man made pond next to the rubber smoke house. So she would just scoop pails and pails of water from the pond to wash the pig sty and the pigs . The pond was God sent!

According to her, there was a great deal of joy watching her pigs growing. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is her kindred spirit.

One of the best Foochow recipes she remembers is the Whole Pork Leg double boiled in Foochow Red Wine (2 bottles),with no water added.  Using the blue enamal pot, which will sit in the big black kuali over a wooden fire. Nothing is better than that dish she said.

April 3, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Baong Fish Soup in the Middle of the Night

The Baong is a river fish which used to be plentiful in the Rajang River in the early days (aka the 50's and 60's).

My uncle Lau Pang Sing loved to fish. He and his sons would happily go to the jetty or Doh Tao to fish after dinner when the tide was high.

The children loved playing with their torch lights. I remember having a torch light then was like have a mobile phone today. Batteries were luxury goods and we often tried to be very frugal in our usage of our torch lights.

Grandmother's torch light was light and it was made in China, with a body of silver, with two batteries. Uncle's torch light was bigger , with four batteries. We were all very careful with the bulbs too and we would not at any time, dismantle the torch. We carried the torch light every where at night, and kept it under our pillow when we went to sleep. Once the kerosene lamp or pressure lamp was dimmed, it was complete darkness except for starlight and moonlight. And our aunties or grandma would tell us not to play with the torchlight, and not waste the batteries. We all tried our very best not to ask for new batteries. We really valued our "properties".

Old fashion flashlights from China. It has a nice Chinese term - "hand electricity" - Chiu dien

Now whenever the boys went out fishing with uncle, they would take turn to shine their torch light on the water. It was fun seeing the brilliant eyes of the prawns and the fish.

I wondered in those days whether a better torchlight would bring in bigger fish. Or whether fish got caught because it was night time and they were attracted to bright lights like men who got caught by the neon lights of the night clubs!!

But one night at about 10, my uncle caught one huge baong. The whole household got excited because we would have double supper that night. The hot fresh from kuali bao which we had already eaten. And now the almost midnight feast of Baong soup and Hoong Ngan.

What a  free gift from God!! And my uncle actually caught good fish and prawns fairly frequently.

No wonder all the children put on weight during the holidays.

April 2, 2013

60th Birthday - an Important Chinese Milestone

In the earlier years in Sibu, and definitely in the early days in China, the 60th Birthday or "Sek" was a very significant milestone in one's life.

The children who by then would be parents themselves would be bringing special 60th birthday gifts to the mother or father .

In the traditions of the Sibu Foochow Culture , gifts would be pork legs with gold bracelet or rings from the married daughters, another alternative would be a framed ceramic painted picture of the celebrant. The sons would be paying for the lunch or dinner. The dinner could be a free dinner for all the invited guests because it would be a milestone and joyous celebration. Special peach shaped baos would be ordered and displayed and later eaten.

Red candles would be lighted and the Christians would have a prayer said. Sometimes a reverend would be invited to preach a special short sermon. Other eloquent guests would be invited to make speeches on the achievements of not only the celebrant but the children and grandchildren.

Most women would not be celebrating a 60th birthday grandly. Especially those whose husband had already passed on and those with children who were poor. Such humble would just have a bowl of noodles for herself and her loved ones at home. Just one table, she would say. She might call her neighbours to come and join her. My own grandmother when she reached her 60th birthday did not have a big do. Later when one or two of my uncles prospered they gave her a good celebration from time to time to mark 70th and 80th I remember. By my mother and aunts would always give pork legs.

Today, children and grand children are more affluent than before and so birthday parties are very common place. People do not have to reach 60 to get a good celebration.

In olden day Sibu, one of the grandest 60th birthday celebration was that of Mrs. Goh, the mother of Goh Kok Leong who then chairman of the Heng Hua Putien Association. Few people could forget that celebration.

60th GRand Birthday celebration of mother of Chairman Goh Kuok Leong. *Heng HuA Putien Association" (translation of the banner)

The celebration would be both a sombre recognition of the life of a person, and in this occasion, the life of a mother (and a grandmother) who had been playing a low keyed role. In actual fact, many women I know of from Sibu had played very important roles in the upbringing of children and the growth of prosperity in the family.

The westerners have a saying, "Behind every successful man is a worthy woman."

What was your 60th Birthday celebration like? What's your 60th going to be like?


p/s Sibu was a very cool place in those days. Men wearing suits did not sweat at all. I know this for a fact because my father often came back with his suit and my mum did not have to wash it. No dry cleaners in those days too. Mum said, "Cool day, no sweat". Double meaning there in English.


Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...