Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sibu's Wharf Labourers

The Foochow were the labour force of Brooke Rule and Colonial period Sibu ever since they came to Sarawak in 1901

Most of the Foochows were from poor farming background in Fuzhou, Fujian Province in China. When they came with Wong Nai Siong, most of them were virtually recruited as indentured labourers.

This need for good farming labourers in Sibu,Sarawak, though also an idea of the Second Rajah, coincided with the forced opening of the Treaty Ports in southern China and Britain’s annexation of Hong Kong in 1842 . The Rajah had apparently met Wong Nai Siong, accidentally in Singapore towards the end of the 19th century and they talked about the possibility of recruitment of a huge labour force for agricultural purposes in Sarawak.

In fact, according to historians the opening of Treaty Ports in China accelerated the migration of Chinese from southern China to Southeast Asia, Australia, the Pacific and the United States. Rajah Charles Brooke must have heard a great of good stuff about the Foochows. By another act of Providence, the Foochows also migrated to Sitiawan in Perak for a rice growing project.

In most historical accounts, the migration flow was organised and exploitative, with male Chinese signing on as indentured labourers. However, what was recorded in Sarawak by either the Foochows or the English was not in the least exploitative. It was all very amicable with Wong Nai Siong as a benevolent leader.

Although most of the Foochow pioneers were male, many women were brought in later to Sibu, especially when Rev Hoover who was appointed by Wong Nai Siong to take over from him not as Kang Chu (Head of the Pioneering Settlement) but as a leader. Rev. Hoover started schools for the boys and girls and a very strong Methodist mission. He was a benevolent, multi talented and visionary manager and brought in a lot of innovations like refrigeration, mechanization, modern medicine and propoer human resource management through education. He was also a good mediator between the Rajah and the Foochows. Hence, Sibu developed very rapidly with a vision and a mission.

Because the Foochows were very enterprising and hoping to make a fortune, they worked extremely hard in acquiring land and working long hours. In no time they were able to send money back to their home villages in China. They had Plan A and Plan B. For Plan A,they had hoped to make a fortune and return to China to marry, buy land and live as prosperous farmers. Some succeeded. And if they failed to do that, they had Plan B which was to live and die in Sibu. They would also have asked someone to help them find a bride from China.

By the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century Singapore was an important financial and commercial centre. It was a major trans-shipment port, where the products of Southeast Asia were collected, packaged and re-exported and from where the products of industrial Britain and Europe were distributed. Thus as Sibu developed, the Foochow community saw to it that they exported their agricultural products to Singapore. Pepper , juletong, and rubber were their best export items. Within twenty years, Sibu had a thriving inland harbour and a sizeable force of wharf labourers.

Many of the later batches of Foochows who arrived in Sibu became wharf labourers and they actually made a fortune. They occupied a very large area of land in Tung Sang Road in a huge house which was called the House of Wharf Labourers or Ka Koh Chuoh. Several families who were descendants of these wharf labourers are today very prominent to say the least.

These wharf labourers worked almost day and night to load and unload the ships which came to Sibu. Everything was done manually. They lifted goods with their bare shoulders and wiped their sweat with a piece of red cotton cloth. This piece of red cotton cloth towel was also a sign of their work. The cloth also could be tied around their head to keep the sun away or reduce their headaches.

Tied around their waist, the towels seemed to give them extra muscles to lift extremely heavy loads. Today, one can still see kung fu masters with such a piece of waist band. The towel also acted as a buffer between bare human skin and a rough load, which was usually a gunny sack of grains.

It was quite a sight to watch the wharf labourers working like ants, moving in single file up and down the plankwalks to the ships. And the heaving of the loads from the shoulders to the lorries was just amazing. I often saw as a child how much a trolley could carry, perhaps ten or fifteen gunny sacks of rice, to the supply shop, with just one wharf labourer pulling the trolley and two others pushing.

In those days, none of us every predicted the coming of containers, cranes, and lift forks. Life was just sheer human labour: muscle and sweat.

In 1952, the Wharf Labourers' Union Building was put up in Sibu sitting on a triangular piece of prime land, with two roads bordering it, thus giving it a very long shop front. It was then the tallest three story building in the town, perhaps even bigger than the then Foochow Association Building in Central Road.. What a pride it was! It is still there if one looks up one can still see the words engraved at the top of the building, with the year on it.

Kom Piang and the making of a fortune

It is round, it has a hole in the middle, it is hard ,crusty but easy to chew and the more you bite the more you will like it! It can roll on the floor, and you can string several together and eat them through out the day!

What is it??? It is the super bun or "piang" of the Foochows - Kom Piang. For several hundred years we Foochows have been enjoying this and the taste has been reported to have not changed. Its simplicity is its forte. However if you don't have the secret recipe, you can't make it.

You can get this in Sitiawan in Perak, West Malaysia and in Sibu, Sarawak.

These "flying saucer shaped" buns or piang had saved an area of Fujian from invading enemy troops many centuries ago. A Foochow general thought of a way to save his army and his people from these invaders . According to the legend, he invented the bun which was multi functional, versatile, easy to carry so that his army could carry and eat them easily.

The local population also benefitted from this newly invented bun. When the enemies attacked them, they were ready with their rations and no cooking was necessary for many days.

The bun was considered "indestructible" and whole region was saved from the barbarians coming in from the North. Ultimately the enemy was defeated.

The Foochows brought them to Sibu and Sitiawan in Perak when they settled in this part of the world in the early 1900's.

In our modern time, this flatted bun is stuffed with pork fillings and comes in many versions ; with sesame seeds, with hole and without and is best taken fresh from the oven . As befitting its awesome reputation it can be stored in a freezer for ages and reheated weeks/months later ( but strictly no microwave please). It can be strung with raffia or vegetative strings and hung over your shoulders and this will definetely make you look like an ancient warrior !

It must be properly stored or else it becomes rock hard and it has been known to kill a dog even.

Our family's best loved story related to kom piang is as follows:

Our old uncle Lau Nai Huat was a well known frugal rubber tapper. Each trip he made to Sibu to sell his rubber sheets and scraps, he would but 10 cents worth of kompiang and eat them (like potato chips) in the cinema where he would enjoyed a 60's movie,probably starring Lin Dai or Yu Ming. Every visit to the town then for him was a very frugal outing. He saved all his money for his sons and grand children.
In this way, he was able to save enough to invest in the timber industry later. And in no time he was a millionaire.

He was already a legend before he died. Indeed he lived a long and healthy life. He was also known to have very good dental health as he had a lot of chewing exercises with kompiang.

In later days, when we were young, we were told to be frugal like him and eat a lot of kompiang.

But nevertheless, kompiang is to the foochows what pizzas are to the Italians.

addtional note:

In 1562, the Japanese invaders infringed upon Fukien distinctly, Qi Jiguang received order to go into Fujian to destroy the enemy, got to complete victory greatly. Before the Qi's soldiers go in south, in order to made march quickly, they made into a round flat cake with the flour, dogged one bore in the center, the string hanged in the warriors' body, which were taken as the marched dry ration food. People of Fuzhou make copy competitively in order to be in honor of Qi's a signal feat, call it as the Guangbing, become a habit, become the favorite food of people of Fuzhou. When make the Guangbing use fried pot firstly, later change into the Tie stove, make the Guangbing be joss-stick, loose and delicious. The Hongshanqiao is a land-and-water transportation main route of Fuzhou, the friendly intercourse of persons are many, the price of Guangbing is low and it can bear hungry, so people who buy it are too many, supply falls short of demand every day, they make and sell at the same time, feel hot when hand over it, it is more welcome by buyers. So it spreads fame the far and near.

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall

The Story of "Buddha Jumps the Wall"

This is quite a popular dish in many non halal(serves pork) Chinese restaurants in Malaysia.

However its origin is in Fuzhou, China. It is definitely not something a Foochow housewife would cook at home as it is a very complicated and costly dish.

It is made of an assortment of materials: shark's fin, shark's lip, fish maw, abalone, squid, sea cucumber, chicken breast, duck chops, port tripe, pork leg, minced ham, mutton elbow, dried scallop, winter bamboo shoots, xiang gu mushrooms, and so on. These are seasoned and steamed separately and then put into a small-mouthed clay jar together with cooking wine and a dozen or so boiled pigeon eggs. The jar is covered and put on intense fire first and then simmered for some time on slow fire. Four or five ounces of Foochow Red Wine is added into the jar, which is kept simmering for another five minutes. Then the dish is ready.

The origin of the dish is explained by a local story. A Foochow scholar of the Qing Dynasty went picnicking with friends in the suburbs and he put all the ham, chicken, etc. he had with him in a wine jar which he heated over charcoal fire before eating. The attractive smell of the food spread in the air all the way to a nearby temple. It was so inviting that the monks, who were supposed to be vegetarians, jumped over the temple wall and partook heartily of the scholar's picnic. One of the party's participants wrote a poem in praise of the dish, of which a line reads: "Even Buddha himself would jump the wall to come over." Hence the name of the dish.

History of Yuk Ing Girls' School, Sibu

In 1913, Rev Hoover started Yuk Ing Girls' School in Sibu. The boys were sent to Bukit Lan, several miles down river where he had started a rice mill, a small mission and a new Anglo Chinese School school. This I heard was because he wanted the mission to help with expansion of rubber land and padi farm in Bukit Lan.

Actually the Anglo Chinese school was first started in 1903 in Sungei Merah and then it was moved to Sibu in 1905 when Rev Hoover acquired a bigger and better piece of land in Island Road.

In 1914, the construction of a new building for the school was started in Sibu. This became the beginning of the Sibu Methodist Primary School. It was at this time, the kindergarten was started. This idea of Methodist Kindergarter mooted then became the cradle of learning for the Foochows. Without this small beginning, Sibu would not have so many educated Foochows. Today, wherever a Methodist Church is started, a kindergarten is part and parcle of its development, and a great social service to the people around the church.

Reverend Hoover himself was the English teacher, while Mrs. Hoover was the Principal of Yu Ing Girls' School. Later the Hoovers were delighted to engage Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong, from Singapore, to come and teach English.

