September 18, 2015

Miri : Slippery Vegetables

It is a delight to grow some vegetables in one's garden. This is one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

to cook it, blanch the young shoots and then stir fry with a good sambal. Or just do a plain stir fry with some smashed garlic.

Very healthy.

September 16, 2015

Sibu Tales : Chew Guo Ping

Sibu's first UK trained accountant. He was very pious and many years later, he went to Miri to start his firm . At the same time, he planted the first Methodist Church in Miri, starting fellowship in his own house.

Mei Ang Church today is one of the bigger Methodist Churches in Sarawak.

Seen in this photo are many leading Foochow community leaders.

September 15, 2015

House No 59 of 16 Company of Rajang River

Tiong Nai Hoong intensely studying the book by Wong Meng Lei.

16 Company十 六 公 司  was a small village in Lower Rajang carved out of, or rather built on a very low lying bank below Sg. Pan by a group of 16 very courageous Foochow men. They called themselves 16 Company.

Formed in the 1920's as a part of Foochow Methodist "expansionist policy" towards the lower Rajang by 16 able bodied men who believed in themselves, this area was established around Sg. Pan. The other parts of the Rajang was then just opened up by the Government .

For the Foochows this was a good move as it was a good opportunity to plant more rubber and rice as their population was increasing very fast and rubber price was extremely good. Furthermore the Ibans in the area were very friendly and welcoming. Their longhouses were further inland.

Towards the 1950's at the height of its prosperity (Korean War created the rubber boom) the total number of families had grown to 63 and the population around 500 with two toh tou or jetties ; a school and a church.

The subject of my interest for this posting is my own cousin who hails from 16 Company. Life is so full of coincidences and miraculous interfaces.

And by 6 degrees of separation (so to speak) I happen to meet and get to know him, Tiong Nai Hoong, in 1987 when I first moved to Miri also by chance.

Tiong,the owner of Ing Kong Drug Store of Miri was born in 16 Company!! His father Tiong Ching Liik a white haired coffee expert was the owner of the coffee shop occupying the ground floor of my second uncle's shop house in Bintangor in the 60's. The family had moved out of the settlement when time was ripe to move on. Nai Hoong had to find a better income too at the age of 18 and his father had to leave the rubber garden to make a better living earlier. Rubber had lost its shine and furthermore the political situation was unstable in the Rajang villages.

Nai Hoong went to work in Sibu for a meagre salary of $180 a month. He sent $150 back to his father for the family's expenditure - as a token from a very filial son. He replenished his own meagre sum by working at odd jobs. He said that he had "enough" and even eventually got married. When he and his wife had saved enough they moved to Miri. He was 30 years old.

The rest is history. 25 years later we can safely said he has made it as a self taught and well loved Tabib Cina and is a proud owner of a huge shop selling Chinese herbs and other Chinese foodstuff which are very in demand in modern Miri. From the early days of his arrival he slowly learned more and more about Chinese Traditional Medicine and with his intellect and good memory he became a source of information and even could provide health consultation to the early Foochow migrants in Miri. He soon operated a small half shop in the back lane near the Miri godown and wharf (with taxi drivers as his most loyal customers) but now he has a whole shop which is perhaps the biggest Chinese Medicine shop in Miri!!

His goods are always fresh and his prices very reasonable. A regular customer would always get a smile and a few words of comfort from him. His son is his able assistant and will inherit the business.

But what is most important is basically his pricing which is very very reasonable. You can always get a "Foochow discount" from him!!

16 Company's name also reflects the bonding of these 16 original pioneers who valued Honour and Brotherhood. When pioneering Foochows migrated from one place to another they carried these values which in turn helped them to survive the most difficult of challenges. I truly believe that my cousin carries these values with him to this day.

The 1960's was the beginning of the dispersal from 16 Company a settlement area which had full of hopes and aspirations for the 63 families .

According to my cousin Hii Yii Kiat has written a book about this area but he is a little disappointed that he could never get a copy to read. In 2001 Wong Meng Lei wrote "24 Acres : In Search of Foochow Settlements in the Rajang Basin" in which are two chapters on 16 Company .十 六 公 司

If you look at the map here you will see all the houses having a number. The people who lived in this area would remember very well in their heart until their dying days because they were a very close knitted community.

