December 21, 2016

Sibu Tales : Cigarettes Made in Sibu

The Ireland Tobacco Company was owned by a Chiew family in Sibu and their factory was located in Lanang Road. Many of my friends lived along Lanang Road, especially No. 72 Lanang Road, which was by the river side. We had a few swimming events in the Rajang River there. The Lanang Road then being the longest road in Sibu was a good adventure for us cyclists.

The Ireland Tobacco Company was established in the 60's. In fact most youngsters knew about the numerous brands which were produced like Sky Scrapper, Tripod, Winter, Dragon, Gold Dragon and many more.

It was only later at university we realized that the company had practised good branding and  viable marketing strategies. Perhaps the Board of Management had good knowledge of consumer psychology. The cigarettes were affordable and they were sold all over Sarawak especially in Kapit and beyond, or what most people would call "the ULU". Ulu consumers or upriver people were very partial to smoking and they found the cigarettes attractive and convenient. According to some salesmen in those days, their best sales records were made in Kapit and further up.

Perhaps in a way, these cheap cigarettes eased the rolled cheeroot and sigob out of the cultural scene. Besides,the cigarettes made in Sibu appeared on the tables of wedding banquets as part of the celebration. Some "generous" adults would take a few packets of these free cigarettes to give to the shy younger boys. Perhaps cigarette smoking among the teens started in this way among some of my school mates.

I remember many girls and women who enjoyed working in the factory and  theywere a chatty group. They would cycle from the town up the Lanang Road. We would regale with interesting stories by many of them, who shared with us their life stories : many of them were "chased" by some labourers who liked them. Usually these romances would end up in marriages, for better or for worse.

However a few of them later joined the CCO and went underground and I was told they never came out of the jungles alive. It was a pity because I remember them well for whenever they cycled along the road to the factory they were such a happy chatty lot. Many of them were my peers, but they left school early because they failed their primary six entrance exams.Image result for cigarettes made in Sibu Sarawakiana

Another memory about the Ireland Tobacco Company was the owner's wife who drove a very big car, and probably often at a great speed. It was pale blue in colour and was most probably American made. In the days when bicycles were kings of the road, Mrs. Chiew was feared by the road users. Whenever she drove along Oya Road,for example, most pedestrians would jump to the grass verge, in fear of their life!!No automatic alt text available.
Those were the good old days when there were very few cars in Sibu, and roads were small, narrow and pretty bad.
The cigarettes made in the factory were fairly prettily packed. They were very affordable at 15 cents and above. Many school boys not only smoked them but sold them at the wharf of Sibu when the boats came in. The boys did quick business when the boats were waiting to go and many people would spend some precious cents to buy a packet or two of cigarettes to bring home, until their next trip to Sibu.

Those were the days when cigarettes were 15 cents for a packet of 10's. Today Dunhill is 17 ringgit per pack.

To beat world inflation may be smokers should start smoking  sigob, with their own tobacco from the back yard and rolled with wild banana leaves which are free from the jungle.

December 16, 2016

Sibu Tales ; Watered Down Soup

Kampong chicken soup was quite easily prepared in the olden days in Sibu. Kampong chicken was very tasty and something a family would look forward to, probably once a month or in some cases, once a week depending on various economic factors. It was always festive when a family had chicken on the table.

One family in Sibu had a step mother who brought her own children to the marriage. These step children would always eat before the other members of the family. The step mother would of course keep the special cuts for her husband. However unknown to the step mother, one of the sons from the first wife was clever enough to pour out half the soup of the chicken for his own siblings. This took place several times until the step mother found out.

As a consequence, the children from the first marriage were always given watered down chicken soup and the poor cuts of the chicken. As soon as they were old enough, they were sent off to study in boarding schools and not allowed to come back until the end of the year.

The poor father never knew all these evil deeds until he died.

November 25, 2016

Sibu Tales : Timber Wealth and Handbags

Today handbags can be bought every where and even online.

But in the 60's, many Foochow women in Sibu bought their precious handbags from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Any relative going to Singapore would be asked to buy home a few handbags. One school teacher , a the mother in law of a rich man, bought a dozen, mostly for herself and one for a daughter in law. Of course her own daughter had probably many handbags in different colours which matched her shoes.
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Although it would have been nice if this teacher had given her own mother in law a hand bag, she did not. And according to the village gossip, her mother in law was happy to carry a handbag given to her by her own daughter about a decade or two before.

Foochow women were very frugal. They would never buy a handbag if the old one was still good. Not torn yet.

However the old lady had preferred a simple purse. In fact her cash was kept in a hidden pocket underneath  her Chinese blouse. For the simple things she needed to bring, she had either a rattan basket or a cloth bag, like another old ladies in those days.

October 30, 2016

Sibu Tales : Halves

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Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by loving parents and relatives. they were good role models and their action spoke louder than words.

One special memory I had of my grandmother and my maternal uncles and aunts was their frugality which led to many " halving" of things.
1. Apples and oranges were not only halved but quartered so that more could be shared amongst the 14 kids or more in the big household. Sharing was a very important practice which we practice to this day.
2. Grandma would always buy biscuits, kompia and other snacks when she went to Sibu to sell the family smoked rubber sheets. And she would always tell us..."please share or halve the piece and share with the next one". When a child got a whole biscuit, a younger one would always ask, "Can I have half of the biscuit?" And the older child would always give half away. The act of giving was so meaningful and significant in those days.
3. After doing the laundry by the river side, the heavy load would have to be carried in pails back to the old wooden house. To enable every older sister or cousin, or aunt, to have lesser burden, we would always divide the loads into two. It was a joy to be sharing the load, with each one of us carrying "only half a pail of the washing" to be dried on the bamboo poles. Most washing was done before sunset. Sometimes the kids' clothes would be wind dried before sun rise. So there would be no worries about shortage of the small clothes for the small ones. Doing laundry by hand using the fresh river water was a part of our childhood which left a big imprint on my mind. Grandmother would always remind us to do laundry well so that we could all wear clean clothes. We were not well off but at least we were clean, she would always say. The older ones would always happily do the laundry for the younger ones with joy in their hearts.