Probably due to the poverty, and the interruption of the First World War, the school was unable to help students graduate until 1935, when finally one batch was qualified to do so.

Grandfather Kung Ping, took the opportunity to send first his sister, Yuk Ging and then later all his daughters to the school. This only shows how much he valued education. Perhaps this was the beginning of how my family members became very academic in nature and remain very dedicated to the various fields of education.

Below is the list of all the graduates from 1935 to 1948. It is quite a list of achievers and pioneers!

First Batch of Junior School,graduated 1935

1. Tiong Yuk Ging(Sister of Tiong Kung Ping)
2. Tiong Lee Sieng(Lily)(eldest daughter of Tiong Kung Ping
3. Kiu Poh Chuo
4. Tiong Ing Ling
5. Wong Pick Chuo
6. Wong Ing Hung
7. Wong Siew Hua

\Second Batch graduated 1936
1. Wong Poh Ming
2. Tiong Nguk Sieng (Phyllis)(Second Daughter of Tiong Kung Ping)
3. Ling Suk Chiew
4. Ho Mee Ging
5. Lu Yu Nyuk

Third Batch graduated 1937
1. Luk Soon Ping
2. Tiong Ai Lang
3. Hii Chung Eng
4. Tiu King Ing
5. Ting Ai Kiew

Fourth Batch graduated 1938

1. Ling Nyuk Lang
2. Wong Pick Kiu
3. Yek Pick Huong
4. Tiong Teck Ming
5. Lau Su Ting
6. Wong Leh Ming
7. Wong Sui Ing
8. Ling Soon Hua
9. Ting Ping Yu
10. Tiong Chuo Sieng (Pearl)(Third Daughter)Mrs. Lau Pang Kwong
11. Kiu Poh Nguk
12. Ting Nuk Kiew
13. Lau Mee Hieng
14. Lau Hung Chong
15. Ling Nguk Hiong
16. Wong Leh Ming

Boys : 1. Ting Lik Kiu
2. Ting Lik How
3. Ling Beng Siew


1. Lu Kie Kee Third daughter-in-law of Tiong Kung Ping
2. Tiong Ging Sieng (Grace)(Fifth Daughter)
3. Tiong Ngiin Sieng
(fourth Daughter)
4. Ngu King Ing
5. Ngu King Ling
6. Ling How Ging
7. Ling Soon Hiong
8. Tiong Ing Lang

1947 (Junior Three)

1. Tiong Pick Lan
2. Luk Su Hua
3. Ling How Yew
4. Wong Siik Ngoh
5. Wong Nguok Chiiong
6. Tiong Pick Yu
7. Yii Nguk Ying
8. Ling Yu Hiong


1. Tiong Chiew Sieng (Seventh Daughter,Mrs. Sia Kia Ming)
2. Tang Nguk Lan
3. Tang Nguk Kui
4. Tiong Mee Ting
5. Sia Heng Yik
6. Wong Teck Ann
7. Sia Kie Ming(Seventh Son-in-law)
8. Yu Kie Mung
9. Tai Sing Chu (famed for The Spring - Kuching)

tie pian and Second Sister

This is a yellow, disc-shaped deep fried pan cake with meat and oyster stuffing. It has been popular for hundreds of years in China and was brought over to Sibu by the early Foochows led by Wong Nai Siong.

The skin of this cake is crispy and is made from a mixture of rice and soya bean which has been milled together (today in an electric blender and in olen days in the original stone mill)

Ni Mui or Second Sister pedalled an open trishaw to sell green bean soup, peanut soup, and porridge besides tie pian. She would be on the road from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. She had this business until her daughter graduated. Then later there was a tragic twist to her life.

If you lived in Sibu in the 60's you would not have missed this cheerful and enterprising lady. She should have been well honoured for her pioneering spirit!


1.Immerse rice, soybean respectively with the water for 3 hours to 4 hours.
2. Blend or mill the rice and soybean to form a thick batter. Add some peanut milk for good taste.
3. Add salt to taste
4. Mince pork for the stuffing.
5. Cut some spring onions
6. Chop some oysters or prawns and seasons to taste
7. Heat oil for deep frying
8. Dip a wrought iron ladle into the batter.
9. Fill half the spoon with the batter and add a bit of the meat, onions and oyst ers. Then cover the stuff with more batter.
10. Put the ladle in the middle of the hot oil and after a short while the pan cake will slide out of the ladle.
11. When golden turn the cake over and cook until the side is golden.
12. When both sides are golden in colour, the cake is ready to be taken out of the oil.
13. Drain well.
14. Serve as an excellent breakfast.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Radio Sarawak - At Your Request

As a secondary schoo student I was very mobile on my little Raleigh bicycle which cost my father less than a hundred Straits dollars at that time. I got it as a prize for having passed my Primary Six Entrance Examination.

It was a really proud moment to be on top of that bicycle and riding every where with it. It was freedom on two wheels!

I went every where with it, and also became a very significant member of the family because I could wheel purchases home for my mother , like ten katis of corn for the chickens or 15 katis of rice for the family. It was a good thing to be able to run chores for the family.

What I liked then was Saturday when I could listen to the small transistor radio which will broadcast At Your Request, a song request programmer led by famous radio DJs like Anthony Romanair . Lim Seng Guan also played a role as a news reader.

In the 50's and 60's Radio Sarawak played a very important role in the social life of the youths and the adults. There were three channels - English, Chinese and Malay. The Chinese programmes were similar to what are available in Chinese today. But the English programmes were all different.

Virtually all forms of popular music could be heard and the popular request programme also helped promote a lot of new songs and new vocalists. This in turn help the singing stars to promote their new movies.

Demographically at that time,the population was still young, and the baby boomers from the Second World War have become teenagers with some money to spend and Sarawak being under British rule English was the official language and the language of instruction. Hence the young indigenous , Malay and English educated Chinese would tune to the English radio and listen to all the English songs and English plays.

Radio programmers were trained in England and they had no problem getting their rapt audience to listen to them. Their songs (now called oldies) were played throughout the day, almost non stop. Records were being sold in the shops together with good turn tables. Transistor radios, which had just come on to the market were selling like hot cakes.

The hits became well known and even night clubs which sprang up at the same time were making the western singers ever more popular.

The songs appealed to young and old and they were easy and pleasing. The audience as a whole was not too selective or demanding. I remember an older teacher singing a song by young Cliff Richard and feeling very good about herself!! She was entertaining a group of Year Six pupils who were having a celebration party.

Everlasting country music

When the movies like The Magnificent Seven and the Good, The Bad and The Ugly hit the cinema in Sarawak, country music was born. We called them cowboy songs at that time. I think we never got tired of them because there is something very sentimental in country music which calls up a lot of nostalgia. People from 12 to 64 as they say, like country music. So Country Music has been with us since the 60's until today.....the popularity actually has not declined.

According to one music critic " Country music is a fundamental and foundational type of music. It sounds much the same today as it did in 1960. From time to time Country has ventured onto new ground musically, but listener backlash has always brought it back to the main stream. The sound of the music is dictated by the fans more than the artists themselves. Artistic self indulgence is generally not well accepted in Country music circles. The allure of new artists and new songs has been enough to keep the fans happy, old and young alike. There has been no need to change the basic nature of the music because it works so well. Any Country fan from 6 to 60 will think a new Randy Travis ballad is just right because he is doing Country as well as it can be done!"

The style so familiar to us all,it is recognized and respected everywhere.

So I would like to request a song by Hank Williams,"Your Cheating Heart" for my friends in Sibu....with a message, 'hope you enjoy it....and have a good weekend.....cheers."

Pulut Panggang and Life in Kampong Nyabor

Kampong Nyabor ,Kampong Hilir, Kampong Baru and Kampong Dato were the four Malay kampongs in the 50's and 60's Sibu.

My home was located behind Kampong Nyabor and I had a great time growing up amongst the Malays, who were my neighbours. They were at best the real neighbours any one could have at any time. My mother employed Kak (we never know her real name because she was Kak or sister to us all her life) as our washerwoman (BWM - before washing machine). And she too ironed our father's well starched khaki shorts using the charcoal iron (yes, BE - Before electricity).

She had great skills in ironing as she would burn the charcoal first and then fill the iron carefully. And then like a skilled swordswoman she would place the iron on top of the banana leaf to give the iron base a smooth run on the clothes she would iron. To this day I love the smell of the scorched banana leaves and the sourish aroma of the newly ironed well starched cotton shirts and shorts. Today whenever I make some starch for art work, I would think of Kak and her days with us. I continue to use a banana leaf whenever I iron my clothes. The wax from the leaves also cleans the base of the iron .

I liked to see her coming to our house, barefooted on the planks which linked her her house to our house and she would call out, "Nya! Nya!" (My mum was the Nya - short for Nyonya). It was such an endearing term and I cannot get it out of my head.This way of calling out a neighbour is a thing of the past. As today, most people use door bells or the handphone to announce their arrival.

She had the greatest smile I can remember. Besides I always liked her sarong and her nice scarf.Some how young girls dev elop their feminine touch by observing their elders and the more observant they are the more they will learn. Perhaps I asked too many questions too and she used to chase me away..."Go away, I have to iron your father's shirts..." But I did try my best not to get on her nerves. And we would laugh together.

Why she never married, we would never know. But we also noticed that her sister and her brother (Abang Koh) were also not married. Only one of their aunts married and had children and grand children. When Kak and her siblings passed away, they left behind quite a big piece of commercial land which was at the head of the kampong. What happened to the property I would never know now as we lost touch when the younger members of the family moved away to the new kampong as the town elders started to redevelop the kampong land and resited the kampong.

When my father was alive, he and Abang Koh would have their kopi-o in the nearby coffee shop and talk about local politics. And when the Malay Union Club had their Bangsawan my father would bring me and my brother and sisters to play tikam . Father had won some water canisters and glasses in this game of chance. Whether he enjoyed taking us to the local Malay theatre, I would never know.

