April 30, 2015

Sibu Tales : Green Skinned Oranges and Visiting Relatives.

In the 1960's and 1970's most Sibu people would visit their relatives and stay over night because of the lack of transport. Staying over night and enjoying time together was not a holiday visit many could afford especially when they had to work hard, looking after domestic animals, children, the home, tap rubber, carry water, clean the house etc.

When Foochow women visited their relatives, they would bring a gift from their farm, or they could buy a gift in Sibu if they had some extra cash.

They would usually buy green skinned oranges as it would mean, more share for every one. And fruits were always welcome.

Visiting a relative was a time honoured activity and often well planned. During the visit, the relatives got together, they could eat and talk at the same time, updating each other on news and family progress. By word of mouth, without taking any notes, these relatives would remember how many new children had been added since they last met, and how others were faring in their lives. A visitor was often the bearer of good news and even bad news.

I remember in those days these oranges were really sweet. They did not look as pretty as Sunkist, but they were really juicier and sweeter and definitely fresher.

Most fruit hawkers used paper bags to put these oranges and then the bags were tied with Geng Chow or Salty Vines.

Our favourite place to buy these oranges was at Moi Suong Coffee shop where there was an elderly lady who sold them and other fruits from morning till mid day.

It was important to visit relatives in those days, especially when the elders were getting older. Sometimes an elder would send word "hung Nu" to a relative to come and visit. After the visit, the elder would give a gold ring or a token gift to the visitor and say that this is the "Chiu Mui" (end of hand) or last gift. Usually in those days, an elder would prepare herself for the final journey in this way and she would give away her personal possessions to her favourite relatives. It was also a way to show appreciation to relatives who had been kind, compassionate and helpful.

And after receiving the "chui mui" the receiver would burst into tears. And if transport was difficult and the elder's home too far, it could also be the last time she saw her elder alive.

Up to today, many Foochow women of means still practise giving of "Chiu Mui".

Somehow the smell or fragrance of green oranges would evoke that special sadness revolving around my Ngie Mah who gave away her gold rings, earrings and a gold bangle as chiu mui.

April 29, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Belian

Belian or Red Wood was highly valued by the Foochow pioneers.

They had to pay a lot of money for the processed wood : plants, long and short, flat table tops, beams (2inchesx2 inches) or (4 x2), all custom made.

It was not easy to cut through red wood and special carpenters would do the processing when a tree was cut. And there were not many red wood trees around. Hence when a belian tree was found in the jungle, the Foochow man would cry out and feel blessed.

But then in those days it was not too difficult to buy belian wood if one had money from rubber and pepper. Most houses had belian for the main parts of the construction like main beams, stairs, stilts,etc.

However during the communist insurgency of the 1970's when the old houses were abandoned, unscrupulous people came to vandalize  the homes, tore them apart and carried away the re-useable belian poles.

That was the two parts of our Foochow stories related to belian wood.

But my forgiving grandmother, uncles and aunts said that, "what could we do? We had to save our lives...that was just material things and we had made good use of the belian already...which sheltered us, which gave us protection. Good wood....."

April 28, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Dian Xin Chao

When we were young and visiting Ngie Mah (maternal grandmother) in Nang Chong Village, we were amazed by how our elders treated our medical problems like nose bleeding,  wounds caused by stepping on nails, cuts and tooth aches.

Nosebleeding was quite a common suffering amongst us kids. Whenever we had nosebleeding, grandmother would immediately get out her bottle of little pieces of what looked like soft wicks. But they were actually rush pith, a kind of plant pith.

these are called dian xin by her.

The rush pith comes from a grass growing wild in China and as the name states, it is pith from that grass.

A friend sent a recipe : get two leung rush pith, add l chien of dang sha, blend together. Each time take 2 chien, washed down by some watery porridge.

April 27, 2015

Sibu Tales : Yuk Ing Girls' School

This is a very interesting photo. Probably a graduation photo. There were 8 girls and  5 boys. Could it have been another kind of graduation photo? Yuk Ing only had girls in the school during Mrs. Hoover's time. So this could be the beginning of the foundation of the Methodist School in Sibu..

