June 2, 2020

Sibu Tales : Cangkok Manis



When the Foochows first stepped off from their boat in Sg. Merah, they actually had a hard time adjusting to the climate. That was 1901.

The Rajah's government had already built five hostels to accomodate them before they would go to their respective allocated land further down in Ensurai, Engkilo, Sg. Bidut and other parts of Sg. Merah. This was part of the agreement signed between Wong Nai Siong and the then Rajah Charles Brooke who were impressed by Fujian agriculturalists.

The pioneers had to use the red river water to bathe,cook and wash and were very much like the first Pilgrim Fathers who arrived in the USA from Plymouth, UK in 1620. I am sure the American Natives came to watch the Pilgrim fathers and their ways and so did the Ibans who came down from Sg. Seduan or up from Sg. Aup.No photo description available.

One of my grandfather's stories was about the Cangkok Manis or Iban or Dayak Vegetable which the Foochows learned to cultivate. They did not know the name of this vegetable and so they named it after the Dayaks. Hence the politically incorrect name (by today's standard) or Lakian Chai.

At first they grew the very sweet vegetable from the seeds (they failed) and later they realised that it was very easy just to grow from the cuttings. Perhaps this was from their own observation of how the Ibans grew them around their camps.


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In fact Cangkok Manis has beautiful flowers and seeds.

My grandfather told us that he carried a lot of seeds in a cotton bag from Minqing. And he also told us that some of the pioneers even brought saplings to grow. Some died during voyage, while some survived like the pomelo and the longan.

But I must say the Foochows actually helped Cangkok Manis to spread every where they set up villages in Sarawak as it is such a hardy vegetable. A Marudi Foochow farmer managed to grow it so well that the plants  became his fencing!! And they have been standing tall around his old wooden house for more than 15 years.

Another Foochow farmer in Engkilili started to grow cangkok manis together with his pepper vines more than 20 years ago and some of the original cangkok manis  have grown taller than the belian poles of his pepper vines.

Today, cangkok manis has become a favourite restaurant dish and a good addition to many newly created dishes.

Rich and poor, young and old, all love the vegetable. Today, to be politically correct, we call this vegetable mani cai. Or just sayur manis.

I still think of all the patches of mani cai my grandfather and mother planted so that we could have good vegetable soups.


June 1, 2020

Japanese Occupation : Rearing of Pigs

Each litter of piglets would be from 5 to 9. And during the Japanese Occupation, it was normal for a house wife to keep a litter secretly hidden away from the eyes of the Japanese soldiers who would suddenly pounce on the village. They would come by their longboats, along the Rajang River.

So the pig sty had to be hidden away from the road in a safe place, and often hidden under some trees. And preferrably next to a pond so that water was readily available to bathe the pigs three or four times a day and to keep the pig sty clean.




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The pigs were slaughtered for each festival and mainly for home consumption.

Pigs grew fast if fed on rice husks, yam leaves and rattan tops. My grandmother Wong was very provident as she worked hard to rear a litter of piglets every two years. Besides, sago logs were bought from the relatives of the Ibans and Malays who worked for the rice mills. Sago was dearly loved by the piglets.

Grandmother Wong reared only local pigs which were smaller than the commercial pigs we know of today. These black skinned and "coloured skinned" pigs were smaller but tastier. They would grow to about 50 to 80 katis (not kg) and were ready for the slaughter for festivals.

According to an elderly cousin, 50 years ago, every Foochow girl knew how to rear pigs and there was no question of a girl not willing to take care of a litter.

Collecting wild vegetables for pig food was part and parcel of her young life before she got married.

May 31, 2020

Tuak : The Iban Rice Wine

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Photo by Chang Kai.

Tuak is rice wine made by the Ibans, predominantly, for ceremonial and festive purposes. The miring or offering ritual must have tuak.

The Gawai is celebrated in many different ways, from a simple dinner to a huge gathering of thousands of warriors and very important people in a huge ground.

