June 29, 2015

Miri : Ikan Belida

The ikan Belida is an unusal shaped fish found in Sarawak. It is also found in Sumatra.

At the time of writing, this fish is served deep fried, or as fish balls.

It is a pity there is no control in size of fish being caught in Sarawak. Baby fish should be released and sent back to the rivers where they can grow to large sizes.

The belida is getting rarer now.

June 25, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Grandmother's Birthday

Grandma Lien Tie gave birth to 9 children, 4 boys and 5 girls.

She was bought as a child bride for my grandfather, aged 20 then. She was a mere child of 4 (but sold as 5 years of age for 5 silver dollars) by her father , surnamed Tiong, related to many of the Tiongs in Sibu, in Kay Tou Puoh,in Minqin. The big age difference made it difficult for a true love match. " Your Grandfather was very taciturn, a hardworking man, stern faced but a good story teller amongst his nephews" (Quoting my uncle Lau Pang Hung.)

She grew up together with another child bride (Mrs. Lau Kah Tii) in Ban Dong,Minqing, until she was old enough to come to Sarawak with Mu Oh (this was how I called Mrs. Lau Kah Tii) or Grand Aunty. That was when she was able to work, feed chickens, cook rice and carry water. She had loved the eldest sister in law (Mother of Lau Sing Chiong), the eldest of the Lau brothers, in Fujian and often talked about her to us, how she was given extra food when food was scarce, how she was asked to sleep in the same bed as her in the cold of winter and when her clothes were thin.. She was given a lot of tasks to do but she was always bright and quick to learn, hence her eldest sister in law, then with several children. of her own, was always nice to her, giving her a lot of encouragement. She was hardly more than 5 years older than the children in the family and yet she had to wash clothes, dry them, and pick sticks and wood in the hills.

( Lau Kah Tii was No.2) and my Grandfather was No.3 in the extended family.

As a very small woman, less then 5 foot tall, she was a giant so to speak because she was very capable in making decisions, and really able to work hard. Once she was married and had children of her own, she had her kitchen. And she was very provident in getting enough food for every one. Some nephews chose to eat ("free") with her but she was generous. Her food safe was never short of food according to my mother.

She would collect nipah leaves to make rokok wrappers, tie them up in bundles and exchanged with the Malanau fishermen. She would have a whole tin of jelly fish, salted fish, in her kitchen. She had bought small amounts of salt and her rokok wrappers and tobacco and exchanged these foods with the visiting Melanaus. Thus she was able to get extra fish. She was able to spend wisely with the hard earn money from my grandfather who was a good rubber tapper.

In 1926, the year my mother was born, my grandfather had saved enough to build his own house in Ah Nang Chong, exactly opposite the big mansion belonging to his own elder brother, Lau Kah Tii in Ensurai or Wong Su Lai.

But once the family moved to Ah Nang Chong, she was in control of business of rubber tapping, engaging more tappers, managing their work, while at the same time getting her children educated and brought up in the Methodist faith. She was not a Bible woman, but she could quote Confucious and the Bible from memory. She had a great memory.

Life was not easy as she had 9 children!! We would ask how she gave birth and who delivered her babies. Women helped women she would say. That was how life was then.

Her life could be divided into  parts:
a) Life as a child
b) Life as a child bride in Ban Dong
c) Life as a little in Ensurai, Sibu
d) Life as a young wife to Lau Kah Chui
e) Life as a stranded woman in China during the Japanese Occupation
f) Life as a widow
g) Life as a grandmother
h) Life as a disadvantaged visually disabled grand lady

Each part would cover pages and pages of stories if all her children and grandchildren could testify!!

Her hobbies? making quilts, sewing clothes, watching movies, visiting her daughters in Sibu,Kuching and Sarikei and making Chang or zongzi, wor gui, tong gui and others to distribute..

She saw her eldest son, Lau Pang Ping, marrying a child bride from China, she brought her second son Lau Pang Kui, to China to study and accepted his choice of wife from Fuzhou city, she saw the marriage of third son,Lau Pang Sing, in their big house in Ah Nang Chong. But she never saw the wedding of her youngest beloved son, who "ran away to China in 1954. That must have been very sad for her.