But I developed a great liking for drama from that little staging of local Malay theatre in the Malay Union Club which was just about 100 metres from my home. It was truly the centre of social life for the Malays at that time.

One other great love of my life was pulut panggang. Pulut panggang was savoury glutinous rice rolled up in banana leaf and grilled over charcoal fire. It is really delicious to a young Chinese girl who had very little other snacks at that time. Today children are spoilt by the array of snacks, tid bits and other food in the supermarkiet. Life in Sibu at that time was slow paced and most of us waited for pedlars, vendors to come by our homes. Some of them walked from house to house, others cycled.

A little Malay boy would come to the house to sell his pulut panggang in the afternoons,carrying all the rolled rice in a little rattan basket covered with a little towel to keep the rice warm. And my mother would always buy some. Sometimes we would bring them to school the next day if we had some left over.

Pulut Panggang made in Sibu is always the best. The right amount of coconut milk... the best of the pulut or glutinous rice is used... and even the banana leaves must be quite special.

I like the lidi (coconut pick) used but not the staples that the more modern Malay cooks use to staple the coconut leaf and seal the rice in the roll.Staple pins can be quite illusive as I have known a lot of people who had swallowed them by mistake. One cannot swallow a lidi by mistake.

This special rolled rice is best cooked over a good open charcoal fire. And without this charcoal fire, pulut panggang will not have the "original" flavour and taste.

Some how , we always long for things of the past. And Pulut Panggang from Kampong Nyabor is still the best in my mind. I believe that many people would say a good name for pulut panggang would be Nyabor Pulut Panggang.

Miss Trade Fair and Luncheon Meat

Can you still remember the most famous Miss TRade Fair of Sibu?

She is Miss Wong Hie Eng, now, the sister in law of YB Datuk Teng Lung Chi.

When ever I meet her and her husband, Lung Ta, I would suddenly remember what great times we had, and what sadness we carried during that time.

All of us would go and vote for her by putting our entrance tickets into her ballot box. My little brother used to say that when he grew up he wanted to marry the Miss Trade Fair, sister Hie Eng! Such child like innocence.

Lots of my friends would rally around by voting for her. And she would sit there at the corner very prettily and sweetly. She looked like Lin Dai actually, with her big eyes and well, very huge buoffant French hair style, called the Bee Hive style. She was really lovely to look at. When later she found the love of her life and a well educated graduate, we were really happy for her.

My father passed away suddenly in 1967 and the trade fair was frequently held in 1968,1960 and 1970. This method of promoting businesses and goods was really quite excellent at that time. This was also before the curfew time in Sibu. So movement of people was quite free when the Trade Fairs were organised.

First of all, we children enjoyed the free music from the stalls which tried to out do each other, blasting their loudspeakers to the maximum. The loudness actually hurt our ear drums a lot and many of us would come out of the trade fair quite dizzy and even disorientated. We learned about the famous singers like Liew Chia Chang, and Chai Ching,etc. However as I went to English school at that time, I was not too familiar with the Chinese singers, although I really liked the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. However my family did not have a turn table, so I did not buy any of those 45 or 33 rpm black vinyl discs like every body else.

When I started teaching temporarily at the Methodist School in 1969 I used my first month's salary, with my mother's permission, to buy a fairly decent turn table. That had pride of place in my house for many years. And like any youth, I stuck to the turn table, playing "Flaming Star", "Ever Green Tree" over and over again.

Secondly, we as a family enjoyed buying all the special offers given out by the stall owners, especially the firm owned by a Mr.Louis Wong. They were the sole importer of China goods, with Ma Ling as the leading brand.

I would always remember how each of my siblings and I would queue up to buy Ma Ling Luncheon Meat as each customer was allowed to buy two tins only. So each time we went to the Trade FAir all six of us would queue up , thus ending up with a dozen of luncheon meat. We looked quite a forlorn group of kids, having just lost our father, the sole bread winner of the family.

I remember having luncheon meat steamed, fried, mixed with vegetables, cooked in porridge, fried with rice,luncehon meat sandwiches,luncheon meat with eggs and a few hundred other dishes for those first few years of our fatherless existence. My mother was the ever resourceful and hardworking Foochow woman. Nothing was ever too daunting to her. She was really wonderful in the sense that we could have the best of food which she could create from just very ordinary ingredients like egss, peanuts and luncheon meat. However,today, I still like my occasional luncheon meat as it is just so good!! It has become a comfort food for myself and my children.

Sometimes, some good things will come out of tragedies. Luncheon meat is one of the good things in my tragedy- laden life.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kwan Shan - and romantic movies of the 60's

I was in my teens and movies were the only exciting thing to do then apart from going to school. I had a lot of opportunities to watch movies because my maternal grandmother was a movie fan. She watched The Beauty and the Kingdom starring Lin Dai and Chao Lei 63 times!

In the 50s and 60s, Kwan Shan was THE leading man in most romance movies that came out of Hong Kong.I remember him most of all because not only did he enjoy the special distinction of being the first Hong Kong actor to win the Best Actor Award at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, he also had very good media image as a good man.

And he was connected to a novella that is held dear to me and my father.That film, Kwan Shan's debut movie, was The True Story of Ah Q (1958). At that time, the actor was in the employment of the Great Wall Film Company.

The Story of Ah Q was based on a novel by Lu Shun. It is about a man who accepts everything that life throws at him - the good, the bad and the very ugly. It's a great story.

In a way, Kwan Shan was really lucky to land that role. Of course, the fact that he was also a great actor helped a lot.

Kwan Shan was born in 1933 in China. When civil war broke up in China in the 1940s, Kwan Shan emigrated to Hong Kong. There, in the British colony, he found work as a worker in an iron foundary.He laboured at his job for five months before he got his break in the acting industry. When his second film, The Nature of Spring, came along in 1958, Kwan Shan met his soul mate. She was Chang Ping-Sie, and she was his co-star in the movie.

They married in 1960. Three years later, in 1963, their daughter Rosamund was born.

If Kwan Shan's fame in the Chinese movie industry could be attributed to any particular film, it would be Love Without End.

The movie which moved Kwan Shan's popularity was also responsible for immortalising Asia's movie queen Lin Dai in the cinematic hall of fame.

Kwan Shan went on to make several more hit movies like Vermillion Door, The Blue and the Black, Farewell, My Love and Love Eterne (with Betty Loh Ti and Ivy Ling Po).

The actor's shining star began to lose its lustre by the mid-70s. However, in the 80s, he continued to make sporadic appearances in movies like Dream Lover, Police Story II, A Better Tomorrow II, Lady in Black, and Executioners.

Kwan Shan acted in a total of 51 movies before he called it a day at the studios. These days, actors will be proud to announce that they acted in about four movies in a year.

Back in Kwan Shan's days, actors normally acted in about two or three movies simultaneously. And the wages were nothing to shout about either.

According to records, Kwan Shan's last movie was Wonder Seven, back in 1994. At that time, he was already 61 years old.

His movie career stretched over 36 years. An outstanding record of professionalism by any standards.

Kwan Shan's long career in acting is matched by few of his peers. The fact that he had his heyday is something to look back with pride.

Not many Hong Kong actors have so many golden opportunities and that many lucky breaks like him.And not many actors would be remembered so well by their Asian fans.

I would always remember him as I shed so many tears in the darkened cinemas of Rex, Lido, Cathay and Palace of Sibu.

And if the Internet could supply more information about him, I would gladly read it.

But gone are the days when we girls would rush to the cinema for a good session of carthasis (/Greek origin)

ASnd whenever I see a DVD from Shaw Brothers, the first thought I would have would be of my wonderful she smelled with the scent of ylang ylang in her hair.

taiwan singers in Sibu nightclubs

The timber boom brought in a lot of changes to Sibu and its hinterland.

The motor launches were always full of passengers coming to Sibu and on the return journey, all of them would be very low into the river as they would be full of goods, tinned stuff, animals, machinery, grains or animal feed, and occasionally even a refrigerator which would be the envy of every passenger!!

Giggling girls wearing western dresses, some already having very pretty ribbons and permed hair and wearing high heels, mingled with older ladies wearing samfoo and low heeled leather shoes. Times were really changing.

The young men would have their hair well combed with a bit of curl tipping down their foreheads in the style of Elvis Presley. Many of them wore white trousers and colourful printed shirts (called Hawaii Shirts). Every so often they would take the small comb from the back of their trousers and comb and pull their hair. A bit vain, I reckon. But they were actually the same the world over.

Yes, I remember their very pointed shoes, so well polished that they glistened in the sun.

In the midst of this social change, the town was invaded by Taiwanese singers and nightclubs mushroomed almost overnight. The nightclub singers wore beautiful gowns and they were extremely fair skinned. As they crooned away in songs made popular by Bai Kwang, Ger Lang, Teng Li Chun, the local Foochow men boozed in expensive XO and drank themselves silly.

Women's groups went to see some community leaders to get rid of the Vixens (as the night club singers were called). But little could be done.

Men were already buying big cars, and Mercedes Benz came a little later. Swanky older men, wore white trousers and Hawaii shirts, permed their hair, and bought huge jade rings to decorate their fingers. To top it all, they bought and wore thick gold chains and bracelets, and of course, very strong perfume.

They were betting against each other who could pay the highest fee for the best looking Taiwanese singer.

So many of the Foochow men actually lost their mind.

A piece of Kutien history

There is no dispute that competiton amongst your own people can be either healthy or unhealthy. Thus the conflict between the Foochow Min Ching people and the Kutien seemed to have goaded the two groups into a competitiveness that has survived until today. It might have be reinforced by the political initiatives led by several Kutien and Min Ching community leaders inadvertently.

Clan feelings some time ago could be so deep that a Min Ching girl would not marry a Kutien boy. Parents when they called out the match makers would make sure that this was a condition to be known. Perhaps it was also this little gnawing disdain that prevented my immediate relatives from choosing a partner fromthe Kutien community. But then,I would never know.

