Monday, July 28, 2008

Ensurai or Wong Su Lai

There is a lovely promontory in the Rejang Valley called Wong Su Lai where more than ten families of Ku Tien descent (another group of Foochows)started pioneering agricultural work in 1903. The soil here is loamy and yellow and very fertile . Suitable for fruits and rubber and even pepper, the agriculturalists reaped rich harvests and prospered in no time.

The name Wong Su Lai came from these Foochows who settled in this area some 18 miles from Sibu in the Rajang Basin. They must have heard of the Ensurai trees which bore reddish fruits, but only edible to the fish. Thus perhaps they turned the name Ensurai to a more fitting Foochow name. Wong Su Lai was also the Chinese transliteration of the word ensurai.

"Wong su Lai" on the other hand in Chinese means "Arrival of Teacher Wong" and thereby one Foochow historian Lau Tze Cheng who came from this area,also said the name could be considered as a commemoration of the arrival of Wong Nai Siong, the pioneering business man who brought the Foochows to this part of the world. In due time people even forgot that the Ibans once were dwellers and food gatherers of this area prior to the arrival of the Foochows.

It became a bustling settlement which later boasted of the largest Foochow Mansion built by the second Kang Chu, Lau Kah Tii, a wealthy Foochow pioneer, who died in 1954. This settlement had a shop operated by him and his relatives and there was a primary school and a cemetery. It was indeed a thriving community also produced a large number of highly educated and rich Foochows.

The Ensurai is important to the ecology of the river banks and rivers. The fruits of the Ensurai is a favourite food of many fish including the tapah and middle valley fish.

Perhaps one day some one will find more ensurai trees growing along the river banks and thus discover fish swimming around.

Source : Sarawak Forestry Department.
Trees up to 40m tall and 200cm diameter. Buttresses up to 3m high. Tree trunks are usually crooked and twisted, almost horizontal at base, leaning over rivers and frequently covered with mosses and epiphytes. Branches arising from low down on the trunk, spreading over the river and tending to be semi-pendant at the ends.

The diagnostic characters are the large stipules that exceed 4cm long, pale green and often tinged pink when mature; leathery, oblong-lanceolate, shiny dark green leaves, 14-18cm by 4-7cm with 16-20 pairs of ridge-like veins.

The fruit has 3 long and 2 short wings, usually reddish. During fruiting season, the reddish fruits with pinkish stipules is a beautiful sight along the river banks.

Habitat: Locally frequent along the fast flowing river banks beyond the tidal reaches, below 600m above sea level.

Distribution: Confined to inland river banks from east of Batang Lupar to Lawas.

Note: It is a totally protected species because it protects the river banks and the fruit is an important source of food for many inland fresh water fish. The tree provides a micro-niche for many epiphytes including orchids, ferns, Rhododendron and Hoya species.

Beehive Hair Do

Amy Winehouse with beehive hairstyle. Reintroduced by Karl Largarfeld.

The beehive is a woman's hairstyle that resembles a beehive and was a great hit in Sibu in the 50's and 60's. Women would sit for hours in a hair salon to get their hair teased and sprayed.

However, few people would remember that it was also known as the B-52, for its similarity to the bulbous nose of the B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

The style originated in the USA in 1958 as one of a variety of elaborately teased and lacquered versions of "big hair" that developed from earlier pageboy and bouffant styles. The peak of its popularity was in the 1960s, and it was especially popular in the United States and other Western countries. By the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the beehive had become unfashionable.

Movie makers who make retro movies would look at Audrey Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's . In the movie she sported a large fashionable beehive.

Today R&B/jazz singer Amy Winehouse is known for her signature beehive hairdo and wigs.

If you dig out some of your mother's photos of the 1960's I am sure you might just find one or two photos of her friends sporting a beehive hairdo.

although my mother did not, my beatitufl aunts had their hair done really high up to make a fashion statement. I remember the wife of the manager of Standard Chartered Bank who was a platinum blonde had her done in beehive style. She looked every inch a star when she rode on her Vespa. That was style in Sibu.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In Search of Mr. Soon Lee Guan

I have been trying to get in touch with Mr. Soon Lee Guan, a prolific photographer from Sibu. I called his home number in Sibu a few times but perhaps he is no longer using the number or he is travelling.

He is another man who owns two or perhaps even three Rollifex cameras.

Any one interested in black and white photos of Sibu and Sarawak of the 50-70's should try to find him and his albums in Sibu.

I managed to "re-photograph" these two photos from the souvenir booklet which shows his portfolio. This wonderful collectible belongs to a Foochow friend from Marudi,who keeps the book as a precious gift!!

A well known Sibu photographer, Soon Lee Guan, has travelled widely throughout Sarawak. He has special eyes for local colours and culture.

The little I know of Mr. Soon is that he has taken a lot of photos which show the culture of the Ibans, Kayans,kelabits, and Melanaus . He could have a lot of obstacles during his journeys. And I can imagine the dangers he might have met.

Our society should appreciate a courageous and intellectual photographer like Mr. Soon. Today only a few are following his footsteps. On the other hand, many of the scenic landscapes, cultural features and social lifestyle are disappearing.

