Wednesday, April 30, 2008


(Photo: Nadai.Nama Nama.

Cigarette smoking has been associated with the Foochows of Sibu for a long long time. They must have brought the habit from China. My maternal grandfather smoked a water pipe until he died. And that was a very unique part of his life.

My maternal grandmother had a duty to roll the rokok leaves and bundled them up for sale to the Melanaus. Tobacco was already a small crop in South China at that time. And the Chinese were smoking like chimneys by then. As part of her daily chores she later also had the job of sorting out tabacco and putting them into small tins for sale.

But she was never never smoked in her life. Although there were many women smokers at that time. Perhaps it was the strong Methodist upbringing that prevented Foochow women from smoking.

With her stories and my own value system, I could not ever touch a stick of cigarette.

My father smoked Lucky Strike. My paternal grandfather being a very frugal man did not smoke very much. The painful and very poor days of the past kept a lot of the older generation Foochows from smoking. Thus very few Foochows even smoke a pipe.
The most famous pipe smoking man in Sibu was a Mr. Chew who spoke very good English. Pipe smoking gave out a special aroma.

Cigarettes were either local tobacco or rokok, or imported brands like Malborough, Lucky Strike or Three Fives and young people took to smoking more than the older Foochows.

One very interesting social habit, a tourist may notice, of the local people is a gathering at a home and this applies to young and old alike. The first thing to come out is a tray of an assorted items - tobacco, nipah leaves rolled into a bundle, cigarette paper, betel nuts, a nut cutter, sireh, etc. This is a social cultural "welcoming" sign. A litle ritual is carried out and this makes every one merry and happy. thus sitting on the mat, in a liiving room becomes a very ritualized social gathering where turn taking, easy conversation and polite little talks all take place and good neighbourly feelings develop amidst genteel laughter. Slowly the layers of social inhibition will disappear and a genuine relatinship is formed. Many people find this very de-stressing after a hard day's work.

And it seems,when a stranger who has arrived for a short stop,and does not stay for a smoke, the host and the onlookers would feel that there is unfinished business. Check that out.

However my most painful memory of cigarette was this tale from a man who told me that a local prostitute could be had for only a stick of cigarette in some back streets in Sibu in those days.

What a horrible,downgrading, belittling life for the woman!! Is that what a woman is worth only? Why couldn't a man pay more? Is life so cheap? Please give face lah, as the local would say.

Seriously, I think I would go out and campaign for better price enforcement for our ladies who are providing a much needed service. And men who have been involved should also stand up for their service providers and raise the prices. Better value may mean better service and conditions.

Pomelo : A Great Fruit

The pomelo is very much a part of Foochows' love of fruits. We Foochows need pomeloes as part of our Chinese New Year celebration. The fruit is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. There are several types of pomelo actually but normally the Foochows would consider that there are the white and the pink types.

The white pomelo is often served as dessert at the end of a Foochow banquet in order to help with digestion. The pink pomelo is considered as an antidote for stomach or intestinal worms. Believe it or not, when we were young we were often given the pink pomelo and sure enough, if we had worms, we would see the worms in our stools. A few pomeloes really could cleanse all of the kids in no time. My mother really believes in this deworming treatment. I also bought a lot of pink pomelo for my children. (Just in case.) I am wondering if the younger generation can still remember this.

Pomeloes make very good gifts because they do not spoil easily. On the other hand,two or three pomeloes are always welcome when a person is ill in the hospital. The vitamins in the fruit can always help a faster recovery. Whenever I am ill, the only fruit I like is pomelo. It gives me a lot of comfort because I know someone cares for me and as part of my upbringing, a pomelo would always be a comforting sight. I am wondering if it is because I am Foochow. My children always like to place the skin of the pomelo (the white side) on their faces because they feel cool and comfortable. A skilfully cut rind of the pomelo,placed on their head always brings a lot of laughter to the family. Waiting for the segments of the pomelo the children would kid around and wear the rind as a hat. It was always a very happy occasion to eat pomelo.

Because it has a very thick and spongy rind, a metaphor has been created out of it. Foochows who know no shame are those who have skin as thick as pomelo's.

The pomelo leaves are often used to wash away any bad luck or sicknesses according to the superstitious Foochows who are not Christians. I believe many people still practise this.

The Foochows generally accept it as a fact that the second Kang Chu, Lau Kah Tii, was the man responsible for bringing the first pomelo seedlings to Sibu. That is why, we call one special type which has a little more furry skin, Moh Moh Pow, as Lau Kah Tii's nickname was Moh Moh. (He had this nickname because he reared hundreds of mother ducks when he first started his life in Sibu.)

We used to say that a pomelo tree in a Chinese garden would be indicative that the house belongs to a Foochow. But I am not sure if it is still true today. But all my Foochow friends in Miri do indeed have a pomelo tree. This prompts me to go and plant one when I have the opportunity in the near future. What a nice thought.

According to the Wikipedia, the pomelo is native to Southeast Asia, and grows wild on river banks in Fiji, Tonga, and Hawaii. It may have been introduced into China around 100 B.C. It is widely cultivated in southern China (Jiangsu, Jiangxi, and Fujian Provinces) and especially in central Thailand on the banks of the Tha Chin River; also in Taiwan and southernmost Japan, southern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Tahiti, and the Philippines. It is also grown commercially (on a limited scale for ethnic and specialty grocers) elsewhere, particularly California, Florida, and Israel. Because of this limited production, pomelos typically sell for about 2 dollars apiece in the USA.

The pomelo is also known as a shaddock, after an English sea captain, Captain Shaddock, who introduced the seed to the West Indies in the 17th century from the Malay Archipelago. In the Pacific and Asia, it is known as jabong and in Chinese it is called yòuzi (柚子) (not to be confused with the yuzu, which uses the same Chinese characters but is a different species), while it is called som o (ส้มโอ) in Thai, bưởi in Vietnamese and buntan (文旦, buntan?) or zabon (朱欒, zabon?) in Japanese. In Burmese it is called kywègaw thee in the south and shaupann thee in upcountry.

The pulp colour ranges between clear pale yellow to pink to red, and tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit - it has very little or none of the common grapefruit's bitterness, but the membranes of the segments are bitter and usually discarded. It is the largest citrus fruit, growing as large as 30 cm in diameter and weighing as much as 10 kg; the peel is thick, and is sometimes used to make marmalade. One way to eat the pomelo is to remove the rind, then peel the segments themselves to obtain the juice vesicles or 'flesh' (see Gallery, below). Another way is to blend the fruit including its white membranes, to produce a purée. Candied then dipped in chocolate, the rind makes a magnificent grapefruity confection.

The finest variety (at least per California citrusmen) is considered to be the Chandler, which has a smoother skin than many other varieties. The photo above shows an almost-ripe Chandler (though it would still be good eating). In Vietnam, a particularly well known variety called bưởi Năm Roi is cultivated in the Vinh Long Province of the Mekong Delta region.

The tangelo is a hybrid between the pomelo and the tangerine. It has a thicker skin than a tangerine and is less sweet.

The peel of the pomelo is also used in Chinese cooking or candied. In general, citrus peel is often used in southern Chinese cuisine for flavouring, especially in sweet soup desserts.

Source : 28 April 2008 Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a U.S.

Long Bridge of Sibu

This photo of houses on stilts on a river in Bacoor, Cavite, Philippines is courtesy of Chris Gregerson. (Check ) The houses on stilts remind me of those simple wodden houses by the riverside of the Rejang known as Long Bridge in Sibu in the 50's and 60's. Any one travelling from Sibu to Kapit or from Sibu to Kapit by the slow wooden motor launches in those days would have seen similar houses on stilts. I am hoping that one day someone will send me a photo of the original Long Bridge to illustrate my posting. Or alternatively, I could get a painting of Long Bridge of those long ago days.

The black and white photos are really old photos of the original Long Bridge of Sibu. They evoke the mystery and the untold stories of the people living in this very unique area of Sibu.

Long Bridge or Tong Keor or Tiing Geor in Sibu was a well known place for a long long time until it cleared up and a sort of urban development started in the 1970's. The developers were far sighted enough to start dumping a lot of soil to reclaim the riverside land. In this way, Sibu started to expand towards Lanang Road, following the Rejang River eastern bank.

Today the Long Bridge Road is still there but three storeyed concrete shop houses have replaced the wooden houses and two big hotels (Rinwood and Lee Hua) form part of the vicinity.

But what was Long Bridge exactly? Many people today would say that it was just cheap housing built by some businessmen for their coolies but later one home was added after another. And slowly what was originally just some construction workers' huts became a river side residential area, and businesses started with a little retail or kedai runcit here and there. A few women took in sewing and washing. Some of the women hired themselves out as house maids and even cleaners for the local hotels and shops. the houses were built on both sides of a long belian bridge which was built on stilts and the houses which were also on stilts were kept well above the tides. Perhaps on the big floods of 58 and 63 went into these homes.

Some houses even sold beer and the open spaces were good meeting places for men who had no where else to go. About one hundred or more families must have lived there. Many children grew up and moved on, while the elderly stayed on. It did become a special colony by itself, with its own character and its own community rules.

