Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fish Ball Soup and Lok Tian Yuan

There was a special meaning in having fish ball soup in Lok Tian Yuan when I was young.

I will let you into this social norm in the 50's and 60's Sibu.

Lok Tian Yuan was a well known food eating outlet in those days.Most foochow villagers from the riverine and coastal areas would take their early morning slow boat ride at dawn or even before then to reach Sibu to do any business (sell rubber sheets or domesticated animals) or do some shopping and catch a Lin Dai movie. All the riverine boats would be in Sibu by 9 o'clock.

The last boat to leave Siby was at 4 oclock in the afternoon if I remember correctly. So all movie fans must watch their films in the morning at 10 o'clock, have lunch and do whatever they had to do and leave by the 2 o'clock motor launch.

Upon arrival in Sibu, they would go straight to their shop which offered them their choice of breakfast. Mui Soon Coffee Shop, just next to the jetty served the best coffee and cruellers (Yiw Tiau or Yiw Char Kui) and sweet soya bean milk. Every coffee shop would serve kampua mien (Foochow Dry Noodles served with a clear soup sprrinkled with spring onions). By the five foot way oranges, bananas,limes, mangosteens would be sold by enterprising Foochow women.

My grandmother Tiong Lian Tie favoured Lok Tian Yuan which had a restaurant upstairs for feasts, weddings and birthdays.

I loved Lok Tian Yuan too. Because I could watch exciting moments created by match makers (who were very obviously dressed with a red handkerchief sneaking out of their side blouse pockets and an obvious tell tale fan). Match makers also had another character trait : they could talk non stop like a runaway train.

Match making during those days was a very lucrative business. A match well made would bring a very big angpow from the two happy families, sometimes even from the happy bridegroom.

After all the matching, wheeling and dealing, plying between the two families who may live far apart, the match maker would bring the two families together with their prospective bride and bride groom tagging very shyly along to Lok Tian Yuan for their first "look". Without actually telling the young man and the young woman, the match maker and the parents would make this special "Eating the Fish Ball Soup at Lok Tian Yuan " appointment . When both parties had arrived, the match maker would let the young man know which table to look at and which girl to view too. And in the same way, the young lady could have a good look of her prospective "husband". All these were done with great finesse and no communication would pass between the two tables.

The fish ball soup would have been ordered by the match maker for all. If the boy liked the girl, he would finish all the fish ball soup. And likewise, the girl would do the same. However if the girl did not like the boy, she would not attempt to eat. That was the first indication. After "Eating Fish Ball Soup at Lok Tian Yuan", the families would go home and have further discussion on the advantages of the marriage or the good traits of the prospects. And if the parents like the match, they would try their best to coerce their children to marry even though they were not so willing.

Once I heard my grandmother telling me that there was indeed a young man who told his father,"If you like the girl so much, why don't you marry her instead?" This created a family fight for the son had gone beyond his limits. I believe the father did not back down for a long time. So many families referred to this story whenever their sons were not agreeable, " Do not be like so and so....."

Sometimes the more stubborn men would reject the match. They could. And the girls could too. But usually by the time they came to eat the fish ball soup, it was almost the point of no return.

Girls with little education were often more agreeable to match making because they would not have any other channels or means of meeting young men , from any where. In those days, they hardly any opportunity to further their education and their occupation was mainly rubber tapping, pig rearing, orange picking and even rice planting. And the only way to get out of the system was to marry someone with property, with a town job, or a government job. A store clerk was very much favoured. A teacher was not such a catch because he could still be teaching in a village school and the salary was then 60 dollars. The best catch was a man who owned a shop!

Thus whether marriages were made in heaven or not, many young ladies were married off to total strangers and let fate reveal itself what they were in for.

Strangely there were few incidents of bad marriages, divorce was rare, and suicides even rarer. But I suppose behind all the seemingly good marriages there were a lot of hidden dissatisfaction and unpleasantries. Domestic violence though uncommon did occur but it was not blown up.Any way the media was not much around then. Only the usual whispered gossips behind closed doors and children did not get to hear them.

Of course there were stories of indiscretions but they were hidden by the rubber trees and perhaps a small hut here and there. I am not inclined to tell. Shall I????

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