Saturday, January 26, 2008

Engkabang and Chop Ching Chiong

A very lucrative crop of the 50's and 60's was engkabang or ellipe nuts. When the engkabang started to drop from the trees in upper Rejang, almost all the the Ibans and able bodied, adventurous Foochows became wild with anticipation. The motor launches from Kapit, Kanowit, Julau, Durin and Song became heavy with the wild jungle harvest and one shop in Sibu, Chop Ching Chiong, owned by Mr.Sia Tiew Kie and his only son Mr. Sia Kie Ming, became full with gunny sacks of engkabang which is called just tree seed or chiew ji in Foochow. Chop Ching Chiong was the best sole exporter of engkabang as it had branch offices in Sngapore.

The actual, or real Illipe nuts come from a genus with about eighty-five members, including the mamey sapote and other delicious fruits. There are two crops of nuts per year, one large and the other smaller. Native to India, the tree produces a nut that is long, oval, and smooth, covering coffee-coloured seeds. The nut contains saponin, which has a destructive action on the blood. The oil extracted is similar to lard. Madhuca is certainly the most important genus as the fat produced from the seeds is often used to extend ghee and coconut butter.

What is known as False Illipe nut, Engkebang nuts (Shorea macrophylla -- Family Dipterocarpaceae)were the ones harvested by the Ibans and Chinese in Sarawak.These false illipe nut comes from another group of trees in a genus that has about 180 members, from Ceylon to Malaysia and south China. Many of them are valued for their timber. The species found in Malaysia and three others in Borneo supply the nuts often mistaken for the illipe nut, and thus its name. From these nuts comes a substitute for cocoa butter in the manufacture of chocolates.

The late Mr. Sia Kie Ming was a student of the old Methodist School and at a very young age, he was already the classmate of my seventh aunt, Tiong Chiew Sieng. It was match made in heaven. Both were fair and good looking. Upon graduation, she went to Singapore to study and he too went for further education. He was very good in business and more than tripled his father's fortunes.

when they got married in the modern style, in western costumes in Singapore, my grandfather was exceptionally happy and proud. Bride and groom could not be happier. Their first two children, Pick Sing and Belinda were born in Singapore. And I remember when they had to move back to Sibu to carry on old towkay Sia's business, the two kids complained of the heat as there was no air conditioning in the shop house. Their grandmother loved them as if they were precious diamonds . Later a younger son, David Sia, was born in Sibu.

Uncle Sia Kie Ming was a very unusual but astute businessman. He would ride his tall 22inch bicycle to his old shop in Island Road from his High Street shop. He liked to wear slippers as far as I could remember.

His office from which thousands of dollars of business would be transacted was very simple and it was typical of a Chinese shophouse office. It was what we called in the "stomach" of the ground floor of the shop. One Chai Koo or clerk helped to do the accounts. And Uncle was the manager who sat in front of the old fashion wrought iron safe, which at almost any time contained a few thousand dollars of hard cash. almost all Foochow businessmen operated like this. Hard cash was a sign of good business sense and calibre.

It was in this office that records of how much engkabang was sent to Singapore by ships in the old fashioned way, and money would be remitted via the banks, making the Sia family so wealthy. And only two desks , two abacuses, one telephone , some thick crocodile files were the office equipment to help two men do all the paper work and make that huge fortune. Amazing!!

The front part of the shop was a textile outlet, which was controlled by Uncle Sia's mother. She sat at the cashier compartment and counted every cent and dollar earned from the sale of materials, simple items like scissors,buttons, lace,etc.

What was very interesting was the fact that almost all the employees were surnamed Sia. One was a very old cousin of the grandfather Sia. And two shop assistants were also Sia. So they got on very well with each other.

They treated my family members very well and had a lot of respect for my grandmother Siew whenever she dropped by to do her shopping.

the relationship between in laws in Sibu at that time was always very serious, courteous and respectful. Words were carefully chosen so as not to offend anyone. No jokes were supposed to be told.

Old grandmother Sia was a very serious person who did not smile easily.

So none of us dared to upset her or act in any way impolitely to her. After all, she was a person of authority and wealth.

I remember that my aunt had to ask her for permission even to just go next door to buy some herbs. that was the correct or proper behaviour of a daughter in law.

But any way, I found that if all of us have the courtesy to tell each other where we were going, it would save a lot of trouble later on. I did not like to be interrogated if I came back late for dinner. In Foochow, the word "han" is very valuable in our life style.

What ever one does, or where ever one goes, we have to "han" or tell mother or father first. It was not like asking for permission to go somewhere.

Witnessing a business grow and wane, witnessing a street change, and how life became different,has thus become a very significant part of my life. I really feel that they are worth remembering and passing on to others.

1 memories:

Guitar-Shelter said...

I love your story! When in season I used to collect the Illipe nuts in Kapit when I was young. I was from Sibu and fond of my earlier childhood and young adult memories of our beloved birth place. I now live in North America.


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