June 23, 2021

Chieng Siew King : Child Bride from 5Du

Did a man's family acquire a child bride for him because they knew that he was sickly and fated to have a short life? Did they take in a girl of 12 as a bride to help with the family business, as a kind of family slave?

Here is a story of a child bride who was taken in to help the family to make hoong ngang in 5Du , Minqing in the 1930's. 

As fate played a kind of hand, the child bride of 15 had to set sail to the unknown Nanyang in 1937.

Chieng Siew King thus migrated to Sibu with her husband Ling Toh Liong, 12 years her senior. It must have been a very daunting journey for her to travel in a small boat for almost a month, first stopping at Hong Kong and then Singapore. She was only 15 years old.

Her husband, ling was born in 1910. The child bride was happy because her husband was educated and had a desk job. She was happy to follow the 27 year old husband. Together with him was his eldest brother  and they set sail for Sibu. The couple felt a little safer with 10 other Foochows in the boat. 

In Foochow traditional ways, a marriage was recognized after bowing or Buai long ( bowing to ancestral hall), to Heaven and Earth, to the ancestors and to the living parents and relatives. 

Chieng, had just bowed to Heaven and Earth with Ling to declare themselves married in the village. She was just too young but was glad that she had a few other women in the same boat. She could have someone to speak to.

The group had left Fuzhou city, a huge city then which was quite near Ngu Du, their village. After they left Mawei, the port, and China,  they arrived in Hong kong . From then onwards, she thought she saw places becoming smaller and smaller.

After a month they arrived in a very small town of Sarikei, and then a one street town of Binatang, places with names she could not pronounce. She was glad that Sibu was bigger than Sarikei and Binatang. 

She was a child bride, sent to the Ling family at the age of 12. Being big in feet, she was turned into a very strong helper who was asjed ti make Foochow vermicelli the moment she arrived without any wedding ceremony. She had to carry the freshly made rice noodles in large rattan trays to dry in the yard. It seemed that her work could never end. She had to be in the sun most of the time and waited for her in laws to tell her what next to do. Her husband went to school to learn about accounting as he was not a very healthy young man and could not do farmer's work.

Three years later, her in laws told them to migrate to Nanyang to seek their fortune!!

Thus she ended up in Bukit lan to tap rubber for wealthier relative. She would only get 4 sheets while her relative took 6 sheets. Her husband was sent to a sawmill in a place she could not even say the name. It sounded like Simunjan.

While the older brother worked for a rubber planter relative in Bukit Lan, the younger brother went to work for a sawmill for a salary. He came back once a month or once in two months.

Meanwhile Chieng worked very hard to do her share of work to tap rubber, save money, support her absentee husband and their growing family, besides helping the brother in law and his family who lived next door as best as she could.

When Chieng gave birth to 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, who were very far apart. When she was 33 she gave birth to a daughter and in fact she had another son when she was 42 way past an age for child birth by today's standard. All her children were born at home and she was attended by barefoot midwives who did not come with proper equipment. There were stories of women who gave birth in rubber gardens or by the river side. She was lucky as all her children were born in their own house. In those days, no woman would ever think of going to the hospital to give birth. They were quite comfortable with just a mother in law or a neighbour to help with the child birth!!

By the time she had the youngest child, the couple owned 12 acres of land near Thian Ching Primary School and had sent a son to study in Taiwan. The oldest son was the guru besar of the Thian Chin school from 1972 to 74, the height of the communist insurgency in the Rajang Valley.

While their children were still young, Chieng sent back money to her in laws and other relatives to buy sewing machines as wedding gifts or cash gifts for engagements. She had to really save money by tapping rubber every day, 365 days a year, and planting pepper.

When she was 50 years old her eldest daughter who was already married brought her a Foochow traditional birthday gift of a ceramic picture and hanged it in the living room. It was a sign of achievement. She never thought she would see such a day when her photo could be hanged on the wall. What a proud moment!!

Not long after that, family disunity came about the two brothers had differences and they had to split. The Foochows called that parting of ways as "dui pun dieh doh tiak" or separating the shares of the family. So the older brother took his share of the land and the younger brother had to buy his own rubber garden. But Chieng had been saving her hard earned money and they managed to become independent of the older brother with their own 12 acres of land.

