November 30, 2014

Sibu Tales : Measuring of Rice by Milk Tins

As we grew up in a very closed Foochow community, we were often reminded of our community's rich legacy of rags to riches stories, moral lessons and wise sayings and naturally our dialect's poetry and songs.

Our best lessons are those of brotherly and neighbourly love and care, a lot of borrowing, giving, help and lending of a hand.

One of my father's dearest cousin and biggest support was an uncle who started with very humble beginnings and he himself told us the stories of his younger days, as a way of teaching us great values. For that we were slowly trained in good Foochow ways.

When Uncle D.K. was young, he often was asked to go next door to borrow two tins of rice.

His father, my grandfather's cousin, was a daily paid worker. Sometimes the towkay did not pay him and he would go home (near the present Rajang Park Lane 23) where his wife and children would also have done a good day's work of rubber tapping, and vegetable gardening.

If the rice tub was empty at that long past dinner time, Uncle DK's mother would ask him to go next door with a little cotton bag. The Foochows then were very careful with rice and a bag was the safest way of carrying rice, so that not a grain was dropped.

The two guong/kong/tin of rice would half fill the stomachs of the family for a few days. Cash would come in when Grand Uncle got paid, or when the family was able to send dried rubber sheets to the town for sale.

Immediately when they had cash, they would buy rice and food...

First thing first, they would return the two tins or more of rice to their helpful neighbour.

IN this way, Granduncle slowly bought 6 acres of rubber land and later uncle DK built up his special business empire.

Uncle DK would always say,"Be kind, be humble, be honest, be fair, never cheat, never steal, never lie..."

He is one man who lives by Foochow ethics and values.

A good ,inspiring Foochow Success story.

November 29, 2014

Sungei Teku Tales : Heng Hua Pak Mee

A group of Heng Hua aunties gathered together in Miri recently for a fellowship and to demonstrate their Heng Hua Pak Mee.

It was a very interesting session for me because I have never ever eaten that noodle before even though I grew up with many Heng Huas and later lived with several families as neigbhours.

However I was told by my good friend Lucy (who was born in Sg. Merah, Sibu) that nowadays very few Heng Hua ladies actually make Pak Mee from scratch because of time constraints. Besides it might even be rather pointless to make the traditional noodles for a generation which appreciate KFC or Pizzas more!!

Heng Hua Pak Mee originated in Putien region of China and perhaps even earlier than that when the original Heng Huas lived in Henan region before moving south. Hence the use of wheat flour.

The ingredients for the noodle dough is very simple:
1 kg good wheat flour (minus a few spoons for dusting)
2 eggs
some salt
some water

Knead the dough until smooth (Hence a lot of hitting or pak).
When done, flatten the dough into thin layers and fold and cut into small threads, as narrow as your knife skills allow.

Soup base
1 tin of oysters
some braised pork with sauce (cooked the preveious day)
onions, garlic and ginger
moringa leaves
spring onions,
eggs (made into omelette and then shreaded)
any other ingredients you may like to add.

What a nice dish to make for new year!!

(Thank you Lucy Siew for your connections. )

November 27, 2014

Sibu Tales : Bread Making and Bread Shop

One of the first bakeries in Sibu ,owned by a Heng Hua, was found in Sg. Merah although there were several Chinese biscuit factories, mainly from shop lots like Wan Hin, Cheng Chuong etc. Another one was found in Sibu town itself, started by a Hainanese.

the Hainanese shop was one of my father's favourite shops. It offered very well made loaves good for sandwiches. It was situated at the Central Road, between two shop blocks. It must have been the suppliers to Sibu Recreation Club, the Residency (Mr. Griffin), and other colonial government officers in those early 1950's years when we first moved to Sibu, from Pulau Kerto. Dad's office was at Central Road and so he would pick up a loaf or two of bread from the shop.

Now that loaf of bread would have been considered a day old and that was half the price. Dad being a very frugal Foochow man was only too happy to get two loaves for the price of one, for his growing family.

My mother would steam the slices of bread the next morning for us to eat...Many Foochows did not like the hard crust. Steaming would have made the bread soft, and more like baos.

If I am not mistaken the Hainanese baker had also another favourite snack he made out of his left over bread. If bread was still unsold the next day, he would recycle them. He spread each slice with butter, and then spread some sugar on top. Rebaking the slices of bread, he would thus turn the slices into nice crunchy snacks. These sweet, sugar coated roti were very saleable.

