April 3, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Growing our own Rice

Each year when the rice turns golden in the Rajang Delta I would remember how my aunts and cousins grew their own rice in the land around the two houses in Nang Chong. My grandmother's house had a large paddy field at the back whereas my uncle Lau Yiing Cheong and his family would grow rice  on the land between the house and the road. The two houses were within shouting distance and it was interesting to hear my aunt and my grandmother shouting and having a short conversation. Uncle Yiing Cheong had about two acres of paddy land.

Before 1972,  my uncle and aunt  with the help of their children planted rice. It was also to teach the children about the value of rice growing and the importance of having rice on the table. Their children were also very supportive of the idea.

On the other hand, my third uncle and aunt planted padi from time to time, sometimes they would also share crop with others. This was to supplement the food of the family from 1950's until 1970's..

My mother grew rice for three years during the Japanese Occupation. After she married my father, she never planted padi again.

Planting rice required several stages. Aunt, mother of Kim, planted the seedlings with uncle (even though he was a teacher, he was a good padi farmer). It was a very muddy and back breaking business from morning till noon.

The best time of the year was watching the ears of the padi ripening and turning into gold in the sun.

Soon it was time for harvesting and threshing. Harvesting required many hands and the older cousins and aunt "clipped" the sheaves. The sheaves had to be threshed immeditely before the rains came. That was the job of the children.
This is the house where my grandmother Tiong Lien Tie would get a bowl of birthday noodles every year with chicken soup cooked by Aunt. She would call Grandma from the window...this was how near the two houses were. Around this house, aunt and uncle grew rice for several years until they moved away.

My cousins, with age ranging from 10 to 18 had a good time, getting a bundle of padi to thresh. After they had gotten all the padi seeds into the box, they would hit each other, to see who was the strongest and could make the strongest whack!! It was also a very "itchy" kind of game. But they had a lot of fun helping mum and dad.

During this period of harvesting and threshing, my cousins would all get very sun burnt. Their faces were as "black as charcoal"!! But it was alright with them because soon, after they sent the rice for milling nearbym, they would have the freshest of rice on their table.
Photo from S.China.*English.sina"
Thai Students threshing rice in honour of the King of Thailand (Photo:Panyaden School Blog)

It was very sad that not long after a few harvests of good rice, they had to move to Sibu. My cousin Kim had to go overseas to study, while the rest had to be in secondary school in Sibu too.

My cousin Lau Kiing Meu

Life was a bit difficult between 1963 and 1972  because the rural areas were all under "Communist threat" and were marked as "hot spots". Curfews were imposed, and in 1972, curfew was 24 hours for more than a month so that " Food Supply was Blocked ". Soon after that the villagers all had to move away for security reasons. Schools were even closed and life was difficult.

Many years later I returned to see the padi fields. Because of the sedimentation, the land which was once padi fields was under more than five feet of water and my grandmother's house had been washed away by the waves of the express boats . Even the small house my uncle Pang Sing, built was gone.
An Old Foochow wooden stove which I cannot forget. This is my cousin's cousin by marriage. He still lives in this house in Nang Chong. Nothing can persuade him from moving away from his beloved house.

My uncle, Yiing Cheong's house remains, newly painted in blue , and a good family is living there.

Those are my memories of having padi fields next to grandmother's house and how my aunts, uncles and cousins had good rice to eat, all from their own sweat and harwork.

the new generation will only know that rice comes in plastic bags bought in air conditioned supermarkets.

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