In her twilight years she looked towards the direction of her own home in Fujian and reflected how she became a child bride at the tender age of 12. She marvelled at herself and the long journey she took to the rubber gardens and jungles of Sarawak. She had learned to read a few words or Chinese characters by reading the local Chinese newspapers and by looking at her children's homework.

She was contented that her husband was faithful, kind and responsible. When he died at age 59 and she was only 47, she was inconsolable.

Her fate as a child bride, when compared to many others she knew of, was not bad at all. She had good children and grand children in  Sarawak.

June 21, 2021

Monitor Lizard Mi Hoon : A Delicacy

Biawak satay, Java (Google)

Monitor Lizard, Caada Hill, Miri

1/2 kg monitor lizard in Sibu

" Monitor lizard tastes just like chicken, if not better!! " my friend told me recently. He had been working in timber camps for almost all his life and ate almost every thing in the ulu.

In recent times, Java is famous for biawak satay and fried water monitor. Javanese medicine men even promote biawak soup as a cure for skin diseases.

This brings to mind my father's venture into the shooting of snakes and monitor lizards in Pulau Kerto. My father was quite a good shot. 

Once during a very high tide and my mother was heavily pregnant, she heard the ducks and chickens making a lot of noise just after dinner while she was washing the dishes at the back of the kitchen in Hua Hong Ice Factory. So she called my father and asked him to check. It was almost dark.

He went down but without his gun to check.

He found a huge python in the chicken coop. He came up to fetch his gun and soon a shot ran out.

Upon hearing the gun shot, the Iban workers came running to see what was happening in the manager's house.

It was a python of about 15 feet long.

My father told the workers to take away the python. They were so happy with their prize and they must have had a big feast after that.

Monitor lizards loved to come for our chickens and ducks too. But they would come around noon or about 5 in the evening during low tide.

There were a few times my father shot at them. They were faster runners. 

Whenever my father killed a monitor lizard he would ask the neighbours to come and cook with my mother.

Monitor lizard cooked with mi hoon was a delicacy. My great grandfather used to tell every one that drinking soup of monitor lizard was good for our skin.

A fairly big monitor lizard would make enough mi hoon for more than 20 people.

June 18, 2021

Hua Hong Ice Factory : Great Grandfather

My great grandfather ran a tight ship when he oversaw the running of a 3 in 1 rice, ice and rubber factoy in Pulau Kerto from 1927 until he passed away in 1944. Perhaps it was because he was fairly well educated, in the traditional Fujian sense, with several years of informal tuition in the village, and besides according to an elderly aunt, he had that special charisma to do so.

Before he retired, he was always at his office in the office complex which was on the left side of the plank walk to the wharf or jetty. He was often seen watching his workers from the corridor.

My grandfather had already constructed a railway to make it easier for ice blocks and rubber sheets to be transported to the waiting boats at the jetty. The plank walk according to my father was really sturdy, made of the best wood available - belian. so if one was bare footed, it was extremely hot to walk in the mid afternoon on the plank walk. People would definitely run to the ice factory or the office complex. He said it was not because the workers were very enthusiastic about their work, but it was because it was too hot for them to walk slowly.

The office complex was made up of four sections, a visitors' room in the middle, a special store room (for my great grandfather's coffin too) was next to it. And the office was at the rear,. The section nearest the river had a few small cubicles for bachelors to stay. There was a long corridor, running parallel to the four sections, from the front to the back. Like all practical people, my grandfather constructed a long bench for people to sit and rest, all the way, fixed to the wooden railings of the open balcony. It was quite a good playground for kids to run around.

When my father was the manager, after the war, he kept his gun in a glass cabinet in the office. I cannot remember if we had a security man to look after the whole factory but one of my relatives said the factory always had guards. During the Japanese Occupation there was even one Sikh man who was the guard. He betrayed my father and caused him to be imprisoned by the Japanese.

My great grandfather's office had an open concept. The clerk sat at the back of the room. Great Grandfather had a belian work desk, which faced the door. The desk was especially ordered from Singapore. It had five drawers. The middle drawer had a lock and he put all the cash there. Great Grandfather also had a special safe, made in England.

