April 30, 2014

Hua Hong Stories : Stone Grinder or Mill

I do not have a photo of my Great Grandmother's stone grinder, so I have grabbed on from Google here.

It was possible that my great grandfather brought a stone grinder with him to Sibu when he left China with his two sons, Tiong Kung Ping and Tiong Kung Eng. Or it was also very possible that they bought one a few years after they landed in Sibu . In the 1920's - 1930's the Foochow rubber tappers had prospered and stone grinders were popular items of homes, in fact, almost a necessity according to our elders.

However, my mother was very appreciative of the stone grinder in Hua Hong house and she reminded us  kids often that the stone grinder belonged to Dui Gung or Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother and we must never forget their legacy.

Grinding rice to make a batter was almost an every day activity in a Foochow household during the 1900's till 1970's when the electric blender became a very affordable domestic appliance.

My  China born Great Grandmother was a good kuih maker with original recipes from fujian, China.

My own grandmother also made quite a bit of nyonya kuih, since she was born in Java and educated in Singapore.

However my aunts and uncles would remember that it was our Second Grandmother Wong who made the best kuih in the 1930's . She made a lot for sale even and my young aunts and uncles would carry them in baskets to sell to the employees of the Ice Factory.

When my mother married into the family, she inherited the stone grinder, as she lived with my great grandmother for more than 6 years. By that time Second Grandmother Wong had passed away in Hua Hong. Great Grandmother lived with my mother for 7 years. Our cousin Yew Ping was helping to look after Great Grandmother until she got married. She was married to a Lau from Tulai.  Great Grandmother later moved to live with my grandfather in Sungei Merah. She left the stone grinder with my mother.

Today, this stone grinder is in Kuching, with my mother. It has moved house, from China, to Hua Hong, to Brooke Drive, to Airport Road and finally to Kasuma Resort, Kuching.

It would be nice to have family gathering around the stone grinder, have family members working on it, and waiting for the creamy white rice milk to drip into the pail. But then time has  really passed and the art of making our own rice batter has now been technologically changed.

We actually don't even have to blend our own soaked rice nowadays and who would even think of preparing a wet rice batter early in the morning before even the cock crows? We can buy Powdered Rice,or rice flour in supermarkets so easily.

April 26, 2014

Sibu Post Cards : Merrido Hotel

How many of you still keep post cards of your own home town? I am from Sibu and I used to buy lots of postcards from a special shop called "Long House". Most of the postcards in those days were black and white. And I have sent some to my hostel mates in West Malaysia to show them that Sibu was not a village but a town with high rise( 4 storeys only) buildings and quite a few cars!!

And in those days, the photographer's name was not acknowledged. so I have always wondered who took this photo and which company produced this post card.

PC (2)

The Merrido Hotel is no longer in existence but the building is still standing in Sibu. One day I will go back to Sibu and take a photo of this building. It is situated at Wong Nai Siong Road and to the left of the Sibu Post Office which is at the corner of the Wong Nai Siong Road and Jalan Kampong Nyabor.

When we were young the Merrido Hotel was a very "happening place" and lots of young men built their dreams of playing in bands and becoming famous like members of the Rolling Stones or the Beatles.

Young girls all dreamed of becoming the best singing stars in the world.

Timber tycoons paid for lots of drinks while entertaining their clients and Taiwan Singers made a fortune out of the generous business men.

The 1960's were the years of timber boom in Sibu. People's lives changed for the better or worse in those flashy years and in the 1970's I left Sibu for my tertiary education in West Malaysia, being one of the first Foochow girls to gain entry to MU. Our fates were thus sealed in the academics : flashy night clubs were not for us as we stuck our noses in our books.

And as rock music faded from our horizon we became lost in our own struggles in life in so many different ways.

April 25, 2014

Disappearing Sibu : Red Hair Hill

The Red Hair Hill in Sibu was a popular Pioneering Settlement and is known in Foochow as the Ern Moh Long. Perhaps it was because during the Rajah Brooke period, this hillier part of Sibu had a few Officers' quarters. But we are not really sure of the origin of the name. Perhaps the first Roman Catholic priest lived her? I am still trying to find out about the origin of the name.

Many Foochow families settled there and planted pepper and rubber for many decades since 1901. In those days, the Foochows would walk many hours to reach their homes from Sibu town. Later, they had bicycles. Cars arrived in the scene only in the 1960's. Perhaps there was a bus route too in those days, managed by Lanang Bus Company.

