Monday, November 19, 2007

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.

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