December 30, 2014

Liberation Day of Sarawak : a photo

This is a photo to mark the Liberation Day of Sarawak in Binatang (Now Bintangor). Several leading community leaders from all the different ethnic groups were given long service medals for their public service from the then Colonial Government.

December 27, 2014

Sibu Tales : Angkoo Kuih, from Fujian to Sarawak

Xiamen is the home of the Angkoo according to some famous food writers. But the Putien people also claim that Ang Koo actually originated in the Henghua counties (Sien Yiu and Putien). But to day with great communications and transport, we can easily accept the fact that Ang Koo Kuih come from the Fujian Province, because all the Fujianese can now make it well, including the Foochows.

However this is one of the stories of the origins of the ang koo kuih. In ancient times the Chinese would offer live turtules as moon cakes for rituals during the Moon Cake festival. And as turtles were not easy to obtain, chefs began to make cakes with a turtle back imprint to represent the turtles in the rituals. Thus Red Turtle Cake was born. Ang Koo Kuih is Hokkien. The Foochows call it Ern Goo Gui..

My first taste of Ang Koo Kuih actually was in Sibu and it was made by a Foochow family. Later, I met my Heng Hua neigbhour in Sg. Merah and she told me the stories of her family's ang koo, from China.

Xiamen as a city in South China is vibrant and forward looking. One street has delightful monuments to its culture and people. Even the Angkoo moulds form a nice tourist attraction. This is my photo of the three angkoo moulds of Xiamen taken some time ago.

In Sarawak, besides the Chinese the Malays and the Ibans also make this famous kuih for home and family or for sale at the market. We do not have yet a single outlet just selling ang koo kuih.

The skin of the kuih is made from sweet potatoes and the filling is usually a sweet one, which may be soy bean paste, or lotus paste, or even pea flour.

When serving ang koo at any function , the kuih usually symbolises long life because the mould  has the turtle shell design.

When most party goers cannot reach the main table where food is displayed a gracious church friend with a tray of ang koo is so welcoming. this is what outreach is all about. When the general public cannot get into the inner circle, or the centre of the party, a kind server brings the food to them.

This reminds me of the days when small churches did not have loudspeakers and the church goers standing outside the packed church could not hear the good news..How could those standing outside hear the words from the pastors?

The Pastors would visit them in the farm and share their sermons again. this kind of caring was shown in the more ulu Rajang Valleys and the Good News thus travelled far into the swamps and the rubber gardens.Reverend Ting Siew Chey, Reverend Lau Ngo Kee and Rev Ho Siew Leong are some names we can remember. They were the pastors when we were kids.

The seeds were sown and today many of the farmers and their children are fervent Methodists and Christians because of the hardwork of their pastors who, often walked barefooted to the farms.

Praise God.

December 13, 2014

Hedda Morrison

 Today 13.12.2014 is 106th Annivesary of Hedda Morrison's birth.

How many of you have read books on Sarawak and enjoyed some nice photos?

I have a photographic memory of a different kind. If I see an exceptional photo, I can remember it and most probably can also remember who had taken it if the credit has been given. thus since my primary school I remember the name Hedda Morrison and naturally I remember her exceptional photos of Sarawak.

There were also not many photos floating around in the 1960's about Sarawak! I was thus bitten by the shutter bug since then. Her photography has inspired me all these years.

Hedda Morrison was born in 1908, in Stuttgard, on Dec 13. She was a graduate of the State Institute for Photography in Munich. In order to leave German politics behind she chose to work in Peiping (later Bejing) in 1933. " She soon took many photographs of the old city and its people, temples and markets,mostlyusing a Rolleiflex, medium-fornat camera.

IN 1940, she met Alastair Morrison, son of the famous George Ernest Morrison, the influential London Timews correspondent in Peking. They were married in 1946 in China and left for Hong Kong.

However fate took her and Alastair to Sarawak. Alastair Morrison was recruited and assigned as District Officer, a big position in those days. They stayed in Sarawak for over 20 years. She took the opportunity to travel with Alastair on official journeys into the ulu. She herself also made many personal photographic tours, visiting farming settlements of the Chinese with whom she was very close (e.g. Sarikei and Lawas)

She wrote two very significant books on Sarawak, SARAWAK (1957) and LIFE IN A LONGHOUSE(1962). In 1967, she and Alastair moved to Australia and settled in Canberra.

Hedda died in Canberra in 2003, age 82.

Note : Exhibitions of her works have been mounted by the Australian National University, Canberra, the Canberra Photographic Society, the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and the National Library of Australia. Many of her images are archived in the Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University and at Cornell University, NY. There is a large collection of her German, Asian and Australian work in the Powerhouse Museum.

Further reading

  • Edward Stokes, Hedda Morrison's Hong Kong: Photographs & Impressions 1946-47 - (Hong Kong University Press, 2005).
  • George N. Kates, The Years That Were Fat: Peking, 1933-1940 - (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks, 1989).
  • Hedda Morrison, Travels of a Photographer in China, 1933-1946 - (Oxford University Press USA, 1987).
  • Hedda Morrison, A Photographer in Old Peking - (Oxford University Press USA, 1986).
  • Alastair Morrison, Fair Land Sarawak: Some Recollections of an Expatriate Official - (Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1993).


  1. "Hedda Morrison: photographic collection", Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
(Source : Wikipedia)

December 11, 2014

Christmas Message from Rev and Mrs.Lionel Muthiah

   Christmas 2014

“ Stir up our hearts , O Lord, to make ready the way of your only Son, so that by his coming we may be enabled to serve you with pure minds, through your Son,  Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end. Amen.                         (Service Book and Hymnal, 75, adapted)

           “Are we there yet?” “Is it Christmas yet? No. It is Advent. What is that? So, some of us who follow the Liturgical calendar have to educate, interpret and explain biblical history. However, we know you would rather have news about us! Marion and I are doing well except for the usual aging issues.