However, after the Japanese Occupation the area was most famous as an area where the CCO were active and many of the rubber tappers were suspects of passing food to them , from 1956 to 1974. So surveillance was stringent and curfew actually prevented some of the economic progress of this area.

A few Foochows were shot dead there and the security forces were always coming this area during those years. One of my Methodist School seniors (Madam Hii) became the first woman to be arrested and placed in detention in Kuching . Later Ms Chieng Choon Hua joined her in Kuching . It was a tough time for many families because sympathisers could be detained without trial. In 1974 many of them were released from detention. (Today, there is a Friendship Complex in Sibu built for these detainees and returnees.)
British Survey Team in Bukit Lima

In 1966, the Ern Moh Long became very famous for another interesting happening. It became the centre for the British surveyors who were mapping Sarawak.

The Methodist Church contributed to this area's development. It built two churches and a primary school. Wang Ming Tong is the earlier one, and Ai Ming Tng is a newer one which used recycled materials from Masland Church . Kiew Nang School was built by the Methodist Foochow Pioneers. In 1996, Mr. Hii Sieh Toh retired from this school as Head Master.

Many of the old scenes have disappeared from Ern Moh Long. And in fact not many people remember even its old name. The pepper gardens are all gone. the rubber trees have been cut to make way for roads , shops and houses and schools of course.

In recent years not many people can recognise the exact site of the older Ern Moh Long because development and progress have change this area completely.

The biggest change is the presence of a huge supermarket, Farley, which is now a landmark in Jalan Salim. 15 years ago, no one would believe that Bukit Lima/Salim Road/Ern Moh Long would have that kind of development. There were only a few wooden houses, and the Sibu Swimming Pool.

From local knowledge (thanks to some Sibu friends), the young boss of Farley is Lau Siew Huai.(刘守淮)who has 8 brothers & 2 sisters. Another brother is the owner of 天然photo shop in bintulu,(刘守资)another brother has a hardware,(刘守奇 ). And yet another has a electrical shop(刘守文) all in bintulu.

Their father,  a Foochow entrepreneur who used to sell eggs along Tiong Hua Road from his bicycle brought Farley to its present height of success with the help of his 8 sons!! That's a fantastic rags to riches story.

(This is still under construction....waiting for more photos...)

April 24, 2014

Nuba Laya - Mashed Rice wrapped in leaves

One of the most interesting leaf wrapped food in Sarawak is called Nuba laya. The leaves used are called Daun Long in Iban,isip or itip in Kelabit.

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Rice is cooked and when it is still hot and of a certain consistency, the cook with stir it until it is like mashed potatoes. So it is actually "mashed rice". This nuba laya can be drier or wetter depending on the taste of the family. However the drier nuba laya can last longer.

the various Indigenous Communities always enjoy the best of their home grown rice. When the newly harvest rice is milled, they will usually prepare their leaf wrapped rice to entertain guests, to give to friends or even just to enjoy eating them during meals. Nuba laya can be taken to the farms too by the farmers and they can even be taken to West malaysia for loved ones. Rice prepared in this way can last at least two days without refrigeration.

Nuba laya is usually cooked by loving mothers from the Lun Bawang, Kelabit and Kayan communities.

Other kinds of leaves used for making other kinds of food in Sarawak are the Simpor, banana and nipah leaves.
another kind of rice wrapped in simpor leaves, but this is Tapai or sweet fermented rice.

But commercially, it can be found in Canaan Cafe, Summit Cafe and Canopy Cafe.
Iban Kelupis, glutinous rice wrapped in daun long.

This rice is a popular staple amongst the local and foreigners. Side dishes from the Kelabit and Lun Bawang Communities go very well with this rice. One can use the leaf as a plate and that is actually an excellent idea, and safe washing and at the same time water is not wasted.

April 23, 2014

How to make your own lard Foochow style

Many years ago, when my grandmother Tiong Lien Tie, came to visit us, sometimes staying as long as a month, she would help my mother cook wonderful meals and prepare lard for us. She thought that good Foochow food must be prepared with lard.