So his photographs should remain well archived by our museums. And someone should write his biography!

Friday, July 18, 2008

fire flies over the Rejang - Will they come back again?

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My old friend quoted a Foochow kiddies' rhyme about fire flies bringing back a flood of heart warming memories.(Hui nang yin, hui nang yin......)

Again I am back in Sg. Maaw where I spent most of my school holidays with my cousins.It was a period of idyllic splendour, a time of care-free exploitation of nature, and a time of wonder. Tapping rubber and processing it was part of daily routine which we enjoyed because at the end of the day we had food on the proverbial table. Smoking rubber was a wonderful process because we could work almost twenty four hours and our help was appreciated. There was this hum of good work done that warmed the spirits and spurred us on. We would never be disappointed if we worked hard. Pigs feeding in the sties, norting away make us smile with satisfaction that we had something going and our life was just so good.

In the evenings apart from telling stories under the brilliant light of a kerosene lamp, we sometimes would go out to the jetty and watch the fire flies. There were lots of them. We could catch them and put them in bottles to watch them at close range. Going back to class when school reopened I proudly showed my science teacher what I caught. But alas the fire flies would not shine at night. I probably only caught a few fire flies of the same sex.

If only I could see the fire flies come flying again . I won't be afraid of the ghosts which came with them.

I remember now that the fire flies disappeared slowly as I grew older. After a few years because of urban development, they became fewer and fewer. Finally when I was in upper secondary school, no one could ever see a single fire fly over the Rejang River any more.

I went to Kuala Selangor not too long ago to enjoy the Kelip Kelip or fire flies. But they were no match to the wonderful light display I saw over the Rejang River when I was young, innocent and learning from underneath the rubber trees.

Today with all the knowledge available in the Internet, I have acquired the secrets of the fire flies. They are no longer the lamps of the ghosts who come around to avenge their untimely deaths.

Not too long ago some fire flies were seen in Pasai Siong in Sibu. That gave the residents there something to talk about. But again when original jungles are cleared out completely the fire flies disappear forever.

Fire flies thus can only be found in pristine jungles where clear waters flow as these very delicate beetles can only mate in pure atmospheric conditions. Food for thought there.

The Rejang has therefore lost its mysterious fire flies.

source from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lampyridae is a family in the beetle order Coleoptera, members of which are commonly called fireflies, lightning bugs or (ambiguously) "glow worms" due to their conspicuous nocturnal (or, more accurately, crepuscular) use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies are capable of producing a "cold light" containing no ultraviolet or infrared rays, with a wavelength from 510 to 670 nanometers, pale reddish, yellowish or green in colour, with a lighting efficiency of up to 96%[citation needed].

There are more than 2000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments around the world. Many species can be found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food.

Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany

Light production in fireflies is due to a chemical reaction that occurs in specialized light-emitting organs, usually on the lower abdomen called bioluminescence. The enzyme luciferase acts on luciferin in this organ to stimulate light emission. Genes coding for these substances have been inserted into many different organisms (see Luciferase - Applications). Luciferase is also used in forensics, and the enzyme has medical uses.

For adult beetles, it is primarily used to locate other individuals of the same species for reproduction. Many species, especially in the genus Photinus, are distinguished by the unique courtship flash patterns emitted by flying males in search of females. Photinus females generally do not fly, but give a flash response to males of their own species.

Bioluminescence is a very efficient process. Some 90% of the energy a firefly uses to create light is actually converted into visible light. By comparison, an incandescent electric bulb can convert only 10 percent of total energy used into visible light, and the remainder is emitted as heat.

Firefly larvaTropical fireflies, particularly in Southeast Asia (Thailand and Malaysia), routinely synchronize their flashes among large groups, a startling example of spontaneous biological order. This phenomenon occurs through the night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles every day of the year. Current hypotheses about the causes of this behavior involve diet, social interaction, and altitude. In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurred near Elkmont, Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains during the second week of June 2005[1]. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to the phenomenon [2].

Female Photuris fireflies are known for mimicking the mating flashes of other fireflies for the sole purpose of predation. Target males are attracted to what appears to be a suitable mate, and are then eaten. For this reason the Photuris female is sometimes referred to as "femme fatale".

Many fireflies do not produce light. Usually these species are diurnal, or day-flying, such as those in the genus Ellychnia. A few diurnal fireflies that primarily inhabit shadowy places, such as beneath tall plants or trees, are luminescent. One such genus is Lucidota.

In East Asia, the ancient Chinese sometimes captured fireflies in transparent or semi-transparent containers and used them as (short-term) lanterns[citation needed]. Some species of the genus Luciola (hotaru, 蛍) rival the famous sakura cherry blossoms as regards their significance in Japanese culture and folklore[citation needed].

The spectacular synchronized flashing by Pteroptyx and other Luciolinae fireflies has potential economic significance. Notably on the Selangor River at Kampong Kuantan (close to Kuala Selangor, Malaysia), it has become a major attraction for tourists, creating considerable revenue for the local economy.

