October 22, 2013

Seeking help

Ccan any one help to identify the people in this photograph? I think the man in the far right is Dato Ting Ing Mieng.

I hope someone can help name all these people.

Can any one also help describe the significance of the scroll and its content? Thank you.

I am redirecting this request from Rev Muthiah.


October 21, 2013

Huat Gor (Foochow's Kuih Apam)

 The Foochows have a very delectable sweet snack called huat gor (Steamed Risen Bun) or wan gor. (Cup cake) made mainly from rice flour.

In the olden days in Sibu, mothers would use the stone grinder to grind soaked rice grains in a batter to make this steamed cake.

Today, grand children and great grandchildren of these early pioneers who came from China to Sibu in 1903 continue to enjoy this delicacy and share the recipes with the Malays, Melanaus and Ibans. Although there are many variants of the recipes, the original recipe produces this very tasty and fluffy steamed cake. The saying, testing of the pudding is by eating, is never truer when you make this cake according to the recipe given by my former colleage Tiong Siew Ing to her friend, my former student, Ling Huong Yian, who now resides in Perth.

Huong Yian recently made these cakes for a very satisfied group of Iban and Chinese friends in Perth. Thank you Huong Yian and Siew Ing for the recipe.

This recipe calls for three days of work for the whole process to take place. If you are hard press for time, this is not a recipe you can attempt. But once you know how to make it, you won't even need a written recipe in front of you. An aunt said in Foochow :"You can make them with eyes closed!!" It may sound pompous, but in the olden days, Foochow women were really very capable with their skilful hands.


A.. Grind or pound  half of the flat ragi(酒饼) You can use less if you like.
Then add one rice bowl of cooked cold overnight rice(隔夜饭), mix well and let stand for more than 24 hours so that some kind of fermentation occurs. 
B.Add water 10 oz to A. Put them into blender  to blend it. Take out, put one packet of non glutinous rice powder, (榨米粉)stir and mix  well with another 14 oz of water/ Rest the mixture for 8-10 hours.
C. Add 7 oz of sugar to B and blend it again- You can divide into 2 portions to blend well, blend twice would be better..
D. When done transfer to a bowl and add 2 packets of ENO(blue packet) and stir, mix well

E. you can steam the batter in small paper cups or the metal cups now-more than half an hour- make sure they are well cooked in the middle part. Use a lidi or skewer to test.

another recipe is from here Fatt Kueh

October 17, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales: Heng Hua Middle man for Jelutong Balls and Rubber Sheets

My grandfather owned a smoke house in Sungei Merah and several good acres of rubber garden. He employed  two families to tap his rubber trees. However as I was too young to know then, I would not know whether these employees were profit sharing with him or wage earners only He was well known as a man who drove a hard bargain though. And then as the rubber prices dropped, the families moved out of the free quarters to look for a living elsewhere. I have lost touch with these two families. May be one day I can still link up with them.

The smoke house remained closed after my grandfather passed away. But there were lots of stories associated with rubber tapping and jelutong collection as told by him and our uncles.

According to an uncle my grandfather sold his smoked rubber sheets to the middlemen in Sibu. And it was also part of the duties of the two families to send the rubber sheets after the smoking process to the middlemen.


Besides, Sibu, Sungei Merah was a rubber and jelutomg collection centre in the 1950's . It collected rubber and jelutong from the Ibans and Melanaus of the Seduan and Igan agreas. A favourite middle man was a Heng Hua Towkay who was much favoured by the Ibans of Aup and Teku.
Hill species of jelutong (Google)

Towkay Heng Hua was a kindly man who treated his Indigenous  suppliers  and customersvery well.

Nursery growing jelutong in Indonesia. http://archive.kaskus.co.id/thread/5679403/120

Each time the Iban families came with their collection of rubber sheets and jelutong balls, Towkay Heng Hua would give the children a bottle or two of the old style lemonade which the Iban kids enjoyed. Sometimes he would call out to one of the servants to cook some noodles for the children as the adults discussed daily business and waited for the rubber and jelutong to be weighed and paid for. So on "market day" Towkay Heng Hua's shop was full of Ibans and Melanaus. The kids grew up remembering for the rest of their lives how good this Heng Hua towkay was.

