May 30, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : The Making of Jerng ( Zhong Zi)

The Chinese celebrates the Duan Wu Zie every year to commemorate the death of a Chinese patriot Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC)who committed suicide . He was from the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty .

 It is also called the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節) On this day, children and adults as well, practice egg balancing.

A good traditional Chinese cook makes  rice dumpling using two bamboo leaves. Every side of the dumpling is a perfect triangle.  A jerng is actually a 3D, solid, consisting of three perfect triangles. Amazing, isn't it?
These are the bamboo leaves which come from China and appear a month before 5/5 every year so that Chinese housewives could start making the zhong zi for their children or grandchildren. It is a very tedious process to get the zhong zi finally on the table.

Memories of my Ngie Mah making Jerng in Lower Nang Chong

A few days before the Duan Wu Jie, my grandmother would check the Chinese calender and ask my Third Uncle to cut a few small trees to get ready for the fire. She would also ask him to prepare some cooking oil tins to boil the jerng.

The glutinous rice would be sorted out by her, grain by grain. This is one sight that really amazed me as a young student who was always in a rush. I would ask my grandmother why she had to do that. She said that for a good jerng to come from her hands, every rice grain must be pure glutinous rice. She would not let any inferior grain or tiny stone to be mixed with her glutinous rice. She was a perfectionist.

Usually a household would have about many gantangs (durn) of glutinous rice soaked over night in the Turng turng or aluminium pail.  But my grandmother would not soak the rice because the long hours of cooking over a wood fire would really make the rice very firm and well cooked.

Each "durn" or gantang is equalled to 14 milk tins (the smaller size). On the day of the preparation of the jerng, she would slice the belly pork, chop finely a few pieces of  lean pork, slice the soaked mushrooms, chop finely some garlic etc. She usually prepared five different types of jerng: red bean paste,plain(kee jerng), pork with mushrooms and chestnuts, lepers' jerng (red bean mixed with the rice) and peanut jerng. For every type of jerng she would have a coloured ribbon - white,green, blue,red, and yellow. She was the first person I knew who actually practised colour coding.

 
http://maisondechristina.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/p1060522.jpg
Kee Jerng
http://1-ps.googleusercontent.com/x/www.foodmayhem.com/farm2.static.flickr.com/1298/275x413x4703787422_581bc8f746.jpg.pagespeed.ic.I0L_pwFAlG.jpg
red bean (not the red bean paste)
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_iPS5G6SxeAo/TBGcQt6SFvI/AAAAAAAAAD8/opjZVqBfBEc/s1600/DSC05421.JPG
Red beans are roughly mixed with the glutinous rice to create this look - Leper's jerng or bang turh jerng

The whole kitchen in Lower Nang Chong house would be busy. Aunt Nguk Ling would be getting the ingredients ready with my grandmother and she would also get the Foochow stove ready to boil the first few lots for those who would be coming home from rubber tapping and school!! Then my grandmother would sit down on the Landor (balcony) and start to KUI (wrap). She would have the five straws properly measured, tied into a knot in the middle. Ten straws would hang from a special long nail at the door post. Her pail of rice soaking in some water would be placed in front of her on a stool and she would sit on another stool. In no time, ten dumplings would hang from the post, with all the same lengths of straw. This set of 10 dumplings just look so perfect. Perfect as a picture I must say. My sister Sing would say that it was awesome that every dumpling was exactly the same. That was truly a classical example of how a simple, illiterate China born grandmother could make dumplings having identical size and shape, without the help of a machine.

Once my uncle's tins of water were boiling up my grandmother would ask Aunt Nguk Ling to bring the jerng to Third Uncle. The stove in the kitchen was just not enough to boil so many jerng.

 Some small logs were purposely not chopped up because they would burn slowly and surely. All jerngs must be boiled (sak) for more than THREE HOURS in order to be well cooked and "sak" adequately. In fact most of the time, Uncle would help grandmother look after the boiling process for the whole day. Jerngs made in this way would be very firm and most delicious.

Each cooking oil tin could boil as many as 6 DAI (each dai was 10 jerng tied together).  So when she had to make for so many families: my family, my Third Aunt's family (Chang Chung Ching) and my young Aunt's (Hii Wen Hui) and my Third Uncle, she had really had to be up early in the morning and tie as many as 20 Dai or more in order to make sure that every family would get at least 5 sets each. (That makes 50 jerng per family)

That is, she had to make about 200 jerng every festival. Sometimes more. The very next day, she would come to Sibu to distribute the jerng to her two daughters and Uncle Chung Ching. (Third Aunt passed away in 1956).

Grandmother ran her kitchen with the help of my Third Uncle and Third Aunty like a Michelin Starred kitchen, absolutely clean and tidy, and fast and furious. Everything was in place.

Once the jerng were cooked, they would be hung from bamboo poles in the kitchen, quite near the stove. Whenever we wanted to eat one, we would get permission to do so, and a pair of scissors would be given to us by grandma. We would choose our jerng with the filling that we like. Hence the colour coded dai of jerng enabled us to choose easily.

In those days, because we did not have many other kinds of snacks, the jerngs were just so delicious. We would eat slowly and every bite was heavenly. The jerngs if well boiled could last for days without refrigeration. I suppose if you were not born in those early days, before refrigeration, you might not believe me.

Also we could only eat jerng only during 5/5. Today, we could get commercial jerng 365 days a year!!

It is no wonder that my grandmother has the same position in our memories as Qu Yuan during the Duan Wu Jie. Her jerng would still be the best in the world. Just RIGHT!!

(memories are refreshed with the help of my sister Sing, who can wrap jerng very well, as taught by my grandma, and my cousin Kim Lau, from Nang Chong)

 

May 29, 2014

Matang Oil and Recyling of Tins

In the 1960's the Fochows of Sibu used Matang Oil, manufactured in Kuching,besides home made lard, coconut oil, and sesame oil (from China). The West Malaysian products had not arrived yet. And the modern oil palm based Lam Soon products were not yet on the shelves of the supermarket or local corner sundry shops.

Although Kim Guan Siang of Sibu was selling British products like olive oil and other kinds of cooking oil, the locals favoured the cheaper  Matang oil, which used Tong Bak or bai chai (a green vegetable) as its logo.

