Thursday, October 04, 2007

Foochow Confinement or "chuor nguok tieh"

"Sitting The Month" or "Pei Yue" or in Foochow, "chuor nguok tieh" is a must do compulsory traditional practice of a Foochow woman who has given birth. She will be confined to her bed room for recuperation from birth and nine months' pregnancy.

During that period she will be given food in her bed room. She is given six meals in a day which will consist of chicken soup (freshly killed chicken) and mee sua for breakfast, another chicken soup with liver and eggs for morning tea break, a chicken soup and rice for lunch. The afternoon tea break would be again a soup with perhaps a noodle or may be a cake if the mother in law is not too fussy. Then there will be a big dinner of chicken, soup, rice and some beans. Before going to sleep the new mother would be given another soup. All these food are provided to make her regain her strength and the nourishment is given as a mark of respect and love by the elders for the new mother.

The confinement period which usually lasts a whole month also includes a few restrictions.

Food restrictions : no fruit which may cool down the body, no ice cream or dessert,etc. No wild or exotic meat is permissible and only a little bit of beef and pork is allowed. Chicken is the only permitted meat actually because traditionally it is considered the best nourishing meat for new mothers and the ailing.

Other restrictions : no reading is supposed to be carried out. If the new mother uses her eyes too much, she might become blind a little too early. No crying is permitted as it would weaken her. The new mother is actually not allowed to wash her hair, although she is allowed to bathe provided hot water is available. And even then, the water must be "toned" by pounded ginger and lemon grass.

She is allowed to rest, nurse the baby and may be receive a few guests after two weeks of confinement. However this is the month when she is allowed to drink plenty of wine. In my own experience, a Spanish friend and I finished drinking one bottle of Dimple in three days. We had other drinks too.

But with this kind of feeding, drinking and resting, it is uncommon to find a new mother putting on an enormous amount of weight. A slimming course is the only way to lose all that weight gained during pregnancy and confinement. It is a daunting task indeed.

My grandmother prepared the Foochow Red Rice Wine or "Ang Jiu" for me before my first baby was born. It was the normal and proper thing for her to do. A discussion would always ensue on who should make the wine when a pregnancy happened. And grandmothers would be only too happy to be given the designation to make the red wine, even though it is illegal.

A good red wine is believed to help the new mother regain her Energy or “Bu Qi” as well as to restore their uterus or womb back to original size fast. In addition, Rice Wine also helps to expel wind from her body, promotes blood circulation and reduce fatigue.

Thus the traditional Foochow adheres to the Chinese Herbalist and Philosophy, "Yin" and "Yang" . After giving birth, women are depleted of their "Yang" energy and are in a state of "blood deficiency". Therefore, they must consume more "Hot" or "Yang" confinement food or beverage such as rice wine to restore their "Cold" or "Yin" bodily state.

In addition, rice wine has a "warming" property and is able to assist women in
confinement by "warming" their bodies. Indeed according to one of the Chinese
Confinement Taboos or restrictions, as I have mentioned , women need to ‘cocoon’ themselves to keep their bodies warm
and stay out of wind.

This taboo explains that all new mothers must not expose themselves to wind (even
from fan or air conditioning) as it can cause their pores to expand thus allowing
more wind to enter their ‘Fatigue’ or "Yang" depleted bodies which are undergoing
slow recuperations from their recent deliveries.

Rice Wine has a low alcohol content (13.5%-18%) and is thus an ideal
“alcoholic tonic” for postpartum women in their confinement month who are
not used to consuming strong alcoholic beverages such as Brandy (40%) or others.

Unlike other strong alcoholic beverages, Rice Wine is also a good choice for
breast feeding mothers as the low alcohol content will not adversely affect the
growth and development of their babies’ brains if it is taken in moderate amount or
it can also be used in cooking, the alcohol content will be reduced during the
cooking or boiling process.

When I had my confinement in Sibu, I followed fairly rigidly all the necessary practices of a Foochow confinement, with my mother and relatives and the confinement nanny looking after me to ensure that every thing was proper and nothing untoward will happen to me.

So I had a great deal of Red Rice Wine as well as the "Lees" or "Ang Chow" which my mother and my confinement nanny would use in cooking to add flavor to confinement food . In addition, Sesame Oil and Old Ginger were used to flavour my food.

Actually in another posting I had written about how to make Rice Wine is a time consuming process. But any way, I can give you the tips on how to make the popular
confinement Red Rice Wine or "Ang Chow Jiu" here again. It involves fermentation of Glutinous Rice, Red Rice Bran (also known as Monascus Purpureus or Red Yeast) and
Wine Biscuit or “Jiu Bing”.

Monascus Purpureus is an essential fungus used in the production of certain
fermented foods in many Asian countries particularly in China and Japan. A recent
discovery showed that this fungus is able to lower blood lipids, including
cholesterol and triglycerides.

This new discovery on it's cholesterol lowering capability has prompted
scientists to research into its possible medical uses.

In fact, red yeast rice that has been fermented by the Red Yeast, Monascus
Purpureus has been used in China for more than a thousand year ago for medical
purposes and it was documented as an ancient Chinese drug used for improving
blood circulation and for alleviating indigestion and diarrhea.

During the fermentation process, the "Lees" or "Ang Chow" from the Red
Rice Wine or “Ang Chow Jiu” will stay afloat the rice wine, giving the rice wine it's orange-red colour. They will then be filtered to separate the “Ang Chow” and Red Rice Wine or “Ang Chow Jiu”.

High quality and well fermented Red Rice Wine is clear orange-red in colour. It has
a fruity aroma and tastes sweet too! It will taste sour and look murky (cloudy) or
has a layer of 'mouldy-like' substance floating on top of the red rice wine if it is not well fermented.

