Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Angels in Cheong Sams

My grandfather Tiong Kung Ping had a step sister, called Tiong Yuk Ging. This makes her our great grandfather Tiong King Kee's daughter. Our own great grandmother ,mother of Tiong Kung Ping, passed away very early so GGF TKK married a second time to a dainty, pretty lady, with bound feet and brought her and Goo Poh(or Great Aunt) Tiong Yuk King to Sibu.

Goo Poh, Tiong Yuk Ging became one of the most well loved aunts of ours. She was a servant of God, a great kindergarten teacher, a soft spoken Foochow lady, an educator and a whole list of others. So many of us owe her our beautiful and privileged childhood. And other children who grew up around the Methodist Primary School, along Island road in the the 1950's and 1960's would remember this kind and gentle angel in Cheong Sam.

Goo Poh was educated in the Methodist School which was set up by Rev Hoover and upon her graduation, she started teaching in the Methodist Kindergarten. Grandfather Kung Ping had wanted her to marry a scholar and a professional and not a farmer. So he arranged for her to be married into the Kiu family of Sibu. The Kiu family was a family of scholars and gentlemen. thus she married Mr. Kiu, the brother of Dr. Kiu Nai Ding, who was a famous physician in Sibu in the early forties, and had three children, Kiu Koh Siong, Kiu Ik Sing and Kiu Ik Ding who are all in their late fifties or sixties now. Koh Siong is in Europe while Ik Sing is in England and only Ik Ding is still in Sibu.

Our Goo Poh never wore anything except a cheongsam and she cut a very graceful and classic figure in that attire. She also made all her own clothes and the clothes of her children and other relativs. In fact as a young child, I was blessed by her gifts of clothes,some of which were hand stitched.

The most wonderful part of our primary school life was the privileges we enjoyed during recess. As she lived in the Memorial Building of the Methodist Church , which was sited within the primary school, we the grandchildren of Tiong Kung Ping, would rush up the more than 60 cement steps of the stair case and enjoy our kampua which were left in her kitchen by the noodle seller.

My brother Kai, remembered that the school canteen operator finally put a stop to all our special treatment (which went on for moe than 10 years) and the town noodle seller could not longer bring the kampua mee to Goo Poh's kitchen for all the Tiong grandchildren. This made the school canteenoperator very jealous and livid. But this special treat would endear us to Goo Poh who also prepared special lunch for us if we were detained by the school headmaster, the most famous of whom was Mr. Wong Kie Mee.

Later on in the 1990's, when my children went to the Primary School, they too enjoyed special treatment fromGoo Poh who was then fairly well into her sixties.

One marvellous dish that she cooked was the yellow curry wich was just full of Foochow goodness. You see this curry is all santan with the tumeric and not chili. so the thick milky soup and the nice fresh chicken was just the correct taste for our young children. They would dig into the thick soup and have a really stomach filling lunch.

Goo Poh was always generous to her young relatives as she had a heart of gold. All of us would remember her with fondness and great love as she so loved us, fed us, clothed us and never,never,never raised her voice at us. She was just such a gentle person. And I can bet with any one that you won't find another person better than her.

She lived well into her 80's when finally old age caught up with her and one evening, she just passed on, leaving behind a son, two daughters, in laws,cousins, grandchildren and grand nephews and grand niceces to mourn her pasing. We really miss the gentle angel in cheong sam. And we have actually never thanked her enough for all that she had given to us. I hope that this little posting could be read by her in heaven.

Ramblings about Hairdressing and Aunt Pearl

The only member of our Tiong Clan who took up hairdressing was Aunt Pearl. I would always remember that because as a child I was vain and a wannabe. I must have been only about nine when I persuaded my mum to let me go to Aunt Pearl for a new hairdo. I remember it was in the very colonial style named street , High Street, at the middle portion of my seventh aunt, Chiew Sieng's textile outlet Chop Ching Cheong.

