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...(http://vb4.pprune.org/aviation-history-nostalgia/331471-sunderland-flying-boat-3.html)

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!!

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). ...