To her, part of her life was bearing the grief of losing her beloved sons-in- law : the eldest Dr. Hsiung Wen,the seccond, Wong King Xiang, and then my father, all very close together within a few years apart.... She had knocked her head against the wall and wailed loudly and for years, she would accompany her three widowed daughters when she thought that they were lonely. My eldest aunt lived in Kuching, my second aunt in Sarikei and my mother in Sibu. She would travel alone to see them, by plane, or by boat. Friends and relatives who met this little frail looking woman would always help her.

She loved her grand children, especially the children of her sons. There was no doubt about it. She had kept their precious photos in her room. She proudly adorned her living room with framed photos of them. And her Chinese calendars would be marked with the birthdays of all her children and her grandchildren. It made her very happy to have many Chinese calenders with famous film stars hanging in the living room. In those days it was a kind of pride to have as many calendars as possible from "kawan" shops.

We only did not have an ancestors' room, in the Ah Nang Chong house, where framed photos hang, like in China. But I am sure she would have loved it as she already had the special "altar" of the Chi Tang made. The Lau Ancestors' framed photo hanged nicely on the wall and that, I would always remember fondly, as it was very nice to think of the fact that I come from a line of scholars, magistrates, warriors and even high court officials.Today due to inflation, very few shops "order" those calendars any more to give to favourite customers.

Like all Methodists, she had a Methodist Church calendar pasted on her bed room door every year. Perhaps she truly beleived that it would fend off evil spirits. There was no cross in her room, but she had a picture of Jesus on one of her walls.

What I loved most was her Foochow red blanket, the 12 pound blanket as we called it.

I remember one of her best times was her grand 80th Birthday in a restaurant in Sibu. He sons paid for the dinner, perhaps that was the Foochow "duty" in those days and the daughters paid for the cake.

During this birthday, she was surrounded by 3 sons, 3 daughters-in-law, 2 daughters, an adopted daughter, 2 sons in law, many nephews, nieces,grandchildren and great grandchildren.

It has been 35 years...

May God bless her. and all her descendants.

June 24, 2015

Sibu Tales : Dried Bamboo Shoots

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Dried bamboo shoots ready for delivery to Fuzhou City.
Dried bamboo shoots can be bought from the Chinese Medicine shop. The rehydrated dried bamboo shoots can be bought from the vendors in the Wet Market.

Dried bamboo shoot is not available throughout the year in Sibu and some years, the shipment just did not arrive. In Foochow this is called "Dong Chi" or breaking of market.

The photos show the spring sweet yellow bamboo shoots. Another kind of bigger bamboo shoot is fairly big in size and one portion is as heavy as 2 kg.

My maternal grandmother was a good provider. Whenever she came to Sibu she would purchase enough food for my Third Uncle's family especially after she sold some smoked rubber sheets. She was kind of purchaser of the family. My Third Uncle was not a man to spend time having a R and R in town, sitting in the coffee shop. So it was my grandmother who would come to town, do the buying of supplies etc. Sometimes neigbhours would also request her to get a list of their stuff.

After soaking the bamboo shoots for a few days, my third uncle would stir fry the bamboo shoots, some for meals, and some for fillings of baos.

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Later. many of us learned how to fry the bamboo shoots, add chillies and lots of onions and vinegar. This became a kind of pickle we could keep in the refrigerator for quite a long time. Whenever we needed an extra condiment or side dish, we would take a small bowl of this "pickled" bamboo shoots out for a good evening meal. We would say there was plenty to "bite" and "chew". In Foochow it is "jin wu noh gar".

The aroma of cooking bamboo shoots is nostalgic.

What wonderful memories.

June 21, 2015

Sibu Tales : Mi Turn Gui

My mother was not a maker of cakes and local snacks.  And if we liked anything, we would just buy a bit from the night market.
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Phyllis Wong's mi turn gui

My maternal grandmother was the one who would make zongzi, mi turn gui, wor gui, tong gui from scratch. So whenever she came from Ah Nang Chong, she would bring some of these kuih for us as Ming Neng (presents or buah tangan). My Third Aunt therefore learned to make them too. One very important reason why my grandma and Third Aunt would make these kuih was because they had a stone grinder and plenty of rice, from their farm. Since freshly harvested rice or freshly milled rice would make the best of these Foochow kuihs.

the mi turn guih is slightly savoury so we loved it very much. Sometimes, we just ate three or four slices as a meal.

When we were small we did not know how much effort went into making them.

