March 30, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Bend of a River

The lower Rejang River valley is very flat and as we grew up, we saw the river getting wider and wider and the river flowing slower.

When we were young we could jump into the river from our jetty for a bit of swimming, without any fear. It was a great childhood growing up by the banks of the Rajang.

One of the special memories I have of staying at my grandmother's house in Nang Chong was our Foochow expression of  Oh Yang Duong Wang, or bend of the river.

or in Iban, a Tanjong.
Bend of River at Nanga Medamit.
Many Foochow houses were built in the safer part of the river, i.e. the depostional bend of the river. No one would build their houses on the erosional arm of the river.

Hence from my grandmother's house we could see the bend of the river. Boats or motor launches were heard even before we saw them. And we prided ourselves from recognising the identity of the boats.

We would shout, now that's the Sing Hai Hong coming next. Of course their timing would have given us a clue.

And then we would be so happy. We would also know when our Grandmother would be coming home. And she would more often than not take the Sing Hai Hong. So minutes before she arrived, we knew and got ready to welcome her at the jetty, ready to carry her basket, her purchases and even ready to help her open her umbrella.

We kids formed such great Welcoming Committee. This was one of our joys of growing up together in Nang Chong.

March 28, 2015

Sibu Tales : Coffee Shop Moment

A town life is usually busier than life elsewhere.

Mothers can be very rushed off their feet easily during the first half of the day if they have no help at home.


As I took this photo I keep remember those days when , as a young mother, I would try my best to save time.

Dropping my kids off at a friendly coffee shop and asking them to have a meal, which I rushed off to buy some vegetables for the evening meal.

30 years down the road, it might not really be a safe act. But then, if you have a good friend in the person of the coffee shop owner who can keep an eye on your child, you would feel so much better.

This cofee shop in Miri is only 3 minutes from the vegetable market.

And it is next to a space where old men and women sit the whole day meeting up with friends and spending their happy hours.

It is good to know your child is safe and happy.

March 27, 2015

Sibu Tales : Ginseng Ladies

When we moved to Sibu town, we got used to town life, rode on buses to visit relatives, or walked to the town to do shopping, any time we liked.

We were no longer controlled by the early morning boat to the town from Pulau Kerto, nor did we have to return home at a specific time with the boat man.



We used to visit the town probably once in two weeks. And now that we were living just ast the fringe of the town, we could even hear the bustle and hustle of town life. The call of the Mosque for worship was for example something new to us.

And the ringing of the bicycle bell was definitely new

Then there was the handbell of the ice cream man who came on foot.

The sounds of the town were different and they were amazing!!

As a little girl I was particularly impressed by the sales talk of two ladies who sold ginseng, 8 treasures herb and other herbs. They carried two big rattan baskets and their waxed umbrellas.

I would always remember one of the names. Hua Hua Second Aunty. I asked mum why she was Number Two. Mum said according to the generation and because her husband was No.2 oldest, she was No. 2 Sister in Law amongst her generation of the Laus. Hua Hua here does not mean flower, but Hua for Chinese.

So the name stuck in my mind.

She sold ginseng but my mum would not buy any and she understood. Her main role in my mother's life was to chat with her, find out how she was , living in town and then she would tell my grandmother down river she was fine. She was probably also my mother's counsellor and best friend.

She was the news reporter of the day and we all appreciated her role. And often she would bring news for example that my mum would have to get ready a gift of a chicken because so and so's daughter in law would be giving birth soon, or any other news. She would also relay a piece of news from another relative about something important.

Second Aunty Hua Hua would make her rounds once every two weeks. And if she did not come my mother would be worried.

She was mum's connection with the Lau family. That was the old way. And it was good for them. It is hard to measure their love and the morale support they gave each other.

Second Aunty Hua Hua was truly a very unique aunt. As valuable as the most expensive ginseng in the world.


March 20, 2015

Sibu Tales : Hard Tails

Hard Tail is the name of a fish commonly found in Sarawak.

It is best "bbq-ed" or panggang or peng.

Today it is a common street food wherever you go in the state of Sarawak.

Years ago in Sibu, my mum would pan fry the fish using our newly acquired European frying pan which was a novelty. We were all brought up in a traditional Foochow family , where our stove was the huge wood fired Foochow stove.

The main cooking appliance was the huge Chinese kuali which sat on the left side of the stove, while water, dirty materials could be whosh through a window, conveniently, out of the house!!

Wood fire would be added on the other side of the stove.

I remember once my grandfather came to lovingly repair the stove, which was originally built by him. It took him a few days, but it was his reason to come to stay with us when he just wanted to spend time with my dad.

