July 31, 2013

Little Ironweed or Siew San Hu消山虎

消山虎Thanks to my Hakka friends of Miri, my knee joint pains disappeared in 1992.
I am also going to take a photo of my new Hakka sister,whom I met on Tuesday, who reaffirmed the goodness of this WEED. The Hakkas call this weed Siew San Hoo  Rid Mountain of Tiger which also sounds like Little Coral.

Tales from Sungei Merah : Bamboo Shoots for the table

When I was seven years old my paternal grand father was already in his seventies. My paternal grandmother Siew was a good driver and she was probably the first woman driver in Sibu. (Pl forgive me if I have made a mistake here in claiming that).

We were always very happy when the two of them visited us in our wooden house in Kong Ping Road, in town. The road was named after him (but later, with the new government, many old roads were given new names by the Sibu Urban District Council). It was named after him because he built the largest number of houses and constructed a mud road, thus opening up the area.

One of the pleasantest memories I have of visiting grandpa was the nice food he had on the table.

As a very providing kind of elder, and an extremely enterprising Foochow man, he had bought land in Sg. Merah and planted lots of fruit trees on the land. His rambutans were the best I had ever tasted. He had five or six clumps of bamboos (Betong species), huge banana plants, langsat, wong dang, guava, star fruit, water jambu, and Malay Jambu. Below the hill were two houses he built for two families who tapped the rubber trees owned by him. I believe that estate must have been more than 20 acres.

One of the nicest food served by Grandmother Siew was fried bamboo shoots from the garden itself.

Early in the morning during the right season, grandfather would ask Aunty Ah Hiong to harvest the bamboo shoots. There would be one or two pails of these bamboo shoots. Some of them would be sold in the market.

Aunty Ah Hiong would prepare on for the family by ripping off the outer layer.

I remember Aunty Ah Hiong suffering from skin irritations because the bamboo cusps had very tiny hairs which would stick to her skin.

Then she would cut the bamboo shoots into smaller pieces and boil them in the large pot over the wood fire in the kitchen. We really enjoyed the nice aroma floating in the kitchen at about 9 in the morning.

We never knew why and how the white bamboo shoots would turn a golden yellow after boiling. Do you know why?

Grandmother Siew would then personally fry the bamboo shoots for lunch with Bombay onions. I loved the way she presented the dishes on the square table in the kitchen. Grandpa would always be the one to sit at the table first and then, the visitors would be invited to the table.

I never remember grandma Siew and Aunty Ah Hiong eating together with us. Grandma would sit at the table and "manage" all of us, picking food for Grandpa. Grandpa would have one personal "dish" which Grandma prepared for him especially. It could be a choice  braised pork or a special fried fillet of fish. The rest of us would be "blessed with one piece" when grandpa picked from his dish for us. We would then feel so loved.

Can you remember your first taste of good bamboo shoots in Sibu?

July 30, 2013

Great Grandparents: Personal Dishes or Sai Ka Chai

My great grandfather practised a special chauvinist (?) Foochow traditional table etiquette which has since disappeared. But it was a practice brought about by the most pragmatic measures. The breadwinner or the patriarch of the family should be given the best food in the family.

In the olden days, the breadwinner (male of course) had one or two dishes prepared by his wife or maid for his personal meal. The other dishes like soup and vegetables were "common family dishes" for every one to partake.

Today, this is done in a different way but it is based on the same theory. The VVIP table is served the best food which is different from the normal fare.


My great grandmother would personally cook two, small and dainty, dishes for his every meal. The special dishes could be any of the following : Pork ribs with black beans, chicken with soy sauce, brown beans and pork slices and steamed minced pork and egg.
Photo is goggled (to be replaced when I cook my own)

The special vegetables which go with these meat dishes were lettuce fried with small slices of meat, or cabbage and the various kinds of beans. Sometimes it could be preserved long beans cooked with a bit of prawns.

Children and even the wife could not any of these two dishes which were reserved for him, placed next to his rice.

In Foochow this is called "Sai Ka Chai" which means private, individual or personal dishes.( In later years when he was old an frail in his 80's food was brought to his room and he would eat at his small table away from naughty children and other members of the big household.)

Being brought up in this kind of household, I would naturally know how to have my Foochow table manners.

When Great grandpa was happy with any one of the children or grandchildren, he would pick up a piece of food from his personal dishes and "reward" the deserving person. How wonderful it was to receive such a gift of food.

This article is in no way a criticism of old Foochow ways but a personal record /documentation of memories of relatives  who have lived in those days with my great grandparents in Sibu and elsewhere.

(Thanks to Goggle for these photos. I shall be cooking these recipes soon and will replace my own photos to go with the post...thanks.)

July 28, 2013

A Foochow Grandfather's Blessing : Bamboo "tips" tea

When we were growing up in Brooke Drive, Sibu, my father grew a long bamboo hedge to fence up our house. He also dug a drain around the house, thus creating a moat for our compound. This also helped to drain the land on which our wooden house stood.