Rice wine would be made a month or longer before the Gawai on 1st June each year in Sarawak.

The first Gawai was only celebrated in 1962.

Gawai in the Iban language originally referred to as a harvest thanksgiving ritual. It is not for the passing of an old year and welcoming of the new year. Hence the making of rice wine is befitting as part of the harvest festival - what better way than to enjoy a wine made from the freshest of harvested rice?

The Iban wish for Gawai is : Selamat ari Gawai, gayu guru, gerai nyamai.. Happy Festival Day, wishing you bountiful harvest and good health....

May 30, 2020

Lau Pang Ding : From Belly Button Covers to Western Suits

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In the early days of Foochow settlement in Sibu, primary schools were set up in villages by the new pioneers who had started to gain a foothold financially. Churches and schools were built, encouraged by the Reverend James Hoover, and special land grant from the Rajah, or even land donated by the prospering rubber planters.

Ensurai and Nang Chong were two of the more prosperous villages and leader Lau Kah Tii was doing extremely well. He had established more than 5 primary schools by the 1930's. Kwong Nang School was one of the best in those days.

Lau Kah Tii,took over that special role from Wong Nai Siong, and helped many local Foochows.

 Lau Pang Ding, was Lau Kah Tii's fourth son who went to study in Guangzhou before the Second World War. He excelled in his studies and furthered his studies in Beijing, never to return to Sarawak for more than 40 years due to the breakdown of political ties because Sarawak and China, and later Malaysia and China. It was only in the 80's that political ties between Malaysia and China were re established.

Born in Ensurai, Lau Pang Ding received his early education at Kwong Nang Primary School (now Chung Cheng Primary School) before the Second World War. He was a child with a brilliant mind, well loved by teachers and especially his father. When he completed 6 years of Primary School, his father decided to send him and his younger brother Pang Hung to Guangzhou to further their education. An overseas education was an awesome gift to a child!

He is considered one of the best products of Kwong Nang School of Nang Chong, Sibu.

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Uncle Pang Hung left Guangzhou before the war, and came back to Sibu because of poor health while Uncle Pang Ding continued to live and study in China throughout the war years and the change of government (1949). He later went to Beijing to continue his studies and joined the PRC government civil service. He retired from his Consulate Service in 1990.

In 1989 he came back to visit his brothers and sisters, and cousins. It was an amazing reunion in Sibu. He had met his brothers in Washington DC and Canada when he served in the Chinese Consulate in Washington DC. His elder brother Pang Shu lived in Canada. He led an inspiring life!!

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Brothers, sisters , cousins and nephews ad nieces and in laws at the Sibu Old Airport.

May 29, 2020

The Walking Stick from the Rajah of Sarawak

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My Grand Uncle Lau Kah Tii with the walking stick presented to him by the Rajah Brooke

When we were very young we were told to be afraid of Grand Uncle's (Bah- ung) Walking Stick and not to be naughty when we were visiting the big Lau Mansion at Ensurai or Wong Su Lai.

At that time I did not know that it was a gift from the Rajah and the other children also were very ignorant.

Grand Uncle used the walking stick wherever he went. The "tap tap tap" of his walking stick often sounded so comforting to kids's ears : the sound of order, discipline, obedience, power, and the coming of a respectable Grand Master.

It represented the power the Rajah had bestowed upon him as the Foochow Leader (should be equivalent to Temenggong to day). The walking thus represented the special power given to him to control the Foochow community. It was a symbol of strength, power, authority and social prestige.

An uncle had told me that indeed he had used the walking stick to hit some very unruly and misbehaving close relatives (e.g. those who were caught gambling or for telling lies).  He was more strict with his close relatives than the public. There were tales of many Foochows who were scared of his walking stick.

In American history, George Washington and  Ulysses S. GRant and Warren Harding also carried a walking stick. (Wikipedia)

The Bible had mentioned that a walking stick was a symbol of office and dignity.