What was very interesting was how many Hokkiens and Foochows and some other indigenous people lived well together in that place. I remember that some of the Sibu trishaw drivers lived there as in the evenings one could see that their trishaws parked outside the "main bridge". But I also know a few families who had prospered because they worked hard as washerwomen, cold storage workers and saved enough money by living in cheap houses. These owners later acquired good businesses and some of them even migrated overseas. They made money selling off their wooden houses to their friends who in turn rented out these houses to new migrants who have moved into Sibu. It was not exactly the homes of hopeless urban dwellers. Later these families benefitted from the urban development and were given the three storeyed shop houses by the developers.

What were very interesting about the place? It was a place where photographers, both foreign and local, found intriguing and unforgettable. Many great photos were taken of the place. The plank walks, the houses when the tide was up, the rusty and sad looking zinc roofing, the washing hanging out under the sun for drying,the muddy tin and plastic covered river bed when the tide was out, and even sunset over the last few houses seemed romantic enough to beckon the adventurous photographers.

A decrepit (to many) place but home to some of the Long Bridge afficiandos,it was part and parcel of urban development and unknowingly had helped the town of Sibu itself develop . It had served its purposes of providing dirt cheap housing for migrant workers, a safe haven for homeless people, and a convenient shelter for the earliest rural-urban migrants. Many transient labourers who helped with the piling work of housing construction, the digging of drains and even government projects, lived in rooms there if and when the towkays could not provide them with adequate housing. Sometimes two or three families would live together in a unit, leaving so little room for other social functions, except just eating, sleeping and a little cooking. It was just a kind of existence, not living.

The long bridge which was actually an L-shape belian plank walk on stilts with its wooden houses would always be a pictureque and historical part of Sibu for many of us.

Note from Alison Buda "Today, what remains is the Long Bridge road and the long bridge cafe that reminds people of its existence long time ago."

More Notes : So do walk down memory lane when you visit Sibu, by having a little sight seeing tour of the place.

It is quite near the Window of Sibu and is opposite the Catholic High School and the
Sacred Heart Church.

You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda

How did Honda Bike start? How much did it influence your life? When was your first Honda ride?

My first Honda ride? I was visiting my second maternal uncle and his family in SJK Tien Chin in Bukit Lan when I had my first motor cycle ride as a pillion rider. It was a luxury then for if I did not take that lovely ride from the river bank to the school, about an hour's walk inland, I would have been very frightened by the isolation and the quietness of the tropical rubber garden environment. I was about10 years old then, my first visit to an uncle who was a headmaster of a primary school.

During the ride I must have turned green and even white because of the fear of riding very fast on two wheels and having over hanging branches hitting us. I was expecting a snake to drop on us any moment. The owner of the Honda bike was one of the nicest people I ever met. The ride was free and I saw beautiful unforgetable Orchid Hill or Bukit Lan thanks to him.

Later I began to see more and more Honda Cub in Sibu and my grandmother's area or Ah Nang Chong (Sg. Maaw). The pace of life became faster and easier. I believe my 80 year old grandmother also had her moments riding pillion on a Honda. Sibu was flooded with Honda Cubs in the 1960's.

The Honda has arrived in the same way as the saying "The Eagle Has Landed".

This time the Japanese invasion was of a different kind - the Honda Invasion.

My second most memorable Honda ride? We had a wonderful American missionary teacher, Miss Jackie Fries, teaching in our secondary school. She owned a red Honda motor cycle and she would give us great rides around the school compound. Yes, she is the nicest person you can ever meet in Sibu on a Honda. She gave us tuition free of charge, she allowed us to help her add the marks on test papers, she was a great mentor and she inspired all her students to go beyond our limits and dream the impossible dreams.

My cousin,Yuk Hee learned how to ride a motor cycle using her bike and she did very well. She was the envy of the girls. Able to ride a Honda. Also, she is one of the nicest people in Sibu you can get to know.

I did try to learn how to ride a Honda bike well but I wasn't good and never took the license. A few years later, I rode a Honda bike,illegally, in KL with a friend as my pillion rider and met with a very serious accident, with half my body almost literally scratched. My Foochow friends said that my "leh pian has cracked and I was not so 'sellable'.I have a 14 stitch-scar on my forehead which I always cover with a fringe. Perhaps because of that no Foochow ever asked my hand for marriage. May be I was truly put on offer - "slightly damaged, 70% off!!!" No Foochow taker lo......I still have a good laugh over that. Many do not know that I am one of the nicest people you can ever meet - the Foochow Girl on a Honda. (Sorry my children always say, self praise is no praise :) :) )

Years later when I took my MBA I had a lovely time studying Japanese Business Management and Theories. And Honda was one of my case studies.

Unknown to us then in the 50's and 60's the Japanese had studied us in detail. Because of their seriousness, they could penetrate not only our South East market but also the American market with east. A piece of cake if you do pre-studies of your market.

The history of Honda tells us that "Honda conducted market surveys in Europe and Southeast Asia from the end of 1956 to early the next year, with the former being covered by Soichiro Honda and Fujisawa and the latter taken by Kihachiro Kawashima.

In Southeast Asia motorcycles and mopeds imported from Europe were making their first appearances in the cities and towns, signaling the emergence of a popular new means of transportation that would soon rival the bicycle. In fact, as the region's economy grew, motorcycles were expected to outstrip bicycles.

Kawashima conducted a survey that lasted for more than three weeks, after which he returned to Japan and reported to Fujisawa that the Southeast Asian market was indeed promising. In return, Fujisawa told Kawashima, "Now, go off to America and check it out," ordering him to conduct a similar survey in the U.S. The country that Kawashima saw was truly the Land of the Automobile. After all, cars were an absolute necessity amid the vast expanses of rural territory, which had for years lacked a viable commuter network of railroads. And motorcycles were seen merely as adjuncts to cars, like toys one could use for leisure or, if one was daring enough, racing.

"I had always thought that motorcycles provided a means of transportation with which one earned a livelihood," Kawashima recalled. "Sure, they doubled as toys from time to time, but mainly they were used for everyday necessities. So, in my view America didn't come across as a country that had really accepted the motorcycle."

Upon his return from the U.S., Kawashima made a proposal to Fujisawa: "I believe it would be easier to begin with the Southeast Asian market than America."

Fujisawa considered the suggestion for a moment, then turned and gave a firm reply. "On second thought," he said, "let's do America. After all, America is the stronghold of capitalism, and the center of the world's economy. To succeed in the U.S. is to succeed worldwide. On the other hand, if a product doesn't become a hit in America, it'll never be a hit internationally.

"To take up the challenge of the American market may be the most difficult thing to do," Fujisawa concluded, "but it's a critical step in expanding the export of our products."

But what was most memorable to me about Honda is the advertisement by Grey Advertising, a major U.S. agency,which proposed the campaign with the slogan, "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," Kawashima knew right away that it would work. This was to be a major campaign targeting the eleven western states.

The ad depicted housewives, a parent and child, young couples and other respectable members of society-referred to as "the nicest people"-riding Honda 50s for a variety of purposes. Moreover, the colorful illustration and highly professional design appealed strongly to the public. Those who would otherwise have rolled their eyes at the word "motorcycle," and those who previously had no interest in them, soon saw in the motorcycle a new purpose: one of casual and convenient daily transportation.

Mothers who once wouldn't listen to an adolescent child's plea for a motorcycle began to compromise, saying, "I'll buy you one, if it's a Honda." The Honda 50 even became popular as a present for birthdays and Christmas. And with its support from an ever-widening sector of the American public-from students and housewives to businessmen and outdoor enthusiasts-the motorcycle finally won recognition as a popular product.

Grey Advertising, now quite confident in its wildly successful Honda campaign, had a new proposal. "Mr. Kawashima," they asked, "would American Honda like to participate as a sponsor of the Academy Awards broadcast"

The Academy Awards broadcast was a major annual event drawing a public, eager for a taste of glamour and spectacle. Even then the show was televised nationally. Grey maintained that airing a commercial during this program, which attracted 70 or 80 percent of all television viewers, would immediately spread the American Honda name and product line across the nation. The broadcasting fee for two 90-second commercial segments was $300,000. Seen as an outrageous price that would immediately wipe out the revenue from about 1,200 Honda 50s, even Kawashima hesitated before giving it his approval. "When I heard they wanted $300,000, I had serious reason to pause and think about it," Kawashima said, looking back at the plan. "But Fujisawa had always told me that great opportunities weren't so easy to come by. So, I decided to go for it. -Let's do it,' I said. But to be honest, I was pretty nervous."

American Honda thus became the first foreign corporation to sponsor the Academy Awards show. And because no one had ever heard of a motorcycle company sponsoring the event, it became a subject of constant conversation among industry insiders and advertising professionals.

But in April 1964 the TV commercial that aired across the country caused an even bigger sensation. The response was simply overwhelming, and people everywhere were clamoring to start their own Honda dealerships. Moreover, large corporations across the U.S. began to inundate American Honda with inquiries concerning tie-ups, including such requests as, "We would love to use the Honda 50 as a product in our sales-promotion campaign."

