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.

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