May 27, 2017

Sibu Tales : Coffee Cups

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These China made coffee cups with green flowers are very popular items. To many of us coffee does not taste like coffee if it is not made in a cup like this.

According to John Wong, the proprietor of a good shop in Sibu, these coffee cup sets come from China and they are imported according to weight, not in numbers as they are very heavy. They get broken easily.

These cups are thick and can therefore keep the coffee in them warm for a longer time. However, there is a secret too. These coffee cups are placed in a aluminium tray which is full of hot water. When a coffee is ordered, the cup would come out of the hot water and hot coffee is poured into it. This is one reason why the coffee served in this cup keeps it temperature and its aroma.

May 26, 2017

Foochow Tales : Liew Kiew or Kuchai - 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.
The  Foochows love it and cook it together with eggs or fresh prawns. The Hokkiens would make pickles out of the bulbs and eat them with porridge.

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.

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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.

May 25, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Local Mango Salad

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There were lots of salad recipes from cookery books and many official functions would showcase the best of salads made by the wives of local officials and dignitaries.

Their salads would be the topic of conversation among wives for a short while. There would be envy, admiration and even jealousy.

Salads in Sibu were mainly made from important vegetables like tomatoes and carrots. Imported  Salad cream was then the all important and main ingredient. Some women claimed that they were the leaders of Salad making and were proud to stay at the top of the pecking order often not respecting the local style of dressing made from lime juices and local honey.

Today with plenty of recipes to choose from and with more TV cook shows, people have more choices and have great opportunities to DIFFER and be more innovative.

I have a mango salad which was served to an international group (one Indian, one Australian, and one Singaporean, if you call that international) apart from my usual Iban and Chinese friends. The mangoes were from my faithful tree and the water melon was from Beraya, not far from my house.  It actually was more salsa in a way. My salad dressing was not from a bottle, but from lime juices mixed with finely chopped torch ginger shoots, onions, deep fried onions, garlic and zest of kaffir lime and thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves and coriander leaves.

We had a good time having the home made salad and bbq pork out in the backyard on a balmy night. Conversation was great and no one was critical and negative about the simple food.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

May 23, 2017

Sibu Tales : Rectangular or square or Triangular?

How should kuih be cut? This was a big discussion among ladies in Sibu for sometime.

I don't think there should be a right shape for kuihs. It really depends on the texture of the kuih, whether it looks best in that particular shape. What would you think?

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Mi tern kuih made by Phyllis wong. Photo by Phyllis Wong

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hOW YOU cut your home made kuih really depends on yourself. If I have made a large tray of steamed kuih I would cut is like a rhombus.

May 15, 2017

Sibu Tales : Coolie

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Many Foochow migrants from Fujian started off as poor coolies in Sibu.

Coolie is a general term to mean unskilled worker, working for a towkay.  Work for the coolie could be anything from cutting of wood, to digging of soils, to carrying of water and any odd jobs.

Once a coolie has a skill over a period of years, he became a tukang, or craftsman. When he had earned enough, and had a group of coolie under him (or proteges, or students, or mentees), he became a sawu (teacher). After becoming a sawu, he would save enough to become a business owner. Then he would call himeslf a towkay or loh peng. This process would take years. Some people never moved upwards in the social ladder.

Personally I believe that in the olden days the social upward mobility was not that fluid. Prejudices abound and not many people were willing to lend a hand, or stretch out a hand to pick relatives from their rock bottom situations.

there were a few wealth and benovelent benefactors who helped the poor to succeed. But it also depended on a lot of determination on the part of the men who wanted to achieve something in their lives.

However there have been a lot of rags to riches stories in Sarawak especially among the Foochows.

May 14, 2017

Nang Chong Stories School Teacher of Chung Cheng School

Owning an outboard Engine in the 1960's was a luxury to most Foochows living along the Rajang River, from Sibu to Kui Nga Kerng (16 Company). And Not many actually did own one.

Travelling than was mainly by motor launches or by rowing a small wooden boat.

An outboard engine is called 掛尾車 because it was an engine you can lift up, taken up and carried away. The tail of the engine can also be lifted when the boat is moving to avoid a shallow bottom.

As a school teacher and with a wife, also a teacher, my late Uncle Wen Hui owned a small boat and he would go to school as early as 6 am in the morning and return around 3 p.m.

Because my cousins were nervous to travel with him to school, they would rather walk to school, which took a good half hour. I would never be able to really squeeze out the reasons why they would not want a ride in the boat.

Later my uncle decided to move to the school as he had young children and accomodation was provided. Much later, he moved across river to Kwang Hua School to be principal. Those were the early days of his career.

May 9, 2017

Sibu Tales : Tapah

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Tapah is a white fleshed but black skinned fish. Best for steaming.
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When steamed this fish is very delicious and aromatic. Best to go with the fish are deep fried ginger strips, some golden needles and black wood ears for steaming. 

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A fresh "tail" portion of a tapah. Tapah has a big head, a small body and rather thin tail. So when a tapah is caught, the fisherman would feel that there is not much flesh to eat. So when it is just plain boiled, the soup goes around more.

May 6, 2017

Sibu Tales : Arranged Marriages

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My happy adopted cousin, Tiong Yew Ping

My paternal grandfather was a wealthy rubber smallholder and later land owner. In his life he was able to "buy" a number of girls who were brought to him by the impoverished Foochow fathers who had to sell their daughters because they did not have enough .

Yew Ping came into my mother's life when my mother married into the family in 1948. Yew Ping was placed under my second uncle's name as "daughter" and hence her name even carries our generation name of "Yew". This was because my mother did not want an adopted daughter even before she had her own children, as she told us.

Yew Ping stayed with my mother for a while so that she could be a helper to our elderly great grand mother. My mother also needed someone to help her with the birth of her first child, that was myself.

When I was about 3 years old and Yew Ping was of marraigeable age, my grandfather arranged for her to help my second uncle who was running a rice mill. This was to give her a better outlook in life and perhaps to meet a man of her own choice.

However as she was too shy to acknowledge any one she liked, my grandfather played match maker.

Her marriage was arranged by my Grandfather who found a reasonable man. Grand father actually thought that his parents were really good people. Marrying into a good family was all that mattered. And indeed he was right!!

Her parents in law treated her very well.

Years later, her children, all God fearing also do well. Today they are leaders in their local Methodist Churches and my cousin is as happy as can be.

We are glad that her arranged marriage is not like so many other arranged marriages that we often hear about.

In one case, a relative who was not so pretty was forced to marry an elderly widower. After she suffered from some amount of abuses her husband suddenly died, the young widow was stuck with the old mother in law. She was unable to remarry because her mother in law refused to let go of such a good "slave". The poor lady was only able to enjoy some relief after many decades when her only son was able to earn a decent living and her mother in law passed away. By then my relative was already overworked and exhausted.

I am glad to note that another arranged marriage of an adopted sister of my father's resulted a good and loving marriage. Aunt Hiong and Uncle Kiong were loving and together they built up a good welding business. Today they have a son who is a doctor and a daughter who is a teacher.

Not all arranged marriages in the past were bad.

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). ...