Source :Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) tax-deductible nonprofit charity.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Scooter - Vespa

John Wayne when not on horseback loved his Vespa.

In the 1960's and I was already in secondary school, but still too young to have a driving license, the Vespa took Sibu by storm. Pretty young office girls were riding Vespas and their huge skirts were flowing in the wind, making them such unforgettable and lovely sights to behold. Handsome young men were driving them around and very often had pretty pillion riders to show off. One guy in the school had a Vespa and he was admired by lots of girls. He has the nice guy who gave me the one and only Vespa ride in my whole life!! Even though it was only around the Methodist School compound in broad day light.

Then there was the news in the papers that a young lady died in a terrible road accident with her Vespa. Her burial was reported in detail as it was attended by a lot of people since she was from a noble family. We were told that the Vespa was part of her burial ,to accompany her to the other world,besides other valuables. This was a Melanau burial practice at that time. For years we remembered that. As it was one of the first young deaths on Sibu roads, I felt sad and that it was a great waste of a young life. Road accidents had always been painful to us in Sibu where there were many pedestrians and cyclists .

Several years later the Vespa lost its popularity to the Hondas which were more versatile in the rural areas. My relatives found that Hondas could carry more people, and more goods!! So they were good value for their money.

There are probably only a few Vespas left in Sibu. And it is still a good ride if you can borrow one!!

According to articles I have read there are millions of Vespas in Italy,the birthplace of Vespa, today.

Think of a Roman holiday. Ride a Vespa! Perhaps a Malaysian can enter the Guinness Book of Records by riding a Vespa around the Island of Borneo.

The Sarong Kebaya and Saloma

Saloma posing with a paper umbrella . This is a very famous advertisement photo of hers. The paper umbrella unknown to many, is a lacquered paper umbrella made in Fuzhou City, China. After 40 years Fuzhou city is still producing this kind of umbrellas but they are more beautiful and are snapped up by foreign tourists. Because of this photo many young girls carried umbrellas for their photographs.

Beautiful Saloma.

A more modern Malaysian beauty in a very up to date Sarong Kebaya

Joget girls and Kampong men doing a number in the 50's or 60's,the dancers do not touch each other. Known as a social dance then, it is not often performed publicly today. In private parties the Malays might still dance the joget. Perhaps it can be compared the the western barn dance or square dance. But the moves are not so varied. However it has lovely foot work.

A popular Umie Aida.

Living in Kampong Nyabor,Sibu gave me a chance to interact closely with my Malay neigbhours and school mates.This was another facet of my school life. My school provided a multi racial education. I cycled to school with my friends Hapipah and Hasnah every morning after I was given a bicycle. But what was very very exciting was our special love for P Ramlee, Saloma ,Siput Sarawak and the like. School girls like us talked non stop about our movie stars the way kids talk about their pop singers, or Malaysian Idols today. Malay movies were abundant whereas Elvis ,Cliff Richard and Doris Day came rather irregularly. Cathay Keris was doing better in those days. The Sibu Malay population consumed Malay language films voraciously.

My family had a wonderful Malay washerwoman (Kak) who also became a life long friend of my mother's and she would repeat the stories of Bujang Lapok,Orang Sebelah,etc to us. Perhaps that was how I picked up my Bahasa,Sarawak style. Until today I still cannot grasp Bahasa Malaysia, the National Standard totally.

It was always the cheap seats of 50 cents for us when the Pontianak movies came. We frightened ourselves out of our chairs being so near the screen. But it was childhood joy.

A very great longing however was developed in us school girls - to wear those see through Kebaya but we were not allowed them. Mum had said that the blouse was too sexy. My first sarong kebaya was a blue cotton batik set, made for my university orientation week. Thus it took me more than 7 years to get my kebaya after I first saw Saloma in her movies, although my own paternal grandmother Chong was a Nyonya from Java. (She had worn sarong kebaya when she first arrived in Sibu in the early 1920's. Later she turned totally Foochow and wore samfoo). My Chong cousins continued to wear beautiful made in Indonesia sarong kebaya on Important Occasions.

Associated with the Sarong Kebaya were the dances joget and the Cha Cha. We school girls were not allowed to learn them as was the norm of the time. But later at the university I picked up some clumsy steps but I never got to dance the joget wearing sarong kebaya. Nevertheless, I continue to think that the sarong kebaya has a very long lasting charm for the Asian women. Today it is back in fashion again.

But at my age,unfortunately, I don't have Saloma's tiny waist anymore.


Who is this intriguing lady named Saloma? She who captured the hearts of Malaysia’s foremost musician-actor, P. Ramlee, and millions who had the pleasure of watching her sing live or emote on the silver screen some 3 or 4 decades ago?

Salmah Ismail was born on 23 January 1935 in Singapore. Some believed that her stage name SALOMA was given to her by Run Run Shaw of Shaw Bros when the film Salome which starred Rita Hayworth hit the Box Office. While others said it was coined by the 'love of her life' husband, P.Ramlee.

As a child, she had dreams of becoming a big 'star' and it was no surprise that she was already a household name and a 'little singing sensation' at weddings, festive and family events barely at the age of 13.