They were packed into plastic bags and sold at the wharf at Pulau Babi...this was how many Sanba Foochow learned to eat bread. Or bread-snack.

You would have to know that bread was a totally alien food to the Foochows in the 1920's to 1950's.

Today many bakeries still make this kind of sugar coated roti. And I still munch them once in a while...

November 24, 2014

Sibu Tales : Deep fried battered small fish

My late father was a very skilful fisherman. He was most skilful in throwing the net or jala, a round net which he would make a big circle on the surface of the water and then he would slowly bring the net up.

We used to eager wait for him to bring up the net to the jetty.

The net would have all the small fish one could think of.

these small river fish were very delicious. And he and my mother would prepare a batter and coat the small fish in it.

And soon the table would have a plate of deep fried fish...the original Kentucky Fried Fish..

We loved them so much that we would love to see our father going out to the river bank with his net.

A jala in the evening would mean a night's good supper.

November 23, 2014

Sibu Tales : Cap Kaki Tiga.

In the old days people were just very casual about their health and health issues. Cancer, stroke, and other diseases were not in their vocabulary.

I remember the first time my mother whispered the deadly word Cancer in the 1967 when one of the doctors passed away!!

Most people in the villagers would buy over the counter medication. And indeed many barefoot doctors went from village to village to sell medicines.

One of the most popular medicines sold by these sinseh or medicine men was Cap Tiga Kaki.

this every popular medication was good fro every thing: headaches, stomach aches, tooth aches and occasionally even for sleeping disorders!!

My own grandmother had a few packets in her basket all the time. She would give one packet to my young cousin if he had a fever..One packet could cure a simple fever.

That was easy for every one. My grandmother did not have to trouble my aunt to bring the child to the town to see a doctor in those early days in 1950's. Later when more doctors graduated in Sibu parents became more open to western medicine and they started choosing their own favourite doctors.

However this over the counter cap kaki tiga continues to be popular...its western counter part is Panadol.


November 22, 2014

Sibu Tales : Ducks and Pythons

Both my parents like any Foochows, loved eating duck.

Ducks in the early days of Sibu were mainly home reared. In Pulau Kerto, at the Hua Hong Ice Factory, my mum reared a lot of ducks.Besides chickens, and ducks, my parents also reared goats.

During high tide and the flood water got below our house and right up to the upper stair case,and that meant that we could see the water level reaching almost all the duck cages and chicken coops.

That spelt disaster as snakes would start coming, trying to eat the fowls.

One evening when the high was exceptionally high, a big snake came into one of the cages, and swallowed a small goat. That was an exceptional visit. My father was seldom angry. But that evening, he moved faster than ever, took the gun off the display shelf and marched downstairs.

We waited and watched. My timid mum stood behind us, carrying our newest sibling.

Two shots rang out and the dead snake dropped from the roof of the cage to the planks under the cage.

That evening all the factory hands had a grand feast.

My father never gave a thought to cooking the python for us because he thought that reptiles were just not good food.

But he gave instructions that we should eat four of the more mature ducks the next day, just in case more snakes would come and eat more fowls and goats.

Mum got two maids from next door to come and slaughter the ducks and pluck all the feathers. Dad sent one duck to our grand parents in Sungei Merah and gave two to his cousins next door.

Until today I do not eat reptiles.

November 21, 2014

Moringa : New Kid on the Block for the Chinese

the moringa has long been used as a herb, health tonic and a vegetable by the Indians in the Indian Sub Continent. Today its health benefits have been spread throughout the world.

It is a miracle vegetable actually as the tree cvan grow very quickly within weeks and the leaves can already be eating.

The leaves can be fried with eggs, mixed with fish soup, used together in noodle soup and simply boiled as tea.

Even the stalks can be used to make a good cooling drink. Any one having a sore throat can just drink several cups and the soreness will be gone. It is really quite effective.

But as a vegetable it is really good. And furthermore it is free!!

So we can all grow trees of moringa and give our neighbours and friends free vegetables and tea!!

November 19, 2014

Foochow Teacher in the Qing Court


The Foochows towards the end of the Qing Dynasty were already clamouring for political changes and many were even thinking of migrating.

They were hardworking and the port of Mawei was an exit port of all Southern China. So with tales carried home from overseas, many of the Foochows were already thinking of moving away from the difficult country and they had nothing to lose.