            This year we were able to attend three High School graduations---Micah Coffey in Batavia, IL. He has been accepted by the University of Minnesota and given academic and baseball scholarships. Jacob Helton of Franklin, TN decided to take a year off (although was accepted by a couple of Universities) to work for a while on the Unkenholz family farm, where Marion grew up,  and to help neighbors with “fix it” jobs. Then we went on to Pasadena, CA to attend Samuel Muthiah's graduation. He was accepted by Westmont University, Santa Barbara, CA and given a four year scholarship.

            By doing this Marion and I missed two College graduations----Jordan Coffey from Taylor University and Sarah Helton from Union University.

            After working as a Nanny during the summer, Sarah went off to Kenya, Uganda and then Malaysia (lots of relatives) where Sarah’s mother, Lora, joined her. Together they flew to Singapore. After visiting more relatives, Lora flew back to Tennessee. Sarah then went on to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. She visited her Uncle Rob and family in Altadena, CA and brother Josh and wife, Jessica, in Morrow Bay, CA. She came to visit her Uncle Rick and family and us in Newberg, OR. What an adventure for a young lady!

             We have some travel plans for the New Year and trust they will work out.  We’ll report next year!

            We continue to be grateful for our Friendsview Retirement Community where we have lived since August, 2009. It has been said that sometimes God leads us where we did not plan to go! God has indeed surprised us in many ways!

May your life also be filled with God's surprises! Create a
        Merry Christmas and have a joyous New Year.

Marion and Lionel Muthiah, 1015 Cherry St. #7, Newberg, OR 97132  Tel. 971-832-8533

December 6, 2014

Family Cemetery Plot of the Ting Family in Sibu

The Ting family of Sibu, Sg. SAdit have their own family plot. This is a famous Kutien family which worked hard since arriving in Sibu in 1901 with Wong Nai Siong and made their fortunes through hard work and resilience.
It is quite a common Chinese practice in fact to bury their ancestors on their own private land.

In Taiwan for example, many farmers who have good land, would always bury their ancestors in their own land, in fact at the beginning of the plot, where the feng shui is very good. This according to a local Tainan historian is a way of culture, a way of farming life. The dead would always look after the living.

The patriach and matriach in an early 1920 photo.
A recent photo of one of the lovely western influenced tomb.
general view.
The photo shows that this cemetery has been filled. Some tombs are ready made, for future use. It is the way of the Foochows.

December 4, 2014

Sibu Tales : Soy Beans

My grandfather married my grandmother in 1909 in Sibu, a match made by Rev James Hoover who first found Mr. Chong Jin Bok as a good English teacher for Sibu and then felt that his sister was a good match for my grandfather.

My grandparents went on to have 9 children, the desires of most early Foochow settlers in Sibu. Finally in 1938 my grandmother did not survive the miscarriage of her 10th child.

In those early years when my father and his siblings were just under 10, life was hard . Grand uncle and Great Grandfather Chong were already making a good living in rubber as they had brought some wealth from Bogor in Java and Grand Uncle Chong was a school teacher. Very often my father, as the eldest had to carry a small cloth bag to "borrow" some soy beans from his grandfather.

When we were growing up Father used to tell us that as he walked through the rubber garden to his grandfather's house (now Chong Jin Bok Road), he would wish for just a few slices of chicken and perhaps a good soup. But my grandfather who was just struggling in those days as a mechanic cum businessman, had to feed a growing family.

My mother used to tell us later that whenever my father looked at soy beans he had a shiver running down his spine but they represented hard times and very often, empty stomachs for those little brothers and sisters of his.

But we all thank God that Mrs. Hoover came to start a girls school and my aunts were all sent to her boarding school (my grandfather sent only rice as payment we were told) while the boys went to the Anglo Chinese school with Grand Uncle Chong. By the time my father was 15 years old my grandfather had already made more money and the fear of empty stomachs was slowly taken away from the small children.

The sight of yellow beans in a way traumatised my father for years.

December 1, 2014

Sibu Tales : Ribbons for My Hair

I was brought up by a very frugal and minimalist mother who did not believe in buying those extra frills for her daughters. I cannot remember if I ever had my hair tied by my mother or my short hair receiving a ribbon when I was very young. My first ribbon was given to me by an aunt when I passed my Primary Six Exam. And when I went to secondary school, my mother gave me some money to buy ribbons for my hair to match the school uniform. I still remember I bought a short piece at Hua Kwong General Store of Sibu at Central Road, which was owned by the Cantonese Leong Family.

One year later, my grandfather passed away and I had either to wear black or white ribbon or rubberised hair band to tie up my lush hair. Or I just wore a pony tail without any trimmings.

However lifestyle and cultural norms change with time.

My girls were different from me but I continued, probably wrongly, with the old Foochow way of thinking.

If little girls have their wishes today (2lst century)  they would wish for

1. ribbons for their hair
2. pretty dainty shoes
3. a big  flirty skirt, or a tiny tiny see through mini skirt (with a protector pants)
4. lacy blouse
5. long hair tied in pony tails
6. dolls with blue eyes and may be real hair to comb
7. a birthday party
8. a best friend
9. white frilly socks / stockings
10. a nice school bag
11.doc Martins
12. iPad,iPhone,etc

But,one has to understand that different cultures would bring up their daughters in different ways and often mothers in a cross cultural marriage would find it most difficult to meet with the aspirations and dreams of their lovely daughters who may think differently and dream differently.