When the workers received their salary at the end of each month, they would crowd around my great grandfather's desk. The clerk did all the accounts, counted the money and passed it to my great grandfather in the morning and my great grandfather would then count the money and arranged the notes carefully in front of him. The workers respected him and received the cash very graciously. Coins were all kept in a tin which was suspended above his desk, using a pulley system. Every evening before the office closed he would run over the accounts with the clerk. One of the first clerks was called 9th Uncle by my aunts and uncles. I would call him 9th Grand Uncle or Gou Chiik Gung. He was a good Methodist and extremely honest and trustworthy.

That was how the company was run and great grandfather made sure that no money was ever missing.

In those olden days, grand father and great grandfather would have three meals and two snacks.

Grand mother Wong would make paus, mi yang, buns and delicacies and have them sent to the two men at 10 o'clock and 3 o'clock. Tea would also be sent in tea kettles, covered in a rattan basket or carrier. This rattan carrier is no longer seen in the market today.

rattan tea cosy/warmer

(All photos from Google)

In the olden days, wives of Foochow men in Sibu, were supposed to be able to make snacks for their men without fail. According to our family oral history, when it rained very heavily in the afternoons, Grandmother Wong would even go to the office with an umbrella. She was a very dutiful wife who looked after her father in law and husband very well.

Without a doubt, Great Grandfather and Grandfather always had good meals at home. Chickens, ducks and pork were always present at their meal times and they would always eat first before the rest of the family.

In the olden days men with good life was judged by what they ate. They were also judged by what their women folks could provide. Hence my Grandmother Wong was a good daughter in law and wife as she made sure that breadwinners of the family had 3 meals and 2 snacks. In Foochow it is called Sang Dong Lang dieng ning.

June 15, 2021

Travels : Wun Chieh

This house faced my Tiong ancestral home in Wun Chieh,near Kingsar, Minqing.

The scenery tells you that it is a very hilly area. My cousins now collect bamboo shoots, dry them to sell at a later date, or sell them fresh in the market during the weekends.

Besides their farm provide them enough food throughout the year. Their children are migrant workers, professionals etc who work in the cities throughout China.

It is a lovely place.

In 1901, my great grand father, with two sons, and four of my grand uncles walked all the way to 6Du to meet and followed Wong Nai Siong to Sibu.

My grandmother Siew visited in 1972. My grandfather never went back to China because he was so focussed on raising his family. My great grandfather however did visit Fujian once. 

It took a month by slow boat to reach Minqing, from Sibu.

June 14, 2021

To give or not to give a set of dumplings? Dragon Boat Festival

 This article was published o 13th June 2021 in Sunday Post, Sarawak.

There are many kinds of rice dumplings, or ‘Zhongzi’, made by Chinese all over the world in celebrating the ‘Dragon Boat Festival’.

THE fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is marked as the ‘Dragon Boat Festival’, which is tomorrow (June 14).

According to legends, the festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan (339-278 BC), the poet-scholar from the ‘Warring States Period’, who threw himself into the river in protest against the rampant corruption in court.

The people honoured his convictions by making bundles of rice and sacrificing them to the river gods.

A Chinese teacher, when interviewed, chuckled: “There are not many politicians today who would commit suicide as a protest against rampant corruption in the government, mind you!

“But when we studied our classics at the university, we learned that ancient poets, scholars and even politicians would rather die than be involved in court controversies.

“There too many examples in Chinese history, but Qu Yuan could be said to be the best, because he is remembered all over the world by the Chinese. Every time I see a Chinese ‘Zhongzi’, I’d think of him and the correct state of affairs that we must seek in government.”

It is a popular belief that rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves were first made and thrown into the river where Qu Yuan had jumped into. They believed that by offering rice dumplings to the dragon, Qu Yua’s body would not be devoured.

There are many kinds of rice dumplings, or ‘Zhongzi’, made by Chinese all over the world in celebrating this festival.

In Malaysia, the Chinese community has developed their own kind of signature dumplings, like the ‘Nyonya Dumplings’. Muslim Chinese have also started to make ‘kaya’ (coconut milk-and-egg curd), coconut and curry dumplings!