4. During the Chinese New Year, we would never have a whole bottle of F& N orange all to ourselves. We would have to share. But after the 15th Day of the Chinese New Year we were all given a chance to share the booty, and my mother would allow us to divide equally the remaining bottles of drinks. It was indeed heavenly for us to be able to salt away 6 to 7 bottles of the lovely aerated water under our bed, for us to savour the drinks slowly. But some years when we had more visitors we did not have any left to share. Very much later, the novelty of aerated water dissipated and we did not hanker for any share at all.
4. Whenever we visited our grandmother in the down river farm house, my third uncle, Pang Sing, would make a huge bao or two, the size was  the size of a basin (2 kg), grandma would always call Aunty Yung to come and get HALF of the bao for their breakfast the next day, while most usually, another one was already steaming in the big kuali over the wood fire. In the evenings we enjoyed the extra aroma of steaming baos from the kitchen. Flour was so cheap in those days and grandma would always buy by the whole flour bag for less than 2 Straits dollars in the 50's and 60's. To give away half of something was a sign of generosity practised by our beloved elders in those days.

There is a famous English adage or proverb which says a Burden shared is a Burden Halved. So in many ways, our Foochow upbringing in those days paved for our cultural and Christian attitude to this day.

Our Christian Bible also ensures us that when we share our burdens with God, he will sustain us and lift some or all of the weight from our shoulders.




On the PRACTical side, many things were halved in the olden days. Milo tins would be halved and fashioned into containers for scooping water. Kerosene could be sold in half tins to the housewives who did not have the budget to buy a whole tin. And of course those huge tins of biscuits also come in half tins. Whenever my third uncle, being the stronger man in the family, collected a runaway timber log in the river, he would saw the log into two and older uncle Pang Ping and his family would have half of the log for firewood.

September 7, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : The Iban Woman Oil Palm Smallholder

this is my Iban friend's mother, Indai Patrick. She has inherited a plot of land from her grandmother in Niah and has been cultivating oil palms for more than 5 years. Her husband is a Chinese civil servant from Kuching. Both have been working hard in the small holding at their spare time.

today, the family is enjoying the fruits of their labour.
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A staunch Roman Catholic, she makes sure that her children and grand children come together to say their prayers and attend MASS whenever they can. One day they will get their own vehicle. At the moment she is strong enough to carry all these to a small Ford f-wheel, which she pays 50 ringgit per load.

"In the past she and her parents depended on padi, rubber and jungle products. Today, oil palm is No.1 Cash Crop," she told me.

May God bless you and your honest labour!!

September 6, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights :Duck Rearing in the Rajang Valley

Ducks were actually brought over from China by the early Chinese migrants (Need more research here).

Since 1901, ducks have been reared by the Foochows along the Rajang Valley.

Today as more and more Foochows have moved to the towns of Sarawak and even to other parts of the world. duck rearing has been a domain of the Ibans, Malays and other races.

In one farm, an Iban woman said that she is "the half way house". She shares her duck rearing business with a foochow towkay and after the ducks are matured, they are sold to restaurants  in Sibu.
Business is good and often she and her partner do not have enough ducks to sell.

All her ducks have to be very mature, otherwise the small feathers ( which the Foochows call, under feathers) cannot be easily "plucked". That is to say, dressing the duck becomes extremely difficult.

The skin of the duck is an essential part which makes the duck soup awesome according to our Foochow elders.

September 3, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Dagu or the Jowl

When one visits the long house for a gawai or a celebration a pig or two might be slaughtered for the feasting and to welcome visitors. It can be for a wedding or the welcoming of a new politician.

Now one hidden secret of pork connoisseur is the jowl, or the lower jaw flesh of the pork face or head. The Ibans in the longhouses would give the pig head to the team which slaughters the pig and a bbq would already be set up by the river side after the pig has been slaughtered. The river bank, especially if there is a pebble beach is an ideal place for slaughtering of animals, as the river water would conveniently wash away all the unwanted parts and clean the meat.

the jowl is similar to belly pork and once it is well marinated with salt and pepper for more than `12 hours, it can be roasted either in the oven (250 degrees) or over the slow embers of an open fire.

It is very delicious when sliced thinly and served with rice and other jungle vegetables.

The Foochows love the dagu also and usually have it braised in soy sauce, or what other dialectic groups call, Pak Lo, with lots of garlic and 5 spices. In the 1950's and 60's the wharf labourers of Sibu often enjoyed having a cheap meal of slices of jowl with their white rice and lots of soy sauce. In the evenings when all the wharf labourers had gone home, the hawker selling the economy rice would "lelong" the left over meats to people who like to buy the cold slices. A family would have a good meal with only 3 dollars worth of dagu, all chopped up by the sharp cleaver of the vendor.

Today in most western countries' supermarkets the dagu or the jowl is sold in the fresh meat department or in the bacon section.

September 1, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Unripe Durian Flesh as Vegetable

God has given us lots of fruits.

but sometimes fruits cannot stay on the trees until they are ripen. They drop either naturally and are called "nature's reject" by the local Ibans, or "aborted fruits" by others. They can also be brought down by wind when a mature fruit drops on an unripe fruit and brings it down to the ground.

these unripe fruits must not be discarded because they can be cooked as a vegetable.

