Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fuzhou Paper Umbrella

In the days gone by one of the most important items one should carry in Sibu was not a handbag or a wallet. It was a lacquered paper umbrella which cost about 2 dollars. There were two types: one type for men and one very obviously for ladies. Any one going "outside" would not fail to carry such an humble oriental umbrella,to protect oneself from the hot sun, and from the sudden torrential tropical downpour.

I loved carrying an umbrella myself. The umbrella could be placed across the handlebars of one's bicycle, or it could be clipped at the back of the bicycle on the metal carrier tray. Likewise,all trishaws would have an umbrella permanently fixed to an upright rod to give the trishaw driver shade in the hot sun or protection during an afternoon downpour. And in a very thick traffic jam, one could see a familiar opened umbrella trembling in the heat of the mid day sun. Sometimes we could recognise our favourite trishaw driver by his umbrella even.

Besides for giving us shade from the sun and protecting us from the rain, it was a useful weapon against any attacker. It was also a very useful piece of artillery for a woman to use if or when she wanted to beat up her philandering husband, should she meet up with him at the wrong places. An umbrella was always a good piece of prop to help someone to disappear from an embarrassing scene. Sometimes two women could be found gossiping under an umbrella!! I also remember that many mothers had chased their children with raised umbrellas along the streets of Sibu.

I was once witness to an extremely sad and unforgettable scene of one funeral which was carried out in the rain. The organizers provided every mourner with an umbrella each. The funeral procession moved slowly as the rain pelted down,however because of the traditional stoical ritual and respect for the dead the bereaved family was not allowed umbrellas. thus subsequently they were completely wet from the downpour. The poor widow's skinny white hands held tightly to the coffin as the lorry moved slowly ahead.

I cannot remember when the paper umbrella went out of fashion. But perhaps 1980's would be the last decade when Foochows used them on the road. After that period, the Foochows became increasingly affluent and cars and airconditioning became the norm of the day. The humble paper umbrella thus took its place in some obscure corners of one's mind and perhaps even in some dark corners of houses and never taken out for use again.

The history of this lacquer paper umbrella actually went back more than 1000 years in Fuzhou,China!! And very few people realise that.

However, today (see picture)most of the paper umbrellas produced in Fuzhou are sold to the overseas markets, though less popular in the local daily use in China.

And for remembering the good old times, it would be nice to remember the role of the paper umbrella in the 60's in Sibu and during our parents' times. A match maker would carry one such umbrella. And naturally, I still remember one Chinese traditional sin seh who on his rounds to see his patients would carry one too. All missionaries would hold on to their umbrellas as they might have to sit in the front part of a Chinese motor launch should it be overly full. It was a very exciting sight too to catch a glimpse of a lady sitting pillion on a Honda Cub and yet trying to shade herself with a trembling paper umbrella. It was almost a circus feat to be able to balance well in this act. Incidentally it was a traffic offence in those days to ride a motorcycle and carry an umbrella at the same time.

Later all motorcyled icecream vendors who have a huge plastic umbrella (with the word Magnolia written over it) fixed to their bikes!!

I love the smell of the lacquer in the sun. It really invoked a lot of happiness and sense of belonging.

I am sure you can still buy a good man's lacquered paper umbrella in Bintulu. Give it a try.

God Save the Queen

When we went to school in the fifties and early sixties we were taught to sing the Anthem and that meant, "God Save the Queen". I did not have a chance to sing, "God Save the King" because I went to school after Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.

And interestingly it has taken me almost 45 years later to have a proper look at the anthem which we sang so often as children. It did not mean much to us then, but we knew that we were singing it to show our loyalty to the Queen. Apart from that we did not have any idea what the anthem really meant, being such naughty kids. And any way no one actually took the pain to explain to us the lyrics.

And today, thanks to the Internet, I have more information on the anthem.

The British National Anthem dates back to the eighteenth century.

'God Save The King' was a patriotic song first publicly performed in London in 1745, which came to be known as the National Anthem at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The words and tune are anonymous, and may date back to the seventeenth century.

In September 1745 the 'Young Pretender' to the British Throne, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, defeated the army of King George II at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh.

In a fit of patriotic fervour after news of Prestonpans had reached London, the leader of the band at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, arranged 'God Save The King' for performance after a play. It was a tremendous success and was repeated nightly.

This practice soon spread to other theatres, and the custom of greeting monarchs with the song as he or she entered a place of public entertainment was thus established.

There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition. Additional verses have been added down the years, but these are rarely used.

The words used today are those sung in 1745, substituting 'Queen' for 'King' where appropriate. On official occasions, only the first verse is usually sung.

The words of the National Anthem are as follows:

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen.

Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour,
Long may she reign.
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen.

The British tune has been used in other countries. European visitors to Britain in the eighteenth century noticed the advantage of a country possessing such a recognised musical symbol.

In total, around 140 composers, including Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, have used the tune in their compositions.

The last time this anthem was played in Sarawak was when the last Governor Sir Alexander Waddell made his salute to the lowering of the British Flag just before the birth of Malaysia came at 12.30pm on Sunday, September 15, 1963.

A description of this exit of the most unusual Brooke Rule and then another 17 year of British rule is taken from the book ‘The Formation of Malaysia’ written by the late Ho Ah Chon: “On getting abroad the HMS Killisport, the Governor took another salute from a Royal Navy Guard of Honour.

“A 17-Gun Salute boomed from Fort Margherita. The Governor returned the salute. It was a touching moment. Made sadder as the frigate sailed past

Fort Margherita, where the Sarawak Constabulary played ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

“As HMS Killisport gathered speed downriver, the crowd lining the river bank, seemed conscious that as the last of the British Governors of Sarawak departed, one chapter of the country’s history — 17 years of benevolent British rule — had closed and a new chapter — independence with its great challenges and promises — had opened.”

The next day, September 16, 1963, Malaysia was born… 16 days behind schedule because originally, the formation of Malaysia was slated to be on August 31 to coincide with the Independence Day of the Federation of Malaya.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sibu's Tung Lok Sia Brass Band

The Foochow Community is very well organised in many ways. Since the establishment of Tung Lok Sia, an association set up by some Foochow elders , there is always a brass band at their command to help with weddings, funerals and birthday celebrations. The meaning of Tung Lok Sia is Association of United Joy.

This group of musicians play the trumpet, trombone, drums and the French Horn too.
Their presence is always felt (and heard) whenever there is an occasion in Sibu.

Today, the Chairman of Tung Lok Sia is Mr. Tang Hua Kiong. The Association ,being Foochow in nature ,is always in great demand.

These musicians would play tunes like "This is My Father's World", "Jesus Loves Me" and others in extremely slow beat and make them as mournful as possible for funerals. Somehow whenever the notes are "pulled" for a longer beat, our hearts just break into pieces. Grief is in the air!!

The brass band would be wearing their black and white uniforms and remain as distant as possible, with straight faces and calm demeanour. Although they play foreign instruments, they are nevertheless very Chinese in character.

Some how they always seem to be so conversant with the rituals of a funeral that they never seem to miss a beat. I would often think that no funeral could really move forward without their drum beat.

Even if there is another group of musicians playing the Chinese cymbals and other Chinese instruments they do not seem perturbed at all. And as if right on cue, they would play out their mournful tunes. And a few mourners would start crying again.

The brass band would be with the funeral ritual from the beginning to the end, which could be at the cemetery. This would definitely depend on how close the family is with the Tung Lok Sia, or how much donation the bereaved family has made to the association. So quite often a lorry would bring the whole brass band for the final journey towards the cemetery and it would play out as many sad tunes as possible along the way thus letting folks know that there is a death.

Many of these brass band members have been with the band for more than twenty years and some have already very greying hair.

Sometimes I wonder how long this band will be around, and how many younger Foochow musicians will join the band to continue their services to the Foochow Community.


"Great Penyamun Scare of 1894 was one of the most extraordinary features in Sarawak history, for it spread panic throughout the country and brought trade to a standstill in many parts."

According to history,around 220 B.C.E., Qin Shi Huang was the first Emperor of China to bring about the unification of China . The Great Wall of China, the only human construction visible from outer space was attributed to him .

In actual fact, Emperor Qin connected a series of earthworks forming a few smaller walls along the border, with the goal of keeping out the Mongol invaders. He reinforced these walls and conscripted peasants and others to build the start of the Great Wall. Later rulers continued to reinforce and add onto the wall, often with forced labor. Construction lasted for more than 2,000 years and when it was done, the wall stretched an astounding 4,000 miles (6,700 kilometers).

Emperor Qin is also known for his elaborate tomb filled with life-size terra-cotta warriors. Over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and other artifacts were buried with Qin, and the mausoleum wasn't discovered until 1974. However, it was also rumoured that many "actual slaves were buried together with various emperors and empresses thoughout the whole history of China". Many others were probably "kidnapped victims" taken in to "keep the royal dead company".

In actual fact, prisoners of war, convicts, soldiers, civilians and farmers provided the labor to help the Qin Emperor construct the Great Wall. Millions died for this cause and many Chinese stories speak of parted lovers and men dying of starvation and disease. Their bodies were buried in the foundations of the wall or used to make up its thickness. Thus their stories became part of local traditional folklore to confirm that many were even buried alive in the construction of the Great Wall. The moving and touching story of Meng Nu crying for her husband at the Great Wall, became a well known tragic-story on both stage and film.

Today the beautiful Great wall crosses loess plateaus, mountains, deserts, rivers and valleys, passing through five provinces and two autonomous regions. It is about 20 feet wide and 26 feet high. Parts of the wall are so broad that 10 soldiers can walk abreast. Materials used were whatever could be found near by-clay, stone, willow branches, reeds and sand. Parts of this wall can still be seen in remote parts of China. What most visitors, perhaps numbering up to 25,000 a day, see of the Wall now was restored in the Ming dynasty, when stone slabs replaced clay bricks. It took 100 years to rebuild and it is said that the amount of material used in the present wall alone is enough to circle the world at the equator five times.