The Iban kids also remember that they would return the lemonade bottles in exchange for some cents. If they had enough empty lemonade bottles, they would go home with three or four bottles of lemonade. According to one of my friends, this recycling deal was a joy in their life!! A dozen empty bottles gave them back one bottle of lemonade in those days.

A Land Rover ride was 50 cents per person from Sg. Aup to Sg. Merah and her father could probably get 50 to 70 dollars from the sale of their rubber sheets and jelutong.

There were lots of jelutong trees in the Igan area and in those days jelutong still fetched quite a good sum of money.

She commented that when she and her brothers were young, they would follow their parents to the forest to look for jelutong. "Tap the trees like rubber and these trees were wild for any one of us to tap/ Our rubber trees were planted and we were glad that we had a few acres of those latex producing trees/ White gold!! But these days we are too old to tap rubber already and anyway our rubber trees are too old also. May be one day, some scientist will find that jelutong can have a new use..."

Towkay Heng Hua passed away a long time ago, his mini bus is now a part of our faded history, Ah Mee's Airport coffee shop is no longer there and Sungei Merah has a great face lift recently after many decades of backwater lifestyle.

But great memories remain in our hearts.

May God bless the good people of this earth!!

Sungei Merah Tales : Durian Tembaga from Sg. Aup

My grandfather and father led the first Foochows to buy land for development in Sg Aup in the 1950's/ The Tiong family set up the first mechanized brickyard, Kiong Ann Brckyard in Sibu. Every brick was a beautiful red brick and evenly made because of the machinery we used.

However , the whole Aup community became absorbed in this new industrial development and that was the better part of the history of our family.

Lumpoh, one of the leading Iban chieftains (father of my good sister Mena Westley of Perth) became a loyal family friend

He and his family owned a great Durian Tembaga tree which could produce about 200 durians in a good year. It was really his mother who planted the tree. In the Iban culture, a person who plants fruit trees for the family is always revered and remembered. Every fruit tree besides having its own natural ID, also has the name of the person who planted it as part of its history. The family often say with pride,"This is my grandmother's durian tree. She planted it before the coming of the Japanese" for example.

 Amongst the Ibans,the durian tembaga is the best durian in the world. Move aside Munsang King!!

Father would bring two durians for grandfather who lived in Sungei Merah. And two or three for mother and the rest of us , after work in Sg. Aup.

 One day, he could only get one from Lumpoh because that was the last one left.

Can you guess who had he durian?

Lumpoh would always remember my grandfather and father for their love of durian tembaga and its tree. My father would come and watch the durian flowers and be full of expectancy when the tree started to fruit.like any other connoisseur  !!


A lot of the conversation happened between Lumpoh and my father. They talked about padi, fruit trees,and fish in the river. And very often my father would sit like an Iban in Lumpoh's ruai. Lumpoh was also the man who supplied my father with his favourite fishing traps, the bubu, a fishing trap made from bamboo. My father was a very humble man  and enjoyed a good night of trapping of fish especially ikan keli in the rubber garden when it was the raining season. He sold ikan keli at 5 dollars per tin (large cooking oil tin) in the market.

My grandfather passed away in 1963 and my father two years later.

I would always remember the two of them enjoying eating durians together in the evenings It was a sight for children to remember for the rest of their lives.

The social history of a community is often full of sad anecdotes and other tragic stories. Sometimes there are good positive stories. Some people keep their good stories alive, while allowing the sad and tragic ones to fade. Others harp on their sad stories.

One of the sad stories I would like to keep and that is related to Lumpoh's durian tembaga tree.

Years later, we heard about the demise of the old durian tembaga tree.

The durian tembaga tree was so popular for so many years that people became quite jealous of it.  So one day some members of the community came to see Mena's grandmother and told her that a new longhouse would be built and many of the trees had to be cut down And that would include the durian tembaga.

