Friday, April 04, 2008

Eating Mee Sua Getting Blessing for a Safe Journey

My maternal Grandmother Tiong Lien Tie was a tiny China born Foochow woman with tiny feet (smaller than size 3) as she had her feet bound before she was "sold" to my grand Uncle Lau Kah Tii at the age of five. Her child bride price was 5 silver dollars. When she was brought out to Sibu, she herself decided to have her feet unbound, and surprisingly her feet flattened out but they were terribly small and dainty. That's the first thing anyone would notice whenever they met her for the first time in Sibu. Most women had big feet.

So legend has it that women with small feet had good fate.

My extended family on both sides can be considered as huge. But traditions and values were definitely learned and relearned with umpteen telling and retelling of stories. And for, my siblings, cousins and I are eternally grateful that we have a grandmother who was very intelligent, very vocal and very entertaining. She was in our little eyes an authority on performing arts (movies) and Chinese stories. She could hold our attention for hours in the evenings. I do not think any teacher in any classroom today can beat her tantalising tale telling skills.

Grandma's cooking is the best. And every generation says that. And I say that too.
But what is more important, each meal would come with relevant tales. We were never bored. The meal became more tasty too.

At her table we learned that mee sua was also called "Longevity Noodle". She did not cut the noodles but let them remain as long as possible. And she would show us her chopstick skill of pulling more than three feet of noodles from the bowls. And she was barely five feet tall herself. Perhaps a bit of exaggeration there.

Because the long noodles symbolize longevity, the noodle, even today, is a must-have at every birthday banquet.

Because we lived in a huge house with four families I had experiences of eating Longevity Noodle made by my grandmother when male cousins were born.Eating these noodles would mean that we were wishing new born baby boy a long live. Although this custom is not really followed by affluent Foochows who may favour a grand banquet in a restaurant, without even serving the very old fashioned mee sua, today, some Foochows still do it graciously when relatives come a-visiting to "see" the new baby,be it a boy or a girl.

We in the new generation may have forgotten the old ritual that a piece of noodle has to be swallowed without cutting either by mouth or using a pair of chopsticks. We can actually smile or even laugh out loud when small children cut up their long noodles with their western cutlery. Have you ever tried eating the longevity noodles with fork and spoon? It can be quite hard going.

Amongst the non Christian Foochows, a bowl of longevity noodles might be used to worship the dead spirits , display in tombs, during the tomb sweeping besides the popular steamed chicken and fruits.

For most Foochow families, eating the noodle also represents showing of respect for the elderly. According to a popular story, Emperor Wang became immortal on the day of Winter Solstice in the Han Dynasty. Since then, the noodle, also named "Winter Solstice Noodle," has been consumed every Winter Solstice Day to symbolize respect for the elderly.

But for my family, it started with my grandmother telling each of her children that a good send off and blessing for journey mercy was the eating of a bowl of mee sua, filled with one drumstick and one or two hard boiled eggs, dried mushrooms and a few drops of fragrant and sweet Foochow Red Win. Every one going away from the family for further studies would be blessed with such a bowl of mee sua.

As there were many members in the family, we did not get the drumstick all the time. The elders would be given the drumsticks first. Any one having a birthday would also be given the drumstick. We were trained not to ask for the drumstick or even pick on for ourselves. This was the respect we gave to our elders.

So when we embarked on our journey of learning, our gift from our mother would be that special bowl of mee sua, filled with all the goodness that we had always dreamed of. Perhaps it was our special training to be future oriented from young.

A few hours before one's journey,a bowl of mee sua filled with good chicken (free range) soup, a drumstick, dried mushrooms, and one or two hardboil eggs continue to be a symbol of mother's love and the family's blessing for the traveller.

You cannot forget easily the blessings from your family.

1 memories:

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