Closer home to Sibu, we often heard of penyamun when we were kids and we would hide in our bedrooms at night. It was a good reasons for mothers to keep their children at home for days, and even months, just at the whisper of "penyamum".

Penyamun was an ancient Sarawak indigenous practice of putting a skull into the foundation of a longhouse, or a bridge or a monument to ensure that the human spirit would support the structure. However various stories spread around for ages and today, a rumour of penyamun would mean "the taking of a boy" for the "construction of a structure like bridge, road, or a longhouse". Whoever is responsible for such a rumour was definitely not in his right mind because according to a longhouse elder penyamun is not practised nowadays. This practice went out when Christianity became the acceptable religion of the Ibans and Bidayuhs.

But if someone is naughtily practising penyamun just to scare some folks away, then an investigation must be mounted before greater damage is done to hurt the harmonious life of the local people.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ah Sam - the black and white maidservant

photo from

Growing up in Sibu I could not help but notice that some children were so lucky that they had uniformed maids to follow them every where. Several families had the special and unique black and white amahs and were exactly what the writers have written about.

My maternal grandmother once explained that wealthier Foochow families in Fuzhou City in China had bond maids (ah tau ) and adopted girls (ngie nu) at their beck and call. These were girls who had lesser fortune and were either given to the wealthy families or sold for a pitiful sum. Thus rich men had a household of women whom they could use and even abuse. All these girls would be given simple names like Ah San (Number Three) or Ah Moi (Sister) and they would carry the surname of the rich man. It was the dream of many Foochow girls to marry into a family which was rich enough to provide her with ah tau and ngie nu. In which case, she could have a life of ease and luxury. Her hands would be soft, and her stomach well filled. Failing to marry the son of the family, a young woman would not be too bothered by the morality of the day , and she would happily end up becoming a concubine.

However the situation was a little different in Sibu. While the rich in the early 1900's continued to buy girls for their families, the treatment was a little better because of the advent of Christianity. Many families were even giving safe harbour to younger women who wanted just a bowl of rice, so to speak.

In the 50's, I did notice the presence of these less fortunate women in town but to me at that time, it was another kind of romantic, traditional and conservative lifestyle which could even be considered as upper crust and interestingly feudal!!

Indeed we often watched with interest a great lady, whom we affectionately called Ah Sam. She wore blue samfoo top and black cotton loose trousers with a lovely pigtail tied very neatly from the back of her head. She would send two boys to our primary school and would stay for a while to see them settle in properly. While the boys were treated like royalty by the teachers, the amah was treated with admiration by mothers who brought their children to school. News were often exchanged as most of the mothers were interested in just enough morsels of gossip for the day.

After a little while the Ah Sam (amah) would run along and do her grocery shopping. The town was very used to the family's dog (probably pure breed Alsatian) which was trained to carry the grocery basket. He would run ahead of Ah Sam, with a basket full of grocery to the shop house where the family lived. Ah Sam would cheerfully walk quickly back home. It was indeed a fine sight.

Actually I quite miss this scene from my childhoo now that I come to write about it.

I would not be too wrong if I remember that Ah Sam was indeed a very cheerful and positive thinking woman. Ah Sam probably worked for this banking family for the whole of her life,and that would mean two to three generations. She could have migrated from China herself just to work overseas. And having found a rich family to work for, she found dignity in her employment. This was characteristic of the black and white amah of those days. She would have done everything for her mistress or lady of the house.

She would have done all the ironing (with a charcoal iron to start with after the Second World war),cooking, cleaning, shopping, and looking after the small babies. And all these she would do very happily. And definitely she would be the first person waking up in the morning to wipe everything clean before the family woke up. Breakfast would have been cooked before seven o'clock in the morning.

Today, having an Indonesian maid would cost a bomb. A live -in maid would not be that easy to get as the government is rather strict on acquisition of a foreign maid.

Below is a write up on Amahs taken from some books for your quick reference.

The Cantonese word amah is a variant of the romanized version for “mother”: “ah ma” is synonymous with “ma ma.” Strictly speaking, the word amah as opposed to “ah ma” is used in reference to a surrogate mother or a wet nurse. In the 1930s, amahs were single celibate Chinese female migrants who performed paid reproductive labor ranging from childcare to washing clothes and cooking.

The majority of migrant workers who came to Singapore and Malaya during the 1930s were Cantonese women from the Kwangtung region in Southern China. They belonged to a well-established anti-marriage movement: “Nearly all the girls there had a habit of swearing sisterhood to each other, taking vows of celibacy, and looking upon their prospective husbands as enemies. If, as a result of family pressure, they did marry, they would refuse to consummate the marriage, return home on the third day of the wedding and refuse to return to their husbands.”

In order to remain independent from men, young and older unmarried celibate women worked as silk farmers and spinners in Kwangtung’s silk industry. They would pool their resources to build Ku Por Uk or Old Maids’ Houses/Grandaunt’s Houses away from their familial homes. 18 Female residents of Ku Por Uk accepted collective responsibility for household tasks and finances. Patriarchal Chinese society sanctioned Cantonese women’s actions so long as the latter undertook a ritual called sor hei (to comb one’s hair into a bun at the back of the head) in a temple. The ceremony symbolized religious legitimation of women’s newfound rights and status.

The introduction of European technology in the Chinese silk industry during the 1930s, coupled with a series of natural disasters and political strife in Southern China, encouraged women’s out-migration. However, migration was not entirely due to economic factors per se. Even though most of the women had lost their jobs as silk farmers and spinners, their decisions to migrate were precipitated also by the desire to remain socially independent from men. In a 1994 interview with a newspaper reporter, a retired amah explained that:

There is no point in getting married. After all, people like us would not be marrying rich men. If we did get married, we would still have to work so hard, have to have babies and all. There is no point slaving for your husband, is there? You might as well do the same work and get paid for it. If you are on your own, whatever money you earn is yours. No one can tell you what to do.

Out-migration was a key avenue by which the women could retain their independence during a period of turbulent socioeconomic and political change. They migrated with the help of male labor brokers called sui hak (“water guest”). Upon arrival in Malaya, the women were placed in halfway houses until they found employment or they lived in rooms rented by their fellow village/kinfolk.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Red Cross in Sibu 1962, Red Crescent Today

It is rather interesting that many people did not realise that the Red Cross was only started in 1962 in Sibu. The initiation was propelled by the Great Flood of Sarawak of Dec-1962 and Jan 1963.

Through out Dect 1962, Girl Guides, Sea Scouts and Boys Scouts which were then very well established had been packing boxes of clothes for the flood victims. As a young girl guide then I was very starry eyed and inspired. Ladies like Mrs. Griffin, Mrs. Wong Muk Foo, Mrs.Dr. Wong Soon Kai were leading the women in the packing !!

At that time, a lot of money was also raised from the very generous public in Sibu. I remember the radio also broadcast very encouraging speeches from the dignitaries.

The Red Cross was well initiated by the then nursing sisters who trained the local volunteers (many came from the Youth Club and Women's Institute) and I remember the nursing sisters wearing their lovely head wear which flipped delightfully in the wind. Several local ladies were sent for training too.

What was very painful in those years was that blood donation was very limited and many people continued to have to buy blood for any operation which was not sponsored by the government, if I remember correctly, with due respect to all the helpful foreign and local doctors.

When the Malaysian Government took over the Red Cross and renamed it Red Crescent, all organisation came under Kuala Lumpur and I thought that many events were under very capable hands. The society became very vigorous and more and more Sibu volunteers came forward to help. So when any disaster struck, emergency response was available and aid was quickly organized. The idea that voluntary services should come from local people became a more readily acceptable one. In the colonial days, most local people had left everything to the "government", meaning, the Civil Servants.

When my mother had her operation we had to pay 700 ringgit for a pint of blood to replace the blood she used as she was a private patient and a non government servant. We were so grateful to our uncle, Henry Lim, a frequent blood donor,who donated a pint. Thus my mother's life was saved. And that was in 1972.

Today, the Red Crescent has come a long way and blood is always available and free in the hospital. No one need to die unnecessarily because of blood shortage, or because he does not have the money to buy blood.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bai Yu Lan - Magnolia

The Tiong Family loves the Bai Yu Lan. My grandfather had a plant in his garden and loved every bloom that came out. My father planted one in front of our Brooke Drive house and for years we enjoyed the lovely fragrance of the flowers.

My maternal grandmother loved to put two flowers in her hair (bun) and that would be her natural perfume.

According to a botanist friend,the sweet strong fragrance of flowers resembles juicyfruit gum. The fragrance is released in the early morning hours and lasts all day long, especially strong at night. Its name honors Florentine botanist Pietro Antonio Micheli.

If you have a very strong sense of smell, this flower is actually used to make the world's most expensive perfume'Joy'. People did not invent JOY perfume, Nature made this creation leading to the development of JOY, the most expensive perfume fragrance in the world.

The white Michelia flower is also the city flower of Shanghai, China. But vendors can be found selling them for a few yuan in the streets of Chengdu in summer. Many people are growing this flower all over Sarawak now.

Planting a Michelia tree either indoors as bonsai or in your backyard really makes your home a sweet home. Also you could take the flower, home made natural perfume, into car, office, rest room, and anywhere you want fragrant atmosphere. One oriental custom is to use the white flowers as sweet scented decoration, such as hair-pin-flower for girls, and chest-pin-flower for ladies. The tree has flowers and green leaves all year round, beautifying its surroundings. Besides, the clearly veined leaf can be made into a special bookmark.

During my childhood, I collected many of these buds and preserved them in bottles of water. They lasted a long time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Games we played when we were young

When we were young we played different games using the very limited resources we had at that time. We had no Lego,no jigsaw puzzles and no play dough. We did not have Barbie Dolls.

We used rubber seeds, jumping ropes made from rubber bands,river stones and sticks.