'I Am In The Mood For Love', 'Once In A While' were among the first English numbers she learnt. With that, she broke into the nightclub circuit. Her acclaimed crystal clear and melodious voice captivated and mesmerised those who came far and wide to watch her perform. Soon after, offers to act came by and like the saying goes... the rest was history.

Charming , attractive and tinged with a look of innocence, she acted in numerous films and played lead roles which featured her prominent singing ability. Along with her husband, Saloma was a lead member of Panca Sitara Group. She also sung with the Kalung Senandung Group at Radio Singapura.

In 1961 Saloma married fellow actor P.Ramlee, an affable man of many talents. Adored by all, the country's very own 'screen couple' was a household name. Their movies were all 'sold-outs' and each a must-see and certainly 'not to be missed'.

Puan Sri Saloma passing at a young age of 48 on 25 April 1983 left the nation with profound sadness and an end to a era of screen romance. Till today, her movies and those acted along with Tan Sri P.Ramlee are classics and are still screened for the enjoyment of many... it's what legends are made of.

1975 Awarded the Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN)
1979 Biduanita Negara (National Celebrity Award)

Bila Larut Malam
Tiru Macam Saya
Burung Pungguk
Dimanakan Ku Cari Ganti
Taman Firdausi

Seniman Bujang Lapok
Ragam P.Ramlee
Labu dan Labi
Sabarudin Tukang Kasut
Ahmad Albab

2008 © Copyright All Reserved. SALOMA Theatre Restaurant. Disclaimer Notes

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Home Made Jetties (Toh Tau)

This kind of jetty can only be found along smaller rivers in Sarawak now. This photo was taken recently in Bekenu. It reminds me of the jetty that my uncle had many years ago in Ah Nang Chong. We used to wash our clothes and bathe very safely on the platform drawing water from the river. Note that oil drums are used to make the floating pontoon. In the olden days we used logs we caught from the river. Very nostalgic scene.

In the upper reaches of a river a home can be built next to a river ford or karangan. A jetty would not be necessary.

But in the middle valley where the river is wide and the river deep like in Sibu a jetty is necessary.

A jetty or "toh tau" (head of a road) was built by the home owner who lived next to the river bank along the Rejang River. These little jetties were unmistakenly home-made and simple structures. They looked beautiful from afar and were the landmarks for the Foochows who travelled along the river. Some were so well made that they were the talk of the people and they lasted.

Jetties lasted in those days because the motor launches and pedal boats and even the motorised long boats and speed boats could not in any way create enough waves to break the jetties apart.

My grandmother's jetty was a popular one because many people would used it. They came from the villages beyond the river banks. Also, the Nan Chong Cooperative and another little sundry shop, which operated from one wing of my grandmother's house, were the main attractions for people to stop by or land at the jetty. All the jetties along the river would be named after the owners except a few more famous ones like Lee Hua Jetty, Kwong Hua Jetty, Twenty Four Acres (Nieh Si Gak),Hak Choon Huong,etc.

These jetties were built to make it easier for people using the motor launches to land or to get into them. Speed boats and long boats could be tied to them easily. Berthing by the jetties was simple and no charges were incurred. It was so neighbourly at that time.

The best time for me ever was two or three of those motor launches berthed together tied with red cloth and bantings. That was the mark of a Foochow wedding. The motor launches were ready to bring the parties to Sibu for a fine ceremony and banquet.

I used to remember all their names. But as so many years have passed, I have forgotten most of the names. I am wondering if any one has written down all the names. Furthermore these jetties have long gone. Washed away by the powerful express boats.

An extra-ordinary way of life has in a way been "washed away".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bed Rolls in the Early Days

This photo must have been taken by one of my father's photographer friends during a Sibu photographic society's trip to Belawai:he is reclining on his bed roll (Kayan mat,pillow and a blanket, and may be even a mosquito net). This bed roll at that time was considered a complete set for a man to bring along whenever he went for a trip or whenever he moved to a new job, especially in another town. This was taken about 1954 or thereabout.

ly,this is
the upper deck
of a Chinese
motor launch.
If you have never
been inside one,this is a good picture. Passengers had to sit facing each other on
the hard wooden bench. Apparently my father had the whole bench to himself and had a good ride down the river as he was a voracious reader. His favourite magazine was "Chuen Chiew,Spring Autumn" a Chinese monthly magazine. Going to Belawai at that time would have taken a good whole day, arriving only a little before sunset.

Lat,our Malaysian National Treasure, and a cartoonist, has always touched people's hearts with his cartoons. This cartoon (I photographed it from his book) of his father taking his bedroll up to the bus is just so Malaysian. It naturally reminds me of all those by gone days before 1970's.

I hope my two illustrations would bring you some smiles today.

Can you last remember how a boy would make his first journey to stay in a boarding school in Sibu? His most important possession would have been his mat, his pillow and perhaps if he came from a fairly well off family, a thin mattress. What about adults who went on a week's trip by the sea? Apparently, a bedroll would be part of his camping equipment.

Today we have the state of the art of camping equipment:sleeping bag,tents, even motorised inflatable boats.

