October 31, 2014

50 appointments with Oshin changed my world views

 It is by accident I met Oshin on tv and it has changed my world views a lot..

Watch this space for my article


 My references:

Oshin comes back

The much loved Japanese television serial Oshin is to be telecast on Rupavahini once again after a lapse of 12 years. ‘Oshin’ had proved her mettle as a lovable and inspirable character for decades in the global context. The television serial caters to the masses comprising the young and old.
Little Oshin
Young Oshin
Athula Ransirilal
A production of NHK television, Oshin had been dubbed in many languages time to time to telecast in various countries. In Japan it was telecast twice daily, at 11.20 a.m. and once again in the evening.
The series covers three generations of Japanese life pre and post war.
In a nutshell, Oshin is a ‘rags to riches’ story. The story revolves around a courageous girl (Oshin) of a poor peasant family lived in Japan in the early stages of twentieth century. The way little Oshin boldly faces challenges in life and the sheer determination shown by Oshin in her young age brings inspiration to children as well as to parents.
Oshin was first brought to Sri Lanka by the veteran artiste Henry Jayasena from Japan in 1989 at the time of M J Perera. The task of dubbing the program in Sinhala was assigned to none other than Titus Thotawatte, a man in abundance of innate skills who was a veteran of Sinhala cinema.
Titus and his colleague Athula Ransirilal with a team of 250 dubbing artists did the job to a level which was eventually admired by all Sri Lankan television viewers alike. Sinhala dubbed version of Oshin enthralled Rupavahini viewers two decades back with its sheer magic. Rasipaba Sandeepani (very young Oshin), Rasadari Peiris (young and middle aged Oshin), Grace Ariyawimal (grandma Oshin), Ratnawali Kekunawela, Victor Miguel, Ratna Sumanapala, Gemunu Wijesuriya, Nihal Jayawardene and Parakrama Perera were among the dubbing artists who contributed to Oshin. Athula’s other colleagues were Kelum Palitha, Sanath Senani, Chandana Seneviratne, H Churchill, Ranjith Silva and Anura Dharmasena.
Athula took the reins from Titus Thotawatte on his demise to make the history repeat. Speaking of the fresh telecast of Oshin, he said, the backdrop in which the telecast coinciding with is the completion of 60 years of cordial friendship between Sri Lanka and Japan and 30-year relationship between SLRC and NHK.
SLRC had the privilege of sharing television programs with Japan from its commissioning date. Usually every year Japan foundation send programs worth huge amounts free of charge to SLRC. These programs comprise films, documentaries, children’s programs and cartoons.
With Athula’s initiation and the blessings of the present Rupavahini Chairman Mohan Samaranayake, SLRC team had made a fresh request from Japananese ambassador for Oshin this time around. The ambassador has gone to the extent of convincing the Japan foundation to bear the huge cost involved and give Oshin ‘free of charge’ to be telecast over Rupavahini for the benefit of Sri Lankan viewers.
An emotional scene from Oshin
We have to pay a tax for dubbing. When the proposal for taxation was brought, people like Professor Somaratne Balasuriya, Asoka Serasinghe, Ravindra Randeniya and Somaratne Dissanayake suggested exempting programs like Oshin from tax, said Athula thoughtfully. Oshin is the very first ‘long-tele series’ dubbed in Sinhala to be telecast here. Titus Thotawatte with his expertise had done subtle adaptations to the original script to be in harmony with Sri Lankan culture, folklore and Sinhala speaking people. Thus the Sri Lankan viewers strongly felt the emotion in the story.
Oshin will be telecast five days every week (Monday to Friday) from 6.30pm to 7.30pm from May 25. Channawijekoon70@gmail.com

October 30, 2014

Sibu Tales : Rice cake

For many years I thought this is a Foochow cake from my dialectic group, until recently when I posted my photos on fb.

What a marvellous learning journey provided by Facebook. Now I know where to get more of this, when this is available and why it is served during Chinese new year by the Minang people (Hokkiens).

Perhaps one day I will make it when I get the recipe.

October 29, 2014

Family Lunch at Five Foot Way

It is only in a small place where you find a very unexpected gesture which touches the heart.
Old fashion ways are remarkably and lovingly fossilized in this place in Marudi...and old friendly ways make visitors so happy and feel welcome. My friend Ribuh Aran is right...why should he move away from Marudi?