Children in foster homes or orphanages would also have their dreams but how are their dreams met?

This Christmas let us think of all those children who are being brought up by  adults who are not their biological parents and pray for them that they too grow up in love and with God's protection.

I would like to pay particular and special tribute to fathers , widowed or not widowed, who have "combed their daughters' hair and put ribbons on their pony tails...wiped their tears away...and cleaned their scrapped knees...and took them for swimming lessons or dance lessons...or just spend quality time with their young daughters ."

The new generation of parents  should be bringing up their children better with all the education they have and with guidance/knowledge from every corner of the earth....and especially Dr.Google.....

I would also like to pay  a special tribute to all mothers who struggle to put a worthy spiritual life into their children while trying their best to keep even her own body free from physical and verbal abuses.....

And to my own mum who cut all our hair short.....because when she was young (BEFORE THE  SECOND WORLD WAR) she had the "navy hair cut " (very short ) . She continues to maintain that the best hair is short and straight but well washed and neat.

Honestly, I never did once wish I could wear long hair with a hibiscus in the hair and clad my body in a sarong and walk along the beach with a wonderful guy ....

..But my greatest wish was two swords on my back and riding a horse to right the wrong and kill the wicked!! Under the influence of the One Armed Swordsman indeed!!

 "Ja! Ja! To my horse, let's go...Mulan is on the way!!"

And then I too brought up my three girls and made them keep short hair...

but if I could do it all over again I really would want to give them ribbons for their hair and lace for their little dresses....I would like to spend more time with them playing "house"...yes indeed I would like to spend more time singing and praying with them.

Today with my post is a song by Jim enjoy it as you rush around with Christmas busy-ness and end of the year meetings....Take time to listen to your children's prayers...

November 30, 2014

Sibu Tales : Measuring of Rice by Milk Tins

As we grew up in a very closed Foochow community, we were often reminded of our community's rich legacy of rags to riches stories, moral lessons and wise sayings and naturally our dialect's poetry and songs.

Our best lessons are those of brotherly and neighbourly love and care, a lot of borrowing, giving, help and lending of a hand.

One of my father's dearest cousin and biggest support was an uncle who started with very humble beginnings and he himself told us the stories of his younger days, as a way of teaching us great values. For that we were slowly trained in good Foochow ways.

When Uncle D.K. was young, he often was asked to go next door to borrow two tins of rice.

His father, my grandfather's cousin, was a daily paid worker. Sometimes the towkay did not pay him and he would go home (near the present Rajang Park Lane 23) where his wife and children would also have done a good day's work of rubber tapping, and vegetable gardening.

If the rice tub was empty at that long past dinner time, Uncle DK's mother would ask him to go next door with a little cotton bag. The Foochows then were very careful with rice and a bag was the safest way of carrying rice, so that not a grain was dropped.

The two guong/kong/tin of rice would half fill the stomachs of the family for a few days. Cash would come in when Grand Uncle got paid, or when the family was able to send dried rubber sheets to the town for sale.

Immediately when they had cash, they would buy rice and food...

First thing first, they would return the two tins or more of rice to their helpful neighbour.

IN this way, Granduncle slowly bought 6 acres of rubber land and later uncle DK built up his special business empire.

Uncle DK would always say,"Be kind, be humble, be honest, be fair, never cheat, never steal, never lie..."

He is one man who lives by Foochow ethics and values.

A good ,inspiring Foochow Success story.

November 29, 2014

Sungei Teku Tales : Heng Hua Pak Mee

A group of Heng Hua aunties gathered together in Miri recently for a fellowship and to demonstrate their Heng Hua Pak Mee.

It was a very interesting session for me because I have never ever eaten that noodle before even though I grew up with many Heng Huas and later lived with several families as neigbhours.

However I was told by my good friend Lucy (who was born in Sg. Merah, Sibu) that nowadays very few Heng Hua ladies actually make Pak Mee from scratch because of time constraints. Besides it might even be rather pointless to make the traditional noodles for a generation which appreciate KFC or Pizzas more!!

Heng Hua Pak Mee originated in Putien region of China and perhaps even earlier than that when the original Heng Huas lived in Henan region before moving south. Hence the use of wheat flour.

The ingredients for the noodle dough is very simple:
1 kg good wheat flour (minus a few spoons for dusting)
2 eggs
some salt
some water

Knead the dough until smooth (Hence a lot of hitting or pak).
When done, flatten the dough into thin layers and fold and cut into small threads, as narrow as your knife skills allow.

Soup base
1 tin of oysters
some braised pork with sauce (cooked the preveious day)
onions, garlic and ginger
moringa leaves
spring onions,
eggs (made into omelette and then shreaded)
any other ingredients you may like to add.

What a nice dish to make for new year!!

(Thank you Lucy Siew for your connections. )

November 27, 2014

Sibu Tales : Bread Making and Bread Shop

One of the first bakeries in Sibu ,owned by a Heng Hua, was found in Sg. Merah although there were several Chinese biscuit factories, mainly from shop lots like Wan Hin, Cheng Chuong etc. Another one was found in Sibu town itself, started by a Hainanese.

the Hainanese shop was one of my father's favourite shops. It offered very well made loaves good for sandwiches. It was situated at the Central Road, between two shop blocks. It must have been the suppliers to Sibu Recreation Club, the Residency (Mr. Griffin), and other colonial government officers in those early 1950's years when we first moved to Sibu, from Pulau Kerto. Dad's office was at Central Road and so he would pick up a loaf or two of bread from the shop.