The Honda 50 had truly succeeded in its appeal to the American public. More than simply another motorcycle, it was seen as a casual vehicle for daily activities, and as such was an entirely new consumer value.

Advertisements are important. But wise decisions are also equally important. Clinch the deal when you have that great gut feeling. The Japanese have it where Honda is concerned in this case.

Yes, you do meet the nicest people on a Honda. In view of the great oil price hike, think Honda Cub. Be environmentally friendly, Be on a Honda.

(Source : Excerpts are from Honda History)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sibu Kite Wars -Memories of a Brother, A Painting and A Movie

During the months of July, August and September in the 50's and 60's, the boys of all races and even some adults were taking out their best kites to fly.Hundreds of kites could be seen soaring up the skies ,darkening the vivid sunset like marauding planes on strike. The kites,big and small, colourful and plain,giants and tiny ones, were indeed an inspiring sight to behold.

However due to many negative instances of kids falling into the drains with some stories of their drowning, kids getting electrocuted, or cut by the sharp (glued with pounded glass) and fights which ensued after losses in the kite wars, kite flying and kite fighting was banned. How the police and the politicians erased this game from the then social life of Sibu was an interesting social "devolution" and perhaps a slow process of erosion of simple childhood fun.

So after just a few years of articles published in the newspapers, a few talks by community leaders, and lots of advice against kite flying, the obedient young citizens of Sibu stopped flying kites altogether. However, it seems that the political flavour of the moment (2008)is to bring kite flying back again to Sibu and probably there WILL BE an annual kite festival in the Tourist Calendar of Sibu.

Perhaps unknown to many Sibu people,actually in East Asia kite flying is an ancient custom. How many of us know that some Asian kites are musical. When the wind whistles through the reeds or bamboo tubes of the kites, the sound is thought to frighten away evil spirits.

In Korea, for example, people fly kites during the first days of the New Year. And in our own ancestors' China the ninth day of the ninth month—Kites' Day, or the Festival for Climbing Heights—is a holiday honoring elders and our forefathers who had protected us.

Kite flying is thus not necessarily an evil activity which can kill, or do harm to creative fun loving children or become a public nuisance.

In Sibu, my late brother and his friends made their own kites out of light bamboo and waxed paper.They would talk excitedly for days about the quality of the bamboo they used and the quality of the paper they have bought.They would cycled for miles to discover the best bamboo grove to cut that perfect stem for their beloved kite. Strings were those large spools of white thick Coates cotton (size 10 or Size 2). The boys painstakingly pounded blown light bulbs (glass) until they were just fine powder using a kitchen mortar and pestle, or lesong.

A solution of home made glue made to perfection was mixed with the powdery glass and long lengths of strings were stretched out in the garden. A small paintbrush would be used to brush the strings and have them lovingly coated with the gluey glass particles.This ensured that crushed glass will grip onto the strings. The boys would wait patiently for their strings to dry in the sun.

As they sat under a rambutan tree, they would recall with gaiety, and slaps on each other's shoulders, kites of past years and their own kite fights. And yes, fights with their mothers because they would come home all bloodied , losing a slipper or two and even with torn shirts as they had skirmishes looking for the fallen kites. Mothers would never understand the hormones and adrenalin which pump through the boys' blood system during the kite season.

When the strings were dry and attached to the special champion kite, they boys were ready for war. They would wait for a good wind, probably around 4 in the afternoon . Hundreds of kites would be flying and Brooke Drive was a favourite "fighting" ground.

any kite could be taken, but the best kites could easily be identified within minutes of flying. And these were targetted by the kite fliers.

Sometimes we could see four or five boys running with their strings from one road to another, just to cut the string of a special kite. When the kite fell, they would shout "belayang! belayang or balayan...." and every one would rush for the fallen kite. The boy who grabbed the kite would feel elated and the euphoria of getting a prized kite was beyond the imagination of a boy. He would have to run through trees, even cars, and perhaps climb a tree just to get hold of a treasure. Sometimes there was a fight. But this was the fun of a lifetime!! And talk would be just greatand for days they would recount their joys and sorrows.

The kite fliers had to be very skilful in letting their kite go low and then soar right up the sky and then bend a little. And with a little jerk, the flier could just cut of the string of the other kite. This was all very strategically planned. Sometimes one kite could down three or four in one evening. This would make that kite the champion kite. The following day, the other boys would be ready to take on the corky kite. And war began again.

the Malay boys from the Kampong were for once united with all the Chinese boys in this season. And you could see that language, race, religion and culture were all forgotten. All barriers were down. They were united in the pure enjoyment of kite flying. Sometimes they even shared their knowledge of how to make the best glass coating for the strings.

Those were also the times when boys were boys and they even forgot to go to school because they would rather spend time making kites and flying them. Only they knew the wonders and pleasures of flying their own kites.

These are my memories of my kite flying days in Sibu.

In many cultures around the world, the custom of kite flying has been passed from generation to generation almost as a ritual. Kites have been introduced more than three thousand years ago in China and from there the kite flying experience traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and later in America, Australia and other countries around the globe. From the years of Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell to the World War II, kites have been used in scientific experiments or as lifting tools for military purposes. Today, kite flying and its contemporary successors, like kite buggying, kite sailing/surfing, or kite jumping, are considered to be joyful, relatively inexpensive and unique recreational activities practiced around the world, almost all year around.

The traditional kite flying involves flying a tethered man-made object with the help of the natural wind. The necessary lift that permits the kite to fly into the open space is generated when airflow over and under the kite creates the right amount of low pressure above the kite and high pressure underneath it. Those practicing kite flying state that running against the wind while holding the string that connects the center of the kite with the surface is a unique experience that one has to practice in order to fully comprehend. Typically consisting of one or more spars (sticks), made by bamboo, rattan, or other flexible but strong materials to hold the pressure powers exercised by the wind, classic kites use paper or light fabric sails, such as silk, and are made in different shapes and/or themes, such as birds or dragons. From the classic flat geometric form of a polyester diamond kite, modern designers have created kites that have three-dimensional forms or are made of sparless inflatable designs.

In recent years, in many countries, kite flying has developed into a competitive sport where precision flying skills and artistic interpretation are required.

But for the rest of the world, kite festivals have become a popular form of entertainment. These can be small local events, like traditional festivals, practiced by the local citizens for hundreds of years, to international festivities which bring in kite flyers from distant countries to display their techniques and distinct kite art forms. Moreover, with kite museums all around the world, kites are exposed to the eyes of the public and attract thousands of new practitioners every year. The world kite museum in Weifang Shandong China, the famous international kite capital, is the largest one in the world featuring a display area of more than 8,100 sq.m.

One very famous painting which depicts kite flying is "Kite Flying" by Ian FAirweather, painted in 1958.

It is an amazing painting, a fusion of eastern knowledge and western art.

Ian Fairweather is one of Queensland's most distinguished artists. Born in Scotland in 1891, Fairweather travelled through Europe and Asia as a young man, arriving in Australia in 1933. He eventually settled on Bribie Island, just north of Brisbane, where he lived a rudimentary and solitary lifestyle from 1953 until his death in 1974

Kite flying 1958, one of Fairweather's most significant works, exemplifies the artist's approach to painting. Lines inspired by Chinese calligraphy cross the work, exposing layers of underpainting. Figures, kites and balloons dance in and out of focus in a fusion of shapes and colours.

The work is based on a 2000-year-old Chinese kite flying festival, which celebrates the protection of loved ones against misfortune. The festival commemorates the story of Huan Ching, a man from the Han period in China, who was warned by a sage to take his wife and children to the mountains.

Taking this advice, he took his family kite flying, and so escaped the massacre that befell their livestock. The felicity of this occasion is reflected in the painting's joyous vibrancy.

Isn't it amazing that kite flying can inspire painters and fire the imagination of boys!

And finally,one of the latest movies is "The Kite Runner" based on the book by Khaled Hossein reignites my interest in my childhood kite flying. Perhaps even in Sibu there was a great story behind all those kite fighting days.

Article Source:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kerto's Wild Chicken Mushrooms and Hoon Ngang

(Wedding photo: one of the earliest weddings in Pulau Kerto - this photo was taken outside one of the Hua Hong Ice Factory residential homes. This is my parents' wedding photo taken in 1948)

If one has to summarize in one sentence about our Foochow elders, then it should be "They were wonderful people who could create a living out of nature."

I remember my father going out one morning while we were living at the Hua Hong Ice Factory on the Kerto Island (1949-1955) and coming home with a whole bunch of wild mushrooms. He called them Chicken Meat Mushroom. Then he and my mum went to clean up the mushrooms, and cooked a beautiful pot of wild mushroom , and the big Foochow mee hoon , which is called Hoon Ngang. The taste was definitely chicken.

I can never forget the taste nor the happiness of eating the free and pure white mushrooms. Even though later in life we have so many kinds of commercially and freshly grown mushrooms, that meal was unforgetable. I continue to look for chicken mushroom throughout my life.

Although my memory is fading,I am sure my father and his Foochow and Iban employees seriously could find chicken mushrooms in the woods of Pulau Kerto.

