Thursday, March 20, 2008


Remember the first kerosene refrigerators in Sibu? What about some families who owned kerosene fans in those long ago days? They were the envy of their neighbours. I remember my Malay friend owning the most beautiful oven which sat on top of a lovely kerosene stove. And her mother made wonderful sweet and colourful cakes for Raya.

Horrified mothers would wash the lice out of their children's hair using kerosene. Catching lice at school was like getting a punishment and there would be a ritual to get rid of the creepies. It was indeed a painful procedure and it hurt the scalp and the hair. But in those days we did not have the lovely scented lotion which can help delouse a child's head.

Kerosene is called "Western Oil" or Yong Yiu in Foochow.

The Sibu population depended a lot on kerosene in the early days. Although fewer people are dependent on kerosene today, those living on the outskirts of Sibu still depend on it.

Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek "keros" (κηρός wax).

It is commonly called paraffin (sometimes paraffin oil) in the UK and South Africa (not to be confused with the waxy solid also called paraffin wax or just paraffin, or the much more viscous paraffin oil used as a laxative); the term kerosene is usual in much of Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

Kerosene is widely used to power jet-engined aircraft, but is also commonly used as a heating fuel. It is obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum between 150 °C and 275 °C, resulting in a mixture of carbon chains containing 12 to 15 carbon atoms.

Kerosene was first described by al-Razi (Rhazes) as a distillation of petroleum in 9th-century Baghdad. In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets), he described two methods for the production of kerosene. One method involved using clay as an absorbent, whereas the other method involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac). In 1807, kerosene was refined from a naturally-occurring asphaltum called Albertite by Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner, founding the modern petroleum industry in the process. Gesner went on to establish his Kerosene Gaslight Company to market kerosene around the world in 1850. Scottish chemist James Young built the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil extracted from locally-mined Torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal. Polish chemist Ignacy Łukasiewicz discovered the means of refining kerosene from the less expensive seep oil in 1856.

Interestingly,the widespread availability of cheaper kerosene was the principal factor in the precipitous decline in the whaling industry in the mid- to late-19th century, as the leading product of whaling was oil for lamps. Our literature students would be interested in re-reading "Moby Dick" a novel with a setting on the whaling industry.

At one time the fuel was widely used in kerosene lamps and lanterns. Many fires in the late 18th century were caused by defective kerosene lamps. Today,its use as a cooking fuel is mostly restricted to some portable stoves for backpackers and to less developed countries, where it is usually less refined and contains impurities and even debris.

As a heating fuel, it is often used in portable stoves, and is sold in some filling stations. It is sometimes used as a heat source during power failures. The use of portable kerosene heaters is not recommended for closed indoor areas without a chimney due to the danger of build-up of carbon monoxide gas.

Kerosene is widely used in Japan as a home heating fuel for portable and installed kerosene heaters. In Malaysia and Japan, kerosene can be readily bought at any filling station or be delivered to homes.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland kerosene is often used as both a cooking and heating fuel in areas where there is a limited gas supply.

today in the less developed countries like like India, kerosene is the main fuel used for cooking, especially by the poor. Kerosene stoves have replaced the traditional wood-based cooking appliances that are unhealthy and inefficient. The price of kerosene can be a major political issue; the Indian government subsidises the fuel to keep the price very low (around 15cents/litre as of Feb.2007).

Kerosene is also used for fire performances such as poi (New Zealand) and staff because of its low flame temperature when burnt in free air, making the fire low risk, should the performer come in contact with the flame.

It is often used as a fuel for fire dancing. But it not usually used for indoor fire-dancing as it produces an unpleasant odour which becomes, in sufficient concentration, poisonous.So methanol is often used instead, but it can be a more dangerous fuel because of its lower flash point, and it also produces less "impressive" flames.

In the olden days many countries had used kerosene to treat pools of standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, notably in the yellow fever outbreak of 1905 in New Orleans, USA.

Today many collectors are looking for kerosene fans because they were the rage in the 1950's and they are indeed very pretty and elegant. Good enough to grace any living room!

Kerosene has indeed helped many people of Sibu. It can not and should not be considered something lowly.

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