Bai Chai logo, or Vegetable logo was the pass word for cooking oil in those days. Many of the older Foochows were simple people and also probably not too literate then. And from the villages they would not ask for Matang Oil, but just ask for "Oil with the Vegetable Picture". We were  not yet using Knife Helang,Labour or Hornbill, etcI remember my grandmother asking me to buy a small tin of cooking oil in that manner. And in fact it was not easy to read the Chinese words on the tin because the words were embossed on the tin.

As can be seen in this advertisement (1950's) the cooking oil was most probably based on coconut oil. I am now wondering what is "Ching Siang" or clean and fragrant oil.

A very interesting story is related to Matang Oil. there were two sizes of Matang Oil - one was the small version (0.5 litres and the other the bigger tin (size of kerosene tin or 1.5 litres). A friend of my grandmother was good at budgetting household money. Each week she would get an allowance from her husband for food and other household expenditure. Unknown to her husband she strategized how she could claim money from him. She showed him bills for cooking oil, biscuits, bread, and other domestic items. Each week she would ask for money to buy 1 large tin of cooking oil. He never knew about this until he died. How come he never had the imagination or curiosity to ask how a woman could use a whole huge tin of oil in a week?

sample of cooking oil tin (1.5 litres)


One day my grandmother went to visit her and saw that there were many large tins of cooking oil in the kitchen. Her friend told her that she was " storing the cooking oil for the future". But actually she had kept water in the tins and not oil but her husband never knew this. Any way as long as he kept giving her enough money every week, she would have those tins in the kitchen for him to see. My elderly grandmother  thought it was so easy to fool her husband in this way. He must have been quite a blind man.
oil tins for carrying water or cooked food for pigs and other domestic animals
Every now and then she gave a few of those empty tins to my grandmother. My third uncle would fashion the tins into water carriers (with good iron handles made from construction steel rods), dust pans, cooking tins for boiling Zhong Zi or Zhangs , and for boiling hot food for the pigs.



What did she use the extra money she obtained from her husband? Of course she saved her money and put it in Hock Hua Bank. She used the money to play "tontine" or Chork Hui. (Another story from Sarawakiana@2). She made more money from her Hui, as she was head of the group. but later when the whole Sibu town suffered from the collapse of the Hui, she was lucky and she managed to lose only a bit of money. Being the smart woman she was,she had already bought some property.

It was a case of embezzlement from family funds. But in a way, this clever lady did save a lot of money for her children and herself while her husband purportedly wasted quite a fortune. At the end of the day, my grandmother said that luckily the family had this mother to provide properly for the children and their education.

May 28, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : "Bitten by Chik Char"

 "As a group, mangroves can't be defined too closely. There are some 70 species from two dozen families—among them palm, hibiscus, holly, plumbago, acanthus, legumes, and myrtle." National Geographic Magazine. June 2014


Recently, after the Tsunami hit Aceh, Penang, Sri Lanka, Phuket Islands on Dec 26 2004 (This year would be the 10th Anniversary of the great tsunami.)
Malaysia initiated a Mangrove Planting Campaign. It is believed that mangroves can help protect the shore line population from the terrible effects of the tsunami should it occur again. One village in Tamil Nadu was protected from tsunami destruction - the villagers in Naluvedapathy planted 80,244 saplings to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. This created a kilometre-wide belt of trees of various varieties. When the tsunami struck, much of the land around the village was flooded, but the village itself suffered minimal damage. (Wikipedia)

There are several types of mangroves actually :black mangrove, red mangrove, white mangrove, mangrove palm, apple mangrove(berembang, pedada in Malaysia)


Our Sarawak coasts have some of the most splendid samples of beautiful mangrove species known to mankind. they would today, if well managed form very attractive ecological tourist wetlands parks.

Folliculitis
the rashes on the skin can look like this.
One of the greatest fears of the villagers who lived along the riverine villages of the Rajang, and especially the Nang Chong villages is allergies to bakau or mangrove.the Foochows call mangrove Chik char.  Mothers would often warn the children about the dangers of getting too near the chik char (mangrove) whenever they went out swimming. It was a blessing that not many children were "bitten by chik char". I had a nasty experience and almost died from it because my allergy was very severe and Dr. Xavier saved my life with two injections.

 Dr. Xavier, (Se Mi ah Lo Kung) the first Indian doctor working in Sibu, was particularly good in helping patients recover from allergies to mangrove. His "injections" were strong and very effective. Hence the villagers would always recommend him whenever mangrove related allergies occur. His clinic was opposite the Masland Church on Island Road. Today, his clinic is passed on to his dispenser's son, Dr. Lim.

This allergic condition  "bitten by chik char" is very severe. Skin rashes would develop if untreated and in fact even a bad infection could occur. Fevers would attack the body until the child or even adult would become debilitated. Such an allergy could occur again, hence the continual fear. How do the villagers get this attack? A fruit, a seed or a branch of the chik char could pass by the "victim" while he or she was swimming in the river. The touching on the skin by any of these would cause an alleregic reaction if the victim did not have a strong constitution. Or the person could be collecting river snails or terkuyong and collided into the chik char. And it could just be an accidental touch by the leaves as the person walked along a foot path with chik char overhanging above.

Hence children were often taught to stay clear of the various mangrove species . It was a good lesson about the "bad" wood on the river banks.



In fact many Foochows even believed that mangroves could kill a person if the allergy was very serious. So no one would actually go and cut down mangroves in those days. Any collection of mangroves for charcoal would be done by the indigenous people or the Malays who were considered to have special magic against the "biting of the chik char".

Perhaps that was the reason why God made it that way : keep the mangroves growing and keep the river banks safe from erosion. Kennedy Warne  (The National Geographic magazine) wrote "These plants are also landbuilders par excellence....If mangroves were to become recognized as carbon-storage assets, that could radically alter the way these forests are valued, says Ong **. If carbon trading becomes a reality—that is, if forest-rich, carbon-absorbing countries are able to sell so-called emissions credits to more industrialized, carbon-emitting countries—it could, at the least, provide a stay of execution for mangroves. "
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

**For more than 25 years Jin Eong Ong, a retired professor of marine and coastal studies in Penang, Malaysia, has been exploring a less obvious mangrove contribution: What role might these forests play in climate change? Ong and his colleagues have been studying the carbon budget of mangroves—the balance sheet that compares all the carbon inputs and outputs of the mangrove ecosystem—and they've found that these forests are highly effective carbon sinks. They absorb carbon dioxide, taking carbon out of circulation and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas.