The bamboo hedge gave us "bamboo tips" which my mother would steam in the early morning whenever our lips looked red from over heating of our bodies.

We once asked her why we should pick the tips so early in the morning before the sun grew hot? She just said that it was" what our ancestors had said in the past". We would all get a bowl of the bamboo tea before we went to school. I remember that well because I did not like the sugar less tea.

From young I had already developed a very sweet tooth. In fact once I remarked "all my 32 teeth are sweet" and that horrified my English teacher. We could not "play play" with our English teacher. That was when I learned One is One, Two is Two (Meaning in Chinese = be serious, no other words to be added, or no but...)

My mother would make the tea for my father too. She even said that this tea was good to "reduce explosion of bad temper". In English, that would mean, reduction of anxiety. The Chinese traditional medicine men would say "reduce the yang chi". My grandfather was a blessed guy because our grandmother was also very learned in the ways of healthy Chinese teas and soups. Our paternal Grandmother Siew was a good cook. She too often prepared Bamboo Tips Tea.
Bamboo Tea

Recently, I found that many people are beginning to drink Bamboo Tea~~
Nr. 001 present box
We often heard stories of our Great Grandfather Tiong King Sing who also came from China (Fujian). He was a barefoot Chinese sinseh who could read the pulses and recommended Chinese herbs for cures of simple ailments. Perhaps this was how my paternal grandfather learned about herbal teas and passed on the values and knowledge to his children and in laws.

However my mother would never spend much money on gingseng and other more expensive "cures". Her great love is all the simple and nutritious soups that she can cook for us. At the age of 88 now she would not have gingseng broth. But she will have some cooling teas and nutritious soups made from seaweed,dates , cuttle fish etc.

When I see a bush or hedge of the small bamboo, I would remember those days when we would be out in the garden very early in the morning, pulling the small leaf tips out of the bamboos. My second sister was meticulous in picking the tips. And I would complain why there were so many leaves and so few tips~~ The

A family photo in front of the Bamboo Hedge
tips were the first small leaf all rolled up tight. In a few hours after the sun had grown hotter, the tips would unfold and a flat bamboo leaf would form. My mother would also get us to collect the dew drop at the end of the bamboo leaf tip. We would thus collect the water drop into a Chinese bowl and place the rolled up leaves in another bowl.

The tips make the best cooling tea with the fresh dew drops...

How clever were our ancestors from Fujian!! A cooling tea which was free from nature.

July 23, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Sago or Sia Bo

According to my mother, the Foochows of the Rajang Valley during the Japanese Occupation lived through the hard times, surviving on a little rice,some sweet potatoes, tapioca (cassava) and some Sago.

My mother's  brother and sister-in-law cultivated  sweet potatoes while she herself planted rice for the family. My mother was only 17 years old and her rice  output was hardly enough for a family of 10, even though the rice field was quite productive. It was good that the farm was far away from the radar of the Japanese who were mainly around Sibu.
since I do not have a photo of how the Foochows processed their sago, I have found a photo from Flcker for you. It must have been very hard for the Foochows to process sago under difficult Japanese terror period. They were in constant fear of assault, abuse for 3 years and 8 months.

Sago palms growing in swampy lower reaches of Sarawak rivers - it is a mark of wealth for Melanaus and the Bisayas.

Those who did not have enough rice and other staples, had to cut down the naturally growing wild sago. They had learned from the Melanaus how to process sago.

My mother said that each stump of sago was brought by river to the homes after the sago palms were chopped down. And both men and women had to "scrape" the sago pith with a tin plate which had holes made in them. The scrapping took a long time and then the pulp was added to water. The white sediments were filtered and the flour dried in the sun.
When it the sago flour was well dried, the  flour was used to make flour cakes just like Bah Kuih. This was cooked .

A friend's photo of a modern sago raft in Tanjong Mani.

My mother also added that those who ate a lot of sago flour suffered from swollen legs or beri beri. It was a sickness Foochows were most afraid of because it was a debilitating sickness as a result of which they could not walk, and work in the farms.
Medical photo of beri beri cases  from Christian Eijkman's  files who discovered the causes of beri beri (lack of Vitamines) these are Chinese/Indonesians from Dutch East Indies.

Today my mother would be very reluctant to eat anything made from sago flour because she does not want to get "swollen legs" or "big thighs". Those were the days when adults would starve to allow children eat white rice. Adults to eat the worst of food available, while the old and young would get by with some of the better food.

My love for photography takes me all over Sarawak and my photos of sago palms would make her shake her head and say, "Those were terribly difficult days...hard to talk about those days...I am so scared of getting swollen legs. Sago is not easy to eat. "

However I would think that our pioneering elders were very resilient and even though life was hard, they indeed responded to nature and managed to carve out a good existence for themselves during those hard times. Today they have come out of the Japanese Occupation although traumatised, but triumphant.