She was a very meticulous cook and would slice the pork fat early in the morning. And then when all the breakfast was cleared and we kids were in school, she and my mother would cook the fat in a kuali slowly. It was a kind of safety at home, to prepare lard when the kids were not in the house. She did not want any one of us to be scalded by hot oil.
As the fat was cooking in the kuali, my mother and my grandmother would prepare lunch, which could be two vegetables and a soup, and another dish of fish or meat. We often had black pomfret when my grandmother was around. Mother would buy the best food for her. We loved her coming, because as my brother would say,"If grandmother is with us, we have better food."
The lard will harden and my grandmother would keep it in an enamel cup which has a lid. (It was called Nga Kii Bui, because that kind of cup was mainly used to hold the water when we brushed our teeth. If the lard was a large amount, my grandmother would keep the lard in a big enamal pot, either a green or blue one, made in China.  When placed over the Foochow Stove,this lard would keep for a long time. Somehow lard never seems to go rancid. Today of course we keep our lard in the fridge.
The best part of the lard making was the crispy residual ...which we call Yiu Char in Foochow. Today, many chefs use this to add fragrance to Hokkien Noodles, or Dian Bian Hu or even Mee Sua.

Whenever grandma made lard, she would "harvest" a lot of the yiu char which she would store in a large glass receptacle like Horlicks or Nescafe bottle. She was very good in recycling .  The bottles will keep the yiu char very crispy and they were eaten like condiments, dipped in soy bean sauce. As children we loved watching her carefully picking some of the yiu char for us from her bottle or stock!! And we were also so disciplined that we would never "steal the yiu char from the bottle". Today I would be more cheeky and pick some from the bottle, which would be very bad for my health!!

April 22, 2014

Sibu Stories : PIneapples at Bridge Road

Living in Sibu in the 1960's meant that we had many opportunities to eat plenty freshest of fruits from Kapit, Sarikei, Kanowit and even Matu Daro, as the riverine boats could bring them in, fresh from the farms within the day of harvest.

The Sarikei Pineapple, the special variety of  yellow skinned pineapples which have a conical shape, with varying sweetness, has been an iconic fruit for us in Sibu since then. Another pineapple known as Nenas Paun is a favourite amongst the Malay community. It is heavier, dark green in colour and rounder in shape. It is also good for cooking. Nowadays, a new pineapple, called the Nenas Sawit , has taken the state of Sarawak by storm.

However, Pineapple has lent its name to Sarikei where there is a  bright yellow and golden statue in the middle of the town. Sarikei  is known as Pineapple Town of Sarawak. The claim is very correct because it is still producing a lot of this pineapple. And Sibu continues to enjoy the fruit.
Photo from Sarikei Time Capsule (Thanks to Daniel Yiek)

This special fruit, the Sarikei Pineapple, today is grown in Miri at Saba Orchard amongst many other pineapple gardens in Miri and its outlying areas. But the pineapples grown here are very sweet, probably due to the alluvial soil. Those grown in peat soils are less sweet according to a pineapple expert. Hence the Saba Orchard calls it the Lambir Pines, as the soil in Lambir area is different from the soils of Sarikei, thereby creating its unique taste and texture.

The Sarikei Pineapples like all other pineapples have little flowers when they first grow.. In fact not many people have seen the pineapple flowers. Most flowers from the Sarikei/Lambir pines are lavender or purple in colour. I have to find an orange flower with my lenses.

The Sarikei/Lambir Pines have slender leaves and have more thorns than the Nenas Paun, which is a different variety.

A third variety Sarawak people enjoy in Miri are the special Nenas Sawit.

And finally, the most expenive pineapples are the Bario Pineapples which cost RM8.00 at present market price, because they air flown from Bario. This special pineapple looks like the Nenas Paun but being grown specially in the hilly soils of Bario, and is a different variety because of its texture and sweetness, it is known famously as Bario Pineapples.

But I would always remember how we had those pineapples from Sarikei at RM5 ringgit for SIX!! And the boat men would even skin and give them to us with the stump still one....those healthy teenagers with good teeth would eat them like a huge lollipop after a good game of hockey in the evening.

Pineapples are cold fruits which can even encourage miscarriage according to Chinese beliefs. Those young and newly married women a long time ago were not encouraged to eat pineapples.When menstruating Chinese girls are not allowed to eat pineapples.

The  fruit may be eaten after surgery to reduce inflammation. In fact there is some research on bromelain, purified from pineapple stem or fresh juice.." provided in the diet over six months, decreased the severity of colonic inflammation in mice with experimental colitis.[..... has some potential against cancer mechanisms "(Wikipedia)

But today, it is considered one of the best fruits in the world and is often used  as part of salads, rojak and cooking of fish and meat. Eaten on its own pineapples are awesome. When cooked, I love it in curries and even stir fried with tumeric and lots of onions!!

April 21, 2014

Durians in Luak Bay...


