Sunday, November 25, 2007

To be Left Handed or Not to be

My sister was born left handed but was trained to become right handed because it was the school policy that every one must write with the right hand. No one stopped that. She is intelligent, and good with her hands. But deep down in her, she is a left hander. She can use her left hand fairly well all these years.

When my eldest daughter was in Primary One, her teacher too insisted that she must learn to use the right hand. But as a mother I was adamant not to make write with her right hand. The teacher called me stupid. And my daughter was not too well treated by her subsequently. But my daughter thrived in her own way. Later, we found that six of her friends remained left handers. All of them have good professions after they obtained their degrees. Some even had two or three degrees under their belt.

My second daughter is left handed too. Because four years have passed since her sister was in Primary One,some of the teachers had been already informed about differences in children and had relented about left handers. So she started her primary school without any problem with writing.

But when we were transferred to Miri,we did meet one teacher who despised kids who were left handed. She went on a vendetta against them, and my second daughter was often beaten. This was very unfair to the left handed kids. They were not lepers! They should not have been treated so badly. But no one said anything bad about the teacher. They just let her be!! But my daughter would never forget the bad treatment. It traumatised her until today.

One of the strongest arguments against left handers is that they cannot write good Chinese calligraphy using their left hand. It makes sense because Chinese calligraphy is written from the right to the left and pages of books are opened from the left to the right. Furthermore the characters are often composites of strokes which are formed from left to right. A left hander would find this brush work awkward to say the least.

Years later I found out that there were specialty shops for left handers in Europe. How considerate these people are!! While many Asians are still trying their best to get their children to use their right hand, psychologists the world over are teaching about left brain, right brain intelligences, etc.

It is difficult to overcome prejudices in a society that is not very open. In our society left handers are still not "the same" as the others.

But generally speaking,with references obtained from documentated articles "some left-handed people consider themselves oppressed, even to the point of prejudice".

Here are some abstracts to share with you about left handedness.

Etymology often lends weight to the argument:

In many European languages, "right" stands for authority and justice: German and Dutch, recht, French, droit, Spanish, diestro; in most Slavic languages the root prav is used in words carrying meanings of correctness or justice. Being right-handed has also historically been thought of as being skillful: the Latin word for right-handed is "dexter," as in dexterity; indeed, the Spanish term diestro means both "right-handed" and "skillful".

Meanwhile, the English word "sinister" comes from Latin and it originally meant "left" but took on meanings of "evil" or "unlucky" by time of the Classical Latin era. "Sinister" comes from the Latin word sinus meaning "pocket": a traditional Roman toga had only one pocket, located on the left side for the convenience of a right-handed wearer. The contemporary Italian word sinistra has both meanings of sinister and left. The Spanish siniestra has both, too, although the 'left' meaning is less common and is usually expressed by 'izquierda,'[15] a Basque word. The German word for left is links, and the adjective link in German has the meaning of "slyly" or "devious", while linken means "to betray" or "to cheat" (sb.).

A left-hander was supposed to be not only unlucky, but also awkward and clumsy, as shown in the French gauche and the German links and linkisch. As these are all very old words, they support theories indicating that the predominance of right-handedness is an extremely old phenomenon.In Portuguese, the most common word for left-handed person, canhoto, was once used to identify the devil, and canhestro, a related word, means "clumsy".

In ancient China, the left has been the "bad" side. The adjective "left" (左 Mandarin: zuo) means "improper" or "out of accord." For instance, the phrase "left path" (左道 Mandarin: zuodao) stands for illegal or immoral means. In some parts of China, some adults can still remember suffering for the "crime" (with suitable traumatic punishments) of not learning to be right-handed in both primary and secondary schools, as well as in some "keeping-good-face" families.

In Norwegian, the expression venstrehåndsarbeid (left-hand work) means "something that is done in a sloppy or insatisfactory way".

Even the word "ambidexterity" reflects the bias. Its intended meaning is, "skillful at both sides." However, since it keeps the Latin root "dexter," which means "right," it ends up conveying the idea of being "right-handed at both sides."

Cross-dominance, also known as mixed-handedness, mixed dominance and cross laterality, is a motor skills manifestation in which a person not necessarily being truly ambidextrous favors one hand for some crucial and precise fine motor skill operations and the other hand for others tasks. It can be readily observed, for example, in some police force members who hold a pistol with one hand and write with the other.

It can also refer to mixed laterality, which refers to a person favoring eyes, ears, feet, or hands on opposite sides of the body. Cross-dominance can often be a problem when shooting or in activities that require aim, as the mind usually focuses on a side.

I would like to end with a personal note that being left handed definitely has its downsides but most left handers are very intelligent people who need to feel accepted like any one of us right handers. Their lives may be a little difficult or awkward, but they do make do with what is available.

The lefties are like anyone of us!! What if God is left handed?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Match Making Stories

Match making was the order of the day in the 50's and 60's. Very few marriages were self made, if I could use the term.

But there were many cases of match making which were rather dubious. But once the match was made, nothing much could be done about it.

So read on.

A Case of a Young Woman with a Twitching Eye

Young Wong was not very wealthy , not having much rubber land, that was. But he was in favour of marrying at an early age so that he would have a helper besides having a wife. He sent out a match maker to find a wife for him.

As he could not offer much, the match maker found one fairly pretty girl who suited his budget. The family was willing to let her marry a little beneath their family status. Young Wong was delighted.

So the match maker brought Young Wong to the family residence to have a look at the potential candidate.

She was shy they told him. So she appeared with only one half of her body appearing by the door. So Young Wong saw the one half of his future bride.

On the wedding day, Young Wong was shocked to see that his bride had a bad ,twitching eye.

The marriage, however turned out well.

Case 2: The Girl with a Limp

A young man was of marriageable age. His parents were anxious that he should get married. He seemed to be rather pleasant and accomodating.

One family from another village was interested in him as a son-in-law so they accepted his offer.

On the day of the bride-viewing, the young potential bride sat by a table, and waited for the viewing to take place.

The potential groom had a good look at her from a window in a house opposite the girl's house. He was quite happy with what he saw.

The girl was no doubt pretty and seemed to be comfortable with her surroundings. The young man agreed to marry her and at the same time was delighted that he would be awarded with a piece of land from the girl's parents. He could not be happier.

On the wedding day, he found out that his bride had a limp. But it was too late for him to turn around. He went on with the wedding, rather disappointed.

However, the young man, being a good Foochow and sensible to boot, went on to be a loving husband and father of many children. He did well and was blessed with quite a fortune in the end.

Years later, my grandmother saw him at a wedding. He was a very happy man in spite of the trick he was played on.

So probably these two matches were made in heaven. I am really impressed by the stories.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Grandmother's Pumpkin Story

Every new year, when we were just children we would remember Grandmother's pumpkin story. And I have passed this story on to my children who will not only remember it when they celebrate Chinese New Year but when they see each other as siblings.

A long time ago in Fuzhou, China, an old man before he died he left his land and property to his two sons. He had also told his elder son to love and look after his younger brother as he was the only relative he had. The older brother promised to do so. The two of the brothers must not leave each other, come what may.

Thus the old man died happy thinking that his older son would keep his promise.

After the father died, the older brother made the younger brother live in the barn and he made him work like a slave.

Soon the older brother took a wife who was quite wealthy and their farm became bigger. The younger brother also took a wife. While the older brother lived inluxury, the younger brother had to make ends meet while working for his brother and family.

The younger brother planted a lot of vegetables and his family had just enough to eat.

Chinese New Year was around the corner, and the younger brother was excited about it. He told the other farm hads that he was going to have ducks, chickens, and fish for the reunion dinner.

When the older brother heard the news, he was sure that his brother had been stealing from him.

On new year eve, the little poor farm house was busy and the poorer brother's family was indeed cooking their hearts out. Smoke was billowing from the chimney and a lot of laughter was heard. No one would doubt that this was a happy family.

The children and the parents got down to eat their dinner and there were screams of delight. There was a duck, a chicken and even a fish on the table!!

Then right there an then, the older brother burst through the door and got hold of the brother's arms. And he shouted, "You thief! You have stolen from me!~!"

The younger brother looked at the older brother and said,

"Brother, look, here I have pumpkins made into chicken, duck and fish! Come and have a taste!"

the older brother was stunned and bowed in shame.

At that moment, he had realised how badly he had treated his younger brother who never complained about him and yet was able to live so happily with his family.

Fromthat day onwards the two brothers became brothers again and shared their father's farm .

This is the sort of stories my grandmother told us. Brothers must love each other.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sauce from Small Crabs (Kamat)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Yiek, Sarikei-Time Capsule. Follow the link below to read his article on the same topic.During the Japanese occupation life was very tough for most of the Foochows living in the Rejang Basin. The Brooke Government had more or less abandon the state, trade was naturally at a standstill, the Japanese soldiers were every where, mainly rampaging the countryside. There was a small but almost helpless anti Japanese underground movement. Sarawak was thus a very "conquered" state.