The Foochows of Sibu are very resilient and strong. And they value education as their greatest asset.

History books will continue to tell of tales of Sibu Foochow bravery, resilience,humility and frugal culture.

July 18, 2013

Nang Chong stories : "Treat"for Grandma - Pig's Brains.

My grandmother lived in three different places since she arrived at the age of 5. My Grand Uncle Headman, Lau Kah Tii, bought her for 5 silver dollars , as the child bride of my grandfather.

Grandma lived in Ensurai until she married my grandfather in the Foochow custom and all of my uncles and aunts including my mother were born in Ensurai. My grandparents lived with the big Lau family. Life was pleasant according to my grandma because food was cheap and she was hardworking to have her own vegetables, pickles and in exchange for some cash, she helped her elder sister in law to tie "rokok" together and pack tobacco to be sold to the Melanaus who came to trade.

Later, when my grandfather saved enough money tapping rubber for his brother, he moved to Chieng Nang Chong, the area nearer Lee Hua Sawmill. They stayed there for a few more years to help his elder brother open up more land. When his own family was getting really big his elder brother deemed it time for him to "open up his own land by getting a grant from the Rajah".

Further inland, were coolie hostels my grandfather was able to provide. By then, he had more than 100 acres of rubber trees and he was considered rather prosperous by the then standard. But he was never able to attain the status of his eldest brother, LKT.

In 1938 he built this big wooden house facing Ensurai, which was on the opposite bank of the Rajang. However, five years later, my grandfather passed away because of extreme ill health and exhaustion from hardwork.


My maternal grandmother and my family had a very good relationship. She would visit us most weekends and stay perhaps until Monday.

One of the best memories I have of our happy and story telling grandmother was her love for pig's brains.

My mother would buy one or two pig's brains which cost only 20 cents in those days and grandma would sit at the verandah to clean the brains with a small needle very patiently. All the veins and membranes were carefully picked and pulled out with a fine needle. The brains would sit in a bowl of salt water. I loved to see her workmanship. She was meticulous and silent in her work. She was the first person who taught me there is a lot of joy in work.

And after the cleaning the brains look so clean and refreshing.

The cooking is very simple. A bit of salt and some finely chopped ginger and a table spoon or two of Foochow red wine. Steam for 10 minutes.

My mother herself was not too fond of eating pig's brains. But I remember we kids would share some steamed brains whenever we had exams.

Most importantly, when grandma came, if she only mentioned her desire to eat brains, my mother would walk to town early in the morning to buy a brain or two. And only grandma could eat the brains bought by mum. What a loving gesture from a filial daughter.

Enculturalisation - in this way we caught social values taught by our ancestors. Certain food prepared can only be eaten by the honoured guest like grandmother. Children could only get a portion of the food later. We had no objections to that because we knew it was a kind of love my mother could show her mother.

And pig's brains are really special.

July 16, 2013

When there were only THREE digits in Telephone Numbers in Sibu

The following are telephone numbers in the 1960's for Blacksmith Road Businesses and Residences

The numbers of shop lots are indicated at the beginning, and the 3 digit telephone numbers at the end. The Chinese names of the owners are before the numbers

1. Eastern Company - Wong Sie Cheong 417
1. Ting Brothers and Co. Ting Sii Pang 417
2 Lau Brothers - Lau Sieng Nguong 262
2 Lau Brothers Import and Export Co. Wee Ho Soon 695
2. Lee Goh Bin - Lee Poi Lin 300
2. Sing Kwong Photo Studio - Wong Heng Kwong 603
3. Hua Yew Co.
3. Wong Soon Hing Watch Shop -
3. Ling Siew Siong Residence
4. Min Hin Tailors - Tieu Woon King
4. Poh Tin Goldsmith - Ting Lee Chuong
4. Sisters' Hair Dressing
4. Ting Yik Seng Rattan Shop
5. Lau Kiong Sing Furniture - Lau King Kwang - 610
5. See Sing Watch Shop - Leong Yong Mee
5. Capitol Photo Studio - Lo Nik Kung - 581
6. Yik Chong Co. - Tiong Wan Ming - 427
7. Ting Hua Mee - Ting Bui Hua 273
8. Yew yew Bicycle shop - kuok Boon Kim 383
11. Wong King Cheong - Sarawak Products - Chua Kee Chuan 412
12 Tai Sing Textile - Wong -602
13 Tak Sing Glass Cutting - Liau Tak Hui 758
13. Wong's Casket - Wong Kah Moh 547
13. Hiak Hong - Chew King Turn 547
13. Ngie Hin - Metal

The Foochow Association @ Central Road - 465

No.1 & 2 Blacksmith Road, Sibu (1928 - 2013)

1928 was a black year for Sibu. It saw a huge fire which razed the wooden shops of Sibu which were lining the Lembangan River, a distributary of the Rajang.

