May 31, 2015

Sibu Tales : 8 Treasure Rice and REcipes

When I was newly married and posted to Sibu, I was very eager to copy hundreds of recipes into a recipe book by hand. I would copy pages and pages of recipes from newspapers, magazines, and recipe books. I even got a friend to help me. I completed a thick exercise book of 400 pages, and then started another one.

Interestingly, in my earnestness, I did not cook very much following the recipes. Instead I depended on the well tested dishes that I learned from my mother, my grandmother and my aunts. Simple homecooked dishes.

Then a friend also told me that when you look at recipes, they are supposed to be guidelines only. Every one would have his own recipe of the same dish. And even if it is very different from the recipe in the book, once the family likes his or her cooking, it is a good recipe. You do not have to follow the recipe in a book exactly. I took her advice and have been cooking my way most of the time. If people say that I am not following a book recipe, I just shrug my shoulders and say that I am doing it my way and my children and family like it.

Recently I did some research on the 8 treasure rice and lo and behold, I have more than 10 different recipes.

In fact one of the chefs in a restaurant said exactly what my friend said so many years ago in Sibu. If your elders have been making a recipe handed down from many years ago that is already a great recipe. But then if you wish to modernise it, again, it will be an innovative fusion dish. You do not have to follow exactly the next village's recipe. What is important is taste, flavour , presentation and how popular it is with friends and relatives.

So recipes are just guidelines and you can be innovative.

So for your own 8 treasure Rice, you can add cherries, winter melon, red dates, black dates, peanuts, walnuts, and two more...or change some of the fruits in the least. It only has to be sweet, colourful and tasty with the glutinous rice...

Happy cooking!!

May 30, 2015

Sibu Tales : Steamed Tapioca with friends

A simple get together in Kampong can meat tea or coffee with a sweet dish.

Women would get together, sitting down on the kitchen floor.Image may contain: food

I like it when my Kak or my school friends called me up to share their Minum teh with them.

Even today some ex-colleagues would organize a fun chat time in their homes and some cucur, some steamed tapioca or some cakes are placed lovingly on the table. It is real bonding time and most of all to appreciate God's blessings.

The tapioca in the photo comes from Mukah where it is grown vastly. And a former student prepared these sweet treats for tea. We had a good chat and sharing time. How God blesses us...and sometimes in magnificently simple ways.

One of the best tapioca varieties is this type called  yellow tapioca. The rough skin is a little brown, and it has a red layer between the skin and the inner root. My former student George Matthias told me that in Indonesia it is called "singkong mentaga" It is really delicious.

For a long time many Chinese in Sarawak aged between 70 and 95 could not eat tapioca because they had experience of eating a lot of tapioca during the Japanese Occupation and their aversion was "big leg disease" or beri beri.

Eating only tapioca without other vegetables and meat caused the disease because they did not have other food nutrients.

My mum love to  eat cakes made from tapioca and some steamed tapioca, with a bit of honey. She does not have any aversion or say any thing bad. She is 89 now. But she does not have all those negative words to say about tapioca. I am glad she has very few food discrimination. Children must never be brought up to look down upon natural food like tapioca, small fish,etc.

May 29, 2015

Hua Hong Ice Factory Tales : Dou Dik

My mother has always been a very timid woman, unwilling to express herself publicly, although she could have an MBA under her belt had she been born 20 years later. She has always been a good decision maker.

She lived in Pulau Kerto, Hua Hong Ice Factory for 8 years after she married my father.

While there she was exposed to a multi racial community. My father managed an ice factory. Before the war, Hua Hung was a thriving business in Sibu which also had a mechanized rubber mangle factory and rice mill all under one roof. Later, my grandfather thought that it was better that to manufacture ice blocks.

Most of the workers were Foochows, some were fresh from China. A few were Melanaus and Iban workers who came and went. They came to work for some cash returns and when they earned enough they would go back to their kampongs.

She used the tanggoi (bought by my father) when she had to dry her laundry in the yard in the morning. She would also wear the tanggoi when she went out to feed the chickens and ducks. On rainy days she would wear it to check on the chicken coops, or collect chicken eggs in the morning She said that wearing a tanggoi or a dou dik would free her hands to do lots of work. It was just so practical for her then.

Mum used to tell us that many Ibans, Melanaus and Malays would paddle their boats to the Hua Hong Jetty, sell a bit of their food, fresh fish, vegetables and then buy some ice. Some would come to mill their newly harvested rice.