This year unexpected the durian trees in Miri started to flower in March. And this may indicate the effects of global warming on Sarawak. Many of the trees are in full bloom now and the expected harvest is in the month of August, provided no strange thunderstorms  create havoc .
This year has been quite exceptional because we are getting durians even in April, which does not actually happen. Today the global climatic changes have created unusual fruiting seasons in our state.
Ten years ago in Sibu, Limbang, and Miri, the durian season was only at the end of the year. I remember it was always good to look forward to the holiday season when we could have our King of the Fruits - Durians at very reasonable prices.
It is even possible to have two seasons of durians nowadays!!

I have a special passion to take photos of durian flowers and would go to great extent to get them!! Even going into someone's garden, get permission and take the photos.

These durian flowers have no odour. Perhaps I do not have a good sense of smell, although I can identify several perfumes which are very famous and the various common chemicals.

A friend commented that the chief pollinator, the Brown Bat is no longer plentiful. Probably having been eaten to extinction!!

April 19, 2014

Sungei Merah Stories : Paring An Apple for your loved ones

What about some mud skipper soup?


I often think of the days when my grandfather and my father visited each other and they got on so well together. My father was past 50 and grandfather was already in his 70's. This also meant that grandfather married later than most Chinese men of his age.

His marriage to my father's mother was arranged by Rev James Hoover who have met a lovely Chong family in Singapore. The brother, Mr.JB Chong was likely to be engaged as an English Teacher in Sibu in 1909 and he had a sister of marriageable age. Rev. Hoover thought of my grandfather.

The match was a good one because both my grandfather and Grandmother Chong were very hardworking people. She presented my grandfather with a lovely fair skinned boy and the whole Sibu Foochow community was delighted.

Grandfather had loved his first born as most Foochow men would. And as children we enjoyed his visits. We also enjoyed our visits to Grandfather in Sungei Merah.

 One of the loveliest memories I have of my father and grandfather having a good conversation together was when my father visited him when he was ill not long before he passed away.

Father brought some apples for Grandfather and he carefully pared one apple for grandfather. In those days, paring an apple for a loved one was a very tender communicative moment. It was an act of love.

You see, in those days, paring of apples was a done thing and most Fujian men could pare apples very well. Today it is not a skill many people have.

I have tried paring apples myself but I would never do as skilfully as my father. My mother said so too. Today, we eat all our apples with the skin.But I do wonder if you pare an apple for someone would it be appreciated as much as my grandfather and father did.

Do you pare your apples before you eat?

Nang Chong Storires : Two Men Saw

In the 1950's to 1960's life in Nang Chong was still very slow and steady.

The economy was post war sluggish and every farmer and rubber tapper was getting their act together, recovering from the very disastrous Japanese Occupation.

My mother's family was mourning for the unexpected passing of my grandfather. Grandmother Lien Tie successful reached Sarawak after having been stranded inChina during the war years. She arrived in Sibu with my second uncle, Lau Pang Kui and his bride, Ting Ing Nga, a Fuzhou born beautiful, and college educated young lady.

Once again the Foochows took to their rubber gardens and started tapping. And within ten years, they saw a rubber boom created by the 1954 Korean War! But it was also the same year that our family

lost our brilliant youngest uncle, Lau Pang Teck,an English speaking (from Sacred Heart School) agriculture graduate from Serdang. He chose to take up an engineering degree course in Beijing and he also felt that the new Communist China was the country to be.Against all good advice he left Sibu on the Soon Bee.

So my Third Uncle, Pang Sing, was left to look after our grandmother and his own growing family.

Uncle Pang Sing had only three years of education,his childhood completely traumatised by the Japanese Occupation and he was too old to continue his studies after the war.

One of the best skills he had was using the two men saw, or double handled saw. He, being a very strong man, would slowly work on the log along, He would slowly push the saw to one end and then slowly pull the saw back towards himself. And patiently for days he would saw in this way under the rubber smoke house.

It was painfully slow but then the results were beautiful. The whole family derived a great deal of satisfaction seeing the logs cut and ready for the smoking of rubber sheets.

The family depended so much on this simple tool and the strength of my uncle to bring in a reasonable cash income. $2 per pickul of rubber sheets smoked. Each session, probably once a month, my uncle earned around $180.00 gross.