May 27, 2014

Where can you find Penans in Sarawak?

The Penans are nomadic people of Sarawak until they find themselves permanent homes. Today they have some fairly permanent homes but perhaps they do face legal cases if they cannot have documents to prove their ownership.



and now that can be a real headache. How does one prove one's ancestral homeland if one is from a nomadic race?

The Most Expensive Medicinal Plant on earth? 红豆杉树

The Chinese Yew Tree



In the National Nature Reserve in the northwest  of Yunnan Province grows a rare plant-the Chinese Yew, and it is under the first-class state protection. According to research, in the roots, trunk, leaves and barks of the Chinese Yew exists the highest content of pacilitaxel, which is the most expensive cure for cancer and the price of it reaches 10 million USD every kg in the international market, so it is regarded as the most expensive medical plant on earth.( http://en.ynta.gov.cn/Item/1773.aspx)

Sipping wine made from the berries of the yew tree in China

Yew Tree in Anhui ,China, more than 1000 years

Two millennial Chinese yews were discovered in a village near Xuancheng city of Anhui province. Chinese yew, which is equivalent to the panda in the botanical world, is one of the first-class protection tree species of China. It grows very slowly and only can increase one centimeter in diameter every 10 years.
As these two recently discovered Chinese yews are 10 meters and 20 meters high, experts estimated they are more than 1,000 years old.
The Chinese are trying their best to conserve the old Yew trees in villages throughout the country. Many countries in the world are doing the same too, like Spain.

Tibet has taken measures to conserve the yew tree also.


(ECNS) -- A 2,735-year-old Chinese yew was found in the Zeng Feng Ling natural reserve area on Changbai Mountain in Jilin province, Xinhuanet.com reported on Friday.
Regarded as the "living fossil" of the plant kingdom, Chinese yew's history can be traced back 2.5 million years. It is among the first-grade state protective plants in China.
A worker at the local forestry center found a tree mass of Chinese yews. An evaluation by experts from Beihua University showed that 14 Chinese yews in the tree mass are over 900 years old, and the largest one, at 13 meters, with its diameter reaching 185 centimeters, is 2,735 years old.
The tree has been crowned the "king of Chinese yew" by experts from the university.

More research news here. 红豆杉树中国





May 26, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Uncle's Mun Mien

In Nang Chong, most of the weddings were self catered during the 50's and 60's. It was easy for the village men to come together to cater for 10o or 150 pax. A makeshift kitchen could be set up quickly under the rubber smoke house or the stilted house. Tables were borrowed from relatives. It was interesting to see how these table tops and legs were carried on the shoulders while the men cycled from further inland, or even from the next village. One of the favourite dishes was the noodle dish, which could be a choice of Foochow Fried Noodles or the Foochow Mun Mien.
Mun Mien from Sibu's Sing Kwong Restaurant is just nice, not too soggy, not too watery after it has been braised.


And in fact if relatives came for a visit, it was quite normal for a family to call up some relatives who live a little distance away to come together to welcome the relatives who had come from Sibu, or Kuching or Sarikei. Mun Mien was often prepared for casual visitors, whereas the Foochow Mee Sua was for Birthdays and Full Moon Celebration.

Travelling time was reckoned by "nights", or "passing one night " or "passing two nights" with Uncle or Grandmother. For example, my mother would say to me," You can stay with Grandma for two nights and after that, bring her back to Sibu to stay with us." I wonder why we Foochows in those days would never say that we would stay for three days.

Nowadays when we make trips, we would state in this way, 5D/4 N. Five days, four nights.

Visiting Grandma in Lower Nang Chong  or Ah Nang Chongwould always mean that my uncle Pang Sing,would prepare lots of good food for us. I would always remember the delicious mun mien, which many of us with busy mothers would get to eat only during the New Year or Festivals. Of course my uncle Pang Sing,would cook many other good dishes.

Ingredients for 10 people (or l table)
1. l kg Foochow egg noodles available in the wet market. You have to ask the vendor whether it is suitable for mun mien or not.
2. Roasted pork - 200 gm. sliced thinly or Organ meats like liver and fresh pork
3. Crispy roasted belly pork - 200 gm sliced thinly or fish cakes or fresh fish (caught in the river)
4. Some Chinese Sausages if you like.
5. Mustard greens, a bundle or two, washed and cut into 2 inches length.
6. 200 gm medium sized prawns, shelled and deveined.
7. Boil 2 litres of water (please adjust this amount when you watch your own cooking)

Seasoning : 10 tsp cooking oil (use lard to make it better)
garlic to taste
10 tsp mushroom black soy sauce.
some oyster sauce.
Some Foochow red wine.
Some sesame seed oil
Steps:
1. Heat up wok over high flame until hot
2. Pour the cooking oil into the wok and immediately followed by the noodle. Quickly toss the noodle until it is fragrant and looks a little crispy, preferably with a little bit "burnt". It may take 5-7 mins depending on the strength of the stove (mine is a high-pressure stove). Then remove the noodle and set aside for later use.
3. Use medium flame to reheat the wok and add fresh cooking oil, approximately 3 tsp, and followed by the chopped garlic and roast the garlic until smells fragrant.
4. Add roast pork (sio bak) and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the roast pork smells fragrant and the lard is released from the pork. Then add the remaining roast items and continue stir frying for 1 -2 minutes and add the Foochow red wine. Or cook the alternative meats you have chosen and do what you normally do.
5. Add 1 litre or more of boiling water and bring all the ingredients to boil.
7. Then add seasonings: Mushroom black soya sauce, oyster sauce and adjust to taste. Add more Foochow red wine if necessary and bring the ingredients to boil .
8. After tasting the broth , readjust the taste using some more seasoning if necessary and then add the noodles and cook in the broth.
9. Add the vegetables after adding in the noodles and bring everything to the boil. Then add prawns (optional) and continue to cook until the broth starts to thicken. 

 10. This is the final stage : cover the noodles with a good lid for about 1o minutes until all the broth is almost absorbed by the noodles. This is the stage Foochows call MUN or braise slowly. The Hock Cheu Leu restaurant chef said that he places the platter of cooked noodles in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes.