I was walking down the older part of Marudi, a small town along the BAram, once called Claude Town by the Brooke Government,when I caught a whiff of steamed Chinese cabbage. And sure enough at the corner shop, a family was gathering for their lunch on the five foot way.

My friend Lucy was so thrilled by the spread on the table...We were given a cabbage roll each to taste. Wonderful Old Chinese Recipe.
The enterprising lADY owner of the shop was getting lunch ready for her family on the five foot way. And she had time to invite us immediately to her table for lunch. Delicious cabbage rolls.

This kind of warm gesture is a long forgotten Chinese pioneer behaviour. She reminds me of my grandmother Lien Tie who would never allow a "pass through" Foochow go without a meal. Our kuali was always heated and there would be some food for a total stranger!!

She really has a good heart and we are going back to see her again on our next trip to Marudi.

What an amazing way of using spatial space ...and what a nice lunch on a makeshift table. She can do business and look after her family at the same time. Great idea!!

October 28, 2014

Window Ledge of a Foochow Kitchen


My cousin is a very practical person. She loves the nostalgic atmosphere of the old Foochow kitchen of olden days. Recently she designed her kitchen to look like this.

Now she does not need a special cupboard to keep her pots and pans, and the plates can dry easily in this airy ledge. The kitchen is mosquito and fly free.

So practical and enjoyable.

October 27, 2014

Sibu Tales : Butcher's Block

The pork business is one of the longest standing businesses in Sibu.

Pig rearers in Sibu have a long history. There are two kinds of pig rearers :one which rear more than 100 pigs in the farm, or those who rear two or three broods per year as a family owned business.

Most family farms depend on left over food and in the past did not even buy scientific feed for their animals. Yams and water lettuced cooked with sago flour and rice husks were good feed. Today this kind of hot food for the pigs is not common.

Pig farms are well monitored by the Agriculture Department to safe guard the health of the pigs and general hygiene of the state.

Pork is sold in standard buildings and only licensees can sell pork. They are still casually dressed like the butchers of olden days.

Some butchers are third generation butchers. Imagine that!!

There is no modernisation of butcher shops in Sarawak. While supermarkets may sell imported and local meat, pork as a non halal meat is still not sold in supermarkets which tend to do halal food.

In the future we would never know what would happen to this familiar and easy kind of lifestyle.

Australian Middle Eastern Butcher

Perhaps we may have to rethink our style of life and even change our culinary styles!! It would be quite a revolution in culinary arts if pork is taken out of our Foochow life style. Think of the future when pork cannot be sold in the market openly, or restaurants must be purely Halal in order to get a license for business.

October 26, 2014

Three Aunties and 6 Ah Moos

There is a very nice dish in a Vegan restaurant in Miri. The title on the menu is Three Aunties and Six Ah Moos or San Goo Liu Poh.

I always find it a delight to find creative names of dishes. Some are so creative you have to ask the waiter or waitress what can be found in the dish that you might like to try.

For example, you read about Malay Scenario (Malay Feng Kwang?) What's that?
It is but Kang Kong fried with belacan. But every body knows that famous name.

Now what about Four Heavenly Kings? Well it is four different kinds of beans fried with different sauces. This dish is named after 4 Heavenly kings of singers of Chinese descent..Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and gang.

It is worth knowing such creative names if you wish to enjoy good Chinese food any where. I would like to compile an A to Z of Chinese names of their special dishes. One however has to be either bi lingual, or have a good friend who is conversant in the two languages to help translate.

Enjoy food names!!

October 23, 2014

Young missionary teachers with Mrs. JB Chong and Mr. CS Chong

A precious photo kept by Mr. Chong Chung Sing.

Mrs. JB Chong in the 60's and 70's entertained many Methodist Missionaries and pastors at her lovely home in Queensway.

This photo shows Mr. Chong Chong Sing and Mrs. JB Chong, his mother, third from left. Mr. Ting Tung Ming is standing, Lovely food was always prepared by the family for guests.

October 19, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Fried Rice and Lak Tong

Having holidays in Ah Nang Chong with my grandma was a special treat.