So I had a permament wave done, using all the hot irons and the works. At that time, and probably today too, the Master's workmanship or service would cost very much more, so as a child I was given probably the third apprentice to work on my lush hair. It was quite an experience, sitting under the hot wave and getting all my hair rolled up in those little metal rods and paper soaked in permament hair lotion. The ammonia smell was intolerable actually. At the end of almost two hours of curling and uncurling, blowing, drying and washing again and again, I went home with a fluffy hairstyle which I thought was quite charming.

But indeed instead of a permanent wave,I had a permanent scar on the top of my head ,caused by the burning acid! (If you want to see the scar , you can when you meet up with me). There was no use crying as my mum told me with a very severe face,"Want to be beautiful, you have to suffer pain."

The same statement came floating over to me when I had my ears pierced using the traditional method. You will read this in a later posting.

In retrospect I have always held Aunt Pearl in awe as she was the first female entrepreneur I ever met in Sibu. She was very business like and her accounting was good. I still remember her later sitting in an office, reading her newspapers with a great aura of importance. And in fact for many years my siblings and I were terrified of her. However deep inside her was a great heart and a strong character which had sustained the throes of time and the chaos and changes that only life deal out.

Much later, when my aunt gave up her hairdressing salon, in the sixties, the Tiong ladies would meet up at the Palace Hairdressers' Salon. It was like the Sibu Joy Luck Club. All the ladies would sit under the gigantic warm blowers, looking like aliens, and they would sit four in each row. (Palace Hairdressers would serve eight customers at any one time in that narrow space of 12' x 25'.) They would discuss the latest news loudly and when they lowered their voices you would know at once that they were exchanging some very delicate gossips of the family. That's when you can hear heavy sighs, see a few hand gestures, and even a delicate brush of the handkerchief at the side of an eye.

In the seventies, when it was my time to go to the hairdresser's I realised how good a counsellor my hairdresser was. It was no wonder, that our aunts and cousins loved "visiting" the hairdresser's,besides coming home with a new perm or newly washed hair. I continue to hold the opinion that it is also a good two hour rest for women folk to be away from the family and ordinary chores. A good hairdo, or just even a hairwash would give them more self esteem and confidence.

And oh yes, I remember the magazines in the Palace Hairdresser's Salon. I loved the magazines there and I would volunteer to come with anyone of them when I was young. Then I would read the beautiful magazines about film stars, Lin Dai, Yu Ming, Ger Lan,etc.and I would be transported into another world.

Palace Hairdresser's Salon displayed the usual barber's blue, white and red revolving tubular sign. This revolving international sign originated in the French Revolution. In 1789, France experienced the successful although bloody overthrow of its monarchy.

The barbers' shops were often the secret meeting places of many of the French revolutionaries or rebels. One day, a rebel was chased by a troop of French Monarchist soldiers. He quickly went into a barber's salon and was immediately put on a chair, wrapped up in the towels completely. (N.B.This was later copied by many film makers whenever there was a need to give the protagonist a chance to escape from a chase. ) When the soldiers arrived, they asked for the rebel. The barber quickly told them that this particular rebel had left by the back door. So the soldiers gave chase and the rebel was saved.

When the new free French government was formed at the end of the French Revolution, it honoured the sacrifices and services of the barbers in their revolution , by commissioning the tri-coloured French flag, blue, white and red as the symbol of barbers' salons. Soon the revolving tricoloured sign of French barbers became a universal symbol for hairdressing.

I believe every aunt of ours had a French bun in their time besides getting fashionable, good permanent waves. They would also have their teased and sprayed to make the famous high standing or bee hive hair style of starlets like Lin Dai. You can check out hairstyles of the day by looking at old photos taken in the 1960's. Today the computer has taken over hair styling designs to match shapes of face, head, and even original hair colour. But at that time, it was the hairdresser who decided what style a woman should have. Life was so basic and uncomplicated then.

A new permanent would cost about 12 straits dollars in the 50's and 60's. Today with all sorts of hair waving magic, women and even men, have to pay more than 100 ringgit for a decent hairdo. That's modern day inflation and enterprise I suppose.

But nevertheless a small pair of scissors can still help many women earn a good living.