My mother and her sister, Aunty Yung and brothers, Pang Ping, Pang Sing and Pang Teck had to do everything in order to keep the family together. My grand father passed away just before the Allied Forces arrived because there was no medication available for him. And also partly because there was no money to really get a good doctor who might have prescribed something good. But according to a kind relative, his ulcer was beyond cure any way and perhaps only today with new technology he could have lived longer. Thus they mourned the passing of a good and considerate father.

Like the Melanaus and the Malays who had belacan, the Foochows had their crab sauce as their condiment. This peculiar sauce was made from the small mud crabs or Kamat,found in the padi fields during the harvesting season. The small crabs would breed in the fallen stalks of the padi plants and small children and women would flip over the straws to find the creatures. As they were only about 2 inches wide, it was difficult to clean them.

My mother used to collect a pail of them and clean them up. By the time she finished cleaning them, she would already have a painful back. It was really back breaking and eye straining. But the sauce from it made a delightful change in the sparse diet that they were having at that time.

The crabs would then be boiled in salt water and then strained. When that was done, the crabs would be put into an urn for fermentation to take place. After about three or four days, the crabs would be taken out and ground by the stone mill. The sauce which came out was reddish and saltish. It was really good to go with hot rice.

In those difficult days, when no food was available, the Foochows only had this with their rice. And they would live on it for days and weeks. Rice grown could be taken by the Japanese, sweet potatoes and vegetables were available if planted but many were scared to be seen planting or harvesting too much because the soldiers were every where. So the Foochows would stealthfully creep to the riverside to look for crabs,snails, fish a little, and pluck wild vegetables whenever the coast was clear. But it was all too dangerous for lone women to be any where. Rape and pillage was just too common.

Many older Foochows have told stories that they do lose their appetite today whenever they see this sauce because it would remind them of those horrible lean days during the Japanese Occupation. But those younger ones just think that this is a wonderful sauce. My mum still likes the sauce a lot because it is indeed delicious and hard to get to day. My aunts and I think that it is a Foochow delicacy and should not be forgotten as a thing of the past.
Today this red crab sauce, which is usually homemade can be purchased in bottles. Fuzhou City,China, still manufactures this sauce in great amounts.

I once heard that if one had lots of boils, a spoonful of this sauce every now and then can cure the ailment. This cure is known as "using poison to overcome another poison".

It is really up to you to believe it or not.

A Frugal Life - My Grandmother's Life Principle

My maternal grandmother was a child bride bought in China, for Five Silver Dollars. Her parents were a very poor Tiong family. According to my grand uncle, Lau Ka Tii, the famous Kang Chu of Sibu, and partriarch of the Lau family, he was there at the opportune time when my great grandfather carried the little five year old on his shoulders and calling out, " Girl for sale, five dollars only!" It was a very cold but clear morning in the home village of the Laus in China in 1909. And it was the setting of a scene which would change the life of my Foochow China born grandmother forever.

Perhaps this image cannot be erased from my mind:her poor father carrying her on his sholders and calling repeatedly out to passers by, "Girl for sale, five dollars only! Girl for sale, five dollars only. Girl for sale, five dollars only!"

My maternal grand father was 20 years old at that time, and had already emigrated to Sibu, Sarawak and working as a rubber tapper and tailor at the same time. It was time to make a match. So my very enterprising grand uncle bought a child bride, just that morning, just as if he were buying a chicken for the family dinner.

My granduncle was already a very wealthy man by that time and he was a very good business man, dealing with rubber export, money lending, land acquisition and civil cases.

So my grandmother arrived in Sibu a few months later to live together with my grand uncle and his child bride too.

My grandmother grew up learning all the domestic skills from grand aunty who was already very capable as a woman's leader by then. My grandmother was given two tasks to do every day : to count and bundle the rolled palm leaves for cigarette smoking and to cut and dry the white noodles or mee sua in round swirls. Feshly made mee sua actually would come in long bundles and a housewife would take a length of the mee sua and break it up into portions by hand, and then make a round mound with the portion to be dried in a huge rottan tray in the sun. These little round portions were then kept in tins and were ready for use. A portion is called, suo zi. So a good man would be given two portions for his chicken mee sua soup. A woman with a smaller appetite would get one portion. Usually one piece or two of chicken and a little bit of mushroom and an egg would be in the bowl of mee sua. Beautiful red wine would be added if desired.

My grand uncle was a trader too. He had a big trade with the Ibans and Melanaus. So my grandmother at a tender age was already handling a lot of the background work.

The mee sua drying was a very exceptional activity for her because towards the end of the day, she would collect all the broken bits of the noodles. She would put them in a tin for her own use. And whenever she desired to have a bowl of mee sua, she would bring her bits and pieces and have them cooked by my grand aunt. She would then get a bit of the chicken soup. That was all she had, but it was a wonderful meal for the little girl who had been sold into the Lau family.

My grandmother considered herself very lucky because she was never beaten or abused and from the beginning she was called, Fifth Sister-in-law, because my grand father was number 5 among the siblings and first cousins, from the same grandfather. In the old Foochow family system, brothers had their order of status and later, their children were all put together in a system of address. First cousins were considered brothers. However, in Sarawak, this system disappeared with time.

But she continued to practice frugality until the day she passed away. We thank her for teaching us this great value of living.

I am sure, the greening of the environment is just another version of my grandmother's attitude towards life in general. If every one has practised frugality, we would not be facing so much fuel wastage or high petroleum prices today. But that is too big a story for my writing scope.

Life simply so others can simply live!!

Save lots for the future for a better life!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another Grandmother's Story - Silver and Gold

My grandmother started training her grandchildren to think about looking after their parents as early as possible. So one day when I was about eight and most of my cousins were around that age, she told us this story:

In a Fuzhow/Foochow village, in China, there lived a man who was very wise.

One day he sensed that something was not too right about his daughter in law who was already very uneasy at the table whenever they were eating. She was beginning to show a little more impatience, a little more disrespect towards him. His son was meanwhile working extremely hard in the farm .

As he became more and more uneasy with the daughter in law's behaviour, he went into deep thought.

One evening, knowing that his daughter in law was in the next room sewing, he pulled out a drawer very loudly and started counting, "One, two, three....."

The daughter in law was curious and so she peeped through a crack in the wall. She saw the old man with his back towards her and he was counting something he had taken fromthe drawer.

She then heard him say," These silver and gold threads will keep my son and grandchildren well for a long time. I am glad I have been saving them . What lovely gold and silver." After saying that , he shut the drawer and had it locked very carefully. He kept the key in his breast pocket and went to sleep happily.

The next day, the daughter in law was very changed. She had prepared hot porridge for him and even had some conditments on the table. She waited on him as he ate. She even poured more tea for him.

The old man knew that his daughter in law had heard what he said.

In this way the old man lived out his last years very happily.

When he died, very peacefully, the whole village came to his funeral and the son and daughter in law and grandchildren wept loudly.

After the funeral, the daughter in law quickly opened the drawer. Alas, she found only some copper wires and a few bags of ginseng.

But upon reflection, she realised that her home had been at peace and that her family had gained a lot of respect from her neighbours for a long time. She had not lost but gained.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Children's Upbringing According to My Grandmother - using stories

When I look back to those long ago years, I realise how much my grandmother loved her sons and daughters, and later all the little grandchildren, including myself.

She had so much love for everyone else too. She loved every body ,her neighbours, the rubber tappers, the fishermen who came to our huge house by the river, because she was generous, kind and warm hearted. And she had no envy or jealousy, which made her such a wonderful matriarch.

She used three particular methods of training her loved ones: stories, metaphors or sayings and hands-on experience.

First of all, she used stories. Lots of them. I remember her telling me and my cousins this story:

Once there was a monk who looked after a temple. He was a very realistic kind of monk.

One day, a poor looking man came to the temple to visit him.

The monk said to the man, " Sit."

A young monk brought some tea to the visitor as was the proper manner, the monk said to the man, "Drink."

After a short conversation, the man left the temple, bowing very deeply to the monk, who bowed stiffly back.

A week went by, the same man came back, but this time, he wore something better.

The monk said to the man, "Please sit."

The young monk brought out some tea again. And the Monk said, "
please drink"

The conversation this time was slightly better as the monk asked more questions regarding the man's health and seeming prosperity after only a week.

The man left the temple, bowing very deeply to the monk. This time, the monk bowed slightly lower.

A month went by. The same man came to visit the temple again.

The man was dressed as a magistrate and he had an assistant with him

Immediately the monk said,"If you would honour me, please sit down."

He also called out to the young monk,"Bring out the best tea for the Lord here."

When the tea arrived, the Monk said,"Please, it would honour me greatly, if you could use some tea."

The man turned around and said, " Is it so you did not recognise me at all when I was dressed as a peasant just a month ago?"

The monk was speechless and bowed in shame.

We learned a lot of wisdom and social mores from my grandmother in this way. Each evening we could not wait for the kerosene lamp to be lit. And then we would drift into the wonderland which would come alive through my grandmother's story telling.

