August 31, 2014

1963 : Mederka Thoughts

My Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping could not witness the arrival of the new Nation, Malaysia for he passed away in April of 1963, four months too soon. Otherwise he would have become a Malaysian.

He had lived a long life and went through several eras and political systems : the late Qing Dynasty of China (a Qing subject wearing a pig tail), the awakening of China to Sun Yat Sen's new republic (a Chinese republican, with hair cut off), the rule of the Brookes in Sarawak (a subject of Rajah Brooke, with a landing certificate), the arrival of the British colonial rule (a British Colony subject) and the beginnings of independence. He was foremost an entrepreneur who was aware of political changes and the issues involved. He had two Sarawak born sons who were Council Negri Members before 1963.

Although he might have the thought like most Chinese-  "to have the Emperor as far away as possible", he also knew that a little bit of connection was good for business. He was able to read and write after a few years of home tutoring in China. He was farsighted and enterprising to work with (and for) the Methodist Church of Sibu, following the footsteps of his father, my great grandfather who was both a herbalist and a builder. He was a very skilled self taught engineer and a strong Methodist.

 Besides my Grandmother Chong, who was educated in English and in Singapore, was a very helpful wife who helped him in all ways possible. However she passed away when she was 38 only. Being an English and Malay speaking, (she was part Nyonya) she was also very forward looking and helpful to all who came to deal in business with my grandfather.

By 1962, and almost 84, my grandfather was very apprehensive about the coming of the new rulers from Kuala Lumpur. I was in Form Two then and often witnessed his coming over to our house in Sibu. He had serious discussions with my father that times might come for the people of Sarawak to "share" their wealth with the new  rulers, i.e. we had to pay taxes like in the feudal times of China. He even was worried that the warlord system(in 1962 all Chinese who had guns had to surrender them to the Government)  might be established in some areas in Malaysia, which would be such a vast land, with a huge sea in between.  However, at the same time, he was very concerned about the Communists who were lurking in the jungles. He had undergone hard days in China with the Imperial Qing and  he had seen Japanese soldiers who plundered villages in Sarawak.  It is true, his initial foray into the new settlement of Sibu (1901-1922) was a difficult period of his life but he emerged triumphant and built a fortune which he protected with his life. He considered him fortunate.

He had been very saddened by the communist insurgency and the Confrontation led by Sukarno. The Confrontation resulted in the loss of communication with our Chong relatives in Java. My grandmother Chong had many relatives in Java. My relatives told me that when my father and his siblings were very young, and my grandfather was just a struggling businessman, his father in law, Senior Chong supported the family with food and other necessities for a few good years(1909-1922).

Like many of his Foochow friends , Grandfather would not spend hours in coffee shops. He would be happy to see Foochows working hard and spending their time wisely. If he passed by the coffee shop at the Lido Cinema, the most he would do was to tarry for a while, drink a cup of kopi-0 (He drank Chinese tea at home), and wait to tapau (take away) some Sibu special Kampua Mee for his only sister and his grand children who were studying in the Methodist Primary School then. Having gotten his order, he would walk to the primary school and see his sister, my grand aunt Chang Yuk Ging.  My siblings would be watching out for tall grandfather to walk up the staircase of the Methodist Memorial Building where my grand aunt was accommodated, just before recess and goodies would be expected. Grandfather did not believe in wasting his time chatting away worthlessly. He  would say hello to his Pastor Rev Ho Siew Liong, or Rev Ling Kai Cheng. Or he would stop by his first cousin's ( Tiong Kiu Dieh)shop in Sungei Merah by the bridge before going home at the top of the hill behind the Kwong Ang School. He was frugal and serious all his life and expected others to be the same.

Grandfather was famous for his upright, stringent and frugal ways. Cigarette tins on the coffee shop tables were put there so that business men could offer a cigarette to their friends, or "belanja a cigarette" but my health conscious grandfather would never do it. Offering a cigarette to a friend in those days in Sibu was a very "gentleman thingy".  He was also a teetotaler, a Methodist who practised temperance. All the beer advertisement would not tempt him to drink or make him buy a beer for his friends.

My grandfather was very friendly with all the indigenous people of Sibu and Bintangor. He made friends with the Melanaus and the Malays. He helped them to construct bigger wooden houses and bought a few pieces of land in Kampong Nyabor.  In fact when my grandmother Chong passed away in 1925, the Ketua Kampong of Kampong Nangka, the Melanau Chief then offered one of his nieces to my grandfather in marriage, but my grandfather was keen to marry a Methodist woman who was born in China.Grandfather was well loved by both the Melanaus and Malays of Sibu because of his respect and caring ways for them. He employed many of them as "kepala" in construction and later brick yard business

He had all his children educated in English after they received their basic Chinese education (1923 -1963). He was one of the first Sibu Foochow elders to allow some of his daughters to sail to the United States (yes in those days, they "sailed" to the USA) with the help of the American missionaries. While most of his (13 ) daughters were educated in Singapore, some also went to England and Australia. This showed that he was very much influenced by  Mrs. Hoover's philosophy on Foochow girls' education. "Foochow girls must be well educated to bring about a very civil and future oriented Foochow society. They will become good mothers and wives to the hardworking Foochow men."