Also 40 years later,today, students who moved to boarding school actually could go with just a suitcase. Everything would be provided for. But Lat's cartoon remains dear to my heart for always.

And finally, I have a sad tale to tell too of life in those days. One sad wife had come running to her neighbour saying that her husband had left. A definite and all telling sign that he had moved on was her saying,"He had carried (niak) all his bed roll. The man and all his possession apparently would never come back again. By then almost everyone in earshot would have gathered around her,showing their sympathies.

Thus this experience of knowing of a desperate housewife in my neighbourhood was quite a trauma. It was so sad to see her waiting at the roadside to see if her man would come home. With or without a marriage certificate, when a man decided to take off with his bed roll,nothing much then could be done it seemed. Sibu in those days did not have the services of detectives to find a disappearing husband. Perhaps it was because all such a man had was his bed roll. She never remarried and some how or other she managed to bring up her children. Later on she moved away. In those days it was too risky just to "follow" a man. The Hokkien word was "twui" which is equivalent to "cohabit" of today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

OIl Lamps of Bygone days (Bedroom Lamps)

The fragrance of kerosene filled the air and it was time for children to go to sleep. Sleep was such a wonderful time and luxury. After a hard working day,sleep seemed to be a reward.

Incidentally,the small oil lamp, filled with a little bit of kerosene,has four important parts: the oil container which forms the base of the lamp,the metal part or cap to close the oil container is also the part where the wick is held. The wick is cotton and can be turned up and down by a little screw with a small handle.Extra wicks can always be bought for a few cents. Finally the little glass chimney protects the light from being blown out by wind. Sometimes the lamp has an optional back plate which can be bought for a few cents more. On the back plate you may find a painted picture of a beautiful Chinese lady or a beautiful Chinese scenery.

And in the semi darkness of an oil lamp the fairly cool room and a plank bed with rattan mat and two soft cotton filled pillows, sleep seemed to come easily. Grandmother would come by our rooms with her little oil lamp and commanded us to go sleep as we would have another good day to come. Life was simple and days and nights came and went with lots of happiness and calmness.

Today, sleep does not come easily. Older people suffer from insomnia. Working adults have sleep problems so bad they have to take sleeping pills. Children have sleeping disorders and many parents even seek doctors,bomohs (medicine men),pastors,temple priests,fortune tellers,to solve their sleeping problems. At bed times, modern day children and parents continue to have wars and psychologists have a field day writing about such problems in journals,books,or talking about them even in talk shows with Oprah Winfrey.

I will always treasure Grandma's caring words,"The little lamp will keep you company in the dark. Do not be afraid. Go to sleep."

And all too soon the cockerel would wake us all up to another glorious day.

(source of photo :

China WuHu hurricane lantern factory with its authorities to deal in import & export business and as a bonded factory and is specialized in producing various kinds of hurricane lanterns LED lanterns,kerosene lantern,oil lamps and its parts for more than 60years.WANGGUANG,SUN SHINE and GREAT EAGLE brands hurricane lanterns,LED lanterns sell well in Southeast Asia,Middle East,Africa,Europe,North and South America.The annual export value is up to 4 million U.S.Dollars Providing high quality,best price and favourable services,we sincerely hope to establish direct business relations with clients both at home and abroad.

Note : I am by no means advertising for Wuhan Hurricane is just to add on to my posting on oil lamps. My grandmother's oil lamps were definitely from China in the 1960's. Nevertheless it is interesting to be able to establish such a connection via the Internet.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Three Wheeled Pedal Cart

Photo by Sarawakiana. May 2008. Sibu.

The people of Sibu should be very proud of this 50's innovation. This is a three wheeled pedal cart or trolley which many men made a living from. And I am sure it has helped many to see better days.

It is used to deliver goods of all kinds. While trishaws (also three wheeled) transport human beings, this special vehicle devlivers everything that can go on it. It only needs the leg power of a strong man. When I was younger I used to see even a pig being delivered by this kind of cart!! The most popular usage of this vehicle is for the delivery of electrical goods. But it can also be used as a fun vehicle. Several of my friends could use it and see the sights in the town especially in the evenings!! But it does need a strong person to pedal it.

With prices of fuel going sky high this Sibu made vehicle may make a comeback.

If you look carefully the back part is the hind part of a bicycle and that is welded to a trolley sitting on two wheels in the front. There are even ledges for some people to sit. So goods and humans can go together.

Made in Sibu!! Wonderful idea!!

Would you be convinced to blog? Read on.....

Blogs Will Change Your Business

Look past the yakkers, hobbyists, and political mobs. Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Our advice: Catch up...or catch you later

Editor's note: The May, 2005, cover story, "Blogs Will Change Your Business," continues to receive lots of attention online. But many of the details in the story are out of date. So we've called many of the original sources and asked readers to help provide fixes and updates. For the version of the story with 2008 annotations, please visit

Monday 9:30 a.m. It's time for a frank talk. And no, it can't wait. We know, we know: Most of you are sick to death of blogs. Don't even want to hear about these millions of online journals that link together into a vast network. And yes, there's plenty out there not to like. Self-obsession, politics of hate, and the same hunger for fame that has people lining up to trade punches on The Jerry Springer Show. Name just about anything that's sick in our society today, and it's on parade in the blogs. On lots of them, even the writing stinks.