In almost every family of her children's, she helped develop one or more teachers.
Her eldest son had a daughter who became a trained teacher. Her second son has a son who is a university lecturer. Her fourth son, who has only one son, is a teacher in China! My eldest aunt also has a daughter who became a Chinese language teacher. Second Aunt also has a daughter who became a trained teacher from Batu Lintang Teacher's College. My third aunt has a trained teacher for a daughter too. My mum, the fourth daughter has four daughters who are all trained teachers. That left my youngest aunt, who married a great and wonderful English teacher. But none of her children became teachers.

I will not hesitate to say that my grandmother was my very first home teacher and mentor. She taught me really well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Rejang River

A river is life at its best.

Without a river, man cannot survive. From time immemorial, a river is a boon to mankind. But today, it is a curse also because it takes lives away especially during floods.

Egg Nog and Foochow Hospitality Stories

In those early rubber tapping days, my grandmother's favourite welcoming drink was Hot Ovaltine Egg Nog.

Many weary travellers especially the local Methodist Pastors, one of whom was the Reverend Lau Ngo Kee, would be warmly welcomed and my grandmother would immediately start her wood fire stove to boil water to make a hot Ovaltine Egg Nog.

It was a boiling hot mug of Ovaltine with an egg or two broken into the drink. The visitor would either stir the drink very quickly and let it stand for a while before drinking, or just give it one or two stirs and let it stand for a few minutes in order to enjoy the semi solid gluey and rich egg yolk. Relatives ,loved this drink very much and it was an honour indeed to be served one. Little children did not get such a drink. We had just plain cup of condensed milk with a bit of Ovaltine. But that was good enough.

It was not impolite for a Foochow matriarch to ask "Are you staying on for lunch?" If a visitor indicated that he was staying for lunch or even the night, my grandmother would then ask my uncle to slaughter a chicken immediately. Village life was slow paced and the kitchen would start functioning only after the morning rubber processing was completed. Once the chicken was dressed and ready for the pot, my grandmother would prepare the other accompanying vegetables for lunch. Once in a while it would be the greens that her daughter in law grew in the land available. Sometimes it would be the long Chinese cabbage which was bought in Sibu. As refrigeration was not available, almost all food was fresh.

My uncle was the chief cook for the family when he did not have work in the town as a wharf labourer. Those would be his interim rest days. Once the ships came in from Singapore, he would have a few days of heavy work, carrying the goods on his bare shoulders from the hull to the wharf and then to the lorries.

My grandmother would offer a good chicken noodle(mee sua) soup with lots of hard boiled eggs. Relatives would always tell tales of how wonderful the visit was. Mainly because they were welcomed by a heavenly bowl of chicken noodle soup. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that grandchildren loved to visit grandmother in those days. Some how grandmother's chicken noodle soup seemed to be the best in this world.

Travelling at that time from village to village was by foot or by bicycle. So it was not an easy task. The hot sun overhead would make any traveller thirsty and tired. Paths would be either cement or just dried mud. Very often such paths would be crissed crossed by rubber roots which tempered the surfaces. A very unalert cyclist would often fall into the ditches along the road if he was not able to manouvre the treacherous rubber tree roots. Because our lower deltaic area (Lower Rejang) was often inundated, the cement paths often broke up under the floods, hence the cracks were often hazardous to cyclists too. Sitting at the back of a bicycle was often a very bumpy ride, but it was much better than walking for hours in the hot sun. However in many stretches of the path, overhanging branches of the rubber trees did give plenty of shade.

The bicycle was such a boon to our village people.

The Foochows living in the Lower Nang Chong Village where my grandmother lived for the whole of her life, were very friendly and hospitable. Very few visitors would visit only for a few hours. A visit would be for a few nights of stay. So it was common for relatives to drop by and stay. A visitor would never be given the cold shoulder as most would know when to move on.

Visitors would mean the evenings would be exciting as news would be disseminated and all young children would be entertained by the news from the visiting relatives. I found all these goings-on a very interesting way of enculturalization of the young Foochows. Thus a new generation grew up in Lower Nan Chong bearing the same traits of the older generation who came from Fujian China by all the role modelling of the adults.

In later years I felt very disappointed that we Foochows no longer practise Foochow neighbourliness and genuine village hospitality of the old style. Modernization, the advent of the mobile phone and the LRT, TV and computers, have created a totally new lifestyle of electronic based life. We seem to consult the computer and other data bases first before we extend our welcome to our visitors.

It would be,"Let me check with my appointments and I will let you know whether it is a good time to visit or not." Or, "I am afraid next week would not be a good time. What about the week after that?"

When I was in Central China recently, I was truly taken back to the 1950's of my grandmother's village. Time seemed to have stood still for me.

I was asked,"So good of you to come. Staying for lunch? We will kill a chicken for you." It was such a genuine welcome without apologies.

Water was from a well,and hot water had to be boiled from a small stove using heated up coals. Although there was TV, we did not watch the programmes. Instead,after a dinner of duck soup, local vegetables and lots of corn and salted pork, we talked into the early hours of the morning,exchanging news, knowledge and jokes, all three generations seating in a circle in the open air under a beautiful blue corn moon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Job for one cousin but not the other

Years ago, when my cousins struggled to get a fairly good education in the newly established English medium schools inSibu, they had a very hard time adjusting to the language. Most Foochows would have been happy with just studying in Chinese. And everything would be familiar. The teachers who had been always there in Chung Cheng Secondary School. for example, which was just next to my grandmother's house, would have been relatives and friends who could understand the Foochow mind.

But when transition into English medium was the order of the day, many Foochow girls especially, and boys , dropped out because they could not make any headway at all with the foreign language. The teachers being quite unwilling to teach the language,or using it as a medium of instruction, were of no help too. One Peace Corps Volunteer was attached to the school for a year and he tried his very best. Perhaps a handful benefitted from his teaching. The very conservation Foochow girls would not go any where near him. They were terrified of the red hair, blue eyes and sweaty arms according to one of my cousins. Besides he was quite a tall lanky man. So by towering over all the teachers and the students, this Peace Corp Volunteer had found it difficult to mix well with the local populace. According to an aunt, the poor man could not even find butter for his breakfast, as refrigeration was quite beyond the means of most villagers. food was definitely very spartan.

And then it was during this time that the Communists were also making a lot fo demands on the population. Many young Foochows at the tender age of 14 or 15 had no choice but to join the underground movement, thus sacrificing their lives for a cause they might have very shallow knowledge of. How much were their lives worth? I only know that their parents were devastated when they had news of their deaths.

Many had their education interrupted. And because of that historical period and other factors,many of my relatives became illiterate . These so called "illiterates" had to find jobs which were suitable for them like driving lorries, looking after boats,assisting chefs,pulling logs and working in the timber camps. Some made small fortunes while others just found enough to eat.

Those who could catch up or had extra money from clever investment in the timber industry were lucky to escape the vicious development of the period. Today they would be big entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists and politicians of Malaysia.

One cousin of mine had an exceptional job seeking experience. This is a story of humiliation, a story of family pride, a story of social ties. Or is it a matter of meritocracy? Is it a story of loss of favour? Is it a story of a have been?

It is indeed a bittersweet story for me. It was also the moment for me to realise that landing on a job can no longer be just a family thing for those who are not well connected. Our destiny is in our own hands. We sink or swim on our own and there are lots of sharks around.

My cousin Feng (name changed) had just obtained her Form Five results with a fair pass and was good enough to look for employment in a bank, accounting firm or even Sime Darby with her knowledge of English, Chinese and Maths in the early 70's when there were only a handful of graduates and perhaps only 5 lawyers in town.

Able bodied ladies,with only Form Five, who were keen to work could get jobs easily as firms were opening up and the timber companies were expanding all over Sarawak.The prettier ones with good connections would get the jobs faster too. Very often they ended up marrying the boss or the boss's son. That seemed to be the trend at that time.

The job she applied for was a good one and she was called for an interview. But unknown to us another cousin also had applied for the job. But whatever was the reason, cousin Feng did not get it. At one moment she and the family were hopeful and in another moment all hopes were dashed. They felt humiliated. They felt cheated. They felt dishonoured.

My indignant, semi blind grandmother went to see the Manager immediately and demanded an explanation. But she was not able to accept the explanation. She could not accept the fact that her granddaughter, the daughter of her son, could not get a job in this company which was owned by her relatives.

So she made a scene! She was incensed! She raised her voice and her walking stick at the same time and said very loudly, " I am from a good ancestry and a descendant of the Lau family cannot get a job in your company? Where is justice? Doesn't the heavens have eyes? My granddaughter is as qualified as any one!"

My grandmother was taking all the problems of the day into her own hands. She was trying to solve a very modern problem with a very method known to her as a Foochow woman from China. People who were standing there or passing by, just shook their heads but they too understood her thoroughly. I thought that the Manager should have managed the situation better. People in good positions should not treat a grand old lady with disrespect.

However my cousin's competitor was given the job for reasons best known to the company directors. We would never know what they were , all wrapped up in P and C, but the response of my grandmother was very painful to us. She was letting off probably 50 years of pent up feelings. Beware the wrath of a scorned woman. Here it applied to her great love for her grand daughter.