1963 - the year of my grandfather's passing was also the year Malaysia came into being. So 2014 is therefore also his  51th Anniversary .

August 30, 2014

Sibu Tales : Brandy Brands

Basically,there were four ways we Foochow  kids learned about drinks in Sibu.

The easiest was to learn from the movies. We watched lots of movies and watched how the actors and actresses drank. James Bond was a bad influence. He always looked so handsome in his dinner jacket and a drink in his hand.

We learned from the advertisements, in the newspapers, in the coffee shops, in the magazines.

We learned by watching our elders drink during banquets, parties and at home. But that was not too often any way. We had fun watching our Foochow uncles enjoy a bit of Martell during a good wedding feast in the village. They did not really get drunk but they did get very noisy.

We learned from books. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens introduced us to the French lower class people who drank cheap cognac. And the Bible told us Jesus turned water into wine. Lovely.

And there were tales which floated around about drunkenness, about alcoholism. We youngsters were secretly amused.

Apart from the Methodists who are teetotalers that is, they don't drink because of their beliefs, many people in Sibu drink :  businessmen and women, bankers, sales people, and almost every shop keeper and especially timber people drank like fish most of the time. One Borneo Company manager had a bottle of whiskey in his office desk drawer. In another drawer he had a pistol. No one dared to mention his drinking or his pistol!! End of story.

Here are some facts regarding brandies. Brandy is a distinct and classic liquor. Brandy is made by distilling wine and is generally considered a late evening or after dinner drink. Some consider brandy to be one of the truest forms of alcohol. Brandy is was invented by accident in the 12th century when merchants concentrated wine for easier transportation with the intent of re-adding the water. However, they discovered that the concentration process improved the flavor. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, but others use caramel coloring to imitate that processCourvoisierCamus

 A very popular brandy in Sibu was  Hennessy which is a cognac house with headquarters in Cognac, France. Today, the company of Jas Hennessy & Co. sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide, or more than 40 percent of the world’s Cognac, making it the world's largest Cognac producer.

 Courvoisier, popularly advertised in Sibu cinemas,  is a brand of cognac owned by Beam Inc.. The production is based in the town of Jarnac in the Charente department of France.

It is always given as a gift for birthdays, or for a new born baby. Many Foochow women having a month's confinement will enjoy drinking a peck or two of Martell in the evening to"  keep their uterus warm and healthy". This is believed to help them bear more children at a later date, if not immediately.
Martell must be one of the most popular for the Foochows. Other brands are Camus and Remy Martin.

When we were young we heard lots of stories related to these drinks. If we heard them , would we have been taught moral lessons? If we had seen with our own eyes the influence of the spirits, would we have leanred?

1. A sanba (village ) lady had about 5 katis of deer meat given to her by a relative. Because she was quite a nasty lady she was not able to maintain a good relationship. Her husband had left her. So in frustration, she stir fried the deer meat with half a bottle of brandy. After having her splendid lunch she just collapsed and died.

2. During the Japanese occupation, a man and a woman were caught having an affair. The husband of the woman reported them to the Kempetai. Adultery was punishable by life burial. The whole village came to watch them dig their own graves. Once they had dug enough depthm they were given a bottle of brandy each, which they drank. They each were also given a bao. What thoughts did they have? Every one watched very carefully. When they had finished drinking, they pushed the soil into their own graves and when finally the soil reached their neck, the Japanese soldiers hit their heads with a changkol. And soils were then piled on top. It must have been very hard to witness this life burial for this kind of crime.

3. There was a business man who loved the bottle. One evening he took too much drink and he fell into the river from his own speedboat. His body was later found quite away from Sibu.

4. I was attending a wedding banquet when a rather famous teacher got fairly drunk. He went up to hug a waitress and was later almost carried out of the restaurant. I felt so embarrassed by the scene that I could not ever face him after that. However years later, he shook my hands so innocently He definitely could not even remember he was ever drunk and had such a humiliating scene. Not easy to forget.

You will have to buy me a few drinks to loosen my tongue...Sigh....

August 29, 2014

Patin - Food on the table


Wild river patin is an exotic white fish which will grace any grand dinner.

In the 1960's in Sibu, patin was sold in slices which weighed more than 400 grams each. And patin as big as 8 kg was often caught in the Rajang River to the delight of both fishermen and the consumers.

Restaurants like Yien Ching Restaurant would serve just one whole big slice of patin in a deep bowl, and that would be enough for 10 people. Those were memorable days of eating patin in that way. Steamed in a huge crockpot the patin steak was aromatic and awesome!!