Now that loaf of bread would have been considered a day old and that was half the price. Dad being a very frugal Foochow man was only too happy to get two loaves for the price of one, for his growing family.

My mother would steam the slices of bread the next morning for us to eat...Many Foochows did not like the hard crust. Steaming would have made the bread soft, and more like baos.

If I am not mistaken the Hainanese baker had also another favourite snack he made out of his left over bread. If bread was still unsold the next day, he would recycle them. He spread each slice with butter, and then spread some sugar on top. Rebaking the slices of bread, he would thus turn the slices into nice crunchy snacks. These sweet, sugar coated roti were very saleable.

They were packed into plastic bags and sold at the wharf at Pulau Babi...this was how many Sanba Foochow learned to eat bread. Or bread-snack.

You would have to know that bread was a totally alien food to the Foochows in the 1920's to 1950's.

Today many bakeries still make this kind of sugar coated roti. And I still munch them once in a while...

November 24, 2014

Sibu Tales : Deep fried battered small fish

My late father was a very skilful fisherman. He was most skilful in throwing the net or jala, a round net which he would make a big circle on the surface of the water and then he would slowly bring the net up.

We used to eager wait for him to bring up the net to the jetty.

The net would have all the small fish one could think of.

these small river fish were very delicious. And he and my mother would prepare a batter and coat the small fish in it.

And soon the table would have a plate of deep fried fish...the original Kentucky Fried Fish..

We loved them so much that we would love to see our father going out to the river bank with his net.

A jala in the evening would mean a night's good supper.

November 23, 2014

Sibu Tales : Cap Kaki Tiga.

In the old days people were just very casual about their health and health issues. Cancer, stroke, and other diseases were not in their vocabulary.

I remember the first time my mother whispered the deadly word Cancer in the 1967 when one of the doctors passed away!!

Most people in the villagers would buy over the counter medication. And indeed many barefoot doctors went from village to village to sell medicines.

One of the most popular medicines sold by these sinseh or medicine men was Cap Tiga Kaki.

this every popular medication was good fro every thing: headaches, stomach aches, tooth aches and occasionally even for sleeping disorders!!

My own grandmother had a few packets in her basket all the time. She would give one packet to my young cousin if he had a fever..One packet could cure a simple fever.

That was easy for every one. My grandmother did not have to trouble my aunt to bring the child to the town to see a doctor in those early days in 1950's. Later when more doctors graduated in Sibu parents became more open to western medicine and they started choosing their own favourite doctors.

However this over the counter cap kaki tiga continues to be popular...its western counter part is Panadol.


November 22, 2014

Sibu Tales : Ducks and Pythons

Both my parents like any Foochows, loved eating duck.

Ducks in the early days of Sibu were mainly home reared. In Pulau Kerto, at the Hua Hong Ice Factory, my mum reared a lot of ducks.Besides chickens, and ducks, my parents also reared goats.

During high tide and the flood water got below our house and right up to the upper stair case,and that meant that we could see the water level reaching almost all the duck cages and chicken coops.

That spelt disaster as snakes would start coming, trying to eat the fowls.

One evening when the high was exceptionally high, a big snake came into one of the cages, and swallowed a small goat. That was an exceptional visit. My father was seldom angry. But that evening, he moved faster than ever, took the gun off the display shelf and marched downstairs.

We waited and watched. My timid mum stood behind us, carrying our newest sibling.

Two shots rang out and the dead snake dropped from the roof of the cage to the planks under the cage.

That evening all the factory hands had a grand feast.

My father never gave a thought to cooking the python for us because he thought that reptiles were just not good food.

But he gave instructions that we should eat four of the more mature ducks the next day, just in case more snakes would come and eat more fowls and goats.

Mum got two maids from next door to come and slaughter the ducks and pluck all the feathers. Dad sent one duck to our grand parents in Sungei Merah and gave two to his cousins next door.

Until today I do not eat reptiles.

November 21, 2014

Moringa : New Kid on the Block for the Chinese

the moringa has long been used as a herb, health tonic and a vegetable by the Indians in the Indian Sub Continent. Today its health benefits have been spread throughout the world.

It is a miracle vegetable actually as the tree cvan grow very quickly within weeks and the leaves can already be eating.

The leaves can be fried with eggs, mixed with fish soup, used together in noodle soup and simply boiled as tea.

Even the stalks can be used to make a good cooling drink. Any one having a sore throat can just drink several cups and the soreness will be gone. It is really quite effective.

But as a vegetable it is really good. And furthermore it is free!!

So we can all grow trees of moringa and give our neighbours and friends free vegetables and tea!!

November 19, 2014

Foochow Teacher in the Qing Court


The Foochows towards the end of the Qing Dynasty were already clamouring for political changes and many were even thinking of migrating.

They were hardworking and the port of Mawei was an exit port of all Southern China. So with tales carried home from overseas, many of the Foochows were already thinking of moving away from the difficult country and they had nothing to lose.

But right in the middle of the Qing court in Beijing was Chen Bao Shen, a Foochow tutor for the young Pu Yi, who was to be the Last Emperor of China. Chen was born in 1848 in Fuzhou , a region which had produced many scholars for Imperial China. He was a great scholar, knowledgeable in history, philosophy and the Confucian classics. He passed many public exams to become a Mandarin. Before he was 30 he was already a prominent official at the Manchu court. 

He was married and had sixteen children. 

