January 30, 2015

Sibu Tales : Ringworm

School teachers were always very caring during my secondary school days.

But then there were different kinds of teachers too. Some were stricter than others, while others just did not say much. But at least we found them very helpful in getting us to learn, to be afraid of our principal (whether it was Mr. Wiltshire or Mr. Lau).

One particular ailment of our swimming team was ring worm. Besides in those days many of the students were also suffering from other skin diseases, although ringworm was most talked about.

It was embarrassing for any teacher to raise the issue of ring worm. The Biology teacher taught us about how ring worm was spread, and we all looked down at our feet.

Some students had very bad dandruff problems and the Home Science teacher would bring the girls to her room to have a special talk.

But the worst problem was still ring worm.

One day, an old teacher got all our boys in the swimming and basketball teams together and told them that it was quite easy to pound a poultice from the rungin leaves.

I never knew if the boys ever listened to him.

But we girls were always scared of getting ringworms, so we would never swim in the Bukit Lima swimming pool whenever our boys or other schools practised. We would swim , if I remember correctly on Thursday, when only girls were allowed.

Can we really get ringworm through swimming?

January 29, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Graduation Photo of Chung Cheng Middle School

The photo shows the beautiful belian roof of the school's main building. It also shows the bell tower which is so significant in a Chinese school. But what is more important is the Cross on the bell tower.
This is a Chinese design and so it is interesting for people of Sarawak to note the presence of a Chinese school in the state.

The Foochows together with Rev James Hoover built 41 churches and 39 schools. Every where the Chinese went, not just the Foochows, they built schools and also churches/temples.
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Chung Cheng School was originally named Kwong Nang Middle School, but the Foochow headman, Lau Kah Tii changed the name of the school to Chung Cheng as a tribute to General Chiang Kai Shek whose other name is Chung Cheng.

The photo indicates that the year is 37th of the Ming Kuo Era. Ming Kuo calendar began in the year 1911. Hence the Gregorian calendar would say that this is 1938, the year my mother's youngest sister graduated. It is hard actually to recognise who is who in this old photo. Perhaps one day some one can identify them properly.

January 28, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Bird Houses for Birds' Nest

I cannot remember who started them. But there was a frenzy to build them all over SArawak. People started to attend course on Birds' nests harvesting and bird house construction.

Packages were offered by consultants. It was like RM 30,000 for the whole deal, from construction to installation of loudspeakers and music. They even guarranteed a certain amount of income by just a few months.
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This was man's response to the changing lives of birds and their nesting habits, the decline of swiftlets living in caves, the lack of authority governing birds' nest harvesting in natural caves. Licensing was a difficult game.

Then the prices of birds' nest spiralled up and then spiralled down. And then of course silence..

But you see bird houses going up every where from Lawas to Lundu, from Tanjong Manis to Tebedu.

And of course the abandoned houses of Foochow settlements along the Rajang were renovated and turned into bird houses.

Sumatra has purple birds nests which fetch thousands in the market. And there are also blood red birds nests because according to legend these swiftlets cough up blood when they build their nests.

I just hope that while the birds nests provide a good income, no animal has been killed in the process.

Sibu Stories : Wearing of the Black Mourning Patch 戴孝

Wearing a black patch on the sleeve was a mark of mourning. A death had occurred in the family.
While the mourners would wear muslin materials for the first 100 days, and some would even wear black, mourning was not complete until the mourners wore their black patch for 1 or 3 years and the final ritual was the burning of the black patches at the cemetery of the dearly departed.
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Funerals in the 1950's and 60's included children kneeling on the floor to bow to friends and relatives who came to pay respects to the newly departed, while the coffin was still in the house.

A wailer would even be engaged, while some came on their own free will, if permitted, to sing mournfully about the goodness of the departed and give recounts of the good deeds he or she had done.

At the back of the living room, seamstresses would be busy making mourning clothes fo the children, widow, and relatives. Some would also be bundling door gifts of towels and handkerchiefs for those who came to "nak ba ging" or white gold, as a token of condolences.
My siblings and I wore the black patch for three years because my father died at an early age of 56. It was a decision made by elders of the family.

By the time we could take down our patches and burning them at my father's cemetery, many of the left sleeves were already quite torn from the constant pinning of the patches.