And I am also wondering if it was a photo of Mrs. Summers who came to take the place of Mrs. Hoover, who needed to go and have a rest after Mr. Hoover passed away in 1935. My Good Poh was already teaching in the school.

Could this be 1947 or 1948? Or earlier?

April 26, 2015

Sibu Stories : Opium Smoking

the painting above, from Google, reminds me of the sight which frightened me when I was a little child. I had run upstairs of a shop house on a dare you kind of activity with my cousins.

I saw a very thin man lying on a day bed, smoking but I cannot forget the smell of the opium smoke to this day.

Years later when I returned from my studies in West Malaysia I decided to visit the same shop house. But times had changed many things and the opium den was gone. People have short memories about bad things and no one seems to remember the details of opium smoking in Sibu.

Only my 7th aunt can remember a little bit about my Grand Uncle, Tiong Kung Ping's brother, Tiong Kung Eng.

The Rajah Government supplied opium to patients who were suffering from mental ill heath (nervousness in the extreme and depression). A little metal box was given to them. Each time the opium was fishined, my grand uncle would row his little boat to the Law King Howe hospital to collect his supply. He did not live very long afte that and he died during the Second World War from poor health. He suffered a double blow . His beautiful wife died after child birth and his son died five months later.

Grand Uncle was a good singer, story teller and a kind person and a loving uncle who would amuse his nieces and nephews . His best way was to row his boat to amuse the kids and sing loudly along the river, according to Seventh Aunt.

May His Soul Rest in Peace.



April 25, 2015

Sibu Tales : Kailan and Stewed Pork

In the 1970's kailan was such a popular vegetable in town and it was more like New Kid on the Block kind of popularity.

Women were eager to learn the best ways to cook it for their families.

One favourite way of cooking it is to blanch it and then pour a  layer of quick fry fresh pork liver and good sauce of it. This signature dish is still a favourite in Hock Chu Leu restaurant.

Another dish is also made from blanching the kailan and pouring a heated dish of stewed pork from the tin. This dish can be made any time, any where  especially by hungry teachers who teach in remote areas of Sarawak. It was also my favourite was of eating kailan, minus the thick layer of oil (to be healthy)

Today we are all very wary about tinned stuff from China. So we need to make our own braised belly pork for this kailan dish.

Give it a try.

April 19, 2015

Sibu Tales : A Plate of Gang Buang Mien

We had a few neighbours, most of them very friendly and caring in Sibu.

One couple lived fairly near us and the wife came from a foreign land. They had a little daughter who was cute, with amazing curly hair.

However the husband was not really a hardworking man and very often he did not bring enough earnings to his wife. Food was rather scarce and not often put on the table according to the wife.A few times she even had to borrow salt, sugar and some cooking oil and that set the tongues wagging in the neighbourhood.

Not long after that we heard the husband lost his job and he had to look for a new one. His mother came from the outskirts to help them out and soon they moved away to another town perhaps to start all over again.

One lasting impression I had of them, even though I was just a teenager. I felt that the wife was very submissive and subservient.

Whenever the husband came back drunk and abused her, she would just cry.

But the next day, he would take her out for a bowl of Gang Buang Mien and the world for her was rosy again.

She was very cheerful for days, until the next cycle of quarrels and tears and another bowl of gang buang mien.

My mother would just shake her head and said gently, "She had made her choice and she had to swallow all." My mother is very old school.

Many years later I heard good news about them. The husband drove a taxi, and she was in charge of a company owned by her own uncle in her home country. And her daughter had graduated from college and was going to get married. But unfortunately her grandmother was too ill to make the journey.

April 18, 2015

Sibu Tales : Parks for Senior Citizens

Time for us to consider rewarding our elders with beautiful parks.

Some where they can sit and chat early in the moring. Some where clean and healthy. Some where they can really relax.