Today the serving of patin is different. A small fish of about 2 kg is butterflied and steamed in Foochow  , Teochiew , Cantonese, or even Hakka style would be served. Sometimes only the head is served as a tom yam dish.

Pond raised patin is often smelly and not worth buying. So we usually look out for the big ones, and hope that the fishmonger would sell them by the slices or "steaks".

My mum used to portion a fairly large patin she bought into three. She would have the head made into soup with kiam chye, the middle portion steamed with kim chiam and wood ears, and the tail cut up and cooked in a soy sauce sauce  which would be so good with porridge.

Recently I was told of a story of a great mother in law. She loved her homesick daughter in law from another country. The whole family would eat one  fish but when she saw that her daughter in law was not comfortable with the recipe she used (lots of kim chiam  and wood ears which she was not used to) So the mother in law fillet the fish into two, deep fried one side for the daughter in law and the rest of the family ate the other half. The daughter in law was so touched that she promised that she would learn to eat kim chiam and wood ears. A few years later she became a very good "Foochow" daughter in law to the great happiness of the family.

Eating of fish together as a family is always such a loving bonding time. I never forget how wonderful my mother has been when she would carefully prepare the fish dish for us, especially Patin.

August 28, 2014

Foochow Saying : Nagging

 For centuries the Chinese use the Ching system of weighing objects.

There is a weight like in the photo below"

And this is how you balance the Chen to get an accurate measurement : the weight of the object will be noted on the notches as you move the ching tou or the weight. When the balance is reached (there is an arrow which indicates it) the reading on the notches will be the accurate measurement of the weight.

there is a Foochow saying related to the metal weight of the chen.

When a woman nags a great deal she is said to be a Hen pecking on a Ching Tou, the metal weight.

Gie moh bow ching tou.

No one wants to marry such a hen. She is also very unreasonable and silly.

August 23, 2014

Nang Chong Stories: Curfew Time and Child Births

1972 was a bad year for every one in Sarawak. And my cousin Kung Lien was expecting during this frightful historical period.
The bicycle was a very important means of transport in Sibu and the surrounding villages in the 50's to 70's. Here Cousin Kung Lien and cousin Kung Siu. She was often cycled even when she was heavily pregnant after she got married in 1970's. Photo from Lau Kung Mei, Miri.
three of her six sons...meeting for lunch in Sibu. One son now resides in Miri, another in Kuching. four sons are in Sibu. What wonderful people of Bukit Lan...the Sii Family. (Photo by Sarawakiana)

Photo: 新春大团圆,一个也没有少。
My Cousin Kung Lien and her six sons and six daughters in law, and grand children. A truly God fearing family. (Photo from Sii Hee Kang's album)

Any one expecting the delivery of a child was naturally nervous as the hospital, private clinics and even local midwives were not easily accessible. All roads were blocked, motor launches were not allowed to ply their usual business and 24 hour curfew could be announced any time. The normal curfew was 12 hours, from dusk to sunset. In 1971, 72 days of 24 hour curfew were imposed.

Curfew was imposed to block all food to the CCO or Chinese Communist Organisation, all access roads and all communications with the guerrillas. Police roadblocks were every where and population registration was carried out.

Sibu town was under curfew too but it was not as severe as in the rural areas. Normal life was carried out. Relationship between the local police, Police Field Force and the civilians was good. Peace was expected to be upheld by all. Only a few occasional killings and murders happened in the rural areas when gun fire was exchanged between the forces and the CCO's. Informants were brutally murdered by the CCo's.

My cousin Kung Lien from Nang Chong but married to a Bukit Lan man was expecting her child and she was fortunate to be able to stay a few days in Sibu with her sister in law. On the expected day she cycled to Lau Fong Fei Maternity Home from Bukit Assek, which was just nearby.

Sister Lau Fong Fei was an expert in midwifery. In those days, there was an injection which could induce the delivery of a baby. Because of the fear spreading around caused by curfew, my cousin wanted her baby to be delivered earlier so that she could go back to Bukit Lan during the day time by the riverine motor launch. Sister Lau Fong Fei was kind and she suggested that the baby should be induced and be delivered by 9 p.m. that night. Her bicycle was the least of my cousin's worry according to Sister Lau.

Indeed the baby boy arrived exactly at 9 p.m. and my cousin stayed two nights and a day, the usual expected stay at the maternity home at that time.

She took the motor launch back to Bukit Lan with the new born baby all wrapped up in the usual towels, while she herself was fully covered from any wind. Confinement Wind (chills) was the greatest fear of a new Foochow mother. So socks and all, she braved the elements and sat in the motor launch which took more than 4 hours to reach Bukit Lan.

 The captain of the boat was very kind. Upon arrival at the jetty of the Sii house, the captain carried the new born baby to the house and asked my cousin to wait for a while. He came back to take her slowly back to the house. It was very gentlemanly of him to extend such a kind gesture.