One of the most versatile games that we played was called five stones. We actually used lovely stones we picked up from the road side or river bank. The smoother ones were favoured. My mother was good at playing this game and we actually learned from her. For those just beginning to play the game it was complicated because one had to throw one of the stones in the air and, using the same hand, grab the other stones and catch the falling stone. We had to pick up the stones in order. The first play, we picked up one stone, the next one we picked up two stones at the same time and so on. If we managed to do all that, our turn would end when we managed to pick all the stones at one go. This meant we had won one round. And the game moved on to the next person. When a person dropped the stone, he lost his round. We had other variations in playing this game though. It was fun and we could spend the whole afternoon just playing this game "underneath a wooden house" or along the five foot way.

Hopscotch or jumping the aeroplane was a nice game. It gave us the opportunity to jump and learn a lot about balancing. And we get noticed if we did very well. Kids liked that. We played along the five foot way as it was protected from the sun and the rain. But sometimes we played along other side walks. We had no playgrounds at that time in Sibu. An older kid would draw the grid, in the shape of an aeroplane. It was actually two straight boxes, and then two boxes across and then one more box on top,and then two more boxes and finally one more actually forming an aeroplane. So we called it Jumping the Aeroplane.

We would say Ho Peng,and the person showing the winning hand (the odd one out) would be the first one to play. To play the game we needed a stone or a piece of wood and our strong leg to jump. The first player would throw the stone inside square one. After that, he had to hop into each square, starting with square 1 and ending in square eight.

If there were two squares together, he would jump landing with one foot in each square; but if there was only one square,he had to hop on one foot.

When he reached squares 7 and 8, he had to turn back jumping again until square 1. Then he continued playing the next level.

This time he began by throwing the stone into square number 2. In the next level, he threw it into square number 3. He ontinued until level 8.

The first player who could do all the levels was the winner. The most important thing was that the player had to skip the square where the stone was.

Special Rules of the Game
The game had some rules. If an of the following things happened, the player had to stop and another player took a turn.

The player can't put his/her foot or feet on the lines of the square.
The player can't jump with two feet in squares 1, 2, 3, and 6.
The player can't fall down.

Marbles - we collected wonderful marbles, glass ones, ceramic ones and just simple clay ones which were rough and "clay" in colour.

There are many different ways of playing marbles. We had a small rectangle drawn, with a line in the middle. Then there was a line about 10 feet away, or nearer if we were playing with small kids. We would arrange the marbles at the four points of the rectangle and one in the middle. The first player would try to throw his marble in such a way he would touch one of the marbles. Then he got to keep that marble for himself. He would take his turn again. And if he could touch another marble with his marble he would keep that marble again. If he did not touch any marble his marble, he would then lose his turn. We had a few king marble players who won almost all our marbles. It was like a fortune to us then.

Another way of playing marbles was the shooting type.

One set of marbles was placed at the center of an approximately 10- by 15 square foot ground or floor arena, in the form of a triangle or square.

The number of marbles might vary from 2 to 8 or even more, depending on the number of players and agreement among them. Each game would last from 20 to 30 minutes.

Each player had his or her own shooter marble to shoot the set. Shooting was done by placing the shooter marble between the index finger and the thumb and moving the thumb outward to shove the shooter marble in order to hit the marbles in the set.

Player number one started the game by shooting at the set and went on playing until he/she missed hitting any of the marbles from the set. Then, it was the other player's turn to shoot the set.

Each player temporarily kept any marbles that he/she could hit and moved out of the triangle or square.

The final session the game was very significant. All the players took turns beating each other. If a player's shooter marble got hit, he/she lost and must give his/her temporary wins to the one who hit him/her. At the end of the game, the winner took all.

Foot Shuttlecock: This is "an Asian sport with a reputed two thousand year history, is the oldest of the shuttlecock games. Starting life as a sport for men it has evolved over the centuries, into the predominantly children's game that it is today". In fact this is part of the primary school Physical Education syllabus today in Malaysia.

The purpose of the game is to kick a specially constructed, usually home made, shuttlecock into the air and keep it there for as long as possible solely by the use of the feet. This is normally accomplished by administering repeated kicks with the instep of either foot.

The game can be played by any number of players as follows:

If a solitary player, the object is to keep count of the number of times the shuttlecock is kicked into the air and to try and better one's previous highest score. When the shuttlecock falls to the ground the game is over.

If more than one participant, players form a circle and kick the shuttlecock to each other. A player who misses and lets it fall to the ground has to drop out of the game. This process of elimination is repeated, until the player who remains at the end is declared the winner.

One of my favourite game when I was young was blowing soap bubbles. Whenever my mother was washing her clothes, my siblings and I would crowd around and asked for extra "omo" to make a small bottle of bubbles and we would put our straws into the bottles and started to blow the soap bubbles from the first floor. It was actually very thrilling to do so. We love seeing big bubbles floating in the sun.

Eagle Catching the Chicks.
Children playing the game pretended they were an eagle, a hen, and some chicks. All the chicks stood behind the hen in a row, and the hen tried her best to protect her babies. When the game started, the eagle tried to catch the chicks. If a chick was caught by the eagle, then the eagle won the game, and the chick who was caught was the eagle in the next game.

We played a lot of games together. But as we grew older, and some children moved away, our young gang disbanded. And when the games stopped altogether, I knew my child hood was gone.

It was a sad moment when I looked at the empty hop scotch marks on the cement drive way, and the permanent rectangle for our marbles games under the house opposite our house in Brooke Drive seemed to beckon me but I had no more marbles left.

A magnolia leaf dropped onto the drive way as if to tell me that that special part of my life is forever gone.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Akira Kurosuwa and film making

Some how in the early 60's most of the cinemas expecially the Rex, in Sibu, showed a lot of Japanese movies. One horror movie series was about a little man who was a serial killer and I used to hide behind the chair whenever he appeared. The music was terrifying. And then there was the Flying Space Man, who was so handsome and strong that many young girls fell in love with him. A little like Superman,he fired the imagination of many children to do good and to save people.And many young female students went to see his movies just to swoon when he appeared in his white flying man's tight fitting suit. But the adults would watch some of the more mature films and also9 Akira Kurosawa's movies even though they were few and far apart.

You see in the 1960's even though many had hated the evil treatment of the Japanese army, some of the remnant elders would still remember a little of the Japanese they learned in school during the war. But what was important was the fact that the Japanese movies were very good entertainment and very well made for the discerning audience. The Toho company was far ahead of Shaw Brothers.

I saw Kurosuwa's Rashomon twice in Sibu. The first time I did not understand as it appeared to be a lot of talking and talking from a child's view point.

But later I saw the film once again when I was about to go to university. And at that time I felt that the film was very appealing as we had already studied about critical thinking and film review in sixth form. What I cannot understand to this day was that after the early 70's the Sibu cinemas did not show any Japanese movies until lately. I therefore feel sorry that a whole generation had missed out the philosophy, art and cinematographic art of Akira Kurosuwa and other Japanese film makers. If I ask any of my young friends today, they would only say that the Japanese make very good horror movies and the Koreans on the other hand make romantic tv dramas and movies.

But on the other, as far as I know,the West took Akira Kurosuwa and others like him very seriously and many famous Western directors claimed Akira Kurusowa as their mentor. In fact many of the famous films like the Magnificient Seven, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and others were based on Akira Kurosuwa's philosophy and art of film making. The Look East Policy in cinematography was already on its way in the 1960's.

"Rashomon" in film history is as important and entertaining as a film as Citizen Kane.

It's beginning scene is a huge Japanese Gate under which four different people spoke and discussed the case of rape and murder in the woods.

Akira Kurusowa's great success in the making of Rashomon " is that the recollections given to the courts by the woman, the bandit, the as well as the four in discussion, is that their emotions reveal their humanity, even if their details reveal nothing, or everything."

Actually the actors are speaking to the audience and as we listen we begin to form our own opinion. The characters also develop . And then as the film proceeds, the fears, the pride, the shame, and the search for judgment and/or truth in the situation are revealed to us.

This was the first time I came across the fear- inflcting and terrifying bandit Toshiro Mifume or San Sung Ming Long (Foochow Pin Yin) who was a fantastic actor in this movie. After Rashomon,I went on to see every film he was in. Literally I spent a lot of my pocket money going to the movies. Mifune later went to Hollywood and made many films alongside famous Hollywood stars.

Akira Kurosuwa ,as a semi autography of his revealed ,had a very deep insight on man's nature. Personally I feel that he made films which get stuck in our mind and even help us shape our character. He was himself an intense artistic man who believed in his art. And he believed strongly that what he did had an impact on others. And in later years, when western directors and producers recognised his art and skills, I was really amazed by their tributes and how much an Eastern man could influence and impact westerners.

In fact fifteen years and eleven films later, after he made Rashomon, Kurosuwa was both a critical and commercial god, a title which could make any film maker proud.

Besides Rashomon, Seven Samurai was another international hit. And to this day, it is still recognised as a great classic.

He also made Red Beard (1965) with Toshiro Mifune,Dersu Uzala (1974) with Soviet Union and with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, longtime Kurosawa fans, the film Kagemusha (1980) An unusual film, Ran was made with French support. It was
" his ultimate statement as an artist, the dauntingly grave transposition of Shakespeare’s King Lear to medieval Japan. This film stands in Kurosawa’s work as Otello stands in Verdi’s – a final, magnificent statement of his philosophy and one of the most stirringly grand films in recent memory".

Kurosawa earned his Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1989.

In his old age he made Dreams, Rhapsody in August (1991), and Madadayo (1993) – the last having never been released theatrically in the U.S. – were personal, meditative films, artistically free but controlled, somehow chastened.

There were other films by film and they are worth seeing. And if one could, one should collect all the DVDs of Akira Kurosuwa's movies. Few directors today or even in the future would be as great as AK.

Kurosuwa's own life could read like a novel. And Sibu movie lovers have perhaps benefitted from his craft. And to me this is quite remarkable .