Hairdressers continue to be meeting points for grand ladies...and I would give anything in this world to see again, Aunt Pearl, Second Aunt (Ni Sing) and Third Aunt (San Sing) and my mum having their hair done at Palace Hairdressers...and I would sit again in the PVC chair just watching and watching while time passes by. Three cheers for compassionate hairdressers!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Unbound Feet

In my family, my step paternal great grandmother was a Chinese woman with a pair of perfectly bound feet. My maternal grandmother Tiong Lien Tie was a different case.

My grandmother Tiong Lien Tie had loosened bound feet after only one year of foot binding. As she was sold at the age of five to a Nanyang family, her father had no more say regarding her bound feet. So if it suited the husband's family in Nanyang to have a big foot bride, it was ok. (I would put up another posting on bound feet women later)

Grandmother or ngie ma used to tell me how painful it was to walk with bound feet. And washing her feet was an extremely torturing procedure. When she was brought to Sarawak almost immediately after she was sold to Granduncle Lau, she had the great freedom of loosening her bound feet and at the age of five she was intelligent enough to soak her feet every night and massage them until they were flat and well formed.

How intelligent she must have been to unloosen her own feet while many of her contemporaries were still having bound feet in the heat of a tropical rainforest! I found this fact amazingly refreshing.

Grandmother was a very fair woman and I can still see her extremely pure white feet and white shins glinting in the sun. A special bath time ritual for her was in the midafternoon after she had "sunned" her bath water in the open platform of the house in Lower Nang Chong (Lower South Village). We would watch her (although it was impolite) slowly unpin her long hair and then slowly pour the sun heated water over her hair carefully. She used a very coarse China made soap to wash her hair(this was before Sunsilk Shampoo came to Sarawak). And then slowly she would wipe her body over and over with a damp cloth, while still clad in a red Chinese cotton sarong. When she finished her ritual, she would then dab a handkerchief or small terry towel with Florida Wa ter (or Hua Luk Chui) and she would just smell heavenly to us children. As she was very lithe and full of propriety, we never could see her wash her underarms openly. She would be so discreet in her ritual that it was amazing to us later how she maintained her personal hygiene. To this day, I still think she had the bes t smelling hair for an old lady. She never powdered her face and yet, fragrance just came out of her.

She used to tell us that if we were good women, we would smell good. Fragrance comes from women of good reputation naturally. I still believe that that is true.

My grandmother's feet remain size three, small and dainty. Once I took her to buy a pair of shoes in Bata (then owned by a Mr. Lau Kiing Chong) in Central Road. Mr. Lau (also an cousin to me because he was of the same generation as me) had to look for many patterns before one could fit nicely as her feet were so narrow. After purchasing that particular pattern, I remember she would another pair when one was worn out. In fact it took her quite a few years to wear one out.

Grandmother never went walking about for a long time. Besides she was very lightly built and probably weighed the most 45 kg. I enjoyed watching her using a trishaw. And that scene remains lovingly in my mind like forever. She would be wearing her blue samfoo top and her black brocade trousers which she would have made by hand, stitch by stitch. All her buttons were cloth buttons which she taught us to sew. She used to tell us not to buy anything if we could make it ourselves. Just keep the well earned money for old age. She would place a beautiful small white cotton handkerchief at the samfoo opening just below her armpit. And the unforgetable Florida Water fragrance would float in the air whenever she passed by.

She bequeathed all of us with wonderful recipes as she was a very good cook. Not only was she a good cook, she was a generous and hospitable hostess. No one would go home hungry if he passed by our home in Lower Nang Chong. Rice was ever ready in the huge kuali and dishes of pork,chicken or duck and vegetables would be in the wooden Foochow food cupboard ready to be heated up at a moment's notice. She had salted duck eggs in big urns ever ready to be boiled at a moment's notice.

With her as our role model, all of us became a little like her, kind to strangers, respectful towards elders, warm to relatives and always ready to lend a helping hand. Her daughters whom she married off well had good reputation and helped to nurture well brought up grandchildren for her. Her sons were filial and men of good repute too.