In fact, glutinous rice can be cooked in bamboo tubes (called ‘pansuh’ in Sarawak). Research has been made indeed that the Chinese in the sixth century (Sui to Early Tang Dynasty), had made a dumpling called ‘tubular zong’ (Chinese: 筒糉/筒粽; pinyin: tongzong), which could also be eaten during the Summer Solstice.

Do you know that there are some do’s and don’ts when you give your dumplings to your friends or relatives?

The Minqing group of Fuzhous in the past would only make dumplings if there was no death in the family.
Madam Alice Ha remarked: “A friend’s mother passed away last year, and her brother and unmarried sisters were not allowed to make dumplings. Close relatives remember their late mother by bringing a whole bunch of dumplings tied together (one ‘chong’, or one ‘dai’).

“This is to respect the dearly departed and to bring comfort to the grieving family.”

“A married daughter is allowed to make the dumplings and bring them to her sisters and brothers. The recipients do not have to reciprocate the gift. They just have to enjoy eating the dumplings.”

Sonia Lim (not her real name), a Hakka from Peninsular Malaysia, said: “As the eldest daughter of the family, my grandmother and mother have trained me to wrap rice dumplings to prepare for the annual worship of our ancestors on ‘5.5’ (fifth day of fifth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar). We would make a lot of ‘zhongzi’ the day before, most of the dumplings would be counted so that every member and even neighbours would have at least one.

“Because we’re not wealthy, we made just enough for the ‘BYE BYE’, and for distribution among ourselves. I did not know much about other dialectic groups’ practices until I married a Foochow myself. We, the Hakkas, would give away rice dumplings one by one, not in a bundle.

“Maybe the very rich folk would practise that.

“Today, we Hakkas still give away ‘zhongzi’, one by one to our friends and relatives when we make a lot. The most important part of making ‘zhongzi’ is thus to make enough for the altars, for the deities and the dearly departed.”

Former school headmistress Elizabeth Chan shared a funny tale.

“We are Cantonese, and my kind and generous grandmother gave away a lot of our dumplings on ‘5.5’. We gave to everyone during my childhood. One day, our Foochow neighbours came over and told my mother that they were very offended. We should not have given them dumplings during this occasion. No explanation was given. My grandmother was dumbfounded when the ‘zhongzi’ were returned.

“Many years later when I moved to Sarikei, I was told that the meaning of giving dumplings during the Dragon Boat Festival. The Foochows would wrap dumplings to give to their relatives who were in mourning. The giving of dumplings sounded like ‘Sung Jong, funeral proceedings’.

“I was told that the Foochows would tie dumplings in tens – they’re called ‘One Dai’ in Foochow.

“Perhaps the ties represent the idea of unity in the family. As close relatives, the givers of the ‘zhongzi’ show that they are united in the mourning with the immediate family members.

“Thus, the giving and receiving of ‘zhongzi’ for this sad occasion has become a unifying act.”

Another Foochow friend, Priscilla, recounted her story: “I remember when I was very young, my mother and I were living in a village and we went to our aunt’s house with some glutinous rice before the festival. My uncle had just passed away. We did not wrap dumplings that year for some reasons. My mother and her sister-in-law cried and mentioned how sad it was to lose the man of the family. After some wailing, we left.

It was later when I realised that the giving of the rice to my aunt was symbolic. My mother was showing sympathy. The rice was to be cooked in other ways but not to be made into dumplings.”

Today, people do not make dumplings from scratch at home, despite the homemade ones being regarded as the best.

In Malaysia, there are stalls everywhere selling rice dumplings almost every day, so such item seems to have lost its ritualistic status as an annual offering, so to speak.

A rich uncle may buy a bag full of dumplings for his friends and relatives at home and in the office, and no one would be offended?

Give me a dumpling, and I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner — any time of the year. Thank you.

June 12, 2021

Headman Lau Kah Tii's Official Visit to Fuzhou City

The Foochow headman Lau Kah Tii brought a large delegation from Sibu in 19    to visit Fuzhou City. By that time many of the local rubber planters had prospered.