A Day in the Life of Rev. Hoover

The Reverend James Hoover spent more 20 years in Sibu,Sarawak. He was introduced to Sibu by Wong Nai Siong who firmly believed that this American Missionary could succeed in doing what he projected to occur in Sibu in 1901.

Rev Hoover was a man who had a purpose in life and he was very "methodological by training".

I have a great deal of admiration for Rev Hoover who taught my father and his brothers in the Anglo Chinese School in Sibu, alongside Mr. JB Chong. And as a missionary and Principal as well as a father and husband, he was indeed a very busy man, running Sibu as a "Capitan" more or less. It is indeed significant that the Foochows of Sibu are building a significant monument in his honour, even though I am sure he himself would not really accept this kind of honour if he were alive today.

And I have taken a leaf from his diary, to share with you in my blog. This is taken from the Methodist Church of Malaysia Archive...on that day, Saturday, March 14, 1925, he had entertained 30 callers before 4 pm.

Can any one today be more busy than this wonderful man? 83 years ago, he was already leading a fantastically socially active life. Read on -----

· One of my preachers, to report that man who had run a gambling joint had stopped, and had given $50 to build a bridge in his neighbourhood. The preacher guaranteed his conduct for the future. I was to stop any prosecution that might be brought.
· To ask about help for a boy going to school in China. People in America had promised but had failed.
· Wanted help to get passport to send his brother who is a leper back to China.
· Feared he had a goitre, and wanted a letter to the doctor for examination. He also had business concerning the preacher-teacher at Lobok Geng.
· Desired to leave his quit rent for me to pay, as he had no time to attend to it.
· His father had died. Wanted to report this, and transfer his father's land grant to himself.
· Wanted to make a garden at Kanowit, and wished me to see the head of the land office.
· Orphan boy from Bukit Lan came to say he had lost his job as a rubber tapper, and wanted to know what to do about it.
· The preacher from Bukit Lan dropped in to say that all the roads needed remaking, and that his salary for the year was not provided for. He also wanted a bit of ground to extend his garden.
· Wanted to get permission from the land office to fell jungle back of his garden. Being unable to talk English or Malay, he wished me to accompany him. Paid ten dollars borrowed two years ago.
· Brought his son to exhibit his anatomy to me, to show marks made by one of our teachers.
· A Malay - to ask correct price of American ten-dollar gold pieces.
· Brought a chicken. Will return later to make his wants known!
· Wanted to buy a combination safe like mine.
· Two men who propose engaging in ferry business. Would I get a catalogue and order a motor launch?
· Two fellows with a wedding invitation.

In the meantime, I had my breakfast and tiffin, went to the Fort twice, the land office once, the bazaar once, wrote two letters, registered four marriages and filled out the forms for the Government. It was then 3.30.' - MM April 1925, page 50.

Government Rest Houses

This picture shows the Kuala Lipis Rest House. The Sibu Government Rest House was a little smaller but the architectural design was more or less the same. Unfortunately I never took a photo of the Sibu Government Rest House. In those long ago days I thought that government buildings would last forever being significant as they were, like the Sarawak Museum in Kuching.

If you should visit Kuala Lipis one day, I would suggest you stay in the Rest House and enjoy some very nostalgic times and a bit of historical touch. And you would also get a feel of what it is to stay in a Government Rest House. We had one for perhaps more than 100 years but because of Sibu's development, and as it was very much in the way it was demolished.

Since the time of Frank Swettenham, the British Colonial government had built Government Rest Houses in very select and prime lands in almost every major towns in Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore to provide accomodation for government officers on their travelling duties. This was to ensure that the British government officers could be given the best of home cooked meals and the cleanest accomodation possible in those five star hotel-less days.

Every Government Rest House would be equipped with two to three well appointed rooms, all with attached bathrooms, ceiling fans and wide windows for the best comfort afforded in an equitorial climate. These rest houses being built in the early 20th centuries would have the usual white bathroom ceramic tiles and good wooden French windows. Adjacent to the rest house would be the servants' quarters in which would live the house boy, the cook and their families. In the main house a clerk would attend to the visitor and a very old style black telephone would be placed on top of the huge receptionist's desk. Next to it would be the dining room and a nice comfortable sitting room with well cushioned rattan chairs. A huge grandfather clock would be the main adornment in the room.

Food would be very well prepared at the correct time. Breakfast would be fresh eggs fried or boiled served with bacon, ham and toasts. The cutleries would be very very British, and napkins , freshly ironed, white and starched, often placed in a nice silver napkin ring. Sometimes the dining table would even have fresh flowers cut from the garden. For many years, the Sibu Rest House had the services of the Kuek family. The friendly Mr. Kuek spoke excellent English and Malay. His wife must have cooked all the nice food for the itinerant visitors. I am sure the family would have a treasure chest of stories to tell.

Thus for many years government officers enjoyed this kind of outstation accomodation and after 1957, the government rest houses continue to serve the local counterparts.

The Sibu government rest house, situated just opposite the Rajang Port Authority, and its land is now part of the Sanyan Complex, continued to be a good place of accomodation. Education officers travelling from Kapit, Kanowit and even Sarikei used to stay there will their families. Service continued to be good but unfortunately the entire concept of government rest houses some how deteriorated to nothing when the last of the rest houses in Sarawak and Sabah were bull dozed.

A few post colonial officers had expressed opinions that when the final brick was broken up,the unique image of an efficient,well focussed,intelligent and honest British government servant on His/Her Majesty's Service also disappeared with it.

Midnight Express - The Tunku in Sibu

This piece is written just because we people in Sibu were very excited about the arrival of the K.D. Hang Tuah. Perhaps it was because we had never seen Tunku Abdual Rahman in person. But in fact very few people saw him at that time. As students then we did try to have a look at the wharf from our bicycles. But nothing was seen.

Nevertheless, a remarkable piece of Malaysian history occurred in Sibu in July 1966.

The Tunku and his entourage travelled on the flagship of the Royal Malaysian navy, K.D. Hang Tuah. His entourage comprised Khaw Kai Boh , Senu Abdul Rahman , Tan Sri V.T. Sambanthan , and Sarawak's Abdul Rahman Yakub . One note with interest that at that time, even those who were in the Federal Cabinet were not titled except Tan Sri S.

The Hang Tuah anchored at Sibu on July 1 1966.

According to the papers,the relationship between the East malaysian states and Federal government was very fragile at that time. And perhaps this group from KL thought that their presence and a ship as big as Hang Tuah could convince the locals of their might and stature.

The entourage left by motor launch for Kapit where a regatta and mass rally were to be held to demonstrate support for the new Sarawak State Government.

Thomas Kana, a parliamentarian then, was the chief spokesman in the four hour long journey to Kapit.

This was the time when Kalong Ningkan the first Chief Minister of Sarawak became very unpopular with the Federal Government. His personality, his issues, his attitudes were deemed unwelcomed by the West Malaysians and hence a campaign was staged for his ouster. It was very swiftly done.

High drama unfolded in the next few weeks and eventually saw the appointment of a new Chief Minister who was timid, not highly educated, and rather simplistic in his approach to politics. Nevertheless Syed Kechik drafted daily statements o Tawi Sli's behalf for release to the press and together with the state Director of Information composed speeches to be read by tawi Sli on the evening radio broadcasts-all dealing with the explanation of actions taken to dismiss Ningkan, the policy of the federal govt to make Malay the national language, the land issue and larger matters of development. The public and the opposition were surprised by the strength and resolve inherent in Tawi Sli's tough statements and speeches, as was Tawi Sli himself.

Sarawak would never be the same agin after this.

Monday, February 18, 2008

lin dai - the movie star Foochow women adored

My grandmother saw Chiang Shan Mei Ren (Kingdom and the Beauty) 63 times. Each time she went to see the movie she would make a mark in one notebook. But any way, she remembered by telling people each time she went and she just added the number.

But then there was one article which had this story :"When we made 'Eternal Love', I had, in Taiwan, people who came to see the picture 100 times. So I gave instructions to the manager, 'Over 100 times! Let him come in and see. Don't take money from him!"
- Sir Run Run Shaw, Signature, March 1990.

But my grandmother did not live to read this story as she passed away in 1986.

A few Shaw actresses had the star power to become legends in their own time but to us in Sibu, none was as great as Lin Dai (1953-1967)who won numerous awards including Best Actress for Li Han Hsiang's 'Kingdom and the Beauty'(1958), Doe Chings Les Belles(1960) and Love Without End (1961) in the Asian Film Festivals. Her critically acclaimed roles also included her lead in 'The Lotus Lamp (1963) and 'Last Woman of Shang'. Her career, which started in 1953, spanned an incredible 50 films ranging from costume epics to comedies to love stories and musicals.

But on 17 July 1964, due to personal distress, Lin Dai committed suicide at home with an overdose of sleeping pills. She died just five months before her 30th birthday. Her tragic death left Chinese communities around the world shocked with grief. In 1966, Lin Dai's unfinished last film, 'The Blue and the Black', was voted Best Picture of the Year at the 13th Asian Film Festival and she was given a posthumous lifetime achievement award.

How did we love her?

First of all, every movie magazine that carried her story would be snapped up in Sibu. Even though there were few magazines available, the movie fans were able to read enough about her.

Secondly, most of her movies were played to full house in Sibu cinemas. That really showed how popular she was.

Thirdly at the end of the year, all shops would give out their free shop calendars with movie stars printed on the hard cardboard. And all of us would rush to snap them up. In one year, my grandmother hanged more than 10 movie star calendars in her living room. A few of them were Lin Dai. She would tear out each day from the calendar faithfully to mark the passing of each day. such was her enthusiasm for the passing of each day and for awaiting the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

Fourthly, every now and then the local newspapers would carry great news about the movie stars and the local village shop would be the centre point for discussion of what each would know about the stars. And sometimes hot argument could break out because they disagreed about the news their bore. But the conversation was always good for anything and for everybody I reckon.