However, soon a few rows of concrete two story shops were built on Island Road, Old Street, Channel Road making a T shaped little town.

Very few documents have been left for us to read nowadays about the earliest days of Sibu from 1862 to 1963. A good way of checking Sibu history would be perhaps the Sarawak Gazette and James Hoover's Journals.

Rev Ling Kai Cheng also left a short documentation of his times in Sibu.

According to oral history, this No.1 Blacksmith shop lot was first built by the Wong Family which was made up of two brothers, Wong Heng Kwong and Wong Lung Kwong. Thus the shop was called Nang Kwong. The Tiong Kung Ping Family had a small share of the shop lot, the family being cousins with the Wongs. The second shop was solely owned by the elderly Tiong King Sing (not the YB Ting) and his son Tiong Kung Ping family from 1928 until the Japanese Occupation. But it was later sold to pay tax during the Japanese Occupation and to raise funds for the family's other investments in Bintangor.

Nang Kwong was a gathering point for many Foochows who came from the surrounding villages along the Rajang. It was a convenient meeting place as many of the villagers with good connections used No.1 Blacksmith Road as their postal address. Mails from China for them could be picked up here. In fact many wedding invitation cards were left here to be collected by the villagers.

Those Foochow villagers and townies who wished to attend a wedding feast or dinner at Hock Chu Leu would pass by Nang Kwong and  might even stand outside on the five foot way to exchange views and news.

The rich and famous must have found this shop front a very happening place in those by gone days. There were two little businesses in the front portion of the lot, but at the back was a guns and ammunition shop owned by the Lee fmily.

Firemen trying to put down the fire of Blacksmith Road on 15.7.2013

One of  Towkay Wong Heng Kwong's sons was a photographer. Hence part of the upstairs was a photo studio. We all called him affectionately by his pet name, Ah Ngiu. The famous and popular photographer had a fairly good following. *

As primary school students we loved to hang out this corner shop because we could watch people going to Wan Hin to buy Kong Bian and to see the Post Man collect letters from the red and round Colonial post box. It was also quite safe to leave our locked bicycles in front of Nang Kwong. After the shop was sold in the 1980's, different businesses were started, and folded..

Dr Ding Siew Hua's first clinic was established in this shop lot when he came to start his business in Sibu. His wife was an aunt of mine from the Lau side. His business was very good and for many years no one was allowed to place their bicycles here. However, the days of bicycles also came to an end. Sibu started having more cars and more motor bikes. So the five foot way was clear of bicycles by social and economic development of Sibu!!

Blacksmith Road was never the same again after the 1980's

* Those of you who would like a page of history , do check my next posting. I have a very old telephone directory left by my father from the 1960's for Blacksmith Road...May be you will like to rekindle your grandfather's days from some of the names....

July 14, 2013

July 14th 2013 : 48th Anniversary of Chang Ta Kang

Chang Ta Kang 1910 - 1965

The first born son of the my grand father, the  hardworking Foochow entreprenuer, Tiong Kung Ping, my father, Ta Kang was born in Sibu in 1910. He was born  into a very pleasant and thriving pioneering Foochow community and a growing Methodist Church.

Rev James Hoover and Mrs. James Hoover,  good friends of my grandfatherTiong Kung Ping were happy to see the bouncing and fair baby boy. My grand mother , Chong Ching Soon , in fact was a "kindly church lady who had been educated in English  in Singapore". Rev Hoover had recruited her brother Chong Ching Bok, to teach English in the Anglo Chinese School in Sibu. She was "hand picked" to marry  my grandfather by Rev. Hoover who considered my grand father an able and honest Methodist .

The Tiong family succeeded in several business enterprises because she was a good help meet, translating English manuals while grandfather, a keen engineer, assembled the different kinds of engines like rice huller, generator, and perhaps even the motor launch engines. Grandfather was a brilliant man who started businesses and pioneered in the opening up of Bintangor alongside other Foochow pioneers.

My father grew up learning Chinese and English as an earnest and disciplined student. He and his brothers, Tiong Siew King and Tiong Tai King were the earliest students of the English Junior classes taught by their very own maternal uncle Chong and his wife, Mrs. Chong, in Sibu.  Their first batch consisted of some 12 students and three of them were from the Tiong family. Father was sent early to China where he graduated with a Bachelor of Economics from the then Yien Ching University in Beijing. Besides him, another brilliant student, Wong Cheng Ang, from Sg. Merah, was also in the same university batch, but different faculty. They graduated in the same year, thus becoming the first two Foochow degree holders of Sibu in 1937. They were good friends until Wong went underground and then died in the 1960's. They said a long good bye the night he disappeared.