Dressed in their best, these Nangyang visitors were given rousing welcomes in their own villages. My Headman brought them to Bang Dong, 6D where Wong Nai Siong and he came from.

Then the group was able to meet up with Lin Shen, the President of China.

This memorable photograph of Foochow headman of Sibu, Lau Kah Tii bringing a delegation to meet up with Chinese President Lin Sen (5th from right, bearded) in Fuzhou city was lovingly kept in his own personal album in Sibu and was later used in a publication by his family.

It was a cold day on 2nd Dec in 1936  when they met the President Lin Sen, a Fuzhou..In the photo, Lau is 4th from the right in bow tie.  Some were dressed in coats, especially those from overseas, while some were dressed in the local best, warm long gowns. President Lin Shen was a very well dressed man.

Headman Lau also arranged for the group to meet up with all the Sibu young men who were studying in Fuzhou and Shanghai.

It is good to mention that Headman Lau brought his wife along for this official trip. She too was very well dressed for all the official functions.

It was a very good home coming and a fact finding tour for the group.

June 10, 2021

Japanese Occupation : Chicken Coops on stilts and Foochow Wine

 After the Japanese arrived in Sibu in December 1941, many Foochow girls were married off so that they did not have to suffer the fate of becoming comfort women of the Japanese. Rumours abound and many parents quickly grabbed unmarried men to be their sons in law. Many girls were even married off at age 14. And so many were married off to older men who had not been able to afford to get married. 

Those who were forcibly taken as comfort women were publicly known as they were confined to a few places  like shop houses in Sibu. According to an uncle, most of them looked very miserable. He also told us that a few of them  committed suicide, or had to "disappear" from Sibu after the war. No body knew much about their  fate after a few years. Their families felt very sad about this kind of shame .

Many according to Oral History, who were married off suffered from mis-matches. A distant relative for example (may she rest in peace) was only 16 when she was married off to an older man who did not love her. Her parents in law made her a slave and she eventually gave birth to 6 children. Because she gave birth to so many children  very quickly, her mother in law called her a "mother pig" and even denied her basic food. She was almost starved to death during the war besides from suffering from abuses.

Later in life she told us that "she worked but she was not given food". During the Japanese Occupation she had to forage for food to feed her own children as her husband's family did not have land to grow padi. From time to time she was given some rice and sago for her children by kind neighbours when she went look for food and extra work. She quickly learned how to speak some Malay and Iban. She was quite resourceful after the war as she learned to cook and she started selling cooked noodles, kompia and biscuits at the Sibu wharf.

Her husband finally took off to the ulu, married again and was seldom heard off. This relative thus earned a bit of cash from hawking at the wharf but had to look after her in laws until they passed away. It was only then she gained her freedom and was able to head her own family. However because of the poor nutrition and her poor health, she suffered from TB and was sent to Kuching for treatment, where she eventually died. 

Other girls who did not want to get married, had to hide well. Stories were told about them hiding in the jungle when they heard the Japanese speed boats approaching their villages. They would usually hide in the chicken coops or pig sties until the soldiers left. Their greatest fear was to be caught and taken away as comfort women.

Two of my aunts hid in the chicken coops behind the house next to the rice mill. My father had tried his best to build sturdy chicken coops  which were enough for the two girls to hide for a few hours. Chickens were purposefully reared to cover up the front of the coops. And more attap was used make the roof sturdier.  When the tide came up the special chicken coops were strong and safe for the two sisters to hide. Chicken coops had to be on stilts in Pulau Kerto because the land was very swampy.

Photo from Google

The Japanese soldiers would come to the family Hua Hung rice mill to have their rice milled and it would usually take about 2 hours, without any notice.  So the workers and other relatives would make sure that the soldiers were well entertained and not be allowed to walk around the complex. 

My great grandfather would offer some rice wine to the soldiers. My great grandmother made delicious rice wine .This made them very happy indeed. Fujian rice wine was fairly similar to the Japanese sake.

In later days, my father would tell my mother how rice wine had helped save the lives of his sisters.

God was good for the two girls were able to further their education after the war.

Chieng Siew King : Child Bride from 5Du

Did a man's family acquire a child bride for him because they knew that he was sickly and fated to have a short life? Did they take in a...