I think they deserve the dignity of a good R and R....We have so many pubs, so many sleazy night clubs and so many games places for the young...

April 17, 2015

Sibu Tales : Menstruation

What did our ancestresses use for their monthly periods?

What did Chinese, Malay, Indian women use duirng the 18th Century?

Sabine Hering and Gudrun Maierhof in "The Indisposed Woman," write that German women almost never used commercial menstrual pads in the late 19th century.

they write, "Most women seemed to have made their own pads, or like rural women, wore neither pads nor underpants. When they menstrauted, they left a trail of blood behind them.

In the USA, women wore commercial belts at least from the latter part of the 19th century. A museum has an American one dated 1891. Self adhesive pads became available only in the early 1970's. Hooks,or tabs were also used.

Today - Self adhesive pads...and tampons....

My maternal grandmother was born in Fujian at the end of the 18th century told us how they used recycled cotton materials, cut from old blouses etc. washed and folded to line their panties during their menstrual period. At night they would secretly wash the stained cloth and dried it discreetly in a secluded place, like under a stair case where no men could see.

By the time I started menstruating, she was already elderly and past her time. She was glad that we could buy Kotex, or Modess, or Daun. In those days, these sanitary pads were only $1.00 per box.

An interesting note : All women who gave birth at the Lau King Howe Hospital had to replace pads they had used. Their husbands or relatives must buy two boxes for the hospital. I would always remember that as I gave birth to two children in the Lau King Howe Hospital.

April 14, 2015

Bilong Wo (Keladi Cina)

Bilong Woh or Chinese Yam

Today the normal wet markets of Sarawak sell so many different kinds of yams or taro.

The best is still the Chinese or Bilong Wo..Simply sliced and steamed. Dipped in crab sauce.
You will need to ask for an extra bowl of rice.

Kang Kong Flower

The beautiful, pure white kang kong flower will greet you happily when you go for a walk in the morning.

April 12, 2015

Sungei Merah Tales : Bamboo Shoots

During the Japanese Occupation 1941-1944 (3 years and 8 months) the Rajang Basin was short of food. But meedin, bamboo shoots, fish, paku, and other fruits were available depending on seasonal availabity.

Because of the fear of marauding Japanese soldiers many Chinese did not tend their gardens and even rice was not properly cultivated.

Sungei Merah was one of the focus points of the Japanese as they wanted to built the airport and complete construction of Queensway. Many Chinese were conscripted for the work of digging, flattening, and carrying of soils. Since the able bodied men were taken to do the hard labour, women were afraid to go far in search of natural food.

However the bamboo groves which grew near their homes were able to provide some food, but bamboo shoots were not all year round food.

Bamboo shoots appeared in June, July and August.

Vegetarians valued bamboo shoots the most. Being a cooling vegetable, it was not really offered to the elders with athritis.

the Chinese in those days also did not pickle their bamboo shoots like the Ibans or the Malays so a glut would mean the bamboo shoots were wasted.

I still remember a grand aunt who was given some Kasam Tubu or pickled bamboo shoots by passing Ibans during the Japanese occupation. And she said, "I felt that I was eating rotting bamboo shoot. After that time, I just ate salt, and potatoes..forget about bamboo shoots most of the year!!" She never learned to pickle bamboo shoots she said.

But after the war, she and her family thrived in tapping or rubber and she never had to eat "rotten bamboo shoots" anymore.

She would make baos with bamboo shoots from tins and she would laugh with us.

It was a matter of cultural shock for her.

April 11, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Curfew

The 24 hour curfew was slammed on the people of the Rajang Basin in 1972 for several weeks because some police personnel were killed by the Underground Communists known as the North Kalimantan Army.

Fast boats like these plied the river and its tributaries telling pople about the hours of curfew.

Whether the curfew was 6 to 6 at night or 24 hours, the patrol boat would make the announcement.

The weeks of 24 hour curfew put many people out of job and out of pocket. Some families did not have much to eat while those who had their own vegetable garden ate well. The 24 hour crufew was sudden and unexpected.