After some discussion for several months in the longhouse ruai, the trees were cut down and the ground prepared.

However after 5 years the new long house was never built. But the durian tree was gone

Mena said her family still miss the tree and the fragrance of the durian tembaga fruits. Her parents were really very heart broken by the felling of the grand durian tree. Why in the first place should these relatives demand that the trees around the longhouse be cut down to make way for a new longhouse which never came into reality?

You can say, jealousy is the cause of many a good durian tree's demise in Sarawak. And it is a greater loss to nature when you realise that 50 years down the road, the seeds of this fruit have become very very rare.

Note 1 = It would take a university with a giant resource to do research on the growing of the vintage durian species.

Note 2 =
The durian tembaga has a very thin skin and each fruit is about 2 to 3 kg in weight. The flesh of this durian is like copper, or deep yellow The flesh is thick and rich and the seed is very small The texture is smooth, and the fragrance of the fruit is beyod belief!! It is always sweet. Today durian tembaga is only found in Indonesia, commercially. And it is rare to find it in Sarawak.


October 4, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales : Grandfather's Five Cents

Growing up in Sibu in the 1950's I learned a lot from my elders and especially from my grandfather, Tiong Kung Ping even though we did not live in the same house as most Foochow families did in those days. Most Foochow families had three or even four generations under one roof.

Grandfather came visiting us fairly often from Sungei Merah when we lived in Brooke Drive. I cannot ever remember him visitng us in Hua Hong Ice Factory though. I lived with my parents and aunts in Hua Hong until I was six and my brother was about one year old. (We lived in the Brooke Drive house until 1978 when it was demolished to make way for shophouses. Life was never quite the same after 1978 for most people in Sibu because the economic situation started to change rapidly.)

Five cents coin of the British colonial days.

My sisters,my brother and I loved seeing him in the house in Brooke Drive. His gift was often a small packet of Kong Biang or kompia. He was already in his 70's by then. He had rather stiff legs I remember and he was tall for a Foochow man.
The square one cent copper coin. We had a whole box of it for years. Later when we moved house, we could not find the box any more. Now it would worth slightly more, at last for its copper.

We actually dd not know that Grandfather often had tiffs with grandmother Siew and he would come to our house to "hide" for a few days, usually two nights. It was only much later when we were all grown up tht we were told that our grandparents were very strong minded people. Grandfather was much older than grandma but grandma was very enterprising and really had a mind of her own. She was very modern amongst the women of her time and she was very far sighted. According to our family legends, once grandma Siew cooled down, her little car would appear at our gates and she would come in to take grandpa home. It was a kind of interesting patching up for them, but we kids knew no better. It as time for grandpa to go home to Sungei Merah. One thing good about our grandparents : they never quarrelled in public. They only had cold wars and that really tickled us.

On occasions like this or his personal cold war, Grandpa would be teaching us kids about life.

He once told us about saving. He placed a few five cents on the table for us and instructed us very slowly to allow the five cents to grow into ten cents and then 10 ten cents would become a dollar. Ten one dollar would become ten dollars And so on...He told us to look forward to One Hundred Dollars.

He also told us never to flash the red notes around, especially in front of people. That kind of arrogance he said would make many enemies out of people around us. We must not show our open wallet because it would make people jealous of us. If possible, he said, we must always have a secret pocket in our skirt.

Grandpa had a small rubber coin purse. He would slowly dig out a little coin to give us, whenever he saw us. Five cents from him was a great gift.

That was exactly what my maternal grandmother said. It was no wonder that all our dresses and Chinese pants had side pockets in those days. We also tied our coins or dollar notes in our handkerchiefs. We did not ever have a purse.

Not long after that he passed away before any one of us made it to his target of 100 dollars. It was not easy at all to save 10 red notes in those days. It was very rare indeed for children even to get red packets or ang pows with 10 dollars in them. Today, it is just so normal t receive ten dollar notes from relatives especially during Chinese New Year.

