February 27, 2014

Sungei Merah Tales : Days of Water from the Well

In the early days, 1901-1961, Sibu people, especially the Foochows and Heng Huas, depended on well and rain water for cooking, washing and other conveniences. I suppose many of the younger generation cannot remember that any more with all the modern facilities and amenities.

My grandfather's house was situated on top of a hill, behind the Kwang Ang Primary School and the Sing Ang Tong. Being a good engineer my grandfather was able to fit pipes all around the house for our conveniences. He raised the cement tank so that water could flow easily without the help of a pump. So we had a modern sink by the window and the kitchen had a good washing area for all the bowls and plates. He brought water to the outhouse, our special concrete toilet outside the house, at the back of the kitchen. Even the chicken coops had their own water pipes!! And not far from the house, he also installed an open area with a nice tap so that people who came to the house could even wash their cars , mud caked bicycles and their feet!! He had a lot of things well thought out.

During my childhood holidays in Sungei Merah, I remember how we depended on one special well water before the arrival of piped water in the 1960's. The well was about 5 minutes'  walk from the house on top of the hill. I heard years later my grandfather was kind and he had dug the well for his neighbours and himself to use. He must have spent time and money to find the well water with the help of the Malays from the Kampong and for years, people were happy to draw water from the well. It was the only well for many families then. He never walled the well and I can still remember how he carefully placed belian planks around the well. Probably because he knew that it was a temporary well, he never cemented the whole area. I remember how people washed their bicycles and even the rubber sheets there!!

I remember only a few occasions when we ran short of rain water and we had to help with laundry by the well. Aunty Ah Hiong after doing all the washing pushed the two pails of washing with her bicycle and we kids followed behind. All around us rubber seeds would be bursting in their shells, making a racket.Dought occurred only twice during my childhood if I am not mistaken. First we had to wait for the Urban District to bring around a water tanker to dispense water and everyone had to bathe near the present Premiere Hotel in the river. The second time was when we had to queue up at the stand pipe supplied by the Water Board. After those two occasions, we had running piped water and it was so wonderful to have piped water, showers etc. I remember my mother having to get a worker to knock down the cement tank and we had some extra room in our kitchen.

a cement water tank found in Myanmar  - my recent trip to Myanmar.
Besides water from wells, almost all houses would have a cement tank to be filled up with rain water. Zinc water tank was not in fashion yet.And of course LSL or King Kong were unheard of in those days.

I remember how convenient it was for grandfather, grandmother, great grandmother and uncles and aunties to use the rain water and there was never shouts of "save water, don't waste water!!" during the day. The rain water collected from the belian roof and the gutters was very cold in the morning, but very warm in the evenings. It is sad that we of the younger generation never really appreciate using rain water nowadays. We should be practising sustainable lifestyle the way our grandfathers used to.

Grandfather Kung Ping was a good architect and he built a good wash/bath room around a huge cement water tank in the house so that his step mother, a bound feet lady, did not have to go outside to take her bath. Great grandmother would spend at least an hour in the bath room for her every day bathing ritual, which included washing her knobbly feet and the binding cloths. At times she would wash her cloth shoes.

In those early days we also used kerosene lamps which our adopted aunt Ah Hiong pumped up in the evenings and the lamp would be placed on the beam just above the staircase. When grandfather went to sleep, he would "order" aunty Hiong to douse the lamp, and told her not to waste any more kerosene.

Each evening when the lights came on, my grandfather would lock up the house , by bolting all the windows and doors. We had wooden bolts in those days.

Our outside toilet was always clean and grandfather would spray the area with a white lotion,the name of which I cannot remember now. This lotion was to control flies around the house and I believe it was also the then most used antiseptic which the locals would buy and mix into the right solutions and then stopped with a little cork. A hole was made in the cork and we would shake the solution out of the bottle after we used the outhouse.

Many years later, my grandfather was one of the first men in Sungei Merah to instal a flush toilet. That was also the time when Sungei Merah's population was blessed by a special water tower and piped water was available for household consumption.

In retrospect, we never experienced an epidemic of cholera or dysentery, although most children did have their NORMAL bouts of intestinal worms, as it was a common ailment.

 God had really been looking after us very well.