It was indeed a fine sight to her when she saw people coming by long boats and most of them would be wearing tanggoi.

Today, she is nearly 90 years old, and she said that most Ibans would be wearing Topi or western caps..their long boats or express boats would be so fast that their tanggoi would fly away.

She still thinks that the tou dik is still the best headgear to wear, for any occasion, any time, any where in Sarawak. Just be practical. She only does not say that it is environmentally friendly.

The Dou tik is a very Minqing head wear too. But mum has never been to China. And now she is too old to "go back to Minqing to have a look and meet relatives...."

My photo showing a man wearing Dou Tik, in Minqing, Fujian. This is the iconic Minqing Dou Dik.

Mum is always so practical and correct.

May 28, 2015

Sibu Tales: Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts are not nuts, they are little little pears or fruits. In fact we Foochows call them Mui Li. 荸荠

During the measles season in the 70's and subsequent years (meaning when children get measles) water chestnuts seem to be also available in the market!! Ta Kiong was always the first supermarket to sell chestnuts in the 1970's. I remember my Ngie Mah or maternal grandmother paring the water chestnuts for us.

She would pare the water chestnuts and chop up the flesh, After that she would squeeze the chestnuts to get the juice. That was how we did it before the blender arrived in Sibu. A glass or cup of chestnut juice was taken every day while we were having measles or chicken pox. Water chestnut juice can relieve the irritation of rashes from measles, chicken pox and other skin diseases.

Besides water chestnut is good for relieving of hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, acute coughing, headaches, hangovers,etc according to my late grandmother.

Years later, my sisters and my mum did the same thing for Grandma (when she felt very heaty or when the water chestnut was in season) and for my children when they had measles. These are good memories of those years. When my family moved to Kuching, they came across fresh water chestnuts sold in packets, in the cold storage. Some how today, chestnuts are no longer sold this way. Wonder why.

Gleaning from Google  "water chestnuts have a reputation in traditional Asian and aboriginal medicine. They've been ground into powder, juiced, sliced, boiled and eaten raw, steamed or steeped in rice wine and used as a curative and food supplement."

But drinking water chestnut juice according to my grandmother and other relatives is good because it can alleviate nausea, relieve suffering from jaundice, and detoxify the body from impurities.

I took this photo in Fuzhou City not too long ago. And memories of my childhood came flooding back to me.

So in Summer in Fuzhou and other Fujian counties, you see people paring (peeling) water chestnuts in the streets.

People would buy these chestnuts to eat raw, or use in their cooking at home, or have them juiced.

Water chestnuts are good for rehydrating our bodies if we feel over heated. It is good to help moisturize our skin.It is good for people who work under the sun a lot. Hence athletes should also drink water chestnut juice.

So indeed, in summer, pick up a few water chestnuts from the local vendor and start chewing!!

Always be thankful for your Grandmother's wise words.

May 26, 2015

Sibu Tales : Sweet Potatoes

Recently I made a visit to Fuqing, where my paternal grandmother (Chong) and her ancestors came from. The Fuqing Chongs had migrated to Java in the 1800's and established a textile factory in Bogor.

My Grandmother Chong studied in the Methodist Anglo School in Singapore. While her brother was already trained as an English teacher. The Hoovers met them and introduced her to my grandfather, at the same time offering Grand Uncle Chong a job. That was 1909. That was how my Minqing Grandfather married a Fuqing girl.

My Fuqing connection brought me to understand more about Fuqing in the modern days as I learned more about it after the opening up of China in 1991.

Fuqing has an exceptional history of economic development. Its progress was largely due to the investments by INdonesian-Fuqing tycoons. Many Fuqing people migrated to Indonesia even before Wong Nai Siong brought the Foochows to Sibu in 1901.

However, what was most interesting was my father's story of how sweet potatoes were first brought to Fuqing by Chen Zhenlong in 1593. Fuqing is the "Sweet Potato County" of Fujian. In the olden days, people of Fuqing ate sweet potatoes more than rice. In fact according to some articles, most of the poorer rural people of Fuqing ate white rice only during Chinese New Year.

As kids we noticed that my father liked to eat sweet potatoes, whereas my mother did not like sweet potatoes because of the difficult times during the Japanese war. 