April 18, 2014

Salted Mustard or Gong Chai

 “If we could eliminate the concept of town and return to live in small villages, all world problems were solved.”
Rossana Condoleo

Gong in Foochow means a big earthern jar. Chai means vegetables. The Fujian people would pickle or salt their summer vegetables so that they could have enough preserved vegetables during the Autumn and Winter.

One of the favourite preserved vegetables the Foochows of Sibu love is the Gong Chai, or simply Jar Preserved (salted) vegetable. But the vegetable is the huge species of braod leaved mustard green only available in Fujian of China. Some people call it Heart Mustard, others call it Swatow Mustard. The Foochows call it Gua Chai.

Visiting my favourite Wet Market hawker for my preserved mustard greens. You need not buy half portion. She can cut the portion you want, so you need only to spend one ringgit or so. As we do not really need a lot if we just want to steam some fish.

This preserved vegetable is a good item to have at home.

When a visitor drops by unexpectedly, this vegetable can be prepared with some pork (meat or rib bones) to make an excellent soup. Another good soup is preparing it with fresh fish. And another good dish is using it to flavour steamed fish Together with some tofu, and steamed, it is a dish good enough for kings.

A good stir fry with some chillies can pep up the table too.

But what is most wonderful is its presence at the table when we have porridge. It is a must have as a condiment whenever we have porridge. The saltiness, the sourness and the great appetising flavours are beyond measures.

Even when it is cleaned, marinated in sugar and chillies, it is just a good cold salad by itself.

Eating this preserved vegetable always reminds me of the days when my maternal grandmother came to visit and we would always have the awesome rib bone soup with gong chai.

Perhaps you would like to make your own homemade pickled vegetable?

Heart Mustard Cabbage 包心芥菜

1/2 kg swatow mustard green
1 tsp sea salt

Solution for pickling
100 gm rock sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
2 cups boiled water.

Soak the vegetable in a basin of water for about half an hour. Cut the vegetable vertically into two equal portions (trim away any brown spots) and wash it under running water until clean. Make sure the areas in-between stems are also washed.
Massage the mustard green (especially on its cut surfaces) with 1/2 tea spoon of salt and let it stand for about an hour. This helps draw out bitterness from the veggie.
Mix salt, sugar and water for pickling in a pot, swirl over heat to melt them down completely. Remove from heat, let cool and mix in vinegar.
Bring about 3 to 4 cups of water in a pot to the boil; put the salted mustard green (but discard any juice) in the pot to blanch. The water shall stop bubbling as soon as it is loaded with the vegetable. Wait till the water boils up again, about 1 to 2 minutes, then dish up the mustard green. Drain excess water, let cool and cut each half vertically into two equal portions.
Get a sterilized bottle or jar (with cover) which is large enough to contain both the solution and vegetable (mine is about 1 liter in volume). Plunge in the cooled mustard green into the bottle, and pour in the solution. Make sure the vegetable is fully submerged in liquid. Cover.
The mustard green shall turn yellowish the next day. Wait another 2 to 3 days at room temperature for the flavors to develop further before serving (see below). For storage, transfer to fridge.

If you do not like to use vinegar, you can use 1/4 cup cooled porridge water .

April 17, 2014

Zhang Qian 张骞 and Sesame Seeds

Perhaps the first time you heard the word Sesame, was when you read about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. "Open Sesame" became a catch word during our childhood in fact and by saying that in English, we could get a lot of treats! We played games too and used the password to get doors opened.

Of course in those days I did not know anything about Sesame Oil or Muai Yiu, the Chinese name for Sesame Oil. I only know "how to eat". Not so clever.

But, do you know that the small sesame seed was connected to the Zhang Clan?

“The Chinese, wishing to declare war on the Xiung-nu [and] to wipe them out...desired to establish contact with the Yueh-chih; but the road to them led through the territory of the Xiung-nu. The emperor called for volunteers.” -Sima Qian, Records of the Historian
 Chang-Ch'ien (or Zhang Qian) was quick to volunteer and soon he was  dispatched by the emperor Wu-ti to establish relations with a Central Asian tribal group that spoke an Indo-European language.  however he was inprisoned by the Great Khan and he managed to return to China only after 13 years. He brought back his Xiongnu wife and son to China. His travels were not a failure but an achievement.

He opened up the Silk Route, introduced the great horses of the Steppes to China, brought grapes and alfafa to China.