When Grand Uncle Lau Kah Tii walked around to check various villages in the Rajang Valley, especially with Rev James Hoover, he usually brought his walking stick.

There were times that Grand Uncle had threatened some rascally or misbehaving Foochows with beating and called for his walking stick to be brought from his office. 

Indeed there were stories (real or fake) of some Foochow men kneeling down to apologize and promise to repent. His headman office was in Sibu. But all these newsy gossips are now buried in the sands of time.










May 28, 2020

Grandfather's Special : Pig Tails and Black Beans

My grandfather was a very frugal man and did not spend much on himself. He worked hard all his life and left behind a good fortune for his seven sons, wife and eldest grandson, which was the normal Foochow wealth distribution at that time.


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On days he could take the bus from Sungei Merah to Sibu, he would alight at the bus terminal (to get the best value for his bus ticket) and go straight to his friend the butcher to get a pig tail, which was then so cheap that it was almost free at 50 cents or less per piece. In those days the tail bit was not as long as today's cut. Whereas today the butchers would cut more than 1 foot long from the tail end to the backbone.

This was according to Goo Poh that his only treat he would get for himself. Later several of my aunts confirmed his special liking for pig tail soup.


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Today a tail would cost around RM18.00.

Sometimes, Grandfather would buy some kompia for his sister, my goo poh who was a teacher at the Methodist kindergarten. He would also buy enough kompia for his grand children who would have their break at goo poh's apartment. By 9.30 a.m. we would see him (from our classroom)  walking slowly up the steps to goo poh's apartment, with one or two paper wrapped packets in his hands.

My equally frugal father would let us kids (my sister Sing and brother Hsiung and myself) share one tin of Milkmaid for our break with cream crackers for the whole week. To stretch the tin of milk, we would not spread the sweet milk on our biscuits as most kids would. My father could not let us sponge on Goo Poh, whose teacher salary in those days must be less than $150 per month.

Sometimes Grandfather would buy a few packets of kampua kosong for us kids to share.That would be our extra food .

He would asked us if we received red marks in our tests.  Because our Goo Poh was on the staff, he would know everything.  I suppose we kids learned very fast. Better marks meant we would have more food from him!! He was a very fair man as he treated us all equally. No one would receive the lion's share. No one would receive less.

However he did not do that every week.

After visiting us, he would then go home by bus.

My Grandmother Siew and he would only take the car when he had some business to do, like visiting an office, or visiting a relative. But most of the time, he preferred to take the bus. Bus fare was then only 10 cents from Sibu to Sungei Merah. It was quite far for him to walk from the bus stop at Kwong Ann Primary SChool to his house on the hill. But he did enjoy his walk. And he never failed to bring his Chinese lacquered umbrella.  (My frugal grandfather never learned to drive a car and my Grandmother Siew was probably one of the first few Foochow women in Sibu who had a driving licence.)

He would look forward to his pig tail and black beans broth.

May 27, 2020

Foochow Wedding Ritual : The Chamber Pot aka Spittoon

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Before 1970's, the spittoon was a very significant and symbolic item which the Foochow bride would bring to her husband's family.

Most importantly, the spittoon would have the double happiness Chinese word printed on it. This kind of spittoon can easily be bought in any of the Chinese bridal shops, even today.

After the Chinese wedding banquet, a series of auspicious activities must be held in the bridal room.

Most important would be the ceremony of a lucky boy child peeing into the spittoon.

This ritual would auger well for the newly wedded couple for they would have lots of male offsprings.

The little lucky male child would be well selected before the wedding for this purpose and a large angpow would be given to him. He must come from a family of males who are still alive, from great grandfather, if possible to his own very successful father. I suppose it was not very difficult to find in those days.

I wonder how many Foochow men remember that very public peeing act when they were asked to do the ritual. Have they really brought all that luck to the couple?

Sibu Tales : Cangkok Manis

When the Foochows first stepped off from their boat in Sg. Merah, they actually had a hard time adjusting to the climate. That was 1901. ...