Sibu Tales : Corn Soup

Can you remember when your family started having corn soup as part of your meal?

Different people have different opinions about eating corn on the cob, or making corn soup.

Or eating ice cream with corn.

Here is a story of a Foochow guy who loved Ice Cream with Corn, made by Magnolia. He went overseas and when asked for his choice of icecream he automatically said, "make mine Corn flavour".

The serving staff was shocked and he said, "no such flavour".

We can learn a lesson from this. We cannot assume that everyone loves what we love, especially overseas. So we need to read more books about living in a new country. We have to leave our comfort zone or else we will be in for a cultural shock.

But now we are helped by globalization. Perhaps we can find Ice cream with corn flavour in Alaska or Russia.

Any way back to the topic of corn..it is really a very universal food. We Foochows love corn in soup, we can eat corn throughout the year on the cob. We even make a cooling drink from the hair (or silk) of the corn, which is very good for our kidneys.

And our ancestors did not waste even the cob. They had left behind a very important medical information. Boil the corn cob and the silk(hair) to help ease mild urinary tract infection amongst women..

So in summer, when we all suffer from excess heat in Fujian, we can drink lots of corn soup, corn milk shake, eat corn flavoured ice cream, and make tea from corn cob and corn silk.

We need not be embarrassed at all that we eat what chickens eat.

April 10, 2015

Nang Chong : My Maternal GRndparents' House

This is one of the few photos of my grandparents' house in Ah Nang Chong.

It was washed away by slow erosion caused by the express boats in the 80.s, Today the river bank is actually right behind the house , meaning the erosion has eaten up more than 100 meters of the river bank in the last 30 years.

This is my cousin Lau Ching, eldest daughter of  my Third Uncle, Lau Pang Sing. The wooden house was two storeyed with a staircase going upstairs on the right Each room upstairs had two windows. But there were only three rooms there. Downstairs, there were five units, with the last unit to the left being used by Uncle Wong Dien Ching for his little shop.

On the right or behind my cousin, was the huge kitchen, joined to the main house by a "landor" where my uncle and grandmother used to sit, enjoying the breeze in the evenings, telling stories. Adjacent to the landor was the chiapang, or open balcony where washing was done. A gutter helped to bring rainwater to several diesel drums on the chiapang.

A lot of historical stories could be told by this house if the house could talk!! This house was built in 1938 when my mother was 12 years old. A few years after that my grandmother went back to China, planning to build another house, but her plans were dashed because of the Japanese War. She was stranded in China with Second Uncle, Lau Pang Kui who was attending college in Fuzhou City.

The Japanese Occupation was a difficult time for every one living in this house. My mother was only 16 and she had to plant padi, raised domestic animals to look after third uncle, fourth uncle, fifth aunt while Grandfather was very sick.  Her  story was written as one of the chapters in "Their 3 Years and 8 Months" edited by Chua Jeng Chong.

Grandfather passed away in 1943.

 While in China my second uncle met and fell in love with Aunt Yin Nga, a Fuzhou City girl. After the war, he brought his bride to Sarawak. GRandma also came back with them.

April 9, 2015

Nang Chong Stories Plank Walks

These days there are not many structures built by man in response to the erosional effects of tropical rivers like the Rajang. Man has moved further in land, away from the erosive river banks because roads have been built to join many villages and towns. Towns are no longer strictly riverine by nature, and dependent on rivers for transport.

this photo shows an old plankwalk, completely constructed from belian wood which cannot be decayed by water, nor eaten by termite.

This plankwalk found on the west bank of the Rajang, in Nang Chong village is good enough for bicycles and motor cycles and is at least 200 m. long. It is a pride of the Foochow villagers here.

Today only 5 families live along this part of the river. A road further in land links them to Sibu.

However these families require this plankwalk to reach thegovernment built road. Thus kaking their lives very easy. In the past they could use the local motor launches to reach Sibu,within an hour. A motor bike now takes less than 20 minutes to reach Sibu.