February 26, 2014

Nang Chong Stories :Lau Pang Sing- our Hero

Lau Pang Sing was our third uncle, the third son of Lau Kah Chui, and therefore the third brother of my mother. He was 10 years younger than my mother and who suffered the hunger, fears of the Japanese Occupation years in Sibu. His education was interrupted and that factor alone made him suffer a lot for the rest of his life. What was worst was my maternal grandmother was stranded in China during the war years. It was also during that time that my maternal grandfather passed away. So Uncle Pang Sing and Uncle Pang Teck were raised by my mother then only 17 years who planted rice and reared chickens and pigs throughout the 3 years and 8 months.

Uncle Pang Sing managed only three years of village school education. It was so little and yet just enough for him to get by. But in the olden days, "it was not enough for him to get a government job and hold a pen". He was never a Foochow man who had a pen in his pocket, or man "who wore longsleeved shirt and a necktie".

In the old days, he was considered "a choo chor nern", a Mr. Coarse Work Man.

However he was our hero more than any other men we knew.

And this is one of the stories.

By evening most of the women folks would be doing their day's laundry at the jetty where the water of the Rajang flowed fast and water was free.

Kids would be asked to stay away from the jetty because it would be full of women , not just from our household, but from the homes at the "back" or aw sang. There would be about 10 women washing clothes happily and it was an evening of close communication and happy chatting.

Our cousin Mee Ping was about 3 years old, just a little toddler. And how she got to the jetty no one really knew at that time because it was just so sudden. When a motor launch passed by, she just dropped into the water!!

Immediately the alarm was sounded. "Ah Ping has dropped into the river!!"

And Uncle Pang Sing dropped everything that he was doing and he ran from the house, all the 100 meters to the jetty. Every one was shouting. My sister was at that moment in the kitchen and she saw all the fear and commotion. Ah Ping was a precious little bundle of life.

He must have ran the 100 meters with Olympic speed. He was by then known as the Tarzan of Nang Chong. It was so involuntary for him to act like that. He immediately jumped into the fast flowing river and then he got up for more fresh air.

Every one gasped for air the first time he surfaced from the fast flowing water. Nothing!!


Within the next minute, he pulled up the gurgling little girl and thus Mee Ping was saved from a watery death.

How Uncle Pang Sing saved the little Mee Ping was miracle.

According to him he could not see anything, but by instinct he used his leg to touch the logs of the jetty as he thought he the baby might have been stuck in between the logs or under the logs. And sure enough he touched something soft. It was God's miracle.

It must have been the wonderful God who kept little Mee Ping safe under the log for Uncle Pang Sing's leg to reach her.

Today she is serving God as a volunteer English teacher in Kuala Lumpur.

How would anyone be so blessed? Who could have thought that Uncle Pang Sing's powerful leg would touch the little life under the log?

And it was just an extra effort of twice going under fast flowing river to save a life.

When my sister Chang Sing, who was an eye witness of this miracle told us the story after more than 55 years, she felt that she was still looking at all the scenario as if it was yesterday.

For years the family could not forget how we almost lost our little cousin to a watery death.

Our real life's hero, Uncle Pang Sing, was always a special man in our lives.

Today his God fearing and church going family continue to live simple lives and prosper like what the Bible says.

Story with Eye witness : Chang Sing.

February 12, 2014

More on the Menu at The Summit Cafe in Miri

The Summit Cafe at Centre Point near the so called Water Front Miri serves up some interesting indigenous dishes if you wish to have a somewhat different lunch for a change.

At any one time you can order from the fast food section a variety of dishes. Each helping is priced at RM1 per portion in a small blue bowl. You can also ask for an economy rice plate with three dishes all placed together in your rice plate and you get a good lunch at RM4 . the price is the same if you order your rice and three small bowls of different dishes.

Drinks are the usual fare from the three tea special to a very nice but sweet iced lemon tea. You can also order a very nice hot Chinese tea in a large glass. Be sure to ascertain the size of the cup or glass. Sometimes you can get a mug which is bigger than expected. In a local coffee shop always take care to ask about the size of the drinks and whether the milk is condensed(Kopi ) or evaporated (Kopi Si). Black coffee or black tea is kopi 0 or teh 0.