But right in the middle of the Qing court in Beijing was Chen Bao Shen, a Foochow tutor for the young Pu Yi, who was to be the Last Emperor of China. Chen was born in 1848 in Fuzhou , a region which had produced many scholars for Imperial China. He was a great scholar, knowledgeable in history, philosophy and the Confucian classics. He passed many public exams to become a Mandarin. Before he was 30 he was already a prominent official at the Manchu court. 

He was married and had sixteen children. 

Because he was fairly forthright and having a great sense of justice, the Dowager Queen expelled him from the court and he had to return home to Fuzhou. However she changed her mind when the young Pu Yi needed a good teacher. She recalled Chen to Beijing where he remained for the next 21 years. Chen was loyal and carried out his duties as imperial tutor.

Pu Yi had written in his autobiography, “With Chen Pao-shen, I had one spirit. When Johnston came, I had two spirits.” 

So there were two very famous Foochows who were closely connected with the Qing Dynasty - Ling Zexu and Chen Baoshen.

November 17, 2014

Red Durian : Durian Tutong

There are so many types of Durians in Sarawak. This red type is special from Bakam,from my friend's garden. She has three trees and they are all very tall. On a good day during the durian season she can pick up to ten of these Tutongs.

The durian is very fragrant and is definitely for some not so palatable. You need to acquire a taste for it.

So many people would not be able to think of durians as being red in colour. A friend said it is difficult because she also cannot accept a purple cow.

November 15, 2014

Sibu Tales : Water Hyacinth

the first time I saw a water hyacinth was when we moved to Sibu.

The water hyacinth moved along the River Lembangan, through the Kampong Nyabor and down to Kampong Datu to join Batang Igan.

In the evenings we watched the sun setting by the banks of Batang Rajang. And on our return we would see the small kerosene lamps of the boat families.

It was a very romantic times for my siblings and I in those days. How could the people live in boats, go to school and yet their parents could make a living.

Our youthful innocence did not find the answers.

The water hyacinth floated by, day in day out......

Questions about school, questions about income, questions about justice and fairness could not easily be answered my late father said.

Like the Hyacinth, the flowers would just float and touch the boats and float by into a bigger river...or clog up water bodies...

Are we moving around like the water hyacinth? bumping into boats in the water ways...clog up water ways, cause a great a nuisance to mankind......and then soon we too would just shrivel up and disappear from the surface of the earth..

Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms
Family: Pontederiaceae
English: Water hyacinth
Malay - Keladi bunting,  Kemeling telur

November 14, 2014

Sibu Tales : kampong chickens

Most people would rear their own chickens in Sibu until the time when Sibu Urban District Council started to fine those housewives who kept domestic animals in their compounds.

My mother was most upset when she heard about her friends being fined by the SUDC.

However she took everything very very fatalistically and accepted the situation.

For my 4 confinements she asked her own sister in law to raise the kampong chickens. Just enough ( for example like 12) so as not to bother too much. She insisted that the first week I should at least have kampong, free range chickens to eat so that I could get back all my energy from 9 months of pregnancy.

Then we heard a lot of tales of people raising kampong chickens in Oya Road farms. Many made a lot of money selling them because the Foochows really love kampong chickens.

We also heard about a business woman who asked a timber camp Iban lady to raise chickens for her. She would collect about 20 or 30 chickens per week from her and then sell them to good faithful customers. She became very popular because her chickens from the timber camp were really tasty and "fat". She had this arrangement for a long time.

But the best tale that involved my mother was a mystery which until today was never solved. One day, she received a telephone call that someone had sent her a basketful of kampong chickens from Kanowit. There were about 8 fat kampong chickens in them.

My Third Uncle was deployed to collect the chickens from the boat. Who could have sent so many precious chickens to my mother? Both of them asked around for many days. There was no note and answer. So for many days my mother enjoyed her chicken soup and she , also at that time, recovered from her illness. Who was that mysterious giver of gifts?

Today I use my blog to thank the mysterious giver of kampong chickens. May God bless you always.

November 6, 2014

Nang Chong Tales : Making of Patchwork by hand

My grandmother Lien Tie was a child bride,bought in China and later brought out from China by my grand uncle Lau Kah Tu.

On the day she was sold , sort of in the market of Minqing, she was a tiny little girl, sitting on the shoulders of her father, a poor farmer who needed money to feed the rest of the family. He was crying out loud, "Little girl for sale, healthy, and hardworking although very small. Feet not bound."