Not long ago I tried to search in the internet for Chicken Mushroom and I found a very rich source of information. There is indeed an American version of the chicken mushroom. Below is one example.

Recipe for the Chicken Mushroom Hoon Ngang

wild mushrooms ( 2 - 3 ringgit worth?)well washed
2 big onions, well chopped
salt to taste
2 Tbp sesame oil
lots of white ground pepper
half packet of thick rice vermecelli (Hoon Ngang) Boiled and softened
one pot of water
foochow red wine
some chicken stock powder


1. Fry the chopped onions in the hot sesame oil
2. stir fry quickly the shredded wild mushrooms
3. add enough water to make soup.
4. add salt and pepper and chicken stock powder
5. When ready, pour soup into bowls of the softened hoon ngang. Let stand for a while.
6. Serve with Foochow red wine.

Perhaps one day, some entrepreneurs will be growing chicken mushrooms in Sarawak or even find it in Kerto!!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Salfted Fish and Salt Fish Mongers of Sibu

When my maternal grandmother was sad and in a pensive mood, she would soop a bowl of overnight old cooked rice,cold and unheated, pour a cup of hot Chinese tea into it,scoop a spoonful of sugar over it , shred two slices of already fried salted fish on top and give it a good stir. And as she looked at her one dish meal, she would shake her head and mumble a little. She would say, "No appetite, cannot eat..." and my third aunt would quickly get all the naughty grandhcildren out of her way, away from the kitchen.

She would slowly eat this bowl of water rice and every one would be very quiet because we knew that she was feeling down.

Somethig or someone must have upset the matriarch. And having such a bowl of "overnight rice" was a huge indication of her present state of mind. So we had all to be behave. My third uncle would be his most charming self, smiling, relax but not talking. There was no time for small talk until the storm blew away.

In the evening, she would sit down on the verandah between the big house and the kitchen, fanning herself....and probably getting to talk again. We waited.

It was like waiting for a storm to pass.

Grandma was not a personwho harboured grudges and after a while, we would all be laughing again.

We have weathered the storm well. And so had she.I am glad she used this method of communicating with us her despair. And we were also very sensitive to her feelings, especially my aunt and uncle. We would all be passing a secret code,"The wind direction is not good."

This is what I remember most whenever we think about salted fish.

Salted fish was a very important part of the the Foochow diet in the early days of Sibu. The Sibu Salt Fish Market was one of the biggest in Sarawak,centralised, well organised and neat in display. It was sight a sight to absorb. One could walk down the aisles and aisles of salted fish, all displayed in their gunny sacks. The smell was tantalising. It was all at once a homely and warm feeling.

Besides we knew all the salted fish monger by sight. But a few would be our "family kawan fish monger", that is, these salt fish mongers were people we would always buy from and we would never get cheated. We just had to tell them who our parents were and we would be given the correct measurement, plus a little more for granmother at no charge, and we would then be so happy to run along. Sometimes we would get a pat on the back, with an additional compliment,"Very clever child." Often with a comment like that I would be walking on clouds.

These salt fish mongers worked very hard. They obtained their salted fish from else where. At night, most of them would sleep with their bags and bags of salted fish. Security was not night, they were the owners and the guards of their goods. And nothing ever happened in all those years I lived in Sibu.

These vendors, like Ah Pan and Ah Kuok's father,Mr. Tang, who was so friendly and human sold dried shrimps of different qualities,cincaro, belachan, crab sauce, shimp sauce, and fish sauce, salted fish of more than 10 types (in foochow - Pah tiak poh, ma ka, ngo yu,ma ka long,yu kan cheong, ba lik or terbok,etc).

Today, in any one place, one cannot find a whole market full of salted fish. In Miri for example, salted fish occupies a very small corner or frontage of an old grocery shop. A few bags of newly sundred and salted fish of less fish types would hange in the tamu. gone are the days when we could pick the choicest of the salted fish.

I would like to see a revival of some exotic salted fish, and have tourists come all from all over the world to look at how we process this huge barracuda, ikan tenggiri and then later feast on the different dishes created from these traditionally preserved fish.

When industries go into high gear, when machinery takes over the lives of the simple folks, tourist industry players cannot offer the exotic, authentic,original and history rich journeys which most discerning travellers yearn for.

Food or Tiffin Carriers

I have arranged all these tiffin carriers in a chronological order from antique (Raymond Kwok) to modern (source : ebay) in anti clockwise manner. They are as dear to my heart, as a Foochow or Chinese woman, as to any Asian woman in this world.

When a Chinese woman sees a tiffin carrier,like any of these, her heart would definitely miss a bit because it is one kitchen item that she cannot do without, unless she is totally unskilled in the kitchen.

Here are some stories I would like to share with you.

Once there was a young man who had sent his wife to the Lau King Howe Hospital to await their first born and then went to work. The hospital later telephoned his mother that the baby was soon to be born. His mother quickly slaughtered the best female chicken (must be female according to traditions)and boiled it in the simple Foochow style, which we call Bak Kong (Plain boil). This was very nourishing for a woman who had just given birth. She then placed the chicken soup in the bottom tray or layer of a tiffin carrier and placed some rice in another layer. she also placed two hard boiled eggs at the top layer. In this way, the chicken soup would keep the rice and the eggs warm. when it was known that the baby was just about to be born the mother sent the young husband to the hospital with specific instructions on how to "feed" the new mother with the chicken soup and the rice. He had to use a spoon and feed her. the new mother must not get up from the hospital bed.

Well, the young man arrived at the hospital and checked out his wife. When he heard her crying out in pain and still in labour, he took an about turn and cycled home with the tiffin carrier. when his mother saw him pale and distraught,she asked him what happened. He then realised that he had done the most embarrasing deed. His mother had to send the tiffin carrier to the hospital on foot herself as she did not know how to cycle and fed the daughter in law herself. She mumbled that she had a hopeless son.

But she was over the moon because she had a bouncing baby for a grandson!!

The story of the Hopeless Son spread far and wide and brought a lot of smiles to many understanding men and women.

My own stories were simple. The tiffin carriers would always remind me of how wonderful Foochow mothers were to their daughters and daughters-n-law from the moment the babies wereborn. It was such a comforting arrangement for mum to cook all the lovely confinement food and have them sent to the hospital. My mum would always carry the tiffin carrier to my hospital bed after I had been delivered . They would have the most important kampong chicken soup. This soup was a good anguish terminator. For generations they Foochows recomment this plain boiled chicken soup for the first few days of confinement.

So in a way I I had some very memorable meals out of these tiffin "trays" for my four babies who were all born in Sibu. My mum was different as she did not ask my husband to send the food to me. I often wonder if my husband might have committed some abominable acts by forgetting to send me the food or losing the tiffin carrier some where along the roads in Sibu!! Well, one never knows!!

One of my friends was fairly busy with her career. One day, her husband lovingly brought a tiffin carrier to her place of work. when she opened them happily, she was embarrased to find that there was nothing in the trays!! her embarrassed husband had brought the wrong tiffin carrier to her!! Some men don't even know the weight of an empty tiffin carrier!!

An aunt of mine used to carry a fully cooked meal of four dishes in a tiffin carrier to her bed ridden mother in law for years, every day, twice, by foot, until the old lady passed away. Her husband had actually left her and her six children. How much love can a woman have for her mother in law? My aunt is indeed an examplary daughter in law.

I believe there are lots of stories around the tiffin carrier, some are bitter, some are sweet but all are home stories which should be shared.

What's yours?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rice Fields, Pigs and A Gold Chain

"I have eaten more bitterness than anyone of you here,"exclaimed my elderly cousin, as we swapped stories of our past.

"Planting of rice, opening up rubber land, growing potatoes, hiding from thieves and others? I have done it all and more," she continued with a gentle shake of her head, with some sighs of regret but some element of achievement.

She had grown rice from the moment she could handle a changkul in China and when she came to Sarawak to marry her late husband, at the age of 16, just after the war, she had already suffered a life time of hardwork, so to speak.

In Sarawak life was not much easier compared to that in China because she had to start from scatch as her husband later proved to be quite a playboy in the old generation style. "Never stay at home, liked to sit in coffee shop, and chased after a few skirts (at that time, samfoo), but I managed to bring up a fairly good batch of children...."

She said that she was very focussed in her objectives in life and that was how she managed to keep her soul, family,property together. An illiterate young lady, with no other relatives and alone in this wide, and foreign land of Sarawak, she had no choice but to plod on.

She started with just two acres of rented padi land which she cultivated well and later bought and as her children grew, she managed single handedly to grow rice seedlings, replant them, spray pesticides and weed the fields, harvest and hull the rice. It was a struggle for her with just her changkul, motor bike and her brains.

Although illiterate, she could count very well and no shop keeper could cheat her by a cent of her money. Her late husband respected her for that and in a way trusted her to do everything for the family but unfortunately he was very tightfisted.

With the money she earned herself from her rice growing, she saved to buy hersecond piece of land, a piece of rubber land, a little inland from the river bank.

But what she remembered was how she saved money to buy herself her first gold chain. Everyone else was wearing a great gold chain and she also desired to have one then. Naturally her husband did not have any gold to give to her.