Whenever I think of this situation, tears would well up again. My grandmother suffered for her self, when my grandfather died prematurely; she suffered for her favourite and youngest son absconded to China to "fight" for the glory of China in 1954; and she suffered for her third son whose education was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation and who therefore could only tap rubber, carry loads at the wharf and fish until his hardwork damaged his liver. And then she suffered the premature deaths of three sons- in -law and a daughter. When my father died prematurely,she cried,"My family is now a family of widows. Do not look at my face!"

At that time she was already philosophising on the theory of ancestral bondage.

My cousin Feng having been rejected by the company, went to the interior by accepting the temporary teaching job for three years, Limbang and Ulu Balingian and later she got herself a good job with an accounting firm, found a very propertied husband and live happily ever after. Her children are all well educated professionals.

My grandmother should be happy and philosophical now in heaven (bless her soul) to know that being rejected by a first interview is not a slap on the face. And that my cousin Feng is a very rich woman in her own right now. She has proven herself as a good manager and an "office worker". We are just so proud of her. She is now so far removed from her days in the rural areas with a small stove, and canned food for days. Her days with the leeches, mosquitoes,snakes,and dangerous travel by small boats have indeed made her a strong and compassionate person.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison.

(Please do not feel that I am being unkind to the memory of my grandmolther with this account.I feel that it is a real account of a 80 year old grandmother who was daring enough to fight single handedly against the decision of a company . She was therefore trying to redress a grievance in her own way. Using her democratic right to fight for transparency. grandmother was a woman before her time!! I love my grandmother,who was my best friend, mentor,guardian, perhaps more than anyone else in this world.)

Please respond...old lady....public demonstration....1973.......what say you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Penny Pinching - Saving up your cents to make dollars

One of the most memorable lessons I learned at my grandfather's proverbial knee is "you must remember that when you save your cents , they will become dollars and when you save your dollars , you will get your hundreds. And soon you will become a rich woman."

I am ashamed that I did not become a rich woman as I had lots of reasons to spend my hardearned money: buying a house, my children's education, my relatives' needs, so many other social obligations and commitments. And in a very unFoochow manner,I have spent a lot on magazine subscriptions, books and travelling too. I believe strongly that my grandfather might not approve of my spending habits. Perhaps I have been too benevolent to others.

I would like to include in this post the American way of Penny Pinching. And I am sure many of my extended family would relate to the ideas. Any way you might just find it very entertaining to say the least.


required for survival
in any day and age

"Penny Pinching, Frugal, Tight fisted, Miserly, Money saving, Cheap" call it what ever you want. Try raising 5 children on military pay, I call it Survival. Now you can learn how to be frugal and thrifty.

That was a long time ago but old habits die hard, even as a grandma I’m still penny pinching. That’s why Pennypinching came to be, it’s all about trying to help you save a dollar and survive in this day and age.

Not everything I share here will be my own ideas, some came from friends and a lot can be found all over the web. That’s what I’m going to do, find those penny pinching thoughts and put them right here, along with mine, in one place for you. I’ll be continually looking for new tips, ideas and or products to help pinch that penny and stretch that dollar. Did you know those dollars were made of elastic? In my house they are.

When it comes to penny-pinching, I like to think I can pinch a penny as tight as anyone. I like getting unexpected checks from the consignment store where I take my no longer used clothes. I always balance bottles of shampoo upside down to get the last drop out. I remember my mother telling me when I was young, "a penny saved is a penny earned", and those pennies turn into dollars.

Who wouldn’t like to keep a few more of your dollars in the bank? Chances are you could be saving more by using a few penny pinching tips. Check out my web site and see which ideas can help you get a little more bang for your buck.


Never spend your change, be penny pinching. Use a container and deposit all your change into it. Let all your change accumulate for a year. Use the money to get something nice for yourself, or continue adding to it, for several years and take your children (or just you and your significant other) on a special vacation.

Don’t take your change to one of those machines in the grocery store, they charge a percentage. Go to your bank, most of them have coin counters and it is free.

You can go here to check out Grandma's new cook book.

Check below for more great penny pinching tips and ideas . . .

PINCHIN IN THE KITCHEN; Saving money in the kitchen by penny pinching
More money is wasted in the kitchen then any other place in the home; let me show you how to be thrifty and penny pinching at the same time.

PENNY PINCHING COOKING TIPS; you can use to help save money
Cooking can be a problem when you don’t have all of the right ingredients but there are penny pinching substitutes. You can still cook like a pro and use what’s available.

THE PENNY PINCHER COOK BOOK, now at a site near you
Penny pinching grandma has written the Penny Pincher Cook Book and it is only available on her web site. Lots of main dish recipes for under $2.50 per serving.

PENNY PINCHING AROUND THE HOUSE, money saving tips for your household
There are many penny pinching and money saving things you can do around the house; here are some of the best that I have found to do in my house.

I’m not claiming to be an expert in the garden but I do know how to save money, these tips and ideas are both penny pinching and time saving.

The key to penny pinching is to have, as much as possible, but only what you want, not what you don’t. You can save money and still have what ever it is you really want.

Part of being frugal is knowing that we control our money it does not control us but being frugal is more then just a state of mind.

Consignment shopping and bargain hunting go hand in hand
Penny Pinching Grandma has found the consignment shop voted best on the web. It has a great concept with new ideas.

Grandmas' Antiques and Collectibles

FREE, NOW THAT IS PENNY PINCHING, can’t get better than free
Free stuff, what good is it if you can’t use it. Unfortunately that’s the case with most of it. I have had to look hard to find some free stuff you can actually use, so take a look.

DID YOU KNOW, that a lot of normal household items have other uses
Here you can find a lot of other uses for everyday household things. Not just saving money and time but healthy living tips as well. Want to learn more, you got to check this out.

PENNY PINCHING CRAFTS that help you save money
Crafts save on doctor bills and medications. Save even more because if you can make it you don’t have to buy it and its fun too.

RED HAT LADIES are over fifty and fabulous
Ladies over 50, if you don’t wear a Red Hat and purple outfit you don’t know what you are missing. Come and let Penny Pinching Grandma tell you all about it.

As a military family and even since we have moved many times, I’ve also been a Realtor. So I have a very good idea what it takes to make your home sell, putting a BIGGER check in your pocket.

Check out Grandma's Inbox, it’s getting all kinds of new and unique penny pinching tips and ideas from Grandma's readers. She even tells how you can add your tips also.

About Grandma
I really am a Penny Pinching Grandma.

Do you have a great money saving or penny pinching tip? If so put it in the form on my Ask Grandma page.

Go to

I have really enjoyed reading these pages. And I realise that at this time and age, we still need a grandpa or a grandma to remind us how to be frugal.

Honouring our Ancestors - Ching Ming & Filial Piety Stories

"The dead have passed beyond our power to honour or dishonour them, but not beyond our ability to try and understand. "

My unmarried sister Sing, has a pair of shoes just for Ching Ming, the Chinese Tomb Festival. She bought the pair of canvas shoes 17 years ago. And for the last 17 years, she would take those same shoes out for Ching Ming, to walk all the few kilometers to clean our father's tomb, our brother's tomb and a few others as well. She is our representative, our most filial sibling because she is the only one "left in Sibu" to do the rites.

Next year, it will be different because she will then be in Kuching with my other sisters.

And those of us living outside Sibu, will have to make arrangements to go to Sibu for the festival.

I am relating two important values here: my sister's frugal attitude towards life and her filial piety. Two very strong Foochow values which make us just so wondrously sensible, resilient and powerful.

Although being frugal is always known as a great trait of the Foochows , this value is often forgotten by the younger set today. Filial Piety is another value treasured by the Foochows. And again, it may just go out of fashion soon.

Another filial piety story:

When my maternal grandmother became blind due to old age, my third uncle was devastated. He and his family lived in a nice little cottage by the river side and they took care of my grandmother very well. The huge ancestral mansion had by then been swept away by the river . The river express boats for 20 over years caused devasting river bank erosion and many of the homes built in the 1900's were all gone by 1970's . As the banks were eroded, more and more Foochows moved to Sibu, thus swelling the urban population by the hundreds of thousands. This had coincided with the communist threat, the slowing down of the rubber industry and the explosion of the timber and building industries. There has been no academic study made on this population trend.

My uncle would always be at the beck and call of my grandmother. I will always remember how obedient my third uncle was as a grown up son to my grandmother.

Grandmother had become very frail too. But as the matriarch of the Lau family,she was highly regarded. My uncle made sure that she was well treated in the last few years of her life.

No matter how short of money my uncle was,(he was by then retired without a pension and rubber tapping was no longer a big business as rubber price was only about 60 sen a kilo) he would have the pork, vegetables and a few other condimennts on the table for my grandmother.

Life in the riverine farm was very subsistent. They grew vegetables, raised some pigs and chickens and ducks. Electricity was available and its source was from a diesel run Japanese made generator. Electricity was only used for very important occasions. Thus,at night, more often than not, light was from a kerosene lamp.

