July 11, 2015

Government Quarters

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This kind of government quarters (Class 3) is on the way out of our social scenario in Sarawak.

In the olden days, government servants who were not graduates, thus "lowly classified" were given accomodation like this. Rental was a mere 30 dollars, around the late 1960's and early 1970's but that was quite a big some to some families.

I have a lot of good memories visiting friends,during my early teaching days, who stayed in this kind of quarters.

I remember particularly the late Mr. Christopher Ngadan, who served as District Education Officer, in Limbang in1970's. He was a good cook and very friendly.

Usually when he came back from his travelling, he might have a small packet of wild boar or deer, he would send messages to his friends to come and share his food. He was also bringing up 2 nephews at that time. As he did the cooking, we would be helping him with small chores and we made sure that we did the washing up. It was good to offer to arrange the table, wash the pots, sweep the floor and pour the drinks. Most serving men teachers were quite handy in the kitchen but some arrogant ones were just too proud to move a finger.

It was also the done thing, to bring a packet or two of peanuts, or some cakes, or may be even another dish. A few bottles of beer would always be welcome. We must never forget to go empty handed, unless we could not help it.

However we were all gracious enough to enjoy a well cooked dinner, prepared by our Education Officer.

It was so nice to drink the local coffee made in a large pot which helped us have great conversations into the long hot nights.

And sometimes we would go to Brunei for our weekend ice cream. That was the nice thing about living in Limbang in those days and when you earn just a small salary.

One teacher remembers him, a bachelor, giving a talk on family planning in Lawas many years ago.
"Have small families so that you can provide quality life and quality education."

July 10, 2015

Sibu Tales : Cuttlefish and Pork Leg

If food can talk, it would be full of love in all (Foochow) conversations.

But we Chinese have a saying that we should allow our food to speak on our behalf.

One of the best food that my maternal grandmother would make for the whole family would be cuttle fish boiled with Chow Yi Char or the Smelly Root which was then considered poor man's ginseng.

Cuttlefish in the 60's was cheap and pletniful. My grandmother would always have a tinful of it in the kitchen, ever ready for a good soup.

Once every few weeks and especially during the school holidays we would have this soup, with fresh pork leg bought from Sibu. My grandma would leave early in the morning by motor launch for Sibu and then return by the noon motor launch.

By evening the whole kitchen would be filled with the fragrance of the health giving and truly nourshing soup.  A pork leg would be chopped up into small bit sizes pieces and the dried cuttlefish cut into small slices. In those days, grandma would have put into two or three cuttlefish just to add more fragrance to the soup. It was my grandmother's way of showing her love for her hard working son, Pang Sing, who would return to work in Sibu was a wharf labourer, in between periods of smoking rubber sheets.

We could eat the cuttle fish and pork leg soup in two ways, one with rice and the other with soh mien or longevity noodles.

I loved the soup with lots of garlic and Foochow red wine.

Somehow I remember the pork leg to be especially big, and the family would make the dish last two or three days.

It should definitely be considered our Foochow way of showing love and family bonding through a soup.

On the other hand, I have a very lovely story about my own paternal grandfather who loved a pork leg every now and then.

Most Foochow household budget would be controlled by the man of the house in Sibu. And sometimes by the very capable wives.

Once my grandfather came to visit us without any notice. We had just moved to the wooden house in Kung Ping Road.

And he brought a pork leg as a present. My mum was not surprised because grandfather loved good food. He had a good reason to stay with us as he said as he wanted to help my father repair the big Foochow wood stove, which was actually constructed by him.

My mother used an enamal pot to double boil the pork leg with cuttle fish and a bit of Foochow red wine.  the dinner that evening was very special as father and son spent a long time eating and chatting. It was often said that my grandfather and my father loved talking to each other. My mum and we children would be away doing our chores and homework.

After reflecting on my mother's cooking, my grandfather the next day, took the huge kuali to clean in the backyard,scrapping away the soot.That was how I learned about keeping the kuali bottom free of black soot and how to get the kuali hot quickly. Grandfather also cleaned the chimney very meticulously. He then slowly repaired the small cracks of the stove. By the time he left, our stove was functioning very well and mum was most happy about it.

His parting remark was ," Hung Chuo , try to cook another pork leg and see if it is easier for you..."

July 9, 2015

Sibu Tales : Mother-in-law's Favourite Dish

When I was teaching in Sibu, many women tend to talk about their mothers-in-law and usually quite negatively.

They usually related how difficult it was to serve food properly without being criticized.

But I was most impressed by one lady who told a special ancient story, about one of her ancestors in China:

"There was once a mother in law who liked keng chai or salted vegetables very much. One day she would ask for geng chai and beef soup and another day she would ask for geng chai fried with belly pork.Image may contain: food

And her daughter in law would tell every one how good her cooking was. She would tell people about all the dishes she cooked for her mother in law.

And she even told people how well she managed her difficult mother in law with this tale :The daughter in law got rather tired of her mother in law's whims and fancies.  Every now and then, she would ask her mother in law to leave her  house and eat at the house of another son. It sort of worked for a while.she would send her pot of geng chai and beef soup at about lunch time. Her brother in law was very frugal and he would dilute the soup so that they would have the soup twice in one day. Do you know? This mother in law would beam and said the soup was excellent!!"

