Monday, March 17, 2008

The Year of the Rabbit and Sg. Teku

This is the story of one of my relatives who is China-born and experienced KMT rule, the Japanese Invasion of China , the Communist Long March and the Party's triumph in 1949. According to her,life was extremely difficult for her then in China and also in Sarawak.

Her background is typical of brides who came from China in the 1900's right up to 1954. Because she was given as a bride by her poor parents to a man already in Sibu, she was "sent out" to Sibu in the Year of the Rabbit. She never went to school. So it was then very difficult to read and know about calendars especially. She did not understand the Kuo Ming Tang calendar (which started in 1901 by Sun Yet Sen).

She is still very quick at calculating one's age by the Animal Zodiac.
So, my relative arrived in Sibu in the Year of the Rabbit. With reference to the Gregorian calendar and the Lunar Calendar, I found out that the year of the Rabbit was 1951.

Her skills in addition and subtraction are entirely done mentally. I do not think many can beat her in counting, adding amounts of money mentally and quickly. She told me that she can never be cheated by shop keepers because of her maths skill. And as a sharp consumer she would be able to get the best bargains. In this way, she saved a lot of money for her family.

She said that when she first arrived, her husband was still very poor even though he had been working for several years for his relatives. Thus she planned that they should go on their own independent life just a year later after her arrival. When she had the opportunity to rent two acres of land from the Ibans in Sg. Teku,she was twenty and her husband twenty eight. Together they planted padi. The year had a great harvest and they harvested enough to pay off all their debts and start truly as a married couple with the remaining l gunny sack of rice. From then on, the husband and wife team worked very hard to acquire some land and build a simple wooden house.

When a child was born, she would nurse the baby herself, and carried him every where she went, planting pepper and tapping rubber. Her eldest son was often hung in a typical Foochow sarong "cradle" from the three legged pepper ladder as she plucked the berries or as she went around adding fertilizer to the pepper vines. Every child would be brought up in that way. Her daughter was so obedient that she would sit in a box under their farm house for many hours.

She looked after two generations - her own children and her son's children. Some house as a "career" woman she was very positive and excellent in bringing up children. All her neighbours admired her and even envied her.

She later obtained a motor cycle license and became more independent of her husband. She literally worked non stop from the age of 20 until recently when she broke her arm because of a fall from the pepper ladder. She is a typical pepper farmer who is not afraid of the sun and the heat from the ground. And she said that if she can, she can work right up to her old age and never never say, "Retire".

When she was alone in the farm house in the early days, she had a basket of rough stones , ever ready to throw at thieves or intruders. This was her security system which I find very ingenious. Her husband, when he was alive, used to work every where in Sibu, in Oya,and in Kapit too, wherever people could find odd jobs for him to do.

According to her the first few years were very difficult because the general public looked at her with suspicion . They waited to see if she would return to China!! But she was very hardworking and was willing to do everything for the sake of her family.Some neighbours were even jealous of her because of her size and yet she could develop her farm well and looked after her children who were very promising.

Both she and her husband experienced discrimination from shop keepers who would not allow them to "carry and pay later". Only one shop allowed her to "utang".She suffered a lot because there had been times when she could not buy a lot of supplies because prices of rubber were down and her pepper were just growing. Later when she was able to sell tons of rubber and pepper, with the help of labourers, the shop keepers asked her to become their customer. She refused a few because she wanted to teach them a lesson. She said that because they were poor, they kept all these sufferings in their hearts. And she also said that her suffering in Sarawak was nothing compared to the times under the Japanese in China.

She learned in a hard way and early that she must buy everything cash and have a lot of savings in the bank. Life is quite basic she said. If you have cash, you don't have to be afraid, especially when you are older. By now she is all "prepared" for old age.

She has one very interesting skill. And that is relating a lot of Chinese wisdom in rhymes.

Here is a Foochow rhyme used by young unmarried people in China when they got together to debate humourously - this is about marriage. It is amazing how she can remember all these.

Men :
Have you ever seen a boat without a bamboo pole?
Have you ever seen a chopping board without a chopper?

Women in reply:

A ship sails the seas without a bamboo pole.
A monk stays single and so does a nun.

Men in reply:

When a ship berths at a harbour, it drops anchor.
Nuns are actually companions of our monks.

Here is another jewel from her :

The best of good land dishes are mountain deer, and mountain goats
The best of good sea food dishes are mackerel and white pomfret

(Foochow goat - yiong rhymes with Chiong or pomfret)

I am glad that I have a "Foochow Mentor" like her. May I wish her happiness and a long life.

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