December 4, 2014

Sibu Tales : Soy Beans

My grandfather married my grandmother in 1909 in Sibu, a match made by Rev James Hoover who first found Mr. Chong Jin Bok as a good English teacher for Sibu and then felt that his sister was a good match for my grandfather.

My grandparents went on to have 9 children, the desires of most early Foochow settlers in Sibu. Finally in 1938 my grandmother did not survive the miscarriage of her 10th child.

In those early years when my father and his siblings were just under 10, life was hard . Grand uncle and Great Grandfather Chong were already making a good living in rubber as they had brought some wealth from Bogor in Java and Grand Uncle Chong was a school teacher. Very often my father, as the eldest had to carry a small cloth bag to "borrow" some soy beans from his grandfather.

When we were growing up Father used to tell us that as he walked through the rubber garden to his grandfather's house (now Chong Jin Bok Road), he would wish for just a few slices of chicken and perhaps a good soup. But my grandfather who was just struggling in those days as a mechanic cum businessman, had to feed a growing family.

My mother used to tell us later that whenever my father looked at soy beans he had a shiver running down his spine but they represented hard times and very often, empty stomachs for those little brothers and sisters of his.

But we all thank God that Mrs. Hoover came to start a girls school and my aunts were all sent to her boarding school (my grandfather sent only rice as payment we were told) while the boys went to the Anglo Chinese school with Grand Uncle Chong. By the time my father was 15 years old my grandfather had already made more money and the fear of empty stomachs was slowly taken away from the small children.

The sight of yellow beans in a way traumatised my father for years.

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