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 16, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights :Tekalong - a soon to be forgotten wild fruit

Many people who live in the cities and towns of Sarawak may have forgotten about the tekalong fruit. But they may know a lot about terap which has been grown for many decades in kampongs.

The tekalong(some people spell it terkalong)  is not a very favourable fruit but its bark is very useful . However it is a favourite food of the wild boars, which often camp under terkalong trees when they know that more fruits would fall. Hunters use the terkalong fruiting season to plan their hunt.

Its scientific name is Artocarpus elasticus Reinw. ex Blume

Pretty Edas - you can see the horizaontal material is different from the perpendicular material which is rattan. Edas mat is made from tekalong bark and rattan. It is a very intelligent use of forest resources.







Terkalong trees have been roughly cut down to make way for houses because the fruit is not marketable like its cousins the terap or cempedak.



From ancient days the Ibans have many uses for terkalong tree bark. Women would wear a belt or brace made from processed terkalong bark around their waist after childbirth. This would get rid of pregnancy fat and they therefore would have a very flat tummy. Terkalong is also used as a rope for baskets. And the most famous use of terkalong is  as part of a mat called Edas, a pretty mat made from weaving rattan and terkalong strips.

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 Edas can be easily bought at Serikin where Kalimantan Dayaks sell their mats of different types made from rattan, terkalong, and other materials.

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The glue or sticky sap from the terkalong is used for catching birds. In the evenings when birds come out to bath and look for food, the Ibans would plant their stick covered with the terkalong sap in the small streams and wait for the birds to come. Very often a young boy can even get 20 birds stuck to the small sticks. In fact this is the type of fun young Iban boys would have in the olden days. They did not use the catapult like many of the town boys would use.


Today these trees are found where fewer people live or on terrain which are not suitable for development . They are considered rather rare now and soon to be forgotten.









February 12, 2017

Sibu Tales: Boat Hawkers

There are only a few boat hawkers left in the Rajang River.

The Foochows call these boats Mandong Xun. The boatmen who are actually shopkeepers who ply along the river to offer all sorts of sundry goods to the villagers. Sometimes they are also the middle men for some of the local produce like rice, pineapples, fruits and even chickens and ducks.

Many of the Iban longhouses and Malay kampongs actually need their services, especially if they are not serviced by rural roads.

the River Hawking Business has been affected by three significant social and political changes in the Rajang. First the Communist Insurgency in the 1960's put a stop to many of these hawkers and their business. They were either stopped by government regulations (curfews) or by their own choice. Many of these hawkers packed up and left for either Sibu or other places like Limbang, Lawas or Kota Kinabalu if they had the financial means.

Secondly, the fast Express boats in the 1980s provided fast transport and many villagers could go to get their own provisions in Sibu. By then many villagers had already left for the bigger towns too.

When the government started to build roads to join Sibu to Bintangor, SArikei, Belawai, and other parts of the west banks of the Rajang, it was deemed unnecessary for river boats to supply provisions.

Hence a micro culture in the Rajang Basin, familiar to many of the Foochows and others who are now in their 60's and above, has taken a back seat and may one day be covered by the sands of time.

My maternal grandmother had a family who rented one apartment in her big house in Nang Chong. He owned a bandong boat. He would leave before daybreak and would sail downriver as far as 16 Company and sometimes Binatang.

He did a bit of business with the Ibans as we knew that he often bartered for mats, and rice which he happily brought home to his family.

when he came back just be sunset we would run to his boat and buy what ice cream potong he had left. His Ping Deau tasted so good even though they were already quite melted.



Sometimes he would come back with some letters which his wife would give to the Cooperative Society next door. People would come to collect the mail. Thus he was a mail man too.

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Mr. Ting, canteen operator cum boat man



Recently I met up with the canteen operator who used to own a few boats, including a Bandong boat. He said that the bandong boat business is really on the way out of our social system.

February 11, 2017

Hua Hong Stories : Rearing Buffaloes

My father was an idealist. And definitely he was not an entrepreneur. While my grandfather was alive, my father was just happy to do whatever his father wanted him to do.

One of my father's forays into a side business was the rearing of buffaloes in Pulau Kerto. The British colonial government advised him to have an experimental farm. He was given a bull as a free gift and he had to buy a female and a calf. It was not too expensive in those days.

However a year after the purchase of the animals, things started to become rather difficult. Neighbours were unhappy because they went into their padi farms and disturbed some land, making lots of puddles here and there.

The buffaloes were hard to tied to the trees in the yard. Well my father was not exactly a farmer.

One day an Iban man who was very angry shot at the bull and injured him in the leg. He was really angry and he asked my father for compensation because his fence was damaged.





The Ice Factory staff came out to help my father on the issue. My father being quite a pacifist decided to let the kampong folks have the injured buffalo as meat. The matter was settled and my father sold off the mother and calf very cheaply.

That was the end of our family's Animal Farm enterprise.










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.

Sibu Tales : Water Chestnut

Fresh water chestnuts in Miri Years ago it was hard to get fresh water chestnuts in the market in Sibu. Usually mothers would desperat...