Kutien history is fairly well documented towards the end of the Imperial Government in China. Here is a famous excerpt:

The Vegetarian Outrage of 1895*

This is a semi-fictional reconstruction of the Kucheng (Kutien) massacre on August 1, 1895, later seen as the first precursor of the Boxer Rebellion. See further note at end of text.

It was a steamy summer evening in the South China hills. They had walked out from the bungalows at Huasang, along a narrow little path on the side of the mountain, till they came to an open space looking over the valley. Stands of tall bamboo on the nearest slopes were touched by the setting sun which turned the tips of each branch into golden feathers. They were at the midpoint of an amphitheatre of great peaks, wrapped in soft purple shadow as the light receded. Far-down below through the foothills, the town of Kucheng sat next to the river with a pagoda on a small hill beside. The missionaries pointed out to their children, far in the distance, the silver band of the river, the little wood next to the mission compound beside it, and the paved track through the villages and the paddy fields which led eventually up to their holiday retreat here in the mountains.

Some distance from the town, over towards the hills on the other side, was a temple perched on a small crag. That evening they could hear, across the valley, the sound of flutes and drums, and just see the stage for opera performers.

“Don’t they make such an awful screeching sound?”, said Topsy Saunders. “I know my head would ache if I was down there. They go on in such an utterly stupid way.!”

“Never mind about your headache,” said Nellie Saunders severely to her sister. “Think of those poor sinners worshipping idols in their ignorance. You should be blaming Satan, not the noise.”

Robert Stewart, the senior missionary in the group, moved away from his own family and from the sisters, walking along the bluff to exchange a few words with Mr Thomas, a young recruit to Fukien province also on summer furlough at Huasang.

“There must be several hundred of them down there,” he murmured, “Vegetarians and riff-raff. We are lucky to be well away from town. The magistrate is weak-kneed and will do nothing.”

Topsy caught a snatch of what he said. “We’re not afraid of them,” she cried out cheerfully. “We think they are silly old Vegetables, don’t we, Nellie?”

Nellie looked stern and Mr Thomas cleared his throat, as he always did before speaking – it made Topsy giggle. “There is no call to be afraid, young ladies. You have menfolk to protect you and I venture to count myself in that number.”

Herbert, the young Stewart boy, fidgeted and tugged his father’s hand. “Papa, papa! Ah Cheng says they have spears, and swords, and they can talk to spirits, and they can smash stones with their hands!” He chopped the air sideways with excitement.

“They are heathens,” said his father not unkindly, “and we must pray for them tonight.” His wife shivered and pulled her shawl closer around the baby. “The air is getting damp. We must go back now to the house.”


The opera stage had been built out on a raft of bamboo poles over a steep drop in front

of the temple. Two performers with rouged faces and fans were carrying on a comic cross-talk, accompanied by a pair of clappers, but no one paid much attention. On the dusty ground between the stage and the temple, iron braziers filled with pitch-soaked reeds had been placed in a rough circle. Four young men were limbering up, snapping their muscles and kicking their legs in the air.

A dozen or more older men, barefoot but with heads wrapped in red kerchiefs, squatted to one side, talking quietly among themselves. Outside the circle a crowd of local peasants, including a few from the village of Huasang, also squatted in a restless way. "We've waited since noon for the magic," one of them shouted out as the darkness fell. "So far we haven't seen a fart!"

As if waiting for this cue, one of the older men stood up revealing himself at least a head higher than anyone else on the scene. Two of the others leapt up, ran to one side and came back with a large flagstone which they propped against the side of the stage.

The tall man threw off his loose shirt and paraded carelessly around the circle, practising a few kick-jumps which made the peasants recoil. "What are you afraid of, stupid dolts?" he muttered and then declared, more loudly: "You have waited since noon? I have waited till dusk when the Spirit comes down from heaven."

He completed the circle, then casually launched a kick at the side of the stage, as if taking aim. The entire structure swayed on its bamboo supports: the two performers stopped in mid-sentence, and leapt to the ground.

He kicked again, this time hitting the flagstone with one heel. There was a moment of suspense, and then with a loud crack it split jaggedly into two pieces and keeled over.

Very quickly he then lay down, and his two colleagues picked up the two pieces, stacking them on his chest. One produced a mallet from under the stage and smashed it down twice onto the stones which shattered into smaller pieces.

The tall man underneath seemed unaffected: they lifted off the pieces and he stood up, spitting into the nearest brazier. "Tonight we shall do great things," he announced, "and those who dare can join us. Those who do not dare, go back to your wives and your pigs."


Huasang was the missionaries' summer retreat -- they called it the Sanatorium -- but it was still oppressively hot. Every day Nellie rose early to study Chinese, complaining after only an hour’s work she felt like a “boiled owl”. For their constitutionals, they wore pith helmets and carried umbrellas lined with waxed paper but suffered badly. Another young lady from England, who had claimed to have “the constitution of a crocodile”, was soon worn down. There were black rings around her eyes and she could not talk on almost any subject without beginning to cry. It was still better, said Nellie, than being “steamed alive” down in Kucheng..

That evening Mr Thomas had changed for dinner into a lightweight linen suit: he was sweating heavily as he climbed the small incline from the native house in the village where he was staying up to the two houses. He brought with him, wrapped in a leaf, a small handful of wild strawberries. Far away he could hear the gongs and clappers from the opera stage. The path was dark, but he knew the way, winding up the side of the hill with some scrubby bushes and undergrowth on the left. When he reached the first of the two bungalows near the top he rapped on the door where five women missionaries of the Zenana Missionary Society were staying.

"Good evening, young ladies, may I escort you to dinner?", he said, bobbing his head in a slight bow.

"We would feel ever so much safer if you did, Mr Thomas", said Hettie from Ireland, and and ran off laughing to fetch the others.

They walked the few steps to the next house, where Nellie and Topsy were staying with the Stewarts, and stepped directly onto the verandah. Ah Cheng, in a white jacket, handed round glasses of cold water mixed with syrup. Then they went into dinner: Mr Thomas took in Topsy and the English lady with rings round her eyes linked arms with Nellie.

"Let us pray," said Mr Stewart. "Lord, may we be thankful for what we are about to be eat, and may we be given the strength to continue our labours. We know that Satan rages but we know better still that God reigns. Lord, save our Chinese brothers and sisters in darkness and may we learn to do Thy work better. Amen".

They sat down and began to eat: it was a simple meal. Tomorrow was Herbert's birthday and the best food was being saved for the breakfast table. Mr Thomas had only joined them from his outpost in the next valley three days before. It was his first year in China and Mr Stewart encouraged him kindly to tell something of his tale.

He had just qualified as a surveyor in London, when one Sunday he walked by the China Inland Mission on Stoke Newington Green. He saw the placard: "Jesus needs you, by Dr J. Hudson Taylor, lately in China: All welcome. Refreshments will be served." After a magic lantern show, titled "from God's battlefront", Hudson outlined his grand plan of campaign. If one thousand men and women volunteered for service, and each one preached to six thousand Chinese every year, every Chinese family would hear God's word by the end of the century.

Thomas was inspired and inscribed his name on the register that same evening. Six months later he was on his way with passage paid. "I answered God's call", he finished, "and I have felt better for it ever since. My health is also much improved. The fog in north London troubled my chest dreadfully in the winter".


That evening while Topsy played Happy Families with Mr Thomas and the Stewart children, Nellie wrote home to her mother in Melbourne. "My darling Petsy," she began, as she had started every letter since the sisters had left their comfortable red-brick home two years before.

"We came up to Huasang yesterday in chairs. It was a very nice trip up, quite cool till about ten o'clock and then not so bad, as we had got a little higher. One old scamp of a coolie tried to make the children walk. He argued fearfully but in the end I got my way.

"We had to walk when we got to the last stairs up the mountain. They are called liang and are especially terrible. When I got to the top I sank expiring into my chair. The coolies were sympathetic but inexorable."

"The Stewarts are staying in the Church Missionary Society House -- mud and wood shanty would be a better name for it. There is a verandah along the front and two fair-sized rooms behind, and then little rooms at the back.

Did I tell you that Mr Stewart is a grandson of the Duke of Wellington? He does not like it to be mentioned.

This time we are staying with the Stewarts but usually we stay next door in the Kuniong's precincts -- you remember, the Kuniongs are the Misses. There is a nice-sized room with folding doors always kept open, and bedrooms six in number. Each has a little comfortable bed, table, chest of drawers and a bamboo chair. There are five other Kuniong there now.

We had to leave Kucheng not only to escape the heat but because of the Vegetables: hundreds are there under pretence of seeing the theatre. The Vegetables have the upper hand with the Mandarin, and they like people to know it. But I am sure you will not have a particle of fear for us. Pray instead for those poor darkened souls in bondage to the devil.

Dear Petsy, let me cheer you up with something more amusing. Mr Thomas would dearly like to become Topsy's beau: he is short and not hugely good-looking but in these parts que voulez-vous. But every time we look at him we remember the tale they tell about him in Foochow.

It is said that when he came from England, he proposed to a mission lady after they had passed through the Suez Canal. Because he was so shy, he did it in writing. And at the end of the letter he asked her, if her answer was unfavourable, to help him in approaching another young lady on board!!!"


After three hands of Happy Families, the children were sent to bed and Mr Stewart said he would accompany the new arrival back to the village.

"I wished to warn you to take particular care," he said as soon as they went outside. "I know for a fact that some of the local villagers support the Vegetarians: you should be on your guard at night: sleep with a stick at your side."

"Surely", asked Mr Thomas, " those who claim to be Vegetarians will not kill human beings if they will not even eat from the animal kingdom?"

"I fear that is too simple a view. The diet is a discipline which binds the society's members together when they have taken a secret oath. They are opposed to opium smoking as well as to eating flesh -- and blame us foreigners, not without reason, for bringing in the noxious drug."

