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.

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