One day my grandmother asked for beef and salted vegetable soup. Naturally no beef was available at the farm.

So my uncle dressed my grandmother up and carried her on his back and took a motor launch. The trip to Sibu took about 2 hours and soon they were by the wharf of Sibu. Upon arrival, he put her in a taxi and brought her to our home.

That was one of the rare trips my grandmother made to town after she became blind. It was a lucky day for them because it was a Thursday when beef was sold. Fresh beef was not easily available in Sibu then.

That evening we had a good beef and salted vegetable dinner and grandmother was totally over the moon talking of old times with tears in her eyes. My third uncle was also teary. The next day they left for the village down river. It was one of those rare mother and son outing. My grandmother was 83 and my uncle was 50.

Yet I watched them with a lot of sadness in my heart, the son lifting the mother into the taxi and then getting into the taxi himself . Slowly as the taxi disappeared down the road, I felt that they were just like a young mother and her young child taking a slow walk in the morning. And then all of a sudden birds came alive! And I could hear that wondrous bird song from the tree above our house. It was like a chorus saying "well done! well done!" to my uncle.

Life was really so good with grandmother and a loving uncle around!!

And then fast forward, they were in the twilight of their life! My emotions were surging from a low depression and rising to a high crest, like a brilliant ocean wave hitting against a white, sun kissed shore.

A visit to my memories of my uncle's filial piety was like taking the ginseng of my life. Memories of him and his kindness to and love for my grandmother uplift me!

Sibu Benevolent Society's Home for the Aged, Upper Lanang Road

A friend called up the other day and asked me to help her relative ask for a place in the Old Folks' Home. And this reminded me of all those long ago days when only the very childless poor would find themselves becoming inmates of the Benevolent Society Home. The BSH was the brain child of the early Chinese forefathers of Sibu, including my grandfather, who came together to donate a very low cost but fairly suitable piece of land in Upper Lanang Road. They then raised some more money and constructed a wooden house for just a handful of the old aged destitute. In the 1990's a lovely piece of land was purchased by the Benevolent Society and the Home for the Aged was moved to the Old Airport area about 2 km from Sungei Merah.

Originally,the management of the Sibu Benevolent Society was in the hands of a committee of businessmen ,some Civil Servants and the Chairperson of the Sibu District Council. It was a very loose kind of set up but it was rather honest, ethical and perhaps truly benevolent, without any political agenda.

A Catholic nun was sent there every day to be the nurse of the home. She was assisted by two helpers, also urchins who were given to the Catholic church to raise. Thus running the home was a very eccletic management - donations, funds, free Christian voluntary service.

Sibu being a very prosperous town in the early fifties and sixties was a place where plenty of people with warm hearts and generous attitudes could be found. They rallied around like brothers to help out the needy. Coffins were often the gifts of the rich to the destitute and they were all placed in this Home. The very poor could always apply for a Free Coffin and building which was on stilts. At that time, the Foochows were always on the look out to help one another.

Once during the great flood of 1963, the coffins stored under the home,floated away and the nun and her assistants tried to rescue them. It was quite a morbid sight according to some of my friends who lived in Upper Lanang Road. A friend said that she could never forget that in her life. Now she is about 58 years old. And I am wondering if she could still remember it. But I still remember the incident. I am also wondering if the Sister is still alive today.

As a student I would always be in the group to make the school-arranged social visits to the Home of the Aged. Teachers and students alike would cycle all the way to the Home and we would entertain the old folks with singing while some would just have simple conversations with them. Usually we would bring along a sumptuous dinner for the inmates.

I remember that this became a tradition of my school and every year most Sixth Formers would make arrangements to visit the Home. And out of these visits, a few students were inspired to become social workers, and doctors and other socially related professions. Most promised themselves that they would never treat their parents shamefully.

However one particular story is often in my mind.

The late Old Mrs Wong (name has been changed to protect her) was a very hardworking rubber tapper in Sibu in the early fifties. She and her husband had made a bundle of money for her children and they lived fairly well in every respect. When all her children moved to Sibu from their farm during the 1960's Emergency period, she was very apprehensive about the shift as she could no longer keep her chickens, pigs and ducks, wash her clothes by the river,and chat with her neighbours. She was already very old in her 70's. She thought that her quality of life would be eroded. And furthermore her daughter reminded her that everything cost money , living the town. And indeed what she feared became true!

Soon she was bedridden due to her "bitterness" and loneliness. And perhaps malnutrition.

Her daughter -in- law had a change of personality. She would be out somewhere every day working Her son had obtained a job as a boat man, plying the coast of Sibu-Bintulu and would be away for many weeks.

One day, the daughter- in -law went away for three day holiday, and the poor mother- in -law could not get to any food. All the tinned food, all the tins of milk powder were placed very high up on the shelves.

It was the stench of human waste and vomit that attracted the attention of the neighbours who broke into the house to find the old lady in very dehydrated condition. Immediately the ambulance was called for and the old lady was taken to the hospital . She in fact asked why she should continue to live in such conditions. She should have been just left to die!

However, fortunately her life was saved. Proposals were made to help her get a place in the Benevolent Society, but she refused. She said that she had a son, and her son must look after her.

When her son came back from his off shore work, she did not scold her son. Nor did she scold her daughter -in- law. She diplomatically said that she was glad that her life was saved! Her son was saved from the embarrassing situation by this gracious lady. The unrepentant daughter -in- law did not do much else to help old Mrs. Wong to have a better quality of life to our knowledge. Neighbours were not allowed to pop by and grand children were too busy in other towns . It was a pity she had no unmarried daughters to look after her. Her married daughters lived too far away. As far as we knew she continued to live for many more years in perhaps very difficult conditions but her doors were closed to the neighbours.

That's another story of "keeping mum".

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kang Kong and local treats

The Foochows love kangkong which is also known as water convolvulus, Chinese Water Spinach, swamp Cabbage, or Kung Sing Chai.

It has been considered a saviour of many poor people in both China and South east Asia especially during the Japanese Occupation. It is grown wild in any watery places and is free for as long as people can remember. Another variety is easily grown in plots in any backyard garden. Some housewives even grow them in flower pots or any container up above in shop houses and their families have adequate vegetables every week.

Known as a hazardous weed in the United States, it is treated as a social enemy even and laws have been made to prevent it from being sold or grown in most states in the USA! It has been known to clog up waterways and lakes, hence its notoriety.

However, as a Sarawak born Chinese, I definitely find kang kong a wondrous life saver. Associated with kang kong are some family stories which I would share with you in this posting.

First of all, let me introduce kang kong as a botanical plant.

Its scientific name is Ipomea aquatica which is a member of the Convolvalaceae (morning glory) family. Ipomoea raptans is a similar although lesser known plant.

The plant's smooth-surfaced leaves are either arrowhead-shaped, 5-6 inches long, or relatively narrow and pointed. Two major cultivar forms are grown. These being: Ching quat, the narrow leaved form most often grown in moist soils and Pak Quat, the arrowhead shaped form usually grown in aquatic conditions.

The plant is an herbaceous perennial aquatic, semi-aquatic plant of the tropics and sub-tropics. Alternate branches and leaves arise at the leaf axils of the trailing vine-like stems. The stems being hollow are adapted for floating in aquatic environments. Adventitious roots readily develop at nodes when in contact with moist soil and water. The succulent foliage and stem tips are light green in color. Flowering is favored by short days with the development of white and light pink flowers. Purple flowers develop in wild forms of Ipomoea aquatic. To obtain seed harvesting of the plants is stopped to allow developing flowers to mature, from which seed bearing pods form.

Other names. Kankon (Japanese); ung choi (Cantonese Chinese); toongsin tsai (Mandarin Chinese); ong choy, ungtsai, tung choy (China); kang kong (Filipino, Malaysian); kang kung, rau muong (Vietnamese); pak bung (Thai).

Then I have this little interesting anecdote. The great Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncilo when a visiting Professor at the University of Malaysia said," When I see kang kong, I would have tears welling up my eyes. It kept my family and I alive during the Second World War." His little and humble statement at the beginning of his lecture made lessons from history all the more real to me especially. He had touched the affective part of my learning brain.

Nonetheless, my interest in kangkong never wanes as it too helped my family and I survive the worse patch of our lives when we had very little cash after my father passed away untimely.

My siblings and I would check out the river sides, the drains and the swampy rubber gardens for this marvellous vegetable. I remember we would be just so happy to have kang kong soup, fried kangkong, poached kangkong even if it was everyday!! I really appreciated my siblings for not being choosy in food. A feast was just steamed luncheon meat (topped with soya sauce,fried kangkong, and boiled salty peanuts. It is still a very great meal for me today besides reminding me how blessed we are just to be alive!!