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they're simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they're going to shake up just about every business -- including yours. It doesn't matter whether you're shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They're a prerequisite. (And yes, that goes for us, too.)

There's a little problem, though. Many of you don't visit blogs -- or haven't since blogs became a sensation in last year's Presidential race. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, only 27% of Internet users in America now bother to read them. So we're going to take you into the world of blogs by delivering this story -- call it Blogs 101 for businesses -- in the style of a blog. We're even sprinkling it with links. These are underlined words that, when clicked, carry readers of this story's online version to another Web page. This all may make for a strange experience, but it's the closest we can come to reaching out from the page, grabbing you by the collar, and shaking you into action.

First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there, with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Some discuss poetry, others constitutional law. And, yes, many are plain silly. "Mommy tells me it may rain today. Oh Yucky Dee Doo," reads one April Posting. Let's assume that 99.9% are equally off point. So what? That leaves some 40 new ones every day that could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush.

Give the paranoids their due. The overwhelming majority of the information the world spews out every day is digital -- photos from camera phones, PowerPoint presentations, government filings, billions and billions of e-mails, even digital phone messages. With a couple of clicks, every one of these items can be broadcast into the blogosphere by anyone with an Internet hookup -- or even a cell phone. If it's scandalous, a poisonous e-mail from a CEO, for example, or torture pictures from a prison camp, others link to it in a flash. And here's the killer: Blog posts linger on the Web forever.

Yet not all the news is scary. Ideas circulate as fast as scandal. Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday 6:35 a.m. How big are blogs? Try Johannes Gutenberg out for size. His printing press, unveiled in 1440, sparked a publishing boom and an information revolution. Some say it led to the Protestant Reformation and Western democracy. Along the way, societies established the rights and rules of the game for the privileged few who could afford to buy printing presses and grind forests into paper.

The printing press set the model for mass media. A lucky handful owns the publishing machinery and controls the information. Whether at newspapers or global manufacturing giants, they decide what the masses will learn. This elite still holds sway at most companies. You know them. They generally park in sheltered spaces, have longer rides on elevators, and avoid the cafeteria. They keep the secrets safe and coif the company's message. Then they distribute it -- usually on a need-to-know basis -- to customers, employees, investors, and the press.

That's the world of mass media, and the blogs are turning it on its head. Set up a free account at Blogger or other blog services, and you see right away that the cost of publishing has fallen practically to zero. Any dolt with a working computer and an Internet connection can become a blog publisher in the 10 minutes it takes to sign up.

Sure, most blogs are painfully primitive. That's not the point. They represent power. Look at it this way: In the age of mass media, publications like ours print the news. Sources try to get quoted, but the decision is ours. Ditto with letters to the editor. Now instead of just speaking through us, they can blog. And if they master the ins and outs of this new art -- like how to get other bloggers to link to them -- they reach a huge audience.

This is just the beginning. Many of the same folks who developed blogs are busy adding features so that bloggers can start up music and video channels and team up on editorial projects. The divide between the publishers and the public is collapsing. This turns mass media upside down. It creates media of the masses.

How does business change when everyone is a potential publisher? A vast new stretch of the information world opens up. For now, it's a digital hinterland. The laws and norms covering fairness, advertising, and libel? They don't exist, not yet anyway. But one thing is clear: Companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their message. Now they're losing control of it.

Want to get it back? You never will, not entirely. But for a look at what you're facing, come along for a tour of the blogosphere.

Wednesday 7:38 a.m. Hmm. How to start this post? Idle talk about the weather, or maybe that red wine with dinner last night? No. Let's dive right in: One misstep and the blog world can have its way with you -- even when the coolest, most tech-savvy companies are involved.

Google (GOOG ) is regarded as a secretive company. So in January, when a young programmer named Mark Jen started blogging about his first days in the Googleplex, folks in the 'sphere instantly linked to him. Jen certainly wasn't dealing out inside dirt. But he griped that Google's health plan was less generous than his former employer's -- Microsoft (MSFT ) -- and he argued, indignantly, that Google's free food was an enticement for employees to work past dinner.

Two weeks later, Google fired Jen. And that's when the 22-year-old became a big story. Google was blogbusted for overreacting and for sending an all-too-clear warning to the dozens of bloggers still at the company. A Google official says the company has lots of bloggers and just expects them to use common sense. For example, if it's something you wouldn't e-mail to a long list of strangers, don't blog it.

Jen clearly flunked that test. "As the media got hold of it, I was quickly educated," he says. He says he should have understood the company's goals and concerns better and been more sensitive to them. Still, his adventure turned him into an overnight celebrity. He was wooed by recruiters at (AMZN ), Microsoft, and Yahoo! (YHOO ) A month later, Jen landed a job at Plaxo, an Internet contact-management company. A key part of his job, says a company spokesperson, is to help coordinate Plaxo's blogging efforts -- a pillar of Plaxo's promotional strategy. So what got him fired turned out to be his trump card. Plaxo, like many other companies, is now drawing up norms for blogging behavior, so that employees know what's in bounds, and what's not.