My cousin has 6 boys : three born in the Lau King Howe hospital, two born in Bukit Lan, with the help of Foochow midwives on weekend visit to families (using borrowed equipment from Hii King Lien, the local Chinese Sinseh).

My heart becomes so overflowing with respect when I listen to her stories of child births and anecdotes of our village life. God was mightily with the people of Sibu during those crisis days and took them out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

August 22, 2014

Bekenu and Brunei Rebellion

This post is dedicated to my friend Rose Lim and her father.

In Dec 1962, there were only 2 police men guarding the whole town of Bekenu which had a population of about 300 people, and amongst them were some Government Servants, a few teachers, and 50 or so Chinese shopkeepers. The farmers and fishermen lived in the surrounding kampongs.

The District Office ( then as it is today ) occupies a strategic position on a hill overlooking the Sibuti River. It is considered "behind the Bekenu Bazaar". It has some jetties where were rather busy with people coming by boat , to and fro the little bazaar set up by the British way back in the 1920s. Today it is very much a plantation town with restaurants, coffee shops and supply shops.

Post Office of Bekenu, Sibuti
A rice mill owned by a Chinese family is opposite the fish market and meat market.

When the Brunei Rebellion (December 1962) was staged in Brunei and Limbang, a small group instructed by Azahari were to take Miri and Bekenu simultaneously. Miri was not easy to over come.

Chinese Rice Mill and Supply Shop
And this is the story of how Bekenu was "taken" by the rebels. I have collected this story from interviews with local people.

December 1962. On that day, there were only two police men in the District Office. When the rebels arrived, no one actually took notice of them because they were "their own people" and they did not look like rebels at all.

The two policemen were quickly overcome and tied up. The Lands and Survey staff with only a Chinese man, Mr. Lim, in charge was also "taken". Mr. Lim was asked to surrender his gun (he was a surveyor) and he was given a "card" so that he could move around. The other officers were given warning and not to move about freely. Thus the few Government Officers were "controlled" and in a way they were under "surveillance" until further notice.

In this way, Bekenu town was under the control of the rebels for a few days.

This correlates with the story from the Telegraph ,
12:01AM GMT 29 Jan 2007,  below : Re:General Sir David Mostyn.  Enjoy!!

General Sir David Mostyn, who has died aged 78, was Adjutant-General from 1986 to 1988; as a young officer in the Green Jackets he played an important role in suppressing a rebellion in Brunei.
In December 1962 an insurrection broke out in the British Protectorate of Brunei, and 1st Green Jackets (1GJ), based at Penang, Malaya, moved at short notice to Singapore and embarked in the cruiser, Tiger. The ship was designed to accommodate no more than 400 troops, and, as the last of the 619 men filed on board, the captain was heard to exclaim: "For God's sake, let's sail before we sink!"
Off Sarawak, new orders arrived. Part of the force was to be off-loaded on the coast at Miri, a town which had no deep-water port. Mostyn, then a major in command of "B" Company, had to requisition a number of former landing craft from Shell to get his men and their equipment ashore.

At Miri, he learned that the rebels held the police and administrative post of Bekenu, 25 miles to the south. He was ordered to re-take the post with his company and two sections of the Sarawak Field Force (SFF).

Mostyn had good reason to fear that, if he attempted an amphibious assault and took his force 10 miles up the Sibuti river, the rebels would ambush him. So he sent just one platoon in a launch by that route with orders to lie up in the rushes short of Bekenu and provide flanking fire.
The main force was to land at a small coastal village, but their craft was laden with oil-drilling equipment and grounded on a sandbank 50 yards from the shore. The skipper claimed that they were in 4ft of water, but the first man off stepped straight into 7ft, and it took an hour to get him and everybody else on to dry land. The party, guided by a section of the SFF, set off on a night march through thick jungle and mangrove swamps. A report reached them that the insurgents were lying in wait for them, and they took a circuitous track, crossing a river using native dugout canoes and covering the last half mile along tree trunks laid over a marsh.

When they reached the outskirts of the town, "Mostyn's Marauders" had been going for 16 hours. Just before 10am on December 13 Mostyn gave the order to move in. The rebels were so cocksure that they were busy appointing new civil servants when they looked through the windows of the government offices and saw the riflemen emerging from a pepper plantation and advancing towards them.

They fired off their single-barrelled shotguns and then, as they tried to escape in a boat, they were confronted by the well-armed launch-borne platoon. By the end of the battle six rebels were dead, five had been captured, while about a dozen had escaped.

When Mostyn saw one of the wounded rebels being beaten up in an attempt to obtain information from him, he put a stop to it at once. The man was so impressed by this humane treatment that he revealed the location of their main camp.

"How many will there be for lunch, sir?" enquired a beaming, recently released government official. "We had no casualties," Mostyn replied. "So it will be 90."