When we were young it was usual for us to run all the way along these kinds of plank walk when we wanted to visit our relatives or take a short cut to go to school. If we fell down at mid day, the pain was great because, firstly the planks would be extremely hot and our knees would be scraped.

Besides, at my age today, I fear falling into the river, at low tide, into the mud below, and at high tide, the water is just one or two inches below the plank walk. How fearless we were then.

But a lovely sound was the noise made by our uncle's bicycle over the lose planks...bolok bolok bolok...

And another endearing sound of the bicycle....ngie ngek ngie ngiek if the bike was a bit rusty.


April 8, 2015

Sibu Tales : The Roast Chicken is Coming!!

How many of you can remember the first roasted chicken you ate in your life?

I can remember because my Fifth Aunt Grace came back from the US and she wanted to cook a good dinner for my father. It was a home cooked dinner for his birthday. The other sisters had gotten together to make him a pale green tablecloth...all hand sewned by them.

the brothers bought him a specially made table. This was for his 50th birthday. At that time we did not know that he would not be able to celebrate his 60th Birthday.

It happened that my father had a bought a second hand New World oven for my mum. He had scouted around for an oven and found out that an English officer was leaving town. So he bought it. Mum was overwhelmed with emotions by the gesture. The oven and stove was the centre of attention for many years because not many families had a WESTERN STOVE like THAT.

Aunt Grace came home and she decided to cook a grand Western dinner - mashed potatoes, roasted chicken with sauce, "boiled vegetables" and a soup. It was such a novelty in the eyes of a 10 year old and the sight of aunts together with a happy father was just so heart warming. I had never seen my father smile so much in his short life with us. He was known as a taciturn man - a man of few words, and a man who did not show his emotions.

It is interesting how the mind works when you see a photo. This photo reminds me of so many historical happenings in my life.

Today roasted chicken is very common place but somehow it has a special place in my heart. It was a symbol of the love of a sister for her brother and she created a very special occasion.

Love is a Birthday Roasted Chicken.

My father's birthday would be in one month's time. (May 8th)

April 5, 2015

Sibu Tales : Child Brides

China for centuries was male dominated, adhering to a a patriarchal system . Families were extended and living in huge ancestral areas . Some farm lands supported a single clan of the same surname.

My maternal grand mother came from Fujian, specifically, Ker Tou Buoh. Today it might not be easy to find this place now. She was sold for 5 Silver dollars to my maternal grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii. This was because even though the going rate then was One silver dollar for each year of a girl, my grandmother was sold for 5 even though her actual age was Four.

This is my grandma, she was herself a child bride and from her we learned about child brides in Sibu.

According to her, her father was very poor and was quick to seize the opportunity to sell her for one extra dollar , by lying about her age, Thus my maternal uncle bought her because he found her very articulate, with big eyes and able to do a lot of work.

Her father had been crying loudly in the market, "Girl for sale. Pretty, smart, articulate, and very capable. She is able to do laundry by the river side, able to feed chickens, cook, and do all sorts of housework. Have no fear. She is very healthy and strong in her walk. She does not have bound feet. Look at her flat feet. They are strong!! And she eats very little....." And on and on he called out loudly until a scholarly man stopped by to look at the child.

A poem by Fu Husan reminds us that Chinese girls were of no consequence in those days.

How sad it is to be a woman!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boys stand leaning at the door
Like gods fallen out of heaven.
Their hearts brave the Four Oceans,
The wind nd dust of a thousand miles.
No one is glad when a girl is born:
Byh her the family sets no store.

Fu Hsuan.

This old Chinese poem accurately reflects of the position of women in China in the olden days, especially before the Great Liberation of 1949.

My grandmother was to tell us that many girls were thrown into the "niu pang" or tampoi at birth. Some of her contemporaries were thrown into the river, or well, or were buried alive in ashes and wood fires in the villages. The female infanticide amongst the Chinese before 1949 was well recorded and reported.