And finally, whenever we sat in a Chinese motor launch we would always greet each other with, "Are you going to the cinema?" We would just get so excited with anticipation.

Life seemed so much better when we could escape into the celluloid world in those days.

Today I miss queuing up to get tickets at the cinema for my grandmother, like any filial granddaughter would do.

Well, Lin Dai after all these years still seem to be so beautiful with her big bright eyes and bright smile. I may just go and watch The Kingdom and the Beauty one more time and sing along the Huang Mei Tiau, "Acting like an Emperor"

The First Movie Made in Sibu and Kapit by Shaw Brothers

My Uncle Tiong Siew King owned the Eastern Cinema in Bintangor in the 50's but I never had a chance of watching a movie there or with the family. But many years later when I visited Bintangor with a group of school friends I was given a treat to watch Gidget. The cinema was the same one, but the ownership had changed hands. By then my uncle and his family had moved to Sibu.

Nevetheless cinemas and movies played a big role in my life. Cinemas were important to the social life of the people in Sarawak, in Sibu in particular, in the 50's and 60's. And several cinemas were actually owned by the Shaw Brothers, namely Rex, Kuching, Sarawak; Lido, Sibu, Sarawak; Miri Theatre, Miri, Sarawak; Lutong Theatre, Lutong, Sarawak.

At that time, it must have been very challenging to bring movies from Singapore to Kuching and the other towns of Sarawak as so much had to be carried by boat. The most popular ship plying between Singapore and Sarawak was the 'Rajah Brooke'. Later, with flight services, they could be airlifted from Singapore.

It was also recognised that those men who came with the movies were very posh people and they were not able to be like one of the locals. They were the managers of the cinemas and representatives of Shaw Brothers and they were a cut above the locals. They also wore neckties to differentiate themselves from the movie goers and the bystanders. They were mainly Cantonese speaking.

I remember how the motor launches were decorated by huge movie banners. The Lido cinema manager had asked the Chinese motor launches to help adverstise the movies especially before the Chinese New Year so that the villagers would know when to come up river to watch the movies. And as a result Lido and Rex would play to full house. The movie banners were painted on huge canvas sheets. And today I wonder how much they had paid the ever helpful motor launch owners for their advertisements. Probably nothing.

Perhaps many people cannot believe this. The first movie (yes full length movie) to be made locally was in 1957. It was called "The Long House". Movie cameras,and other film making machinery, men wearing foreign clothes, and sun glasses, were all put on long boats and motor launches in Sibu. They had to make their way up to Kapit. There was a great deal of talk actually but I understand no Foochows were recruited for the making of the movie. Perhaps one or two Sibu families who were suppliers of outboard engines and long boats were also part of the project team.

However, the greatest excitement must have been in Kapit where the film was made. A Kapit Iban girl, Luli, was a natural actress and she got the role to play opposite the English actor.

That was quite a stunning acting role for a Kapit young lady and she was the toast of the town. She appeared in Singapore for the premiere of the movie and the stage was decorated with a model longhouse. Luli and her father toured the Shaw cinemas in West Malaysia. The newspapers everywhere carried news about her because she was stunningly beautiful as well as a good actress. Furthermore she was a very good singer.

What happened to Luli later in life,no one would really know. I went away from Sibu for such a long time that certain stories were really "unfinished businesses". The threads just disappeared.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Foochow Body Language

Many people may find the Foochows difficult to understand. we are interesting people actually. But if you can to study us closely, you may understand us better.

Body language as a form of communoication, has been of great interest to me ever since I was young. And having observed my fellow men for more than half a century, I have made the following conclusions and would like to share with you a little of what I know about Foochow Body Language. However if I have made any mistakes in my observations, the fault is all mine. So please look at them and perhaps you could also provide me with some feedback.

(Please also read Allan Pease' book on Body Language for comparison. It is a wealth of knowledge)

when I refer to "man", I am referring to both genders and I do apologise to all my feminist sisters. Some how I find it difficult to use the word "person".

Sticking out one's tongue means I don't believe you or you are talking nonsense or you are just being silly.

When a man slaps his own face - he is remorseful and is showing that he is very wrong . He is apologising.

When a man spits - he is showing that he is very upset and would not go on reasoning any more. This is a little rare nowadays. But it still happens in extreme or stressful cases.

When a man drops his trousers (very rare indeed but in the past it was quite common when all language failed him and when he was really angry) during an argument especially when he lost his temper(however, it was just an attempt to do so, and he would not go all the way). This shows extreme extreme anger.

when a man shows his bottom or point to his bottom and say "ne, ne, ne"- he is insulting you. This is very coarse among the educated today. But it was often done before. Instead a person may just exclaim, "My buttock lah!!" or " Ku Chiong!"

when a man points with and shakes his walking stick angrily - he is telling you that you must listen to him and that he is very angry with you.

when a man raises a hand and indicates he is to strike - he is giving a very stern warning that he might just want to beat you up.

When a man tries to calm another man down, and the later is still angry, he will shrug his shoulders and push the former away without looking at him. He will then walk away. This man cannot reason any more and would not like to discuss any more. He is very offended. He wants to save his face. Often the former will have to apologize directly or send a delegation to apologize.

When a man lifts a leg on to a chair - he is trying to relax and/or wait and see (sullenly) what you are going to do next. Sometimes this is considered a very rude body language.

When a man shows the middle finger - this is a very rude gesture, equivalent to the F word.

When a man putts his middle finger down your nose - this is the worst of insults he can give to you. You can punch him on the nose.

When a man slaps a friend's back happily - he is showing that he is extremely to meet up with you and that you two are good friends.

When two Foochow men walk arm in arm - they are happy and are best of friends. They are definitely not GAY. A greater gesture is when two men have arms over each others' shoulders to show they are blood brothers and the best of friends.

Foochow men are very warm hearted. When meeting a good friend in the morning he can straight away hold a friend's arm and take him into a coffee shop for breakfast. Very genuine. Or sometimes, when it is in the negative, he may want some help, like borrow some money or asking for a favour.

Shaking hands - politeness. Generally a very warm handshake reveals a warm character, a strong and good shake indicates a sincere person who has a lot of respect for others, a cold limp one indicates that this man does not realise your worth yet. In the past the Foochows loved shaking hands, as a legacy of Rev.Hoover. But today, fewer Foochows want to shake hands because of various reasons.

When a man looks at you and is seen to be closing one eye he is sizing you up or he is not sure who you are. He might be plotting against you.

A very confident Foochow man will have a strong eye contact with you. If a man looks down and starts kicking the floor, he has something on his mind and is not willing to share with you.

When a man gives you a slant look or a side way look, he has been viewing you negatively and might have said bad things about you prior to the meeting.

When two friends wink at each other, which is rather rare, they are passing a secret message telling each other not to mention their secret.

When a man twitches the side of his mouth and looking side ways he is indicating that he does not like you. Or you might have offended him previously.

When a man upturns his eyes he is indicating that you are a hopeless person or what you have just said is ridiculous.

When a man clears his throat he is thinking and is getting ready to say something important. Some people do this very obviously. Clearing the throat is like a speech clutch. It helps the Foochows to think before speaking and at the same time ensure that his voice is clear.

Foochows are fond of saying " Wai Ha!". It means that what he hears or sees is rather surprising.

Foochows are also fond of saying "Ah Siang Noh!" This means that something terrible has happened.

Many men slapping a table (nak toh ming) when they want to make a point, when they are angry or when no one listens to them.

When a man getts up from a chair he is done with the conversation andwould like to go.And if you would like him to stay, you can push him back to his chair. In olden days, the host would do this once or twice to show genuine hospitality.

In the olden days, when a man put his umbrella under his arm he was ready to go off from the group. He might do this angrily and you could see that. Like walking away in a huff and puff because he was not too happy with the discussion.

When a man stamps his foot it shows anger, irritation, frustration, remorse and impatience

Often both Foochow men and women stare at others to indicate curiosity,and sometimes surprise /shock. To many this is considered impolite and it makes people embarrassed,or self- conscious . A fight or two had broken out in during my school days between two racial groups because of this starring.

When a Foochow man says,"Shoo!" he is asking people to keep quiet. Sometimes he will put his forefinger perpendicular to his lips.

Perhap now it is quite rare, adults may pat the head of children to show affection;

For extreme compasion two men may embrace and one man may pat the grieving party's head to give comfort and consolation. It also shows affection. But this is becomeing very rare.

An older Foochow man may extend his hand towards a child or a girl,open palm,palm down, with all fingers crooked in a beckoning motion : beckoning some to come

"Shame on you!" (semi-joking gesture) Foochow is "Siew Leh"
Forefinger of one hand extended, tip touches one's own face several times quickly, going downwards; similar to scratching, but with the forefinger straight (usually with the remark "Shame on you!")

"I'm very full" (after a meal) This can be followed by belching too.
One hand open, lightly patting one's own stomach
Hand raised to throat, fingers extended, palm down (often with the remark "I'm full up to here")

Biting of one's fingernails (usually done by women but some men do it too)
Emotional stress, worried, doesn't know what to do

Wagging one's finger (forefinger of one hand raised, other fingers clasped, the raised forefinger is wagged from side to side)
Warning not to do something; indicating that what the other person is doing wrong

Shaking of head together with waving of both hands above the head
Very emphatic rejection of a proposal, idea, person; nonverbal way of saying a strong "No"

Positive : Winking (quick closing of one eye, generally with a smile and slight nod)
May show several feelings: understanding, approval, encouragement, trying to get across a message, solidarity

Touching or pointing to tip of one's own nose with raised forefinger
"It's me" "I'm the one" (To Westerners, the gesture would seem slightly funny) This is usually done when the people are known to each other well.