August 21, 2014

Sungei Teku Tales : Ling Koh : The Little Noodle Maker on Sunday

The mother of Tian Tee, Ling Koh, was an amazing Heng Hua woman who lived in Sg. Teku and left a glorious inspiring life story as a legacy to the descendants of the Heng Hua people there. She was illiterate, born in China and extremely poor. Her father simply named her Koh,
糕 which means cake in English. Ling is her family's surname.

From a very young age Ling Koh arrived on the shores with  the Heng Hua pioneers from Heng Hua country to Sibu under the guidance of Rev Brewster and they settled in Sg. Teku. That was 1912.

Toh Tian Tee loves reading and learning. She goes for courses offered by Mei Ang Church a few days a week in Miri. She is 77 this year.

Ling Koh, Tian Tee's mother, was a very hardworking girl and married fairly young, and brought up 8 children. Tian Tee is one of her younger daughters. When Tian Tee was five, her father passed away. After that, Ling Koh raised her children all by herself.

Tian Tee and her friend reading the Methodist Message in a lovely afternoon's fellowship.

In those long ago days, every Sunday she would clean  the Rubber mangle or rubber sheet rolling machine with soap and hot water to knead her dough for her hand made noodles. This was a very awesome and creative thing to do and the neighbours in Sg. Teku were really amazed by her quick thinking. Even by today's standards, very few people could do the same.

After drying the machine she would use it to roll out

 her home made noodles Every week she would make more than 10 katis of noodles . She would use the eggs her hens laid to make her noodles. The soup would come from the vegetables she grew in the back yard. Even though she was tired from rubber tapping, pig rearing and animal raising, and looking after her many children, she did not find it at all daunting to prepare a huge basin of Pan Mien for the worshippers who came to worship in the Sg. Teku Church built especially for the Heng Huas.
This is a photo of Putien Lo Mee taken from a media article. This mee is really very delicious. How would you like to get a free bowl of this on Sunday, and by the road side, made and served by a rubber tapper? Wouldn't your heart swell with gratitude?

Her daughter Tian Tee is similarly amazing. She was able to finish 6 years of education (she was taught in Heng Hua language in Sg. Teku)  but she did it remarkably in a very unique way. For every year of education, she only went to school for six months. The other six months she was helping her mother to look after her brothers and sisters

The little Heng Hua lady , Ling Koh, wanted to make sure that those who came to worship God on Sunday would not go home hungry. She placed the huge basin of noodles by the roadside and as the church goers left the church to walk home, they would stop and have a bowl or even two bowls of her very delicious noodles. This was her way of giving back to God, to appreciate God for what He has done for her. Many people would remember her as the Noodle Maker.

Today,  10 of her  grand children  (and in laws) are serving God as full time ministers. Two of them are Tian Tee's daughters  and one son-in-law. Praise God!!

August 18, 2014

Sibu Tales : Naming and Hock Leong Hin

Two Stories in this blog POST.

My father's story associated with Hock Leong Hin.

My father was a good photographer. He had a great love for nature and for faces of people. Sometimes he would even draw faces using pencils on his art block. He was self taught in art.

And he left behind some great black and white photos of friends, relatives, scenery and historic occasions. He did think about writing books but he never got around to doing that as he died rather young. Many people said that he wasted his life's education, a degree in journalism, by working first for his father, my paternal grandfather, making bricks and then later for himself as a quarry man exploding rocks to make stones with a simple machinery he purchased from Singapore. He personally believed that making a living was just doing something simple and earning enough honestly to raise a family. He spent a lot of his time reading books and reflecting on what he had read. He read Bertrand Russel and he loved to read Lin Yutang's books. He was a voracious reader of magazines, which he subscribed . One of them was Spring Autumn, a Chinese literary magazine.

He was no entrepreneur although he had a lot of ideas. Some people asked him to get  licenses for them from the then colonial government because my father was on very friendly and speaking (my father was English educated) terms with the British officers. They brought a huge chicken as a gift. He asked them to bring the chicken home. That was the end of their business with my father.

But one thing most relatives thought he was good at, and that was looking for names for new born babies. He helped name many children of his brothers, relatives and friends. And of course his children. Mum used to say that my father found it very amusing to have babies named after flowers or animals. He would think of incredibly beautiful Chinese words and then have their pinyin written on paper for those who came to ask him for advice. In that way, these fathers would not make a mistake in applying for birth certificates for their children.

My father's best friend was a Mr. Wong, who married the pretty daughter of Hock Leong Hin towkay. He was , like my father, a graduate from China. My father was horrified that he named his two daughters Khing (gas) and Tern (copper)

Dad told my mother that he was not very happy with his best friend and the way he named his daughters. But then my mother and Mrs. Wong were fairly sporting. Khing could sound like  musical instrument, and Tern could mean precious.

In relation to this, I am sharing an amazing Naming story as told by Dr. Tang Sie Hin which he shared on FACEBOOK recently.