But most importantly, he brought back the incredible Sesame Plant.
The history of Sesame is very rich and interesting. The Hindi word for oil (Tel (तेल)) is also derived from sesame oil (from Sanskrit Taila (तैल), which means obtained from Tila (तिल) Sesame).The Telugu word for sesame seeds is నువ్వులు. Prior to 600 BC, the Assyrians used sesame oil as a food, salve, and medication, primarily by the rich, as the difficulty of obtaining it made it expensive. Hindus used it in votive lamps and considered the oil sacred.
 The sesame plant is not very tall. It is an annual growing to up to 3 feet tall. The leaves are dark green, roughly about 5 inches long. The flowers are pale pink and about an inch long. One plant can only yield 1 Tablespoon of seeds only!!

Interesting the seeds vary in colour : red, black, brown, or creamy white seeds.

The Egyptians and Persians of Biblical times ground it into a kind of flour, from which they made bread. The Romans crushed the seed and used it like butter for a spread on bread.

The special paste of sesame seeds is called TAHINI.

Halva is a special sweet candy made from sesame seed paste.

The Foochows use sesame oil for many dishes. Most importantly for cooking of chicken for new mother's confinement  diet and also for the famous South East Asian Chicken Rice.

I took this photo in Fuzhou during a very awesome food tasting session. Fuzhou Kompia burgers, meat and chives.
Photo by Steve Ling: Sibu Kompia
My favourite source of toasted sesame seeds is the Kompia with lots of them. The Foochow Bridal Biscuits or Leh Pian is only good if there are lots of sesame seeds on them!! Or the Mang Chiew Gor with lots of sesame seeds.

Today lots of salads use toasted sesame seeds as garnish as well as to give them a crunchy and nutty taste. There is nothing better than biting into sesame seeds when one eats a good cold jelly fish salad with a Thai sauce.

We have to thank our Zhang Ancestor, Zhang Qian for his courageous journey (138 BC) into the West and for bringing back the awesome Sesame plant!!

Family's Grieve, Malaysia's Loss

Malaysia lost one of her greatest sons, Karpal Singh.

We must not forget how he impacted the lives of Malaysias for more than 50 years by being the Fearless Tiger of Jelutong.

If only we can all uphold our country's Constitution at all times.

Rest in peace, dear borderless and fearless Hero.

April 14, 2014

Hair styles Sibu : 1920-2014


In 1901 when the earliest pioneering Foochow women came to Sibu with Wong Nai Siong, they were mainly poor farming people who needed to find work and food. Hair style was not top priority for them . They were accompanying their husbands and only very few were young girls accompanying their parents.

Like most Chinese from the rural areas of China, these women kept their hair  long and straight. Perming of hair was not even heard of yet.

According to Foochow tradition then, girls could wear their hair in plaitsm or tie in two little pony tails while  married women kept their hair in buns, ie. tied up in a knot at the back. If the married women could afford it, they could have a pretty hair pin, or a gold pin. Flowers like Bai Yu Lan would be the most natural decoration for the the elderly's hair.

Whether some women kept their hair short is hard to tell now as there is no record but in the 1920's, widespread news came that women were not allowed to cut their hair short!! 
( Sichuan Warlords forbade women to cut their hair short, July 1921)

But according to some sources, many progressive women, especially in Chengdu and Chongqing cut their hair short in protest.

Madam Soon Ching Ling's bun
Many Singaporean Chinese women also cut their hair short, but if any Chinese woman in Sibu cut their hair short, we would not know because most of the photos in those early days showed women with hair tied at the back, in a bun.

Pioneering Foochow Woman with hair tied into a bun at the back.

 But hairstyles in the the 1930's of Sibu definitely changed, for one generation later, the Foochow women were educated and they had cut their hair short. Under the influence of Mrs. Mary Hoover, the educated Yuk Ing School graduates were well groomed and had already abandoned the stress of keeping their hair long in the hot climate.
1930's Sibu - Girls in Yuk Ing Girls' School sported short hair

A 1930 Shanghai Magazine showing short straight hair and pretty cheongsam


By the late 1930's , Sibu Foochow girls were already planning to go for college education in China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. However very few did go, although the young men had already be educated in China at college and even university levels.

The permanent wave "appeared in large cities such as Shanghai, Beiing and Nanjing. Female fashion salves swarmed to the hairdressers to have their hair waved!!"

Model with permed hair appeared on Beer Advertisement.

Calendars published in Shanghai mostly had paintings of fashionable beauties in the waved hairstyle. One of the reasons that Shanghai's Meily cigarettes sold better than Tianjin's Qianmen-brand cigarettes was because its packages all bore paintings of fashionable beauties sporting a permanent wave.