Fish was cheap and we got special discounts from our fsh mongers who were two brothers. Meh Hoo Lang (Fish seller) and Ah Boon. It was strange how we called people in those days and they did not at all mind. We never knew their names and they had no name cards. Meh Hoo Lang and Ah Boon were my mother's life long friends.

Mum would buy 6 hardtails for less than 2 dollars and my father would have them bbq over the wood fire for lunch. It was a good lunch to come home to. A huge bottle of soy sauce would be placed on the table. If I was the last one to come home , being late so often because I had to check the cleanliness of the classroom as monitor, I had no fear that I would not have anything to eat. Mum would also place one whole fish in the food safe for me. Cold fish never tasted better at 1.30 p.m. after a hard day of learning.

Now thinking about the soy sauce bottle from time to time, we must have eaten a lot of soy sauce in our younger days.

March 18, 2015

Fujian Sticky Rice Rec

Fujian Seafood-flavoured Sticky Rice (閩南油飯)

1 tin glutinous rice
1 tin ordinary rice
1 tsp minced garlic
l tablespoon minced small or red onions
1 small bowl of belly pork
some dried oysters
some dried shrimps
1 small bowl of peas
1 small bowl of cubed carrots
2 tbsp cooking oal
some Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 cups water
some ssalt
soime white pepper
some chopped spring onions.

Soak all the dried stuff for one hour.
Soak glutinous rice for one hour also.
Cut pork belly thinly and set aside.
Heat up a wok.\Add some cooking oil and fry the aromatics.
Add pork belly, add the soaked ingredients

Add the drained glutinous rice and the normal rice.
Stir fry for one minute
Add the rest of the ingredient.
Mix well.

Take the ingredients out and cook in a rice cooker.

March 17, 2015

Sibu Tales : Two Foochow Wedding Customs

A few wedding customs are still followed by Foochows in Sibu.

In those days (1960's to1970's) two customs must be followed, if not others, even though the families were deeply religious being Methodists.



The bride's make up must be done by a "blessed" relative. Both her in laws and parents must be alive. She must also be blessed by a good husband and children. The last act is to brush the air.

At my Aunt's wedding, Mrs. Samuel Chiu was selected and indeed she is a blessed relative with many good fortunes in her life.








Finally, the mother (or father, if still alive) must veil the bride for the wedding march.

Aunt Ik Ding's wedding at Sing Fu Yuen Tang was attended by all the elders of the Tiong family and the Chiu family, and the bride groom's family.

The photo shows , from left to right, Nelly, Ik Ding, the bride, and my grand aunt, Chang Yuk Ging.

P/s I also remember that a Foochow girl who was married insisted on carrying a small Bible and a small bouquet of paper flowers. Her mother remarked, "Just the Bible would be nice too, no need the flowers..." But then another relative said, "Brides must have flowers..." So thus she carried both..in her special white gloved hands.







March 16, 2015

Sibu Tales : Buttons on the Right Cotton Blouses

I was learning some dress making from Miss Ida our Home Science teacher. We had all to make a blouse each. And we had to remember how to sew the buttons correctly. On the left.




Can you remember how to differentiate a boy's shirt from a girl's??






Buttons on the left for girls, right over left and button up.

Men wear their shirts, left over right as the buttons have to be on the right.


Many of us still cannot remember the way buttons must be sewn and sometimes new tailors or dressmakers still make mistakes.

But today I may just wear an overshirt, with buttons on the right...

March 15, 2015

Sibu Tales : Tapah Fish ,Sweet and Sour





One of my best memories of having fish during a festival or a birthday was the eating of the fish fillet in sweet and sour sauce cooked by my Third Uncle Pang Sing.

He first deep fried  battered slices of fish (with bones taken out). The fish may be tapah, eel, baong or any other fleshy fish. He would leave the fish in a big basin (we had three tables for meals at times).

Later he would make the wonderful sauce, with sugar, vinegar, tou cheong, salt and pepper to taste and water. He would use tapioca flour to thicken the sauce. If we had some tomatoes, a luxury then, he would include some slices. The aroma of the vinegar , its sourness filling the air was unforgetable.

This is a fantastic Foochow fish dish that we replicate over and over again, not just in Sarawak but overseas.

Why battered? It is not just a little more stylish, but more economical. It is also to protect the fish slices so that they remain whole for the chopsticks to hold and the diner.

But the best quality of fish will still remain the best in quality. It only brings the taste of the dish to a higher level.

(NB..try not to use DORY fish)

March 14, 2015

Sibu : Pansuh or Food cooked in Bamboo Stems

The Ibans are famous for their specialty cooking using bamboo stems. This method of cooking is actually found in Yunna, Guizhou, Taiwan and the Philippines. Burma also practises it.