For the final touch, drizzle with sesame seeds oil before serving.

++ Mun in Foochow means braised in broth.

May 25, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Torch light and Jala




The inventions of batteries and the torch light have touched the lives of more people than the inventors could have imagined, even  the lives of the Nang Chong Villagers, who lived along the west bank of the longest river of Borneo, the Rajang in the early 1900's.

The invention of the dry cell and miniature incandescent electric light bulbs made the first battery-powered flashlights possible around 1899. British inventor David Misell obtained U.S. Patent No. 617,592, in the United States for his "electric device" which later became the famous torch lights we know of today. In the US, a torch light is called flash light. In Foochow it is called Hand held electrical light or Chiu Dian Hui.
 
Our lives in Nang Chong depended on torch lights and batteries very much  because there was no electricity before 1970's. (My uncle only bought a Japanese made electricity generator in the 1980's just a few years before my grandmother passed away. )

My grandmother loved the first torch light , which lasted almost her whole life time. She was always very careful with her material things, a good habit of the older generation. She kept her silvery chrome torch light, made in China with Eveready batteries under her pillow all the time. She would bring her torch light wherever she went, to Sarikei, or to Sibu and especially to Kapit. She kept her belongings well in her rattan basket and no one was allowed to play with her torch light. And batteries were conserved well by her.

Grandma's torch light was most useful when we needed to go to the OUTHOUSE or our sanba toilet which was built outside the house. The Foochows call toilets, Bung Kang, a rather crude term. In those days, we did not use those fancy terms, like Powder Room, or Rest Room, or even Comfort Rooms. In Taiwan, a very discreet term, Make Up Room, is used to In those days we had pit toilets. ( And for that reason, I cannot eat ikan keli to this day. )

Grandma only had a good flush toilet built when Uncle Pang Sing built the new house further inland. The old house was swept away by the strong currents and waves of the Sibu Expresses. During that decade many of the original Foochow houses by the river banks were actually "washed" away in this manner. Progress did not actually protect the legacies of our Foochow forefathers in retrospect.

Uncle Pang Sing had his own torch light which he used to  go fishing with at night. The torch light showed the path and also to attract prawns to the little baits he threw into the water at high tide. We kids got to hold the torch light as he threw the jala or net into the water. When he passed the torch light to us, we felt as if we had special power in our hands!! We felt so proud that we were in control of the whole situation.
This photo comes from Linggie John, my former student from the Methodist Secondary School. He caught a lot of prawns during the weekend when the tide was high.

Very often in those days, one catch with the jala could bring in about half a pail or l kilo of prawns.
 


In good times, we had a big fish and even 3 kilos of prawns. Some of the river prawns or Udang Gala, could be almost half a kilo in weight!! A good catch meant that could have a midnight feast. The Foochow stove would be lighted up and there would be a lot of going on in the kitchen.
This is so much like the Lower Nang Chong Jetty belonging to my Uncle Lau Pang Sing. However this is the 21st Century Bawang Assan, where Linggi John goes fishing.

Soon the aroma of a good soup of prawns and a whole pot of mee hoon would be ready for the whole family and the visiting realtives. There were usually about 14 or 16 grand children, ranging from 3 to 18 in the house during the holidays.

It was nice when every one was already happy with their supper and grandma and Uncle Pang Sing would sit at the Landor (open bench adjoining the kitchen and main house) telling tales and drinking some brandy, which the Foochows lovingly called "Ma Te". We would be listening to tales from China, or the latest stories from Sibu , even though it was past midnight.

Being very frugal, none of the children had their own personal torch lights. So there were only about two torchlights per family usually. Some families only owned one torch light.

In these days of "buy and throw away" life style , once in a while we must look back and remember how our ancestors lived their frugal and simple life.

May 24, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Frugal Foochow women of Nang Chong

Interest tales of frugal women of Nang Chong.

Many women in Nang Chong were famous for their frugal ways. I would not name names but here are a few examples.

A grandmother was very frugal as she wanted to save money to buy up enough gold and perhaps a piece of land for her children and grand children.

She saved money by eating rice with hot water and sugar. She would not even buy a good bowl of fish balls in the coffee shop when she went to town. However a few good natured people would give her a treat if they met her. She lived an amazingly long life with very few complaints of ill health. She would tell her relatives that she had some money saved and need not depend on her sons and daughters for pocket money.

Another lady of good repute would collect fruits for her lunch after she had tapped rubber. She would never bring a lunch box with vegetables or meat like other women. Her box would have only cold rice to go with her wild fruits. After eating her wild fruit lunch she would continue to cut the grass of a neighbour to earn a bit of extra money..
 
A distant relative planted a lot of tapioca. She would sell the tapioca in the market and then have lots remain for herself. To her family she said, "Rice is very expensive. I shall just eat as much tapioca as I have and save money." On hot days she would make tapioca soup with some sugar. On cold days, she would steam tapioca and enjoy eating the staple from her bowl with some sugary syrup.

Again she is another woman who ate a lot of  her staple with sugar.  Besides, she also ate a lot of vegetables and very little meat.  But it was amazing she did not suffer from diabetes. She remained healthy all her life.

My own grandmother when feeling sad or having flu would not immediately go and see a doctor. Her cure was a bowl of cold rice and hot tea with some sugar. Apparently, the sugar would boost her morale and the tea would give her an uplift of spirits. Many Foochow women like this simple food. Today several of my relatives and I would have this special dish from time to time. A piece of salted fish would also enhance the meal.

My aunt said after sharing all these stories with me it is amazing how these ladies lived to a ripe old age and not suffer any ill health!! Amazing women with amazing diets!!

May 23, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Tinned Peas with Chicken or Duck Livers,and giblets



Every Foochow household in Sibu must keep a few tins of green peas during the days when refrigeration was unknown. However even today many Foochow housewives must keep a few tins of peas in their cupboards. JIC or Just in Case relatives come to visit.

The peas are essential in several dishes which the Foochow housewives can whip up in an instant. This was often the complementary dish, or side dish whenever the Foochow housewives slaughter a duck or chicken to welcome their visitors. This was also to ensure that all parts of the fowl (except the feathers of course) were used up in their cooking. Tinned peas were a luxury and were very presentable (face saving) dish in those days.