The Japanese War traumatised my father, besides damaging his career, as he had just started the first English newspaper, The Sarawak Times, in Kuching. He suffered an actual physical blow as he was in remand for owning a record player and many English and German books. His love for western music and books was reported by the Indian security guard who was employed by my grandfather to look after the Ice Factory in Kerto. Believed that he was a spy, the Japanese kept him in prison and beat him up badly, especially in the chest.

My grandfather, who loved all his children and especially his first born, knelt before the Commandant to ask for clemency. However it was only a very long letter in Japanese from Mr. Lu , a well educated scholar and a Japanese language expert, which saved his life. He could have been tortured and drowned that weekend. Mr. Lu was the brother  in law of our Third Uncle, Tiong Hua King.

Father  later also served as a Sibu District Councillor, and Council Negri Member. He managed a small quarry business on his own. I remember his Colonial Identity Card categorized him as MERCHANT, a very archaic word.

He was one of the founding members of SUPP but in later years "he left everything behind to seek solace in reflections, quietude and music because of ill health. He read Taoist books, magazines from around the world to find  philosophical reasons and meanings  for living. He drew caricatures while he sat on the rocks of his quarry and in fact was planning to pick up his violin again..." Unknown to many, his heart was badly damaged by the Japanese War and the medical knowledge in those days was rather limited.

When my grandfather passed away in 1963, we saw him wailed for the first time and his body shook for many minutes which dumbfounded us. He followed the cortege, in an unprecedented act in a trishaw to the shock of the public and family. According to the Foochow funeral etiquette then, all close members of the family and other well wishers had to follow the "coffin around the town" for a final good bye on foot. Good sons even had to "crawl" behind the coffin for some one as well known as my grandfather. My siblings and I cried for many reasons that day. My father's face was as white a sheet.

Two years  after my grandfather's funeral, my father died in the Lau King Howe Hospital, Sibu, as the moon lit up the sky, with my mother by his side. We the children, all below 15 years of age, with the youngest being only 11 months, saw him later, he had a slight smile on his face.

Perhaps he had dreams  which he never really achieved but he was proud of his siblings,especially his sisters, who did well in spite of all the odds against them. He was considered a very taciturn man by his friends. His brilliance could be seen in the way he played good mahjong which he disciplined himself to playing only after office hours and before dinner with his family. He wrote succinctly in good classical Chinese for the Foochow Association Annual Reports during his tenure as the "English Secretary" and was considered a man of few words.

When he passed away, he was only 56 years old.

May he rest in peace.

Foochow Gestures : to show love and respect

Table manners are different from one culture to another.

And how we all behave at the table is very different too. In an English home dinner, a platter of food would be pass around and guests and family members would pick their own favourite pieces and portions. One would take a portion first and then perhaps get a second helping later.

Chinese dining manners are different from dialect to dialect and from province to province.

The Foochows too have their own specific etiquette  which many may not understand. Some of these older etiquette has also been forgotten because of cultural assimilation and religious conversions.

In some families the father will be the first one to pick up his chopsticks or spoon to the start the meal. In many families, every one starts together upon the finishing of saying Grace in a Christian home, or in a home that does not bless the meal, the elder would say, "lai, lai, da chia chi..come, come, every body eat". But it is always good manners to wait until every one has gathered at the table and when every one has picked up their chopsticks.

In a typical family dinner, the Foochow father or mother would always pay attention to each other and their children's participation at the table. When father wants to reward a child, he will pick a choice piece of meat for the child using the serving spoon or his chopsticks. This is very treasured by the rewarded child and is a kind of positive reinforcement. A meal is always a good venue for positive reinforcement and sharing of joy. Conversation should always be pleasant and non verbal body language must be practised.

Sometimes a child feels sad , his mother may give him an extra portion to boost his morale.
A drumstick was placed in my rice bowl for my birthday. I was very touched by this gesture because there were three of us celebrating our birthdays together. A chicken has two drumsticks only. mmmmmm.
But for one's birthday, the family treat would always be a special drumstick in his bowl. This is actually something the child looks forward to. When a child has come home from faraway land, or after a long absence, the whole family would be happy to see him receive a larger portion of food, and a drumstick.

Sii Ling our cell group leader places a piece of chicken in the bowl of our newest cell group member.

At the dinner, my cell group leader is picking a piece of chicken which I like for me. This gesture makes the whole table row with laughter.

There can be a lot of interpretation or misinterpretation of this gesture. But the bottom line is, we trust the judgement of our elders.

I loved it when my paternal grandfather picked  a piece of meat for me when I was very shy to eat any thing that was far away from my rice bowl. As a child one had to be careful and had to eat as little as possible to be polite and mind our table manners.

But the most precious pieces of "festival time" chicken must be the two that my mother "earned" as a good sister-in-law and she sacrificed them for her two younger brothers aged below 10. She passed the chicken pieces to them under the table. She had chicken to eat because she worked very hard and her brothers did not have any because they were too young to work.

