May 29, 2014

Sibu Tales : Matang Oil and Recyling of Tins

In the 1960's the Fochows of Sibu used Matang Oil, manufactured in Kuching,besides home made lard, coconut oil, and sesame oil (from China). The West Malaysian products had not arrived yet. And the modern oil palm based Lam Soon products were not yet on the shelves of the supermarket or local corner sundry shops.

Although Kim Guan Siang of Sibu was selling British products like olive oil and other kinds of cooking oil, the locals favoured the cheaper  Matang oil, which used Tong Bak or bai chai (a green vegetable) as its logo.

Bai Chai logo, or Vegetable logo was the pass word for cooking oil in those days. Many of the older Foochows were simple people and also probably not too literate then. And from the villages they would not ask for Matang Oil, but just ask for "Oil with the Vegetable Picture". We were  not yet using Knife Helang,Labour or Hornbill, etcI remember my grandmother asking me to buy a small tin of cooking oil in that manner. And in fact it was not easy to read the Chinese words on the tin because the words were embossed on the tin.

As can be seen in this advertisement (1950's) the cooking oil was most probably based on coconut oil. I am now wondering what is "Ching Siang" or clean and fragrant oil.

A very interesting story is related to Matang Oil. there were two sizes of Matang Oil - one was the small version (0.5 litres and the other the bigger tin (size of kerosene tin or 1.5 litres). A friend of my grandmother was good at budgetting household money. Each week she would get an allowance from her husband for food and other household expenditure. Unknown to her husband she strategized how she could claim money from him. She showed him bills for cooking oil, biscuits, bread, and other domestic items. Each week she would ask for money to buy 1 large tin of cooking oil. He never knew about this until he died. How come he never had the imagination or curiosity to ask how a woman could use a whole huge tin of oil in a week?

sample of cooking oil tin (1.5 litres)

One day my grandmother went to visit her and saw that there were many large tins of cooking oil in the kitchen. Her friend told her that she was " storing the cooking oil for the future". But actually she had kept water in the tins and not oil but her husband never knew this. Any way as long as he kept giving her enough money every week, she would have those tins in the kitchen for him to see. My elderly grandmother  thought it was so easy to fool her husband in this way. He must have been quite a blind man.
oil tins for carrying water or cooked food for pigs and other domestic animals
Every now and then she gave a few of those empty tins to my grandmother. My third uncle would fashion the tins into water carriers (with good iron handles made from construction steel rods), dust pans, cooking tins for boiling Zhong Zi or Zhangs , and for boiling hot food for the pigs.

What did she use the extra money she obtained from her husband? Of course she saved her money and put it in Hock Hua Bank. She used the money to play "tontine" or Chork Hui. (Another story from Sarawakiana@2). She made more money from her Hui, as she was head of the group. but later when the whole Sibu town suffered from the collapse of the Hui, she was lucky and she managed to lose only a bit of money. Being the smart woman she was,she had already bought some property.

It was a case of embezzlement from family funds. But in a way, this clever lady did save a lot of money for her children and herself while her husband purportedly wasted quite a fortune. At the end of the day, my grandmother said that luckily the family had this mother to provide properly for the children and their education.


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