Mr Stewart hesitated, and then went on. "There are more particular reasons too for their hostility here around Kucheng. Last year there was a dispute in a village between the Vegetarians and a man who hung the Ten Commandments in his house. The tale is too intricate to explain to you now, but I took the case up and four of the Vegetarian leaders were arrested. Their followers then threatened the magistrate and the four were released. Since then they have become more arrogant: I have already reported the facts to the British consul in Foochow, but he is a weak reed and will do nothing. "

By this time they had reached the little village: the two men paused for a moment at the sound of a distant shout in the valley, then bid each-other goodnight.


Mr Stewart was right: the Tsaihui -- or Vegetarians -- had attracted a good measure of local support. For several weeks placards with the words "officials oppress and the people rebel" had appeared in Kucheng town without being taken down: at the least, it showed that the "rebels" had friends among the gentry. Some soldiers had been sent from Foochow, but they stayed within the city limits and no one was arrested. Someone else came from Foochow -- the fortune teller Cheng Chiu-chiu, a man of the people but able to write poetry who let his finger-nails grow long. Later there came also a message from the White Lotus secret society saying that the time had come for action.

On the night of July 30, 1895, more than a hundred people "dared to join" the Tsaihui at the opera stage overlooking the valley, hangers-on and regular braves mixed up together. Most were poor peasants, but there also some coolies, charcoal burners, noodle makers, and one man dressed as a Buddhist priest.

Many had had their fortune told by Cheng: he always gave the same advice. They suffered from an ill fate which could only be averted if the foreigners were killed. "Have they not already poisoned you with opium, stolen your babies, brought foreign goods into the shops and taken your livelihood away? Now is the time to kill, to burn and plunder -- but make sure that you bring back all the goods to be shared out equally". The band took a solemn oath: "If I am faithless, let me be burned alive or drowned or pulled apart by wild horses".

Late in the evening they marched for Huasang, behind a flag bearing the characters "the dragon will conquer the foreigners' god". Timid militiamen in a village on the way, peeping from their wooden fort, counted nearly two hundred on the move -- but many of those marching had second thoughts and slipped back to town.

When they came near Huasang they doused their torches and entered the village where their friends had prepared boiled water. Cheng rinsed his mouth, spat out, and repeated his order. Without any attempt at concealment, they ran raggedly up the hill, led by Cheng who waved a red flag.


The two Stewart girls, Kathleen and Mildred, had got up early to pick flowers for Herbert's birthday from a little mound behind the houses. "Look, Milly", she called out. "There are ever so many dang-dang men coming up the hill". The dang-dang men were the local porters who carried bamboo poles. Milly, a year older, had sharper eyes: "Those are spears in their hands, Kathie," she cried. "Quick, we must run back to Mama."


Mr Thomas, sleeping in his "native house", had heard shouting which he thought at first was the children at play. Yet it sounded too loud for that, and he remembered Stewart's advice. For some minutes he shut his eyes, hoping that the worrisome sound would disappear. There was more shouting: he got up and carefully dressed.


Nellie and Topsy were woken by three men with trident spears who tipped their beds over and dragged them out. Nellie was stabbed immediately and collapsed at the door. Topsy was marched outside and surrounded by several more men.

"Walk ! Walk!" they shouted at her, " tell us where you have hidden gold!"

"We have no gold," she replied: " there is money in the bedroom. Go and take it." Angry, one of the braves dug a spear into her. She was marched too and fro and asked more questions. At every answer, she was stabbed again.


Most of the band had rushed past the lower house in their excitement: a servant there burst into the two rooms where the five Kuniong were sleeping. "Quick, the Vegetarians have come and are beating people," he cried. "Quickly leave and hid on the hill." He tried to drag them out, but the Kuniong shut their doors upon him for privacy while they put on their day clothes.

Minutes were lost while they dressed: some of the band returned and caught the five Kuniong climbing out of the back windows. They were immediately surrounded and ropes produced to bind them.

"May we fetch our umbrellas? The sun will be too hot," said one of the Kuniong -- probably the English girl with dark eyes.

"We can give you money: we have done you no wrong -- do not kill us", said another Kuniong.

There was a pause. Some of the villagers had followed and were watching: one old man stepped forward. "Take their money and let them live, otherwise you will make great trouble for yourselves and for us," he urged.

The men hesitated, and looked back at the upper house which some of their comrades had started to loot. At this moment Cheng returned still waving his red flag: "You have your orders: kill everyone!" He struck the first blow, almost severing the English girl's head.


Kathleen and Millie hid in a bedroom, were discovered and whacked about but survived. So did little Evan. Herbert was badly wounded: he would die later. So would the baby, stabbed in one eye. His nurse was killed on the spot. No one knows how the Stewart parents died: their bodies were burnt when the house was set on fire.


Mr Thomas had finally dressed and stepped outside: the village was deserted except for several mules in the shade of the sloping thatch. The sound of shouting had grown louder: he knew something was very wrong and walked slowly up hill, wondering at his own calm. A villager whom he did not recognise ran towards him and pulled him to one side with a shout: "they are killing people!" He continued more cautiously, working his way through the bushes to within 20 or 30 yards of the houses.

"Here I could see everything and appeared not to be seen at all", he would record later in his written account of the tragedy. By that account, he saw very little and to come out of his hiding would have meant "certain death". A retreat horn was sounded, the main house was fired, and the Vegetarians withdrew crying out repeatedly "now all the foreigners are killed". Afterwards all was action, finding the wounded, stemming the blood with old calico and cold water rags, sending for the magistrate from Kucheng, organising the bearers to carry the dead and living to the Min River, there to board a steam launch for Foochow.

In his statement, Mr Thomas showed only one brief emotion. "Had they (the Kuniongs) been able to escape into the brushwood round, there seems little doubt they might have been saved. The great misfortune was that only two were dressed." Who knows what more might he have written in his private diary. An admission of doubt that this terrible deed was permitted by "Him without Whom not even a sparrow falls to the ground?" Or perhaps a confession of weakness?


A week later an Indignation Meeting was held in Shanghai by the China Association: the Astor Hall was packed. Those who attended must truly be in earnest, said the North-China Herald, "who will give up the Gardens, the cool breeze, and the Band, when the day's work is done, to sit crowded in a hot hall, and listen to speeches from men whom they meet every day."

There were fierce speeches denouncing this latest Outrage by Chinese which must, said every speaker, have been instigated by the fertile brains of anti-foreign Mandarins. But the greater wrath was directed at the home governments and especially the one in London. In the past they had failed to take effective action to impress on China the gravity and heinousness of its crimes. The officials were laughing in their sleeves: this time there must be no more humbugging, but Prompt and Vigorous Action.

Protests were made and various Vegetarians were eventually executed. One matter still had to be cleared up. "Refined and delicate ladies have been brutally massacred in cold blood," the Rev Hykes had told the Astor Hall in a thunderous speech, "and God only knows that horrors preceded their murder." Later it was concluded that the reports about torture and worse indignity were "without foundation." When Kathleen saw Topsy being prodded with spears, she must have been mistaken. The others too died without being mutilated: that was a comfort indeed.


Mr Thomas married another young lady from the Zenana Missionary Society a few months later: within three years he had died of a fever.

NOTE: I have relied heavily on the letters home by Nellie and Topsy Saunders, edited by D M Berry and published as The Sister Martyrs of Ku Cheng (London: James Nisbet & Co., n.d.). The origins of the Tsaihui (Caihui) or Vegetarians and their reasons for staging the Kucheng massacre have been carefully researched by Mary Backus Rankin in "The Ku-t'ien Incident (1895): Christians versus the Ts'ai-Hui", Papers on China: XV (1961), pp. 30-61 (Harvard University, East Asian Research Center).

Kucheng is modern Gutian, a three hour bus ride from Foochow (Fuzhou) in Fukien (Fujian) province. I visited there briefly in 1998, and walked past a new reservoir to a temple in the valley, with an out-jutting opera stage. From there I looked up at the encircling hills where the missionaries used to retreat to Huasang (Huashan). The mission buildings and the city wall of Kucheng have disappeared: there were not yet taxis in the streets, but there were new smart restaurants and hair salons.

The failure of the missionaries to understand Chinese resentments at their presence is reflected in almost everything they wrote and said. So is their goodwill, their self sacrifice, and their obstinacy. The only name I have changed, and whose character I have imagined, is that of the young missionary, Mr Thomas in my account, who watched from the hillside. It would be unfair to invest him by his real name with my own speculations. His bare narrative was published in the North-China Herald, August 9, 1895, and we can only guess at what more or less he may have seen or done. Today, as a century ago, everyone who visits or works in China remains a watcher of some kind, even with the best of intentions.

* This story was originally published in Rachel May & John Minford eds., A Birthday Book for Brother Stone: for David Hawkes, at Eighty (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2003), pp. 133-45.

Building Peace - K.A.B

Picture shows my grandfather in his langkau before the brickyard was completed in Sg. Aup. My grandfather's last pioneering endeavour - brick making. Kiong Ang Brickyard was the first Sibu mechanized brickyard

Arriving in Sibu with Wong Nai Siong in 1901, with very little in his pocket, my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping, was eager to make his dream come true. He had been told by a Fuzhou street fortune teller that he had to go to Nanyang where his fortune would be made. Indeed, he rolled up his sleeves, he walked the marshes, he camped in the jungles, he got lost in the depths of the swamps looking for jelutong. He did almost everything the new pioneers did. He cleared the land for his rubber trees, he slashed hillslopes for his banana trees.

In 1911, because he was already one of the business leaders of Sibu, he was appointed by Reverend Hoover to pioneer in the opening up of lands for Foochows in Bintangor (Binatang)with several other Foochow leaders like Yao Siew King, under a new grant by the Second Rajah. He expanded his land acquisition in Bintangor and built another rice mill called Mee Ang (Beautiful Peace) at the confluence of Binatang River and Rejang River. Our family still owns this piece of land.

By 1935, he had acquired large tracts of rubber land in Sungei Merah, started rice mills in Bukit Lan and an ice mill called Hua Hong Ice Factory (Chinese Prosperity and Honour) across the river from Sibu.

