January 29, 2013

Puffer Fish

Ikan Buntal is well known in Sarawak as a fish you love to catch for its eggs even though an accidental tasting of the flesh might end up in death .

Only the very skilled cook knows how to prepare fresh buntal for the pot. I must say I won't want to do any of this kitchen work.
The dried puff up skin of a buntal is used to make a lamp shade to the delight of both adults and children.

Its eggs are beautiful, whether salted or fresh. In Saratok and Betong of Sarawak buntal eggs are sold in packets of RM10.00. Tourists and locals look anxiously for them in the market. Salted buntal eggs are good with porridge especially. They also form a nice ingredient for omelettes.

But one use of the buntal skin is for the making of lanterns and this calls for a special skill to take out all the flesh and puff up the skin for drying.

January 25, 2013

Sempidan - Wild Pheasants from Sarawak

(Photos from Ian Kody - a nephew)

the male sempidan with his splendid enviable coloured feathers.

The sempidan hen is rather plain, like the peahen and is generally brown in colour with a slightly bluish face. White streaks can be seen on her breast.

 The sempidan, or Crested Fireback pheasants are threatened species found in Thailand,Malaya, Sumatra , Kalimantan and Sarawak. However they are sometimes found by boatmen and jungle travellers who keep them as pets.

The males have cobalt blue faces and have dark meallic blue plumage with some streaks of reddish brown on the back. They have a wide curved tail which is cream at the top with the contrasting bottom feathers which are bluish as the main body. The face has bright blue wattels which expand to twice the size when the bird is displaying its features and trying to attract attention.

( ophura ignita nobilis)
Crested - Fireback Pheasant

January 24, 2013

Noren or Buoh Lian as Room Partition

In my friend's home, is a lovely Noren which divides her small kitchen from her washroom area. It is blue in colour because she loves blue. Her family, especially her mother, loves embroidery and sewing. So they own many beautiful crafts made from textiles. All hand sewn. She has many other norens in her house too.

Noren (暖簾) are traditional Japanese fabric dividers, hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways, or in windows. They usually have one or more vertical slits cut from the bottom to nearly the top of the fabric, allowing for easier passage or viewing. Noren are rectangular and come in many different materials, sizes, colors, and patterns.

The Escapade outlets in Brunei exhibits beautiful Norens. Today many restaurants throughou Malaysia also sue norens as room dividers. Most popularly, norens help to divide washroom spaces from the main shop room. And tastefully designed norens are actually pieces of art themselves.

They can also be used by shops and restaurants as sun, wind and dust shades. Some norens are used as advertisig space. From a distance, for example, in Japan one can see that a red Noren advertises bath houses for women. I often wonder here what colour would be used for transexual bathhouses in Japan or any other country. In China transexuals are referred to as Middle Sex (Gender), so may be a noren with half red and half blue can be displayed. Norens for bathhouses are taken down at the end of the business day and put up for business the next day.

Japanese Bath House with Noren in Red for women.

This is a bathhouse for men (blue noren) in Japan. Business is as usual!!

this is a handprinted Noren manufactured by a Kyoto Manufacturer.

If you watch some of the older TV dramas , you will be able to see these textile dividers used during he 1940's and 1950's when Chinese familis shared houses. Each family would rent one room only and share the common kitchen. Instead of opening and closing doors (which was considered rude), a cloth door curtain was used. Prying eyes would not be able to see the goings on in the room. But Chinese use only one whole piece of cloth.

this is a special Wedding "door curtain" to signify the newly wed's bedroom. Very auspicious and a must have in Taiwan and Mainland China. But in Malaysia it is no longer trendy. However I do remember my cousins had them specially made for their weddings in the 1950's. All specially embroidered by hand or by machine.

chinese red door curtain

 I wish a textile museum could be established in Sarawak and there can be so much to see!! It would inspire the next generation in more ways than you can imagine!!

January 19, 2013

Keruing or Asian Mahogany

A day out with children and learn about nature is a good day. There are so many trees they can learn about and grow to love. This is a good way to continue our conservation of our environment.

What about a short lesson about the keruing? The Keruing is decreasing in number and we should actually  start  replanting them.

Keruing is a special species of tropical hardwood found in Malaysia (especially in Sarawak twenty years ago) and Indonesia.

Some of the best home furniture and flooring are made from this timber.

And I remembered a friend who once took us for some jungle trekking pointed out the trees for us to photograph. He quipped, "Take photos if you like. Not many people care about these trees nowadays. In this patch, only a few are left, the rest have been logged by probably illegal timber people who know that one tree this size can build a small house in fact." That was many years ago.