Interestingly in 1934, the Kuomintang's National Government initiated the New Life Movement, aiming to reform people's daily life with the principle of "tidy, clear, simple, plain, fast and realistic." The government in Nanjing issued a circular to the whole nation, which strictly prohibited women from having permanent waves. Helplessly, the curls began disappearing from the modern women in Nanjing. Nevertheless, the perm business was still brisk in Shanghai and Beijing, which shows those women's strong pursuit of beauty.

Post War years - 

Many Foochow , China born ladies who came to Singapore to teach were already quite fashionable with permed hair according to my  maternal grandmother who was in Singapore for a short stay immediately after the Second World War.  

1949 hairstyle, Sibu

My second aunt, on my mother's side, being Fuzhou city born, was very fashionable and she was one of the first in Nang Chong to have permed hair!! Several other ladies who were well educated also had their hair permed and after that, it was really quite common to have hair "done" in Sibu.

My grandmother never had her hair permed until she died.

Since the 1950's permed hair has become a permanent fashion trend in Sibu.  Some women also kept their hair straight and cut short like men's. A few hair salons were started, namely by Madam Lu Ai Ding and Madam Pearl Tiong Chuo Sieng amongst others.
1950's hair style. A little  longer at shoulder length.

Hair fashions in Sibu can be as varied as the photos made available in the hair salons. If you have the money, you can do anything you like with your hair. One can even go bald.

21st Century
The Brazilian Perm - a fashionable curly hairstyle in the 21st century.

On a more serious note,today Malaysia does not control how long or how short women's hair can be but Islam recommends Muslim women to have their hair covered, while non Muslim women can do whatever they like with their hair.

April 13, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Huan Niik Tong.

Normally meat is sliced across the grains of the flesh.

This particular soup requires thin slices of pork sliced against the grains. The slices of meat are marinated with a bit of salt and coated with tapioca flour.

A soup is first made from wood ears and golden needles and thick slices of onions.

When the soup is boiling hot the pork slices are added . After boiling for about half an hour the soup is ready to serve. Extra good vinegar can be added to make it a very sourish soup. I love it when it is extra sour.

This soup is an appetizer, as well as a rice chaser. It is good enough as a single dish for the family because it contains protein and lots of fibers.

The Foochows call this soup Huang Niik Tong.  So I suppose it comes from the way the meat is sliced. May be I am wrong.

April 11, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Foochow style salted meat

Fresh meat could not keep well in the hot and wet equatorial climate. So when the Foochow pioneers arrived in 1901 in Sibu life was tough, and almost unhealthy for them because of the climatic differences. There were many health problems and the death rate was high.

A kind of plague also spread in the new colony. So many died in just days that the Foochows were saying to each other,"I may bring a dead relative to the grave today, tomorrow could be my turn to go."

Food was also a big problem as fresh vegetables could be easily eaten up by locusts, worms and birds which the pioneers were unfamiliar with. In comparison, life in Fujian, although extremely poor, was still less harsh in terms of temperatures and seasonal changes.

Wild animals were hunted with arrows and some very primitive guns. The Foochows were not familiar with the soft peat soil and the thick undergrowth. Compared to the Fujian physical nature of the land which was very hilly and not so thickly forested, Sibu was too massive and threatening  a jungle for the Foochows to handle. Many Foochows were beaten by poisonous snakes and several were lost in the jungle and never to be found again. Hunting was difficult.

Fishing was even more difficult because the Rajang River is a huge river. At some points the width of the river was almost a "mile" wide!! So many early Foochow pioneers actually drowned and met their watery death.

Therefore when  fresh animals were slaughtered they were shared and eaten quickly, Salting was the only form of food preservation until ice was made in Sibu in 1927 by the Hua Hong Ice Factory and even then there were no refrigerators owned by the local people. (Sarawak Gazette 1927). Home refrigerators only arrived after the Second World War.

So in Nang Chong, after it was established as a  village in 1926, the Foochow families mainly salted their meat whenever they slaughtered pigs. Chickens and ducks, being the more readily domestic animal for the table, were eaten fresh.

My grandmother, Tiong Lien Tie, had a special way of salting pork. It was quite simple really.

My grandmother's recipe :
Just bring the water to the boil first and then add the pork slices for a short while until cooked. Lower the fire and let the water simmer for about half an hour.  And then take out the meat to let it cool in a tray. When the meat is totally cooled, it is covered with coarse salt and placed in a air tight clay jar for about a few days. If you are worried about your own result, you can put the meat in the salt into your fridge, one day after you make the salted meat.