When visiting longhouses, one can be very surprised that the evening meal consists of a soup made of unripe durians, ikan bilis and onions.

The unripe durians  have the texture of potatoes. And it is a delightful, sweetish taste. There is no durian taste at all.

God has given us his bounty. We should not waste his blessings!!

August 31, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Rambing

Rambing or perhaps by other names can be found easily in the jungles and is already a cultivated vegetable in many backyard gardens.

It is commonly found in native markets in Sarawak and especially in Miri.

In the longhouses and kampongs, housewives often just go out and cut a few stalks for their evening meals, or they bring back a basket of it from their farms.

The vegetable is very tender and easily cooked as a stir fry.

You can also add prawns or even meat to it.

Usually it is fried with ikan bilis and onions. It is a very sweet vegetable.

August 26, 2016

Miri Tales : Selling by the Kong/Tin

The tamu or trading places for local people in Miri and else use some amazing measures.

The Glucose tin for example for dabai, the famous black fruit of Sarawak, measures exactly half kilogramme of the fruit.Image may contain: food

so instead of having to use a scale (which some jungle produce vendors do not have), this tin is used and the fruit will be sold according to the seasonal price.No automatic alt text available.

At the moment of writing, the dabai is 20 ringgit per glucose tin. This is the highest price I have come across in Miri.

Dabai is like gold or oil...the price keeps going up.

August 24, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Pumpkin Leaves

A simple way of cooking pumpkin leaves - boil some onions, garlic and ikan bilis in two cups of water, When boiling add the crushed pumpkin leaves to the soup base.

This method of cooking amongst the indigenous people of Sarawak is called sup terjun. For vegetables, this oil-less cooking requires less water and the resulting vegetables taste sweet, and awesome.

For soup, one has to add more water, or as desired.

This healthy way of food preparing is getting more and more popular in Sarawak.

When visitors arrive at any longhouse for an occasion, they would find pumpkin leaves as one of their dishes.

 If the people are more endowed, they would have another more elaborate dish, by adding pumpkin flowers, cubes of pumpkin, cubes of cucumber and even sweet young corn.

Photo by Mary H Ting.

August 21, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Edible Rubber Seeds

(Photo by Sarawakiana taken in Bintulu tamu 2009)

The kernels of the rubber seeds can be eaten especially after they have been soaked for about 24 hours according to a scientific research conducted in Java way back in 1987.

In fact the Indonesians have been eating preserved rubber seed kernels for ages.

In Sarawak the seeds are preserved by soaking in salt water over night. The "kesam" kernels can be stir fried with Ikan Bilis and make quite a good side dish for a hot evening meal with rice and other main dishes.

Rubber seed kernels taste just like any kernel. They are almost almond like actually. But almond is crunchy and has a good after taste. May be some people will say that the rubber kernels are like chestnuts or even kepayang (a favourite preserved seed in Sarawak). A friend has said that they actually taste like kepayang, a common long house kernel which is called keruak in Indonesia.

According to a Bernama report "rubber seed rum" or preserved rubber seed is available as a condiment in several restaurants in Jerantut Pahang. It seems that the people of Jerantut have had this recipe for generations! It is served with curries during fasting month in fact.

Bernama Photo

Photo by William Ting

Not long ago my Foochow friend William Ting went to Rh Rendang in Ulu Balingian with a team of 20 for a short mission trip. They were served salted(kesam) rubber seed kernels with  small fried  fish. William said, "They were very tasty indeed!"

But more importantly rubber seed kernels have been roasted and used as fish bait, placed in the locally made, rattan fish traps called bubu. My late father used them a lot and we caught many ikan keli and ikan haruan in the streams in the rubber garden behind our Sibu house in Kampong Nyabor more than 50 years ago..

A friend told me that when he was young and still living in the longhouse his father would let their pigs salvage the rubber seeds in the garden. The pigs really knew how to look for the rubber seeds. According to him sometimes his father and other adults would collect the seeds and crack them to take the kernels out for their own food and what they could not consume they would boil for the pigs. However this is not done today any more.

Rubber seeds are always easy to find. Go to a rubber garden. When you hear small gun shot sounds you will know that some rubber seeds are being dispersed and ready for your picking. It is always nice to hear the sounds of seeds bursting from their cases.

August 18, 2016

Fruits of Sarawak : Terap or Lumoh

Quite often, during the fruit season, the long house communities will happily offer their guests an afternoon snack made up of fruits and tea. Normally it would be Osborne biscuits or Cream Crackers and tea or coffee brought out in a large tray, a normal longhouse way of showing warm hospitality to any stranger or friend.

The fruit can be the terap which is served on its skin. Terap is a fruit made up of small fruitlets and hence a large number of guests can enjoy eating the small fruitlets by plucking them from the core with their hands.Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

The use of hands (after washing properly ) is polite eating etiquette in the longhouse and every one does it. So just a kind reminder that one should just enjoy using the hand when eating this fruit, and of course durians, chempedak and any cousin of the jackfruit can best be enjoyed by using our hands.

The terap and its cousins are  found in South East Asia and especially enjoyed by all indigenous people. During a glut season the terap is left to drop and birds will also get a share of the seeds. A wise , longhouse Iban man told me once, "Don't worry, God provides for us and for the birds and animals too. Perhaps that is why He allows a glut season."Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, outdoor and nature

Its scientific name is Artocarpus odoratissimusNo automatic alt text available.

