March 14, 2014

Sibu Tales : A Milk Tin to Measure Rice

A few old stories are related to the milk tin. Here is one memorable one.

 An distant uncle used to tell me stories of how poor he was. He lived in the rubber garden in Deshon Road and the whole family owned only one bicycle for transport. Because he was rather short, he could not even reach the pedals. He had to push one pedal down and hope that the other pedal would come up for him to push it down. It must have been hard for him to cycle like that with his short legs.
And very often when he returned from school, his mother would have tears in her eyes. She would hand her a small cotton bag and asked him to cycle to Sibu to "borrow" some rice from the towkay. The little cloth bag would only be able to contain about 5 tins of rice. So he would cycle all the way to town and back. By that time it would be dark and he would have to take out his torch light. Dinner would be just soft rice from two tins of rice and some salted fish and peanuts. The next few days, his father would have to hurriedly make some wooden buckets for sale and the family would have also to wait for the rubber sheets to be smoked in a neighbor's smokehouse.

My uncle said that it was a very hard life. But now as he looks back, life was not that bad but he would always remember how tough it was to "borrow" rice from a towkay and to keep promises to "pay" back. He comes from a very honorable family and his parents would always make sure that they pay back for everything they borrowed. With that kind of good upbringing my uncle is now very wealthy. He still maintains a very humble life style and speaks with a very gentle tone. May God bless him always.

When we were young, we would collect all the tins for some special purposes like measuring rice for cooking, for putting pencils , or for keeping marbles. We did not have Tupperware, Lock It or plastic containers from the shops.

The Milkmaid tin was the most popular for measuring rice at home for cooking. Housewives would tell each other how many tins of rich were needed for each meal for their family!! Large families might even have to cook 5 or 6 tins of rice per meal. Those were the days when rice was the main food to fill the stomach. Half a tin of rice would make enough porridge for a small family.
Tins needed a good edge like this. If the family did not have a good tin opener, the mother or father would use a small hammer to hammer the edge in so that fingers would not be injured. I even used a small stone to hammer in the edge!!

This would have been an enviable tin opener. The local Foochows call this the American Style tin opener, or the Screw type. Eh Chuo Li kuan Now Tor. It was a very sophisticated kind of equipment to have in the villages.


Anonymous said...

Your posting triggers my memory. Ya, we were very environemntal friendly in those days, come to think of it. We recycle newspaper and make paper bags out of them and then we use paper bags for grocery instead of plastic bags. Remember all those tins and containers. They were priceless!

Ensurai said...

Thanks for commenting. Yes my siblings recycled newspapers and earned pocket money making paper bags. We saved every tin and container. I loved the way my uncles and grandfather made dust pans and water scoops...(chui dow) and even how diah (ladle for cooking)

Anonymous said...

I was just telling a young Malaysian friend we used to buy acar, 15 cents, from the nyonya at the village market place. She made her acar, then put them in a cleaned-milk-can ! Yes. Environmental friendly indeed. We recycled everything -- the Indian would come to collect medicine bottles, men would sharpen your knives, repair your cooking pans with missing handles, and shoes of course. These days, especially in the west, we throw away things that still have so much life in them.

Always enjoy reading your posts :) !

Anonymous said...

Ya, actually in Western countries, they are very wasteful. Developed countries population makes up less than 40% of the world's population but they use more than 70% o0f the world's resources.

Ensurai said...

Cindy, it is good to hear from you. I miss the coffee bought from the kopi tiam and carried home in the recycled condensed milk tin. We actually got extra milk from the generous Coffee hand. My mother was always grateful to the scissors and knife sharpening man who came by probably twice a year or less. He was kind and charged only a few cents. We had a good shoe repair man in Sibu and we used to go to him. Shoes repaired by him would last until we changed the soles several times and the top could not be sewn any more!! Those were the days when being frugal was just normal ....

Ensurai said...


while many in the western world are very budget conscious, as they send their stuff to recycle shops or Salvos and the like, some may really be extravagant like buying one coat too many. But I have found many of our Asian people just as wasteful. Look at the food they throw away in the restaurants!! Some children would order cakes and eat just a bit, or order a whole plate of noodles and left half the plate untouched. They don't even ask for a doggie bag!! But then these are the scenarios we have seen.

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