Associated with free kangkong was our little rabbit enterprise in the back yard of our house in Jalan Brooke Drive which was formerly known as Tiong Kung Ping Road. Free kang kong from the streams became an important commodity for us. We would pluck the vegetable for the rabbits. When the rabbits were big enough for the table, we kids would run away and my mum would put a piece of ginger to smuffle the life out of the rabbit , after which she would skin the poor animal for cooking. We would peep from behind the cracks of the door, watching her cleaning the animal, feeling the pain of the hot water on the beautiful white fur. And then we would close our eyes when she cut open the belly and take out the insides. When the flesh was in the basin, ready for chopping into smaller pieces, we all felt that we had no more appetite for our good friend, the now dead rabbit.

Even though we were short of protein on the table, we found it very difficult to eat the rabbit meat. So I suppose that was the end of our rabbit rearing endeavour. We never thought of selling rabbit as table meat because it was then not a popular meat then.

We had a favourite street pedlar who sold rojak, chendol, ice balls, and kangkong and cuttlefish. He was Hokkien and he had a little bell to attract his customers. His whole kitchen was on four wheels, and rain or shine he would be peddling along all the roads in Sibu, selling everything up by perhaps three oclock in the afternoon. With his day's earning he would go home and prepare for the next day's
work. As a child I saw him every day of the week. As a self employed man, he did not take a rest on Sunday. Perhaps his only holiday was the Chinese New year.

I fondly remember his Yew Hoo Eng Chai or kangkong and cuttle fish salad, with chillied prawn sauce and how we had a more colourful childhood because he filled it with joy and cheer just by selling us those memorable rojak, chendol, ice balls and his specialty with a pinch of love and joy.

And in later years, I found out that there was even a man called a Kang Kong King in Kuching who used to sell more than 300 ringgit of kang kong a day to the various hawkers of the city. What an enterprise!! Another business man dealing with kang kong and cuttlefish was even slapped with a big tax bill!! So something that was considered free from the humble drain had a great deal of significance to a lot of us.

And finally, an interesting kangkong recipe : the famous Singapore's Loh Kai Yik Recipe

(Stew of Braised Chicken Wings in fermented soy bean sauce with kang kong)

Ingredients: Serves 8
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

8 cubes of nam yee (soy cheese)

4 tables tau cheow (brown soy bean paste)

1 kg (2 lb) belly pork (buy the five flowered pork, wu hua rou)

15 chicken wings

300 g (approximately 9 oz) pig's intestines, rub thoroughly with salt, washed (optional if you don't fancy them)

½ cup red or brown hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

100 g (approximately 3 oz) pig's skin, bristles removed

150 g (approximately 5 oz) pig's liver

4 processed ju her (cured cuttlefish)

20 taupok (fried cake toufu/tofu puffs)

400 g (12 oz) kangkong (water convolvulous), blanched, knotted into small bundles

½ teaspoon salt


Bottled chili garlic sauce or mix pounded fresh garlic with bottled sweet chili sauce (use the Thai variety),

light soy sauce and lime juice


Heat oil in a pot large enough for the stew. Sauté until fragrant but not browned, the garlic, shallots, nam yee and taucheow. Brown the pork, chicken wings and intestines in this mixture. Add water to cover, flavor with hoisin sauce and sugar. Bring to the boil. Skim surface of soup scum, turn down fire to simmer and add the whole piece of pig's skin, liver, ju her )cuttle fish) and taupok(fired cake toufu). Leave to cook until tender and remove ingredients from the pot. Taste stew to adjust seasoning. Add the kangkong to warm and remove. To serve, slice meats and cut ju her (cuttlefish) and taupok (fried cake toufu) into bite-sized pieces. Place on a bed of kangkong and ladle over the gravy. Serve with white rice and chili sauce on the side.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Opium - a curse or a boon?

In 1903, when the Foochows first arrived in Sibu under the leadership of Kang Chu Wong Nai Siong, many were already addicted to opium. However to be fair to them, they were not like the drugs addicts of today as most needed opium medically, to kill their "pains" like gastric pain, TB, or heart problem. Opium , introduced by the British traders according to history, as part of their strategy to weaken the Chinese in the 1800's as well as to make as much profit as possible, was the only known and available pain killer. Very little medical help was available apart from some traditional cures in Sibu of that time..

Furthermore,when Sungei Merah was first opened up, the 200 to 300 men were all cutting through the thick jungles, risking their lives trying their best to open up as much land as possible .There was so much risk involved that anxiety was rife and therefore it was no wonder that many took to the comforts of opium in the various opium dens available. Even though the Rajah Brooke had granted them the permission to open up land for agricultural development and the vast land was theirs for the taking, many did succumbe to opium and met very tragic ends. However, those who truly worked hard like my grandfather,made their vast fortunes just by working extremely hard,with only their raw strength and stamina so to speak.

My grand uncle Tiong Kung Dok,one of the Foochow pioneers,unfortunately was already very sickly from bad gastric problems from his youthful days in China. He needed opium to "kill his pain". A large portion of what he earned from his hardwork would have to be spent to buy his "medicine". Thus in the end he had only 6 acres of rubber land for his children to share.

He was however, a trusted and good broker in the later years and was well known as such until he died from the "drying up of the lungs", in the language used then. So it could have been lung cancer or TB. However between the good times, he would have some very bad times when he could not even have enough for his family's table. He would be writhing in pain because he did not have the money to buy his opium. His son had known of times when he went to the neighbours to borrow just a little bit of rice for an evening meal. It was definitely a sad memory:retlling this story, my uncle would have tears in his eyes and his voice would shake.

As a broker,my grand uncle,would bring people who needed to borrow money to see my Grandfather, his cousin. The usual procedure was for him to tell my grandfather how trustworthy the borrower was and the loan would be given based on trust, with just a little piece of paper and some simple writing that the three understood. The agreement would be simply written with the amount of money, the signatures of the borrower,the lender and the witness, who would necessarily be my grand uncle.

The borrower would never fail to pay and he would always be only too happy to pay the interest. An example was the time when one of the borrowers was short of money and he had to borrow 5000 dollars from my grandfather. He came with Tiong Kung Dok who was the intermediary and guarrantor. Although the interest was very high, he was only too happy to accept the terms of loan. He made 5 dollars out of every dollar he paid for the Japanese silk and he paid my grandfather the high interest of 10%. My grandfather would reward his cousin with a small ang pow or token of money. Later, when the borrower made his money, he would also give him a token.

A lot of the borrowing of money was based on trust, and a gentleman's word. There was a lot of honour involved.

So in this way, my grand uncle was one man who was able to control his use of opium as a means to relieve pain. He led an honorable life, brought up a family and lived quite long in fact.

But in many cases the opium addicts would just die or waste away by smoking every day in the opium dens, not wanting to work and earn a decent living. Some I heard even sold their wives and daughters to pay for their opium.

Buying and Selling of Blood in Sibu

In the early sixties, an operation in the hospital was a dirty and deadly affair. Any one admitting into the hospital was facing certain death. There were a few famous doctors, Dr. Watts, Dr. Xavier(the first Indian doctor in Sibu), Dr. Chee Chew, Dr. Wong Mook Foo and later Dr. Wong Soon Kai (now with long titles due to his political successes)but they could not do very much about the death rate. (People died prematurely, untimely on the operation table.However I must say here that it was not their fault at all. Medical knowledge was just not advance enough. General medicine was good enough or us at that time.)Incidentally, we also had a famous Foochow doctor called Three PhDs. (San Bok Shii). He could cure almost any ailment for the Foochows. Doctors were actually regarded as gods at that time!!

The Lau King Howe Hospital (another blog posting) was very solidly built and the management was really quite good, with lots of strict nursing sisters and matrons from England,and very senior Chinese and Malay nurses from Sarawak. The beds were the strong colonial wrought iron ones which we can stillcatch glimpses of in European movies. In the movie The English Patient, one could see the exact setting of a hospital run by the British and Lau King Howe Hospital that I remember is more or less the same one.

If any one had wanted a location for an English movie, the Lau King Howe Hospital would have been perfect its architecture, its rooms, its windows and even the verandah would provide the right ambiance for a 1940 setting. It is indeed a pity that some crazy progressive people want to demolish any thing of historical value. We have learned enough of history that we must preseve by all means what our forefathers have constructed. Paris has billions of visitors - because of its wonderful history. We are not leaving much history to our future generations!! We have become so much part of the tissue paper culture - use and throw, or use and dispose culture. So much so that children often wish that they can dispose of their parents too whenever they like!!

Several thoughts come to mind of that time.

The trishaw drivers would be waiting outside the Emergency Room to sell their blood!! It was going for 700 dollars per pint. And the Hospital attendent would probably get a cut. So I remember my trishaw driver friends, Kassim, Ibrahim and others would be ever ready to sell their blood.

Soldiers were often called in to donate blood, and they would be wearing their uniforms. Unofficially, they would come in and sell blood in the evenings when there was an emergency. Communication was not easy because we were still using the black heavy telephones. So when an emergency arose, a dispatch would be sent out by a very energetic volunteer, who would often be a nice kampong boy, on a bicycle, to call for one of his relatives or friends to come and sell blood.