Using an open hand to cover one's mouth while speaking (generally used by older people) , sometimes even turning the back to others.
To show confidentiality and secrecy; sometimes no meaning

Using both hands (when one would be enough) in offering something to a visitor or another person - Respect

(When one's tea cup is being refilled by the host or hostess) putting one or both hands upright, palm open, beside the cup - "Thank you" When the visitor takes the cup away, he is genuine and does not want another cup.

Some people also indicates that they are about to leave when they finish drinking their tea. And they would say."Have to do definitely/"

When offering to pay for the bill, watch out for your friends' body language. A person who is very sincere in paying, would quickly push your money away and his wallet would be out in no time before the cashier. A person who is not sincere would hesitate and his hand would be easily pushed away by you. Sometimes everyone would want to pay the bill. The bill is usually settled by the person who most successfully pushes other hands away. A very sincere Foochow man would say he would pay the bill from the beginning of the gathering. He would say, " I will foot the bill today. Or today, you will all eat on my account."

Family Lessons from Lau Pang Sing, My Third Uncle

Whenever it rains, and the temperatures lower to less than the equatorial cool, and we shiver in our cotton shirts, I would think of the days spent with my maternal third uncle in the old house which my grandparents built before the war. That house was the symbol of Foochow hardwork, rubber money and blood and sweat since their arrival in Sibu in 1903.

My maternal grandparents had 4 sons and 5 daughters. The children were born during the time of pioneering poverty, extreme and unimaginable hard work, initial failures and consequent successes.

10 family lessons from my Third Uncle.

1. Reflection - Very often my shy and timid uncle, whom some people even called " no gall bladder type" would sit down with my grandmother and reflect on an act or a conversation. They would go over the incident and reflect very humourously. I really liked the way the mother and son discussed things with each other. The whole evening would be spent "thinking" and talking with them. Mothers and sons should always carry on their relationship like this.

2. Negotiation - My uncle was a very negotiable kind of person. He would never quarrel with any one, or shout at any one unnecessarily. His mind was an absolutely mature one. Even though he had only about 3 years of primary school, as the Japanese occupied Sarawak and his education was sadly curtailed, he had a beautiful mind.

3. Consultation - One of the most vivid memories I have of my dear uncle Pang Sing was his fondness and filial piety for my grandmother. Whenever he was approached to do some important work, he would always say that that he had to consult "Neh", the old way of addressing mother. All his siblings called my grandmother "Neh" very respectfully. This kind of consultation with mother was both respectful and endearing. In a way, my grandmother could only have love for her children because they consulted often with her as the matriarch of the family. There was so much respect and love in the family. At times when I had my own administrative issues I just wished that all my colleagues would behave in this way. So much could be done with so much love.

4. Humility - My uncle was a man of humility because he considered himself uneducated, through no fault of his own. However, by being very humble, he was not at all stepped on by people around him. In fact, no relative would laugh at him towards the later part of his life. They all considered him wise, kind, extremely helpful and loving, even though he was not wealthy like the other Foochow men. My uncle was the genuine "second mile" person.

5. Fear and caution - The Japanese Occupation traumatised my uncle and he was often intimidated by uniforms in the later part of his life. Once a school mate of mine who became a Police ASP brought a huge group of police to patrol the Sg. Maaw area or Lower Nan Chong Village during the RASCOM era, he was petrified!! He told us that he was literally shivering! But when my classmate pointed to my photo in the living room, and explained to him that I was his classmate, my uncle immediately started to cook a meal for them and they had a wonderful time. Besides, my classmate could speak Foochow like a Foochow. A photo and a common language sealed a cross-cultural friendship. We have many other stories about uncle and his fears actually. But he always had a good laugh about them.

6. Timidity - My uncle was not a conniving and greedy kind of person. He was very timid indeed. We would often tell that to be careful in everything we did. He would not say "Cannot do" but he would say, "May be we have to wait and see." or "Consider all factors". In a way, sometimes I would think that he was ahead of de Bono!!

7. Brute strength - His size, his strength (he could carry one whole gunny sack of rice on his bare shoulders), his muscles were often valued whenever heavy things needed to be carried. Once he carried my family's marble table all on his own, from the house to the jetty when we moved from Hua Hong to Sibu town. He was always Mr.Universe to us. He told us that lifting a heavy thing was just confidence and lots of practice.

8. Support - My uncle was ever ready to help any one in trouble, for example, lifting a car out of a muddy pot hole, carrying a sick man from the boat to the waiting taxi. Physically, I had seen my uncle carrying sick people on his back many times. And one of the last time I saw him doing that was the time he carried my grandmother on his back. Whenever I watch Korean movies today, any such scene would choke me up and I would just miss him so much. He always had a good word for people. And he would visit people who were sick, people who were in trouble. Many fellow villagers would come to visit him at grandmother's house and asked for his advice.

9. Child Like Wonder and love - He was a wonderful father, uncle and friend. Because of all his good traits all of us around him loved him and valued him greatly. He was walking in our shoes, and he could talk our language because he had this child like sense of wonder and love. He was a cool guy, and was one of us. He would never do the "distant" act with us.

10. Skills - Third Uncle had my grandmother's philosophy " One's independence is the real worth in life." Or, "Nothing is better than having all the skills yourself." He could do almost every single life skill himself, except type a letter ,speak English or write a book as he said. He could make meat dumplings, cook a ten course dinner, cut a log into planks, raise 100 pigs, carry a ton, drive a motor launch, and nurse a sick child. I like his philosophy. It is not arrogant. It is just extremely humble and sincere. So in a way his family today, and many of us nephews and nieces, all have a part of him. We all tend to do a lot of things on our, and make things from scratch. We can!

And thanks to him, in all his simple ways, our lives have been very much enriched.

Thank you, Kah Tuai (Uncle Big).

A Tribute to Sea Turtles and Turtle Eggs

For hundreds of years Foochows from China love sea food nothing but sea food because they are coastal people and they go to sea for fishing.

I remember relatives buying many turtle eggs from Kuching, Labuan and Sabah and giving them as beloved gifts whenver they came home from travelling. Furthermore, I also saw many shops selling freshly boiled turtle eggs for their customers in the early days of Sibu. But today, turtle eggs are protected commodities and no one is allowed to sell them in the market.

Sea turtles are so endangered!!

But taking a look at the sea turtles of Malaysia one can see how rich Malaysians can be in terms of food from just this group of marine life.

Because so many turtle eggs have been consumed by Malaysians, we should now start conserving sea turtles for very obvious reasons.

Seven turtle species have been recognised living in the world's oceans, which are grouped into six genera. Out of this number, four species can be found nesting on Malaysian shores: the olive-ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Unfortunately, these species are currently being listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered.

1. Olive-ridley turtle. Local name Penyu Lipas

The olive-ridley is a small turtle species. Its average clutch size is over 110 eggs, which requires a 52 to 58 day incubation period. This species inhabits tropical and subtropical coastal bays and estuaries. In Malaysia, the nesting status of olive-ridley turtle is fragmentary, with records available only for the states of Terengganu, Kelantan and Penang. Nesting has been recorded in Sabah and Sarawak but the numbers are probably insignificant compared to the major sites.

2. Hawksbill turtle. Local name Penyu Sisik, Penyu Karah

The hawksbill turtle is also one of the smaller sea turtles. Their shells are beautiful, which largely contributes to their endangered status. Humans kill them to get their shells, which are used to make jewellery and other products. Hawksbill turtles nest every three or more years. An average of two to four egg clutches are laid approximately fifteen days apart during nesting season. Each clutch contains an average of 160 eggs, which requires an approximately 60 day incubation period. This species inhabits near coral reefs in tropical oceans. In Malaysia, their nesting sites cover the shores of Terengganu, Johor, Melaka and Sabah, as well as Sarawak, and perhaps Pahang, Kedah and Kelantan.

3. Green turtle. Local name Penyu Agar, Penyu Pulau

The green turtle is the largest of the Cheloniidae family and are easily distinguished from other sea turtles because they have a single pair of scales in front of their eyes rather than two pairs as the other species. Diets of green turtles change significantly during its life. At less than eight inches long, green turtles eat worms, young crustaceans, aquatic insects, grasses and algae. Once green turtles reach eight to ten inches in length, they eat mostly sea grass and algae; the only sea turtle species that is strictly herbivorous as an adult.

Green turtles nest every three or more years. An average of three to five egg clutches are laid approximately twelve days between each nesting. Each clutch contains an average of 115 eggs, which requires an approximately 60 day incubation period. The green turtle can be found on tropical coasts and islands, and is the most widely distributed sea turtle species in Malaysia. In Peninsular Malaysia, major nesting sites include Perhentian and Redang Islands off Terengganu, and mainland beaches of Terengganu at Penarik, Kemaman and Kertih. They can also be found nesting in the states of Pahang (Chendor and Cherating) and Perak (Pantai Remis). In East Malaysia, the green turtle nesting sites are on the shores of Sarawak Turtle Islands, the Turtle Islands in Sabah and Sipadan Island.

4. Leatherback turtle. Local name Penyu Belimbing

The leatherback is the champion of sea turtles. It grows the largest, dives the deepest, and travels the farthest of all sea turtles. The leatherback turtle is the most unusual and distinctive of all sea turtles, as it is the only turtle that lacks a hard shell. Instead, this species has a large, elongate shell which is composed of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin, strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates. Seven narrow ridges run down the length of the carapace, and the lower shell is whitish to black, and marked by five ridges. The body of a leatherback is barrel shaped, tapering at the posterior to a blunt point.

With this streamlined body shape and the powerful front flippers, a leatherback can swim thousands of miles across the open ocean and against fast currents. Leatherback turtles nest at intervals of two to three years. An average of six to nine egg clutches are laid approximately ten days between each nesting. Each clutch contains an average of 80 fertilized eggs the size of billiard balls and 30 smaller unfertilized eggs, which requires an approximately 65 days incubation period. The leatherback turtle can be found in tropical oceans, but they migrate to temperate waters to feed. In Malaysia, this species nest largely on the mainland beaches of Terengganu; especially along a 15 km stretch of beach centered at Rantau Abang.