Today, indeed, very few Keruings are left in the jungles of Sarawak. Some timber concessionaries have already logged all of them.

But if you drive to Long Lama or any where in the Baram you can still see the tall beautiful silhouette of the Keruing trees, beckoning to you. But unlike the tapang tree, bees do not build their nest on them.

This beautiful tree is fo und both on lowland and hilly terrain. It is quite  easy to recongise.


Beautiful bench made from keruing ( google)

Asian Mahogany, or Keruing, is made up of about 70 species of the Dipterocarpus genus. These large hardwoods can grow to heights of 230 feet. The various species are found throughout the eastern hemisphere in areas such as the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Asian mahogany trees can reach heights of up to 200 feet when fully mature with diameters of up to six feet.
of Malaysian origin. It is found mostly in lowland forest but may also be found in some hilltop forests.

It is more often used as a flooring material. But it should not be exposed to excessive moisture or
standing water.

It is a pity that many Malaysians cannot easily tell the names of the trees which are found around them.

Nowadays we may have to consider what we are teaching our kids . It is a pity that many parents take the easy way out - give them an iPad.

January 17, 2013

Bamboo Flowers in Miri

I picked up a piece of intriguing information from my former colleague Mr. Sapen. He pointed out to me that when the bamboo flowers, the rodent population in his farm will increase thus causing a lot of damage.

It was the first time I was able to photograph bamboo flowers, although I had seen them many times in different parts of Sarawak. I did not know that bamboo only flowers infrequently , like once in 50 years!! or 65 years. And then after that the cluster would die. I will go back to this bamboo grove in a few months time to photograph it again.

The relationship between rat populations and bamboo flowering was examined in a 2009 Nova documentary Rat Attack.

Beautiful bamoo leaves against the sky.

A bunch of flowers growing from a tall bamboo

this is a cluster of bamboo flowers.


Zoomed in , you see this very interesting cluster or bunch of bamboo flowers.

Another cluster.

The beginning of a bamboo flower at a lower level (nearer the ground)

It was an eye opening visit to a rural farm owned by Mr. Sapen which was initiated by his late father in 1984.

(Wikipedia says : Bamboo's long life makes it a Chinese symbol of longevity, while in India it is a symbol of friendship. The rarity of its blossoming has led to the flowers' being regarded as a sign of impending famine. This may be due to rats feeding upon the profusion of flowers, then multiplying and destroying a large part of the local food supply. The most recent flowering began in May 2006 (see Mautam). Bamboo is said to bloom in this manner only about every 50 years (see 28–60 year examples in FAO: 'gregarious' species table).
In Chinese culture, the bamboo, plum blossom, orchid, and chrysanthemum (often known as méi lán zhú jú 梅兰竹菊) are collectively referred to as the Four Gentlemen. These four plants also represent the four seasons and, in Confucian ideology, four aspects of the junzi ("prince" or "noble one"). The pine (sōng 松), the bamboo (zhú 竹), and the plum blossom (méi 梅) are also admired for their perseverance under harsh conditions, and are together known as the "Three Friends of Winter" (岁寒三友 suìhán sānyǒu) in Chinese culture. The "Three Friends of Winter" is traditionally used as a system of ranking in Japan, for example in sushi sets or accommodations at a traditional ryokan. Pine (matsu 松) is of the first rank, bamboo (také 竹) is of second rank, and plum (ume 梅) is of the third.)

January 16, 2013

On the Road to Marudi from Miri

These days we need not take the Express Boats from Kuala Baram to Marudi or Long Lama. Off road vehicles can take us door to door from Miri to Marudi. Our family friend Cikgu Zaharah Omar and her siblings go home to Marudi for their festivals like Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and they find the "taxis" most convenient.

The signages in Sarawak are rather poor. Here is one example - It is small and rather shabby. You cannot find one at the main junction. Luckily there is one here or the driver could drive into a huge plantation and be lost for a few hours  until he meets another vehicle.


Some parts of the road are still bad. Just mud and gravel. Other parts are already paved. In fact a teacher friend of mine said that even his Kancil can reach Marudi!

But Toyota Hi lux is the most popular vehicle in Sarawak. Every other family seems to own one!!


 Poor road conditions and vehicles get call caked in mud after the journey.

A Bailey Bridge still helps the people to cross small rivers. What an innovation!!