2:22 p.m. It sounds like the joke answer on a multiple-choice exam. Name a leading company in blog communications: General Motors?

That's right. For a company that's slipping in the auto biz, GM is showing a surprisingly nimble touch with blogs. GM uses them on occasion to steer past its own PR department and the mainstream press.

In January, Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz launched his own FastLane Blog. Bloggers applauded, and car buffs flooded Lutz with suggestions and complaints. Lutz posted lots of barbs from outsiders and won points for balanced responses. Like his answer to criticisms of new Pontiacs: "Did you take a look at seat tailoring? Carpet fits?...hood gaps, hem flanges? We used to be bad at those, too."

But Lutz is only part of GM's blog strategy. In April the company yanked $10 million in advertising from the Los Angeles Times and demanded that the Times make retractions. Journalists asked GM for specific complaints, and the car company held off. It said it wanted to work quietly with the Times and not battle it out in the press.

How to get the word out through a back channel? GM directed journalists to a blog,, that detailed GM's beef. (It had to do with a comparison between two cars, which GM thought was unfair.) Both GM and Miro Pacic, the blogger at AutomoBear, say that GM provided Pacic with information but that no money passed hands.

Fair enough. But even if GM doesn't pay for positive coverage in blogs, just consider the possibilities in this new footloose media world. There's little to stop companies from quietly buying bloggers' support, or even starting unbranded blogs of their own to promote their products -- or to tar the competition. This raises all kinds of questions about the ever-shrinking wall between advertising and editorial. We'll cover that later, when we get to the blogs' impact on our own business -- the media.

Thursday 8:56 a.m. It's the latest wrinkle on Descartes. I blog therefore I... consult. An entire industry is rising up to guide companies into this frightening new realm. And the consultants establish their brands and reps with their blogs.

Perhaps the biggest is Steve Rubel. A year ago, the exec at the PR firm CooperKatz & Co. started his blog, Micro Persuasion. He was already pushing such clients as WeatherBug and the Association of National Advertisers into the blog world. Then early one Sunday morning, as he recalls it, "my wife was sleeping, and I was sitting in the living room, laptop on my lap, and thinking if I am talking to clients and reading these blogs, I should jump in." When launching his site, he had the smarts to contact big shots such as Dan Gillmor, who was a leading blogger and tech reporter with the San Jose Mercury News. Gillmor linked to Rubel's site, and his traffic took off. It was great for his brand, and it also gave Rubel a blogger's education. "I became a living guinea pig for what I preach," he says.

Now Rubel is positioned as an all-knowing Thumper in a forest of clueless Bambis. The first job, he says, is to monitor the blogs to see what people are saying about your company. (An entire industry is growing to sell that service. Even IBM's (IBM ) banging at the door.) Next step: Damage-control strategies. How to respond when blogs attack. He says companies have to learn to track what blogs are talking about, pinpoint influential bloggers, and figure out how to buttonhole them, privately and publicly.

He gives the example of Netflix (NFLX ). When a fan blog called Hacking Netflix asked the company for info and interviews last year, Netflix turned it down. How could they make time for all the bloggers? Predictably, the blogger, Mike Kaltschnee, aired the exchange, and Netflix faced a storm of public criticism. Now Netflix feeds info to Kaltschnee, and he passes along what he's hearing from the fans. Sounds like he's half journalist, half consultant -- though he insists Netflix doesn't pay him.

Friday 10:46 a.m. The question came up at a panel discussion last week: Any chance that a blog bubble could pop? The answer is really easy: no.

At least not an investment bubble. Venture firms financed only $60 million in blog startups last year, according to industry tracker VentureOne. Chump change compared to the $19.9 billion that poured into dot-coms in 1999. The difference is that while dot-coms promised to make loads of money, blogs flex their power mostly by disrupting the status quo.

The bigger point, which is blindingly obvious when you think about it, is that the dot-com era was powered by companies -- complete with programmers, marketing budgets, Aeron chairs, and burn rates. The masses of bloggers, by contrast, are normal folks with computers: no budget, no business plan, no burn rate, and -- that's right -- no bubble.

The role of the blog startups is to build tools for this grassroots uprising. Six Apart, a four-year-old San Francisco company, leads in blog software. Technorati and PubSub Concepts are battling it out in blog search. The founders all insist that they plan to remain independent. But if recent history is any guide, most of them will wind up in the bellies of the blog-minded Internet giants -- led by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The latest to disappear was Flickr. A photo-sharing service that spread madly across the blog world, 13-month-old Flickr was still running its software in its beta, or testing, phase when it was acquired by Yahoo in March for an undisclosed sum. Caterina Fake, Flickr's co-founder, wrote about the deal in her blog the day it happened: "Don't forget to breathe. It's not the end, it's the beginning."