Grandmother Tiong saw the downfall of the Manchu Dynasty and the government of Sun Yat Sen, two world wars, the suffering of the Chinese in Japanese hands in China,the withdrawal of the Rajah Brooke Rule and the coming of the British colonial government, the rise of Mao in China,the rubber boom in Sarawak in the early fifties, the communist uprising and the formation of Malaysia. She lost her husband because of the Japanese Occupation, she lost her youngest and favourite son because he was so in love with the new Maoist government and left for China and never to see her again in 1954. This uncle of mine was English educated and a class mate of Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui. Later she would lose her rubber smallholding business because of communist insurgency all along the Rejang basin. All these she took on with her small frame of less than 5 feet. She was resourceful, she was proactive and she spoke Malay extremely well. How could she not be a lesser Malaysian than any of us? She held a red identity card for the whole of her life in Sarawak.

Grandmother was a indeed a resilient China born woman with bound feet and a great elder who helped build Sibu by her role a wife, mother, counsellor and a highly intelligent and well regarded matriarch and leader of three generations of a Foochow family. She did not have a single day of school, yet she could recognise Chinese characters and read the Bible in Foochow. She loved reading the newspapers and the Chinese Movie magazines. And in a shy manner, she could sing most of the hymns in the Methodist hymnal.

When she died she was only about 30 kg, the size of a small girl, after a slow painful road to her final days and like a candle, the wick grew weaker and weaker and finally the light went out. When Elton John sang,"Like a Candle in the Wind" I was thinking more of my grandmother than anyone else in the world. Because someone made that comparison in 1984 when she died.

She was worth many thousand times the Five Dollars Granduncle Lau paid for.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hua Hong Ice Factory

The Hua Hong Ice Factory was started by Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping after he moved from Binatang (the present Bintangor) where he was one of the pioneers of rubbing planting together with Yao Siew King, the father of Dato Yao Ping Hua. In this way Bintangor was "opened" up to more Foochow settlers later.

Hua Hong Ice Factory was set up on a piece of land Grandfather bought on the island opposite Sibu town. He set up the factory with a great vision of a very progressive Sibu fishing industry and other industries which required refrigeration. Refrigeration came into great popularity in the 30's and 40's in Sarawak and it was first introduced by Rev. Hoover who was very fond of Grandfather TKP and our First Grandmother Chong who could read all the manuals written in English.

Not long after the establishment of the Hua Hong Ice Factory, my grandmother Chong passed away due to child birth. It was a very sad day for all the children who were very young. My father was barely in his teens and my youngest uncle Pan King and youngest aunt Grace were merely toddlers.

Great Grandmother then encouraged Grandfather to take another wife to help her look after all the children. And that explained why Grandfather continued to have another wife and more children. The family continued to live in the house with Great Grand mother.

Ice blocks were made in Hua Hong and every one who wished to buy ice in small or big amounts to drive their big or small boats to the jetty. The Hua Hong Ice Factory and its surrounding homes were affected by the bombing during the Second World War. But my Grandfather was wise enough to move his family to Sg. Bidut .to the home of his first cousins.

An interesting fact to note is that my Grandfather's CHAI KOO was Grand Uncle Tiong Toh Siong, Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King's father. A chai koo was an accounts manager, probably the most important person in the company after the CEO or towkay. He was a very reliable and affectionate cousin to my Grandfather.

The family moved back to the Factory premises after the war and not long after that Second Grandmother passed away and by that time our pretty aunts were already in secondary school and my father Tai Kong (Chang Ta Kang) was fairly in charge with Grand Father calling most of the shots or making the big decisions.

Grandfather married Third Grandmother Siew Nguik Lan not long after the Second World War.
But there were no photos of their wedding in existence as far as I know.

However, there were many photos of my father's weddingin 1948 in Hua Hong Cheong . My mother was very beautfiul. Uncle Soon was the best man, and the photo also showed our beautiful aunts Ik Sing, Pick, and Chiew. I must scan that photo for this blog.

In another blog you will read how my father courted my mother. He was a handsome rich young man who owned a nice speed boat.....