This trading in human blood came as a result of the Chinese who were not willing to give blood (they thought that their health would deterioriate) even to their very own kith and kin. And the very generous ones would be willing to buy blood. Other wise, death awaited the person who required the blood but had no money to buy. I believe there was no free blood available.

I remember one British nurse willing to give her blood to a baby and the family after that claimed that their child had "English blood".

And here I would like to pay tribute to two of my greatest people in my life : Mr and Mrs.Wiltshire who came to Sibu in 1963 and must have donated countless pints of their blood. Mrs. Wilsthire gave a lot of blood for a total blood transfusion to save the life of a new born baby. When we were in Upper Sixth Form, in 1968, Mr. Wiltshire, the Principal of Methodist Secondary School, made all of us who were over 18,to donate blood as an act of community service. I would never forget that . He had instilled in us the importance of saving lives.

Most missionaries, Catholic priests and foreigners were very willing to give blood to save lives.

My mother required two pints of blood in 1972 for her operation. She had to buy one pint at 700 ringgit and the other was given to her because a relative,my 9th Uncle, Henry Lim, was a blood donor and he vouched for her operation.

It has taken more than 70-80 years for the Foochows in Sibu to realise that giving blood means saving lives. But ironically, it has been the other races which have been donating blood or even selling blood, to save lives before the Chinese realise this. Perhaps these acts of mercies have not really been appreciated. On the other hand,Chinese traditional beliefs ,like human beings should not let blood ,are not easily forgotten even in our days of science and technology.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Uncle, Confucius and Crime Rate in Sibu

When I look back to those olden days I realise how virtuous and upright Foochow people were. How they lived and co-existed with other races in Sibu was admirable. In retrospect two main philosophies guided them, the first being Confucian teaching and the second the Methodist outlook.

My father's first cousin, a dear uncle, has been a mentor and a close relative to me and my siblings since my father passed away. He has always been kind and gentle whenever we drop by his shop. His listening ears would always be there for us since our childhood days, even if it is between business transactions. He is one uncle who has never shooed naughty, disturbing nieces and nephews away from his shop. And recently, reminising with him helped me clarify so much of my views of those long gone days. His kind of understanding and compassion for his close relatives is a disappearing social phenomenon in these days of mobile phones, internet and corporate life.

When he was in school,boys did not talk about girls or even approach girls for any thing. The separation of boys and girls in school life and in social life was very strict. According to my uncle, he did not even think of girls or talk about girls until he had enough money to marry!

When he had saved enough money, he mentioned his intention in passing and a match maker immediately started her search for a good wife for him. After a few months, she found a candidate and his parents agreed to meet at Lok Tian Yong, had fish balls an exchanged looks.

He liked the girl very much and the match maker made an appointment for them to see a movie . Both families had representatives to chaperone the couple. After the movie, his mother went to the goldsmith's to buy a gold ring for the engagement. Because they were quite poor then, his parents agreed to a small dowry for the girl and the girl's parents also did not demand much because they were of the opinion that they were getting a good, filial,gentleman for a son in law.

Their marriage had resulted in two boys and a girl, four shop houses and a huge family owned business. My uncle had also enriched his wife's family in the last forty years. And at the same time, he felt that his wife has been a good partner in both business and life. His in laws have also been giving him the best possible support.

He also mentioned that when he and his friends were young, they had a very hard life, tapping rubber and selling vegetables every where in Sibu. Often they would meet bare breasted Iban girls from the ulu who had come to Sibu for trade. They did not look at the beauties and they were all too shy to talk about any physical attributes of the young maidens. This was the morals of the time which helped to control the crime rate of Sibu. There was no rape, no cheating, no murder. Life was peaceful and serene.

His business operation has been based on trust and honesty. He trusts his customers and sometimes he allows his customers to owe him. But they will always pay up and settle their debts. He has been lucky with liquidity and as his business grows he makes sure that he has plenty of savings, not only to invest wisely at the right time,but to put away for a rainy day. He says that the propensity to save is the greatest asset of the Foochow people. 'Without capital, no business can prosper or start. Being frugal is no shame at all.

Having discussed that with my uncle I paid a revisit to Confucian teaching. I feel that it is time for many to seriously consider reading Confucius again.

Below is a very simplified description of Confucius' main moral concepts"

Confucius' main moral concepts can be divided into a few overarching categories:

"Jen" meant "becoming a person" which is often translated as "benevolence" or "humankindness." It meant being conscientious and altruistic. Humanity or "jen" is what ties one together with another. It is the practical consideration of one human being for another based on a concept of reciprocity. This concept was not an abstract concept removed from daily life, for "Jen" developed out of fulfilling one's obligations to family and the community. This concept is best signified by what is called the silver rule of Confucianism: "Do not do to others, what you do not want them to do to you." It is called the silver rule in comparison to the golden rule of Christianity: "Do unto others as you would want them to do to you".

"Li" or the rites" were to act as the guidelines for proper conduct. They helped to guide someone who may be unsure of what would be the truly "benevolent" act in certain circumstances. Therefore, the performance of these rites were seen as essential for the development of a sense of moral propriety. As one historian described them, they were the "code of formal behaviors for stabilizing and disciplining ourever-changing circumstances."

"De" or Virtue. The following of the "li" and the development of "jen" were stages towards developing virtue, the ultimate goal of Confucian thought. Confucius saw virtue as combining the features of"li" and "jen". Virtue for him was concrete and determined by action, not contemplation. He envisioned virtue as an obtainable goal, and his ideas as being practical rules of life and not a philosophy that was impossible to live tip to.

Morality and Relationships

Confucius' ideas about morality were not abstract, but pragmatic, which meant morality was not determined by absolutes as much as it was by circumstances and relationships. The basic relationships a person had in society determined or defined moral action. The goal was to ensure a person performed his key roles and obligations well. The main relationships were:

Emperor- - subject



Elder brother--younger brother

Elder Friend--younger friend.

All the relationships were between a superior and inferior. Depending on where one stood, a person needed to learn proper behavior for one's role. Confucius taught established authorities should be respected. A son should obey his father and uphold his family. A younger brother should obey his older brother for the same reason. So, too, wives, must obey their husbands; subjects, their rulers, and even a younger friend, his elder friend or patron. Through obedience, all upheld the proper distribution of power and authority.

In this respect, Confucius' ideas were seen as quite conservative but my question remains : if every one respects every one would the crime rate be lowered? Or is it impossible now to practise the ideas of this thinker in the 21st century?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sibling Bonding : Foochow Style

When we were young and being happy and free was our privilege, we roamed the hills behind our maternal grandmother's house on our bicycles till late in the evenings or the time for us to jump into the river for a good swim before an early dinner. We would have great fun and then rush to the table for our evening meal before our third uncle took out his kerosne pump lamps to be lighted. The smell of the kerosene would fill the air and we would have that restive feeling that the time had come for story telling and jokes. As the darkness fell, we would crowd together on the bench between the main rooms and the kitchen, to wait for uncle or grandma to start telling us about the past.

Growing up with cousins and uncles and aunties was the way of the Foochows and it allowed great bonding and lending a hand to every one so success could come easily to all Foochows who wanted to succeed. I remember at that time, almost every one could succeed in one way or another before 40. Thus it was expected that being a member of the clan one could expect an uncle to help one to "reach the shores" or succeed.

Gathering together for a simple meal was all it took to help us children bond. I remember that one of the children's favourite meal was a simple rice vermicelli in preserved vegetable soup. The preserved vegetable would have been home made too. Rice Vermicelli is called Hoon Ang in Foochow and it is the biggest size of meehoon. The Foochows like it especially because we like to bite into something that is fuller in body, with the original taste of rice still in tact.

Life was neat, simple and food was all home cooked. So whenever we talk of food in those days, we would be talking about the homes we shared.

Today with the availability of the Internet, knowledge about cuisine is widespread so we come to know a lot more about it. It can be cooked in different ways too and they are often eaten as part of a soup dish, stir fry, or salad. Rice vermicelli are particularly prominent in the cuisines of China and Southeast Asia, many of which feature a notable Chinese culinary influence. Though not as popular as other foods like idli or dosa, rice vermicelli also feature in the cuisines of South India and Sri Lanka, where they are called sevai or idiappam (the latter also called "string hoppers").

One particularly well known, slightly thicker variety, is called Guilin mǐfěn (桂林米粉), comes from the southern Chinese city of Guilin, where it is a breakfast staple. In Yunnan, such noodles are called mǐxiàn (米线).

And so with greater knowledge, our styles of cooking also change.

Grandmother's preserved vegetables.

Our aunts would grow a lot of greens in the backyard. These greens would be harvested very quickly after only about a month and they would be washed and dried.

When they were dried my grandmother would rub salt and the red wine lees into the vegetables. After that, the vegetables would be placed layer by layer in a big urn. Water used to wash rice would be added to the vegetables. After about two weeks, when the vegetables turn a little stinky and brownish green, we would have the first taste of our preserved vegetables. If some taste was still lacking, my grandmother would add a little more lees to increase the sourness, or a little more salt to add to the saltiness.