" Now there was another time when this daughter in law sent a pot of belly pork fried with geng chai to her other sister in law's house. She also sent a chicken cooked with special herbs. Her mother in law said the two dishes were very good.And she came home very happy. But after staying a week or so, she started complaining about her cooking. The daughter in law often cried out because she had such bad fortune having such a bad mother in law...."

But several years later, the mother in law and her relatives got together pulled the daughter in law to have a public magistrate hearing . In fact according to the magistrate, this daughter in law never cooked properly and she would just throw in some pork bones to cook soup every day."

Moral of the story : never tell people how well you can cook for your mother in law. One day your mother in law will tell the truth.

July 8, 2015

Sibu Tales : Chendol, Cincau and Jagung

Years ago in Sibu, we could eat Chendol in the Chicken Market, and some stalls in the old Bus Terminal. No coffee shops served chendol or what we call ABC now.

We had our special Chendol hawkers and for only 15 cents we could have a good thirst quencher. I never knew how chendol came about in Sibu, but chendol is definitely not Foochow in origin.

Then slowly, new ingredients came into the mixture, first cincau or grass jelly and then corn.

I have always liked the ORIGINAL chendol, which is red bean, chendol and sago pearls. I will not usually order any other ingredients, although having ALL of them would not cost you more.

The other choice is Evaporated milk or Santan (coconut milk).

Oh yes, you can also have another choice, gula apong (nipah sugar) or plain cane sugar syrup.

Perhaps we really learned how to have great taste buds from this local dessert.

July 6, 2015

Sibu Tales : Long Beans or String Beans

Most Foochow families would grow beans and simple vegetables in their backyard.

My grand aunt, Chang Yuk Ging, whom we called Goo Poh was a very frugal primary school teacher. She lived in the 50th Anniversary Methodist Building on Island Road, within the Methodist Primary School almost the whole of her teaching career, spanning more than 30 years of her life. She lived there even after her retirement until the building had to be demolished.

Behind the building was a small plot of land, which the teachers shared and cultivated some vegetables. I remember Goo Poh loved to grow long beans because they did not take much space and every day she could harvest enough for either lunch or dinner. In order to save more money, she also dried the long beans partially and then had them pickled in red wine lees.

I would always remember how cleverly she cooked long beans in so many different ways . Foochow Curry with Chicken and mixed vegetables, Fried Long beans with Tou Cheong, Fried long beans with some belly pork like in the photos, fried preserved long beans, long bean soup and plain boiled long beans.

As a young student, I really felt that everything cooked by Goo Poh was nice.

July 5, 2015

Sibu Tales : Bean Sprouts

Most families in Sibu could make bean sprouts but only a few sold their product in the central market in the 60's. Those who sold bean sprouts also sold tofu, tou kwa (touwan) and soy bean milk, and other small vegetables like Chinese parsley, celery and spring onions.

Word got passed around about how a certain rich lady got more cash in the bank than her husband and the story became a legend. Perhaps it was not true, or it might have come from Singapore.

But it was a good story.

It went like this: The businessman had a beautiful wife who claimed that she was smarter than him and to prove it, she had a secret method of beefing up her personal bank account. Now in a small town, almost every one knew who was rich and perhaps some people even knew how much money a person had in the bank! That was rather frightening.

But any way, this towkay neo budgeted her family expenditure well. She would buy bean sprouts every day, and other cheaper vegetables. She then billed her husband with sharks' fins, abalones, birds' nest from time to time. The rice she bought for her family was poorer quality, and of course the bill for rice was three or four times higher.

She did "rig" the accounts so to speak. After all she was a very good accountant.

After about 20 years, with her children receiving a lot of "bonus" from her and her husband's joint account with her, she ended up with a huge sum, unknown to her husband. She indeed had more cash than her husband.

Word went around saying that if your family ate bean sprouts every day, you would end up having a lot of cash.

July 2, 2015

Sibu Tales : Smelly Root Soup

Actually the older Foochows who were China born loved Chow Yi Char and they believed that the soup could really replenish their energy.

The roots were not to give good health but to "expel" the tiredness and exhaustion from the body. My grandfather, Tiong Kung Ping, worked very hard at clearing land and building houses. He was also very good with machinery. Hence he did have pleasure in drinking this soup. Becuase his father, my great grandfather, Tiong King Kee was knowledgeable in the finding of herbs and health roots in the high mountains of Wun Chieh, the family became very familiar with all the local herbs and medicinal roots.

My grandfather would always remind my father and mother to boil the soup from time to time.

I also remember that when Foochows get together they would comment on how nice the root soup tasted in China, and how they looked forward to new shipment in the shops like Nguong Choon especially.

I did not like the taste of the soup until I was an adult and appreciated the significance of the soup. This soup also helps many exhausted mothers to sleep better at night.

July 1, 2015

Sibu Tales : Japanese Snails

My grandmother who was born in China around 1898 was a Minqing Ker Tou Buoh woman fromthe Tiong family. She was very independent minded and did a lot of farm work. She obtained some kind of information education when she lived next to a church in China. While the boys went to the one room school, she would listen as she did her chores. She memorized what the teacher said and felt that she could remember better than the boys the following day.

Two years after learning in that way she was taken out of China to live in Sarawak.

As far as she remembered, she said that when she did her gardening in Nang Chong,she never saw these Japanese snails.

Hence they probably came to Sarawak after the Second World War. She thought like everyone else.

She called them Nipuong Loi. or Japanese Snails.

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). ...