Once,when my father took us to a picnic with his sisters and some town friends in Sg.Aup, he asked my mother to pack sweet potatoes,biscuits, bananas, oranges, and a few bottles of soft drinks. In those days we did not have a picnic basket, or a cooler box, or a thermal box. Food could not be heated up easily next to a river.

Not yet a teenager, I felt uneasy and a bit embarrassed. Why couldn't he just prepare some sandwiches?

Years later, I realised that my father actually was very knowledgeable about sweet potatoes and he encouraged his children to eat a lot of it. And indeed, even my own paternal grandfather was fond of eating sweet potatoes, in between meals.

May 23, 2015

China Series : Farms and traditional irrigation

Min River is the biggest river in Fuzhou Prefecture and in fact there is a saying that all streams, brooks, creeks send their water to the Min River.

Min River, the Mother river which brought our Foochow ancestors from Fuzhou to the sea coast, Mawei and from there they sailed to Nanyang, to Sarawak, specifically.

Almost all farms need water, and especially in the more hilly regions, like Wun Chieh where my great grandfather came from. The Foochow farmers must know how to control water supply so that there is enough water when needed. It is amazing how for centuries, simple irrigation canals, small as they are, can help feed enough water to keep the farms going. 

The creeks and brooks may be small, but they are enough. God is provident. You can see that the water flows into the farm easily.

Every inch of land is tilled to produce enough food, not just for the family but for cash reward. Whatever is not consumed, it is also dried and pickled, for home consumption as well as for sale.

May 21, 2015

China Series : Yong Lau

In many parts of fujian, relatives who made it in Nanyang would remit money home to their old villages . This money would help to erect a new building which is double storeyed with a lovely balcony. This Yong Lou indicates that the family has a member who has migrated overseas.

Thus in some villages there are many yong lous .In Fuzhou prefecture, most of the yong lous were built after 1919 when money was made from the boom created by the high prices of rubber in Malaysia.
This is another photo of a Yong Lou, which looks different from the older structures.
It would be interesting to write about the stories of those who have migrated to a nice place overseas. But today many Chinese are also "returning" to China which is now becoming a world power. The tide seems to be turning.

China was opened to visitors since 1980's.

NOTE : Malaysians of Chinese descent below 55 were not allowed to travel to China between 1963 and 1983. My paternal grandfather never went back to China as a returning oversea migrant due to several reasons best known to himself. Perhaps he wanted to wait. But since the opening up of China, many Malaysians have gone to China for reunions, for holidays etc.

May 19, 2015

China Series : The Mountains of Yong tai

Image may contain: mountain, grass, outdoor and nature

Yongtai is a beautiful county. This is Rabbit Ear Mountain.

Sabah's Mt Kinabalu used to have a pair of Donkey's Ears. One ear was tragically "broken" recently. (edit)

China Tales : Crabs in the Restaurant

Crabs form a very important part of Min Cuisine. Almost every restaurant of good standing would serve crabs especially in the cities.

Crabs are well tied like this. This is the Minqing way of tying up the legs of crabs. And the red colour makes them look so awesomely attractive.

Crabs are famously steamed with savoury rice,stir fried with Tang Hoon, stir fried with eggs, or steamed with wine. There are 101 ways of cooking crabs. Your imagination can lead you to an exotic dish of these lovely crustaceans.

May 18, 2015

China Series : Drinking Coffee in Fuzhou

Most Chinese I know of drink only Chinese tea, and not even Ceylon tea or Malaysian ,Lipton, or Cameron tea, when offered.

People are curious why so many of us Malaysian Chinese drink COFFEE or Ka Fe.

This photo I took of NY Coffee in Fuzhou evokes so much discussion in my mind. I could have stayed here the whole day, just drinking coffee and watching the crowd.

My father drank coffee all his life, as far as I could remember. Was it possible he develop his taste for coffee in China where he spent more than 7 years studying, first at college and then at Yen Ching university? Did the American professors help him and his friends adopt many different cultural ways and thoughts in Beijing? Was Beijing then a coffee drinking city?

Coffee shops in Sibu waft out the aroma of coffee from as early as 4 a.m in the morning and that has always been my "urban view of Sibu". Coffee has such a sweet smell. And the roasting of coffee is such a nostalgic buttery and rich smell. In those long ago days, sitting in a Sibu coffee shop meant you had slightly more to spend on yourself than just enough for buying food. It meant you had some "independent money" and you did not have to account for that small expenditure to your parents, or your in laws.