During the Japanese Occupation the family found a haven in Sungei Bidut,living amongst my grandfather's cousins, Tiong Kung Chiing and Tiong Kung Liing. However he continued courageously to operate his ice mill and rice mill to help the fishermen and farmers. He and several others under the leadership of Wong King Huo, formed a taskforce to protect the Foochow Methodists from the atrocities of war and even lifted the banning of Snday Worship by the Japanese. the Special Task Force planned and strategized well to negotiate with the terrifying Japanese Imperial Army to be ceded that important allowance for freedom of workship. It also looked after the welfare of the pastors and missionaries during that time. Methodist evangelism continued to be carried out by pastors like Rev. Ho Siew Leong.

It was during this war period that he showed great love for his children, especially my father who was wrongly accused of being a western spy by the Japanese. My father was inprisoned and my grandfather used his influence as one of the Chinese headmen to have my father released. Grandfather was a very peaceloving man and would fight for that peace and freedom to live in peace.

He humbly went to find a Mr.Lu who could speak and write Japanese to write an introductory letter to the Japanese Commandant to explain about the status of my father, his education and his role as a "teacher", which was why he had so many books and English black vinyl records in the house.

I believe, rather painfully, that my father was tortured in the cell by the Japanese soldiers. This according to many relatives and friends led to my father's premature death. My grandfather was very heartbroken by the arrest of his oldest son,my father, so he went to great lengths to help my father get a release, which he did, and to the applause of the Sibu Foochows.

My grandfather continued to acquire greater wealth in the subsequent years. He started the Hock Hua Bank with a few other Foochow headmen but decided to sell out after some disagreement with management styles.

He had by then built a very nice mansion for himself in Sungei Merah, on top of a hill a little further in from the Kwong Ann Primary School. My grandfather was a man of good taste. His garden had beautiful bouganvilleas and ylang ylang (bai yu lan) besides alamanda and new fruit trees. He believed in growing guavas, and durians. And one of his favourite was the precious and sweet mu tong bamboo shoots. On the shoulders of the hill owned by my grandfather were a few acres of banana trees which supplied a lot of fruits the whole year through.

This was home to my uncles and aunties. And every year, on the first day of Chinese New year, we would visit grandpa and grandma, and received our New Year Red Packets almost reverrently. Visiting my esteemed grandfather was like visiting a Lord who was holding court. It was all very big family kind of occasion,with photograph taking and small chat. The ladies would be wearing their wide skirts with wired under skirts which held up the skirts for the more fashionable aunts.

And naturally, when the tight mini skirts came in, my aunts wore their tight mini skirts too. So Chinese new year was like a fashion parade too.

The gentlemen were more sedate and serene. They wore their white shirts and trousers. My grandfather's favourite was a white long sleeved shirt and a good pair of loose grey tailored trousers. I would always remember that he wore very good black leather shoes which Aunty Yong, our adopted aunt, would polish until they shimmered in the sun. The neck tie was part of good grooming of that time. At grandfather's birthdays, all the uncles would sport a tie. When they wore their sunglasses, they looked very handsome , suave and western.

My grandfather was a great visionary when he acquired a large tract of land alongside the Igan River just below Bukit Aup. He started a huge modern , mechanised brickyard . With brand new machinery from England, he, my father and my uncles started a new industry for Sibu. At that time, bricks were just beginning to be used for construction and slowly wooden buildings were making way for concrete ones. This was the beginning of concrete housing in the history of Sibu.

It was a family pride to recognise my grandfather's hardworking model of a Foochow and that he was solely in charge of this brickyard until his death in 1963.

He had called his new company, Building Peace or Kiong Ann. Peace and harmony had always been his greatest values as a very stern man who instil patience, discipline, good management and honesty in his family. Though he was a man of few words, he had exuded great sincerity and congeniality in his public relations with others especially amongst the less endowed.

Women and Feminism in Early Sibu

Little academic studies have been made on the sexual and marital history of early Sibu which has perhaps too short a history. But what has happened inthe 100 or so years. Sibu in my opinion has a modern take on women and feminism but it is never too far away from China to leave Chinese influence behind.

Perhaps the attitudes of the early Foochow were a perpectuation of Chinese mores and norms brought over to Sarawak from the Fujian Province by the immigrants.

Thus when the First Foochows arrived in Sibu, they introduced child brides, bond maids, maid servants, indentured servants, and the practice of "buying and selling" of children.

I have not attempted to study deeply the attitudes about sex, sex perversion,and other related topics as I am in no position, academically or financially to conduct this kind of studies, much as I like to.

My interest in foot binding for example has been a sort of touch and go affair with this ancient practice because I had a great relationship with my great grandmother who had bound feet. Her China roots amazed me while her gentleness left a deep imprint in my mind and personality.

Again my very deep interest in and regard for Foochow women and their sexual rights and importance has been maintained ever since I was young because of my western education and some kind of related emancipation through Methodism and the educational thoughts instilled in me through secondary school and Sunday school education.

In the twenty first century, the sexual freedom and psychological injury to children is increasing in the urban areas (40% of the population in Malaysia) with resultant increase in infanticide particularly of little girls (Nurin in Malaysia)has re-fired again my interest in women studies and understanding of the female lot and the atrocities of men.

Feminism in Sibu was brought by the Christian missionaries who were well educated single ladies both from the west and China. Miss Hii and Miss Wong were delightful church workers who were at the same time teachers of the Methodist Secondary School. In their very quiet ways, they nurtured a whole generation of Foochows through their teaching. I felt that those who were not taught by them were "the rough and tough" or riff raffs of the society.

The two ladies and other pastors' wives initiated the Home Science Education Centre for Sibu and to this day, this Institute has provided education for a lot of housewives and young unmarried ladies through their practical training and volunteer work. It is so successful that it has its own cookery publication.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Opium smoking in China and in Sibu

Opium smoking is not foreign to the Tiong family. Grandfather's only brother died prematurely and untimely because of it.

He was an opium addict from a young age and he caught it when he was still growing up in China. At that time, the Imperial Court of China was totally against opium smoking.

Perhaps I would like to refresh your history on Chinese opium smoking here.

After China lost in the Opium Wars to Britain and its ally, Frnace, it was forced to tolerate the opium trade and sign Unequal Treaties opening several ports to foreign trade and yielding Hong Kong to Britain. Several countries followed Britain and forced unequal terms of trade onto China. This humiliation at the hand of foreign powers contributed to the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), to the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) and to the eventual downfall of the Qing Dynasty (1911).

Thus for a few hundred years, the black curse of opium actually ate away the strength and soul of the Chinese and empowered the foreign merchants and politicians to gain a great foothold on Chinese land and eventually brought down a 400 year old dynasty.

The arrival of the first European influence in Asia was reckoned as the direct maritime trade between Europe and China (without Arab intermediaries) which started in the 16th century, after the Portuguese established the settlement of Goa in India, and shortly thereafter that of Macau in southern China. After Spanish acquisition of the Philippines, the pace of exchange between China and the West accelerated dramatically. Manila galleons brought in far more silver to China than the ancient land route in interior Asia (the Silk Road). The Qing government attempted to limit contact with the outside world to a minimum for reasons of internal control. The Qing only allowed trade through the port of Canton (now Guangzhou). Severe red-tape and licensed monopolies were set up to restrict the trade flow. The results were high retail prices for imported goods and consequently limited demand for such goods. In order to prevent a trade deficit, Spain began to sell opium to the Chinese, along with New World products such as tobacco and corn.

As a result of high demand for tea, silk and porcelain in Britain and the low demand for British commodities in China, Britain had a large trade deficit with China and had to pay for these goods with silver. In an attempt to balance its trade deficit Britain began illegally exporting opium to China from British India in the 18th century. The opium trade took off rapidly, and the silver flow began to reverse. The sale and smoking of opium had been prohibited in 1729 by the Yongzheng Emperor because of the large number of addicts.

The growth of the opium trade

Opium destructionAfter Britain had conquered Bengal in the Battle of Plassey (1757), the British East India Company pursued a monopoly on production and export of opium in India.

In 1773, the Governor-General of Bengal pursued the monopoly on the sale of opium in earnest, and abolished the old opium syndicate at Patna. For the next 50 years, opium would be key to the East India Company's hold on India. Importation of opium into China was against Chinese law (although China did produce a small quantity domestically). Thus, the British East India Company would buy tea in Canton on credit, carrying no opium, but would instead sell opium at the auctions in Calcutta. Eventually, the opium would be smuggled to China. In 1797, the company ended the role of local Bengal purchasing agents and instituted the direct sale of opium to the company by farmers.

British exports of opium to China skyrocketed from an estimated 15 tons in 1730, to 75 tons in 1773, shipped in over two thousand "chests", each containing 140 pounds (64 kg) of opium.

Thus, in 1799, the Chinese Empire again banned opium imports. Shortly after, in 1810, the Empire issued an official decree:

Opium has a harm. Opium is a poison, undermining our good customs and morality. Its use is prohibited by law. Now the commoner, Yang, dares to bring it into the Forbidden City. Indeed, he flouts the law!
However, recently the purchases, eaters, and consumers of opium have become numerous. Deceitful merchants buy and sell it to gain profit. The customs house at the Ch'ung-wen Gate was originally set up to supervise the collection of imports (it had no responsibility with regard to opium smuggling). If we confine our search for opium to the seaports, we fear the search will not be sufficiently thorough. We should also order the general commandant of the police and police- censors at the five gates to prohibit opium and to search for it at all gates. If they capture any violators, they should immediately punish them and should destroy the opium at once. As to Kwangtung and Fukien, the provinces from which opium comes, we order their viceroys, governors, and superintendents of the maritime customs to conduct a thorough search for opium, and cut off its supply. They should in no ways consider this order a dead letter and allow opium to be smuggled out!
(Lo-shu Fu, A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western relations, Vol. 1 (1966), page 380)

The decree had little effect since the Qing government was located in Beijing, in the north. However, the merchants smuggled opium into China from the south. This, along with the addictive properties of the drug, the desire for more profit by the British East India Company (which had been granted a monopoly on trade with China by the British government), and the fact that Britain wanted silver (see gold standard) only further developed the opium trade. By the 1820s, 900 tons of opium per year came into China from Bengal.