In actual fact, in times of famine, flood, or other great hardship, many families sold their boys into slavery. Boys were sold to work in farms and girls were sold to brothels or child brides.

My grandmother was in a way fortunate to be sold as a child bride into the Lau family. She married my grandfather when she was 16 and my grandfather 30. The age gap actually later created a lot of conflicts.

She had a splendid memory and was able to recite Confucius sayings after she listened to the teacher in the village teaching a class of boys. She was able to memories Bible verses after the local pastors visited homes during the early days. From here and there she picked up words and was thus able to "recognise enough words", basically , to read the Chinese calendar and advertisements, especially about movies and movie stars.

One of the most amazing character trait of my grandmother was her great desire to read Chinese movie magazines. She bought them and placed them neatly in the bedroom after she had finished reading. During our holidays, we learned to read more Chinese words by reading her movie magazines.

April 4, 2015

Sibu Tales : Wood for our Mother's Stove

In the 60's families in Sibu mainly used wood for cooking.

Our home had a big wood stove, very much like the Chinese Fujian stove made from bricks, and concrete. The original Foochow stove in Sibu were made from river mud and wood.

My mum used to buy two kinds of wood. Ramin wood and rubber wood. Ramin wood would be sent to us by the tri-cycle man and we had to splinter the wood pieces with an axe. It was fun chopping up wood and stacking them up in our woodshed.

At other times, mum also bought rubber wood, which were rather cheap at 50 cents for a few bundlees. These bundles of rubber wood, already splintered were tied together with wire. The ramin wood was also tied together by wire.

Food cooked by wood certianly smelled nice. But what really smelled nice was the wood itself. There is such a rustic aroma in the kitchen by noon time when a fresh fire was making all the cooking pots making all the nice sounds that the soup was ready and that the rice was on the boil.

The lid on the pot, dancing when the vapor was rising intermittently and the hot rice boiling over a little...lititlitilititliti...tii tii tii.tit tiit....

Sounds which remind us of mother's cooking.

April 3, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : A Ghostly Story

When we were young we were often scared of ghost stories.

There were many ghost stories in Nang Chong area, told and retold. There were many San Du Gui stories. Children would disappear for a few days and later re-appear in another part of the village, looking dazed, with soil sticking out of their ears and noses. However they were not able to remember where they went or even describe the ghosts which took them.

Photo by Kong Hie Ding

A real ghost story happened to one of our cousins. I was not there at that time. She came out of the outhouse or outdoor toilet all dazed and dumb for a few days.

there were two ponds near my grandmother's house, and actually they were between the Rubber Smoke House and the road to the Cooperative. In between the two ponds on a raised bund were the outdoor toilet and the big pig sties, standing opposite each other. The fish pond was between the Smoke house and the bund, and the toilet was after the fish pond.  So in order to be accompany the girls to go to the toilet, the boys would either lay their fishing rods or throw something into the fish pond to check the fish. None of them would go to the other side to tease the pigs.

One day, one of my cousins, who was already 14 years old was in the toilet for more than half an hour before the alarm was raised. The boys thought that something must have happened.

Indeed, they found her all dased and reclined in the toilet, but she had already pulled up her underwear.

The boys took her stiff body back to the main house and called every one.

Cousin was unable to speak and she just pointed to the toilet.

As her mother was a Christian she quickly called the neighbours to come to say prayers. It was almost four hours later that Cousin recovered from the shock.

She was able to tell us that a white girl ghost was circling outside the toilet behind her. She closed her eyes and she saw her again. Later she tried to get out of the toilet but she could not. The ghost came back and forth towards her but she was protected by the back wall of the toilet which might have saved her. After that she said she just went blank.

Her experience was a terrible one. And my aunts went to give the toilet a good wash down. As they were not Catholics, they did not use any holy water. And after that for a long time, no one wanted to use the outhouse at night.

A few years later, we were able to install flush toilets in the village homes.

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). ...