When I showed my cousin Meng Lei's book Nai Hung was very touched (I promised to give him one as soon as I can get another copy). He looked at the map and refreshed his youthful memories. He immediately found that his father's name was missing from the list! But he repeatedly said that the map was very very good.

My distant uncle, Nai Hoong's father - Tiong Ching Liik owned House No 59. Ching Liik's uncle Tiong Tien Chuo owned House No.60 and his brother Tiong Tien Die, House No. 61. Later when Tiong Ching Liik moved away to Binatang (early Bintangor) Nai Hoong stayed with his adopted father Hii Lok Tien at House No.48 for a short while.

All of the people who stayed there would remember making the raised road with soil brought in from the other areas (e.g.Iban owned land)as the area was originally peat swamp and flooding was every day. The plank walks they had built earlier lasted for only a while. So the residents decided to build a raised road out of their own pocket,since  no fund from the government was available at that time! Nai Hoong remembered that every one helped with the building of the road and how they extended the road slowly.

The settlers even dug a special huge drain to drain the flood waters behind the settlement.

Nai Hoong has a special fondness for the school Kai Hua where he studied and he immediately wrote in my book the name of the school .

A man cannot easily forget his own roots.


1. Wong meng Lei : "24 Acres : In Search of Foochow Settlements of the Rajang Basin"
2. Fiftieth Anniversary of Methodist Churches in Sarawak Magazine.

My apologies if I have made any mistake in reference due to my shortcoming in the Chinese language.

Nang Chong Stories: Fried Eggs and Red Wine Soup

A Foochow rite of passage I fondly remember is the loving gift of two bull's eye (fried eggs) cooked in Foochow Red Wine Soup .

When a daughter has her first menstruation, her mother would initiate her into womenhood and tell her very discreetly about the 4 feminine virtures of a Chinese woman.

This is an old custom from Minqing, Fujian. Passed from one generation to another this custom was brought to Sibu where many Foochow mothers also cooked the same dish for their daughters.

It is to me a love gift, from a loving mother to her child and in time to come, if the daughter remembers her mother's gift, she will pass on to her daughters.

This is how culture is perpectuated. Heat up a small kuali, add sesame oil and stir fry thin slices of ginger until crispy. Set aside and crack an egg to cook Bull's Eye. Make another one.

Add a cup of red wine into the kuali and eggs, add the ginger. When the soup is boiling hot, take out and serve. Mee sua can also be added to make a really good breakfast dish, as well as confinement dish.

This simple dish also helps to reduce period pains.

This is a small initiation ritual to start a young woman's path when she must remember her " four feminine virtues" :

morality (Chinese: 妇德; pinyin: Fùdé)
proper speech (Chinese: 妇言; pinyin: Fùyán)
modest manner/appearance (Chinese: 妇容; pinyin: Fùróng)
diligent work (Chinese: 妇功; pinyin: Fùgōng)

September 14, 2015

Naming of a Dish(松鼠鳜鱼 - sōng shǔ guì yú)

Many Chinese dishes have splendid names, even those in Malaysia.

For example a simple Kangkong or water spinach cooked with belacan is given a name like Malaysian Splendour.

There is a special dish called Squirrel Mandarin Fish. It is a very elaborate dish and a good chef takes time to prepare it.

According to a legend," Emperor Qianlong was in a restaurant when he saw a tasty looking fish on an altar. He ordered it be cooked for him at once, but as the fish was meant for a sacrifice to the Gods and ancestors, the restaurant owner was unsure of what to do. He decided to cook the fish in the shape of a squirrel instead, so he could feed the hungry Emperor and not upset the Gods. This dish has been popular ever since, and can be found all over China."

This dish has been around for 200 years.

Recently I visited my great grandfather's village and was delighted to meet a church sister who cooks very well. She served us this dish and I was really impressed by her skills.

She said, " This is normal way of doing a nice fish for a queen..."

I felt like a queen indeed.

September 12, 2015

China Series : Qingming Cake

Photo from Google.

The Foochows of Sibu, Sarawak do not make Qinming kuih since most of them are descendants of  Methodists and do not practise serving of food to the spirits.

This green Qinming kuih is either made from Ngia (mugwort)or wormwood leaves.

Making of green cold kuih is still popular in rural areas of Fujian during Qingming which usually falls on 5th day of 4th month of lunar calendar. When families spend whole day in the graveyards cleaning etc, they bring along the green cakes and eat them on their return journy. Cold food is uaually eaten on that day.