My relatives had asked why my father liked coffee. My Chinese teacher asked me why I like coffee.

I don't have the answer to why my father and many Malaysian Chinese drink coffee while some drink Chinese tea. I don't have the answer as to why I like coffee.

Is it fashionable to drink coffee? Is it a special taste bud? Is it economics of life?

Why do you like to drink coffee?

May 17, 2015

China Series : Sweet Bamboo Shoots and Chow Chai Soup

Sweet Bamboo is one of Minqing's three treasures.  My maternal grandmother from Kay Tou Puoh, Fujian used to tell us about the sweet bamboo shoots her family would collect every year in April and May. The bamboo shoots would be cleaned, and eaten and whatever could not be eaten could be saved for the future, by drying it in the sun. The sun dried bamboo shoots could last for years!! Those were the days when refrigeration was unheard of .

Chow chai or salted vegetables in red wine lees is another one of Minqing's three treasures.

These two can be cooked together as a soup, or as a stir fry.

They are beautiful together...Give it a try. Even if you cannot get sweet bamboo shoots from China. Use any local bamboo shoot.

May 16, 2015

China Series : Ducks

I never realised in the past that the Serati or Chuong Huang is actually a Foreign Duck in China.  And my Minqing relatives call their duck soup made from serati, huang ark tong.

Huang in Chinese means foreign or at the border. We are Han and the OTHERS are Huang..Hence when our Foochow pioneers came to Sarawak, the first people they met were Huang Giang, refering to the Malays who lived in Sibu. The name got stuck.

We almost had duck every day when in Minqing. Very tasty and very tender. Every where we went we also saw a lot of huang ark in the yards.

Braised duck slices for breakast.

We even had braised duck slices at the breakfast buffet table one morning. It was very quickly snatched up. The Minqing people love duck.

Besides there is a fantastic outlet which only sells Huang Ark Buong. or literally, Duck Soup and Rice.

A bowl of Ark Lu in the Foochow culture is a gift of greatest love.

China Series : Visiting Great Great Grandfather's Home in Minqing

China Series : Minqing Scenery

The place where my great grandfather came from in Minqing is scenic to say the least.

Wun Chieh, aka Geng Shan, high mountains, is beautiful. Enjoy these photos.

What a wonderful world, at peace, with friends and relatives.

May 15, 2015

China Series : Black bean/Soy Sauce Toufoo Gang

It is amazing how many different kinds of toufoo we can eat in China.

In Fuzhou, there is a special one which is dark in colour. Very tasty and nice, especially as a condiment to plain porridge.

I had some of it and quite liked it. Because as an Overseas Chinese, and Malaysian, we only get the plain toufu gang, with tumeric for colouring.

Some one said that black beans are used to make this toufu. So it is not as frightening to think that it is made from blood.

A Fuzhou, Fujian experience.

China Series : Ko Da Hu

A slow cooking method to bring out the best of toufu.

use lots of ingredients in your kitchen...anything you can think of. Stir fry the aromatics and add the ingredients. And then add the toufu.

slowly took the soup until thick and wonderful

It is called Ko Dahu,well loved by Minqing people. My Foochow dialect.

May 14, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Wo Rong

My grandmother had a special liking for wo rong, or little yams.

My aunts and uncles all grew patches of vegetables and for most seasons, they would also grow wo rong. It is not an easy crop.

Grandma would eat her wo rong with Pang Ngee Chiong, a special crab sauce. In the early 60's, everyone would grind their own crabs to make their own crab sauce. It was a happy time actually, making the sauce and knowing that one has a good year's stock for our own meals.

Wo rong was another matter. Not every planting would bring out the best wo rong. some years, the crop would fail.

The best meals would be the extra wo rong, freshly steamed, for the table. And every one would be happy eating it.

Sometimes my grandmother would only have the wo rong for her meal and she would tell stories of olden China to help us remember our ancestors.

She said during the Japanese occupation in China (she was stranded in China during that terrible period), any one finding some wo rong in the field would feel so blessed. It was like a miracle. That was the reason why she loved wo rong. It was one of the food which kept her and her relatives alive in China. She also said that sometimes when bandits were around, they had to keep the wo rong and potatoes hidden in their clothes and hide out in the hills. When it was clear, may be after one or two days, they would come back to their home. She came back to Sarawak in 1944, the first boat out of China after the war.