As my mother would say, "Just open your mouth when you want to eat..but never know how much has gone into the making of the rice snacks..including the planting of rice..."

Now we appreciate those who made them in the past like my grandmother, my third aunt and others.

June 19, 2015

Sibu Tales : Foochow Men and Guns before 1963

This photo must have been taken during one of the visits to my Grand Aunt's lovely home, Chong Villa.Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and outdoor

Two guns are obviously seen here in the photo.

My father was a keen shooter and so were his friends in those days.

The guns were "hoong chiin" or air gun. Rifles and semi automatic guns were a bit rare but probably owned too as guns were easy to buy and licences easy to obtain.

Farmers especially needed the guns. Surveyors mapped and surveyed with guns at their side throughout Sarawak. Thus any one who could afford a gun, carried a gun , even in public.

My grandfather also owned a gun and so did my father.

With the Indonesian Confrontation against Malaysia (1962 onwords) and the Communist Insurgency in Sarawak, the Chinese were asked to "surrender their guns" to the police as soon as possible.

Thus my grandfather and my father being obedient Sarawak citizens had a discussion and promptly surrendered their guns. Not long after that. my Grandfather passed away.

Thus ended an era of gun ownership and freedom to carry a gun amongst the Chinese.

Wild boars, snakes, crocodiles and bats had to be killed by inviting Malays or Ibans to come to the Chinese farms. But anyway, farming was disrupted by the political unrest and thousands of Chinese moved to Sibu and Kuching, resulting in an upsurge for property buying and also housing construction.

Sibu Tales : First Photographic Society's Exhibition

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Photo courtesy of Sibu Photographic Society

The Sibu Photographic Club was founded in 1952 by a group of enthusiastic photographers in Sibu led by Dr. D. H.Niblett the DMO, Third Division.

There was a photography exhibition on 30th May 1954 at the Chiang Chuan Association and was officiated by the Governor of Sarawak, Sir Anthony F. Abeel.

The Photographic Club organised several outings and expeiditions into the interior of Sarawak. Famous photographers Lim Poh Chiang and Tan Yen Sai were participants of such outings.

Because many photography enthusiasts were British Government officers like Mr. D.C.White, the Resident and other senior civil servants. Even the governor was an honorary member of the club.

My father was a keen member but did not hold any position. He and his cousins were able to develop and print lots of photos at the Nang Kwong Photo Studio which was owned by the Wong Brothers. Wong Hung Kwong and Wong Liing Kwong,of Blacksmith Road.
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"The Club had a close link with the Sarawak Photographic Society, based in Kuching. That Society boasted member such as  Mrs. Hedda Marrison and Mr. K. F. Wong. Member of the Club were regular participants in photographic exhibitions and other activities organized by the Sarawak Photographic Society."

June 17, 2015

Sungei Merah Tales : Bamboo Shoots

My grandfather acquired quite a good piece of land when he moved from Bintangor to Sibu in the 1940's. An uncle told me that most Foochows acquired a lot of land during those years when the value of the dollar was big and it was easy for those with cash to acquire land.

Grandfather planted rubber immediately upon acquiring the land and soon the rubber trees were yielding. He had three wooden houses for the rubber tapping employees and they lived there quite peacefully. I remember these families long after they moved out to their own homes.

One of the families owned a fishing boat. They had nice stories to tell.

However the best memories I had of this period in the early 50's was the collecting of bamboo shoots My adopted aunt, Ah Hiong, would go out in the early hours of the day to collect them, with a parang, and an aluminium pail or sa li turn.

That afternoon we would have a stir fry of bamboo shoots on the table. My grandmother would bring the excess to the market .

Besides rubber, and bamboo shoots, my grandfather, in his old age also enjoyed selling bananas which grew very well on the hill slopes.

Grandfather felt that being able to own such a big piece of land in Sg. Merah was indeed full filling the  Minqing fortune teller's prophecy - that he would be prosperous "across the seas".

However this blessing also came about because he had the chance of meeting with Wong Nai Siong and later, his good relationship with Mr James Hoover.

But most importantly, my grandfather was a very frugal, hardworking man with a vision and mission in life.

June 16, 2015

Sibu Tales : Begonia Face Powder

My mother has always been a natural beauty and had never owned a lipstick in her life.

As a very active school girl I was imaginative and had wanted to write plays to perform.