Many years later, my pocket money in the university was 75 dollars a month which was meant for books and other essentials. I could not save a lot of money then and I actually never did save coins until I had 100 dollars because I had a weakness for movies. It had been very  very hard.

But it was a good lesson from Grandfather. He was our first Maths teacher teaching us TENs. And he was our first wealth advisor.

And definitely, we learned from him that Money Talks louder than anything in this world.

October 3, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales : The Gentle Iban Lady with Leprosy

In the early 50's leprosy was a feared disease to the Foochows of Sibu especially but according to many, the Ibans took diseases as a matter of factly. That is, they took most things or events in life fatalistically. If it happened, it happened.

My father in order to educate us about the terrible disease, which was even cursed in the Bible, told us a story which I would never forget. It was a story about one Iban lady from the Iban community who were neigbhours of the Foochows and Heng Huas of Sungei Merah.

Sungei Merah was a pit stop for Ibans from Bukit Aup . Whenever Aup Ibans wished to go to Sibu for medical treatment, they would stop at. Sungei Merah which was a "pasar" for them. The Ibans would either berth their longboats in Sungei Merah, take a bus, or continue to paddle their long boats to Sibu, a good half day away after selling their products and obtaining some cash to spend in the bigger town.

Most of the Ibans were rubber tappers and padi farmers in those days. Occasionally they would bring their fish, chickens and even monitor lizards for sale.In this way they would collect some hard cash.
PHOTO by Sarawakiana - The Ibans from Aup in the 1950's would come by long boat along this Sungei Seduan to Sungei Merah Bazaar. They would either take the bus to Sibu (which would cost them some  money) or they would continue to paddle their long boat towards Sibu, from the Igan river to the Rajang River, a good half day of paddling. It would also be very convenient for the whole family to seek medical attention at the Lau King Howe Hospital which had a jetty for long boats and motor launches.

Leprosy was a very hushed hushed disease and people never did want to talk about it.

I will call her Aunty Juna, the gentle lady who survived from leprosy, as told by my late father.

Juna was married at a young age to Jugah (not his real name) but in a twist of fate they never could have children. One day Juna found that her skin was reddish and soon she had a lot of itch all over her body.

She had heard of the disease leprosy from the missionaries and the Chinese. But she never expected herself to be diagnosed with the disease by the Orang Putih Doctor in the Lau King Howe hospital. She had to be "exiled" to Kuching's "Leper Hospital" for treatment.
Photo from Argenta Images, the original entrance to the Leper Hospital, Mile 13 Kuching.

The whole longhouse turned up to see her being sent to Kuching where she would be treated (almost like a prisoner in those days). The family members went by long boats from the Igan River to the Sibu government wharf.

Photo from Argenta Images (Sir Charles Brooke Memorial Hospital for Lepers)

But after a year, she was "almost cured" and was allowed to return home to her family in Aup.

Juna being a very good natured woman requested her husband to take a new wife and , in order to remain , in the same "family house", she promised her husband that she would live with him, but would only play the role of a "nanny" to his children. Juna remained celibate throughout her life after her discharge from the hospital in Kuching (and this I learned not long ago from a mutual friend).

My father was a kindly man who thought well of others. By sharing this story with us, he was developing our empathies and compassion for people who were less fortunate. I believe he was also trying to help us be less afraid of diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis, which were quite rampant in those days in Sibu.

Juna's longhouse would have bamboo for flooring in the 1950's (Photo by Sarawakiana)
Note 1 : Juna's leprosy never recurred and she passed away after living a fairly long life, much loved by her former husband and his new wife, and by their children considered as her "grandchildren". If you happen to visit Sungei Aup, some young Ibans may remember this story from yesteryears. I have kept it in my heart and I am sharing it with you.
Note 2 : I have other Foochow related leprosy tales also.
Note 3 : Read this related article too...
Note 4 : I reconfirmed the story with a friend (who is just slightly older than I) not long ago.

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). ...