Normally, the Foochows would say. "we only have wo rong or huang nii to eat..." It actually means, there is very little to eat.

I have seldom come across any Foochow who does not like wo rong.

May 13, 2015

China Series : Soup with fresh razor clams

The Foochows are famous for their soups. At any banquet or good dinner, one can be served at least two if not four soups. 23 to 33 dishes would give plenty of face to the host.

I love having soups laced by sea food.

Here is one

A simple white gourd soup with some celery and fresh razor clams.

China Series : Old Fashion Snacks

Fuzhou has many interesting snacks. One is Lau Huah..and the other is Pig's blood.

This signboard would give you a very interesting array of food available in this very popular old shop, which originated even before the Second World War!!

A bottle of cola is 2 RMB, the same price as a fired egg.
Beer is 4 RMB.
Liver is 7 RMB
Kampua is only 3 RMB, and very tasty.

May 12, 2015

China Series : Splendid small bamboo fence

Every inch of the rural land is used, wherever and whenever possible. Land in front of the houses is particularly precious as the elders can tend to the vegetable garden.

Bamboo is plentiful and beautiful fences are made.

What a remarkable sight when I visited my late uncle Lau's ancestral home.

Ah Lu, of 6 Do, White Cloud Village. Minqing. May 2015.

China Series : Yang Mei

A lovely early summer fruit which can be pluicked from trees grown in the back yard of most homes.

Yang Mei is sweet with a bit of sour. Just my kind of fruit as it is juicy and refreshing.

Served in a nice plate to guests, this fruit is a welcome sight.

However farmer /producers/ vendors find the fruit very perishable. So with a very short shelf life, yang mei is often not found in supermarkets.

Best way of eating yang mei is to go home to grandparents and enjoy an early summer break...When the summer break comes (Shu jia) or summer holidays for school, the yang mei might be gone but other fruits will be available.

Holidays in China also means a chance to enjoy a rustic sojourn and eat all the fruits grown by our ancestors. By July and August it would be too hot and people will be wearing the lightest of clothes and if getting the opportunity...really soaking their legs in streams, creeks, seas and rivers...

China Series : Five Generations Under One Roof

Not every family can claim this and put a banner up. You see five generations of the Lau family together in this family photo, comprising of members from Sarawak and China.

Ancestral home in Ah Lu, Bai Yun, Minqing, Fujian.

the extended family of Mr and Lau Tiew Nguong of Sg. Assan, Sibu.

May 11, 2015


Urbanization in China is rapidly coming to my ancestors' homeland in Minqing and other counties of Fuzhou (the Big Fuzhou) which has 10 counties under its jurisdiction in the present government system.

This is Fuqing where I stayed for one day and one night. From the 14th floor hotel room window I took several photos in the morning before we left for Yongtai.

As I looked at the farms and then at the high rise buildings, I imagined the years of slow development in the 1900's and then a sudden spate of rapid urbanisation during the 90's, Now 21st century China is a Big Brother, a world power to reckon with.

But my Church sister in Minqing said brilliantly, "Our country is going to be an Old People's country, Lou Ren Guo." VEry much aware of the Grey Revolution this sister realises that government plans, people's welfare, general wealth, must be well spread out for all to enjoy.

A good government is for the people, with the people and by the people. China has made one full circle in political progress.

It is still beautiful, historical. Amazing lives, amazing country.


May 9, 2015

Sibu Tales : Making Crispy Roasted Pork

We loved having Char Siew made by our father's friends. Occasionally Dad would bring home one or two pieces of crispy skinned belly pork from the market, i.e. his Cantonese friend's stall.

Foochows did not make Siew York like the Cantonese.

The thin belly pork would be chopped finely by Dad and we would have a very nice dinner. In Foochow we would call this, guan siew niik. Meaning carry belly pork (home for the evening).. Because earlier on in Sibu, mum did not have an oven to do Siew York, even though we suspected that Dad was able to make a fine one.

Later, Dad bought my mother a New World oven, and we never made Siew York. Dad said it was easier to just buy from his friend's stall. Dad never liked messy places. He was very spartan in his needs and very minimalistic in his approach to lfe.