 A young girl is driving this old bomb together with her father. But the car  is really sturdy and road worthy.

The road cut through sedimentary rocks but sometimes when hills are cut through landslides may occur and thus blocking transportation and communication. 

January 14, 2013

Yiu Char Kui and half shops of Sibu

This is an excellent Chinese breakfast item. Eating with soy bean milk, it is both filling and satisfying. When we were growing up in Sibu, it was the cheapest food our grandparents and parents could bring home from the market. 

The Sibu Shops in the 50's and 60's were rather unusual . Some shops were rented by one business only. However many were rented by two businesses, hence the term, half shop. These half shops were run every day but there is no dividing wall. However when things got bad between the two businesses, a wall would go up.

Now there were some shops there were divided into three, especially those facing the alleys, ie the end shops. Our favourite Tian Bian Hoo shop in Sibu is one example of a shop lot which has three businesses going. In front is the tailor shop and the other half is owned by a goldsmith.

All these partitioning of shops in Sibu was due to the Second Landlord problem in the 1950's. But then it became a very acceptable way of doing business.

Many years ago,several hawkers and shops in Market Road of Sibu made YCK (or yiu tiau) and people had to queue up for them. These would be the biscuit making shops. The big kuali at the front part of their half shop would be heat up to deep fry the YCK as early as 6 a.m. I can still remember the skilled chef using just a piece of small wood to divide the dough into two portions. And when the dough is risen enough the chef would lower the dough into the hot oil. The same method of making continues until today!! Pasar Malam also have hawkers who sell YCK. Many Malays are beginning to sell Cakoi in kampongs and in their shops.

A long time ago each yiu char kui or oil stick was about 10 cents and cut into pieces with a pair of scissors siblings can have lots of share. Today you get 3 for a ringgit depending on the size. The bigger ones are 2 for a ringgit in Miri. Some YCK are harder, some are rather soft. Some have too much bi-carbonate. So one really has to choose your chef carefully. Or you need to ask around for the best YCK in town!!

Today I continue to dip my share into hot sweet kopi-0. Heavenly. And on a rainy day, nothing quite beat this kind of breakfast.

Sourced from Wikipedia is this

"Folk etymology

The Cantonese name yàuhjagwái literally means "oil-fried devil" and, according to folklore, is an act of protest against Song Dynasty official Qin Hui, who is said to have orchestrated the plot to frame the general Yue Fei, an icon of patriotism in Chinese culture. It is said that the food, originally in the shape of two human-shaped pieces of dough but later evolved into two pieces joined in the middle, represents Qin Hui and his wife, both having a hand in collaborating with the enemy to bring about the great general's demise. Thus the youtiao is deep fried and eaten as if done to the traitorous couple. In keeping with the legend, youtiao are often made as two foot-long rolls of dough joined along the middle, with one roll representing the husband and the other the wife."

Nowadays if we buy a packet of this cakoi (Malay word), our children would be most happy. Somehow this simple item can still top KFC or Pizza.

Sharing food at home is still the best way of communicating love and care in the family.

January 12, 2013

Mini Tampoi - a wild Sarawak fruit

The sweet mini tampoi is a wild fruit found in Sarawak. It is always
 a blessing from God when you find a tree in the jungle. This weekend during a walkabout in the Miri/Bintulu jungles I found to my delight this beauty of a tree.  Fruiting furiously!!

The fruit is very very sweet and juicy. You cannot ask for more!!

The flesh is red in colour and although the seed is rather big each section is very sweet in mouth. So as I eat slowly, I think it is quite a cross between good rambutan and longan. But the redness of the flesh is really something new to an urbanite like me.

The tree is rather small but a grown man can climb up easily without breaking the branches and pluck small bunches of the fruit off the branches. Like most tropical fruits, the tampoi grows right from the branches, not at the end of twigs like apples or olives.

Its scientific name is Baccaurea macrocarpa and belongs to Phyllanthaceae family. Locals also name it as Larah, Terai, Rambai Hutan, Setei.


Beautifully red and sweet mini tampoi.

 The fruit here is the size of a chicken egg.

The fruit is easy to open and very very pleasant afternoon can be passed sitting under the tree and eating the them , if you don't mind the mosquitoes.

Lots of fruits drop on to the ground because no one is picking them up.  What a pity.

January 9, 2013

Nang Chong : Wooden Plankwalks, Bridges,and Pontoons

The Rajang River had more than 40 Foochow villages from 1903 until 1970's . Today the villages seem to come alive again. Associated with old villages are bridges, plankwalks and pontoons made from wood.