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Young,unripe terap can be made into a nourishing soup. Nothing is wasted.
Furthermore, an unripe terap can be dissected and cooked as a soup in the longhouse, making a very delicious and savoury side dish. It is very tasty and well loved. This is also a natural way of controlling the number of fruits on a tree. God is the ever God of Wisdom.

And we therefore must never waste what God has given us. 

Give praise and enjoy God's feast at the table. 

(For my Methodist friends, here is a Simple Grace:" For the bounty you have put before us, we thank you and we pray that you will bless us with good health from this nourishment. Thank you Lord.")

August 16, 2016

Miri Tales : Mung Bean Soup

Years ago a sudden outbreak of a mystery disease causing a few deaths led to a scramble for mung beans. Men and women rushed to the supermarkets and retail shops and bought every single mung bean.

Some women who did not get any mung beans even sat down on the road side and cried. There was this great fear that children would die from a fearsome fever as a result of catching the mystery disease.

While many started wearing face masks and trying to send their young to Singapore and as far as Australia, most humble people of the lower income group braved the elements and went on their life as normally as possible.

I gave my children soy bean milk.

And a friend did give me a few hundred grams of mung beans which we all ate that evening, almost mid night. We were told that we had to have mung bean soup that day before MIDNIGHT or else we would all die. The rumours spread like wild fire and that was the reason why not even one bean was left on the shelves of the supermarkets and even all the tiny little sundry shops. Was it a marketing scheme to sell mung beans. If so, it was very effective. Furthermore the price skyrocketted to 15 ringgit per kg on that day.

It was an unforgettable experience.

I was not even aware of the scramble for mung beans as I was busy teaching, tucked away in the college. .

The next day I read in the Chinese newspapers all about the mad rush for mung beans. NO one had died from not eating mung bean soup.

Was  it a relief for the gullible, or did the naive feel cheated?

Nowadays I continue to cook mung bean soup but instead of using dairy milk, I use Soy Bean Milk (less sugar).

It is a very cooling dessert.

August 15, 2016

Sibu Taloes : A Short History of Methodist Secondary School

History of SMB Methodist Sibu

For more than half a century, SMB Methodist Sibu has been pushing ever upwards. Defeats and set-backs notwithstanding, this school has ever been in the forefront of education in this colony. As early as 1903 "the first Methodist Boys' School in Sarawak" opened its doors at Sungai Merah. Eight years later Mrs. James M. Hoover started the Uk Ing Girls' School in Sibu. 1914 a new building was put up for the school and a kindergarden was started. English classes for boys began in 1925 with Mr. J. B. Chong as principal and Rev. James Hoover as part-time teacher of English. For a time the school merged with Chung Hua School on its present site but separated from Chung Hua in 1940 after the death of Mr. J. B. Chong. In 1941, Mrs. J. B. Chong and Rev. Gerald Summers opened the Methodist Boys' School on Island Road (Jalan Pulau) with 98 pupils. Chinese was also taught in this school.

In December 1941 Rev. Summers went to Singapore to attend the Annual Conference and after war broke out, he was imprisoned, and died in concentration camp just before he was to be released. Mrs. Chong carried on the teaching and the administration of the school while Mr. Summers went to Conference, but the school was orded closed by the Japanese in March of 1942.

After the war, Mrs. Mary Hoover with Mr. Luk Sung Sing as dean, reopened the kindergarden and the Uk Ing Primary and Junior Middle School in June 1946. Following that year in June, Rev. E. O. McGraw re-opened the Methodist Boys' School with Mrs. J. B. Chong as Vice-principal. The name was changed to Methodist English School, because there were many girls attending. In 1950 the school had its first Junior Cambridge class and the first Senior Cambridge class soon afterwards in 1952.

In 1949 the first Chinese Senior Middle School in Sarawak was opended in the new premises on the present site of the school with Mr. Ling Wen Tsung as principal. In 1951 the Methodist English School Secondary Department moved in to join the Chinese Secondary school, occupying the first unit of the Gerald Summers Memorial building. This building was built with funds raised in the Rev. Summers' Home conference, the Nebraska Conference, as a memorial to him.

The Chinese school and the English school were combined in 1951 as one school with Mr. J. Pilly as principal. The next year Rev. D. P. Coole became principal after Rev. L. R. Dennis volunteered to fill vacancy between Mr. Pilley's furlough leave and Rev. Coole's arrival. In June of 1957 Rev. Coole left on furlough, leaving Mr. Eugene Teng as principle. Mr. Teng was followed by Mr. William Funk, who was followed in turn by Rev. Ralph Kesselring and he by Mr. Pilley again.

During these years, the school Committee has stood behind the school financially and in other ways. Were it not for Rev. Ling Kai Cheng, Rev. E. O. McGraw and Rev. Wong King Hoo this valueble piece of property that we now occupy would not have been acquired. May we always seek; and as we find, let us serve.

August 14, 2016

Sibu Tales : Pig Stomachs

Giowing up in a small town like Sibu was a thrilling experience. I grew to know almost every street, back street and shop in the town. I went marketing with my father, went to church with my maternal grandmother whenever she was in town and I went to an English Mission school.

I learned about Foochow cuisine from my mother who made everything from scratch, like all her contemporaries.

One memorable skill was the preparation of pig stomach or pork trip or pig maw from scratch. My father would " carry a pig stomach from the market". That was the way Foochows speak. It was not "buying a pork maw" it was "going to the market to carry home a pork maw"..Dii Du guan suoh jia.

For some health reasons, the eating of pig stomach soup was very nourishing. My parents believed that (especially my maternal grandmother) eating the pig stomach soup would give one a good appetite and that it would help nourish back one's health.