This dish was a favoured dish for home catered wedding banquets in the Nang Chong villages in the 50's and 60's. When the tins were opened carefully, housewives would keep them to measure rice or to measure chicken feed. Sometimes the tins , as they do not get rusty, are useful as rustic home made scoops, with a wooden handle to scoop water or pig food. Foochow housewives never threw away any useful things and recycling was a normal behaviour. They did not have to go to school to learn about it.

Peas cooked with chicken or duck livers and giblets were a luxury (Hor Liau) and only eaten during the Chinese New Year or festivals. Today we usually prepare it when we have visits to keep the old fashioned dish popular.




 I like to prepare a good pea soup. Just chicken stock and a tin or two of peas with lots of sliced onions.

Today, when we can obtain a pork hock, for example in the supermarket, we can make a very good pork hock,ham and pea soup which is a meal in itself in winter.

Peas are popular vegetables in China and especially Fujian. It is no wonder our forefathers loved to eat them.

May 22, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Travellers on Foot

After the Foochows arrived in Sibu in 1901, agriculture began to expand along the banks of the Rajang, first along the East Bank. When more Foochows arrived in the next decade, many of the first pioneers began to open up more land on the West Bank of the Rajang River.

According to the History of Sibu Foochow Settlement (Wong Meng Lei), the Rajah Brooke Government alienated Sungei Merah land to the Ming Ching group of Foochows, Kwong Hua land to the Kutien Group. by a special agreement with Wong Nai Siong. The Rajah had the vision of creating a Rice Bowl by introducing the hardworking Foochows to his kingdom of Sarawak.

 By 1922, many Foochows had started opening up  more land , for example, in the present Bintangor township led by Tiong Kung Ping, Ling Ming Lok and Yao Siew Khing.

In 1926 my maternal grandfather, who by then had 7 children, decided to start his own rubber estate,away from the main family land in Ensurai. Through the kindness of his older brother Lau Kah Tii,who was by then recognised as the Leader of the Foochows by the Rajah, he obtained 100 acres from the Brooke Government for rubber growing.

In those early years, any hardworking Foochow with good intentions and reputation, could apply for a "grant of land" from the Rajah. 

This piece of land is still held by my cousins, in Lower Nang chong, slightly below Chung Cheng School in Sg. Maaw.

At frist my grandfather, Lau Kah Chui, built a house further up the river bank of the Rajang on its Western Bank,  nearer to the  present Lee Hua Sawmill but later he moved his family (by then my mother was already a little girl) to Lower Nang Chong, where he built 4 hostels (each with 4 new families from China) and his own main house. All Foochow owned houses in those days were constucted from good wood, hewned from local trees and refined with simple implements like axes,  two-men-saw, plane and smaller saws. It must have taken the men a long time to get all the planks ready by hand. But they did it. However, the workers quarters or hostels,prepared by the land owners for their rubber tappers were built with rough poles, attap and pieces of wood. For after all they were for temporary occupation. Plywood was unheard of in those days.

Roads were simple beaten earth paths and where small streams crossed the paths, a tree trunk was placed across the stream.



http://amadorupcountry.com/Master%20Pages/Lake%20Margaret/Lake%20Margaret%20MP.htm

Foochow travellers in those days,on the West Bank of the Rajang River walked along rustic paths bare footed, of course, and fairly often they met Ibans,mostly hunters and fishermen, from Tulai area. It was a fairly good day's journey to walk from my grandfather's house to Tulai. Many Foochows had already settled in Tulai growing rubber besides other food crops. In order to go to Sibu, for example to sell their tuba, these pioneers had to walk from Tulai to my grandfather's jetty and take a boat.

These bare footed Foochow travellers from Tulai would have a bath in the river before boarding the river boat very early in the morning. Early morning river bath would allow them to see the warm vapours of the water rising up to the sky. A high tide would be a blessing because it would be easier for them to load their products into the river boats.

Sometimes when the sun set before the last boat arrived, these travellers would stay the night in my grandfather's house before proceeding home to Tulai the next day. It was not wise to travel at night. A home like my grandfather's would act like an original homestay. My generous grandfather would always provide them a free hot meal.

According to my mother, where paths were muddy and water logged, tree trunks were often placed across them for travellers to walk. It was not at all slippery on rainy days for them because with their barefeet, these foochows could easily grip the tree trunks with their toes!! But for those who had not been initiated into walking barefooted on huge tree trunks they would have found that rather intimidating.

A large log being placed on a railroad car at Batottan, British North Borneo in 1926. this was the kind of log a foochow man and his friends may find floating in the Rajang. They would either use it as wood to smoke rubber sheets or as a foot bridge across muddy and water logged areas.


My mother said that it was quite an experience all those long ago years to just walk in the rain when water was every where. On hot days, the sun would heat up the mud, dry the earth and caused steam to rise up from the soil.

Seen from a distance and with sun rays creeping through the leaves, the scene was one of mystery as well as beauty as the vapour rose up.

Landmarks were  recognised by the special kind of trees, creepers and even logs. Like an uncle's house was at the junction of a stream with two huge tree trunks near the school and you could not miss that.

Today, the villages are linked by good surfaced roads, which are linked to Sibu by bridges and by ferries. Wooden homes have slowly been demolished to make way for concrete houses. Huge factories and birds nests houses are now making inroads into the once peaceful rubber gardeners' villages. After more than 90 years naturally a lot of changes are expected!!

I am glad to note that the Third Generation of many families of Nang Chong are beginning to become Grand Parents!!

Kids will no longer remember jumping from one "batang" or "ma rang" to another to avoid muddy and water logged patches of land.Children are riding comfortably in cushioned seats in Hilux, Honda,Camry if they are not riding their own Honda motorcycles. They won't know the feelings of having mud oozing between their toes, or having to wade even waist deep in some water logged areas.

But they might be enjoy playing barefooted in the sun, in the sands of the beaches of Bali.



May 21, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : A Moral Story from Grandmother

My grandmother Lien Tie was the best story teller I have ever known. She was articulate in her language and she never faltered or slowed down in her story telling. At the right points she would pause to drive the true meaning into our heads.. Her moral stories are still fondly remembered today by all of us grand children who listened well. We would often repeat the stories to each other when we meet up.

One of the most memorable stories was "The Poor Woman with a Hat " which taught us not to look down upon poor people.

