December 14, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Tiffin Carriers

School meals in the 1950's and 60's were simple fare. No Foochow activist like Jamie Oliver would have fought for better school meals because every one was rather poor. To be able to have some cold rice, a bit of salted fish and some vegetable soup was already a God sent meal!!

But how was food brought to the school by the students? And how was it like to be a teacher in those days? There were no microwave ovens, or even electric food warmers.

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The Chung Cheng School and several other schools had hostels to provide accomodation and food for  students who live too far away from the school. Families who lived in 16th Company, and as far away as Bintangor, Tu Lai sent their children to Chung Cheng School.

The cooks of the Chung Cheng Hostel in the 1950's and 60's were very benevolent and kind. Most of them were sympathetic especially towards students who came from poor backgrounds. Some teachers also stayed in the hostels with the students, but they had a separate wing. Some teachers who lived further away would also pay for their school meals. They would bring their Cheng Ark or tiffin carriers for their food. A couple would place the containers on the shelves of the school kitchen and the school cook would place soup at the bottom tray, fish and vegetables on the other containers and finally rice at the top. The enamel of the cheng ark kept the food warm and even if the teachers had their lunch at 2 p.m. their food would still be hot, especially if the cheng ark was placed on the huge stove which would still have coals smouldering.

My aunt Hung Yung had her lunch in this way with her husband. Both of them taught for a long time in Chung Cheng School. This kindly service helped my aunt to worry less about her food and she and uncle could concentrate on their teaching.

Some students who had many siblings in the same school also brought their own cheng ark, with food already placed in the containers by their mother. According to one former student, she and her brothers only had a lot of rice and some salted fish. When they saw hostel students having chicken soup or fried eggs, she was very envious. But some how she managed to grow up strong and determined to do well in school.

Some very hard working mothers would cycle half a hour from their rubber garden hut to the school just to deliver the food in the cheng ark by 12.30 so that their children could have a meal before they started their afternoon classes.

It must have been very hard for mothers to plan ahead how to prepare food for their children. They must also be careful with their time management too.

In most cases, children carried just a mug of cold rice and hard salted fish in their bags. Did their rice box ever get "Cheu tieu"or sour? Would they then forego their lunch and remain hungry until they went home in the evening?

As a busy mother, I had felt for the mothers and children and their school packed lunches.

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