So my mother would often request my father to buy one or two for the whole family once or twice a month. After all a pig stomach was not a very expensive food item.

Later when the cold storages started to open up in Sibu, frozen beef and pig stomachs were sold very cheaply and most housewives enjoyed purchaing these items.

In fact later I found out that pig stomachs form a very important ingredient in most restaurant dishes e.g. soups, fried noodles, soup noodles and even vegetables. It is in fact one of the favourite ingredients of Foochow cooks.

However frozen pig stomach became a hot item as it really helped the frugal housewife to stretch the proverbial dollar.

August 13, 2016

Sibu Tales : Coconut Bao

the making of bread and steamed buns is a common hobby of many Foochow housewives. The fillings would always be a matter of choice. My mother  makes neither bread nor steamed buns because making the dough is a very tedious process and she would rather steam a chicken any time. She has always been time conscious. Anything which takes a long time to make would not be her choice.

However my sister Yin loves making kuihs and cakes. she bakes and steams well so to speak.

One day after I learned to make ONDE ONDE, I wanted to eat some at home. so I went out to town to buy some grated coconut. And to my horror and my mother's horror, I had bought the wrong grated coconut. I did not ask the vendor to give me the white grated coconut. He had given me the "black one" ie. the one with still some of the black husk sticking to the grated coconut.

This black grated coconut would not look good at all on Onde Onde.

Later whenever I see steamed buns with grated coconut filling and onde onde I would always remember my original "sin" of being very forgetful..and not fastidious enough to tell the vendor to give me the white grated coconot...Just one of those stories I can share with you.

Until today I don't make onde onde or steamed buns with grated coconut filling.

Sarawakian Local Delights : Pedalai

The pedalai is a large tree quite common in the lowland dipterocarp forest of Sarawak.
The fruit is a moderately large in size and has rigid and coarse hair. The hair is rather long like rambutan's.Image may contain: food
 When ripe the furit is soft and the skin can be easily peeled open by hand. That is, you don't need a knife. And it is the same way to open up a very soft chempedak or terap, as they are related.

The many fruitlets have soft, pearly white flesh that is aromatically very sweet. Many elders love this fruit, especially when they travel by long boat. They would stop their long boat and pick the wild fruits by the river bank. With so much development going on in Sarawak, I am afraid, many of the pedalai trees would be gone within this generation unless some people start planting them.

The pedalai is considered a sweet dessert and may be even lunch when one is travelling in the upper reaches of Sarawak rivers when it is the fruiting season. Many can still remember how nice it was to eat this fruit. I have only come across this fruit once before in Lingga, Sarawak.

The small brown seeds are delicious with nutty crunchy flavour. They can be dry fried, or deep fried.

It used to be quite common in the second division of Sarawak.

August 10, 2016

Miri : Tall Thai Yam Species

Visiting a physically disadvanted aunty, Rose, my friends pose with Rose's tall Thai Yams...they are more than 5 foot tall...Aunty Rose is a vegetable grower and seller.

She receives minimal support from the Welfare Department. Most of the days she crawls around in the house and in her garden. Friends take turns to help her get medication or attend to some chores in Miri.

May God bless Aunty Rose.

August 4, 2016

Sibu Tales : Protecting Seeds

This was how my relatives in Ah Nang Chong prepare their vegetable beds. Once the seeds were sown, they would cut grass like lalang especially and spread them on top of the seeds in the bed . This was basically for two reasons - to prevent birds from eating the seeds, and to cool down the soil (ie. to prevent the soil from drying up under the hot tropical sun).

Hope this helps you to remember how our elders provided us with organic vegetables in those long ago days.

July 26, 2016

Sibu Tales : Broken Mee Sua and Changkok Manis

ONe of my favourite stories from my friends who lived down river from Sibu is about their growing up amid rubber trees and vegatable patches in the flood prone backyard.

Their parents worked hard tapping rubber and planting rice to supplement their father's meagre teacher's salary of $60.00 a month. And all the kids lent a hand before and after school. Luckily the school management allowed the primary school classes to start late around 11 and finish at 4 or 5 to be aligned with the rubber tapping schedule, unlike today's normal school time table, 7 to 1.30.

Don't throw away the broken pieces. They are still good for a meal.
Very often the kids would come home to cold rice, warmed up by tea and some sugar. A slice or two of salted fish was a king's menu for the evening.

Plucking the leaves of changkok manis for customers.
But one of my friends had a special fondness for her mother's basin of broken mee sua and changkok manis. When the whole family shared this dish together, love warmed up the whole kitchen and laughter rang throughout the house.

The broken mee sua (Foochow noodles) came from the bottom of the tin. It would then be time for the mother to visit the town to buy another lot of mee sua, dry it and fill up the tin for a few more birthdays.

Stomachs filled and needs satiated, the kids went to take their bath and then studied hard. This family has 5 graduates,including one doctor.

May God bless the families who struggled during rubber tapping days .

July 21, 2016

Sibu Tales : German Chairs

When Foochow girls were married in the 1910-60's, most of them, if they had fairly good families, would be endowed with some bridal gifts.

These bridal gifts were carried on two bamboo poles to show the village or town what the parents could afford A rich man (groom's father) would even engage the local brass band to head the procession which made its way to the groom's house. People would line up the road to watch the procession and children would even dance ahead of the band!! This was defnitely a good announcement of a new marriage.

One of the most beloved bridal gifts in those days was a pair of Germany Chairs or tek guo yea. In time to come, the happy couple would save enough money to buy a marble table to match, and two more German Chairs.