Dr. Tang Sie Hing was a former student of the Methodist Secondary School and he is now a Senior Consultant Interventaional Cardiologist, Physician at Timberland Medical Centre, Kuching. He is Director and Cardiologist at S.H.Tang Heart and Arrhythmia Centre and at Premier Heartcare Sdn Bhd.

An old photo of Sibu inspired him to tell how he at the age of 8 only helped his mother name his new born baby brother.
Dr. Tang wrote on Facebook :
"This photo (with added labels by me) showed the shop "Hock Leong Hin" "福隆興“ in Sibu Blacksmith Road (opposite the Standard Chartered Bank) during the old days.

My eldest brother Sie Hock (世福) was born in 1966 then came my sister in 1967 and then I, Sie Hing (世興)was born in 1969. My youngest brother was born in 1977, thus making him 8 years younger than I.Image may contain: outdoor and text

In those days, there was no ultrasound to check the gender of the foetus. So parents did not know for sure what names to prepare for their new child. We only knew that we had a new baby brother when my gave birth at 劉鳳妃 Maternity Home. 

Immediately we started searching for a boy's name. Some how I remembered the shop called "福隆興“,  I reasoned with my mother saying that my elder brother's name is 福 (Hock), I am  興 (Hing) ; so I asked my mum to name our  little brother 世“隆”(Sie Lung). It was just as simple as that  and that's how his name came about. 

Recently I went back to Sibu during the Hari Raya  break but I noticed the shop with this name was no longer there.

But  fondly remember the name of the shop which inspired me to name my youngest sibling."

What a marvellous naming story.

August 13, 2014

Ikan Toman

Ikan Toman or Ikan Haruan, a type of fresh water snakehead fish is highly valued for medicinal benefits.

Many Malaysian companies are producing Pati Ikan Haruan or Fish Essence, similar to Brand's Essence of Chicken to help people who after surgery require a speedy recovery. Wounds seem to heal faster when the patients drink soup made from this fish. At one time the price of this fish soared up to RM40 a kg in Miri. Today the price has stablished a little, hovering around 18 a kg for the larger species.
Image may contain: outdoor

Ikan Toman actually can be found in fresh water streams all over Sarawak. The most popular streams being the drains of the rubber gardens and the padi fields.

During padi planting seasons the farmers often trap this fish for their dinner. According to an Iban legend, ikan toman can even be found in a hollow of trees which can trap water for a long time!! This is to tell the Ibans that nature has a wonderful way of rewarding the good people.

There are many ways of cooking it. Steamed, or even double steamed  with ginger and a bit of good wine, would give one the purest nourishing clear soup for healing of wounds. Deep fried, the toman is tasty. Toman can be salted or kesamed. It can also be cooked in bamboo with ginger, lemon grass and wild bamboo shoots. It can be roasted over a fire, occasionally wrapped in any kind of leaves, especially banana leaves. It can also be curried. A very versatile ULU fish. One day it will become an endangered species.

So I have been wondering if hunters, fishermen and farmers have ever found ikan toman in the hollows of trees.

August 10, 2014

Pangka or Top Spinning

Top spinning is a Malaysian hobby . The most famous state having this hobby is Kelantan where there is an annual festival, Festival Gasing.

In Sarawak a top is not "Gasing" but "Pangka" , played by the Iban children several decades ago. Once kids go to school in the 1960's they no long spend time developing their game according to a local historian.

That is why many longhouse children of Iban descent no longer know how to make pangka or even play with them

This is a very old black and white photo of the 1950's showing Sarawak children playing with pangka.

The best pangka were made from belian wood because they could not be "demolished" or cracked by an aggressive top.

The competition would be won by a top which could "crack" another top. It was not a competition to find out which top could spin the longest.

Adults who were very skilled in making pangka would be surrounded by admiring children in the longhouse. Some pangka were even square ones.

Those were the days.


August 9, 2014

Red Skinned Durians - The Tutong Species

It has always been intriguing to try eating something that is extraordinary. This is a red fruit and in the past only known as Wild Durians.

But with more information and better cultural ties between the different races of Sarawak, people are beginning to understand more about local food and local fruits.

The fruits of Durio dulcis are astounding!

this fruit is available in Miri and my friend has a huge tree which is bearing fruit this year. One morning she collected 44 in all.

It was fun picking the fruit in her farm. In future she should turn her farm into a day activity for children and adults.

It actually looks like a giant red rambutan, if you know what a rambutan is.

The aroma of the seeds (the fleshy part is edible, while the seed is fairly big) when the fruit is opened up, is rather pungent. The flesh is yellow and very sticky.

It is called Rian Tutong and is native to Borneo. Hence our West Malaysian friends do not know about it.

According to Wikipedia, "the fruit is so rare and local that even most Borneans doubt its existence! Trees are found mostly growing in primary forests."

It has been rumoured that the seeds when cooked or roasted may be sexually rejuvenating!! So don't waste the seeds. So for that reasons perhaps next year, after readers have read this article, the prices of this durian will go up...Any price can be paid for aphrodisiacs!!