Chopped up chicken (bite sizes) cooked with torch ginger - a local indigenous delicacy which is loved by all the races except those who do not like ginger of any type.

This is sweet and sour tripe cooked to the tenderest state. Somehow one cannot reach this delectable standard at home. So for a small price of RM 2.00 you can have a great portion.

This is young banana flowers cooked in coconut milk for those who have a stronger stomach and a liking for something really exotic. For the uninitiated there is an element of tatex stickiness which may not be favourable.

This is my favourite which is young shoot of oil palm and is cooked with bite sized chicken meat with lots of local flavourings like pepper and ikan bilis stock.

Here is a dish that takes time to prepare: fish floss stirred fried with lots of onions and fresh chillies: excellent for those who do not have much appetite for a large meal but definitely not for non fish eaters.

This is a very economical dish : pork fat cooked with salted vegetables from the Chinese grocers. The soup is nice actually and you can throw away the fatty bits if you don't like them. Others would just chomp away as pork fat is really quite a favourite amongst the different races. In fact in many parts of Southern China large slabs of salted pork fat are sold in the markets to the delight of the local people. It is the same theory of eating. When people work hard at their farms and food is hard to prepare some fat and some salt would be the only meal they have when out in the farm for days.

This beautiful yellow green mesh is actually pounded tapioca fried to the right consistency and temperature state. O la la...easily the best dish in Sarawak in my biased opinion.

These dishes are not authentically Orang Ulu as the society transforms itself fusion takes place especially in culinary arts. It is difficult to say which is definitely Iban cuisine or Kayan cuisine. One can be safe to say that these are local delicacies from the indigenous people of Sarawak using local Sarawak ingredients.

Have an exotic culinary experience! Try the Summit Cafe before 12 noon (except Sunday).

February 8, 2014

Sibu Tales : Comfort Women

Recently I asked my mum about Comfort Women in Sibu. She is 89 years old and I am well over 60. She gave me a look and she said, "Why ask? It should not be asked...don't get into trouble." Mum has always been very tight lipped about unsavoury topics.

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Old Street of Sibu. An old photo from Christopher Gan.
My friends and I have been discussing this topic since many different countries have already asked Japan to apologise or to make amends for the Comfort Women issue.

I know from many people that Miri had its share of Comfort Women but most of them had died since the war and they left no documents or no one to tell their stories.

And my own birthplace, Sibu, had probably  its share of comfort women. And they could be Chinese, Ibans and other ethnic groups of women inadvertently forced into this kind of human slavery for 3 years and 8 months.

One book written in Chinese mentioned in one short paragraph," Above the xxx medicine shop,was the Happy Garden, used by the Japanese to keep their Comfort Women." The place was at Old Street, now named Chew Geok Lin Road.

 However many claimed that it was just a brothel, not really a place where the Japanese kept their Comfort Women.  Nguong Chung Chinese Medical Store continued to operate throughout the Japanese Occupation.

According to an elder, some women were willing to serve the Imperial army as servants, to clean the house and to cook, but not as sex slaves. But then again, it was not verified at all by documents or by any oral story. Most eldest have kept their secrets.

 And this this from Trinleychodron.wordpress.com

http://trinleychodron.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/malaysia-comfort-woman-79-talks-about-her-past/map:height of Japanese Empire in 1942. Comfort Women were taken from anywhere in red by kidnapping, or coercion(lied to) and shipped to anywhere in red. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/18297357@N00/135095101)
A 79-YEAR-OLD Penang woman has broken her silence about the years she spent as a sex slave during the Japanese Occupation.
Madam Rosalind Saw told The Star newspaper that she had been keeping the fro m her children for 54 years for fear of what they would think of her.
But she decided to tell her story now as she feared of dying alone and “no one would ever know what had happened to me”.
Madam Saw, who lives alone in a low-cost flat in Penang, said that she was then 25 and was a divorcee with two
children when the nightmare began.
She said the invading Japanese soldiers were filthy and drunk most of the time. “You cannot imagine our
humiliation at their hands. Often we would be beaten savagely.”
Her nightmare at the comfort house ended when she found herself pregnant – a reason for her to escape.
In 1945, she gave birth to a girl, who is now married and lives in Britain.
文書 STIMES0020050711dqbg04gz8

INVASION OF MALAYA: Tragic tale of a Malayan comfort woman
The cover of a book by George Hicks (left) which says that the Imperial Japanese Army kept over 100,000 comfort women during World War 2, and George C.C. Yong (right) who says Madam X sought compensation from the Japanese Government because she needed money for medical treatment. (http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/Wednesday/National/2482293/Article/index_html)
The cover of a book by George Hicks (left) which says that the Imperial Japanese Army kept over 100,000 comfort women during World War 2, and George C.C. Yong (right) who says Madam X sought compensation from the Japanese Government because she needed money for medical treatment.

