July 18, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Sanba Bride

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Photo by Sarawakiana : 9 Layer Kuih (There are lots of beautiful photos of nyonya kuihs on Google too)

When my mother from Ah Nang Chong or Lower South Village, was newly married she had to face the normal new " daughter in law and new sister in law" kind of orientation. Some of the activities were very positive, some a little daunting to say the least.

While my late father was very much in love with her, as it was an after-the Japanese-Occupation marriage, she was not too sure about the family she was marrying into. First of all, she had to step out of her countryside background to be among the trendy town folks.

Her father-in-law was of a stern character and a man of firmness. His word was law in the family. She also told us that her own father was stern and was not at all showy in affections for all his children. Grandfather Lau Kah Chui was a rubber planter, an agriculturalist brought in by Wong Nai Siong and he was determined to fulfill his dreams of owning a lot of rubber land and rice paddies. He did but his hard work caused his early death. Mum was hardly 15 when she lost her father.

She was tasked to cook and look after a Grandmother-in-law, a well meaning lady and very soft spoken. No words were ever raised in front of her. Great Grandma and my mother got on very well especially in the kitchen.

When relatives visited, nyonya kuih bought from the town, or brought by one of them, among other goodies were served first as "dian ning". Conversations were always very animated in the living room by the river side as the ladies sipped their tea.

However, Mum was always asked to slaughter a chicken and prepare the mee sua at the back of the house. Big bowls were always brought out to indicate Foochow generosity and hospitality. "Duai" or big bowls gave a lot of face. After having the mee sua in the kitchen, which was joined to the main house by a verandah, the relatives would re-enter the living room and continue to chat while my mother would clear the bowls, and wash the pots and clear up the kitchen.

A little daunted, she learned from the town folks that kuih was not part of sanba people's sub culture. With such a remark or two heard over the first two years, my mother decided to learn the art of nyonya kuih making. Today after more than 65 years, her yam cakes, and nine layer kuih for example are still very top range. Her secret tip given to us : always use the best dried prawns and never be short of such an ingredient in your cupboard.

She was also carefully taught how to use a small fork to eat kuih by my father. 

Our late paternal grandmother Siew once commented, "Most town relatives had already learned about fine dining from the foreign pastors. The young ladies educated in Yuk Ing Girls' school have benefitted from Mrs. Hoover's teaching." On the other hand, my mother went to Kai Nang Primary school and then Chung Cheng Secondary School. She was a Kai Nang primary school teacher for three years before she married my father in 1948. My father first saw her at a jetty in Ensurai, carrying two pails of water from the river. His first thought of her was, "What a strong woman!" Sometimes my mother would whimsically say to us, "My father was too poor to send me to town to study in Yuk Ing Girls' School and be trained by Mrs. Hoover. In comparison, I hardly know English...and you are all English speaking!!"

Always trying to improve herself, she learned how to cook some "town dishes" from my father. A very significant dish she learned was how to cook curry from my paternal grandfather's only sister, Grand Aunt, or Goo Poh, Chang Yuk Ging. This curry which we call Foochow Goo Poh's Curry is well loved and is often served by my daughter in Kuala Lumpur and my children in Perth.

Nowadays,whenever I see nyonya kuih muih or whenever I eat some, I would be thinking of the young,timid,soft spoken, pretty bride who had to adapt herself in a large extended family.

(This posting is dedicated to all my siblings and children and Ari my grandson, who has Nyonya and Baba bloodline )

July 4, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Cow Legs Stew for Family and Neighbours

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When my maternal grandfather completed his new house enough for 4 families (He planned for four sons) in Lower South Village (Ah Nang Chong), he had already planted 200 acres of rubber and had enough saved to move out his young family from his elder brother's big mansion.

Though my mother and some of her siblings were born in one of the rubber garden houses, my grandfather moved his family to move into the big mansion called the Lau Mansion. There my mother grew up with her siblings and cousins and even went to primary school set up by the uncle, Lau Kah Tii.

When my mother was 12 years old my maternal grandfather completed his own house and moved his family from Ensurai. Around this house was a big padi field which my mother and her eldest brother and sister in law planted rice during the Japanese Occupation. In later years the land was also used for growing of tangerines and other vegetables. Pigs and chickens and ducks were reared nearer the house. It was a good house surrounded by good neigbhours . There was a road which even went as far as Nasit and Sg. Tulai.