(My article today may not reflect the general behaviour of all Foochows at meal times in the olden days. It is based on my own family upbringing and what I experienced when visiting my grandparents both in Nang Chong and in Sunger Merah. My mother still practises reserving the choicest pieces for her visitors, grand children, and children..Her judgement is always received with a sense of humour, like a judge passing a good sentence in court!!)

July 12, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Recycling of Bottles

Although many people believe that recycling is a new 2lst century concept, the Foochow women of Sibu and the Rajang Basin have already been practising it since their arrival in Sibu.

BOTTLES were probably the first item to be recycled.

We even had a few men who went around collecting bottles in the villages and in Sibu . They usually cycled from door to door and they used a gunny sack to keep the bottles they collected. Beer bottles, soy bean bottles and vinegar bottles were best and people could get several cents per bottle. One man in particular had a special call which I cannot forget . He would call out "Mo tut! Mo Tut! Mo Tut!" which is  a corrputed Hokkien version of the English word Bottle. He had a rather creaky voice. We had our choice of the Mo Tut men because one in particular was rather stingy and he would want to cheat us by giving us a very bad deal. The green ones fetched less and the white ones more. He would complain about this and that and he actually wanted to get our bottles for free. Poor guy. He was a louse indeed because he wanted to cheat even children.

Later some of these bottle collectors used a three wheel cart.

Aerated pop drink bottles were usually sent back to the factories in exchange for more drinks.

My grandmother and aunties collected good wine bottles from relatives who had confinements. Many wealthy women had bottles of Dimple, Hennessey, XO and Vodka. These were precious to my grandmother and aunties who would wash them and dry them in the sun. Besides these they also kept the beer bottles for reuse.

Whenever they made Foochow Red Wine they would use these well washed and well dried bottles to bottle the wine.

As a child I would love to watch the red wine clearing up in the clear glass bottles. Whenever we had egg soup or Soh Mien, I would beg for a few drops of the precious red wine. My grandmother would cluck her tongue and said that I would grow up becoming a Wine Ghost like Uncle so and so...But I knew then that Grandmother herself loved the bottle too. Every night she would have a peck of brandy while Third Uncle have his beer if they had stock. I could not remember when they stopped drinking together as mother and son. It was a good bonding time for them in the Landor or balcony.

Foochow red wine making also required a lot of bottle corks. These were carefully saved by all. None of the corks were thrown away and they were kept in a big glass bottle or a Nescafe Jar for future use. Chu SEng in Sibu owned by Uncle Wong would sell corks. Grandmother would ask other uncles not to throw good European wine bottles with corks away.

A Hennessy bottle like this with a twist cap is a treasure which can be re-used for many years.
The Black and Red Labels would always remind me of Uncle Wen Hui (Hii) who enjoyed this together with Aunty Yung. Their relatives who respected them would pass a lot of Duty Free whisky to them as gifts for their birthdays or any occasion. BYO has a special meaning for me.

Back to confinement again. The Foochow Red Wine is usually brewed for a new mother by a reliable relative if her own mother or mother in law cannot make the wine. Home made wine is much cheaper than store bought. Usually the confinement requires at least 30 bottles of Foochow Red Wine. And the person who makes good wine will become more famous by word of mouth.

Tofu Milk, water and tea were all bottled in the bottles for all of us to carry in our baskets whenever we went to the rubber garden, school or town or the next village.

Those were the days before Tupperware, Cosway, or Korean and Japanese Brands came into the market.

However I continue to collect a few good bottles for my Foochow Red Wine. Do you?

July 8, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Getting a brood ready for Confinement

Photo by Sarawakiana

When a Foochow baby was on the way, both the maternal and paternal Foochow grandmothers in Nang Chong would start raising a brood of chickens for the forthcoming confinement.

The whole village would thus be indirectly informed of the good news. The grapevine would have heavy news traffic and even a few letters would be sent to China via Hock Chiong to announce the good news to relatives in Far Away Tong Sang.

I loved the "talk" surrounding the rearing of such chickens.

I remember grandma Lien Tie would say happily that  the baby would be a boy on the account that the brood had more male birds than female birds!! A fortune could even be told about the sex of a child via the rearing of chickens! Amazing.

More chicken fencing would be bought from Uncle Wong's shop next to Moi Soung Coffee Shop in Sibu. Uncle Wong's children are Wong Lee Kee, Philip Wong and Tommy Wong who went to school with me. My grandmother was from the Tiong  Clan and was very closely related to Lee Kee's mother who was also a Tiong. She would return home to Nang Chong with a small roll of Tiek Siang Bi or wire mesh or chicken fencing. This tell tale sign would bring those passengers in the boat to exclaim, "Going to have a new grand child?" And every one would be beaming away.

A new baby would always bring a lot of warm comrade-ly conversation in the boat. And grandmother would of course be very excited about the whole situation.