In fact I took part only in one play and I did use this powder to make my face white. Other actors also used it to make their faces white. Well it was an American play and we were supposed to be Americans.

My mum was very anti-make up and she was strict with us.

She had not wanted us to be fancy like the White Faced Women of the town (pseudonym for prostitutes), so we girls must never make our face white!!

Today we use this face powder as a silver polish.

And I do have a box in the drawer...well you never know when we may need to powder our nose, or our face.

Is indeed interesting how our mothers teach our good values and how strong these images can still come back to us after more than 40 years.

June 12, 2015

Sibu Tales : Touch your Heart

When I saw my friend Meng Lei post a graduation photo of his son, I was particularly struck by his pose.

He , as if nudged by God, places his hand over his heart..yes, on the left side. May be he did not even know his father was taking the photo.

My maternal grandmother and my mother, and many other Foochow women of Sibu used to say, " Sing ngang muor muor lah".

Why did they say that?

It was a Foochow expression common in those days, referring to conscience.

First of all, touching the heart, is an act to show one's gratitude to God , to family and to anyone.

Secondly, in Malaysia, when one shakes hands with another person, one would touch the heart to show respect after shaking hands.

Thirdly, in modern Malaysia for tourism industry, touching the heart means, "Welcome to Malaysia".

Fourthly, in most countries, when the National Anthem is played, the citizens touch their hearts like this...

But  this photo really reminds me of my maternal grandmother, who liked to end a conversation or story telling session with, "Sing Ngan muor muor lah...." Many people were criticized for being cruel, gossips floated around about cruelty of some mothers in law...some were stories of bad husbands and bad children. These moral stories would be circulated and people relating the stories would always include the statement. Could the cruel person touch the heart and find his or conscience not to do such bad things?

My grandmother would often tell us children stories with a moral lesson and concluded that whatever we did must be good, and from the heart. "Aiya, never do bad things, always Sing Ngan Muor Muor la before you decide to do anything" Grandmother often would touch her own heart, give it a good  chest rub. We found it very comforting to see her doing that.

We have a few family stories of bad deeds. Some of these characters towards the end of their lives, reached into their conscience and made amends. A few others have not yet, touched their hearts.

And so, as for those who did bad things, she recommended that people must " touch their heart and find their conscience...." She lived a long life, and she had seen many happenings in her life.

Touch your heart and do more good deeds, my late grandmother would always tell people around her.

My maternal Grandmother would have been a great Judge in the Superior Court of Justice.

(Congratultions to Meng Lei, Mee Chung and the whole Wong Family on the graduation of their youngest son/nephew June 2015)

June 10, 2015

Sibu Tales : White Wash

White Wash - family wooden house in  Kung Ping Road Sibu. My father inherited the house from my grandfather who moved to a better house in Sungei Merah. And we moved over from Pulau Kerto just in time for me to start Primary School at the Methodist Primary School Sibu.

As a child I was not too happy staying in a wooden house while many of my friends lived in concrete houses until my ngie mah taught me a lesson or two. She reminded me that "refugees" had no pillow to rest on until they found a Godly place to sleep and then she started telling me stories from the Bible. She was illiterate but she remembered so many stories "by heart". After her stories, I felt better and appreciated the peeling white washed walls of our wooden houses.

White Wash - Tom Sawyer

Reading Tom Sawyer gave me an uplifted sense of wonder. Fences in the US were white washed. There was this big house called White House. After that, I thought that all houses painted in white, or white washed were just lovely. One night as I cycled home from MYF I saw my wooden house gleaming pale white in the dark. I was glad I 'was coming HOME". I had a home in which lived my parents, my siblings and my grandma.

White Wash - today many people have forgotten about white washing as a metaphor. May be it has gone out of use. Obsolence? Never mind. writers, politicians, tycoons. do a lot of white washing.

White wash in Fujian...for the first time I realised that white wash could be just made in a back yard. In Minqin I saw this..and men came to collect their white wash in their pails, ride off in their tricycle for their day's earning.

White wash cannot be erased from my memory.

Hua Hung Ice Factory : Processing of Rubber Scraps

Rubber tappers before Malaysia tapped and collected latex from cups attached to rubber trees and dutifully processed them later in the morning. It was very hard work.

Besides collecting latext, they also collected the dried up residue on the tree. After the latex had been collected from the cup in the morning, any more latex oozing out of the tree will form a layer of dried latex.