From the Napier Affair through the First Opium War (1834–1843)

Lin Zexu's "memorial" (摺奏) written directly to Queen VictoriaMain article: First Opium War
In 1834, to accommodate the revocation of the East India Company's monopoly, the British sent Lord Napier to Macao. He attempted to circumvent the restrictive Canton Trade laws, which forbade direct contact with Chinese officials, and was turned away by the governor of Macao, who promptly closed trade starting on September 2 of that year. The British were not yet ready to force the matter, and agreed to resume trade under the old restrictions, even though Lord Napier implored them to force open the port.

Within the Chinese mandarinate, there was an ongoing debate over legalizing the opium trade itself. However, this idea was repeatedly rejected and instead, in 1838, the government decided to sentence native drug traffickers to death. Around this time, the British were selling roughly 1,400 tons per year to China. In March of 1839, the Emperor appointed a new strict Confucianist commissioner, Lin Zexu to control the opium trade at the port of Canton. His first course of action was to enforce the imperial demand that there be a permanent halt to drug shipments into China. When the British refused to end the trade, Lin imposed a trade embargo on the British. On March 27, 1839, Charles Elliot, British Superintendent of Trade, demanded that all British subjects turn over their opium to him, to be confiscated by Commissioner Lin Zexu, amounting to nearly a year's supply of the drug. After the opium was surrendered, trade was restarted on the strict condition that no more drugs would be smuggled into China. Lin demanded that British merchants had to sign a bond promising not to deal in opium under penalty of death.[2] The British officially opposed signing of the bond, but some British merchants that did not deal in opium were willing to sign. Lin then disposed of the opium by dissolving it with water, salt and lime and dumping it into the ocean.

In 1839, Lin (who was still of the opinion that the "real" British were capable of moral excellence and virtuous conduct) took the extraordinary step of presenting a "memorial" (摺奏) directly to Queen Victoria questioning the moral reasoning of the royal government. Citing the strict prohibition of the opium trade within England, Ireland, and Scotland, Lin questioned how Britain could then profit from the drug in China. He also wrote:"Your Majesty has not before been thus officially notified, and you may plead ignorance of the severity of our laws, but I now give my assurance that we mean to cut this harmful drug forever.". Contrary to the accepted Chinese bureaucratic etiquette, though which such missives directly engaged the Emperor, Lin's memorial was never accorded a response.[3]

The British government and merchants offered no response to Lin's moral questions. Instead, they accused Lin of destroying their private property. The British then responded by sending a large British Indian army, which arrived in June of 1840.[4]

British military superiority was clearly evident during the armed conflict. British warships wreaked havoc on coastal towns. In addition, the British troops, armed with modern muskets and cannons, greatly outpowered the Qing forces. After the British took Canton, they sailed up the Yangtze and took the tax barges. This was a devastating blow to the Empire since it slashed the revenue of the imperial court in Beijing to just a small fraction.

In 1842, the Qing authorities sued for peace, which concluded with the Treaty of Nanking negotiated in August of that year and ratified in 1843. In the treaty, China was forced to pay an indemnity to Britain and agreed to open five ports to Britain, ceded Hong Kong to Queen Victoria and granted. In the supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, the Qing empire also granted Britain most favored nation treatment and gave British subjects extraterritorial privileges in the treaty ports. In 1844, the United States and France also concluded similar treaties with China, the Treaty of Wanghia and Treaty of Whampoa respectively.

[edit] Second Opium War (1856-1860)
Main article: Second Opium War
The Second Opium War, or Arrow War, broke out following an incident in which Chinese officials boarded a vessel near the port of Whampoa, the Arrow in October 1856. Arrow was owned by a Chinese privateer. The Chinese owner registered the vessel with the British authorities in Hong Kong with the purpose of making privateering easier. He received a one year permit from the Hong Kong authorities, but it had already expired when inspected by the Chinese officials who boarded the vessel. The crew of the Arrow were accused of piracy and smuggling, and were arrested. In response, the British consulate in Guangzhou insisted that Arrow was a British vessel. The British accused the Chinese officials of tearing down and insulting the British flag during inspection. The Second Opium War was started when British forces attacked Guangzhou in 1856.

French forces joined the British intervention after a French missionary Auguste Chapdelaine was killed by a local mandarin in China. Other nations became involved diplomatically although they didn't provide military personnel.

The Treaty of Tientsin was created in July 1858, but was not ratified by China until two years later; this would prove to be a very important document in China's early modern history, as it was one of the primary unequal treaties.

Hostilities broke out once more in 1859, after China refused the establishment of a British embassy in Beijing, which had been promised by the Treaty of Tientsin. Fighting erupted in Hong Kong, and in Beijing, where the British set fire to the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace after considerable looting took place.

In 1860, at the Convention of Peking, China ratified the Treaty of Tientsin, ending the war, legalizing the import of opium, and granting a number of privileges to British (and other Western) subjects within China.

Having read all this background information you would have a clearer picture why the Chinese were adamantly anti-opium smoking but because many had already formed the habit of opium smoking they suffered a great deal, which eventually caused their death.

Sibu was not totally immune from opium smoking. Some how the Brooke and later the colonial government were quite tolerant about it as one could derive from the two special opium dens found in Market Street and Blacksmith Road.

As small children we were told that the terrible smell came from the opium smoke from upstairs whenever we went to the market.

One morning I went to visit my cousin who was a barber along Market Street. In our innocence and naughtiness another cousin and I challenged each other to have a peep at the opium den. We had long been told not to think about opium. She and I managed to climb the rickety wooden stair case and looked into a huge room which was partially dark but smoky and smelly. We had entered the Opium Den to have a peep at the Opium Kui (Opium Addicts)! With our heart beating, hands sweating and our temples throbbing, we took in the scenario. Against the morning sunlight, I could see smoke twirling up in the room with only one very very old man lying down on the huge day opium bed as we called it. There was a small lamp next to him. His pillow was the traditional bamboo block from China. He had a long pipe in his right hand and one of his very thin legs was folded at ninety degrees to his other leg. He was clad in Chinese pajama bottoms only. He was definitely drumming on his thigh happily and having hallucinations. We stayed for just about a long and minute which seemed to be eternity to me , to absorb this horrible sight and then ran all the way to my cousin's shop. I believe I stopped breathing then because I had just witnessed an "illegal " deed. My heart was literally in my mouth.

My cool cousin just looked at us and said,"What is there to see? Bad, bad, use, no use....waste,waste" And he shook his head. He did not say anything else. I suppose his response was a kind of hopelessness towards addiction.

In my youthfulness I could not imagine myself wasting away like that, with a pipe in hand and spindy legs sticking out from pajamas...Perhaps that scene helps me become a strong woman not to touch opium or any drug at all.

The need to be frugal also helped many of us girls not to learn smoking, drinking and gambling. And for that I am terribly grateful to my elders for teaching me well.

So thanks to all my aunties, uncles, grandpa Kung Ping, grandma Siew and all my cousins and relatives of Sibu.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Early Wooden Clogs of Sibu - Char Kiat

In fifties and sixties Sibu had two shops which hand-made traditional clogs (wooden sandals) . A block of wood is first cut into small pieces and then saw into the shape of a shoe heel. A piece of colored-soft plastic (leather) was then nailed onto it. The red-color coated clogs with hand drawings were usually bought by coffee shopkeepers and housewives as they were practical to wear.

When the cheap rubber Japanese slippers hit the market in the early sixties, the shops went on the decline. First one shop closed down as the owner quickly realised that he could not make money with so much competition from factory made slippers. He soon started another business.
The second shop which was opposite the Palace Theatre, continued its business as usual.

I bought several pairs from him. My mother also liked wearing these clogs as they were very low maintenance. They could not get wet and soggy and we did not even have to dry them.

Later the second shop even closed down and I believe he went into the bicycle shop business. When his children did not want to continue his business, he eventually sold up everything.

Today wooden clogs can be b ought in Malacca only where they have changed in form and shape and perhaps even purpose.


SARAWAK has always been well known for its REGATTA and Sibu has been one of the centres of such an event for several occasions.

In many of the written records, "Sarawak Regatta has been a premier event with a distinct historical and cultural significant". The first regatta was held even before 1872 and was organized as an annual event taking place during the New Year. Sarawak Gazette had recorded in 1872, that the annual Regatta that year was held, on 29th February 1872 at the Sarawak River infront of the Astana. The European community in Sarawak and in the neighboring countries were invited to the Astana - for breakfast - before the race. Keen competition were also recorded for the Rajah Cup.

The boat 'Sri Matu' built and manned by the Melanaus, was reported as the winning boat. The Gazette records provided the indication that Regatta had been an important social event organized annually for social integration and goodwill for the people of Sarawak. Prominent Political figure, the late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Ong Kee Hui, recorded that Raja Charles Brooke used to send his yacht "Maimunah1 to outstation to bring in the various "Tuan Residents" to join in the social event.

The tradition of holding the annual Regatta in the Sarawak River continued through the Colonial period and into the post-Malaysia period. During these periods the Regatta was organized by Resident and District Office with funds from the Government while the rest of the fund was raised through public donations.

The day programme included races for traditional longboats, dragon boats and other activities, like the running of totolizers, climbing greasing poles, catching ducks and "pillow fights". Racing boats from outstations made it a grand affair and also a great occasion for families from outside the State Capital to visit Kuching town.

What about the Sibu regatta then?Like the Sarawak Regatta,the Resident of Sibu or Third Division was the chair person of the event and important head men were invited to send in their boats for the competition.

Sibu would be well decorated with all the bantings and yellow, black and red flags. Also, a lot of Ibans and Melanaus and Malays would be flooding the streets. What I remembered was the presence of so many beautiful Iban maidens and their very heavy costumes. A few older ladies would be walking behind them and all the men would be oggling at them from the five foot way. Many men would get very excited and they would start shouting at each other to be noticed!! I disliked men who became coarse and loud in the presence of unsuspecting ladies. But most people would not pay any attention to this kind of chauvinistic behaviour. Live and let live I suppose.