And the best part of the holiday was all the nice and simple food Grandmother and Uncle cooked. Occasionally we also were given treats by our other aunts in their kitchens in the big house or further in land in the other houses.

My thoughts are about Lak Tong today.


When we were young we did not know that Lak Tong was a Cantonese food product. And we thought Lak was for chillies or spicy taste. So Lak Tong was a sausage full of chillies and we were quite reluctant to eat them.

The Foochows in Ah Nang Chong used Lak Tong to cook fried rice, make omeletes, or serve them fried or steamed. One way of eating lak tong, Foochow style in those days was to steam thin slices of the lak tong with bean sprouts, a very interesting dish.

It was until very much later in life that I learned that Lak meant WAXED. And that the Cantonese called it Lap Cheong.

Now I have two Cantonese sons-in-law. (50 years later) My daughters are not necessarily interested in eating Lak tong or lap cheong while I continue to love it as delicacies and in small portions and using it in my cooking occasionally.

October 17, 2014

Sibu Tales : One Dish only with Plain Rice or Porridge

A distant aunt of mine was a very frugal lady and she was not particularly a good cook. Some nasty relatives criticised her for having "nothing to eat". "Moh noh siak" is not a nice Foochow way of talking about a person behind her back.

I once asked her why she did not learn to cook well.

She answered,"We were poor in the olden days when we did not even have oil most of the time!!"

Foochow women have been brought up to have enough oil, salt, sugar and rice in their cupboard.

But then it was not hard for me in those days to empathise with my loving aunt. Although she came from a poor background she was nevertheless a very kind soul. She would share whatever she had with us, whenever we came to visit. And we would also bring something to her house.

A recent preparation of mine.

One day, as students, my friends and I dropped by her house to give her two gourds from my mother's garden. My friend also gave her some long beans from her mother. Another friend brought some limes from her tree.

Aunt was in the garden tending to her ducks and chickens which she was rearing for sale. She would entertain us with stories of snakes visiting her at night and eating her precious fowls. Her backyard was facing the river which was a good place for reptiles to hide, lay their eggs and breed...Tales of snakes often brought shivers down our spines in those days.

She invited us in for a meal but we declined. One her table was a small dish of anchovies, and onions.

She exclaimed, "Good that you have brought limes. I do not even have vinegar at home. But I do have enough food for all of us. You don't have to go home and eat. Just eat here. "

She looked up to the sky and she said, " Thank you God for supplying enough GRACE for me."

My aunt was a woman who had a grateful heart. Joy was written all over her face. In later years she was very blessed, very blessed indeed.

My friends and I learned a lesson in humility that day.

But I also learned that when a woman truly welcomed her guests to her home, we would be able to feel her genuine welcome and no matter what food she had on her table, her guests would be grateful.

And I will always remember the small dish of anchovies with onions.

Whenever I hear Foochows mention that they only have anchovies with their rice, I would say, "That's the best dish God can prepare for us. We should be grateful that there are small fishes swimming in the sea to provide us with protein!!"

(Foochow metaphors : Kangyu gian - small fry, unimportant person. Siak Kangyu gian - poor people)

(NB, in fact in later years I would always prepare this dish as a side dish for friends and relatives when they come. We must never be too pompous and ostentatious in our lifestyle.)

October 16, 2014

Sibu's Favourite Food Book

Click on the link below and you will take a culinary journey in Sibu. Each page would show you  a wonderful dish, a photo or a description of the food.


This new book, sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, was launched on 15th Sept. And being free, it is very very popular.


Paul Yii of the District Office Sibu has kindly made an electronic version of the book. And this has helped many from overseas to read it on line. How amazing!!

I hope you will love the e- book as much as we have writing it for you dear readers in mind.

The three writers are Philip Hii, Arthur Wee and I. the writing project was initiated in Sept 2013 and the proposed date of publication was March 2014. However we were very happy that a final date was set to launch the book in conjuction with the International Base Jumping in Sibu.

Enjoy!! And if you have plans to visit Malaysia, put Sibu in your plans!!

October 15, 2014

Sibu Tales : Peanuts

"Our forefathers who came to Sibu were so frugal that they ate little, a little bit of rice and half a peanut each mouthful....peanuts were split into two so that more could go round...."