My grandfather's signature dish was cow leg stew. Each leg cost around 50 cents which he would boil for almost the whole day. Neigbhours from as far as 10 houses away came to enjoy the stew. My grandfather enjoyed fellowship with his neigbhours and friends. No one would be turned away from the house if they missed the boat to Sibu, or came back too late to go home to the Au San or the villages behind Ah nang Chong.

Mum told us that they were not wealthy but they had enough to share food with their fellowmen.

My grandfather was a man who sincerely shared bread with others.

June 24, 2017

Seeds of Cangkok Manis

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The loveliest of pinks...these are seeds of a favourite Sarawakian vegetable, Cangkok Manis.

Cangkok is an Iban word. When the Foochows first came to Sibu they watched the Ibans foraging for vegetables. And soon they learned to eat this vegetable.

More than 100 years later, we the younger generations continue to enjoy this vegetable which is now a popular restaurant dish.

June 22, 2017

Hair cuts for the Girls in Sibu - 1930's

The Sibu born Foochow girls were all disciplined well by their parents who were mostly born in Fujian.

Firstly while their mothers had straight hair styles, with no perming allowed, the young girls kept their hair short. This way of cutting hair was called "as high as the ears".

Secondly, short hair was preferred because it was easier to maintain, wash and dried in the hot climate. Mothers did not have to comb their hair too often. Long hair needed a lot of maintenance, combing and plaiting.

Thirdly, short hair also meant that lice would not develop so easily. The best treatment for lice was kerosene. And most of the girls did not like that.Image result for Sibu foochow girls

Fourthly - girls could only have their hair cut at home by either their own father or by an older brother who was named "barber of the family".

Fifthly, the style of hair cut was also called Coconut hair style, because the front part covered the forehead , just above the eye brows. When the girls grew older, many would part the hair at the side or in the middle and clip with some hair clips . According to my aunts they did not like their coconut hair style. In Bintangor, my aunts went to the Chinese primary school and later when they were older they went to Yuk Ing Girls school, Sibu as boarders. Two of them were in the same class, in the photo above.

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My father's second brother thus became the family's barber and hair stylist for years from the time he was able to cut hair until almost all the sisters could go off to boarding school. He was strict with all the girls and he made sure that their hair was always short.

June 20, 2017

Sungei Merah Stories : Brinjal Soup

My grandmother Siew and Aunty Hiong used to plant a few plots of brinjals and ladies' fingers.

Grandma loved to cook these two vegetables for grandpa Tiong Kung Ping as they were his favourites.

However one dish that was truly memorable was her brinjal soup. Plain cut brinjals in a soup of garlic and perhaps a bit of ikan bilis or a bit of ern chow. But as children we could eat almost anything. She was glad that I learned to eat vegetables and especially her brinjals.

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Today, we all love brinjals or egg plants, cooked in any way. Each time I see people growing brinjals I would think of Grandfather and the backyard garden that he started when he moved to the big house on the hill in Sg. Merah.Image may contain: food

I will try to re-create the Tiong Kung Ping Brinjal Soup soon.....

Mashed Brinjal Soup with Ern Chow

(Steam the brinjals and then mash well, use a bit of oil to stir fry some garlic until aromatic, add a small spoon of ern chow..and add the mashed brinjal...add water. A fragrant Ming Chiang Soup from Fujian)

May 26, 2017

Liew Kiew - a lovely bulbous vegetable

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This is a nice bulbous vegetables loved by all ethnic groups in Sarawak.

The Ibans call it Kuchai and do eat it raw, like in a kerabu or salad.

We Foochows love it and make omelette with it.

A neighbour grew a lot of it in the peat soil many years ago during the curfew days in Sibu. Because it could grow very fast, her family had it almost every day. We were also given a bunch every now and then. We were so grateful for the extra food which came free from across the road.

We should always be grateful for gifts we receive and remember the givers for the rest of our lives. Thank you Ah Hang's Mother. May she rest in peace.

March 24, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Har Chien or Cincaluk

During the Japanese Occupation, life was difficult for every one especially in the Chinese villages. The Japanese hated the Chinese and would love to kill them if possible. But usually, most of the Japanese would just slap them when they had a chance. This enmity between the Japanese and the Chinese was from ancient history.