By the way it is difficult to grow outside Borneo so some strange reasons.

August 7, 2014

Sungei Merah - Native Market

Sungei Merah was one of the most Chinese Bazaars I have ever known. And it has always been considered as such.

In Chinese it is known as Sin Choo San, the Hills of New Pearl. First settled by the Foochows in 1901, it was clearly and carefully mapped out with three hostels and a kind of worship hut by Wong Nai Siong. Later it quickly developed into a gathering place fot the new Foochow pioneers. And in no time, a few wooden shops were established and a cemetery known as the Mee Yee Mee (Methodist) Cemetery was put up on the hill nearest to the Chinese Bazaar.

The Ibans and Melanaus considered Sungei Merah as good trading post since the beginning. The Ibans came by boat to the bridge area and barter traded their rubber, fruits with the Chinese. By 1912, the Heng Huas arrived and settled to the north of Sungei Merah, at Sg. Teku, and nearer to the Ibans in Sg. Aup. Until today culinary exchanges have not really been made between the natives and the Chinese although cangkok manis, kangkong, ensabi have become food on Chinese tables, many other jungle products are strictly native food. This is not the case in Indonesia, the Philippines or Thailand where local products are more universally acceptable.

Native produced rice is very acceptable, although many Chinese still prefer Thai rice. Even the local cucumber (timun betu) grown by the Ibans are not "edible" to the Chinese. Some people are afraid however if the Chinese learn to eat what the indigenous eat, there will be more demand and sad to say, supply is rather limited, like Ikan Semah and Ikan Empurau.

Freshly collected bamboo shoot.

This is another kind of shoot - good for stir frying with ikan bilis.
the Melanaus burried their dead, after walking a mile or two from Kampong Nangka. Their burial place is still there, just a little northwest of Sg. Merah.

For years the Ibans and Melanaus sold their rice, fruits, vegetables along the roadside of Sungei Merah. Then they were "chased away" to do their business at the back lanes, behind some of the shops.

These are sweet palm shoots (from Pantu Palms) and are pricey at 20 ringgit per shoot. One shoot like this is enough for 20 to 30 people.
Sayur keladi = good for stewing. It is a dish fit for the Agong of Malaysia but many have not learned to eat it.
Today, they are still doing business behind the shop blocks.

Native Markets are always welcome by the people they have fresh jungle vegetables, exotic meats, fresh fruits and bamboo shoots. The indigenous in Sibu and Sungei Merah have never owned shophouses or operated businesses in Sungei Merah or Sibu town, unless they are licensed with the help of MARA or semi-government bodies.

I wonder when this divide will change.

August 6, 2014

Ikan Terubok

Special fish from Sarawak. The gender of the fish changes with time. It is first male and then later female when it will lay eggs and produce hundreds of baby fish.

It is found at the coastal regions of Kuching, Saratok, Kabong and sometimes the Rajang.

It is a very sweet, tasty fish although it is very boney. We like it steamed, with vegetables, and also roasted on a metal plate. Deep fried it is also very nice.

However the best terubok I have eaten was the one wrapped up (marinated with pepper,salt, lemon grass, daun bunkang, and chillies) in jungle leaves, and roasted in charcoal covered with sand.

Salt baked is also a good style.

My father's recipe, having it cooked in buttered sizzling plate, is a good one. East meets west!!

Very versatile ikan terubok from Sarawak.

August 5, 2014

Tales from the Valley of White Lily (Bai Hua He)

The River of White Lily demarcates one of the Foochow villages on the right bank of the Rajang River, the longest river in Malaysia. It is still "a village with only a few homes which are occupied". Many of the old early Foochow homes have actually become derelict buildings. Some have only the main poles standing.
Kek Lumut, or the Green Malay cake made from horliks and kaya would always be remembered because my family would visit Kak (our neighbour) and enjoy special treats . The family would make 3 of these cakes, using their heavy BRASS ACUAN, the old traditional baking method of old kampong days.

This village called the Bang Mah Hor or Bai Hua He, was a thriving village with hundreds of acres of rubber and a strong cooperative society (its history was recorded in a book by Peter Goulart of the same name). An example of a Hii family from that village, whom I know personally still owns a large rubber plantation. When equally distributed amongst the third generation,more than 20 grandsons inherited about 20 acres each. Many Foochows who live in Miri still talk about the glory days of the 50's when their parents enjoyed a rubber boom due to the Korean War.

Most of the villagers of Bang Mah Hor have moved away from 1972 onwards, to West Malaysia, the UK, Australia and New Zealand because of the threat of political unrest and lack of economic development after Malaysia was formed.

 Many of my relatives in Nang Chong and Hai Hua Hee (Bang Mah Or) remember one particular medical practice during the Communist Insurgency Period of Sarawak - 1958 -1974. And recently a friend reminded me of the practice with his stories of his childhood, interrupted by fear of uniformed soldiers and bullets flying from here and there.