Once in Fuzhou City there was an old lady who wanted to buy some materials to make a blouse for herself and her mother in law.

When she went into a textile shop in Fuzhou City, which was already a big cosmopolitan place even in those days, she was obviously not a priority customer. She was ragged, probably shoeless (as was common in those days), she had mud on her blouse and long cotton trousers. And  furthermore she was carrying an old tatty farmer's hat, which naturally gave away her economic background : she was from the villages and not from the city. It also indicated her social status.

The shop assistant  was actually quite reluctant to serve her but in the end he called her out and asked about her mission. Would she like to buy some material, in a tone that was very condescending to say the least.

Get Clothes Tailor-Made in Beijing
2lst Century Beijing - Fabrics at Daxin Textiles Company, Beijing. Photo: dzb.sg.com.cn
Yes she wanted to buy a good piece of material. What would he suggest?

Presuming that she was a poor woman who would come in to buy the cheapest of the shop's materials, he took her from the front of the shop to the back, rather darkened area. The cheapest materials were in a discount corner at the back. And he was very pleased with himself, and the arrogance which went with the job.

the Old Lady gave him a good look and said quietly that she had some cash enough to buy a very good piece.

to that he smoothly said, "What about this type? It should be good enough for you!" He showed her a rather coarse material for working people.

"It would not cost you more than a few yuan per 'dong'," stating that with a bit of snigger. (l dong is slightly less than a yard, it is a traditional Chinese measurement)

In those days 5 silver dollars could buy one baby girl aged 5!! A few yuan could be several dong of cheap material.

the old lady however chose her material and went straight to the manager to have it measured for her needs. She bought up several "dong" of the beautiful material , almost a whole bale in fact.

She paid with bank notes , taken out form the slits of her old ragged farmer's hat. She had hidden her money very well. This left the manager and the shop assistant fairly dumbfounded.

Before she left, she thanked the polite manager and told the shop assistant, "Little brother, never judge a person wearing poor clothes. You will never know what that person is really worth."

We would never know if the arrogant shop assistant did learn his lesson. But we know we learned a good moral lesson from our Grandmother.

(Note : Banknotes were issued in yuan denominations from the 1890s by several local and private banks, along with the Imperial Bank of China and the "Hu Pu Bank" (later the "Ta-Ch'ing Government Bank"), established by the Imperial government. During the Imperial period, banknotes were issued in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 jiao, 1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 yuan, although notes below 1 yuan were uncommon. Wikipeadia)


May 17, 2014

Hasma


How would you like to have a bowl of frog tissues? A dessert once only eaten by the Emperors and their favourite concubines?

Hasma is a Chinese and Central Asian dessert ingreident made from the dried fatty tissue found near the fallopian tubes of true frogs (Asiatic Grass Frog , Rana chensinesensis).  It is often wrongly called "toad oil" 蛤蟆油.


Hasma cooked with jujubes fruits
Jujubes (Chinese: 紅棗; pinyin: hóng zǎo; literally: "red date") Dried longan fruits (Chinese: 龍眼; pinyin: lóng yǎn; literally: "dragon eye") Lotus seeds (Chinese: ; pinyin: lían zĭ)





Hasma is highly regarded by TCM, as many claim that it has many beneficial cures including replensihing vital essence in thelungs, kidneys, and improving skin complexion. It can also treat respiratory symptoms like coughing, hemophtysis and night sweats due to tuberculosis.

young children are not advised to take it as the high contents of hormones might cause puberty to begin early. 

this dessert is usually served in high class restaurants in Hong kong, Singapore, penang and the United States.

May 13, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Mud Skippers

We called this Tiu Tiu Ngii, or Jumping Fish.

In the evenings when the tide was low, we would sit on the wooden platform leading to the floating pontoon and enjoy the evening breezes and watch the sun setting. When the tide was low, we could not fish so instead, to amuse ourselves, we would use rubber bands to hit mud skippers.







What about some mud skipper soup?

In those long ago days mud skippers seemed to be bigger than this. And we were quite sharp in shooting.


But I don't think many people would want to eat mud skipper soup in Sarawak. Our rivers may be too polluted.




May 12, 2014

Fruits of Sarawak : Buah Kedundong

Spondias dulcis (syn. Spondias cytherea), known commonly as ambarella, is an equatorial or tropical tree, with edible fruit containing a fibrous pit. It is known by many other names in various regions, including kedondong in Indonesia, pomme cythere in Trinidad and Tobago,[1] Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique,[2] June plum in Bermuda and Jamaica,[1] juplon in Costa Rica,golden apple in Barbados and Guyana, jobo indio in Venezuela, cajá-manga and cajarana in Brazil and São Tomé and Príncipe, quả cóc in Vietnam, manzana de oro in Dominican Republic. (Wikipedia)

Buah Kedundong is a very sourish kind of fruit. There are now two kinds of buah kedundong. One is the Asli or indigenous wild fruit and the other is grafted or KAHWIN variety. The grafted variety can fruit after six months of its planting and the fruit is softer and to some people tastier and less fibrous.


Photo by Sarawakiana, Miri Pujut Road, Veronica Wong's tree.



The leaves are edible and they are included in rojak with good Har Goh or prawn paste. It can be included in any green salads with a local dressing.

The fruit itself is usually eaten on its own, with salt and a squeese of lime.

Grated, the fruit is excellent when mixed with just belacan and chillies to make a very refreshing tropical salad. That is how we usually eat kedundong.

Pickled kedundong is sold in bottles, plastic bags. Women also believe that if they eat a lot of pickled kedundong, they can keep their shape well. It is a much sought after food amongst pregnant women in Malaysia.

A glass of kedundong juice is very cooling and calming.

Our old wives' tale says that if we smash the fruit on the floor it will open up and the sourness will be gone. Peeled with a knife or scrapper, the fruit will be sour. Believe it or not, it is up to you. Give it a try.


sss

May 10, 2014

Parents' Day

There is a curious tradition in Sibu , The Methodist churches celebrate Parents' Day (on Mother's Day): those who have both parents still living would wear a red paper carnation and those who have one parent only would wear a white and red carnation.
Those who have lost both parents would wear a white carnation.

The paper flowers would be given at the door of the church on Sunday morning. All the paper carnations would be made by the church ladies from traditional crepe paper.