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When the Japanese arrived in Sibu, they were very much into taking over the town and running their government as they liked.

Food was scarce, people were scared and there was lots of bitterness too.

Girls were quickly married off for fear of rape and being forced to become comfort women.

My mother and her younger sister chose to be dressed up as boys and worked in the padi fields, with blackened face.

They worked hard but food was scarce.

One of the food on the table was the fermented shrimps which we Foochows called har chien. Cincaluk in Bahasa Malaysia. They had to be very frugal with even this dish.

They could only dip their chopstick into the sauce and ate some sweet potatoes. Sometimes when the har chien was gone, or had gone bad, it was only salt and sweet potatoes.

However after 3 years and 8 months, the Allied came and the Japanese surrendered.

February 27, 2017

Pulau Kerto : Love and Obedience

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I was born in Pulau Kerto. The birth was attended to by a local trained midwife, whom my father fetched from Sibu . He took the small boat across the River Rajang when my first time mother said that it was time and it was confirmed by the Confinement Lady, Sixth Aunt, or Sixth Sister to Mother.

Mum was brought up in the Foochow village of  Ah Nang Chong, about 2 hours boat ride from Sibu. So she was used to riverine village life and the rearing of domestic fowls and animals. She was best in rearing pigs according to her.

When she married my father, then manager of the rice and ice mill (Hua Hong Ice Factory), she was all ready to raise her own domesticated animals and poultry for food. Living with a Grandmother in law also helped her gain confidence in an extended family life. She learned fast from Great Grandmother as they got along very well. That pleased both my grandparents, and my maternal grandmother.

My father was happy that his wife was a a capable one. She raised ducks, chickens and even goats.

Mum was most happy in the evening when she could call all the ducks home to the cage, below the house. Her "deee, deee,deee, deee" resonated ...During low tide, the ducks were dirty and during high tide they were very clean.

Mum would cluck her tongue and laughingly tell us, "See, we love our ducks by giving them food...and they are so obedient!!"

I suppose we kids grew up very obedient because we wanted to eat all the nice food she prepared. She continues till today to give us the best food, to show us love. <3 p="">
As kids we enjoyed watching the ducks grow bigger and bigger and at times we were extremely happy when mum called out how many eggs the ducks had laid. Sometimes she would go around the river banks to find the duck eggs, as some mother ducks were not good at laying their eggs at "home".

Chickens were free range and they roosted on the trees around our house. The goats were also tied to the higher grounds and they munched on the grass. It was fun watching them chew and munch away.

February 24, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Life on a Bandong

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This is my friend Chermai doing laundry on our Kapuas Bandong, using water which is pumped up from the Kapuas.

Whenever we visited the village of my maternal grandmother, we would also meet grandmother's tenant who owned a MANDONG boat, which was a Chinese motor launch doubling as a riverine, mobile, sundry or grocer's shop. That was more than 50 years ago.

The word Mandong in Foochow must have come from the Indonesian word Bandong meaning floating house.

Huo Ang was the name of the uncle who owned the mandong floating shop and his wife and children lived on land, renting a unit from my grandmother. They were treated like close relatives.

Whenever Uncle Huo Ang came back, every other evening, we would all go to his boat to buy the last of his ice popsicles or Ais Potong. Grandma supported his business by giving us a few cents to spend. It was lovely to buy things in the small boat.

As the lights faded, Aunty, the wife of Uncle Huo Ang, would wash all his clothes at the back of the boat, drawing water with a pail. She would hang the clothes to dry in the wind. It was all very convenient because in the next few days, Uncle Huo Ang would have freshly washed clothes to wear as he pom pom from one bank of the river to the other, or from one village to another.

I remember he did not have a fridge, but he had a box with ice blocks for fish which he would get from as far away as the river mouth (Rajang). He did not do Daro, Mukah or Dalat as he was not good in languages.

To me it is always a happy time for women to be able to do laundry with lots of water from the river, or from rainwater stored in tanks. I miss washing clothes by the river side.

February 11, 2017

Miri Stories : Tossing Yee Sang

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Singapore actually invented the Chicken Rice business. And then it also invented the Yee Sang.

