April 5, 2014

Sungei Merah Tales : Keeping Geese in the Backyard

My grandfather was actually quite a farmer when he retired from active business. He kept a lot of chickens, ducks, and dogs like any self sufficient Foochow towkay in his backyard. Besides, he grew a lot of bananas, rambutans, bamboo shoots, durians and a few other fruits on his land which amounted to more than 4 acres of extremely good hilly soil.

 Photo: "Good morning" says the goose. Can you tell the difference between a male and a female? My aunt told me a very interesting story about my grandfather's geese in Sungei Merah...Check with my blog Sarawakiana2...Coming soon.
His favourite flock of domestic animals must be his geese.

T he Chinese goose (Anser cygnoides) is also called the swan goose.  My grandfather must have special  memories farm animals of his childhood in China, when food was scarce and he had to make ends meet even as a little boy. We knew very little about his childhood although we heard of a very significant legend which told us that a fortune teller had told him that he must cross an ocean in order to realise his dreams of becoming rich.

The geese have always been a favourite farm animal of the Fujian people. They are heavy and full of flesh. A smoked/roasted/braised goose was an Imperial Banquet dish   and preferably served during the second month of Lunar Calendar..
Geese are often kept as backyard pets.

When we were young, we were always taught to distinguish between male and female animals. Young female chickens were favoured as food on the table. A cockerel would be too tough. We needed to know how to buy a female Chai Ark, a small duck, for those who had measles. A male serati or Muscovy was for braising and would be big enough for a big family.

 Male Chinese geese are typically larger with a proportionally longer bill and neck.

The round knob above the bill is usually twice as large as a female's

Most males have a higher and more shrill,sharper honk, while a female has a deeper honk.

Not many people know that a goose can lay up to 120 eggs per year. There are two egg laying seasons a year. Eggs are hatched after 28-to 34 days, a full lunar calender month!!

Now for the little amusing tale from Sungei Merah :

My grandfather's neigbhours were mainly Heng Hua and Foochow families. One Heng Hua mother in particular never seemed to make enough short pants for her little boys. So these boys actually played in their garden as well as grandfather' garden with just a little shirt and were bare bottomed.

Grandfather's male geese would make a bee line for their crown jewels. Every time a boy was bitten, their mother would come and complain to grandfather. But grandfather said that nothing could be done, whether the boys wore trousers or not, the geese would try to bite them.

The boys did not know how to call the geese by name, as Ngiah was a difficult Foochow word for them to say in their Heng Hua tongue. So they had a special pet word for geese in their own languae. They called grandfather's geese as "Wang Tik" because the neck could bend and then straighten up.

So the mother also used the term Wang Tik Wang Tik. The geese would always chase the semi naked boys up and down the hill and they would all be screaming all the way home.

This scene was often repeated and grandfather would only shake his head. He would never say "These boys would never learn their lesson."

As older children, we also wondered why the boys never seemed to understand that geese by nature would straighten their neck when chasing after people......

And one day, one of grandfather's geese was murdered. We never knew who did it, but immediately our Aunt Hiong, had the bird cleaned and cooked. Whether grandfather was sad or disappointed, we could not tell from his expressionless or poker face.

In my opinion, our stern and taciturn grandfather would never show his emotions on his face.


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