My grandfather's favourite dish : peanuts. And it's a long story. It is the story of the Foochows of Sibu.

Hua ren ning ke doi beng (eat half of peanuts) or 花生啃成半(spliting each peanut).   - eat frugally.

My favourite preparation - braised peanuts

In later years , after my grandfather retired, he led a very quiet life living in a nice wooden house on top of a hill in Sungei Merah. He had moved from Sungei Merah to Bukit Lan, from Bukit Lan to Pulau Kerto and from Pulau Kerto to Bintangor (which he founded with Ling Ching Tu and Yao Shiaw King) and finally back to Sungei Merah where he acquired his final piece of property of several acres of rubber,banana and fruit farm.

 We used to visit him very frequently. My grandmother Siew would always get ready the plump braised and best peanuts for him on the table and for years I watched him chewing the peanuts slowly and with great satisfaction. What was in his mind?

Once he came to our house for a memorable 10 days, and his loving and skilful hands repaired our Foochow stove. He carefully cemented the cracks of the stove, little by little, like a master craftsman. At the end of one week, no one could see the cracks. And he also reminded us that what we could do ourselves, we must do and not call a Tukang who would charge us. He was then 84 years old.

My siblings and I remember we had fried peanuts every day because Grandpa was staying with us. My father would buy food he liked and could not be superfluous because grandpa did not like overspending on food. He had a very awesome presence.

He told my father that the stove was as good as new. Indeed. We did not see any crack from then on . It was sad that we finally had to demolish our beautiful wooden house together with the stove which gave us such great memories in 1978. Today, the Orchid Inn stands tall on that piece of property. Another era.

October 12, 2014

Sibu Tales : Soy Beans

It was often talked about amongst the older generations of the Sibu Foochows that the early Foochow pioneers faced so many tough and even unsurmountable challenges.

My grandfather's foray in the clearing of the jungles for example in Sibu included many heartbreaking stories. He was one of the fortunate Foochow men who was not beaten by poisonous snakes!! He struggled for many years and like many heroes of those days, many people came along to help him , like Rev. James Hoover, Rev Yao Siaw Khing in particular.  He lived up to age 84 and sired 20 children (from 3 consecutive wives).

In the early days of the Foochows in Sibu money was definitely scarce before rubber was produced and exported. And there was also two periods when the rubber price dipped. These two periods of Foochow history were dark days. The Foochow pioneers were not rich investors from Fujian but barefooted people from the Min River Valley, some of whom only brought 60 cents in their pockets, or may be just one changkul, from China.

Many did not make it rich and remained poor all their lives in Sibu. Some did manage to make a fortune. while others went to other parts of South East Asia to find newer opportunities. Many returned to China, poorer than before.


When my father was roughly 5 or 6 years old he was often went to see his maternal (Chong) grandfather with a little cloth bag , together with his younger brother. One would bring back a little bag of yellow beans or soy beans and the other a bag of rice , and my grandfather would promise that he would pay his father in law back!! This little amount of food would tie them over for a week or so, until Grandpa obtained enough jungle produce, or fruits for sale. With this kind of rough beginning, my grandfather was determined to do well in life.

Photo from http://ieatfood.net/2010/06/
Great Grandfather Chong had a little more money than others because he had a son JB Chong who was a teacher and Mrs.JB Chong was also an English teacher in the town.  They had also brought some wealth from Java.  My own grand dad was a struggling rubber planter and a mechanic with a fast growing family. He and my Grandmother Chong had 9 children before she was 38 years of age.

My father was a bright boy and the Hoovers loved him. His Aunt, Mrs. JB Chong also made sure that he did well in English. He was a good learner and was extremely quiet as a child according to my Chong uncle, Chung Sing. By the time my father was able to go to secondary school, my grandfather had already made some money.

Dad was to graduate from Yen Ching University, Beijing in 1937 but he would never forget his childhood days when he had to protect his sickly and overworked Java born mum and help her with household chores . Perhaps because of this background, when he married my mum he was always very helpful in the kitchen. He bought all the vegetables and meat for the family and he would not make us eat yellow beans.