January 22, 2015

Sibu People :Miss Ida Mamora

I attended the Methodist Secondary School, like all my relatives who belong to the Methodist Church.

One of the best features of my secondary school life was the opportunity of making friends with teachers from different countries, different ethnic groups. We were trained in a way to be World Citizens long before the idea caught on. Our Principal Mr. KV Wiltshire was a man of vision and mission.
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One of the best teachers and most influential teachers we have is Miss Ida Mamora, of Batak  Indonesian descent, from a great missionary family. She is especially endearing because she initiated almost all of us into the world of culinary arts. Besides she speaks really good Foochow.

Sibu Tales : Perilla 紫蘇

Jie Ru in Foochow or Zisu in Pinyin

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Photo of Perilla, taken in Mingqing, Fujian by Sarawakiana.

Good for cleaning fish to get rid of the fishy smell, Foochow traditional method. Perilla (Wikipedia) is an herb of the mint family, Lamiacease. There are other names given in other countries. It is classified under Perilla frutescens.

Our local Sarawakian method is to use tamarind juice.

It is traditionally used in Chinese medicine. It can ease symptons of  the common cold. It is also eaten as a vegetable, fried with garlic or ginger in oil. During my mother's childhood, all children were not sent to see doctors in town. Whenever they were ill, their mothers would brew some perilla tea for them. After a few days, they would feel better.

Su means revive, and its name sake is Mount Gusu, the peak which gives Suzhou its name.

The Manchurian festival of Food Examination Day 绝粮日) calls for perilla to be eaten by bannermen.

January 14, 2015

Sibu Tales : Pig's Stomach Soup

In Sibu, most butchers would have only a few pig stomachs for sale. And usually a discerning housewife would book the pig stomach/s way ahead of the day she needs the item.

Pig stomachs are usually purchased for the preparation of a good tonic soup for the elderly or for the new mother still in confinement. Any man or woman who is losing appetite would also be given a pig stomach tonic soup.

There are several recipes for the Foochow pig stomach

1. Chicken feet and pig stomach soup - boiled for more than 3 hours to help a person to regain strength and allay the coldness in his body.No automatic alt text available.

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2. Black chicken and pig stomach soup - plain cooked with just a bit of fresh young ginger. This will help the new mother to regain her strength after 9 months of carrying a baby to full term.

3. Kampong chicken sewned up in a pig stomach, steamed with some gingseng. This will help an elderly person regain his weight and appetite.

In most restaurants pig stomach soup is a popular menu. Most men would like to order the soup. It is nourishing, healthy and delicious especially when a lot of pepper is added.

This is one easy dish most Foochow families can prepare any day of the year.

January 12, 2015

Sibu Tales : Curry Puffs

Curry puffs are very interesting snacks in Malaysia. Where did it originate from ? Many people say that its origin is India.

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But today in Malaysia curry puffs remain one of the best snack and one of the most sought after. Recipes can vary from simple to very difficult. Some chefs say the puffs must be baked, others say deep fried in oil. Some chefs claim that two types of doughs must be prepared to give the best PUFFs.

Others would say the best dough is a home made secret recipe.

However many claim that it is the oil for deep frying that makes a difference. Many recipes call for baking in the oven. Many curry puffs today are halal, or pork free. The puffs can be frozen in the hundreds and then baked when needed.

However, I feel that some of the best curry puffs are made in Kuching Sarawak by some Hainanese cooks who used to work for their colonial officers.

Another kind of sweet puffs are made in Foochow bakeries. They are shaped like the normal half moons but the pastry is drier and the filling is the traditional Foochow caramel.

I would go for the two dough recipe which will make the pastry look like it has a lot of swirls. The best curry puffs are moist inside but with a lovely crust which melts in the mouth.

Har Gou

Photo by Lucy Siew, Miri, Sarawak.