This was according to my mum who was not given a pair of German chairs because her father had just passed away and her mother had spent almost all their family money in China to build a house which was bombed by the Japanese. That was a bad time for her family, my maternal family.

 But nonetheless, my maternal grandmother was able to return to Sarawak with her son, and a brand new daughter in law. That was already a blessing.

My father however was most kind and loving to his in laws and helped in whatever ways he could. Over the years, my father kept his promise to provide for my mother a sewing machine, a wardrobe, four German Chairs, and one marble table,

My mother had always had bitter sweet memories of her lack of bridal gifts. She did not even get a set of pillows, she did moan once to us!!

Photo from Google.

Photo from Goldenshowers Tiong with thanks

When ever she sees a set of tek guo yea or German Chairs and a marble table she would be reminded of her lack of bridal gifts.

In those days women compared and competed with each other how many bridal gifts they received. And more often than not, the in laws would also compare what each daughter in law brought. Those with more gifts would be treated better in some ways and that would be very hurting to the less "endowed".  Perhaps that was what my mother often felt at the beginning.

"But later, when the big Foochow family split up and each son of the family would live in their own nuclear family homes, the stresses of living together with in laws were reduced," said an aunt. She continued, "The idea of the Big Family is old fashioned. And as an educated Foochow woman, I would not encourage any parents in law to encourage their married sons to live with them. There would be disasters, and of course lots of small quarrels. In the olden days, some fights were even brought to the headmen to settle...Very unbecoming actually."

However, regarding bridal gifts, my mum would always say to us, "No point having material things. God's love is eternal and only His love is promised."

July 20, 2016

Sibu Tales : Sea Planes

My great grandfather and grandfather lived in Pulau Kerto's Hua Hong Ice Factory during the Second World War years . Great Grandfather passed away in 1944. The two of them saw the first sea planes landing on the Rajang from their jetty quite a few times.

Sibu was paralysed with fear when the new governor Steward Duncan was stabbed in Sibu . AT first he was very brave about his "accident" and it was only later that people realised how serious the wound was. He was flown by a sea plane out of Sibu and then to Singapore.

The Sea Plane also brought other VIPS to Sibu. 1952 The Royal Princess, Duchess of Kent with her son were flown from Kuching to Sibu and then back...(

My family and I were still living in Hua Hong Ice Factory's admin quarters but I had no memory as I was too young. But my father and mother were out watching the Princess arrive in Sibu..My mum would have a few stories to tell about the Duchess wearing gloves and high heels.

The Sundaland flying boat which brought the Duchess to Sibu in 1952.

July 9, 2016

Sibu Tales : Rice Milling, Rice Selling, Rice Consumption

One of my grandfather's first adventure into business was setting up a rice mill in Hua Hong Ice Factory and later, Mee Ang Sawmill in Bintangor. These two businesses brought him a certain kind of wealth.Image may contain: outdoor and water

My father and his siblings were able to go to school in Sibu and later in China. While almost all the girls were also well educated. Several of my aunts were educated in Singapore and two received scholarships to study in the United States.

I was born in Hua Hong Ice Factory in Pulau Kerto and did enjoy the smells of engines (for ice making) and the sweet smells of rice being milled until we moved to Sibu. Perhaps that started my attachment to rice milling and rice trading as a whole.

In the past most Foochow women would prefer what they called "Bulook Gang" rice. I have never been able to name this rice, the rice I ate when I was a child. Bulook Gang is a fine, soft local rice.

The other rice is Paloh rice, from the swampy region of lower Rajang. We used to buy rice by the Gunny Sacks!! Cheaper by the sack so to speak. The Foochows would also put rice on top of their family expenditure. So a family felt good if there was lots of rice on the table.

Later I heard of friends' family eating  Hill Rice, Thai rice, Chinese rice, Cambodian Rice, Vietnamese rice and the like. Very recently many families have started to buy Fragrant rice, Bario Rice,etc

As a Sarawakian I enjoy getting to know what kind of rice is cooked in the kitchen, without being offensive to the cook..and I do love to smell the fragrance of cooking rice. The aroma of cooked rice makes one feel safe and comforted. Many people may not understand my thoughts.

Rice bubbling in a port is such a comfort to witness....All is well and there is at least a bowl of rice for the day.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind.

July 8, 2016

Sibu Tales : Motor Launches

The Foochows started having motor launches from the time Rev James Hoover introduced the first motor engine to the Foochow pioneers of Sibu, sometime in the early 1900's.

My grandfather by 1910's owned three of them: But I can only remember the name of one of them, Hook Ann. The three motor launches were used to carry passengers, and goods. However he sold all three by the 1950's, perhaps it was because he had some other businesses to do, which fitted his age. He moved to Sg. Merah and most probably acquired land in the quiet, and started his brickyard, Kiong Ang, in Sg. Aup.

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Modern version of motor launches of yesteryears
The motor launches of the Rajang captivated my imagination. They brought me to my maternal grandmother's village, Ah Nang Chong, where I could enjoy holidays with my cousins in the big house. Occasionally I went to Ensuari and Sarikei , accompanying my grandmother. There were certain memories deeply embedded in my mind.

Motor launches were the life line of the Foochows who settled all along the middle Rajang River. They planted rubber, padi and fruits. Each homestead also had ducks, chickens and vegetables. Methodist churches and schools sprang up wherever there were Foochows. By 1935, there were 41 churches and 39 schools. My own maternal grandfather donated some land to the Church to build a primary school, Tiing Nang and a church, Hook Ming Tong.