However, regatta to the Chinese would have a different meaning even though in Sarawak a regatta was to help integration of different races.

To the Chinese a regatta if held by the Chinese associations would mean commemorating the death of Chu Yuan,a famous thinker who committed suicide on the 5th Day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Chu Yuan was an advisor to the Emperor of the Warring States, about 2000 years ago in China. However because he was so valued by the Emperor other ministers and officials were jealous of him. As a result they plotted against him and managed to banish him from the palace. Later the Emperor realised his mistake when his kingdom was conquered by the enemies. But it was too late.

When Chu Yuan heard about the fall of his state and the death of the Emperor he considered everything had come to an end and that his life was no longer useful. So he tied a rock to himself and jumped into the River Lo.

When his faithful country men heard about his death, they quickly rallied around in their small fishing boats to look for him but it was too late. In order tohonour him, these fishermen and fellow country men, made offerings of glutinous dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river.

So to this day, regatta would be held on the 5th Day of the Fifth Month and dumplings would be throne into the river to remember Chu Yuan and his good deeds.

The First Ice Cream Shop in Sibu

I met up with a friend from Sibu recently and asked him if he could remember having his first ever ice cream in Sibu. He remembered vaguely.

But I can remember my first scoop of ice cream. It was in Far East Supermarket which was operated by Mr. Wong Sie Kong. I had a scoop of vanilla ice cream, served on a tall glass with a red cherry on top. And I had a glass of iced water to go with the ice cream. My father took the three of us older children and my mother for a treat. I never had better ice cream after that.

Far East Supermarket was also the sole agent for Magnolia Ice Cream. To this day, Magnolia is still one of the leaders in ice cream and other dairy products. It was class, it was status, it was everything to do with prosperity, happiness and good family life. It also remained deep in my mind how wonderful it was to have a father who could take us out for treats in the evenings. A spin in the car was exhilarating. And a ice cream was the top of the pile for bonding. My father was a good sport.

To this day, I would always remember how important it is for parents to be seen in public enjoying their family life.......

The Early Bakeries of Sibu

If I am not mistaken the first baker of Sibu was Tiong Huo Hin and his first outlet was some where in Central Road in the early fifties. How he became a baker perhaps only his descendents would know.

But in my memory he and his bakery would have a special place.

Almost all coffee shops in Sibu would serve Roti Kahwin with kopi-o. Bread from Tiong Huo Hin Bakery was special, especially the one called Tyre Bread. This bread was baked in a round tin, and there would be indentations which helped housewives or the coffee shop owners slice the bread evenly.

I liked the ends because they were buttered and greasy. So my mother would always let me have those two slices. I could eat them without the jam or kaya.

My father was very frugal and he would always buy two loaves of bread in the evenings at the special discounted price. Mr. Tiong and my father were first cousins so being family, they were great with each other. Sometimes, Mr. Tiong would give one extra loaf to my father. I never realised at that time that a day old bread is best for sandwich making. How did my father know about that? I would never be able to find out. But we always got our bread in the evenings and we would have our sandwiches and toasted bread for breakfast the next day.

My father would have two slices of toasts every day with a very large cup of black coffee.

He would make the coffee early in the morning and he would bring up a cup of coffee to my mum. It was not breakfast in bed, the American style. But from a Chinese man, it was near enough.

I would always remember how he would wake her up in the early morning with,
"Chuo, here's your coffee..." When he passed away so suddenly and so young, I missed hearing him say that for a long long time.

Kopi Tiam

From the oldest times, two coffee shops would stand out as the foremost and well loved ones to the Foochows of Sibu, especially those from the villages. They were Mui Siing and Ting Nguk Choon.

Mui Siing was located along the Wharf Road, whereas Ting Nguk Choon was along Island Road. Interestingly both were the first lot of their block. Could it be the numbering that made them so prosperous. Both had two fronts and therefore could seat more people. The tables were simple square wooden ones or the round marble tables. All the chairs were the comfortable German made wooden antique ones which today fetch a high price. These German made chairs never seem to fall apart after years and years of usage. That is why, they are so valuable.

It was definitely the coffee and the quality of their noodles which helped them became a place everyone must go to. But probably it was their service too. Hence their marble tables and chairs were always full in the mornings.

I remember having sat in Mui Siing once with my uncle who came from down river and he asked me to have a bowl of noodles with him before he sent me along with the chickens and ducks he had wanted to give to my mother. I had waited for him with my bicycle at the wharf. It was so nice to see him. An uncle was one of the best things in your life. He was one who could give you lots of free food from his farm and then he was the respected brother of your mother. Nothing could be better than that.

Mui Siing served this special soy bean milk and char koi ( or crullers) and it was here he told me the story of how and why the chinese made their first cruellers. Somehow that story was never forgotten by me and my siblings.

Yueh Fei was a heroic general of the Song Dynasty from Hangzhou made a lot of sacrifices and led the army to great victories. However a minister , Qin Hui, and his wife were jealous of the success and commitment of Yueh Fei. So they plotted to have him killed. They were successful in doing so and Yueh was buried . However one popular cook decided to lead a campaign to make the couple the laughing stock of the city. He decided to make two figurines with dough and then had them deep fried in the open market. However the yew tiau, or deep fried Hui, as it was called became very popular and saleable partly because they were very happy to "eat" the two treacherous characters. Thus in no time, everyone knew about the treacherous couple. Soon the king heard about them and their treachery. He made some investigation and realised that he had made a mistake. So he punished the couple, had them executed and buried in such a way that their tombs forever remain subservient before Yueh Fei's tomb.

Later the figurine stick dough became smaller yew tiau and remained popular folk food until today. During the Japanese occupation of Beijing, the Chinese called the crullers or yew tiau , yew char kuay. Kuay means devil. Thus they again used the dough sticks to refer to their hated enemies. Today in Malaysia many people still call them yew char kuay without really knowing the rich historical background of this special food.

I would like to pay my respect to a clever cook who had managed to take revenge on two evil characters with his ingenuity.

Ting Nguk Hong continued to be the biggest coffee shop in Sibu for a long time because it occupied a large space with probably what we call three shop lots today. It was a traditional coffee shop with a large kitchen at the back and several mee stalls in the front. The coffee served in this coffee shop was very fragrant and well known. The coffee shop owner would roast the coffee beans himself and grind the beans as and when needed. He would be the only one who knew how much butter to use and how long he should roast the beans to give the best aroma and taste . Thus we would always remember how fond we were of his coffee. It was worth every cent we paid him.

Ting Nguk Hong was also a place where the Wharf Labourers would gather when they finished their work in the evenings.

That was the time for these strong labourers to have their beer or guiness stout.

Two Ladies, Gingseng and Sounding Board

When we first moved to Sibu from "across the river'where my first home called Hua Hong Ice Factory was,our new home was at Tiong Kung Ping Road, a small lane named after my grandfather who had served the Foochow people well since his arrival from China. This road was later reconstructed and became known as the famous Brooke Drive,probably the longest known road in Sibu for sometime. No one had measured the lengths of Brooke Drive and Lanang Road. No one ever complained that the name was changed. Our family perhaps being very humble, did not make any mention of the change, accepting it as the law of the day.

Our wooden house in Tiong Kung Ping Road had eight bedrooms and living rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. Our kitchen was huge with a big Foochow stove which had a lovely chimney going out of the side wall. Our "sink" was an ingenious wooden board constructed at waist level and jutting out of the wall. Three panels protected the sink and made it part of the house. Our kitchen windows were interesting sliding wooden panels, not seen today. Everything was wooden and I felt that it was a wonderful home with a lot of space and air vents. The person who built it, with my grandfather's instructions, must have been very ergonomically oriented in those days, without having gone to university .

My mother took to urban living like fish to water. And we kids started going to school. It was a new world to us.

As for my mother, she attained another level housewifery. She would entertain especially Foochow women pedlars who came to the house, some every day and some like circuit judges.

Two ladies sold her gingseng. Very amazing indeed.

One lady was a little rotund,short but was very cheerful. I remember her as someone who had very good teeth and sweaty underarms. She was the more talkative of the two. The other one was taller and quieter. Both of them had their hair in the regular Chinese over the age of 40 buns at the back of their head. They wore the exquisite cotton samfoo which I found very sexy and admirable.

The pair walked from house to house peddling their gingseng and other Chinese medicines. Whenever they reached our house, probably about once a month, they would have new things to show my mum, or present the order that she made a month ago. They would also come with new gossips: who gave birth, what kind of baby, who got married and to who, and of course who died. We did not have to read the local newspapers social columns.

Sometimes they would ask my mother questions about upbringing of the children, how naughty we were and we would cringe at the back of the chairs. After a few minutes my mother would bring out some warm water for them, as they would only ask for warm water and nothing else. Strangely, our house did not have Chinese tea for as long as we remember because my mother has never been a tea drinker, unlike many other Foochow women. We would have a Chinese thermos flask (red in colour with blue and white flowers painted on it.

This kind of hot water flask was a must in all Foochow homes. In the morning, before breakfast, it was compulsory for my mother to fill the flask up with hot water, which would last us throughout the day. This was to give her less work as our fire was a wood fire and it was difficult to light up any wood at a moment's notice. So a hot water flask was really very convenient and very efficient. Milo, Horlicks, Ovaltine could be made any time of the day and the housewife did not have to start a fire. The flask also helped a lot of new mothers make a bottle of milk to feed their babies very quickly.

The two aunties were good listeners. They were also very helpful in giving hints as to where to buy the best vegetables or fruits in Sibu. In retrospect, to my mother and I they were our Agony Aunts, our social critics and even our match makers. In many ways, they were good people. They did not allow their opinions to dictate my mother, nor did they use their positions of "opinion leaders" to brainwash my mother.

When they passed away many years later, many housewives missed them for a while. But by that time, supermarkets, cars, motorcycles have already crept into our social life.

With their passing, an era of village pedlars went out and never to be experienced again by the younger Foochows.


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