Only my maternal grandmother was "allowed to make the Si Yang" or Chinese Winter dumplings with soy bean and peanut coatings using the stone mill. I personally believe that my dad was always heart broken whenever he saw the yellow beans. He would always think of how difficult life was for his mother who passed away at age 38 when he was only 16  years of age which was before my grandfather made his fortune .

Like Professor Agongcillo,who cried each time he saw kangkong, my father would sigh whenever he saw yellow beans. After he went to school in China, he made sure that he did not eat yellow beans.

It was not easy for my father to forget those early difficult days of his life. And yellow beans represented those days.

(P/s later we children loved baked beans which actually were made from yellow beans!!)

October 10, 2014

Sibu Tales : Porridge

Porridge is a favourite food of the Foochows.

Here are 10 things you might like to know the associated thoughts regarding Foochow porridge

In the past :
1) Those who wanted to stretch their budget further, they would have porridge every meal.
2) Those who believed in having a light meal in the evening, they would prepare a simple porridge, accompanied by one or two condiments.
3) My uncle who was very frugal would use broken rice to cook porridge and good rice for afternoon meal.
4) Porridge was for the sick.
5) Porridge was for those who have become toothless
6) Porridge was a Foochow breakfast

A clay pot is more appropriate but I was thinking of the urgency of making this porridge because we were short of time. So I use this Indian mini kuali, or metal serving bowl.

7) Porridge was never eaten by a woman who is doing her 30 days confinement after birth.
8) A very thin or watery porridge was good for fever, to get over anxiety, and when one extremely sad. It was also an antidote for lack of appetite.
9) Porridge with lots of ginger juice could cure a stomach upset or even diarrhea.
10) Giving porridge to a step child was a bad act of a step mother while her own children ate good rice.

And an egg in the middle of the bowl of porridge showed love and hospitality!!

And these are some of the other more "expensive" porridge combination for the Foochows for various applications:
1) porridge with tapah, white pomfret, haruan
2) porridge with red dates, goiji, mushrooms for good eye sight
3) porridge with meat floss
4) porridge with dong gui,dried black and white fungi and ginseng (for energy)
5) porridge with a pair of doves (for great health and recuperation)

Lou pah juk ( swallow porridge) is a Foochow metaphor for a sad life situation, or to indicate poor financial situation.

Today, whenever I cook porridge I would make it in many different creative ways. This photo shows a  porridge which is full of goodness, two or three kinds of vegetables like pumpkin, winter melon, some meat stock, slivers of fish and lots of onions. The egg in the middle is love and kindness, warm hospitality and life giving!!


October 9, 2014

Sibu Tales : Saga Seeds

Most people have seen saga seeds and know that it is dangerous to swallow it as it is slightly poisonous.

But the seeds can be made into beautiful handcrafts by school children. Works of art can be displayed in school, during exhibitions etc.

Girls who have romantic notions like to collect them especially the Chinese girls because these seeds are called "think of love" seeds or siang zii dou.

But not many people have seen its beautiful yellow flowers. Have you?

October 4, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Hoong Ngang Tapah and Red Wine

My third uncle Pang Sing was a good fisherman and every evening after dinner, it was his R and R to fish from the jetty. Sometimes he would catch a good sized tapah!! Tapah is a very ugly fish found in Sarawak rivers, particularly in the Rajang River.

The flesh is white and very firm and tasty.

Steamed with just a bit wine and soy sauce and lots of ginger, it is very delicious, fit for a king!!

But in the days before the Communist unrest in Sibu, whenever my uncle caught a tapah , he and grandma would also make a huge pot of Hoong Ngang with tapah and red wine.

Conversation at the table would always be between my uncles and my grandma, while the aunts would sit quietly and listen. This scenario made a very strong imprint on my mind.

Photo from http://petersfishtrading.blogspot.com/2011/05/river-fish-tapah.html

My uncles were very filial sons. They never never DARED to upset my grandmother by saying the wrong words. And I do remember that my third uncle would always try his best to make my grandmother laugh, by telling her very funny stories. My grandmother in her seriousness would relate stories she heard from China where she was born.
This is my photo of Kapit Hoong Ngang. I will have to wait for a while ..wait till I get some tapah and cook it with hoong ngang.....