These motor launches brought the Foochows and their products to Sibu which was truly a bustling town by the 1950's. The Sibu wharf was a busy place and boat honking was loud and clear, giving people a lot of hope and inspiration for the future. Even though I was not even a teenager by then, I could feel the excitement and the quickening pulse of the thriving economy.

As a young girl I had already started to observe the  behaviour of the frugal Foochow men and women. Firstly they would not spend their cash unnecessarily by going straight to the shops to buy stuff. They would bring their products to the market first and then put the cash into their hidden pockets in their trousers or blouses. A treat for themselves would be a bowl of kampua mee at Moi Soung if they thought they could use some money and wait for their last motor launch. Many would buy food and return as soon as possible to their villages before noon, if their transactions could be completed. Secondly, most of them would stand outside some of the popular shops along the Five Foot way to meet up with relatives. Thirdly, they would collect their mail, either from Nang Kwong or Hock Chiong, the rubber middleman business. Fourthly, they would do things very quickly, like buying supplies and fresh meat as soon as they could and fill their rattan baskets methodically.

I also remember my aunts loved to buy kompia and mah ngii, after they had some tofu or soy milk at the corner of Yu Chiong Company. My Foochow relatives eating and standing there was a happy scene in my mind all these years.

One very memorable scene was an aunt who kept her shoes in her hands from the boat, until she was near the Chinese temple. She had a hard time wearing her rubber shoes because her feet had been swollen by the fact that she had been stepping on the rubber sheets solidified by formic acid.She had to be treated in the Lau King Howe hospital for bad skin problems.In those days most Foochows' feet were "eaten" by ern moh choo, or formic acid. Many in fact suffered the worst of skin ailments and lesions. It was almost impossible to describe some of the lesions I saw. When private doctors started opening their clinics in Sibu, the rubber industry had already declined and women who had grown older had to live with white patches in their feet, the scars of formic acid.

There was another time when a young woman who was jilted by her lover was frothing in the mouth and vomiting because she took some formic acid to end her life. Many of the Foochow fellow passengers were sympathetic and tried to help the family to bring her to the hospital. Unfortunately the motor launch could not stop at the hospital jetty and she had to be taken by trishaw to the hospital, still writhing in pain. That was one ending to one of my childhood holidays down river. I was numb with fear after that and hated even the term Ern Moh Chu. We were told later that she died a slow death

It was good to see the smiles and joy on the faces of the Foochows as they alighted from the motor launches.

July 7, 2016

Sibu Tales : R. Thambipillay

Many years after retiring, R. Thambipillay came back to Sibu to visit friends and to find some friends he had lost contact with.

That led me to think about putting the stories of the Nang Chong and Tanjong Kunyit areas in writing. 

In the 1970's my maternal grandmother was already in her late seventies and the Lau family faced many political problems.

From New Straits Times : Thambipillay, who was Police Field Force assistant superintendent, helped to implement the Danger Belt Scheme in the communist hotbed of Sibu, Sarawak.
Rubber tree logs were used to barricade villages so that villagers could carry out their chores safely, including going into the rubber plantations to work. Beyond the danger belt, security forces carried out “seek-and-kill” missions against the CTs.
In time, the people regained confidence in the security forces. Military success was achieved and as the terrorists were denied support from the people, they were forced to abandon their operational areas.
“The success gave me the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the villagers, and emphasised to community leaders the benefits of the scheme,” he said.
At the time, Thambipillay was serving in the Rajang Area Security Command, the precursor to the East Sabah Security Command. For his contributions, he became the first non-Sarawakian to be awarded the Ahli Bintang Sarawak in 1973 for fighting the Communist insurgency in the state.
He saw action against the enemy in 12 major operations in the jungle with the Police Field Force, including operations in the Betong salient at the Thai/Malay-sian border. He went on to serve as assistant officer-in-charge-of-police-district (OCPD) in Kuala Kubu Baru and as OCPD in Tapah and Slim River/Tanjung Malim before retiring as Perak Criminal Investigation Department chief in the 1990s.
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Photo by Wong Meng Lei. Datuk R Thambipillay in Sibu.
Some points about Datuk R Thambipillay in Sarawak: 
a) He was the first non Srawakian to be awarded the Ahli Bintang Sarawak in 1973.
b) He became friends with many Foochows in the Rajang Basin, especially Tanjong Kunyit after trying his best to gain their trust.
c) He introduced the "Danger Belt Scheme" so that the villagers could carry out their normal life and work. His men and the villagers piled up logs to about 1 m. high. "It was not possible to have barb-wire fencing, like at the Perak and Kedah borders, as the terrain around the village was different."

The system proved to work when an ambush party under Thambipillay's command spotted two CT supporters, with two sacks of stolen chicken and ducks.
There were no further incidents afterwards.

c) He was six months in Tanjong Kunyit.

d) Later he was posted to Sibu for three years. The Tanjung Kunyit Headman Kang Hin Yu expressed his gratitude by presenting Thambipillay with a Chinese Scroll for his efforts in bringing peace to the village. After 44 years Thambipillay visited Tanjong Kunyit to meet friends.

July 3, 2016

Sibu Tales : A Cabbage for a Lottery Ticket

This is a very old Sarawak Turf Club advertisement which was kept by my father in his drawer for a long time, 1961, when the numerical characters were still written in the old Classic Chinese style. I have kept it until now. My father was never a lottery buyer but he would get a few once in a while from his Singh friend. He would tell my mother, "I may not win, but it is one way of helping the ticket seller to get a bit of commission and to generally support the good causes of the turf club. My father in his life time never became lucky where horses were concerned.
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The Chinese businesses in Sibu would print Calenders to give to their well wishers and customers. And Horse Racing days would be part of one particular kind of calender like the one shown. Horse races are all scheduled for each month. Very convenient.

