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.

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