Thus stories from these evenings, filled with laughter and food, remain in my mind until today.

And indeed we would be drunk with happiness. The sharing of food with 14 other cousins, 2 uncles and 2 aunties and grandmother was also very very memorable.

Today whenever I see tapah I see that huge pot of love : tapah with hoong ngang and red rice wine made by my grandmother

October 3, 2014

Wild Black Sesame in Miri

It may surprise many people but the wild black sesame can be found growing in Miri, and in fact it has been harvested by temple friends in Kuching.

I have a few of the plants growing in the compound near my house. So perhaps soon I will be able to harvest a cup or two of the seeds.

Sesame seeds has a nutty taste and are used in many Asian dishes, especially Foochow dishes.

They are also the main ingredients in tahini (sesame seed paste) and the Middle EAstern sweet, halvah.

Zhang Qian, one of my ancestors brought the sesame seeds back to China. He learned about the wonderful seeds when he was inprisoned by the Mongols when he travelled westwards from China. He later opened up the famous Silk Route.

Sesame oil does not become rancid easily. "Open Sesame" a famous phrase from the Arabian Nights reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. So I have to keep my eyes open and make sure I save the seeds for propagation.

Sesamun indicum is the scientific name.

October 2, 2014

Miri : Sar Cha Mien

Have you ever tried Sha cha 沙茶 mien? Its origin is actually in Fujian. The people of Fujian Coastal regions, Teochew people and Taiwanese have been making this sauce which is made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chillies, krill fish/silver fish or ikan bilis, and dried shrimp.It has a savory and slightly spicy taste.

It is most probably the creation of Fujian people, including Minnan and various types of Foochow people who came back from Nanyang. They could have brought the special ingredients like ikan bilis, dried prawns, and pepper to try.
And in no time, they created the Sha Cha mien. Today this noodles is popular amongst tourists in Xiamen, Taiwan and even Fuzhou City.
Miri's Yummy Yummy, next to Yakin, has this noodles on their menu.

October 1, 2014

Sibu Tales : Foochow Oil Paper Umbrellas


A typical 1960's scene of Sibu Kampong. Boy on bicycle and girls walking demurely along the almost car free road. One girl is carrying a Foochow Umbrella.
Oil paper umbrellas have been produced in Fuzhou and Nanping of Fujian. It is known as one of the three treasures in Fuzhou(福州三寶). the other two are :bodiless lacquer ware and ox-horn comb. This umbrella is also called backpack umbrella . However this kind of umbrella is slowly replaced by the collapsible umbrella in the 1970's.

The oil-paper umbrella in Fuzhou is dated as long as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. When 王審知 established his own kingdom called "閩國" at Fuzhou, he brought the oil paper umbrella from Zhejiang with him. During the Ching dynasty, there were as many as 300 shops in Fuzhou. Oil paper umbrella was also one of the symbols for riot against the Japanese during the Xinhai revolution. The oil-paper umbrella in Fuzhou was famous for its endurance in an expo in Panama in 1915 and Chicago in 1933.
In 1985, the Fuzhou oil paper umbrella have had significant improvement and advancement and were exported to Japan, Europe and South East Asia. Every umbrella has 72 sticks in the scaffold, opens wide and closes small giving it a snake appearance, thus also named the "Snake Umbrella".
In 1990, a government official 林愛枝 went to Seattle for an umbrella exhibition, and a red umbrella he showed provoked a great response in the audience. But Fuzhou umbrella shop closed down in 1997, the production is now low with a minor export to Japan. Despite local umbrella artisans have already being occupied with other jobs, they still petition the local government's assistance in the recovery of this art.

Fuzhou oil-paper umbrella materials are chosen strictly with high quality. The scaffold must be made from bamboos of the Northern Fujian province with good elasticity and endurance, and the bamboos must be at least five years old. A single umbrella must go through 83 procedures.
Traditional Fuzhou oil-paper umbrella art is divided into five sub portions including umbrella scaffold, umbrella installment, umbrella head, handle and painting. The mainstream art is the umbrella installment. There are also a few famous local umbrella painters including 程家寶, 林永欽 and 劉夢秋.

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). ...