Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laundry Soap

The smell of soap in the morning is to me the smell of comfort and mother's love.

This lovely smell came to me when I was just a child. Mother loved washing clothes when the tide came up to our landing on the staircase to our house in Hua Hong Facotry. And she would swish and swash, push and pat the clothes on the wooden washing board. She would have the oval metal washing basin (those memorable ones which doubled as baby baths) filled with water and clothes already soaped with Causeway soap.

When I grew older and visited grandmother down river, all my aunts and cousins would be washing their clothes on the jetty in the evenings. The jetty would be full of women washing clothes and children jumping into the river for the evening bath. It was a real riot of happiness and family bonding. It was a wonderful time for us girls and older aunts to gossip and learn of the latest news, the latest songs and even the latest movies.

Soaps came in two forms. The whole block of Causeway Brand soap which my grandmother would cut up and dry on the Foochow stove. These cut up ,handsized pieces of soap would be used for washing of clothes, as well as for bathing. This was of course the time before Lux Soap make its way into the frugal Foochow market of Sibu. The smoked pieces of soap lasted a long time. Whatever clothes which were rubbed with the soap seemed to smell wonderful and clean.

I still remember that lingering smell in my mind. And today, I wish I could buy another crate of these lovely block soaps and distribute them amongst my cousins to remind them of our wonderful childhood by the Rejang River.

And besides the rough block soap, I remember the other brand of soap which was pricier and perhaps used by people in the town of Sibu in the 50's before Unilever started manufacturing soap in the then Malaya.

Here's a short write up on the Fan Soap. Perhaps some of you readers have mothers who used them.

The label shown here is from a bar of translucent, yellowish Fan Laundry Soap. I have discovered that it is still made in Shanghai, China with old-time quality and vintage packaging.

The original primary purpose of Fan Laundry Soap was for washing laundry. In the old days, before the advent of liquid or even powdered detergents, folks kept a bar of laundry soap on hand alongside an old-fashioned grater, and they hand-grated up just the right amount of soap for each load of laundry.

Laundry soaps contain a higher proportion of lye than fine soaps do, which makes them well-suited to getting rid of germs, dirt, and foul odors. To cover their tough, "soapy" scent, they may be (but are not always) strongly perfumed. Fan Laundry Soap comes out of this old-fashioned tradition of soap-making, and the scent used to perfume it is a Lemongrass and lemon fragrance.

After the independence of Malaya in 1958, different kinds of detergents were introduced to Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah. And as Singapore grew in economic power, Sarawak also benefitted in many ways, especially in the availability of household items. Living standards continue to rise and life style improved.

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