Even later, our neighbour's daughter married a pork seller who was Cantonese. And we had gifts of Siew York during the Chinese New Year, but during the mother would politely buy one or two katis of the Siew York, for the frying of our Noodles and Long Cabbage. She was too frugal to have a huge platter of Siew York, Waxed Duck, roasted Chicken.

Fast forward 50 years, my son in law who is a Cantonese makes really good Siew York.

May 8, 2015

Sarawakian Local Delights No.5 : Free Food in the Jungles of Sarawak

My mother used to tell how tough life was during the Japanese Occupation. She planted on more than 2 acres of land and harvested 38 piculs of  rice for her family,which included her father, brothers and one sister. At the same time she had to rear pigs,pluck vegetables with the help of her sister in law and younger sister.

She always looked forward to a good rain because her sister in law and she would go to the nearby jungle (not the rubber gardens) to look for the white mushrooms. Made into soup

Photo by Frank J Martin (Borneo Post)

this white mushroom was really good. Today it is hard to get this white mushroom or any other white ones. The best one is the Chicken Meat Mushroom.

Paku was available by the banks of any stream or river. During the Japanese Occupation , she and her sister would row a small boat during high tide to Sg. Assan to pluck paku and then later waited for the low tide to bring them quickly and safely home to Nang Chong. Rowing a boat to Sg. Assan in those days of Japanese Occupation was a done thing and very safe because the small short cut via Pulau Kerto was away from the direct sight of the Japanese in Sibu. Many villagers would take that route to pluck paku, trap animals or to visit friends.

Reflecting with her after she told her stories, we talked about paku (guok) and wild mushrooms now available in Sarawak.

Paku is God's gift to people who live in the jungle and its peripheral lands.

 In Yunnan and Guizhou of China Paku is also found. The people there cook paku like us and they go a further step - that is to preserve the paku in salt and a little vinegar. This preserved vinegared paku is fried and served as a restaurant dish.

Today when people gather for Christian fellowship in longhouses and Chinese villages, it is therefore very blessed to be able to serve stir fried paku and braised wild mushrooms besides some chicken and free fish from the river. This was the experience in many longhouses throughout Sarawak when urban Christian brothers and sisters go for short term missions.

God has sent us free vegetables in the jungle for us to use.

NB. This post is written for all women who are mothers and have to fend for their children through thick and thin, and to try to find free food in the jungle.

Happy Mother's day to my mother especially and to all other mothers in the world.

May 7, 2015

Amazing workmanship : Rattan Tiered Basket


This is a special story of Japanese times.

During the Japanese Occupation, rice was a special commodity which no one could sell . The Japanese had full control of rice selling, and rice milling. And rice was also heavily taxed by the Japanese.
This photo is from Google. I shall photograph the original basket made by Wong Sing Fong, now being exhibited in Foochow Association's History Gallery, in Sibu.

Wong Sing Fong had only arrived in 1941 in Sibu at the tender age of 18 when the Japanese occupied Sarawak.

He settled down in Kapit where he started to earn a living.

This tiered basket has a special meaning to his surviving members of his family.

Wong Sing Fong was imprisoned for secretly selling rice during the Japanese Occupation. However he did not spend his time looking at the four walls of the prison in Sibu.

During his 6 months jail sentence, he learned basket weaving. He made a three tiered gift basket, similar to the one in the photo, which he valued most as he had just arrived in a hot humid land of Sarawak, from the cool climate of Fujian, China.

His son donated the basket he made to the Foochow Association of Sibu.

May 5, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Bridal Suitcase

In the 1950's brides were given two suitcases like this as part of their dowry. Dresses, textiles or materials, pajamas, jewellery were placed in them. While at the bottom the suitcases would be a red packet of money for the bride to start her new life well. The "pressed or weighted" money was prepared by the bride's parents, one to represent the auspicious moment of a girl leaving her home for her future, and two, the preparedness of the bride's family to "press" some money into her hands.

The special cipher laock was very useful for the bride to protect her possessions.

When an auspicious day was set, the suitcases would be sent over to the groom's house. This was very much a part of Foochow wedding traditional practice.

Today some parents still practise this, to make the wedding preparations very merry and memorable. Many however do without it.

May 4, 2015

Hua Hong Stories : Great Grandpa's Funeral

My great grandfather passed away in 1944 just before the Japanese surrendered

The Hua Hong Ice Factory was sited on an island right opposite Sibu. So first the coffin had to be carried from the house to the jetty at Hua Hong. The Ice Boat brought the coffin across the river to Sibu and here, the men started to carry the coffin from the wharf road to Masland Church for a service again on foot.