She decided to rear some pigs in her backyard. It was quite an achievement according to her that her pigs just grew to be so fat and nice. She must have raised more than a hundred pigs in a few years. She bought and sold them and to her great satisfaction she had a bit of money stashed away.

Besides, she stint, she scratched every bit of produce for sale and even to the extent of not buying herself new clothes for several Chinese New Year. Finally she got enough Malaysian dollars (at that time) to buy herself her own first gold chain at the value of 28 dollars per gram/chien. She wore her gold chain very proudly for about two years.

When she heard that her brother-in-law in China was very sick, she and her husband decided to sell the gold chain and send the money back.

It took her another twenty years to buy one more gold chain for herself because there were other priorities.

Life has been a struggle but she said that her land has given her enough. Life to her is made up of changkul, parang bengkok, a motor bike and two strong hands.

Asked if she would grow rice again, she said that if her hands and arms are strong enough, she would. But she must have her own land. Unfortunately she had sold her padi land to educate her children and to buy a small terrace house, as her husband had died not too long ago,distributed his property to their sons and had left very little to her. Typical of a chauvinistic old fashioned Foochow man.

She still has a small piece of land of her own but it is to be sold for her own final journey if her children are not filial to her at the end. Her small cash savings are just enough for her bills and a little food and the occasional angpows.

Amazing story? But she said, that was the way most Foochow women lived in the 50's and 60's or even until the 90's. She reminded the next generation/s women to save money and work hard for their old age. "Have your own money. Don't trust 100% your husband. And perhaps not even your sons.....Daughters don't count."

A Mysterious Story from Pulau Kerto

In the late fifties and early sixties,there was a lady who used to hide in the Foochow Masland Church on Island Road. I was probably in Primary Six then and realised for the first time what it was like to come face to face with a woman who had become MAD. The local gossips had many stories about her.

Here is one version.

Right after the war, the young lady was married off to a handsome man who had some means from Kerto. It was predicted that the marriage would bring about many children and the lady would be well blessed by those around her.

However some years into the marriage, the lady would often "return" home to her parents in Sibu, complaining that her husband had been physically abusing her and treating her more or less as a slave,physically and mentally. Her children were numerous by then and she did not want to have any more children. She was even saying that her womb was going to come out any time.

But her parents, not knowing the whole truth, comforted her and sent her back, again and again.

Then one evening, about midnight, when the moon was at its brightest, she went to look for her philandering husband. She crossed a bridge which known be haunted and there she gave out a big and wild scream. From that moment on, she was insane.

Her parents did not know what to do with her. They just let her wander around. Sometimes she would appear at a neighbour's vegetable garden and start cursing her wicked husband, sometimes even relating frightening tales of her husband's exuberance and excessive physical demands.

The neighbours had a earful.

However something strange did come about. We, at that young age, learned that she could tell people that she felt a lot of peace at the Masland Church. So sometimes she would hide herself, if and when the church was accidentally left open, under the rostrum. But of course I never saw with my own eyes how people pull her out of from the rostrum, or chase her out of the church.

I had only seen her a few times when she tried to sell vegetables to my aunts in the shops. Actually those "vegetables" were just grasses she had picked. In those incidents she looked perfectly normal to me. But according to my aunts, her type of madness was not serious. She only had bad moments of insanity and good moments of sanity. But some weeks she could be really bad. However perhaps it was divine will that she never came into the primary school to frighten the pupils.

How she could cross the Rejang River in a boat, I would never know. Probably the boat people would just let her have a free ride.

It must have been very painful for her children and her own siblings and parents to see her become like a lost mad woman looking for something that she would never find in this life.

After I left the primary school, I sort of forgot about her until recently when a friend reminded me about her. We were saying that if only at that time there was some kind of counselling centre, how helpful it would have been for her and her family.

Do you believe that a bridge can be haunted? Do you believe that a woman looking for her husband can be mysteriously stricken with madness by a ghost?

Well that is probably a ghost story from Sibu for you to read about. You do not have to believe in it at all.

But strange things do happen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Rice is the staple of the Chinese. When Wong Nai Siong negotiated for a group of Foochow settlers to start agricultural development in Sibu in 1901, he and the Rajah Brooke were thinking of planting rice for the newly proposed agricultural Foochow -Sarawak joint venture. Another group of Foochows settled in Sitiawan, Perak with an initial cultivation of rice. Both projects however failed. This could be due to divine intervention. As a result to recoup the losses, the Foochows embarked on an ambitious plan to plant commercial rubber, quite a newly discovered crop, the seeds coming fresh from Kew Gardens, London. This was both an enterprising and a risky scheme. However, their fears were unfounded for the following years when the rubber trees were ready to be tapped, they made a fortune.

During the Japanese Occupation, personal anecdotes of growing rice were plentiful and available in many Chinese documents and books. Apart from personal oral stories from my own uncles and aunts, I would like to share a page from Rev. Ling Kai Cheng's book. According to Rev Ling Kai Cheng, the rubber prices during the time reached rock bottom. All communication with the outside world was cut off. He and his wife and four children were blessed enough to be able to "rent 8 acres of land in the 6th Preccinct (Luk Kuh, now Jalan Lucky, Sibu) to grow rice. The family happily grew rice, cut grass, planted plenty of peanuts, soy beans and vegetables. Instead of falling sick, they grew healthy and strong. Every day they sweated and slept well. When they did not have enough rice, they ate sago. He felt that even though it was a time of great trials and tribulations, they were brought to safety in the end through God's grace. (Rev Ling Kai Cheng, 50 years of Reminiscence,page 36)

However, until today, the Foochows have never abandoned their desire to grow their own rice. Rice therefore was planted whenever the Foochows had the time to plant. Very often a family would have both rice fields and rubber gardens. In Sg. Maaw where my grandparents and uncles and aunts used to live, rice was grown near the banks of the rivers and share cropping was practiswed in the 50's and 60's. The rubber trees were tapped by themselves.

In this way, my maternal grandmother and uncles and aunties were very self sufficient. They lived a very relaxed life until the Communist Insurgency which interrupted the economic and social life of the Foochow Riverine villages. This resulted in the abandoning of the villages in favour of a more secured life in the towns like Sibu, Miri and even Limbang.

With this drastic political change in Sarawak, the Foochows in a way abandoned rice growing and entered into the industrial and commercial enterprises. Rice growing reverted to Iban, Melanau and other indigenous groups who live in Paloh, Kanowit, Kapit, and rural Sarikei, Igan and Sibu.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Malaysia Sings

I am fortunate enough to borrow a very old book from a school library which still stocks some very old books published by the Borneo Literature Buerau. It helps me recollect my school days and my siblings' school kid singing.

Looking at Malaysia Sings 1, I am delighted to see that the compilation by Gloria M. Smith which is so global in outlook.

Let me share with you what she wrote in the Introduction,

" Singing is a source of delight and expression for almost all young people. Thus the chief aim of the singing lesson must be enjoyment.

This book has been assembled to fulfil a dual puirpose. First, it provides a selection of songs with varying moods which should be within the range of the studnets' experience or understanding. They should be sung for pleasure, with feeling for the mood of each particular song.

Second, it is designed to encourage a music reading programme so that students may achieve some independence in reading musical notation for themselves. Each song is provided with a short study in music reading. The intention is that students shoud learn correctly the rhythm and melody of the study before attempting to read the music of a song."

Smith went to on write the following procedure for teaching:

1. the teacher wries the study on the blackboard.
2. the class claps the thythm while counting, or "saying" the thythm to Frnech time names.
3. the class sings the melody to "so-fa" in correct thythm.
4. the class sings the melody to "loo" for good head tone.

This is a teaching methodology which has proven time and time again effective during my years of teacher training. My English trainees taught their English songs within the English lessons following this guide. Singing in an English class is full of enjoyment and helps many children learn English in a happy environment.

The local songs included in this booklet also enrich our repertoire of songs. In Smith's words, "Students should be encouraged to take pride in their songs of their own peoles, and to contribute more of these to the music class.

The results of a good singing programme are increased enoyment in singing, satisfaction from participation in a group effort for the attainment of excellence, and the social and cultural benefits to be derived from the appreciation of the crative efforts of one's own people and one's neighbours."

Written and published in 1964, this book was used by almost all Sarawak schools for music lessons until the programme was stopped when music was no longer offered as we "ran out of music teachers". Some of the very good school music teachers in Sibu were Miss Saroha Mamora, Miss Ida Mamora, Mr and Mrs. Lee Bee Teik (they were younger teachers), Mrs. Catherine Chew Ing Seng, Miss McKay, Miss Thompson.

I believe if you remember your school days and you were part of my time, you would remember them and your music lessons.

One of my favourite school songs from this book is Planting Rice from the Philippines

Planting Rice

Planting rice is never fun,
Bent from morning until set of sun
Cannot stand and cannot sit
Cannot rest a little bit.

Oh my back is like to break
Oh my bones with dampness ache
And my legs are numb and set
From their soaking in the wet

When the surly sunbeams break,
You will wonder in your wake
In the muddy neighbourhood
There is work and pleasant food.