This is a recipe from Sunflower Food Galore

Chinese: 蝦餃 (Sun flower Galore)

Method of wrapping click here to view slide show
80g wheat starch (粉 or read in Cantonese as 'dung mein fun')
20g tapioca starch or oriental potato starch
¼ tsp salt
140 ml boiling water
2 tsp lard (melted) or cooking oil
a little cooking oil for greasing
200g raw prawns, roughly chopped
50g pork fat meat, cut into very fine dices (optional)
50g chopped bamboo shoot or water chestnut, chopped (optional)
1 stalk of spring onion, finely chopped (about 4 - 5 tbsp)
1 tsp of light soy
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
½ tsp sesame oil
This makes 16 - 18 pieces
  1. Mix all the ingredients for the filling, leave in the fridge for 1 – 2 hours.
  2. Mix the two flours and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well and pour in the boiling water, mix. Then mix in the lard or oil. The pastry should be quite lumpy, don’t worry. Leave it to cool a little.
  3. Rub a thin film of oil on the working board. Scrape the pastry onto the greased area. Rub hand with a little oil too. Knead the dough till smooth.
  4. Roll into a rod shape about 2 cm thick, mark equally and cut into 16 – 18 pieces. Each piece around 13 – 14g. Put pieces into a bowl cover with cloth.
  5. If there is any dough sticking on the working area, scrape that off.
  6. Grease a small area of the working area with a very thin film of oil.
  7. Take a piece of dough roll into a ball between your palms. Then press into a disc and roll it out on the greased area. See picture for the wrapping technique.
  8. Cover the completed dumplings till you are ready to steam. Can leave in fridge for few hours if you are not ready to eat.
  9. Steam at high heat for 4 minutes. Eat while hot on its own or with soy sauce or chilli oil.

January 11, 2015

Charcoal boats and charcoal sellers 1950's

In the 1950's charcoal was made from Bakau in the coastal region. It was a flourishing trade for most Chinese businessmen who owned the factories in the river mouth of the Rajang. Boats like this would bring the charcoal up to Sibu for sale. They would sometimes stop by some of the villages also. Charocal was importnat as a fuel in coffee shops, noodle shops, kopitiams and even households where charcoal was needed to fuel the irons and also for cooking.
This was how the charcoal was weighed and sold at the Pulau Babi Wharf in Sibu. When electricity and gas became more popular, charcoal trade was phased out. One of the charcoal "kings" at the moment is living in Miri, after he retired from his petrol station business I was told.

January 10, 2015

Kuala Baram Wetlands : Chinese Crested Terns

I am glad that now I can visit the Kuala Baram wetlands in Miri to watch birds with my Malaysian Nature Society Miri branch friends. A bus is provided, binoculars too. While we just bring along a bottle of water, a camera and a hat!!

From Musa Musbah we learned that the very rare Chinese Crested Terns have been sighted in Miri.

Perhaps that should be my target of the next few years . To sight a Chinese Crested Tern.

We should try our best to get the Wetlands to be preserved for future generations.

Look at how China has helped the Panda to become extinct. And now the whole world is helping the country to increase the number of pandas.

The industrialization of China has also caused the Chinese Crested Tern to reach the endangered level. Matzu Island, Taiwan, ironically is helping to protect and provide nesting possibilities for the CCT. It has been reported that 50 or more birds have been counted. In the past a journal reported ONLY 36 CCT were left in the world.

January 9, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Wooden Bridges

In the olden days, there were only footpaths along the banks of the rivers from one village to another in the Rajang Deltaic region. Many foot paths were actually through the rubber gardens . Bridges were simple - one log affair. Very rare could you find a proper plank bridge.

How good a bridge was in those days depended on the good hearts of the Foochows of the area. Those who were more giving, would construct better bridges definitely. And that would also decide on what kind of wood used.

Today, more than 100 years later bridges are still important links between villages because there are so many distributaries in this area. Some bridges have been built by the government, some by the companies. At one time the government refused to build bridges because they feared that the Communists would take advantage of the better communiations.

But today, every one realises that when bridges are built, the value of land increases and development takes place very rapidly.

People change, times change. But everything should change for the good of the people.

Now it is common to see this kind of scenario. A bridge always means that we are almost home.

the curvature of a road, the briding of two land masses separated by a stream, is always a landmark for us to remember our childhood days.

Bridges were where we met, where we could do our fishing or where we could sit and enjoy the evening breezes after a hard day's work...

January 8, 2015

Recipe for a Teacher

Select a young  and pleasing personality, trim off all mannerisms of voice,dress, or deportment.