Yusheng, yee sang or yuu sahng (Chinese: 魚生; pinyin: yúshēng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: hî-seⁿ or hû-siⁿ), or Prosperity Toss, also known as lo hei (Cantonese for 撈起 or 捞起) is a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. It usually consists of strips of raw fish (sometimes salmon), mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients. Yusheng literally means "raw fish" but since "fish (魚)" is commonly conflated with its homophone "abundance (余)", Yúshēng (魚生) is interpreted as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, yusheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor. (Wikipedia)

It became very popular in Malaysia and Indonesia. Later it spread to even Hong Kong in the 1970's. When the demand for the dish exploded, super markets even promoted the whole package of Prosperity Toss in boxes, to be bought and given as Chinese New Year gifts.

The salad today can be home made. You need 7 different colours of raw fish, shredded vegetables with peanuts and other crispy biscuits. A pre mixed sauce should be prepared.

Credits should be given to chefs Lau Yoke Pui, Tham Yui Kai, Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, together known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the Singapore restaurant scene. 

VIPs are usually asked to TOSS the yee sang on stage to lots of applause from rest of the diners...if a Chinese New Year celebration is held in a huge hall.

That's one of the merry making item...besides lion dance, fire crackers etc.

Cultural rituals can be INVENTED.

January 24, 2017

Always Full

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The Chinese will stick a red piece of paper with two words written on it Chang Man or "always full" on rice barrels, ceramic rice containers, or wine canisters,and barrels as very auspicious labels.

This will make the God of Fortune smile on the owners.

When Chinese New Year comes around, all these containers and receptacles will have new paper stickers.

The stickers auger positivity in the homes especially.

This is the signboard of a Miri Chinese cafe. Its name is Chang Man, or Always Full.

January 8, 2017

Sibu Tales : Wells

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this well has been recently "refurbished" for church use in Kwong Hua area. It was probably dug in 1903 when the Foochow pioneers first arrived.

Well water is often considered cleaning and tastier than river water. When the Rajang became very polluted this well continued to give forth good clean water.

We continue to believe in a God whose grace is sufficient for us.

January 7, 2017

Sibu Tales : Blood Donation

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In 1972 my mother was desperately in need of blood and my uncle arranged for her to buy 2 pints of blood. For her next operation a few years later, she was able to obtain free blood because another uncle of mine was a blood donor. Paying 700 dollars for a pint of blood was an astronomical sum in those days.

It was difficult to obtain blood in Sibu and many trishaw drivers who took patients to the Lau King Howe Hospital also made a few bucks from their blood. The non Bumi patients were only too willing to pay. In fact one man was even willing to provide blood either from himself or from his group of friends for a fee.

Several years later, Dr. Judson Sakai ensured that all Sarawakians should have free blood from Red Crescent Blood Bank. That also stopped hospitals calling up Dayak students in Upper Forms to donate blood. Even in 1974 my husband was called to donate a pint of blood to save a Chinese woman in Limbang from her death. He of course did not charge for his blood. Many students in Tanjong Lobang also were hauled by the hospital in Miri to give blood.

To encourage people to give blood, the hospital awarded the donor with a bottle of Guiness Stout or a bottle of Brand's Essence of Chicken and two eggs after the transfusion.

Our English Principal Mr. KV Wiltshire was very ahead of his time and he encouraged all of us his Sixth Form Students, above the age of 18 to give blood and to save lives. He also got his wife, Pauline to donate as often as possible. He was training us to be Socially Responsible.

This newspaper cutting from See Hua Daily News, reports Methodist School students donating blood. The donor is Datin Siti Zahrah b.Datuk Hussaini. Standing are from left, Tan Kui Chiang and Sheila Kang.


3 kg Grouper

He is a banker, working in Bank Bumiputra but he and his wife are also part time fisherfolks who work very hard.

With the help of handphones he can quickly sell his fish. His customers are always happy with his catch.

The Oldest House in Sg. Sadit

The photos are by Wong Meng Lei who has written much about the history of the Foochows in his blog, The Rajang Basin, SIBU

Here are some photos of 光華與丁興俊故居位置圖
 The house was was built in 1936.

thank you Meng Lei for the lovely photos.

Hairdressing Service in Rumah Ugap

Short term mission of Grace Methodist Church, Miri. Hair dressing is a popular ministry.

Here at Rumah Ugap we enjoyed ourselves cutting hair!!