Why are sea turtles declining?

Sea turtles have long played a vital role in the folklore of many world cultures, but this has not stopped them from being exploited by humans for food and income. The earliest known sea turtle fossils are about 150 million years old. However, in the past 100 years increased demand for turtle meat, eggs, skin and shells has lead to a rapid decline in their populations.

Sea turtles are practically exposed to threats at all stages in their life-cycle. In nature, sea turtles nests are predated by monitor lizards, crabs and ants. Once they emerge, hatchlings make bite-sized meals for birds, crabs and a host of predators in the ocean. After reaching adulthood, sea turtles are relatively immune to predation, except for the occasional shark attack. However, it is the pressure of human activities that is threatening the survival of sea turtle around the world. Moreover, the impact of these threats is multiplied by their slow growth and long maturation period.

Artificial lighting

Turtles typically seek dark and undisturbed beaches for nesting. Nesting turtles often avoid lighted areas; therefore strong light and noise from beachfront structures and coastal residents as well as uncontrolled use of torchlight and flash photography by beach visitors can disrupt nesting activity. This too may disturb other nearby turtles from landing or nesting successfully. Also, artificial light can disorientate hatchlings during their seaward crawl and may lead them to wander inland, where they often die of dehydration and predation.

Coastal development

Beachfront development and construction of recreational facilities, walkways and barriers to prevent beach erosion can hinder nesting. Structures such as sea walls and sandbags that are installed in an attempt to protect beachfront property from erosion may block female turtles from reaching suitable nesting habitat. Besides that, removal or replacing of sand or local vegetation cover can alter beach condition that is suitable for nesting. Also, if this activity persists during nesting season, nests may be buried far under the surface or run over by heavy machineries.

Turtle egg harvest

In their lifetime, an adult female turtle can produce thousands of eggs. Each female lays hundreds of egg per nesting season and return to nest only after three to four years. Therefore, the high number of eggs laid per clutch per season is to make up for the high levels of hatchling and juvenile mortalities before reaching adulthood. In Malaysia, turtle eggs are still harvested commercially. This practise of collecting turtle eggs for sale and consumption can seriously threaten turtle populations. Turtle eggs can be ten times more expensive than chicken eggs although their nutritional properties are comparable. Any medicinal property claimed in turtle eggs has never been scientifically confirmed.

Ingestion of debris and plastic

Upon emergence, hatchlings frantically swim to offshore waters, launching their pelagic life searching for edible floating debris or whatever food they can find that accumulate along drift lines. Unfortunately, these drift lines also accumulate non-degradable human litter that is often dumped into the sea. Thousands of sea turtles die from eating or becoming entangled in this debris each year, including packing strip, balloons, pellets, bottles, vinyl films, and styrofoam. Trash, particularly plastic bags thrown overboard from boats or dumped near beaches and swept out to sea, is eaten by turtles and becomes a deadly meal. For example, leatherback turtles feed primarily on jellyfish and their inability to distinguish between a floating plastic bag and a swimming jellyfish in seawater has lead to deaths of many leatherbacks turtles. Therefore, it is important that garbage is disposed of properly and not thrown into the sea or littered on the beach, as tide will carry the rubbish out to sea.


Pollution can have serious impacts on both sea turtles and particularly on the food they eat. Turtle disease such as Fibropapillomas may be linked to pollution in the oceans and in nearshore waters. When pollution kills aquatic plant and animal life, it also removes food for sea turtles to eat. Oil spills, urban runoff of chemicals, fertilizers and petroleum all contribute to water pollution. Besides that, weathered oil slicks form tarballs, which may float on the sea surface for months or years, and are often mistaken by sea turtles for food.

Commercial fishing

The waters of South China Sea are a major habitat for turtles, but are also the main fishing grounds in Malaysia. Each year, during sea turtle migration across the open ocean between their feeding and nesting grounds, many become entangled in fishing nets and drown. Sea turtles are vulnerable to incidental capture in fishing gears. Globally, shrimp trawling probably responsible for the incidental death of more juvenile and adult sea turtles than any other source.

Case study: The leatherback turtle crisis in Rantau Abang.

The beaches of Rantau Abang, located in the state of Terengganu on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, are famed for being the landing sites of the Pacific Giant leatherback turtles. For decades, these marine reptiles come to the Rantau Abang shores biannually to lay eggs between the months of April and September. However, the leatherback turtles are in danger of being forever lost from Rantau Abang due to a significant fall in their population. According to the Department of Fisheries statistics the leatherback population nesting on Malaysian shores has declined to merely 2% of the actual number that arrived 50 years ago.

One primary factor that contributes to this devastating fact is the presence of humans at their nesting sites. Every landing season, large crowds consist of locals as well as tourists gather at Rantau Abang to witness this unique event. As these beaches are open to the public, it is often difficult to control the number of people present during leatherback nesting. Despite efforts by the government and the mass media to educate the public on turtle landings, there are still groups of people that camp in the area and build bonfires, which disturb the nesting process. Growth of the tourism industry in Rantau Abang also contributes to the decline, as bright lights and loud noises near the beachfront resulting in turtles to shy away.

Besides that, turtle landings in Rantau Abang also catch the attention of many egg poachers. Even with efforts to forbid the collecting of turtle eggs, they are still harvested commercially in some parts of Malaysia and often can be found for sale in local markets. To overcome this threat, an increasing number of turtle sanctuaries are currently being established along the Rantau Abang shores. Turtle eggs laid on the beach are located and replanted by scientists in incubator centres to prevent them from being stolen and eaten. These artificial hatcheries also provide controlled conditions which may help to overcome the problem of uneven sex ratio in the leatherback population, and consequently bring about the recovery of this species in Rantau Abang.

Conservation actions in Malaysia.

The urgent need to save our sea turtles has been realised long ago. In Malaysia, turtle conservation measures were introduced as early as 1927 by the British North Borneo Company in Sabah to protect the Hawksbill turtle species. Current turtle sanctuaries in Malaysia include:

The Turtle Islands

Located about 40 km off Sandakan, the Turtle Islands Park in Sabah is one of the premier green turtle and hawksbill turtle nesting sites in Malaysia. This sanctuary consists of three main nesting islands - Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungan Kechil and Pulau Gulisaan, covering an area of 1,740 hectares. In August 1966, the state government funded the establishment of the first turtle hatchery on the largest island, Pulau Selingaan. By 1977, all three islands were successfully converted into a marine park by the state government. Current management of the Turtle Islands is overseen by the Department of Fisheries in Sabah.

Ma' Daerah

Located in Terengganu, this turtle and terrapin sanctuary was established in June 1999. This project was undertaken through a partnership between the Department of Fisheries, BP Amoco and WWF Malaysia. Ma' Daerah stations as a turtle hatchery as well as turtle nesting research and management centre. Current conservation projects also include further education of the local communities on sea turtle crisis in Terengganu. Current management of Ma' Daerah is overseen by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia.

© 2008 WILD ASIA
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Mobile River Boat Shop - "Mantong Sung"

As the darkness slowly crept up the skies, and the trees on the riverbanks began to take dark sinister shapes, we could hear the small "pep pep pep" of a small boat moving nearer towards our jetty. The smell of burning diesel also became stronger. Accompanied by the swish swash of the river tide, this expectant moment seemed to be an introduction to a great movie.

But it was the homecoming of Huo Ang, my grandmother's tenant whose business was a river boat shop or "mantong sung". It was the early day floating supermarket of the Foochows.

Hwo Ang was about forty years old at that time. He had a wife, two children and one boy who was born a "vegetable". His wife lived a simple life with our extended family. She had her own kitchen, two small rooms and we all shared an outhouse,which was beyong the pigsty.

Each evening whenever Huo Ang came back from his day trip we children would crowd into his small wooden boat and look at his stuff - icecream sticks in the cooler flask,little tubes of blowing bubles, which were our favourite,sweets (called at that time manga tong or caramel),Foochow cup cakes, coconut candies and aerated water. So what ever little money we had, we would buy and run home happily with our treasures. We would always buy our stuff at this time of the day because Huo Ang would move out very early in the morning. And sometimes he would be gone for more than a day.

And then, we would know that his wife would have prepared his simple dinner of salted fish, a bit of soy sauce pork, some slices of salted eggs and a vegetable soup and they would eat in kersene light.

Huo Ang's wife was a very humble and sweet person.And she would seek out my grandmother's counselling all the time. Life with my grandmother was a huge experience because besides having two daughters in law with her, her youngest daughter was also staying in one of the apartments. Huo Ang's family also became part of our extended family.

A very significant part of this period of our life was our experinece of having Huo Ang's severely disabled childin the house. He was about 8 years old, quite a big boy, and he was always in his little cot. Occasionally Mrs. Huo Ang would let us kids have a peep at the seemingly boneless child. And we would often wonder when he would be able to play with us.

In restrospect I remember once she asked a visiting doctor about the length of life of her boy. The doctor replied, " He will live as long as he can live. We cannot tell. So far, he is alright." The doctor advised her to bathe and wash him twice a day and keep him fresh at all times.

Huo Ang's wife made a very thick rice gruel mixed with milk for him. And she would put this in a boat like shaped milk bottle, which was the fasthion of that time.

In the early hours of the morning Huo Ang would sail out to the nearby villages selling his wares and products. He would sometimes gather some wild meat from the longhouses for sale. His best business was around Bawang Assan longhouses where his sugar, salt, salted fish, eggs, and rice would sell very well.

At that age then, we did not understand how difficult it was for Mrs. Huo Ang to live one day at a time. But being mild mannered and having a cheerful personality, she could get along with every one. She did all her housework carefully and waited for her husband to come home in the evenings and would strain her ears to listen to the pep pep pep of the mantong sung.