3 Responses to “Malaysia Comfort woman, 79, talks about her past”

  1. Gadfly Says:
    Testimonies from the comfort women like those given by Madam Rosalind Saw would help to reveal the traumatic events during Japanese Occupation and to debunk the dominant view of history imposed by the dominant political elites. The histories of comfort women are not just her stories, but the interweaving of numerous complex issuses involving militarism, colonial relations, class, gender, race and ethnicity. History when seen from her eyes has much to educate this and future generations – how should a human being relate to another human being.
    The trauma experienced in rape, assault, military combat and torture often do not go away easily. Survivors have witnessed or risked death or injury and experienced intense fear, helplessness or horror. These may combine together to give rise to anxiety disorders, major depression and what now has been commonly known as PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The typical symptoms are re-experiencing the traumatic event(e.g. nightmares and flashbacks), avoiding reminders of the event(e.g. refusing to talk about it) and loss of sleep.
    The NST article above of using the phrase ‘the nightmare ended’ may need a better pharasing. The effects of war do not end with the war. It continues to haunt the survivors, especially the dark shame of being repeatedly and brutally raped.
    Rosalind’s moral courage to tell her story helps to shed light on a part of history that was deliberately denied.
    Further reading:
  2. Trinley Chodron Says:
    Thanks so much Gadfly!
    The link you have sent here indeed very good!
    More detail information of the comfort women situation.
    I fully agred with you that testimonies of these comfort woman had actually reflected the underlying ideological elements of militarism, colonial relations, class, gender, race and ethnicity;
    and also for me, the most important is that the cruety treatment towards the comfort women in the past have not been taken seriuosly by our government till today.Almost 60 years!
    Even those political parties claims to defend the chinese people rights in this nation, i wish they will take this issue to the UMNO-BN rulling parties.Months back, many MCA leaders loudly claimed that the history text of the nation need to be re written, especially for the new villages.
    Hopefully those comfort women’s stories and history will be honestly recorded and not being distorted.
  3. Japanese Kimonos Says:
    Awesome post! You have a great blog, absolutely the best Ive read so far. I will be looking forward to your next entry. Thanks again.

February 7, 2014

Hua Hong Stories : Great Grandfather's time during the Japanese Occupation

Hua Hong Ice Factory was established in 1927, one of the earliest Foochow Ice factories in SArawak. It was even announced in the Sarawak Gazette (1927)

the factory was owned by Wong Heng Kwong, Wong Liing Kwong and Tiong Kung Ping. My great grandfather was still around to help my grandfather, Tiong Kung Ping.

Hua Hong Ice Factory was quite a big complex with a machinery unit, the actual production unit, coolies' quarters and living quarters for the owners. An administrative unit was also built towards to the river side. A railway track of more than 200 metres was built to transport huge ice blocks to the boats.

Three motor launches were owned by my grandfather, The Hook Ang, The Kwong Ang and the Tai Ang. One of them was double decker. Every day the three motor launches would bring ice to the various destinations, to Bintangor, Kanowit and to Sibu. The double decker went to Kanowit because it was a longer journey.

Besides producing ice blocks the Hua Hong also offered rice milling services and rubber scrap processing.

My Great Grandfather, Tiong King Kee

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese soldiers supervised the milling process, which was part of their taxation method. During their "office hours" the villagers would bring their dried padi for milling. A Japanese soldier would stand by to guard the milling. The machinist would be at the other side. When the milled rice came out from the huller, the rice would go straight into the waiting flour sack and the Japanese soldier would take his measure. In a conspiracy, any rice which fell out of the bag into the wooden floor, through a crack, which was carefully covered by a piece of wood. In this way, the farmer and the machinist would share the "spilled" rice, which amounted to quite a bit. This helped the farmers to retain most of their rice.