Grandma was one girl too many. Her feet had be bound, but because of the extreme poverty, her parents let go of the binding cloth so that she could work in the farm and do other housework. By the time she was five, they could no longer feed her and they had to sell her.

It was an opportune time that my grandfather elder brother, Lau Kah Tii, was walking along the street and he saw this sad scene and paid the sum of Five Dollars, the amount that was asked without bargaining, since he had already set some money aside to go to Nanyang with Wong Nai Siong. It was 1901. He not only bought one young child bride but he also had helped his own father , a few years before this purchase, to buy one girl for himself. Hence the two girls became great friends and soon they would be in the same boat to Sarawak.

When already established herself as a wife of a rubber tapper, one of the activities my grandmother liked was to save all the scraps of materials her in laws and daughters could give her. She would keep them in a worn out pillow case and when she had a little bit more, she would sew the little triangles together, usually in the day time before dinner. When she was staying with us, she too would put those pieces together, usually red ones matching with floral pieces.

When she had enough of the pieces,she would ask my mother to sew the bigger pieces together. And a little blanket would be made. The Foochows call this Pui Yan or Little Blanket.

Little Blankets are nice gifts for her new born grand children. They are easy to wash and dry.

I would always remember my grandmother being given pieces of materials by her loved ones. Sometimes my mother would deliberately go and buy a quarter chien (in those days, materials were sold in chien and not yard.) of some florals, telling her that those were scraps only. Mum would slip a few pieces of those into a plastic bag amongst the scraps from aunts or cousins who were tailors who kept a lot of scraps from their customers.

Today only two of my sisters continue simple Foochow patchwork with enthusiasm.

My friend Steve Ling and his wife Mee Jiong with two blankets and his mother in law.

The little ones would wear out the little blankets as they grew older.

But sometimes their mothers would really treasure them and keep them for a long time, patching them over and over again.

I had mine which was much loved and lasted until I was long married off.

On the other hand however, adults would sleep with the thick RED Wollen Blanket , called 12 pound blanket or sek ni pong jhieng, bought in Singapore, a bridal gift, and it was meant to last until the final days. That red wollen blanket would go to the grave with the person owning it. A richer family would buy a new one to go with the coffin.

Somehow seeing simple patchwork blankets always reminds me of the frugal ways of my grandmother who would hand sew each piece very neatly and then waited very patiently for my mother to help her finish the small blanket.

She placed the blanket on the floor and spread out the whole piece for all to see. The lines were straight and each piece would be perfectly flat against another.  This the Foochows call, "Bang Nik". All the angles would merge perfectly. We did not have to iron the blanket flat at all.

Patch work quilts would always remind me of my maternal grandmother.

November 3, 2014

Sibu Tales : Making Fish Balls

When the Foochows talk about making fish balls, they become very happy. In the olden days in China, making fish balls was a festive activity. Fish was plentiful in the Min River but it was nevertheless hard work too for every farmer, to work in the padi fields and to go fishing whenever they had the time. But in good times they had good food and of course when famine came, it was bad for every one. That was part of nature, part of life.

When the pioneering Foochow came to Sibu, they remembered their home in Min River. And they did not forget how to make fish balls.

In Foochow dialect, making fish balls is called Pak Ngii Wong, or hit fish ball.

The process of making fish ball was to scrape the fish flesh from the bones and then hit the flresh when it is a ball.

In this way the fresh of fish or the meat ball is not flaky but very solid and can bounce on the table!!

A little addition of corn starch and some times egg white may change the texture a bit by modern chefs.

When Sibu business started making fishballs we were quite happy with the products but as the years went buy we found that the standards or quality deteriorated. People do not really want to buy commercial fish balls now.

So we continue to Pak Ngii Wuong at home if we have the time.

Love making fish balls from mackerels....

November 1, 2014

Recycling Newspapers, Sarawak Way.

In the 1960's my sisters and I made a lot of paper bags using brown paper or newspapers to earn extra pocket money. We sold our product to Chai Hong, the sundry shop at Kampong Nyabor Road, about 100 metres from our Brooke Drive home.

It was fun making those paper bags, with all the glue and the drying of the bags. We produced "quite a bit" and enjoyed making them.

Today newspapers are still being recycled in many different ways.

Nasi Lemak

Paper tubes for ducks

and paper to wrap our locally made soy bean curd...


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). ...