May 25, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : Torch light and Jala

The inventions of batteries and the torch light have touched the lives of more people than the inventors could have imagined, even  the lives of the Nang Chong Villagers, who lived along the west bank of the longest river of Borneo, the Rajang in the early 1900's.

The invention of the dry cell and miniature incandescent electric light bulbs made the first battery-powered flashlights possible around 1899. British inventor David Misell obtained U.S. Patent No. 617,592, in the United States for his "electric device" which later became the famous torch lights we know of today. In the US, a torch light is called flash light. In Foochow it is called Hand held electrical light or Chiu Dian Hui.
Our lives in Nang Chong depended on torch lights and batteries very much  because there was no electricity before 1970's. (My uncle only bought a Japanese made electricity generator in the 1980's just a few years before my grandmother passed away. )

My grandmother loved the first torch light , which lasted almost her whole life time. She was always very careful with her material things, a good habit of the older generation. She kept her silvery chrome torch light, made in China with Eveready batteries under her pillow all the time. She would bring her torch light wherever she went, to Sarikei, or to Sibu and especially to Kapit. She kept her belongings well in her rattan basket and no one was allowed to play with her torch light. And batteries were conserved well by her.

Grandma's torch light was most useful when we needed to go to the OUTHOUSE or our sanba toilet which was built outside the house. The Foochows call toilets, Bung Kang, a rather crude term. In those days, we did not use those fancy terms, like Powder Room, or Rest Room, or even Comfort Rooms. In Taiwan, a very discreet term, Make Up Room, is used to In those days we had pit toilets. ( And for that reason, I cannot eat ikan keli to this day. )

Grandma only had a good flush toilet built when Uncle Pang Sing built the new house further inland. The old house was swept away by the strong currents and waves of the Sibu Expresses. During that decade many of the original Foochow houses by the river banks were actually "washed" away in this manner. Progress did not actually protect the legacies of our Foochow forefathers in retrospect.

Uncle Pang Sing had his own torch light which he used to  go fishing with at night. The torch light showed the path and also to attract prawns to the little baits he threw into the water at high tide. We kids got to hold the torch light as he threw the jala or net into the water. When he passed the torch light to us, we felt as if we had special power in our hands!! We felt so proud that we were in control of the whole situation.
This photo comes from Linggie John, my former student from the Methodist Secondary School. He caught a lot of prawns during the weekend when the tide was high.

Very often in those days, one catch with the jala could bring in about half a pail or l kilo of prawns.

In good times, we had a big fish and even 3 kilos of prawns. Some of the river prawns or Udang Gala, could be almost half a kilo in weight!! A good catch meant that could have a midnight feast. The Foochow stove would be lighted up and there would be a lot of going on in the kitchen.
This is so much like the Lower Nang Chong Jetty belonging to my Uncle Lau Pang Sing. However this is the 21st Century Bawang Assan, where Linggi John goes fishing.

Soon the aroma of a good soup of prawns and a whole pot of mee hoon would be ready for the whole family and the visiting realtives. There were usually about 14 or 16 grand children, ranging from 3 to 18 in the house during the holidays.

It was nice when every one was already happy with their supper and grandma and Uncle Pang Sing would sit at the Landor (open bench adjoining the kitchen and main house) telling tales and drinking some brandy, which the Foochows lovingly called "Ma Te". We would be listening to tales from China, or the latest stories from Sibu , even though it was past midnight.

Being very frugal, none of the children had their own personal torch lights. So there were only about two torchlights per family usually. Some families only owned one torch light.

In these days of "buy and throw away" life style , once in a while we must look back and remember how our ancestors lived their frugal and simple life.

Nang Chong Stories : Warming Lunches on the Foochow Stove in Chung Cheng School

When my youngest aunt and her husband first started to teach at Chung Cheng Secondary School in the 50's, they had to bring their lunch ...