Photo by Lily Eu(Kuching)
After my father's untimely death when I, the eldest, was only 16, my siblings would pick a a white and a red carnation on Parents' Day at church. It was a strange ritual but for that Sunday, we would all look at each and realise that so many people had only one parent to help them along. Those with both parents were happy in their own little world.



Paper flower making was brought to Sibu by Mrs. Hoover who taught her students to make beautiful crepe paper flowers. Most of the girls were so good in making them that on their wedding day, they made their own bouquet. Before the Second World War, Sibu organised the sale of paper flowers to raise funds for the China Disaster Fund and also contributed to the War Fund of Great Britain . (Re: Sarawak Gazette, Sarawak Almanac)

Graduates from Yuk Ing Girls' School were the first choice for brides by Foochow families in those day because they were well trained in home science by Mrs. Hoover.

Photo by Tumi Ngae
Carnations in the United States are used for Mother's Day flower since Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at the first celebration in 1908. Florists later invented the idea of wearing a red carnation if your mother was living or a white one if she was dead. Hence the Methodist Church of Sarawak, having its origin in the American Methodist Church adopted this idea.

 Mother's day cards in the olden days also featured carnations. Here is one from Northern Pacific Railway 1915

 File:Northern Pacific Railway Mother's Day card 1915.JPG

Today the tradition of wearing a flower on Parents' Day continues in many churches but some churches only make red flowers for every one. We have to realise that we come from a pair of parents and from God and we need to show that we love our parents,one of whom may be in heaven. So wearing of red flowers should indicate our love and respect for both our parents and for God.


May 9, 2014

Post Card of Sibu : Ramin Way

 I used to hum the tune "I have often walked down this lane before...."

Ramin Way was the road my family would walk along to go to the town centre, to the cinemas. The Cathay Cinema was on the left of this row of shops in the post card. That cinema showed Cathay Movies and often kids were thrilled to watch the midnight shows featuring P.Ramlee and many Indian stars . (Kapoor family). Youths crowded in front of the cinema, to be seen and heard!!

Kok Ching Coffee Shop, at the end of this row of shops, was often filled to the five foot way with basket ball players, cinema goers, and other men about town. Teachers, students were seldom seen in the coffee shop. Good women did not hang out in coffee shops then. They were not to be seen. Old women went to coffee shops like Lok Tien Yong, Three Friends, Hock Lung Hin where the proprietors were women.


Ramin Way was the second road in Sibu to be called a Way. The first one was Queensway. The third road to be named a way was Cause  Way. After these three roads no other roads were named this way. Because road names became jalan this or jalan that after Malaysianisation.

PC (3)
Post card of Sibu - Ramin Way


The Ramin Way then had a row of shops on each side of the road, with islands of greens and trees in the middle. Cars drove in one direction only and that was quite an innovative idea in the 1960's and 70's. Other roads like Cross Road and Blacksmith Road were nattow.

The Hollywood Photo Studio was a happening place to us kids then. Wedding photos were taken there so at times we would be able to catch sight of the beautiful brides and handsome grooms going up stairs and we would stare at them. Afternoon lessons would give us the opportunities to meet these special episodes in our lives. Because in those days, the wedding lunch would be at NOON and after the event, the couple would be taken to the studio to have their photos taken. In those days, it was not at all practised to have wedding photos taken before the actual wedding day.

another memorable shop was the newer branch of Ngiu Kee which had moved from High Street.

The block of shops featured in this post card is called the Hollywood Studio block which was special because these shop houses had spiral staircases at the back. That was really very innovative and many people used to come around to have a look at how girls went up the stair cases.

In fact some of us girls were told not to climb up them when we visited one of the families we knew. They lived in a shop lot opposite the Sibu Boys' Club.

Those were the days!!

May 8, 2014

Sibu: Post WWII Stories

 During the Japanese Occupation my paternal grandparents lived in Binatang/ Bintangor at their Mee Ang Sawmill. From a young age I heard stories about how my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping built bomb shelters ,using raw rubber sheets and old rubber tyres, for my great grandmother, and other members of the family in the back portion of the Sawmill compound. He built four bomb shelters altogether. A very well remembered incident was when the bomb sirens were once  sounded in a rather odd hour in the morning. The planes were already heard overhead but  Grandfather was quick to put Great Grandmother on his back and he dashed across the backyard towards the shelters. The rest of the family ran helter skelter. Later on when the scare was over , they sat down , not knowing to cry or to laugh. A bomb was dropped not far way from the sawmill a little further down the stream. And no one was reported killed.

My mother on the other hand lived in the Nang Chong house by the river side. My maternal grandfather passed away in 1943 while my maternal grandmother was still stranded in China for during the war years no boats plied between China and Sarawak. So my mother and her siblings had to look after themselves, with only the eldest brother who was over 20 years old and married with a young daughter and son. Life was tough for them but they scraped through because my mother at age 17 was able to grow enough padi for the whole family. Bombs were feared and Japanese raiding the farms were tragic.
Japanese War Planes (courtesy : Sarikei Time Capsule)



Why was Binatang not sacked by the Japanese? Could my grandfather and great grandmother have been wiped out by the killings while the Japanese were retreating? According to e-Sarawak Gazette, (p.229) Binatang or Bintangor was not sacked by the Japanese (another posting sometime later)by a strategy created by the Dayak Headman of Rumah Legak and one or two Cantonese leaders . That heroic decision by the Tuai rumah Legak and the Cantonese leaders saved the whole town. That of course saved the Mee Ang Sawmill and my Grandfather and the rest of the family. What a close shave!! Kapit, Kanowit and Song fared the worst because they were sacked by the Japanese.

What about Sibu? My father and his siblings were guarding the Hua Hong Ice Factory so to speak during the Japanese Occupation which also saw the passing of my Great Grandfather.  A great story teller, my father often shared with us some very outstanding stories. He had told us stories about the bombing in Sibu. Right opposite the Ice Factory was the Tua Pek Kong Temple . Sadly the temple was badly damanged by the Allied Forces in 1945 while he and his employees watched in horror. On the other hand the  Sibu Airport which was actually built by the sweat and tears of the people of Sibu, under duress (including my father and his siblings,cousins and friends), supervised by cruel Japanese soldiers, was bombed badly too. The Allied Forces would spare no Japanese planes or parts. In fact a few bomb sites in Sungei Merah can still be easily identified today.

