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.

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.

November 14, 2013

Bentong's Ginger and Cantonese Vinegared Pork Leg

Ari Matthias Leong Kai Hsiang was born on 14th November 2012 of mixed parentage in Kelana Jaya Hospital, Selangor by C-section, with his father in attendance.

Questions asked :

Is a child not legal at birth until proven so? A few days later he was "registered as a legitimate and legal citizen of Malaysia (Selangor)" and given a MyCardKid or My Kid Card -and a birth certificate. Mum said "Finally after a few days, he is legal!!"

So at birth, a child is not legal? That's a heavy question!!

What about a full Foochow Confinement? My daughter did not insist on a full Foochow confinement for which she would have to eat 3 full chicken meals and 2 snacks of soups. May be that contributed to lack of lactation, a friend suggested?

Should a new father be around to help? Hoong was a very hands on modern dad, all willing to help the new born. The only thing he could not do was breast feed Ari!!

Should we practise Foochow Sending of Peace? Surng Ang? Friends and relatives came to the 15th floor apartment and enjoyed looking at the baby bearing gifts and heaping joyous remarks on the child. It was mainly just tea and cakes if we were given some notice. But generally it was really and truly, just looking at the baby and visiting the new mum and dad to give moral support.

What Chinese name should we give him? Grandmother from Penang even helped to choose the Chinese characters with help of geomancer from no less Taiwan.  We short listed and considered all the different names and picked names with the KH initials. So Ari has a good Chinese name, Kai Hsiang. Kai 
"triumphant" in Chinese
 翔 Hsiang means SOAR Above...

Kai Hsiang means, triumphant boy who can rise high...Will he be an Olympic hurdler like the Chinese athlete Liu Hsiang 劉翔 ?

 KH is the proud father's initials. The two KH will be the best of friends in the future.

Dish cooked by Regina Szetu, November 2013.

What dishes should be cooked for the new mother? There were really a large number of dishes to choose from. Friends and relatives lent cookery books meant for confinement. Bless their hearts.
Different dishes were cooked for the new mother. But the best dish came from her mother in law. It is the Cantonese Vinegared Pork Knuckles with lots of ginger and good vinegar.

What herbs would be good for the baby and the mother? Friends bought for the new mother herbs for bathing and cleansing, herbs for the baby's bath.

Photo from Bentong Ginger Company.
Mrs. Loo, my eldest daughter's mother-in-law went especially to Bentong to buy a lot of Bentong Ginger for the confinement. As I have never seen such good ginger before, it was a great experience and there was so much to learn too.

(Bentong Ginger from Places and

Should the new mother stay in bed for 30 days? Well, the 30 days passed quickly and she was  moving about, doing all the household chores and baby care. This reminds me of the Cantonese mothers in Kanowit who only stayed in bed for two days and on the third day they were already washing clothes at the floating jetties. These Cantonese mothers were admirable and strong!!

Hope Ari  and parents, and grandparents, Acting grandma,uncles, aunties, cousins, and family friends will have another happy year ahead, safe, warm, good food, joy and blessings from God the Almighty.

Happy Birthday Ari..You have passed a remarkable 365 days!!

November 11, 2013

12 Pound Red Blanket

In the earlier days in Sibu, a bride's family would be busy planning for her dowry. She could get 3 or 6 or even 12 kinds of gifts, namely, sewing machine, bicycle, a bed, wardrobe,dressing table, mattress and pillow set TOGETHER with a red blanket, table, two German made chairs with lanterns, etc. All these will be carried each on two bamboo poles, around the town or village for all to see. The public would comment how good the parents were to provide so much for the bride!!

One of the biggest dowries sent out with a bride was my Third Aunt, Pearl Tiong. My mother used to tell us that she was really loved and well sent off.

My father's third brother, Uncle Hua King, married my Third Aunt, Lu Kie Kee and she also came to the Tiong family with many "tang" of bridal gifts.

Photo from e-bay (Sharland and Lewis) This blanket is priced more than US$ 100.00 now.

Made by Sharland and Lewis of Dorset, England, this woollen blanket was imported by Singapore and later retailed to shops in Sibu like Ta Sing and Ta Hing (still in High Street ,Sibu). The Foochows believe that this blanket would bring a lot of good luck to the bride and it would last her from her wedding day , see her through her confinements, old age sickness and then to her grave.

There have been lots of tales related to the RED BLANKET.

Any one interested in old time bridal practices, can write in to me. We should actually document all these stories in book form for future generation to read.

I hope a blanket like this can be exhibited in the Fuzhou History and Gallery in Upper Lanang in Sibu.

November 9, 2013


Few people would realise that Miri has many Fishtail Palms . These beautiful palms are popular as landscape plants in China (Yunnan) and many warmer countries outside of the temperate zones.

Malaysia chooses fishtale palms as one of the palms grown in urban landscape.

The flowers of the fishtail palms are beautiful when looked at close range and especially when they have fallen on the ground, making a rich orangey carpet in the mornings.

The fast-growing fishtail palm has huge fronds and they really look majestic!!

I heard from some people that it is a monocarpic tree . Once you see it flower and fruit, it dies soon after. What a pity.

Most Ibans consider this palm "untouchable" because the skin gets very irritated when a person touches its trunk and seed, and sometimes even leaves.
It is native to India, Laos and Vietnam. )No wonder it is grown in abundance in Yunnan.)

Posted Image

\It is also known as Caryota.

November 4, 2013

Sungei Merah Tales : Towkay Ah Mee's Wife , Siti - a love story

Siti was Lau Ah Mee's first wife of Iban descent. If you remember the days of the 60's a very popular place to hang out and to be seen by people was the Airport Cafe . It was owned by Lau Ah Mee, a most pleasant Heng Hua towkay.

He was also the contractor for MSA and later MAS airline meals. Contract was simple then: coffee, tea, a piece of cake, a packet of peanuts. Probably the contract was only a few thousand ringgit, not like today's hefty million ringgit contracts.

Ah Mee loved her and dressed her up in some of the most beautiful sarong kebayas people have ever seen in Sibu. The Ibans loved her very much and wished the husband and wife team well. Siti and Ah Mee had two two children together.

Photo below is from a friend who now lives in Perth. Menai and Siti are cousins.This was taken not long after Siti married Ah Mee. Look at the way she dressed her hair!!

According to friends from Sungei Merah, Siti was pretty and very active in socialising with every one in Sibu and Sungei Merah. She frequented the hair dresser in Sungei Merah and talked very warmly with friends in the market. If I am not mistaken, she was also one of the first Iban ladies to learn to drive in Sibu!! Ah Bee was just happy to see her so happy.

He bought her a lot of gold to delight her. In fact people were amazed by the gold she wore. But in those days, wearing of gold was common. If you had money, flaunt it. If you were happy with the gold bracelets, why not. There was no chance of robbery. In fact, Ah Mee was always near by and she was behind the counter , helping here and there. There was a helper in the kitchen .

However unknown to any one she disappeared one day, and actually according to her relatives there was no reason for her to run away at all from a lovely home. And from a man who totally adored her.

She just  disappeared. This was a very sad part of Ah Mee's life and we were quite sure that he was really heart broken.

Ah Mee however a long time later married a nice woman from Kapit. His children grew up and the airport cafe continued to be a happening place.

We kids particularly loved to have our evening walks at the airport when planes were no longer scheduled to touch down. Security was lax and in fact many people learned to drive their father's cars in the tarmac.

Ah Mee went on to prosper and became a very beloved community elder amongst the Heng Hua people.

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). ...