In some breeds the adult rooster can be distinguished from the hen by his larger comb
(source : Wikipedia)

It would be tragic if a brood met with a sudden "chicken plague" or Buok Cheong in Foochow. This chicken sickness /viral attack would spread  along all the villages in the Rajang Valley like wild fire. Chickens would just die over night. A plague like this would send a few Agricultural Officers from Sibu down to the riverine villages to check the health of other animals too. This kind of tragic animal plague was quite a frequent occurrence. And the farmers would just be so devastated and of course there would be a real dent in their savings. Sometimes a festival would go without a chicken or two.( I believe that the Agricultural Office later advised all farmers to have their chickens inoculated. )

If a brood of chicken died in this way, the grandmothers would have to make other plans and extra money had to be spent. This would therefore be extra burden on the new parents and the in laws.

However a saving Foochow gotong royong practice would be the rallying around of kind aunties and uncles who would bring a chicken when they visited to "see" their new born relative. This kind gift of a country bred free range chicken or "sending peace" Serng Ang was indeed a great Foochow gesture. Some even brought a whole cage of chickens to repay a kindness or just to indicate good relationship or show respect.

My father had helped many people in many ways as he was a kind man and a good negotiator and so my mum was blessed by gifts of live chickens when she had her confinements. My maternal grandmother too reared chickens in Nang Chong for my mother. While we were living in Kerto, my father also reared chickens but on several occasions the snakes came and literally "swallowed" several chickens each time. The guilty python would be in a dazed mood for a while and that was the time my father would take his gun and make a killing. The Hua Hong employees would have a feast that evening. But it did end my father's endeavour to rear chickens for the family and we depended on chickens from Nang Chong.

Some expectant mothers could also get a few of their relatives to rear their confinement chickens. They called this "bok" . They would buy 30 chicks and send these chicks down river. Corn meal would also be sent to their relatives for the chickens. After eight months, the chickens would be ready for slaughter.

For a good Foochow confinement, every day, one chicken would be slaughtered for the new mother. If relatives came to see the new born, another one would be slaughtered for the mee sua and chicken in wine. I remember an egg would be also added to the mee sua. A red egg would indicate a male child and an uncoloured egg was for a baby girl.  In those days, no visitors would leave the home without a mee sua treat.

This was the normal practice for relatives to bring life chickens as gifts. Some generous relatives would even bring a few katis of mee sua, some biscuits (Jacobs), a dozen or two eggs.

This cycle of Foochow Goodwill seems to have stopped with the abandonment of Foochow village life, but it has evolved into other forms of goodwill and good neighbourliness.

However the art of Foochow gift giving will continue and gifts of chickens would always be such a good memory in our minds.

July 5, 2013

Nang Chong Stories : Wet Nurse or Milk Mother

The interesting situation in modern Shenzen  - http://www.ibtimes.com/wealthy-chinese-hiring-wet-nurses-daily-doses-human-breast-milk-1332099 brought memories of olden day Nang Chong to my mind. I think the drinking of breast milk by adult men with money has gone a bit too far in modern day China.

Yes it was true in both China and Malaysia in the olden days many old men who were already in their death bed were given a longer lease of life after drinking (confinement period) breast milk. Usually  family members would even go around looking for the first born's breast milk which was considered the best for an ailing elder. I had even heard that the procured milk was prayed over by the temple monks to give it a better curative power.

According to one of my aunts, one woman who sold her "first" milk in this way earned enough to buy all her chickens for her confinement. Her mother in law was very happy about the whole situation as they were facing financial difficulties. However her  first born was slightly malnourished as a result and was sickly throughout her life. One cannot have the best of both worlds.

The Foochow pioners practised Wet Nursing in the olden days. Wet nurses were hired and had to live with the family as servants, not just for a month but for as long as the wealthy family could afford it. thus a wet nurse could even stay up to three years or more. Most lactating women would not mind making a bit of money from sharing their breast milk with women who were not lactating well. It was also a part of their community service while getting a small ang pow (or token) helped ease family financial situation.

A local Miri coffee shop owner now in his 70's said that many Foochow women in Sarikei helped each other in breast milk supply very willingly. There was so little money around and tinned milk powder was not at all available in the 20's or 30's. In the rural areas like Ba Te Li and Murudu, the abject poverty of the farmers led to women helping women in order to raise their babies. In fact he even knew of a few babies who died from illnesses. He said his own mother had enough breast milk to give away to help others. He related this story very emotionally.

Many strong farmers' wives made good wet nurses and in fact their husbands found it a rather lucrative business for the family to farm their lactating wives out. The extra income was very much welcome in the cash strapped days of Sibu in the 1930's.

Usually a rich man would send word out to the villages to "book" a pregnant farmer's wife who would deliver about the same time as his wife. When the rich man'swife delivered, the wet nurse would come to the house and nurse the baby while the rich man's wife enjoyed her very luxurious confinement life.

Sometimes the wet nurse had enough milk for both babies and it was well and good. Sometimes she only had enough milk for the child of the rich family. The wealthy family would allow the wet nurse to look after her own child as well as the "rich baby".