CAT Boat
Photo From Special Z Forces . Catalina plane which dropped Allied soliders along the Rajang

Actually by the time the Allied bomber planes arrived in Sibu the Japanese solders had already burnt most of their vehicles, armaments which they could not carry away, uniforms and other goods in their godowns. The Japanese soldiers left by motor launch and sailed towards the sea. Those Japanese soldiers who went up river were purportedly all killed by the natives and/or the Allied soldiers.(Re: My War by Brian Walpole).

One of the storehouses the Japanese used was the Lido Cinema along Blacksmith Road. However by the time the Allied forces came to Sibu, this particular storehouse was empty,according to an elder who has been living in Blacksmith Road all these years!! Some one (he does not want to reveal the name) who had known the movements of the Japanese must have taken the goods and hidden them from public knowledge. This man or this group of men would have been able to sell the stuff and made a fortune!!

Right across the Sibu wharf was the rice mill operated by the Japanese. A quick thinking Foochow man, who was English speaking welcomed the Allied Forces when they arrived at the mill,although he was not the real owner of the machinery and the mill. The machinery actually belonged to the Japanese but the shed and office were built by the local Chinese supervised by the Japanese according to a local elder. This enterprising man was only too happy that he was able to make the "claim" the rice mill as his and he happily operated the rice mill from then on. He was a lucky English  speaking man!!


Another post-war story came from a relative who lived nearer the mouth of River Rajang. When ships came into the Rajang, many people would paddle out in their small boats to sell rice,fruits and vegetables to the sea men. Many of these seamen were British or other white men. A very enterprising young lady, accompanied by her English speaking friends, picked up all the Irish potatoes the cooks deemed not fresh enough. She resold these "European potatoes" to the villagers who found these potatoes a novelty. Her enterprising idea helped her family to slowly collect quite a fortune.

Many war stories and episodes can be read from books like this one by Brian Walpole:



My War

(Thanks to my Sibu friends who told me some of the stories above.)

May 7, 2014

Rice wrapped in Rice (饭馃) : A Celebration Dessert

Png Kuih/ Png Kueh (饭桃/桃粿)(Photo by Sarawakiana)



from Veronica's Kitchen

红桃粿




Cross section of bern kuih, rice wrapped in rice skin @ Palliative Care Centre, Miri


We have a great Palliative Care Association of Miri volunteer called Ah Lien or Lotus. She was in the Kuih industry for more than 20 years in Miri. After she was striken with cancer she became a volunteer first in West Malaysian and then in Miri since 2007.

She brings to our group cheerful stories, inspiring tales and wonderful tips.

Each time she comes to the Centre on Tuesdays, she would bring something good to eat.

This week she gave us a lesson on Teochew Kuih, Bee bao bee, or rice wrapped in rice (skin) This is a celebration savoury cake made from glutinous rice and rice flour. The skin is usually pink in colour which is auspicious . The peach shape represents the Chinese iconic peach which is a symbol for longevity.

After explaining all the intricacies of the culture involved with this kuih  she taught us a rhyme

Teochew char boh ng kiah si
Ai chia bee bao bee.

(Teochew lass is not afraid of death,
She dares to ask for rice wrapped in rice)

this is also a cake the Teochews make whenever there is a birthday to celebrate, a reunion dinner to prepare and during all the festivals and especially the Chinese New Year.

It is good to eat kuih lovingly made by people we know. It is even better when we know some stories which form the rich background of our cultural cakes.

Have a great day!!













May 6, 2014

Old Kapit Airport - A Reflection

The old Kapit Airport is now used as a jogging track, for young people to enjoy learning how to drive.


Photo by a fellow blogger (http://uzitter.blogspot.com/2010/08/joging-di-airport-lama-kapit.html    )




9M-MDL, De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter, C/N: 802

Malaysian Twin Otter , ready for departure to Kapit and Sibu , Sarawak , Aug 1988

 I was teaching in Kanowit in 1975 and it was a grand conversation topic if some of the children were able to say a few words about people travelling by air from Kapit to Sibu and then to Kuching. Many of my students came from Kapit and above Kapit.

"Madam, only people like Datuk Tajang Laing can fly from Kapit!!" Many of them would think that flying was an impossible life experience, having been exposed only to long boats and Chinese motor launches.

But then again, so many lives were saved because there was the famous Flying Doctors' Service in Sarawak. In 1975, Tun Abdul Rahman Yaacob arrived by helicopter on the football field of SEDAYA, the school where I was teaching, to grace a function.

Today when I meet again many of my former students, flying has become a great possibility with Air Asia offering "Now Everyone can Fly" opportunities.

Why was it abandoned? One would never know the real reasons.

Kapit : Old and New

Travelling to Kapit in the 50's and 60's was a two day, one night affair in a double decker Chinese motor launch. It could really be a romantic trip if you were going with someone you loved. I know of people who fell in love with love during their trips to Kapit. A cousin of mine found her one true love in Kapit and an aunt started her beautiful marriage in that little interior town. It was not easy to travel to Kapit in those days.

The motor launch would be carring live chickens, ducks and even a few pigs and you will have to bear the smells, noise and a few other unexpected snorts or squeaks when they started to excrete, with  men and women talking shouting above the din of the engine.

I would really be sorry for those who expect a Chinese launch to be HALAL. Very often wild boars, freshly killed and bundled up in torn gunny sacks would be placed at the bow of the motor launch.





Today travelling to Kapit by the express boats would even give  you first class comfort, with tv or video as an added facility to attract customers. Seats are comfortable but then frogs, a goat or two, lots of chickens and ducks, some prized birds and especially fighting cocks would come on board.


Chinese shop houses in Kapit.


Nice photo of Kapit from the air. The river transport (expresses and long boats) continue to remain the most important form of transport. Hiluxes have flooded the town with people earning better from oil palm, oil and gas and timber



Kapit is a place which I will visit again and again. Each time I go there I would wish I could go into a time machine so that I could be there again in 1969 , a very significant year of my life.







Sarawakian Local Delights: Ikan Buntal

Photo of Yellow Puffer fish , taken in Lingga. These are yellow ikan buntal or the yellow buntal. According to the locals, they are ver...