January 18, 2016

Sibu Tales : The Heart of a Herbalist

My great grandfather Tiong King Kee came to Sibu with his two sons, and a few nephews,. They were led by the famous Foochow patriot Wong Nai Siong in 1903. Altogether in three batches 1188 Foochow men and women came to settle in Sibu.

In those early days in Sibu, while the pioneers were getting acclimatized and suffering from all sorts of insect bites and even snake bites,they immediately set to fell trees to prepare land for rice and vegetable cultivation. My great grandfather, besides being a builder, like many other Foochows, also provided herbal treatment. Coming from the mountains of Wun Chieh, he had built up a good knowledge base of herbs. Today in Wun Chieh in 14 Du, Minqing, our Tiong relatives continue to dry herbs and mountain vegetables for sale.

Sadly, he did not leave much record, although he was instrumental in writing a book of our family's genealogy. In this small book, he wrote about himself as a humble herbalist. He also left a remark in the book that the family members must make sure that the book is properly filled from time to time.

A page from my great grandfather's book of genealogy of our family.
In later years, my great grandmother told stories about how people would go to Hua Hong Ice Factory in Pulau Kerto,(where they lived most of their lives) and .instead of paying fees, most of the grateful patients would bring eggs, ducks, chickens or whatever they had. Good herbalists according to him must never receive cash reward.

Great Grandmother, being a small feet (bound feet) woman, had problems walking fast, but she was able to cook pretty well. However, according to our adopted cousin, Yew Ping,  great grandfather was very simple in his tastes. A very interesting memory of Great Grandfather's disciplined attitude was his "special treats tin".He kept a small tin of biscuits and sweets up above the reach of children. Any child he wanted to reward, he would pull down the tin and give a token reward to the obedient child,using his specially designed pulley system. Cousin Yew Ping found it very interesting.

Great Grandfather also in his life adopted two orphan girls.One of them is still very healthy and in her 80's. The other one had passed on. Because of this kind of family tradition, my grandfather also  adopted 4 or 5 other girls. It was a charitable way of saving them from extreme poverty. To date, two of them have prospered and these two aunts have children who are medical doctors, teachers ,etc

In those days, many poor Chinese families would either "sell" their daughters to rich families or Sibu brothels, or throw them into the Rajang River. So in a way my great grandfather saved two lives.

The good road BS  to Wun Chieh. In 1918 my great grandfather went up the mountains by sedan chair. When he and my grandfather and granduncle joined Wong Nai Siong at 6 Du in Bangdong, they must have walked a number of days from home. Photo by Chang Yi
Great Grandfather also made sure that his grand children went to school. He valued education and would often have good discussions with Rev Hoover, the Methodist pastors, the Foochow doctors and fellow herbalists.

Like most Foochow pioneers  who were disciplined and baptised Methodists, Great Grandfather , according to Great Grandmother Wong (who lived not only in Hua Hong, but Bintangor and later Sibu and Sg. Merah) was also a very strict person who was careful with money, and a patriotic man. He was extremely heart broken when my father was imprisoned by the Japanese.But by then he was already very ill and he soon passed away. If he could he would have taken up arms to fight China's greatest enemies.

It was only recently that we found out that he went to make a visit  to our relatives in Minqing in 1918 to help restore our ancestors' graves up in the mountains of Wun Chieh . By then he was able to fill in two names of his grandsons in the family genealogy book - Tiong Poh King (my father) and Tiong Siu King (second Uncle). According to our Minqing cousin, Great Grandfather had trekked down from the mountains with grandpa and grand uncle and their relatives to meet up with Wong Nai Siong in Bandong..but on his return journey 15 years later, he was carried by sedan chair. That was a symbol of economic and social success.
My  great grandfather's line. Great Great Grandfather was Tiong Kek Jeh.  My great grandfather brought Kung Giing, his own two sons, Kung Kiew, Kung Liing, and Kung Nguong to Sibu. (this is only hearsay as I might have gotten the names wrong) Photo by Chang Yi at Wun Chieh

The family felt blessed that when he passed away in 1944, Rev Yao Shiaw King and Dr. Chiu Nai Ding were by his bedside, besides his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He died in Pulau Kerto very peacefully before the Japanese surrendered.

The Wun Chieh Tiong Family Home. Uncle showing my friends and I the Tiong genealogy book , kept in Wun Chieh - all handwritten. Photo by Chang Yi at Wun Chieh

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