The two babies would thus grow up together, knowing about the sharing of the milk. The rich man's son would respect the wet nurse as Milk Mother. A story was told to us that one rich rubber garden owner had a son and at the last minute had to book a wet nurse when his wife was taken ill with asthma before she gave birth to her baby boy. Her previous delivery, a baby girl, had resulted in an early infant death. The desperate rich man could not find any one but his own sister in law who was willing to help.

The sister in law gave her milk to the first born son of the prestigious family while her own child, a girl, was fed on rice water. Most of the relatives know that the eldest son of this family lived up to almost 100 years because of "the milk from an aunt the wet nurse" while the cousin had a short life.

The villagers would always mention in those long ago days how beneficial it was to have mother's milk.

I believe many of our grandmothers were "farmed out" as wet nurses when times were bad.

In addition, wet nursing is actually quite universal and is not just a Chinese cultural practice.

See this : http://www.nwhm.org/blog/2010/06/ (The Evolution of Nursing)

as caretakers of children, family and community, it was natural that women were the nurses, the caregivers, as human society evolved. Nursing may be the oldest known profession, as some nurses were paid for their services from the beginning. This was especially true of wet nurses, who nursed a baby when the mother died or could not nurse her child. A woman whose infant did not survive birth, or who was ready to wean her child, or who was capable of nursing more than one baby, would accept employment as a wet nurse, usually going to live in the home of her employer. Read the rest of this entry »

And I would like to note here that my own maternal grandmother had a fair bit of breast milk she was wet nurse to at least two or three of her nephews and nieces while her own children had to be half fed with rice water and a bit of milk in the 1920's. My grandmother was a very kind woman who had wanted to help her own sister in law.

Let us remember the good will and kindness of all the mothers/wetness who gave away or sold their breast milk for all sorts of reasons.

July 4, 2013

Drying Rice in an Iban Long House Today

The architectural style of the Sarawak Iban longhouse has changed int he last 30 years. The old style of Tanju (front open porch) has gone. The photo below shows a Bidayuh longhouse with bamboo tanju or landing place. All longhouses used to be raised on strong stilts. Today, many longhouses are concrete and built on the ground, making the tanju obsolete. Instead, they have a five foot way like the urban shop houses.

Photo: Tanju at Bidayuh longhouse

However, the tanju which also served as a drying area for rice and pepper continues to morph into another form.

 Today longhouse folks construct their own individual Pantar in the backyard or in the front where they have some extra land or space.

Pantar - is the wooden or bamboo platform in the longhouse which is a substitute for the tanju.

 Here I am wearing a Tanggoi,using a wooden pemaut padi (wooden rake) to spread the rice grains to dry evenly. It is scorching hot at about 10 in the morning. No wonder my sister in law Pantan gets all sun burnt throughout the year. If you wish to get a good sun tan, just do this job. Two in one ...You can contribute to the economy of the longhouse. Drying the rice is a tough job and you have to pay attention. The moment the rain clouds hoover overhead you have to put all the grains into baskets and carry them to the store house.

The tanju of the olden days continue to amaze visitors because it is a very practical feature for every one who understands the longhouse concept of lifestyle.

July 3, 2013

Li Shih Chen - Chinese Herbalist, naturalist.

 (For your reference)

Today July 3rd is the 495th birthday of Li Shizhen, famous Chinese herbalist and naturalist who wrote many books on cures and herbs.
Photo of Li in front of the Shenzen Hospital.

Li Shizhen (Li Shih-chen; simplified Chinese: 李时珍; traditional Chinese: 李時珍; pinyin: Lǐ Shízhēn; Wade–Giles: Li3 Shih2-chen1, July 3, 1518 – 1593), courtesy name Dongbi (Tung-pi; Chinese: 東璧), was one of the greatest Chinese doctors, polymaths, scientists, herbalists and acupuncturists in history. His major contribution to clinical medicine was his 27-year work, which is found in his epic book Compendium of Materia Medica (Pen-tsao Kang-mu or Bencao Gangmu; simplified Chinese: 《本草纲目》; traditional Chinese: 《本草綱目》). He is also considered to be the greatest scientific naturalist of China, and was very interested in the proper classification of herb components.
The Bencao Gangmu is a medical text with 1,892 entries, each entry with its own name called a gang. The mu in the title refers to the synonyms of each name.[1] The book has details about more than 1,800 drugs (Chinese Medicine), including 1,100 illustrations and 11,000 prescriptions. It also described the type, form, flavor, nature and application in disease treatments of 1,094 herbs. His Compendium of Materia Medica has been translated into many different languages, and remains as the premier reference work for herbal medicine. His treatise included various related subjects such as botany, zoology, mineralogy, and metallurgy. The book was reprinted frequently and five of the original editions still exist.[2] (Wikipedia)

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