This layer would be collected the next day when the rubber tapper came. This is called Neng Si, and it would be wound up like a ball, and placed in a rattan basket tied to the waist of the rubber tapper. You can imagine how much Neng Si a rubber tapper could collect if he had 100 trees to tap.

from Google
After peeling off the Neng Si, the rubber tapper would cut gently again into the tree bark, and the white milk of the rubber tree would ooze out.
rubber ball made from raw dried up latex scraps from tree. This is the closest photo I can find to explain what Neng Si is.

Some trees yield more latex, others less, depedning on the breed and age of the tree.

In Ah Nang Chong, the rubber trees planted by my maternal grandfather were not of the best because they were planted in 1926-1930. He singularly planted rubber trees on 100 acres of swampy land. Thus the rubber trees grew up crooked, some were uprooted even, but the roots formed a formidable obstacle to my aunts and cousins who tapped rubber in those days. These raised rubber roots were hard to walk on and very often, the feet of the rubber tappers were damaged. Some even developed widely spaced toes due to the frequent gripping of the slippery rubber roots, Nevertheless rubber tappers, who worked barefooted, had very strong feet.

Getting bitten by snakes was a frequent occupational hazard. Some bites were fatal.

My maternal grandfather also employed initially many tappers who had just arrived from China. They were called Sing Ka or New Arrivals (guests). These tappers stayed in the Coolie Houses (*4)  my grandfather built for several years before they moved on to other places for better lives once they had saved enough to be independent. Those were good days when rubber prices were very good.

In those days, these employees and my grandfather shared the profits. Besides my maternal grandfather being a very generous uncle gave 10 acres of his land to his nephew to start off his life. In those days the Pioneers from Fujian were very generous to their closest relatives who came  out later.

Foochow generosity like this has helped many to prosper in Nanyang.

But the neng si was another matter.

The neng si was collected and sold to Hua Hung which flattened and put the dried up rubber strips together to form a flattened sheet. These rough flattened rubber sheets were then baled up and exported to Singapore.

Raw rubber scraps had a terrible smell whenever they were loaded on to motor launches. Very stinky indeed and very dirty looking.

We really did not know why my grandfather decided not to continue this business. May be he felt that it was not a worthwhile business.

Later I found out that Hock Chiong, as a middle man, exported just simple balls of neng si, or unprocessed neng si.

The raw neng si continues to be an important export of Indonesia today.

June 4, 2015

Anthony Bourdain in Sarawak

Two delightful photos from Anthony Bourdain, one of my favourite celebrity chefs. This is something to blog about for SARAWAK.

His love for laksa is a known fact that has gone "viral" on the net.

Can you name all the food in this photo?

And celebrating Gawai with an Iban Family. He is happy here with new friends and sitting cross legged with these Iban ladies. (oops) should crop the man off the good photo..you know what I mean...)

June 1, 2015

China Series: Fried Baos

Baos or baozi were originally invented by Zhuge Liang, a scholar and military strategist of 3rd Century AD.

A new  and exciting Jian Baos are coming back as a fashionable street and restaurant food.

History of fried baos
The delightfully fried base of the baos is what most people lie. Its stuffing is usually meat braised with soy sauce, with taste of chopped onions and sesame seeds.. It can be sweet with red beans etc.

From Wikipedia :
It is not difficult to make. Use semi-fermented flour to coat fresh meat and pig skin jelly. And then fry the stuffed buns in a pan. The pig skin jelly coated in the flour will turn into a mixture of pig skin and juice, when exposed to heat During the frying process, sprinkle some water on the buns for several times. When they are fully cooked, finish the cooking by sprinkling some chopped onions and sesame seeds on them, and then take the freshly cooked delicious pork pan fried buns out of the pan and you can just begin your enjoyment. Please note that you’d better eat them when they are hot, for the taste will not be so good when the buns turn cold. And you also must be careful of the hot juice contained in the buns, which may scald your tongue or dirty your clothes if you are too much hurried in tasting it. Usually, the Chinese take it as a delicacy for the breakfast. It can somewhat be treated as fast food. In most of pork pan fried bun shops in Shanghai, you can choose either to enjoy your buns in the shop or just take them away in bags. If you are not in haste for work, you may take a seat and eat your buns together with beef and silk noodles soup. The two make the perfect match.

(P/s...one day I will get you a simpler recipe)

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). ...