However in Sibu, Sungei Merah would have a bustling business and even small feasts are ordered from the several restaurants.Most of theChinese in Sarawak do not practise Cold Food Day.

September 11, 2015

Miri : Sireh (Lou Yuer)

It is a native of Malaysia and has spread widely to many parts of Asia especially India.

Many experts claim that it is even used as an aphrodisiac. But most local people of Sarawak believe that it helps to control flatulence, so chewing the leaves throughout the day is good.

"Prevent kentut!!" a friend said.

Sireh leaves or Lou Yuer in Foochow have many health benefits. One of them is helping us to reduce itchiness of the skin if we boil the leaves and bathe with the warm water. Besides it is good as a treatment for nervousness and fatique so that is why chewing betel nut and sireh leaves is a happy relaxing down time for women especially in the kampong and longhouses.

September 8, 2015

Sibu Tales : Planta and Butter

Step mother stories are plentiful in Sibu. There are two or three good step mothers amongst the many bad ones.

Golden Churn Butter
Here is a story of a step mother as told by a former student who came from a large extended family and her own brother was widowed and then remarried to a fierce lady. Her cousins suffered a lot but they were kind and forgiving people.

 There were a lot of inustices in this particular family . Like Cinderella, the children of the first wife suffered. Here is one particular story.

The step mother would prepare bread for the children to bring to school. She would give Planta  and some locally made jam to her step children to make their sandwiches.

But for her own children, she would make egg sandwiches with proper butter.

The children grew up and would never look at Planta margarine because they said they could smell the horrible and hateful oily stuff for days in their fingers.As children we actually found it quite difficult to eat Planta. Some of us even found Planta not easily disgestible if truth be told.

Personally it is difficult to like food that is prepared by people who do not love you. And also, you will find it difficult to forget all the unkind things people do to you, even if you are very forgiving.

September 4, 2015

Sungei Merah Stories : Cherng Mee Lan

Years ago as a child I loved visitng my grandparents with my father. It was an act of filial piety for him and at the same time Grandfather loved to see his grandchildren.

One of the best memories I have of him was his love for fragrant flowers. He must have developed a great love for aromatherapy since his youth in Fujian. When he migrated to Sarawak with his father and younger brother, he must have felt homesick for the flowers, for the plants and the vegetables.

Around his house he grew bouganvillea, bai yu lan and cherng mee lan which I only discovered recently to have originated in Fujian. Some Foochows must have brought cuttings to Sarawak.

Photo I took of the Chern Mee Lan plant in Ginsha, where lots of Tiong Clan of Sarawak originated from.
My family friend Wong Yuk Fen found out the Chinese names fror this plant. He is a wizard . A person who can find lots of answers with just one click.

中文学名: 米兰 中文别名: 树兰、米仔兰、碎米兰 Chinese Perfume Plant
英文名: Aglaia odorata
•Aglaia odorata is a species of plant in the Meliaceae family. It is found in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly Laos. It is occasionally sold as a house plant under the name "Chinese perfume plant." Wikipedia
Scientific name: Aglaia odorata

Every time I get a whiff of the smell of cherng mee lan I would remember my paternal grandfather.
that's aromatherapy for me.

My third grandmother was named Yu Lan...was my grandfather also a romantic?

September 2, 2015

Sibu Tales : Perforated Aluminium Ladle

This is an indispensable utensil in our Foochow kitchen.

Most important utensil when you have to cook a lot of mi hoon, or soh mien, especially during the confinement of one month.

There can be so much noodle making in the kitchen that you may need more than two pairs of good hands.

How clever were our ancestors for making this.

My maternal grandmother was best in drying bundles of soh mien in the sun. When it was time to stor the noodles in the tin, she would handle the dried bundles carefully and meticulously.

All the small bits broken off from the long noodles were collected by hand from under the big drying flat tray, kept in a smaller tin. These are the "seconds" shich she could boil and eat. Sometimes she would break off more noodles from the bundles, so that she had more broken bits for her tin.

She would boil the water in a pot and then she would carefully lower the small broken bits of soh mien in this kind of ladle. That would really prevent any wastage. When the noodles floated, she just lifted the perforated lady and drain the noodles and pour them right into the waiting bowl.

A bit of lard and a few drops of soy sauce would be the sauce for her soh mien. Gan Ban Soh Mien.

Well , you see she was a child bride.

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). ...