Pour over it a mixture of equal parts of wisdom of Solomon, the courage of Young Daniel, the strength of Samson and the patience of Job.

Season with the salt of experience, the pepper of animation, the oil of sympathy, and a dash of humour.

Stew for about four years in a hot classroom, testing occasionally with the fork of criticism thrust in by a principal or superintendent.

When done to a turn, garnish with a mediocre salary and serve hot to the community.

January 5, 2015

Methodist School Staff (both Primary and Secondary) 1960's

Who could give the details of this group photo of the Methodist School Staff Photo.

This photo is from Mr. Chong Chung Sing's Album..

Was it to bid farewell to Dr. and Mrs. Coole who were then in charge of the Masland Church on Island Road. The photo was taken in front of the Methodist Girls' Hostel in Queensway.

Dr. Douglas Coole preached in Foochow and Mrs. Coole herself a child of missionaries to China spoke excellent Foochow. She taught us Sunday School in Hoover House. I was then primary school age and my teachers were Mrs. Chee and Mrs. Chang.

My grand aunt Tiong Yuk Ging was also in the photo. It is lovely to see Mr. and Mrs. Kuruvilla in the photo.Other ladies of the Methodist church were in this photo.

Miss Feng Tuan Hui and Miss Tiong Ik King were also in the picture.

I can see also Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Deng Yuk Chi. Mr. Funk was also in the back row together with a few other familiar faces.

January 3, 2015

Sibu Tales : Muang Gii and Ern Chow

My mother was always particular in who she bought food from. For salted fish, she must buy from her mother's relatives, and as for ern chow or red wine lees, we had a constant supply from her village, Ah Nang Chong where her sisters in law constantly made Foochow Red Wine.

Fish and ern chow make a good marriage since time immemorial.

This photo was taken not too long ago in Fuzhou City, in a very popular Siao Chi dien, Wang Da. I was very impressed by the fish dish, all steamed in ern chow. It reminded me of my grandma's cooking.
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Grandma was a child bride, bought for 5 silver dollars (for every year of her age) from Key Tou Puoh in Minqing. At the age of 5 she came to the Lau family and lived in San Kay, Bandong before she sailed to Sarawak, where she married my maternal grandfather 15 years her senior. She was only 15 when she married my 30 year old grandfather. It was not exactly a love match to say the least.

Grandma's favourite fish was muang ngii, even though we could have a good supply of other fish. Muang Ngii or eel you see is a Fujian delicacy and almost every Foochow would have a nostalgic love for the fish, be it fresh or salted, even though it can be quite boney to some people.

We Foochows are good with boney fish.

Muang ngii was often marinated with ern chow and salt for half a day. And in the evening, grandma would shallow fry the fish pieces for our dinner. All of us children would carefully pull the fish bone from our mouth, and then slowly savour the fish..

It was such a nice meal, eating fish with grandma in our kitchen in Sibu. She visited us in that house until it was demolished, and later when we had our shop house built on that piece of land, she continued to visit us, until 1985 when she passed away.

A good meal, no matter what dishes we have, is always memorable eaten together with people we love.

(One day when I get some fresh muang ngii in Miri, I will cook it just the way my Ngie mah liked..with ern chow).

Sibu Tales : The Rojak Man

When the Brooke Drive of Sibu was first constructed it was very dusty. But the resilient Chinese along the road were very good at cleaning their house every day.

One of the benefits of having a bigger road passing through their village so to speak was the arrival of cars, bicycles and motor cycles. The year 1963 saw the Brooke Drive area developing very fast. It was also the beginning of Communist insurgencies and many of the people were very much aware of what the various agencies were doing. For example we saw as kids how the Jik Kern Hui or the Cooperative Labour Association tried to gain favour and membership by moving around helping a lot of the poor people in Sibu. They banded together and work hard to show by example their leadership skills and their friendliness. They sang songs and distributed books.
They really behaved like the Red Guards of Mao. We were to realise this only many decades later. But in those days we thought that they were great youth leaders.

But the best benefit of the arrival of the Brooke Drive was the ease with which the Rojak Man could peddle his beautiful snacks. When his air horn sounded, kids would run to him with an empty bowl He would either arrive at 11 a.m. or 4 p.m. Each time would be almost meal time.