Because he was fairly forthright and having a great sense of justice, the Dowager Queen expelled him from the court and he had to return home to Fuzhou. However she changed her mind when the young Pu Yi needed a good teacher. She recalled Chen to Beijing where he remained for the next 21 years. Chen was loyal and carried out his duties as imperial tutor.

Pu Yi had written in his autobiography, “With Chen Pao-shen, I had one spirit. When Johnston came, I had two spirits.” 

So there were two very famous Foochows who were closely connected with the Qing Dynasty - Ling Zexu and Chen Baoshen.

November 17, 2014

Red Durian : Durian Tutong

There are so many types of Durians in Sarawak. This red type is special from Bakam,from my friend's garden. She has three trees and they are all very tall. On a good day during the durian season she can pick up to ten of these Tutongs.

The durian is very fragrant and is definitely for some not so palatable. You need to acquire a taste for it.

So many people would not be able to think of durians as being red in colour. A friend said it is difficult because she also cannot accept a purple cow.

November 15, 2014

Sibu Tales : Water Hyacinth

the first time I saw a water hyacinth was when we moved to Sibu.

The water hyacinth moved along the River Lembangan, through the Kampong Nyabor and down to Kampong Datu to join Batang Igan.

In the evenings we watched the sun setting by the banks of Batang Rajang. And on our return we would see the small kerosene lamps of the boat families.

It was a very romantic times for my siblings and I in those days. How could the people live in boats, go to school and yet their parents could make a living.

Our youthful innocence did not find the answers.

The water hyacinth floated by, day in day out......

Questions about school, questions about income, questions about justice and fairness could not easily be answered my late father said.

Like the Hyacinth, the flowers would just float and touch the boats and float by into a bigger river...or clog up water bodies...

Are we moving around like the water hyacinth? bumping into boats in the water ways...clog up water ways, cause a great a nuisance to mankind......and then soon we too would just shrivel up and disappear from the surface of the earth..

Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms
Family: Pontederiaceae
English: Water hyacinth
Malay - Keladi bunting,  Kemeling telur

November 14, 2014

Sibu Tales : kampong chickens

Most people would rear their own chickens in Sibu until the time when Sibu Urban District Council started to fine those housewives who kept domestic animals in their compounds.

My mother was most upset when she heard about her friends being fined by the SUDC.

However she took everything very very fatalistically and accepted the situation.

For my 4 confinements she asked her own sister in law to raise the kampong chickens. Just enough ( for example like 12) so as not to bother too much. She insisted that the first week I should at least have kampong, free range chickens to eat so that I could get back all my energy from 9 months of pregnancy.

Then we heard a lot of tales of people raising kampong chickens in Oya Road farms. Many made a lot of money selling them because the Foochows really love kampong chickens.

We also heard about a business woman who asked a timber camp Iban lady to raise chickens for her. She would collect about 20 or 30 chickens per week from her and then sell them to good faithful customers. She became very popular because her chickens from the timber camp were really tasty and "fat". She had this arrangement for a long time.

But the best tale that involved my mother was a mystery which until today was never solved. One day, she received a telephone call that someone had sent her a basketful of kampong chickens from Kanowit. There were about 8 fat kampong chickens in them.

My Third Uncle was deployed to collect the chickens from the boat. Who could have sent so many precious chickens to my mother? Both of them asked around for many days. There was no note and answer. So for many days my mother enjoyed her chicken soup and she , also at that time, recovered from her illness. Who was that mysterious giver of gifts?

Today I use my blog to thank the mysterious giver of kampong chickens. May God bless you always.

November 6, 2014

Nang Chong Tales : Making of Patchwork by hand

My grandmother Lien Tie was a child bride,bought in China and later brought out from China by my grand uncle Lau Kah Tu.

On the day she was sold , sort of in the market of Minqing, she was a tiny little girl, sitting on the shoulders of her father, a poor farmer who needed money to feed the rest of the family. He was crying out loud, "Little girl for sale, healthy, and hardworking although very small. Feet not bound."

Grandma was one girl too many. Her feet had be bound, but because of the extreme poverty, her parents let go of the binding cloth so that she could work in the farm and do other housework. By the time she was five, they could no longer feed her and they had to sell her.

It was an opportune time that my grandfather elder brother, Lau Kah Tii, was walking along the street and he saw this sad scene and paid the sum of Five Dollars, the amount that was asked without bargaining, since he had already set some money aside to go to Nanyang with Wong Nai Siong. It was 1901. He not only bought one young child bride but he also had helped his own father , a few years before this purchase, to buy one girl for himself. Hence the two girls became great friends and soon they would be in the same boat to Sarawak.

When already established herself as a wife of a rubber tapper, one of the activities my grandmother liked was to save all the scraps of materials her in laws and daughters could give her. She would keep them in a worn out pillow case and when she had a little bit more, she would sew the little triangles together, usually in the day time before dinner. When she was staying with us, she too would put those pieces together, usually red ones matching with floral pieces.

When she had enough of the pieces,she would ask my mother to sew the bigger pieces together. And a little blanket would be made. The Foochows call this Pui Yan or Little Blanket.

Little Blankets are nice gifts for her new born grand children. They are easy to wash and dry.

I would always remember my grandmother being given pieces of materials by her loved ones. Sometimes my mother would deliberately go and buy a quarter chien (in those days, materials were sold in chien and not yard.) of some florals, telling her that those were scraps only. Mum would slip a few pieces of those into a plastic bag amongst the scraps from aunts or cousins who were tailors who kept a lot of scraps from their customers.

Today only two of my sisters continue simple Foochow patchwork with enthusiasm.

My friend Steve Ling and his wife Mee Jiong with two blankets and his mother in law.

The little ones would wear out the little blankets as they grew older.

