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.


Anonymous said...

Many of our elders especially the women folk were married twice because life was hard in Sibu then. A few of the prominent women had children who either have their own father's surnames, or "cross" over to the surname of the new family. So the first batch of children can be Tang, and the second batch Wong. It was common then. And many of the pioneering Foochows were very grateful that they could even get a good wife like that!! Poor Widows who had good reputation of being hardworking were highly recommended by their elders. This also ensured that they and their children would not starve to death because of lack of land to cultivate or lack of rubber trees to tap.

Anonymous said...

Most of our neighbours widows in Bukit Assek stayed unmarried. In old days, men died early, usually before 50, and women had to live on for the next 20 to 30 years. They raised their family without their men. They were mentally very strong.

Ensurai said...

I do have documentation of those ladies who were twice married and had very successful marriages and families. It was more a social deed to help the widows and to keep the families going. Some women had no families (nie gah) so they had to be remarried off, especially those who were extremely poor. Thanks.

Ensurai said...

Yes indeed in later years in the 60's many widows did not remarry. My mother is one case in point. She has remained unmarried for the last 45 years to bring up 7 children. It was a struggle but in the end, it is all worth it. Very very strong. thank. Would really like to know the stories of these Bukit Assek Widows.

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). ...