During our Nang Chong days, her salted meat was often sliced and steamed together with tofu .

 Other portions were made into soup.

While some portions could be stir fried with vegetables, thus becoming twice cook meat with vegetables.

We loved to eat the salted belly pork with a special crab sauce called Pang Ngi Cheong. Whenever my grandmother did not have appetite, especially when she was very old, she would think of this particular dish and "wished to have some for her lunch or dinner". By then it was already quite hard to find pang ngi cheong.
kamat photo, courtesy of Daniel Yiek. Thanks Sarikei Tim Capsule

Today we can still prepare our salted belly pork. But pang ngi cheong is going out of fashion because the pang ngi is an endangered species of small crabs in the deltaic region of the Rajang.

April 10, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Lau Pang Sing - Smoke House Owner

"Each period of rubber smoking would result in 80 to 90 TAN or pickuls," my third aunt, Wong Nguk Leng said. "Managing a smoke house in those days required a very strong man and your uncle Lau pang Sing was just the right man to do it."

What were the job description of a rubber smoke house manager in those days?
1. Must be able to paddle a small prahu to bring in  a stray log to the shore when it was sighted.
2. Must be able to saw the logs and get them ready for burning in the furnace, below the smoke house.
3. Must be able to look after the burning coals for a week, to ensure the rubber sheets are well smoked.
4. Must be able to manage the hanging of the rubber sheets properly and systematically on the racks before the smoking session.
5. Must be able to check the temperature of the furnace and be on the alert 24 hours during the smoking period.
6. Must be able to handle the individual rubber tappers and their rubber sheets before, during and after the smoking period. He must have the trust of the rubber tappers who have sent their rubber sheets to him for smoking.
7. Must be able to load the rubber sheets onto the motor launch when the rubber sheets have cooled down and "baled"
8. Must be able to keep a simple account of the fees collected for smoking and disburse the amount properly after the sale of rubber sheets (the money will be collected from the middleman,rubber exporting company, Hock Chiong, of Sibu.)

My uncle received 2 dollars per pickul from the rubber tappers who sent their sheets to him for smoking. He would not smoke rubber sheets every month also especially during the rainy season. So smoking rubber sheets was a very irregular business. But his irregular cash income for the month was just enough for him to raise his family of7 children, together with his wife and old mother.

To supplement the income my third aunt tapped rubber, reared farm animals, planted vegetables and rice. In this way they managed to send their children to school (Chung Cheng and Catholic High School).

As a niece enjoying holidays with grandma and uncle and aunty, one of the best memories I had was the way he would paddle quickly to get a stray log in the Rajang river. Others who owned smoke houses would also be on the look out for stay logs floating in the river.

Hence  his skill in paddling a boat was well known. The log belonged to the first man to reach it . So it was really a kind of Olympic paddling for my uncle.

After hooking the log with an iron hook ,usually after much hammering, he would pull the log to the river side near the smoke house. A very primitive winch with wire ropes would bring the log up,usually at high tide so that the log would slip easily on shore. The log would thus dry out for a few days under the sun.

Just before the smoking period my uncle would sew the log into three portions right on the ground floor of the smoke house. Once it was time to start the furnace for the smoking session, the sew portions would be rolled into the furnace for burning. Usually he placed two pieces of the log at the bottom and one piece over the two parallel portions. As the fire burned, he had to tend to the burning coals. It was a very very hot kind of job!!
This was how he would saw a log using a Two Men Saw or two handled Saw. But he had a special way of operating this kind of saw all by himself.

It was my uncle's job to arrange the rubber sheets for smoking like this.
Photo from http://jeciwuv.exblog.jp/i1

A comunall "mill" for wringing out the water from rubber paties once they set.
My aunt Nguk Leng and my cousins would be rolling out rubber sheets every day (if it was not raining) using rubber mangling machines like this.
 Photo from http://jedrzejmajewski.wordpress.com/sarawak/bengoh-valley-bamboo-bridges/

Have you ever seen a Rubber Coupon like this?
The days of rubber tapping and rubber smoking are all just part of our memories. Hope that by recording this article, I can help make known the life style of those days for the future generations of the Lau family especially and for the people of Nang Chong.

It is always good to remember my late Third Uncle who remains in our memories as one of the best relatives we had. He made excellent baos for our supper during the holidays and he would buy us some Pok Chui or aerated water whenever he could afford it.

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). ...