This is from Mao's directive in 1966.....The “Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health”* was compelled to admit its mistake, and on December 28, ’66, it notified the entire country of the cancellation of the mistaken notice banning chicken blood therapy. (later it was again revived because some high authorities believed that this therapy was in line with Mao's Thoughts...more on this in another post.)

Chinese pamphlet promoting chicken blood therapy

But strangely between 1962 and until 1972 , i.e. for 10 years, the people of the Rajang Valley, who were threatened by the Communists, were coerced into helping to buy syringes to inject chicken blood into the blood stream of the guerrillas. It was believed that it would help the guerrilas to become aggressive and faithful to the ideology.
Many Chinese were pulled between the two sides, if caught by the  Government's Rascom soldiers or regiment, they would be tortured and if they refused the guerrillas, they had to "eat the bullet".

However this very tragic practice of "quack medicine" reigned even after the therapy was considered a HOAX in China. Read this :

"The popularity of chicken blood injections continued for around ten months in 1967 and 1968, perfectly in sync with the height of Cultural Revolution madness. Its puzzling echo of frenzied rebellion even today remains a baffling mystery.”

But of course in those days, without the Internet, our Rural relatives of Sarawak were none the wiser and they were like chickens themselves running here and there when the thunder roared and lightning struck.

Many of my relatives( who used to relate old stories)actually said that they were petrified of chicken blood and they  themselves refused to be injected. Many who agreed to the injection said that they felt physically strong. So they supposed that the guerrillas who were given the chicken blood injection actually believed that they were stronger and were able to fight the enemies!!

An aunty from Sg. Teku, now living in Miri, who lost a brother to the war against the guerrillas, also confirmed the practice of Chicken Blood Therapy in the rural parts of Sibu. (Interview : August 2014)

Do you remember such stories? Please tell us.

August 4, 2014

Sibu Tales : Memories of Hari Raya and Kek Kepala Meja

When you are a teenager, you are just very happy to participate in anything with your friends. You enjoy being included and with permission from your parents you would be happy to venture out of your home.
In the 1960's one of the most exciting event to happen in quiet and slow Sibu was to visit our Malay friends during Hari Raya Puasa (in those days we had not come to understand the full meaning of Eid or Aidil fitri).
We Chinese kids only knew that our classmates were fasting from dawn to dusk and they looked awfully pale and were very weak. Some of the stronger ones could take part in games and sports and were able to keep up with their studies and work parties.

Come visiting day (on the second of the Hari Raya) we would be dressed in our best while our friends would be wearing the finest of their baju kurong and baju Melayu to welcome us to their homes.
It was fun drinking Banana flavoured aerated water. I loved the cream soda too if it was offered.
But the cakes offered were unforgettable.
One cake at the head of the table which could not be touched was the Kek Kepala Meja.
It was for many of us, to view an iced cake. All the roses were admired. All the special silver balls were admired. We did not know that the icing was called Royal Icing. (Imagine that!!)

And we went ooooohhhh, ahhhhhhh . Dodol, bahulu and other kuihs were taken out for us to try. And then, best of all, we were offered curry and some ketupat. Of course we knew that we could only sample a bit because we have about 30 houses more to visit.
The kek kepala Meja was well decorated and was placed on the table which had a very nice table cloth usually. We would sit around a lower table at another part of the living room. We were told that when other visitors came, we had to shake hands and make a move towards another house. Very very orderly.
These are Raya Cakes at a Minister's House in Kuching. Look only. Not for eating at the moment.
This is another beautifully decorated cake for Hari Raya. Photo from Google.

We actually do not know when the idea of Kek Kepala Meja went out of fashion.

This is a very nice Hari Raya Cake.

Now this is another Kek Kepala Meja..for Hari Raya...This would give the family a good status.

I truly believe that the Kek Kepala Meja was a kind gesture from the family to indicate their financial strength for the Raya. And partly it would indicate the skills of the women of the house.

But whatever it was we as secondary school students enjoyed visit our friends socially, at least once a year, to wish them a Selamat Hari Raya, and to meet their grand parents, parents and other family members. We learned to shake hands and be polite. It was good also that our teachers (especially the foreign teachers) would come along with us. In those days, we cycled every where. So before the sun set, we had to head for home and the bicycles carried us speedily home before it was dark.

Kek Lumut, or the Green Malay cake made from horliks and kaya would always be remembered because my family would visit Kak (our neighbour) and enjoy special treats . The family would make 3 of these cakes, using their heavy BRASS ACUAN, the old traditional baking method of old kampong days.
My teachers, my Muslim friends and I remain in touch all these years. So Selamat Hari Raya to all my friends of Sibu days.

(P/sAlas, the curfew and other political developments somehow curtailed a lot of these visitations. I am wondering if school students visit each other during the Hari Raya in Sibu.)

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). ...