I often think about lottery tickets and about how so many Foochows are reluctant to bet on anything. Perhaps this was due to the early responsibilities of the Foochow pioneers who were not allowe bad habits in the New Foochow, Sibu, as ordained by Wong Nai Siong and Rev. James Hoover. The Foochow pioneers were not allowed to gamble, womanize, smoke, drink ,and take opium. Lying was prohibited too. If caught committing these sins, they would be threatened to be sent back to China. I was told Rev Hoover did some some gamblers back to China.

Gee Jakee, a facebook friend told us the story of how a vegetable seller bought a winning ticket after he was persuaded to buy one by the Singh. Since he was not willing to part with his cash, the Singh suggested he paid with a head of cabbage. The vegetable seller won $400,000 and he was so happy that he gave Mr. Singh a special gift of money. Mr. Singh went back to India with his commission and the extra from the grateful vegetable seller. Mr. Singh eventually passed away at home.

That was a very princely sum in olden day Sibu!!

June 30, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Sago Palm Hearts

The Sago Palm is a gift from God. Growing wild and in abundance, it a palm highly valued by almost all the indigenous people of Sarawak.

The Melanaus's economy is based on the Sago Palm since time immemorial. An Iban family with five or six sago palm tree is considered rich. Bisayas who have sago palms can beam with pride because they can trade with sago fruits,flour and create food out of the palm. Weddings, funerals and any celebration call for a tree or two to be felled and turn into food for the community.

Today sago palm hearts are also sold in the wet markets. One stem of 3 feet in length is enough to feed 100 people.

During the untimely passing of a very young man recently relatives from Ulu Limbang came together bringing six palm hearts and that provided enough side dishes for three days for about 200 people. Other dishes like chicken with bean curd sheets, pork in soy sauce, fried tapioca leaves, bamboo shoots, all longhouse recipes, were prepared in the small kitchen and its little extension at the back, of course. This is a very economical gotong royong practised by the Ibans. Catering would have cost a bomb!!

The sweetness of the sago palm eased the pain of mourning momentarily. The generosity of relatives reminded every one how communal cooperation is still the jell that binds them together.

June 23, 2016

Sibu Tales : The Old Style Blow Torch

In the olden days blow torches like these would have been imported from the UK and made of brass.

The "fire" from the torch would make a nice comforting sound when the blacksmith  fired it up. Considered quite light in his hand the blow torch would help him carry out his work every day.

I remember seeing the rattan basket and chair maker in Blacksmith Road having one and would hang around watching him make his creations. The blow torch is something which I can always remember well.

Another sight created by the blow torch was at a neighbour's blacksmith workshop. He had rented a room in Kong Ping Road or Brooke Drive. He was a Cantonese man, who looked very stern but I believed he was really a good blacksmith because so many people would leave their equipment with him. Because I was still fairly young at that time, today I can only remember that he was quite taciturn and very slow in his movements.

He worked slowly at his workshop and Malays and Chinese came around at certain times to collect their repaired equipment, he would make some items like small propellers or weld some metal sheets together.

However his loud blow torch always frightened me because I thought he could use it to burn down the house!! And furthermore, he was one of the most sun burnt men I had ever seen. Coming from a family which had very fair skinned men, I was quite scared of the blacksmith. And any way, we were all told not to go to his workshop for no reason at all, even to look!!

But I am sure he looked after his family who lived next door, in those days very well.  However tragically he died fairly young due to over work.

The children, especially the girls,went to school and one of them went overseas to study.

I wonder why until today, whenever I see a man with a blow torch be it old fashion one, or a modern one, I would always see an unsmiling face. Perhaps when you carry a blow torch you have to be very serious.

June 19, 2016

Sibu Tales : Cangkok Manis and Mee Sua

After about 115 years of settling down in Sibu, the Foochows have started to use many of the local vegetables and fruits as part of their food.Image may contain: food

According to my grandfather who came in 1903 to settle down in Sg Merah, he saw many Ibans and Malays having cangkok manis in their backyard garden and he also saw them harvesting the vegetables. He told us that he first learnt to cook cangkok manis as a soup. He later learnt also from the Malays and the Ibans how to forage for paku and meedin.

Today these three vegetables are restaurant dishes in the Foochow dominated town of Sibu. One of the best dishes created from cangkok manis is the hand made and sun dried Mee Sua fried with changkok manis, garlic and ikan bilis.

We often order this dish in the restaurants instead of the chicken soup mee sua.

It is also a dish that most Foochow women have learnt to cook at home.

June 15, 2016

Sibu Tales : Syn Choon Liau in Jawi too

A study of signboards in Sibu is always very rewarding and mind opening.

Syn Choon Liau here is long gone. It used to be a popular restaurant in the 1940's - 60's,

Some people still remember going there for weddings and birthdays. In the olden days, wrote Irene J Yong, "Most wedding banquets were held in the noon time so that relatives who lived down river could attend the luncheon. and they would have to leave Sibu by the last boat, which was usually 2 p.m."

Many match making took place in restaurants like this.

A special note must be taken, in those long ago days, Jawi was part of the signboard making.

I am always happy when I can read the Jawi script with the help of English words..I would go Sin,I Nun, Cha Wu Nun, and lamyainun...(am I correct?)

I was told in China , green signboards for restaurants would indicate that they are Halal ones..So red signboards would mean it is NON Halal here?? May be there is no special indication in Sibu yet.

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). ...