Chorus: Planting rice is no fun,
Bent from morn till set of sun
Cannot stand cannot sit,
Cannot bent a little bit.

Oh my back is like to break
And my legs are numb and set
From their soaking in the wet

You must move your arms about
Or you'll find you'll be without!

Whatever the new policy makers today may rationalize their policies regarding curriculum, my friends and I can testify that we had from a great group of dedicated teachers was a fantastic education . I only hope that each generation will be given a better education than the generation before with all the research done and commitment made by the government to our new generation.

Reference:Malaysia Sings Book One. Borneo Literature Bureau. 1964. (Price :M $1.20)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Galvanised Metal Pails and Basins or Tubs

Note : This picture is by Regina Doman (blog : House Art)If I can find one such tub in Sarawak I would be so happy to photograph it!!

When I was very very young, I enjoyed bathing in an oval galvanised metal basin which also doubled as a washing tub for my mother. We were living in the Hua Hong Ice Factory on the island, which had no name. It was just Hua Hong Factory or Ice Factory to all, young and old, in Sibu at that time.

Every family I believe had a few galvanised metal pails and one washing basin. These were almost like family heirlooms and were supposed to last a life time. I remember when we moved to our wooden house in Kung Ping Road, my mother made sure that the basin came with us. She found it the most useful household item.

I also remember that about twenty years after we moved to Sibu, a Spanish friend of mine, who was living in Sibu at that time, told me that the Spanish would boil their clothes using a similar basin. By that time, she could not find one in Sibu. And ours had seen enough wear and tear. My eldest daughter was born in the wooden house and she too had a chance to use the metal basin. In a way, that metal basin had seen 26 years of good life by then. Amazing wasn't it?

Which shop made galvanised metal pails and basins? There was one in Blacksmith Road. I remember jumping over the metal sheets whenever I went to school and had to use the five foot way along Blacksmith Road. It was next to Dr. Kiu Nai Cheng's Clinic.

The half shop had an array of metal pails and basins and the two staff would be seen bending over and shaping the metal sheets into pails and basins. The would be wearing their white Pagoda singlets. Once in a while because the weather was so hot, they would not be wearing an singlet at all. Just their blue Chinaman cotton shorts.

At lunch time, they would take their break and their lunch would be served on a low table quite near their fire place. food was most probably brought to them in the enamel tiffin carrier which was so popular at that time.

This was the kind of life style which went out of fashion when cars became the norm and urbanity set in. Then later, the shop and the skilled craftsmen moved somewhere else and the half shop was taken over by another owner. True to progress, industrial enterprises have to move to the outer rings of a growing town to reduce costs like rising rentals, and most probably the owner must have made enough money to expand and have a factory built to accommodate more business and more workers.

A galvanised basin was often used to "heat up" bathing water in the hot morning sun. Babies who were bathed in sun heated water were believed to have less prickly heat. The metal basin would indeed heat up very fast. The special size of the basin was really ingenius in measurement - not too big and not too small. A child could enjoy bathing in the basin until she was about three or four years old. Bathing a baby was such a joy then.

I felt rather sad when plastics started to overwhelm our lives and lifestyle. It was always very comfortable to hear the scrapping sound of the metal basin on the crude cement floor.

That "kerliing kerliing" sound was the sound of mother's love - mother was was up early and getting our laundry done in the washing area. It was a comforting sound which told us that she was looking after us really well.

zinc sheets or "Sa Li Ngua"

Sa Li Ngua? It is a saviour kind of building material for the poor and needy. A rich man can donate ten pieces to a man whose house was burnt in the early morning. Some politicians can easily send 100 zinc sheets to garner some votes. As for me, one or two pieces meant that I could collect rain water to wash my clothes in those long ago days. Just two pieces of zinc sheets and one oil drum - we had free and clean rain water for our family. Praise God for that.

Corrugated galvanised iron or in simple Sibu terms, zinc sheets for roofing were common easily obtainable makeshift building materials. I remember that this was a common sight when I was a school girl in Sibu : a farmer would buy one or two sheets, rolled them up and carried them home on his bicycle. He would be pushing his bicycle, often he would be barefooted. Soon he would use them to save rain water from the roof in an oil drum. Another recyling idea.

He could use the two pieces to build a new chicken coop, or repair his leaking roof. He might use them as a shed for his wife who washed in the open verandah.

Or in another scenario, the zinc sheets would be the new wall of his little extension of a small kitchen.

This is just to show you how versatile the corrugated galvanised iron was in the lives of the Foochows in the last fifty years.

Today the tin roof is more often rusty and very identifiable. To me they reflect the struggling life of many inhabitants of Sibu, trying to stretch their ringgit as much as they can. Tin roofing being one of the cheapest and easiest to use building material will continue to be the pet material of not only the pioneers of an area but the itinerant and poorer inhabitants of Sibu.

They will colour the scenary of Sibu and remind any onlooker that life is still a struggle amongst 80% of the population amidst the grand development of multi million ringgit homes of the rich and famous. Thieves have even been known to steal the miserable pieces of roofing from the absolute poor people. When the theives could not still money, they take any removable building materials.

In fact, unknown to many Foochows the corrugated galvanised iron roofing has been rather well documented throughout the world.

It is used in Mount Lawley, Western Australia. One can still see the tin roof to the crushing plant of an abandoned tin mine Northern Territory, Australia. There is the famous corrugated iron Church (or tin tabernacle) in Kilburn, London.

According to the Wikipeadia write up, CGI is lightweight and easily transported. It was and still is widely used especially in rural and military buildings such as sheds and water tanks. Its unique properties were used in the development of countries like Australia from the 1840's, and it is still helping developing countries today.

Early manual corrugated iron roller. On display at Kapunda museum, South AustraliaCGI was invented in the 1820s in Britain by Henry Palmer, architect and engineer to the London Dock Company. It was originally made (as the name suggests) from wrought iron. It proved to be light, strong, corrosion-resistant, and easily transported, and particularly lent itself to prefabricated structures and improvisation by semi-skilled workers. It soon became a common construction material in rural areas in the United States and Australia and later India, and in Australia also became (and remains) the most common roofing material and is even used in urban areas (in which application it is usually painted) but not as commonly as in rural areas. For roofing purposes, the sheets are laid somewhat like tiles, with a lateral overlap of two or three corrugations, and a vertical overlap of about 150 mm, to provide for waterproofing. CGI is also a common construction material for industrial buildings throughout the world.

Wrought iron CGI was gradually replaced by mild steel from around the 1890s, and iron CGI is no longer obtainable - however, the common name has not been changed. Galvanised sheets with simple corrugations are also being gradually displaced by 55%Al-Zn coated steel (GALVALUME® steel) or coil-painted sheets with complex profiles. However CGI remains common.

(Source:Wikipedia® )

Friday, April 18, 2008

Short History of Management of Foochow (Sibu)Areas

With the increase in the number of Chinese settling down in Sarawak, the Brooke Government decided that it was time to form a proper system of social management.

The largest number of Chinese settlers was in Kuching. in 1876,the Rajah decreed that "a the post Kang Chu (Head of a River)would be established appointed and be responsible for the security and small legal affairs. The Government of the Rajah would continue to be the overall power for major decision making however, local cigarette,liquor, horse racing and other businesses would be in the hands of the Kang Chu."

The history of the Sarawak Kang Chu if it had been recorded well would have been a tremendous read and a source of reference for historians,politicians, scholars and readers alike

This in a way, was indeed a very great delegation of power by the Rajah Brooke to the Chinese Kang Chu. For several years, this system worked pretty well, in view of the peace and order the Rajah had brought to Sarawak. However,later , when the population of the Chinese immigrants grew to be large, the Rajah appointed a chinese Affairs Secretary in 1925.

This created a new management system with more personnel and more layers of decision making. Between 1925 and 1948, the following were appointed local headmen, in charge of their specific Foochow areas:
1. Lau Kah Tii (Ensurai)
2. Wong Kah Chiu (Sg. Merah and Liik Kii - sixth district)
3. Wong Sing Hui (Sibu Town)
4. Ting Ming Kang (Siong Poh)
5. Tiong Nai Tiong (Three Rivers Village)
6. Wong Chii Wang (Ah Poh)
7. Lau Tiu Hoo (Sg. Assan)
8. Ling Chii Ming (Bukit Lan)
9. Wong Chou Siang (Tanjong Kunyit)
10. Tiong Kung Ping (Binatang)
11. Wong Ching Poh (Sarikei)

Between 1949 and 1959, only the Sibu headmen were listed together, Binatang and Sarikei Headmen were not on the same list.