Thus buying a dish of rojak for 5o cents was adding special food to the family's menu for the day.

This special part of my childhood is held dearly by my siblings and I, for this is where we learned how to like chillies in our food.

Life after 1970's changed tremendously in Sibu. With the arrival of more cars and people having more purchasing power and affluence, the Rojak Man was phased out. Hawkers' Centre was set up and travelling hawkers could not find a good living.

Here is a simple method of preparing rojak yourself at home.

Serves: 8 

  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 4 deep fried toufu
  • 1 stick of yiu tiaw or Chinese crullers
  • 1/2 medium pineapple, skinned
  • 1 large yam bean (sengkuang/jicama), peeled
  • 3 teaspoons black shrimp paste
  • 150g roasted peanuts, chopped coarsely
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  • For the sauce
  • 15 dried chillies, soaked and deseeded
  • 2.5 cm belacan, toasted
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) tamarind juice
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

January 1, 2015

Sibu Tales : Black Forest Mushroom

Many years ago, high achievers amongst the Sibu Foochows would bring back spouses from other countries. Many who studied in Taiwan brought back Taiwanese wives.

Here is a story of a Taiwanese daughter in law.

The Taiwanese daughter in law was beautiful, slight in built and had the physical qualities of a gentle Chinese lady of the manor, fine bone, fine fingers and smooth skin.

She was not able to cook rice as she did not know how to start a wood fire. So she insisted that her young husband should move to the city where there was electricity. He was still without a job.

Fast forward several years, the Flower of Taiwan, as we secretly called her, was not able to cope with the humble lifestyle of the Sanba (village) people and she insisted that her husband leave Sibu to work in another town, preferrably in Sabah where she could find other Taiwanese sisters who have married Sabahans.

She was still not able to cook. She would get up at 10 a.m., order food from the shops. Her children had to be fed, bathed and put to nap in the afternoon by her "native amah". It was very interesting how she never managed to learn English, Bahasa Malaysia and even Iban the whole years she was in Sibu.

She could not go to the market because it was dirty and smelly because she could not tolerate the looks of the natives. "In Taiwan the natives were good singers and performers on stage." She had never been to their villages or any other villages outside the Sibu villages which she looked down upon.

And with her husband's relatives she was not at all Kek Kee (gracious) for she said what  came to her mind. "I don't eat this, I don't eat that" would be her statements, to the horror of  relatives who were humble  sanba people. Our dear Taiwanese daughter in law would eat 2 pears for breakfast, a whole steamed kampong chicken for lunch, and a good half kilo of best beef for her Taiwanese Noodle..." Only the best will do for her. When her mother in law made mee sua for her, she would not eat the Foochow string noodles. She would take out her Taiwan noodles, use the chicken soup, and her special Dung Goo, which she thought was the best in the world...Nothing but the best for her. And it was a marvellous blessing for her because she was married to a very faithful, loyal, and high earning Foochow man.

As women shared their stories of family tolerance in our fellowship we , the younger generation benifitted and became wiser..

From these stories we started to research into Chinese cooking. The most revered grades of Shiitake (mushrroms) are winter mushorroms or dung gu 冬菇, Ordinary people of the Sibu sanba were mainly familiar with heong gu     or fragrant mushroom now available in Asian stories or supermarkets all over the world. Bai Hua Gu  or white flower mushroom 花菇 are also more readily available nowadays.

 A delightful gift you can present to your elders would be a 3 in 1 gift pack. Buy all three kinds of mushrooms and pack them as a love gift. Each mushroom would have its own strength, flavour, fragrance and place of importance in a classic Foochow dish.  Heong Gu, though not so pretty, has great medicine values and should not sneezed upon.

On a light note = once an elderly relative presented a packet of black mushroom to her younger relative who was a notch above other socially and she was asked to bring back the packet. She said she did not eat black fragrant mushroom.......I hope none of you would ever be asked to take home your gifts by an ungracious relative.

Suggested dishes : Black mushrooms - toufu with minced pork and slices of blackmushrooms, Chicken soup with black mushrooms, Three mushrooms and toufu, Three mushrroms and beans....black mushroom sausages (from scratch), Foochow pork leg in wine and black mushrrom....

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). ...