But sometimes their mothers would really treasure them and keep them for a long time, patching them over and over again.

I had mine which was much loved and lasted until I was long married off.

On the other hand however, adults would sleep with the thick RED Wollen Blanket , called 12 pound blanket or sek ni pong jhieng, bought in Singapore, a bridal gift, and it was meant to last until the final days. That red wollen blanket would go to the grave with the person owning it. A richer family would buy a new one to go with the coffin.

Somehow seeing simple patchwork blankets always reminds me of the frugal ways of my grandmother who would hand sew each piece very neatly and then waited very patiently for my mother to help her finish the small blanket.

She placed the blanket on the floor and spread out the whole piece for all to see. The lines were straight and each piece would be perfectly flat against another.  This the Foochows call, "Bang Nik". All the angles would merge perfectly. We did not have to iron the blanket flat at all.

Patch work quilts would always remind me of my maternal grandmother.

November 3, 2014

Sibu Tales : Making Fish Balls

When the Foochows talk about making fish balls, they become very happy. In the olden days in China, making fish balls was a festive activity. Fish was plentiful in the Min River but it was nevertheless hard work too for every farmer, to work in the padi fields and to go fishing whenever they had the time. But in good times they had good food and of course when famine came, it was bad for every one. That was part of nature, part of life.

When the pioneering Foochow came to Sibu, they remembered their home in Min River. And they did not forget how to make fish balls.

In Foochow dialect, making fish balls is called Pak Ngii Wong, or hit fish ball.

The process of making fish ball was to scrape the fish flesh from the bones and then hit the flresh when it is a ball.

In this way the fresh of fish or the meat ball is not flaky but very solid and can bounce on the table!!

A little addition of corn starch and some times egg white may change the texture a bit by modern chefs.

When Sibu business started making fishballs we were quite happy with the products but as the years went buy we found that the standards or quality deteriorated. People do not really want to buy commercial fish balls now.

So we continue to Pak Ngii Wuong at home if we have the time.

Love making fish balls from mackerels....

November 1, 2014

Recycling Newspapers, Sarawak Way.

In the 1960's my sisters and I made a lot of paper bags using brown paper or newspapers to earn extra pocket money. We sold our product to Chai Hong, the sundry shop at Kampong Nyabor Road, about 100 metres from our Brooke Drive home.

It was fun making those paper bags, with all the glue and the drying of the bags. We produced "quite a bit" and enjoyed making them.

Today newspapers are still being recycled in many different ways.

Nasi Lemak

Paper tubes for ducks

and paper to wrap our locally made soy bean curd...


October 31, 2014

50 appointments with Oshin changed my world views

 It is by accident I met Oshin on tv and it has changed my world views a lot..

Watch this space for my article


 My references:

Oshin comes back

The much loved Japanese television serial Oshin is to be telecast on Rupavahini once again after a lapse of 12 years. ‘Oshin’ had proved her mettle as a lovable and inspirable character for decades in the global context. The television serial caters to the masses comprising the young and old.
Little Oshin
Young Oshin
Athula Ransirilal
A production of NHK television, Oshin had been dubbed in many languages time to time to telecast in various countries. In Japan it was telecast twice daily, at 11.20 a.m. and once again in the evening.
The series covers three generations of Japanese life pre and post war.
In a nutshell, Oshin is a ‘rags to riches’ story. The story revolves around a courageous girl (Oshin) of a poor peasant family lived in Japan in the early stages of twentieth century. The way little Oshin boldly faces challenges in life and the sheer determination shown by Oshin in her young age brings inspiration to children as well as to parents.
Oshin was first brought to Sri Lanka by the veteran artiste Henry Jayasena from Japan in 1989 at the time of M J Perera. The task of dubbing the program in Sinhala was assigned to none other than Titus Thotawatte, a man in abundance of innate skills who was a veteran of Sinhala cinema.
Titus and his colleague Athula Ransirilal with a team of 250 dubbing artists did the job to a level which was eventually admired by all Sri Lankan television viewers alike. Sinhala dubbed version of Oshin enthralled Rupavahini viewers two decades back with its sheer magic. Rasipaba Sandeepani (very young Oshin), Rasadari Peiris (young and middle aged Oshin), Grace Ariyawimal (grandma Oshin), Ratnawali Kekunawela, Victor Miguel, Ratna Sumanapala, Gemunu Wijesuriya, Nihal Jayawardene and Parakrama Perera were among the dubbing artists who contributed to Oshin. Athula’s other colleagues were Kelum Palitha, Sanath Senani, Chandana Seneviratne, H Churchill, Ranjith Silva and Anura Dharmasena.
Athula took the reins from Titus Thotawatte on his demise to make the history repeat. Speaking of the fresh telecast of Oshin, he said, the backdrop in which the telecast coinciding with is the completion of 60 years of cordial friendship between Sri Lanka and Japan and 30-year relationship between SLRC and NHK.
SLRC had the privilege of sharing television programs with Japan from its commissioning date. Usually every year Japan foundation send programs worth huge amounts free of charge to SLRC. These programs comprise films, documentaries, children’s programs and cartoons.
With Athula’s initiation and the blessings of the present Rupavahini Chairman Mohan Samaranayake, SLRC team had made a fresh request from Japananese ambassador for Oshin this time around. The ambassador has gone to the extent of convincing the Japan foundation to bear the huge cost involved and give Oshin ‘free of charge’ to be telecast over Rupavahini for the benefit of Sri Lankan viewers.
An emotional scene from Oshin
We have to pay a tax for dubbing. When the proposal for taxation was brought, people like Professor Somaratne Balasuriya, Asoka Serasinghe, Ravindra Randeniya and Somaratne Dissanayake suggested exempting programs like Oshin from tax, said Athula thoughtfully. Oshin is the very first ‘long-tele series’ dubbed in Sinhala to be telecast here. Titus Thotawatte with his expertise had done subtle adaptations to the original script to be in harmony with Sri Lankan culture, folklore and Sinhala speaking people. Thus the Sri Lankan viewers strongly felt the emotion in the story.
Oshin will be telecast five days every week (Monday to Friday) from 6.30pm to 7.30pm from May 25.