After the service I could imagine that the 16 men got ready to carry the coffin 8 men  at a time while all the able bodied relatives would walk behind the coffin, all the way to Sg. Merah.

How did all the female relatives with small feet manage to send him to the cemetery? Did they go? Did my great grandmother go?

His cemetery was built in Sungei Merah and it was a long way from Sibu. This story is a story of how clansmen were so courageous, considerate, and loving.

When my great grandfather passed away, word was sent around to all the Tiong Clan members. Strong men were required to carry the coffin. The pall bearers were carefully selected. Normally one coffin was carried by 8 men, four in the front and 4 at the back. But because my great grandfather was wealthy, 16 men were called and each group took turns to carry the coffin, 3 miles journey to the MEM Methodist Evangelical Mission cemetery , near sungei Merah.

It was one of the biggest funerals in Sibu , by the standard of those days, with one son and one daughter and several grandchildren to mourn his loss. His cousins and nephews, nieces from Sg. Bidut, Engkilo, Esnurai and Sg. Merah came to pay respects.

According to my uncle Tiong Leh King, who was one of the pall bearers selected and he was only 18 years old, it was a tough duty to fullfill but they all managed to bring the coffin to the Sg.Merah cemetery without any problems. It must have been very heavy.

A funeral lunch was provided after the burial.

I am sure all the 18 pall bearers were tired from the carrying of the coffin which was really heavy as it was made of belian.

Today it is an unimaginable task to carry a coffin right from the river side to the Sg.Merah cemetery on foot a distance of more than 4 miles.

May God bless all who carried the coffin of my great grandfather and May God bless those who came to the funeral.

These two photos are from Google and they illustrate how difficult it is to carry coffins in those early times. In the black and white photo, the coffin is carried by 4 people in the front and 4 people at the back:

This is a later photo from China and more men are needed to carry the coffin. One can say that the younger generation is not as strong.

(Acknowlegement : Thanks to uncle Tiong Leh King for sharing the story with me. He was born in 1923  in Sibu.)

May 3, 2015

Nang Chong Stories ; Hand Warmer

My maternal grandmother was a good story teller. And she had a lot of experiences during her years as a stranded overseas Foochow lady in Fujian.

The days were poor for them because money could not be remitted to them in the village. Grandma was also looking after two nephews over there. In order to make ends meet, the two boys alos helped to earn their keep by helping in the farm. They were responsible for cooking food for the pigs. Grandma did other kitchen work.

Grandma said that it was very cold in winter and with hardly enough clothes they were glad that they had a big kitchen to work in.

In the cold winter they at least had warmth from the fire. That was a blessing in disguise.

So how did other people in China warm their hands?

Copper Hand Warmer, Qing Dynasty. Google.

The Qing Dynasty left a lot of cultural artifacts like this copper hand warmer, so we have an idea how they warm themselves in the cold days.

Today, the Foochow Heritage Gallery in Sibu has a hand warmer as an exhibit. So you can have a look and see what a hardwarmer is like used in Fujian.

May 1, 2015

Kitchen Talk #1 : Tailors and Tailor Made clothes

Kitchen Talk #1 .

Very 60's - 70's : "Who made your clothes?" This should be complimentary to the person addressed, and it should be taken as a compliment from a person who is keen to look as good as you.

However it really depends on how the conversation goes... However some people do not want to disclose where they had made their clothes and would not share tailor...

Photos: My aunt made her own clohtes(right) Studio photo. Left : Empire waist line ( My beautiful tailor/seamstress, Angela Wong of Rajang Park, made some of these for me when I went to study in Kuala Lumpur, early 70;s. I am forever grateful to her and her great wisdom. Angela would always entertain other friends..This was her great genuine kindness...

A few words about the Empire Waist Line
 Empire is a style in women's clothing in which the dress has a fitted bodice ending just below the bust, giving a high-waisted appearance, and a gathered skirt which is long and loosely fitting but skims the body rather than being supported by voluminous petticoats. The outline is especially flattering to pear shapes wishing to disguise the stomach area or emphasize the bust. The shape of the dress also helps to lengthen the body's appearance.

The Empire waist line has come back to high fastion.

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). ...