( This episode was related to me by an old uncle who used to paddle across the river Rajang to mill his rice in my great grand father's factory. He was then 16 years old and he said he would paddle his little boat about twice a month, each time bringing only enough dried padi for milling. He did not want the Japanese soldiers to learn that he has more. He is now residing in Brunei and is more than 88 over years old.)

According to him, this was how his parents and his family had enough rice to eat. His parents were good farmers and they also had chickens and pigs but they had to be very careful because the Japanese soldiers would come around to count their domestic animalsand even meticulously take down the numbers.  Every pig they slaughtered had to be accounted for. So whenever they could, they would keep some pigs in the rubber gardens away from the suspecting eyes of the Japanese. In this way, they managed to kill one or two pigs each year and shared with their extended family. Pigs slaughtered with the full knowledge of the Japanese soldiers had to be shared with them. And the soldiers roughly knew when to come to witness the slaughtering.

My father's family thus had rice to eat, and they occasionally had some sweet potatoes. Vegetables were plentiful for any one who could plant them, and especially behind the Ice Factory.

The ice produced was sold in the market in Sibu and much of it also went to the Japanese Headquarters.  How much was sent no one in my family can remember, but it was quite a bit.

Sibu was occupied by the Japanese for 3 years and 8 months.

During this period, first my second Grandmother (Madam Wong, at age 38) and then in 1944, my great grandfather passed away. Although it was difficult for many, the deaths in the family affected the bereaved survivors for years to come.

It was a traumatic period for my father's family.

February 4, 2014

Travelling to school by river boats (Reflections of a Julau Boy)

I have lifted what my friend Terence Temenggong Jayang has written on my facebook:

My classmates and I were in KSS during the 5 years 1964-1968.

 The Principal was a Catholic Priest the late FR James Heery, a Mill Hill Missionary
from UK who, I regarded as well meaning in his approaches to teach,
educate and discipline the longhouse boys and girls who studied in KSS
those years. His intention, obviously was to get us educated, become
successful professionals and do well in life. Most of the students he
taught become successful, and many are still active till today!

The long tedious river trips from my longhouse ( half an hr by boat
from Julau) in Julau to Kanowit in the early 1960's took one whole day.

Those five years in Kanowit Sec. School were among the most memorable for
those of us from Julau especially when we would get into the motor launch
such as," Hua Tong"  or "Kah Hong"early in the morning even as early as 3 am. from
Julau and then passed my longhouse at about 4 am. when we had to use a
torch light to get the motor launch to stop at the longhouse "Wharf" . It was an awesome feat for us because, to get to the launch we had to "walk" or jump on the many longboats moored to the jetty. They formed a floating "Wharf" . We had to do it very carefully otherwise one would slip and fall into the cool Kanowit river
that early in the morning.

 Once, my late father fell into the water
while ensuring that I got into the launch ok. Poor man. But that was our life
and time then!

Patrick Embol must have used the trip many time, too. And so did all the
other Julau boys who studied in KSS then.

Among the stopovers were the various longhouses along the banks of the
Kanowit River, all the way to the Kanowit, whenever there were all kinds
of passengers ( young, old, ladies and men) especially going to Kanowit
to sell their products or settle their official governmental matters.

Machan is a must stop point where all passengers would have their "mee
rangkai" -- mee kering , tea or kopi. Within an hour the Juragan- Driver
would horn the trumpet and all rushed back into the launch and the trip continued.

Once, the motor launch was stuck at Ng. Lesih, quite near to Kanowit and connected by good road, as the tide had receded. It took some 3 hours
later before the tide came back and the motor lauch floated again and
left for Kanowit. Normally it reached Kanowit by about 3-4 pm. That day we reached Kanowit after sundown.

Now 50 years down the road, my longhouse can be reached by road, although,
not that good but a motorable one. It takes half an hour to get to
Kanowit, some 45 minutes to Sibu. Overall admirable transport connection
with fairly acceptable facilities!

We are connected with gadgets to enable the usage of HPs especially
Celcom, Thanks yo YB Datuk Salang!

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). ...