As we revisit some of the Foochow Riverine villages like Nang Chong (three sections) Ensurai, 24 acres, Tanjong Kunyit, we are remind of how much the Foochows have used timber in their daily lives in the past.

to build pontoons (doh tau) and plank walks.

to link one house to another house along the river bank, and across small streams. (Photo by Steve Ling)

Many plank walks can still be found even in Sibu town itself (This is at the back of Amoy Road, Sibu - Photo by Steve Ling)

This is the old Mosque of Sibu. See how Kampong Nyabor was linked to Kampong Datu by

 a belian bridge.

It must have been a labour of love from our ancestors who built these structures. How they slowly fell  the trees, saw the wood and planed them into planks...and slowly piece by piece they fashioned the bridges, the plankwalks and the pontoons.

Photo from Ann Chin...how students riding bicycles crossed a small stream because there was a wooden bridge. All these bridges were built by community efforts.

January 6, 2013

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

 The Foochows of Sibu live with this song.

For various occasions the Foochow Methodists will sing it.

The Brass Bands would play this for funerals especially.






 Do you know the story behind the hymn?

What a Friend We Have in Jesus, the Song and the Story

Composer Joseph M. Scriven Writes What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus' name with Three Nails
Irish born Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1896) was 25 years old, in love and to be married. The day before his wedding his fiance died in a tragic drowning accident. Heartbroken, Joseph sailed from his homeland to start a new life in Canada. While in Canada working as a teacher, he fell in love again and became engaged to Eliza Roche, a relative of one of his students. Once again, Joseph's hopes and dreams were shattered when Eliza became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Although one can only imagine the turmoil within this young man, history tells us that his faith in God sustained him. Soon after Eliza's death Joseph joined the Plymouth Brethren and began preaching for a Baptist church. He never married, but spent the remainder of his life giving all his time, money and even the clothes off his own back to help the less fortunate and to spread the love and compassion of Jesus wherever he went.

Around the same time that Eliza died, Joseph received word from Ireland that his mother was ill. He could not go to be with her, so he wrote a letter of comfort and enclosed one of his poems entitled What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Many years later a friend was sitting with Joseph, as he was very ill. During this visit, the friend was very impressed when he ran across his poems, including What a Friend We Have in Jesus. As a result of this visit, almost 30 years after his letter of comfort to his mother, Joseph's poems were published in a book called Hymns and Other Verses. Soon thereafter, noted musician Charles C. Converse (1834-1918) put music to one of those poems: What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
Well-known musician and revivalist Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908) was a great admirer of Joseph Scriven. In 1875, Sankey came upon the music and words for What a Friend We Have in Jesus. He included it as the last entry into his well-known publication Sankey's Gospel Hymns Number 1.

After Joseph Scriven's death, the citizens of Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, where he gave so much of himself, erected a monument to his life. The seemingly sad and obscure life of one man resulted in so many lives being uplifted, both in his own time, and for many years after whenever the beautiful and comforting words of What a Friend We Have in Jesus are sung.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He'll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ( John 15:13)

Written by: Connie Ruth Christiansen

January 2, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Ramin

In the 1960's timber industry grew rapidly changing the social and economic faces of Sibu and its surrounding areas.

Foremost amongst the timber companies was the Lee Hua Sawmill. Shareholders of Lee Hua Sawmill grew rich over night and became timber tycoons of great renown. Their families were seen as the social leaders of the community.

The sawmill itself was situated inChien Nang Chong, not too far from the Chung Cheng Secondary School. Hundreds of villagers were employed by the sawmill in various capacities.

Amongst one of the jobs in the sawmill was the arrangement of sewn planks. Many women were employed just to earn RM2.00 per day. But money was big in those days.

At the end of the day, most employees would collect the sewn off discards to bring home as firewood.

Ramin discards. Photo taken in Bidor , Perak.

Ramin wood when dried was a very good firewood. The cast offs were "skins" of the trees, or sewn offs. In fact later on, lorry drivers made a bit of money selling off the ramin wood discards.

The firewood was therefore free but the employees would have to use cloth to wrap the discards so that they would not suffer itchiness. Ramin wood and perhaps its chemical treatment residues cause skin irritation.

So working in the sawmill, most employees would have to wear scarves or hats, cover their arms with long sleeves.

Some employees had such bad skin that in the end they resigned from their jobs. But in those days, there was no such thing as insurance coverage etc.

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). ...