1949-1959 List of Sibu Foochow Headmen (Kii Tiong)

1. Wong Sing Kheng (Sibu Town)
2. Lau Kie Kwong ( Nang Chong)
3. Wong Chou Siang (Tanjong Kunyit)
4. Tiong Tiong Kee (Bukit Lima)
5. Tiang Ching Teng (Engkilo)
6. Tiong Nai Chang (Three Rivers Village, or San Ho Chong)
7. Tiong Wan Ming (Ensurai)
8. Tang Yin Eng (Nan Chong)
9. Ling Chii Ming (Bukit Lan)
10. Wong Kah Ting (Sg. Assan)

The Third Term list of Headmen 1959 - 1970
1. Ting Lik Hung (Sibu Town)
2. Ting Chew Huat (Sixth Preccinct or Luk Kii, Sungei Merah)
3. Tai Sing Chu (Engkilo)
4. Wong Ta Heng (Sg. Assan)
5. Tiong Nai Tiong (Three Rivers Village)
6. Kang Hin Yu (Tanjong Kunyit)
7. Lau Kie Kwong (Nan Chong)
8. Tang Yin Ing ( Sing nan Chong)
9. Tiong Wong Ming (Ensurai)

According to some historical records, from 1960, March , after the annual headmen's conference, Sibu was divided into 18 preccincts and 76 local areas. All the 18 headmen and 76 local community leaders or representatives would be under the supervision of the government. Meetings were held, area level decisions could be made, but it was up to the State government to make the final decision.

What was interesting was that a top layer of headmen were appointed more properly to rule over the local area headmen. This created a two level social administrative strata without the administrative system of the British rule. It was a very interesting dual administrative system, perhaps a spin off from the Rajah days..

Here is the list of the 18 headmen (Kii Tiong) and their local area representatives (Poh Tiong).

1. Kii Tiong or Headman of lst Preccinct - Ting Lik Hung (Area headmen : Yik Tek - Lee Yu Siong, Queensway - Ting Cheng Leong,Kiew nang - Lau Kiu Sing,Salim - Chieng Yin Siong, Pulau Keladi - Lau Chuong Chang and Durin - Wong Leong Meu)

2. Kii Tiong of 2nd Preccinct - Ting Chew Huat (Area headmen : Sungei Merah - Ting Chiw Hing, Bukit Lai - Lo Kwong Cheong, Bukei Assek - Wong Kee Ching, Queensway - Ling Siew Yu, Nan Shan - Chieng Tiong Yew)

3. Kii Tiong of 3rd Preccinct - Ting Kah Ong (Heng Hua)

more to come....

Pulau Kerto and "Rubber Bowls"

Pulau Kerto or Ke Lo Toh, a pottery making and a very unusual meander just slightly outside Sibu has long been a haven for many Hokkiens especially the Ng Family of the Pottery Culture of Kerto. But to me it has always been like a little kept secret place at the backwaters of Sibu, away from the hustle and bustle of a city in the making.

The original clay or kaolin deposit , not yet studied to perfection by geologists as yet, from this little place provided a simple, family based business with a small direct outlet (by boat only ) from the 30's until very recently. Most importantly, Kerto provided almost all the rubber tapping latex bowls for the Foochows of the Rajang Valley, and may be even the fourth and fifth divisions of Sarawak.

Some bigger rubber garden owners even made these latex bowls to order and have their names "burnt" on the latex bowls. A few collectors of antiques have in their hands some of these latex bowls which bore good names of towkays from Sarikei, Sibu and even Miri. It was indeed a genuine enterprising spirit which made the rubber garden owners put their names on their latex bowls. Foremost of all, this would reduce pilfering and day light robbery.

However little has been written about this small industry which probably did not catch the attention of mainstream business but in view of varying circumstances of economics, this it went into social oblivion. If only it could have been more developed, then Sibu would have a strong ceramic base. The pottery culture of Sarawak went to Kuching and the developers of the special Sarawak Vase, which today is so well known that even Harrods of London carries a few items. The Kuching born Viscountess of Cornwall has also helped to promote the Kuching ware in the UK to the delight of her friends from near and far.

Nowadays our shops are filled with ceramics from West Malaysia and even Chentechen, China!! Chentechen, China, is THE world ceramic centre and has a few thousand years of excellent history, by the way.

These little ceramic rubber "bowls" were glazed on the inside and unglazed on the outside and measured only about 3 inches on average. According to one of my great friends, a grande dame of rubber tapping days, there were two sizes of rubber bowls. A bigger one for the speical grafted rubber cloned trees of the 1950's and 1960's which could produce more each day and a smaller one for the older seedlings. These bowls were bundled and sold in tens, and a few cents only at prices in those days. And most bowls were made to order.

All rubber tappers would know that these bowls come from Pulau Kerto , even though there was no brand name marked at the bottom of the bowls. These bowls have simply called rubber "bowls". These bowls sit nicely on the stem of a rubber tree and collect the latex which flow easily out from the moment the tree was tapped until the rubber tapper collected the bowl in mid morning. Most of the time the bowls were just left by the tree as rubber gardens were not ravaged by marauding thieves. But I am not sure today whether the same thing is still being done.

One very unusual and amazing story from my family was that of a relative who prematurely and suddenly gave birth in the rubber garden and the umbilical cord of the baby was cut by breaking and getting a sharp piece from the latex bowl. The baby was healthy and bouncing. His life was tough but happy. Such was a legend amongst the hardworking Foochows of those long ago days. Thanks to a rubber "bowl" from Pulau Kerto. I am sure there are many familiar and similar stories.

My first student day visit to Pulau Kerto was a very long time ago. We had a picnic on the sandbank in the middle of the river and using a borrowed prahu from one of the families. We had a lovely time there, and got very sunburnt. In those days we were not aware of safety at all. So we just gave ourselves a great time in the river, without really knowing the undercurrents. Today, I would shiver at the idea of swimming in an unknown river. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

Another one of my earliest recollection of buying flower pots was a trip to Pulau Kerto when a friend wanted to buy some pots for her orchids and we decided to take a slow wooden boat journey to visit Pulau Kerto. By taking a slow boat to Pulau Kerto, she would have bought the pots at factory outlet price and besides, it would be a very nice outing for her and her friends too. To me that was quite an adventure, as Sibu was so quiet and life was slow.( I often wonder if that factory is still around.)

We walked a little inland from the jetty and came upon a ramshackle kind of factory which produced all sorts of pots and of varied sizes. The workers were distinctly simple and taciturn and definitely not Foochows. A small altar to a diety was at a corner and incense was still burning. The kilns must have been more than 40 years old then. Production was very basic and it was a very home based kind of industry. Little children ran out to watch us buy and after a short while we were again seated at the jetty, waiting for the next boat to come along.

At that time, the river was already quite small, a small branch from the main Rejang River.

A few women were washing their clothes at the jetty and this was about nine o'clock in the morning. Laundry must be done before nine I suppose so that the housewives could catch the best of the sunshine and most probably these ladies had done a good day's work already, feeding pigs, chickens and doing most of the gardening. Such multi-tasking women!! One bicycle was waiting with two kerosene tinful of water. That was how most women carry their water home after their washing.

In a way, every clay pot will remind me of Pulau Kerto and its slow paced lifestyle.

Kang Kong or Ung Chai

No one can believe that kang kong was the main free staple besides rice for my family when we were young in Sibu. Our mother would make us go out to the huge drain quite near our house to pick the free, fresh and very clean kang kong ( or Chinese Water Spinach) for our meals. Sometimes we would go every day. It was not that my late father had left us destitute. It was just because my mother did not want to be beholden to any one of our relatives for a single cent.

My late father had taught us to feed rabbits with the freely growing kang kong and we had reared lots of them. But because we could not kill and eat the beautiful rabbits my late father had to give up the home industry. We did eat a few. But after he died suddenly, we stopped rearing the rabbits. And my mother also found the rearing of rabbits too painful. This was before Sarabif was founded.

If it had been different, we could have had the first rabbit farm in Sibu!!

Also known as Water Convolvulus,or Swamp Cabbage, the Kang Kong is indeed a very versatile vegetables. We grew them from seeds in our back yard. We also just planted them from cuttings. Whatever type we grew, we had a lot of harvest. Besides, we were harvesting the free ones from the drains too.

According to the information taken from Wikipedea, "the plant's smooth-surfaced leaves are either arrowhead-shaped, 5-6 inches long, or relatively narrow and pointed. Two major cultivar forms are grown. These being: Ching quat, the narrow leaved form most often grown in moist soils and Pak Quat, the arrowhead shaped form usually grown in aquatic conditions.

The plant is an herbaceous perennial aquatic, semi-aquatic plant of the tropics and sub-tropics. Alternate branches and leaves arise at the leaf axils of the trailing vine-like stems. The stems being hollow are adapted for floating in aquatic environments. Adventitious roots readily develop at nodes when in contact with moist soil and water. The succulent foliage and stem tips are light green in color. Flowering is favored by short days with the development of white and light pink flowers. Purple flowers develop in wild forms of Ipomoea aquatic. To obtain seed harvesting of the plants is stopped to allow developing flowers to mature, from which seed bearing pods form.

Other names. Kankon (Japanese); ung choi (Cantonese Chinese); toongsin tsai (Mandarin Chinese); ong choy, ungtsai, tung choy (China); kang kong (Filipino, Malaysian); kang kung, rau muong (Vietnamese); pak bung (Thai)."

I would like to echo Professor Agongcilo's comment on kang kong during one of his lectures in 1971, when he was visiting History Professor at University of Malaya, "I always cry when I see Kang Kong because this simple vegetable has kept all the Filipinos alive during the Second World War."

I feel the same too. This simple vegetable has kept my siblings alive during the harsh times after our father passed away prematurely.