A short stem is cut.and chicken or pock
is put into the stem. Ingredients like slices of torch ginger, lemon grass, ginger, chillies, some salt would enhance the meat.

A wood fire is then made in the backyard and the bamboo stem is burnt  at an inclined angle slowly over the fire. The stem is turned every now and then to prevent the bamboo from scorching and burning through.

To prevent the juices from escaping, a bunch of tapioca leaves is usually used as a "stopper at the end of the bamboo stem.

Today this method of cooking is also done in 5 star hotels.
Nice dish of bamboo chicken. Soup is a bit greenish because of the tapioca leaves.
I remember a long time ago most Foochows "did not know how to eat the chicken or pork cooked in this way..."

March 13, 2015

Sibu Tales : Soft Eggs fro Breakfast

I wonder how many of us remember that our grandparents and parents from the Foochow Community actually did not "boil" their eggs for breakfast?





The way we Foochows prepare our breakfast eggs is interesting. Get eggs of room temperature ready for the family, usually two each. Get a mug or pot big enough for the eggs. Boil a kettle of water. When family members are ready for breakfast and are almost sitted, the newly boiled water would be poured into the pot to cover the eggs.

The timing is very important because 6 minutes of allowing the eggs to rest in the newly boiled hot water would give us soft or runny egg whites and not so hard egg yolks.

This is called "tok" or scalding of eggs in Foochow. We do not usually prepare soft boiled eggs over the fire. Many elders consider this a good and healthy way of preparing eggs for the seniors.

March 11, 2015

Sibu Tales : Pig tails and long skirts

We all grew up in a frugal society then. We made do with lots of things. We wore hand-me-downs, most new clothes were hand made, and even hand sewn if mothers did not have sewing machines.



It was always a very significant moment in our lives when our mothers walked to the shops like Ngui Kee or Ching Chiong to buy materials for Chinese New Year, usually a few months before. And we would all be waiting anxiously for the day to come when we could try on our new dresses. Often our dresses would be longer because mum would say, " YOu will grow tall very fast and soon the dress will fit you beautifully. " Needless to say, the dress would also be a few inches bigger at the waist and shoulders. So our clothes were literally very loose during the Chinese New Year, and would fit perfectly probably after two years!!

Long skirts actually made us feel very demure and lady like. They also made us feel very secure. Those were the days when jeans and long pants were not yet in the fashion scene. I remember seeing a photo of Madam Chiang Kai Shek wearing a man's suit and thought to myself that was so expensive to wear!!

My aunts would be very frugal in their ways too, showing us how to keep our hair neat (mum cut them) and those will long hair had to be very responsible in keeping them well brashed and in pig tails, so as not to obstruct housework.

I only started keeping my hair long when I was in upper secondary school. Not that it was fashionable. Again it was to save money. If we were able to keep our hair clean and long, we saved a lot of money by not going to the hair dressers.

Frugal Foochow ladies would ask each other the famous question, "How often do you perm your hair?"

Most Foochow ladies permed their hair once a year, again, for Chinese New Year.

And then, I am transported back to the days of men who were mobile hairdressers and barbers...They would cycle to people's houses to perm hair at minimal cost.

Those were the days. Nostalgia.

March 1, 2015

Sibu Tales : Fragrant Root Soup

Chow Yi Char or Fragrant Roots is a woody root originally from Fuzhou province of China and can be found throughout the world where there are Foochow migrants. It be found in Perth, it can be found in London and now it can be found in New York!! It is of course found in Sibu .

正宗福建闽清县野生山苍子根臭枳柴祛乏力草炖.( extracted from Baido) The genuine wild odorous herbal roots 臭枳柴 of Ming Chiang 闽清(min qing) for dispelling lethargy and weakness.*Thanks to Wong Yuk Feng for this info*


It is called poor man's ginseng and it has been used for many hundreds of years by the Foochows in Fujian and Sarawak to treat poor health and low bodily energy. there is now a global demand for this woody root.





The soup cooked with the wood and roots is particularly fragrant when a few pieces of rehydrated cuttle fish are added to the slowly boiling. Usually we boil the soup with a good pork knuckle and trotters.

This soup is often eaten with soh mien in coffee shops in Sarawak, or if at home, just plain rice will do. Many people continue to believe that this is a real antidote for people who are exhausted from heavy work.

Timber workers when they come home from their logging work would often be given this soup by their loving wives.



My mum would often cook this soup for my maternal grandmother who would love it with a bit of brandy. We all think that this is a soup which gives older people a good sleep and rest too.


p/s I will add the scientific name of this herbal root when I find it...

Sarawakian Local Delights: Ikan Buntal

Photo of Yellow Puffer fish , taken in Lingga. These are yellow ikan buntal or the yellow buntal. According to the locals, they are ver...