What I remember was that Huo Ang and his wife always talked together in very soft and loving tones over their kerosene light. AS in the night, every thing was very silent and the wooden walls could not keep small chat in. We seldom saw Huo Ang in the broad day light. The "vegetable" child passed away at the age of 16 one early morning. Every one carried their kerosene lamps to have a last look and I remember my grandmother crying. She comforted Mrs.Huo Ang by saying." It is good too in a way. God's will."

Perhaps it was both sadness that Mrs.Huo Ang wailed loudly. But perhaps it was also gladness that she was relieved of this caring. However, it was perhaps most important that at that time, when death occur, a mother would wail loudly as it was supposed to be her role to do so.

Later when I went to university, I heard that they moved away and his children did very well in life. Lfe's blessings come in strange ways. We only have to believe that God is above us and he will take care of us.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ta Fong Aerated Water Company

Interestingly one of my favourite drinks during Chinese New Year was Cream Soda made by Ta Fong Aerated Water Company.

This is heavy memory indeed! And my heart just wants to burst to share this memory with any one who would want to listen or read!

The company, Ta Fong, belonged to one of my maternal uncles, Lau Pang Kwong, and had the address of 26 Central Road,Sibu. From half a shop lot, thousands of wooden crates of 72 black bottles each of different aerated water were produced monthly. Girls who worked there were cheerful and helpful. They were very friendly towards the kids who came around to have a look at the production line. I remember the huge black tubes of gas which would be used to pump the gaseous contents into the black and brown bottles. And a group of girls would paste the labels onto the bottles at the end of the assembly line.

The accountant of the company was Mr. Lau Kwok Chiong,another uncle of mine. He also had a remarkable family of smart children, very soft spoken and polite like him. They used to live in Kung Ping Road (now Brooke Drive) where I grew up. Mrs. Lau, our aunty was a good relative who comforted the children when they were scared and shared cheers during festive seasons. Needless to say, they had lots of Cream Soda and Sarsi for us on Chinese New Year Day. Lau Ai King became a caring nurse with a wonderful heart.

Remembering them, meeting them, only bring back wonderful memories of a Sibu childhood.

The flavours were cherry, sarsi,cream soda, banana and orange.

Each Chinese New Year before the advent of Fraser and Neave,7-UP and Coca Cola our parents would buy one whole crate of "mixed flavours" areated water from Ta Fong. Each big crate had 72 bottles. Later Ngo Kiong came into the market to compete with Ta Fong, but being relatives, we continued to buy Ta Fong. I liked another brand, Green Mountain. But perhaps because it was produced in Binatang (later Bintangor) the economics of production did not encourage a large profit so the company folded up. And there went out of our history a very delightful drink .

We kids would be given our share of the drinks, about six bottles each to be fair and we would hide our share here and there. We would try to drink as little as possible of our share, so that after the new year season, we could take out our bottles and drink slowly. I suppose it was very satisfying to be able "to have" a drink and say to a sibling, "I still have one bottle and you can have a little share of it."

It was a real life lesson on future orientation of needs and wants. My mother would say, " Bitter first, sweet later". Perhaps it was also our lesson in life on hoarding. Some of us became real life hoarders, hoarding everything because "these material things could be of importance in later life". Sometimes we do not even realise that we are hoarding junks. Ten sessions of spring cleaning cannot clear our junk. But I do love my junk.

We delighted in drinking them because our tongues would turn into the colour of the flavour. Of course at that time we did not know the dangers of artificial colouring in our food. Sometimes our mother would come and check our tongue. And yucks the tongues were all orange. Sometimes we laughed at each other because we had such purple tongues!! If we had too much of the banana flavour, our tongues would be ghostly green. And we would run after each other, saying, "Ghost, run away, ghost is coming after you!" And there would be shrieks of laughter in the house.

Sometime ago I did some research on how we could obtain our own Cream Soda Recipe as of course, the Ta Fong would not be able to spill their secrets.

According an American source, interestingly,this pharmacist's effervescent soda recipe for use in soda fountains is taken from the book "Young's Demonstrative Translation of Scientific Secrets" by Daniel Young, published by Rowsell & Ellis, Toronto, in 1861.

It would require:
Loaf sugar 10 lb, water 3 gills, mix, and warm gradually, so as not to burn; good rich cream 2 quarts, extract vanilla 1-1/2 oz, extract nutmeg 1/4 oz, and tartaric acid 4 oz; just bring to a boiling heat; for if you cook it any length of time it will crystallize. Use 4 or 5 spoonfuls of this syrup instead of 3, as in other syrups; put 1/3 teaspoonful of soda to a glass, if used without fountain. For charged fountains, no acid is used.

One of the flavours that I did not like was Sarsaparrilla. Wow, we did not know that it was some kind of wonder drug then. Sarsaparrilla is indeed the root of a woody vine native to South and Central America and the Caribbean contains the diuretic compounds (saponins) and can help lower high blood pressure, as well as play a role in urinary tract health. It helps prevent dangerous fluid build-up, such as that associated with congestive heart failure.

How did the world, and in particular, Sibu, get into the making of carbonated drinks? In fact there is a lot of history behind it. In the 1770s, scientists had already made important progress in replicating naturally carbonated mineral waters. Englishman Joseph Priestley impregnated distilled water with carbon dioxide. Another Englishman, John Mervin Nooth, improved Priestley's design and sold his apparatus for commercial use in pharmacies. Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a generating apparatus that made carbonated water from chalk by the use of sulfuric acid. Bergman's apparatus allowed imitation mineral water to be produced in large amounts.

Added to this series of scientific discoveries, the bottling industry blossomed by leaps and bounds. Over 1,500 U.S. patents, by the 19th century, were filed for either a cork, cap, or lid for the carbonated drink bottle tops during the early days of the bottling industry. Carbonated drink bottles are under a lot of pressure from the gas. Inventors were trying to find the best way to prevent the carbon dioxide or bubbles from escaping. In 1892, the "Crown Cork Bottle Seal" was patented by William Painter, a Baltimore machine shop operator. It was the first very successful method of keeping the bubbles in the bottle.

So in the 1950's, Sibu had already benefitted from western inventions and a small bottling plant as well as aerated water making company was established to cater for the restaurant business and home use.

Today, we can still buy some of these bottled aerated water from some local supermarkets and in fact they are still in good demand as many children continue to like the sweetness of the formulae. Perhaps my children like these drinks because they have heard so much from older friends and relatives about them.

Get a drink and try to get your tongue coloured. Stick out your tongue in jest!! Be young once again!

Of Wearing Buns and Black Trousers

The women of Sibu in the 50's and 60's wore mainly the samfoo, cheong sam (for festive seasons) and fairly rarely western frocks.

The younger ones would sport lovely floral cottons and the not so young would be wearing darker colours. The wealthier women would purchase more expensive materials imported from Europe or Japan. These women would sometimes be very gay and lively wearing their European style clothes too.

The collar of their every day samfoo was not too high. Most of these collars were not padded with a hard piece of cloth as we know from the Chinese movies or documentaries. I remember watching an aunt using a brush to brush the hard collars of her samfoos when she was doing her laundry.

So in a way these every day clothes could be seen every where in Sibu. And thus Chinese women were easily recogniseble, they were delightfully different from the Malay and European women when they appeared on the streets of Sibu.

However one special memory is very dear to me. I had seen my grandmother and her friends wearing only black brocade trousers. Besides, they all wore their hair in a tight bun just above their nape. And I asked her why.

She said that in China, all young married women would be able to sport colourful and creatively printed sam foos or cheong sams. But according to her when a woman "felt old", she should start wearing black trousers and a simple coloured (usually blue)top. In addition, she said that widows would also wear black trousers and a white samfoo top. The older samfoo top was made in such a way that the wearer did not look very sexy as the breasts were sort of suppressed and nothing much was shown. However, the "older" cut was also very elegant and serene. So by wearing a pair of black trousers and a simple , single coloured samfoo top, the elderly lady was indeed
a distinct class above the rest of the women folk.

By way of calling, those wearing black trousers would be called "Ah Moo" or Old Aunty. A younger married woman would be called "Ah Sing" or Aunty. So we were quite courteous as we could judge by way of the clothes our relatives wore.

Today, a 72 year old woman may be wearing a nice blouse with a pair of LEVI jeans and perhaps it would be most unwise to call her Ah Moo.

Then what about wearing a bun ?

Buns are lovely to look at today. But in those days, buns were only done up in just one or two ways, tied up, and bunned up in a net, or tied up and bunned up under a plastic looking cover, faily similar to what we have today. To make themselves smell wonderful, most of the senior ladies like my grandmother would slip one or two Bai Yu Lan or Ylang Ylang into their bun. Thus the fragrance of this flower would always bring back good memories of my wonderful grandmother.

Some of the older Foochow women had their hair cut rather short after they passed their child bearing age, while most of the others would have their hair permed in the western style.

I have a suspicion that when a Foochow woman passed her child bearing age, she would indicate by her clothes and hair style that she was passed the age of serving her husband in the bedroom. Perhaps this was putting it very delicately in a certain kind of language understood by the people of those days.

A bit of digression here as my thoughts go haywire. Perhaps no sane man would go and rape a woman wearing a pair of black trousers!! If we were to practice this today, I am wondering whether the rape rate would decrease.

Another point of interest I would like to raise is the fact that many of the Chinese women who were brought into Sarawak before the Second World War were actually Chinese nationals and they were given a Red Identity Card by the Sarawak Government.

I remember my Grandmother carrying her IC as if it was the most important part of her life. She kept it in a very neat purse and made sure that it was with her.

When she was in her death bed, she asked for it once or twice. It must have meant a lot to her.

Usually most of these Chinese nationals went on their ordinary lives without being very much bothered because whether they were nationals of Sarawak or not, it did not make any difference. They were mothers of Sarawakian children and they worked as hard as any one if not harder. The law did not go after them either, to chase them back to China.

But there was indeed some distinction between China born and Sarawak born Foochow women. That made it even more interesting and meaningful in our social life then.


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