One old widow used to walk up and down Brooke Drive in the old days. She would be selling mainly kangkong, long beans and mustard greens. She had them in two baskets and she used a pian dan ( carrying pole) to ply her vegetables. The old lady was very independent and what ever she carried, people would buy because the vegetables were very neatly bundled and very well washed.

In my memory,she was the last lady to use a pian dan in Sibu. An old lady like her was free to sell her vegetables without having a pay any dues to the Sibu Municipal Council. After her passing, the tricycle men came into the Sibu scene to sell vegetables to the housewives and other dwellers along all the roads branching out of Sibu. And much later, the Van Penjaja which are licensed to sell goods. when every one was able to afford a car, the Main Market of Sibu expanded to become one of the largest in Sarawak. An old lady enterprising enough to sell simple vegetables ,proudly bearing a pian dan, become an antiquated memory.

Recently I discovered a whole pool of kang kong near a housing development area in Miri. I also found out that the water in which the kang kong was growing was very clean, with fish swimming in it. Definitely an unpolluted area. I was so tempted to go and pluck some for my dinner!! Old habits die hard. But I am sure, some simple folks would come and collect them to supplement their diet.

In our very motorised world, the "plit plat" noise of a sandal and samfoo wearing old Foochow lady plying her kang kong,calling out "Ung Chai eh", is gone forever.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gourd - a backyard sustenance

When we were young, my mother always had a "bu" vine at the back of our house in Brooke Drive. Sometimes we would give some away to friends and relatives in return for their gifts. Sometimes we had it every day because it could grow so well and sometimes we went out to count up to fifteen on the vines.

In my mind, this vegetable has always been a backyard sustenance and it indeed helped our family through thick and thin, besides the China made Luncheon Meat of course.

We had it in soup, as a stir fry and sometimes to bulk up a meat dish. We learned how to be thrifty eating very simple food. Dried prawns were cheap then, so quite often my mother would use a bit of it, pound it really nice and fine and have a sliced gourd fried with dried prawns dish for an afternoon meal. It was nice food on the table served with a lot of love.

The humble gourd or calabash is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, one of the calabash subspecies is known as the bottle gourd. The fresh fruit has a light green smooth skin and a white flesh. This is what we have in Sarawak and they are found everywhere. Just anywhere anyone wants to plant!!

The calabash was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not for food but as a container. It was named for the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete), a different type of plant.

The calabash, as a vegetable, is frequently used in southern Chinese cuisine as either a stir-fry or in a soup. The Chinese name for calabash is hulu (simplified Chinese: 葫芦; traditional Chinese: 葫蘆; pinyin: húlu) or huzi (Chinese: 葫子; pinyin: húzi) in Mandarin.

In Japan, where it is known as kanpyō, it is sold in the form of dried, marinated strips. It is used in place of seafood in a form of vegetarian makizushi (rolled sushi).

In Italian cuisine, it is known as cucuzza (plural cucuzze).

In Central America, the seeds of the Calabash gourd are toasted and ground with other ingredients (including rice, cinnamon, and allspice) to make the drink horchata. Calabash is known locally as morro or jícaro.

In India, it is known as Lauki in Urdu or Dudhi or Ghiya in Hindi, Sorakaya in Telugu, Dudhi-Bhopala in Marathi, Sorekayi in Kannada and 'Suraikkaai' (colloq. "Sorakkay") in Tamil. In parts of India, the dried, unpunctured gourd is used as a float (called 'Surai-kuduvai' in Tamil) to learn swimming in rural areas.

In Arabic it is called Qara. In Bangladesh it is called Lau or Kumra/Komra. The tender young gourd is cooked as a summer squash.

The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.

Additionally, the gourd can be dried out and used to smoke pipe tobacco. A typical design yielded by this squash is recognized in the pipe of Sherlock Holmes.

West Africa
Hollowed out and dried calabashes are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice, carry water and also just as a food container. Smaller sizes are used as bowls to drink palm-wine. Calabashes are used by some musicians in making the kora (a harp-lute), xalam (a lute), ngoni (a lute) and the goje (a traditional fiddle). They also serve as resonators on the balafon (West African marimba). The calabash is also used in making the shegureh (a Sierra Leonean women's rattle)[1] and balangi (a Sierra Leonean type of balafon) musical instruments. Sometimes, large calabashes are simply hollowed, dried and used as percussion instruments, especially by Fulani, Songhai, Gur-speaking and Hausa peoples.

In many rural parts of Mexico, the calabash is dried and carved hollow to create a bule, a gourd used to carry water around like a canteen.

The hulu is an ancient remedy for health. In the old days the doctors would carry medicine inside so it has fabled properties for healing. The hulu is believed to absorb negative earth-based qi (energy) that would otherwise affect health and is a traditional Chinese medicine cure. Dried calabash is also used as containers of liquids, often liquors or medicine. Calabash were also grown in earthen molds to form different shapes and dried to house pet crickets, which were kept for their song and fighting abilities. The texture of the gourd lends itself nicely to the sound of the animal.

Thinking about gourds just make me wonder about today's world where food seems to be full of fast food and gourmet food and thousands of other pickings. But anytime, where our home is, a good family meal is simply wonderful with stir fried gourd, some salted fish and a nice bowl of changkok manis soup. In this way my children and I know that when we live simply, others can simply live.

The heart of the gourd is soft and gentle to feel. It represents mother's love I would tell my children. The softness is the softness of one's heart. So we have to be gentle with other people's feelings. The skin of the gourd is thin and so easily sliced. A little poking with a sharp knife would draw out the gourd's sticky juices. People around us are sensitive and easily hurt. So we have to handle people with care, like the way we handle the gourd.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Riding Buses in Sibu

My first bus ride was in a 15 seater British made bus which had a wooden frame. It made a big racket going to Sungei Merah. My grandfather never had a driver's licence and he left all the driving to my grandmother, after they bought one of the ealiest cars in Sibu, a yellow Austin. But Grandfather and I continued to enjoy riding on buses. the greetings we had for and from every one on the buses stayed in my mind for a long time. I loved my grandfather for taking me around,even he had wished that I was a boy.

In those days, the bus station was in the triangle made by Cross Road, Island Road and Market Road (?). Next to the bus station was the chendol and rojak centre where we could get chendol in the antique glass and rojak in a small tin plate. My grandfather never allowed me to eat chendol so he would take me to Lido Cinema's coffee shop where he could have his coffee and I could have a bit of his coffee in the saucer (Lat drew this in one of his books). He would then buy me Magnolia Grape Juice. What a luxury.

After a movie, Grandfather would take me and ride the bus back home to Sungei Merah.

I cannot remember how often I spent time with him, but it was quite frequent.

One of the best things parents and grandparents can do is to take the kids out to ride on buses - very memorable - and great for bonding. And good training too as the kids would have to learn how to ride a bus overseas. Kids are too spoilt nowadays and they tend to suffer more if they are not well brought up in simple ways.

There were buses to Upper Lanang Road then. Buses to Oya Road came very much later. Buses then were meant to carry lots of goods and farm products. It was still very much the in thing for people to walk to town, very often bare footed, from as far as Kampong Nangka, or Bukit Assek or even Ei Ti Road in Lanang Road. The Foochows were very frugal then. They would think nothing of walking three or four miles every day.Today the scenario is very different. You can read below:

The main bus lines have ticket stalls at the long-distance bus station, west of town at Sungai Antu. There should be no problem getting a seat if you arrive 15 minutes before departure, but it may pay to book ahead for weekends and school holidays.
The main bus companies running ser­vices from Sibu are Biaramas Express (084-313139), Borneo Express Bus (084-319773), Borneo Highway Express (084-319533), Lanang Road Bus Co (084-314527), PB Express (084-332873) and Suria Express (084-319773). Most have ticketing agencies around the local bus station on the waterfront.

1. Lanang Road Bus Co Bhd

No. 8, 2nd Floor, Lrg Pahlawan 7, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak
084-33 5973

2. Bus Terminal Mukah, Jln Orangkaya Setiaraja, 96400 Mukah, Sarawak
084-87 2679

3. No. 47, Lrg Teng Kung Sui 4, Upper Lanang Industrial Estate, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak
084-21 3711

4. No. 7, Bangunan Baru Terminal Bas, Jln Tun Hussein Onn, 97000 Bintulu, Sarawak
086-33 8518

5. Bus Terminal Padang Kerbau, Jln Padang Kerbau, Kampung Padang Kerbau, 98000 Miri, Sarawak
085-43 3116
Sibu (SBW): Location: 18 km/11 Miles E of the city. By Road: To Sibu 23 km/14 Miles. By Taxi: Pre paid taxi coupons are available in the terminal for trips to the city. Average cost to Sibu city is MYR 30. By Bus: Local Bus #3A runs between the airport and the city every 90 mins or so 0600-1800. Cost: MYR 3/25-30 mins. Updated Mar07 www. [back].[top]

Tawau Syarikat Bas Lanang Road Sdn. Bhd.
Bintulu/Sibu 06:00; 08:00; 12:00; 14:00; 18:00 RM16.50


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