October 30, 2014

Sibu Tales : Rice cake

For many years I thought this is a Foochow cake from my dialectic group, until recently when I posted my photos on fb.

What a marvellous learning journey provided by Facebook. Now I know where to get more of this, when this is available and why it is served during Chinese new year by the Minang people (Hokkiens).

Perhaps one day I will make it when I get the recipe.

October 29, 2014

Family Lunch at Five Foot Way

It is only in a small place where you find a very unexpected gesture which touches the heart.
Old fashion ways are remarkably and lovingly fossilized in this place in Marudi...and old friendly ways make visitors so happy and feel welcome. My friend Ribuh Aran is right...why should he move away from Marudi?

I was walking down the older part of Marudi, a small town along the BAram, once called Claude Town by the Brooke Government,when I caught a whiff of steamed Chinese cabbage. And sure enough at the corner shop, a family was gathering for their lunch on the five foot way.

My friend Lucy was so thrilled by the spread on the table...We were given a cabbage roll each to taste. Wonderful Old Chinese Recipe.
The enterprising lADY owner of the shop was getting lunch ready for her family on the five foot way. And she had time to invite us immediately to her table for lunch. Delicious cabbage rolls.

This kind of warm gesture is a long forgotten Chinese pioneer behaviour. She reminds me of my grandmother Lien Tie who would never allow a "pass through" Foochow go without a meal. Our kuali was always heated and there would be some food for a total stranger!!

She really has a good heart and we are going back to see her again on our next trip to Marudi.

What an amazing way of using spatial space ...and what a nice lunch on a makeshift table. She can do business and look after her family at the same time. Great idea!!

October 28, 2014

Window Ledge of a Foochow Kitchen


My cousin is a very practical person. She loves the nostalgic atmosphere of the old Foochow kitchen of olden days. Recently she designed her kitchen to look like this.

Now she does not need a special cupboard to keep her pots and pans, and the plates can dry easily in this airy ledge. The kitchen is mosquito and fly free.

So practical and enjoyable.

October 27, 2014

Sibu Tales : Butcher's Block

The pork business is one of the longest standing businesses in Sibu.

Pig rearers in Sibu have a long history. There are two kinds of pig rearers :one which rear more than 100 pigs in the farm, or those who rear two or three broods per year as a family owned business.

Most family farms depend on left over food and in the past did not even buy scientific feed for their animals. Yams and water lettuced cooked with sago flour and rice husks were good feed. Today this kind of hot food for the pigs is not common.

Pig farms are well monitored by the Agriculture Department to safe guard the health of the pigs and general hygiene of the state.

Pork is sold in standard buildings and only licensees can sell pork. They are still casually dressed like the butchers of olden days.

Some butchers are third generation butchers. Imagine that!!

There is no modernisation of butcher shops in Sarawak. While supermarkets may sell imported and local meat, pork as a non halal meat is still not sold in supermarkets which tend to do halal food.

In the future we would never know what would happen to this familiar and easy kind of lifestyle.

Australian Middle Eastern Butcher

Perhaps we may have to rethink our style of life and even change our culinary styles!! It would be quite a revolution in culinary arts if pork is taken out of our Foochow life style. Think of the future when pork cannot be sold in the market openly, or restaurants must be purely Halal in order to get a license for business.

October 26, 2014

Three Aunties and 6 Ah Moos

There is a very nice dish in a Vegan restaurant in Miri. The title on the menu is Three Aunties and Six Ah Moos or San Goo Liu Poh.

I always find it a delight to find creative names of dishes. Some are so creative you have to ask the waiter or waitress what can be found in the dish that you might like to try.

For example, you read about Malay Scenario (Malay Feng Kwang?) What's that?
It is but Kang Kong fried with belacan. But every body knows that famous name.

Now what about Four Heavenly Kings? Well it is four different kinds of beans fried with different sauces. This dish is named after 4 Heavenly kings of singers of Chinese descent..Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and gang.

It is worth knowing such creative names if you wish to enjoy good Chinese food any where. I would like to compile an A to Z of Chinese names of their special dishes. One however has to be either bi lingual, or have a good friend who is conversant in the two languages to help translate.

Enjoy food names!!

October 23, 2014

Young missionary teachers with Mrs. JB Chong and Mr. CS Chong

A precious photo kept by Mr. Chong Chung Sing.

Mrs. JB Chong in the 60's and 70's entertained many Methodist Missionaries and pastors at her lovely home in Queensway.

This photo shows Mr. Chong Chong Sing and Mrs. JB Chong, his mother, third from left. Mr. Ting Tung Ming is standing, Lovely food was always prepared by the family for guests.

October 19, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Fried Rice and Lak Tong

Having holidays in Ah Nang Chong with my grandma was a special treat.

And the best part of the holiday was all the nice and simple food Grandmother and Uncle cooked. Occasionally we also were given treats by our other aunts in their kitchens in the big house or further in land in the other houses.

My thoughts are about Lak Tong today.