"Ang Chow" which are the lees of the red rice after separation from the red rice
wine are commonly used by confinement nanny as a seasoning for Chinese
confinement food such as "Ang Chow Chicken", a signature dish made by the
Foo Chow people of China as well as a popular confinement food in Singapore and

Making red rice wine is an arduous process involving a lot of patience, time and
effort and it is not uncommon to ferment Red Rice Wine that turns out to be sour
and murky (not well done) if one of the many steps during the process is done
inaccurately or wrongly.

This orange-red sweet and fruity aromatic Rice Wine with low alcohol content
(13.5% -18%) can either be drank by women in confinement especially if you are
not used to drinking strong alcoholic beverages or you can use it as a seasoning
to add flavor to your confinement food (fish, vegetable, soup etc...).

I really think that red rice wine is worth trying for all confinement women...Not forgetting that you have just gone through a traumatic experience resulting in a depletion of energy, Qi and also a substantial loss of blood while you gave birth to your babies.

Indeed, since decades ago, many Chinese Herbalists have substantiated their
believes that Postpartum Mothers are likely to fall sick very easily during their
confinement month or 'sitting the month' as their overall health beings are
"depleted and lacking in many aspects"!

Therefore, all women in their confinement month need to have a nutritious
confinement or postpartum diet plan including consumption of Rice Wine or any
alcoholic beverages to restore their energy or "Bu Qi" and reduce fatigue as
this first postpartum period is the only best time for them to recuperate since their bodies are most receptive to the nutrients.

Unfortunately, if you miss this important first postpartum period, you need to have a more intensive treatment in future that includes drinking more health tonics, follow strict therapeutic diets and maintain regular exercises for similar results but over a much longer period of time.

So, our honest advice for all the women in their 'Confinement Month' or
'Sitting The Month' to take responsibilities in caring for themselves during this
crucial postpartum month so that your overall health will not be comprised in the
long run. Ailments such as body aching, rheumatism, arthritis etc.. may
plague you for life!

It's true! I have heard some of my career women friends or relatives who have a more western outlook ,who did not follow through some of these 'must do' confinement month taboos during their confinement month and they have ended up with unwanted ailments now!

I have seen too so many older women complaining about their aches and pains. Most probably they did not have a good confinement during their child birth.One most common health problems they would have is headaches. It is believed that if a woman is exposed to wind during her confinement in later years she would have a lot of incurable headaches. So it is worth while to remain in confinement and eat properly for a month after child birth.

Red Rice Wine can provide you with the essential Energy or "Bu Qi", assists you in
restoring your uterus back to original size fast, expels wind from your body,
promotes blood circulation, reduce fatigue and in addition the Monascus
Purpureus presents in the Red Rice wine can reduce and maintain a healthy
cholesterol level for you.

I am glad that there is now a lot of confinement food service even in the form of take away springing up in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. However confinement nannies are hard to come by. Most of the very experienced ones are even more difficult to locate as they are sworn to secrecy who they serve and where they would be. Their services are much in demand and they are booked perhaps nine months in advance. I had the same confinement nanny for all my four children with my mother hoovering around. I had a good and easy time and a really good rest. Everything was taken care of and I had nothing to worry about. It is really worth it to get a good confinement nanny.

So what do you get from a confinement nanny?

A confinement nanny can come by your house from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or you can have a stay in nanny for the whole month. Different charges are levied and they can cost a bomb. As I have said, it is worth getting a good one. So recommendations from some elders are always handy. Have a list and interview a few before you settle for the one you like.

Her work would include bathing the baby, and taking care of the baby, cooking for the new mother and if she is kind enough, she will cook for the whole family.

As a confinement nanny she is supposed to be adept in Chinese Confinement cuisine which would include traditional confinement foods which would include the Sarawak kachang ma chicken soup, apart from the red wine chicken, other tonics & soups. She would leave only after bathing the baby for the evening and having cooked for the evening meal if she is the day help. She would not do any house cleaning, washing & ironing as those are not part of her job description.

So during this period, it would be good to get extra household help or the man of the house should really chip in.

4 memories:

A.H.AWANG MOIS said...

Dear Chang Yi,

I must say this article about Foochow "chuor nguok tieh" is very interesting indeed. You have got all the etnographic details here to publish it in a serious anthropological journal. Or has it already been published or presented in a seminar somewhere? A trained anthropologist would probably start the article by providing some brief notes regarding various Chinese concepts (or theories) relating to suitable and unsuitable food during the post-partum period. You have the two important Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang there in your article. This information about Chinese ideas or concepts relating to sickness and health at the early part of the article would provide the reader sufficient background info to understand the main part of the article and the various prohibitions and prescriptions regarding food during the confinement period. In some societies the restrictions regarding food and physical actions start even before the child-birth to ensure that both the mother and her child is safe and in excellent health. Are you going to keep this article in the present form? Or is this going to be published as a chapter in your future book on Foochows (or Hockchew as they are known in Peninsular Malaysia).

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear Awang Hasmadi,

I thank you for your keen interest and detailed sharing of my article. I have always wanted to publish my articles, which I hope to improve in time with more polishing and academic discourse with critics.

At the moment, my articles on Foochow customs, rites, mores and values will remain, simple, homegrown documentation.

I remain humbled by your insightful reading.

Thank you.


Unknown said...

Hi there,
came across this article while looking up more information. Do you know of any confinement lady in Perth, Australia or who are willing to travel there? I'm currently looking for one, will be due in Nov. Any advice would be appreciated.

Unknown said...

Hi, do you by any chance know any nanny for baby in sibu? I'm looking for one urgently. If got, please do e-mail me, Thanks.



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