The other two important families who lived with those of us in Hua Hong was Er Herng (Heng Kwong) and Hoong Kwong. Both of them were brothers and they were very rich as they owned shop houses in Sibu. I suppose living on the island across Sibu made them the wealthy families of then Sibu society. So Hua Hong probably was the Martha's Vineyard of Sibu in the years after the Second World War.

Three of us were born in Hua Hong Cheong (or Hua Hong Factory) as we called the place. I was first born, second is Sing and third is Hsiung who passed away prematurely in 1981.

See another blog on our childhood in Hua Hong Cheong.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Interesting Intertwinning of fates

Tiong Lien Tie - My Maternal Grandmother

My maternal grandmother was Tiong Lien Tie, hailing from 14th district of Min Ching area in China, an area I have not visited yet in my life.

When she was five she was sold by her father, at 5 silver dollars to my great grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii, who was then visiting Min Chin: such a bought child then would become the child bride of the intended person, the purchaser would provide for. Lau Kah Tii who was married with a few children and had been brought to Sibu by Wong Nai Siong in 1903. When he bought my grandmother, he was already a successful businessman in his late twenties or early thirties.

The child bride was intended for his brother,Lau Kah Chui, who was then 20 years old. According to family gossips, my grandfather Lau, was a timid man, but was sharp in the mind. However he was not quick to address issues pertinent at the moment or quick to seize a business opportunity. He was petrified of his elder brother, who later on went on tobecome a community leader or Kang Chu. By profession, my grandfather Lau was a tailor.

My granddad Lau was a good man who had lots of humour in his speech with close friends.

One interesting statement he made was : A doctor can save lives but inside his sleeve may be a hidden knife which can take away lives. This was said when he was very disappointed during one visit to a doctor immediately after the Second World War and he was not given the treatment because he did not bring enough money. My granddad died not long after that, probably due to liver complications as he liked the bottle a little too much. My grandmother Lau was in China, Foochow City, then, as the Japanese cut off all communications and transport from China to other parts of South East Asia.

When she was about 16 the marriage ceremony was performed and she was officially the wife of Lau Kah Chui. Although the marriage (from what I heard) was quite stormy, the union brought about five daughters and four sons. They lived in a huge wooden house built from the earnings from rubber. I used to visit the mansion frequently i.e. every holiday or every opportunity. Perhaps sometimes, just to eat extremely well. this house is no longer in existence as the fast currents of Rajang River and the riverine erosion caused by the river express boats washed it away finally in 1980. This house was in Lower Nang Chong, now known as Paradom.

How did my Grandmother Lau's life interwined with our Tiong Clan?

Grandmother Lau in fact was recognised by our Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping as Aunt, due to their having the same Tiong surname. In fact, my grandmother told me once that she helped to baby sit my father, Chang Ta Kang,the first born, when he was about two years old on the occasions she visited Sibu town. My father Chang Ta Kang, was a fair, plump and handsome little baby according to her. At that time, she never knew that that little baby boy would become her 4th son-in-law very much later in 1948.

Hence my Grandfather Tiong probably married my grandmother Chong in 1906 or 1907 as my father was born in 1908.

Lau Kah Tii wielded a well organized business community from the early 30's to the 50's. when he passed away in 1959, his funeral was a huge one. His own direct family consisted of well educated professionals and their wealth comes from banking, import and export, agricultural products like rubber. His son, Lau Pang Kwong is married to our third aunt, Aunt Pearl (Chuo Sieng). Third Aunt and Uncle Lau are parents to James , Judy ,Rosalind, Robert , William and Peter and Dolly Lau.

(The Lau Mansion built by Lau Kah Tii graced the riverine right bank of the Rajang River in Ensurai and was the envy of all the Foochows for a long time. I believe the timber frames are still standing and would still be worth a lot of money if vandals have not gotten them. - This would be a later story)

Uncle Lau later introduced my father to his own first cousin, Lau Hung Chuo. It was according to most people, love at first sight.

Thus, our Tiong Family tapestry, has a magnificient interwinning of threats and layers and layers of very complicated stories.

more stories later.


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