When we were young we did not know that Lak Tong was a Cantonese food product. And we thought Lak was for chillies or spicy taste. So Lak Tong was a sausage full of chillies and we were quite reluctant to eat them.

The Foochows in Ah Nang Chong used Lak Tong to cook fried rice, make omeletes, or serve them fried or steamed. One way of eating lak tong, Foochow style in those days was to steam thin slices of the lak tong with bean sprouts, a very interesting dish.

It was until very much later in life that I learned that Lak meant WAXED. And that the Cantonese called it Lap Cheong.

Now I have two Cantonese sons-in-law. (50 years later) My daughters are not necessarily interested in eating Lak tong or lap cheong while I continue to love it as delicacies and in small portions and using it in my cooking occasionally.

October 17, 2014

Sibu Tales : One Dish only with Plain Rice or Porridge

A distant aunt of mine was a very frugal lady and she was not particularly a good cook. Some nasty relatives criticised her for having "nothing to eat". "Moh noh siak" is not a nice Foochow way of talking about a person behind her back.

I once asked her why she did not learn to cook well.

She answered,"We were poor in the olden days when we did not even have oil most of the time!!"

Foochow women have been brought up to have enough oil, salt, sugar and rice in their cupboard.

But then it was not hard for me in those days to empathise with my loving aunt. Although she came from a poor background she was nevertheless a very kind soul. She would share whatever she had with us, whenever we came to visit. And we would also bring something to her house.

A recent preparation of mine.

One day, as students, my friends and I dropped by her house to give her two gourds from my mother's garden. My friend also gave her some long beans from her mother. Another friend brought some limes from her tree.

Aunt was in the garden tending to her ducks and chickens which she was rearing for sale. She would entertain us with stories of snakes visiting her at night and eating her precious fowls. Her backyard was facing the river which was a good place for reptiles to hide, lay their eggs and breed...Tales of snakes often brought shivers down our spines in those days.

She invited us in for a meal but we declined. One her table was a small dish of anchovies, and onions.

She exclaimed, "Good that you have brought limes. I do not even have vinegar at home. But I do have enough food for all of us. You don't have to go home and eat. Just eat here. "

She looked up to the sky and she said, " Thank you God for supplying enough GRACE for me."

My aunt was a woman who had a grateful heart. Joy was written all over her face. In later years she was very blessed, very blessed indeed.

My friends and I learned a lesson in humility that day.

But I also learned that when a woman truly welcomed her guests to her home, we would be able to feel her genuine welcome and no matter what food she had on her table, her guests would be grateful.

And I will always remember the small dish of anchovies with onions.

Whenever I hear Foochows mention that they only have anchovies with their rice, I would say, "That's the best dish God can prepare for us. We should be grateful that there are small fishes swimming in the sea to provide us with protein!!"

(Foochow metaphors : Kangyu gian - small fry, unimportant person. Siak Kangyu gian - poor people)

(NB, in fact in later years I would always prepare this dish as a side dish for friends and relatives when they come. We must never be too pompous and ostentatious in our lifestyle.)

October 16, 2014

Sibu's Favourite Food Book

Click on the link below and you will take a culinary journey in Sibu. Each page would show you  a wonderful dish, a photo or a description of the food.

This new book, sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, was launched on 15th Sept. And being free, it is very very popular.


Paul Yii of the District Office Sibu has kindly made an electronic version of the book. And this has helped many from overseas to read it on line. How amazing!!

I hope you will love the e- book as much as we have writing it for you dear readers in mind.

The three writers are Philip Hii, Arthur Wee and I. the writing project was initiated in Sept 2013 and the proposed date of publication was March 2014. However we were very happy that a final date was set to launch the book in conjuction with the International Base Jumping in Sibu.

Enjoy!! And if you have plans to visit Malaysia, put Sibu in your plans!!

October 15, 2014

Sibu Tales : Peanuts

"Our forefathers who came to Sibu were so frugal that they ate little, a little bit of rice and half a peanut each mouthful....peanuts were split into two so that more could go round...."

My grandfather's favourite dish : peanuts. And it's a long story. It is the story of the Foochows of Sibu.

Hua ren ning ke doi beng (eat half of peanuts) or 花生啃成半(spliting each peanut).   - eat frugally.

My favourite preparation - braised peanuts

In later years , after my grandfather retired, he led a very quiet life living in a nice wooden house on top of a hill in Sungei Merah. He had moved from Sungei Merah to Bukit Lan, from Bukit Lan to Pulau Kerto and from Pulau Kerto to Bintangor (which he founded with Ling Ching Tu and Yao Shiaw King) and finally back to Sungei Merah where he acquired his final piece of property of several acres of rubber,banana and fruit farm.

 We used to visit him very frequently. My grandmother Siew would always get ready the plump braised and best peanuts for him on the table and for years I watched him chewing the peanuts slowly and with great satisfaction. What was in his mind?

Once he came to our house for a memorable 10 days, and his loving and skilful hands repaired our Foochow stove. He carefully cemented the cracks of the stove, little by little, like a master craftsman. At the end of one week, no one could see the cracks. And he also reminded us that what we could do ourselves, we must do and not call a Tukang who would charge us. He was then 84 years old.

My siblings and I remember we had fried peanuts every day because Grandpa was staying with us. My father would buy food he liked and could not be superfluous because grandpa did not like overspending on food. He had a very awesome presence.

He told my father that the stove was as good as new. Indeed. We did not see any crack from then on . It was sad that we finally had to demolish our beautiful wooden house together with the stove which gave us such great memories in 1978. Today, the Orchid Inn stands tall on that piece of property. Another era.

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). ...