Preserving vegetables was a great task and we children realised how important it was to preserve and prepare our vegetables. Our table would never be empty and scarce.

We loved our grandmother for her faithfulness in preparing food for us.

May be here we should look at some rice vermicelli varieties:

laksa noodles Notes: These rice noodles look like white spaghetti. They're used to make laksa, a noodle dish popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. Don't confuse the noodles with laksa leaves, a kind of mint that's often used to season the noodles. Substitutes: rice sticks OR bean threads OR Chinese wheat noodles (as thin as possible)

medium rice sticks = Thai flat rice sticks = dried rice noodles = rice fettuccine = Mekong rice stick = ban pho (Vietnamese) = banh pho (Vietnamese) = ho fun (Chinese) = hor fun (Chinese) = haw fun (Chinese) = lai fen (Chinese) = laifen (Chinese) = sen lek (Thai) = kway teow (Malaysian) = kway tio (Malaysian) = gway tio (Malaysian) = kui teow (Malaysian) = kuey teow (Malaysian) Notes: These rice noodles are especially popular in Southeast Asia. They come in different widths; the thinner ones are best for soups, the wider ones for stir-fries. Before using, rice sticks should be soaked in hot water until they're soft and transparent. They can then be used in soups, or add along with some broth to stir-fries. Substitutes: wide rice noodles OR rice vermicelli OR fettuccine OR bean threads OR somen

rice flake noodles = kuay chap = kuay jabb = banh uot mien Notes: These big, flat rice noodles look like tortilla chips. They're used in soups and stir-fries. Before using them, soften them in hot water, then boil or stir-fry them briefly, usually not more than a minute. Substitutes: wide rice noodles

rice sticks = rice stick noodles Notes: They come in many shapes and sizes, but they can be roughly classified as thin, medium, and wide. Thin rice noodles are used in soups, salads, and spring rolls. Medium noodles are the most versatile, and can be used in soups, stir-fries, salads, or as a bed for meat or fish. Wide noodles are best used in soups, stir-fries, and braised dishes. Before using rice noodles, soften them in hot water. This will take anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, depending upon the thickness of the noodles. After they've softened, boil or stir-fry them briefly, usually not more than a minute. It's easier to stir-fry noodles if you break them into shorter lengths.

rice vermicelli = sen mee (Thai) = mi fen (Chinese) = mei fun (Chinese) = mai fun (Japanese) = maifun (Japanese) = mee fun (Chinese) = pancit bijon (Tagalog) = pancit bihon (Tagalog) = bijon (Tagalog) = bihon (Tagalog) = bihoon (Tagalog) = banh hoi (Vietnamese) = bee hoon (Malay) = beehoon (Malay) Notes: These are used throughout Asian in soups, spring rolls, cold salads, and stir-fries. They're similar to bean threads, only they're longer and made with rice flour instead of mung bean starch. Before using, soak the dried noodles in hot water until they're soft (about 15 minutes), then boil them briefly (from 1 to 3 minutes) and rinse with hot water. You can also deep-fry the dried noodles until they're crunchy and then use them in Chinese chicken salad, or as a garnish or bed for sauces. Substitutes: thin rice sticks OR bean threads OR flat rice noodles (wider) OR vermicelli

thin rice sticks = thin rice stick noodles = thin sticks = bun (Vietnamese) = pancit palabok (Tagalog) = sen yai (Thai) Notes: These are used throughout Asian in soups, spring rolls, cold salads, and stir-fries. They're similar to bean threads, only they're longer and made with rice flour instead of mung bean starch. Before using, soak the dried noodles in hot water until they're soft (about 15 minutes), then boil them briefly (from 1 to 3 minutes) and rinse with hot water. You can also deep-fry the dried noodles until they're crunchy and then use them in Chinese chicken salad, or as a garnish or bed for sauces. Substitutes: bean threads OR flat rice noodles (wider) OR vermicelli

silver pin noodles = mee tye bak = nen dzem fen = loh shee fun = rat-tail noodles Notes: These are thick, round rice noodles that are usually homemade. Substitutes: laksa noodles

wide rice noodles = jantaboon (Thai) = chantaboon (Thai) = shan shui ho fun (Chinese) = sha ha fun (Chinese) = sha he fan (Chinese) = sen chan (Chinese) Notes: These thick rice noodles are popular both in Southeast Asia and China. Soak the noodles in hot water until soft, then either boil them or add them along with some broth to your stir-fry. Substitutes: medium rice noodles

river rice noodles = rice ribbon noodles = vermicelli sheets = sha he fen = fen noodles = sha ho fen = chow fun guo tiao = kuay taew = khao pun = hu tieu = hieu tieu = hu tieu Notes: These chewy rice noodles are popular in southern Vietnam, where they're often served with seafood. They're usually sold as fresh sheets, which are either left whole or sliced into various widths. Rinse them in warm water before using, then add them to stir-fries or soups, or use the sheets to wrap meat fillings before steaming them. Substitutes: medium rice sticks

(some parts adapted from Lori Alden)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Man who loved his father

(This photo was probably taken in 1930 when my father, Chang Ta Kang (left) graduated from Junior Secondary School in Sibu. My Great Grand Father , Tiong King Sing,was in the middle and my Grandfather, Tiong Kung Ping on the right.)

It is difficult to start talking about my grandfather. Remembering him is like remembering everything about my wonderful childhood which happened in a warm,big family of uncles, aunties and cousins, brothers and sisters and my exceptional parents.

He was born in Min Ching district in Fujian Province, at the end of the ninteenth century. His father, my great grandfather was a Chinese Traditional doctor. My grandfather was the eldest of his two sons. Bright and very disciplined in every was my grandfather was once told by a fortune teller that his fortune was to be made "overseas in the south". And it was with this inspiration that he had great dreams of emigrating one day.

He was also a Methodist by birth as my great grandfather embraced Christianity when it first came to the Min River Valley or Min Chiang. It was this relationship with Methodism that brought my grandfather to Sarawak and help him develop a great friendship with Rev Hoover.

His childhood was fairly restricted and simple as China was still under the Ching Dynasty. Corruption was rife, banditry was the order of the day and not much was really done for the simple farming folks who lived far away from the main cities. It was said that it was good to have the Emperor far away in Beijing.

His education was therefore meagre, with a tutor coming to their home to teach the two brothers for a couple of years. Probably that was all that my great grandfather could afford.

Physically, my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping was a big sized man, fair skinned which could become quite tanned when he worked hard in his garden, with bright eyes and strong limbs. He was a man of strong character and was considered a very determined man in whatever he had to do.

Intelligent and good with his hands, he was well known as a mechanic when he first arrived in Sibu. But it was through his great hardwork and frugal outlook in life that he soon made a fortune through rubber planting, rice mills, ice mills and manufacture of bricks. People said this of him, "He turned water into money (ice) , he turned mud into money (bricks) and he turned trees into money (rubber).

As he was a strict disciplinarian and a man of few words most people held him in awe. Although he loved his children very much and even more so, his grandchildren,his every breath was taken seriously by every member of his family.

My great grandfather, Tiong King Sing, being fairly self sufficient although not well to do,as a traditional doctor,in retrospect, had agreed to let my grandfather could join Wong Nai Siong to venture out as a pioneer in Sibu. He thus let go of his elder son so that he could make his fortune. It must have been farsighted of him to do so. As a result of this decision, the Tiong family would never be the same again. It spread far and wide in the world today.

My great grandfather had a habit of wearing all white and was neat to boot! It is difficult now to explain how or why he became interested in Methodism which had come to this part of China bringing schools and hospitals. But this little missionary service was not enough as the population was increasing tremendously and furthermore,there was a famine and life had become terribly hard.

In retrospect, at a very young age my grandfather must have trained himself to be self sufficient and street wise. He was truly determined to follow his fortunes in Nanyang. Perhaps his stars were on the rise as just a few years later,the opportunity came and my grandfather went on board the ship belonging to Wong Nai Siong.

According to many of my relatives my grandfather was a very determined man who was very fearless whenever he had a task to do. He was definitely one of the best pioneers of his batch. First like every one else, he tried his hand at collecting jelutong and the first few months were very very hot for him. Food would suddenly turn sour after only a few hours and often he went hungry. The first year was truly difficult for all the pioneers who settled in Sungei Merah. But it was good enough that the Methodist Mission built a shelter for all of them.

There was no doubt that life for the first batch of pioneers was very tortuous. The group slashed and burned the surrounding jungles and often felt ill because they were not yet acclimatized to the extreme temperatures. But it was still better than starving in the harsh political and economical conditions of China. As Sibu was promising a lot of hope for all of them.

Every day my grandfather would be thinking of his father in China and how he would makie enough money to send for his father and brother.

Sometimes I wish that my grandfather was still alive to tell me how he lived, how he hoped and how he enjoyed himself in the impossible equatorial jungles. We of the third generation are very lucky to have a grandfather who sacrificed so much for both his father and for his own children and grandchildren. Had he too foreseen what we could have then?


web statistics