Monday 10:23 a.m. If this were a true blog, that last post would have generated a mountain of comments over the weekend, most of them with the same question: If there's no clear business model, why are the Internet giants so bent on getting a foothold in blogs? Look at it from their point of view. A vibrant community that has doubled in size in the past eight months is teeming with potential customers and has a mother lode of data to mine. "Blogs are what's causing the Web to grow," says Jason Goldman. He's project manager at Google's Blogger, the world's biggest service to set people up as bloggers.

David Sifry looks at it a bit differently. He's a serial entrepreneur and founder of Technorati , the blog search engine.

For Sifry, it's not the growth of the same Web, but an entirely new one. It's wrapped up far more in people's day-to-day lives. It's connected to time. The way he describes it, the Web we've come to know is mostly a collection of documents. A library. These documents don't change much. Try Googling Donald Trump, and you're more likely to find his Web page than a discussion of his appearance last night on The Apprentice.

Blogs are different. They evolve with every posting, each one tied to a moment. So if a company can track millions of blogs simultaneously, it gets a heat map of what a growing part of the world is thinking about, minute by minute. E-mail has carried on billions of conversations over the past decade. But those exchanges were private. Most blogs are open to the world. As the bloggers read each other, comment, and link from one page to the next, they create a global conversation.

Picture the blog world as the biggest coffeehouse on Earth. Hunched over their laptops at one table sit six or seven experts in nanotechnology. Right across from them are teenage goths dressed in black and thoroughly pierced. Not too many links between those two tables. But the café goes on and on. Saudi women here, Labradoodle lovers there, a huge table of people fooling around with cell phones. Those are the mobile-photo crowd, busily sending camera-phone pictures up to their blogs.

The racket is deafening. But there's loads of valuable information floating around this cafe. Technorati, PubSub, and others provide the tools to listen. While the traditional Web catalogs what we have learned, the blogs track what's on our minds.

Why does this matter? Think of the implications for businesses of getting an up-to-the-minute read on what the world is thinking. Already, studios are using blogs to see which movies are generating buzz. Advertisers are tracking responses to their campaigns. "I'm amazed people don't get it yet," says Jeff Weiner, Yahoo's senior vice-president who heads up search. "Never in the history of market research has there been a tool like this."

Tuesday 9:12 p.m. Back to that coffeehouse. Sitting at one large table is a collection of some of the most gifted geeks you can imagine. These folks built the blogosphere. And they're using it to link with each other. They share ideas, test them, and get them up and running in a hurry. Many of them transform the network itself, making it more muscular -- and disruptive.

The innovation that sends blogs zinging into the mainstream is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. Five years ago, a blogger named Dave Winer, working with software originally developed by Netscape, created an easy-to-use system to turn blogs, or even specific postings, into Web feeds. With this system, a user could subscribe to certain blogs, or to key words, and then have all the relevant items land at a single destination. These personalized Web pages bring together the music and video the user signs up for, in addition to news. They're called "aggregators." For now, only about 5% of Internet users have set them up. But that number's sure to rise as Yahoo and Microsoft plug them.

In time, aggregators could turn the Web on its head. Why? They discourage surfing as users increasingly just wait for interesting items to drop onto their page or e-mailbox. Internet advertising, which traditionally counts on page views and clicks, could be thrown for a loop. Already Yahoo is packaging ads on the feeds. Google is testing the waters.

But here's the really insidious part. If you set up your own aggregator page, such as, and subscribe to feeds, you soon discover that blog and mainstream postings mingle side by side. Feeds zip through the walls between blogs and the rest of the information world. Blog posts are becoming just part of the mix, swimming on the same page with the Associated Press, and yes, BusinessWeek.

Winer also ushered in a second tech breakthrough, podcasting. A back-and-forth between Winer and Adam Curry, a blogger and former MTV host, led last year to a system that easily distributes audio files. Looking for National Public Radio's On the Media or the latest ska compilations from a disk jockey in Trinidad? Sign up on a Web page, and the program gets automatically delivered to you -- as an audio feed. Last summer, Curry created software called iPodder so these MP3s could hitch a ride on an iPod (AAPL ). That was the birth of podcasting: radio programming whenever and wherever you want it. Since then, some 5,000 podcasting shows have sprouted up. They cover everything from yoga to the blues.

It's an overnight sensation. Before podcasting, only about 150 people a month bothered to download the audio files of Morning Stories, a show on Boston's public station WGBH. After the station switched to podcasting in October? Eighty thousand. Chalk it up to the bloggers. They pushed podcasting to their own circles, and it grew from there.

11:48 p.m. One more idea. Think of TiVo, (TIVO ) think of the iPod. When you're using one of them, do you consider the company that provides the programming? CBS, for example? Not much. You're putting together your own package. The pieces come from lots of companies and artists. Often you don't even know where.

Aggregators do the same job for the Net. So, just like the record companies, which have figured out how to market bits and pieces of their albums as standalone songs and ringtones, the rest of the media and entertainment world is going to have to think small. Content, whether it's news or a Hollywood movie, is going to travel in bite-size nuggets. The challenge, for bloggers and giants alike, is to brand those nuggets and devise ways to sell them or wrap them in advertising.

Wednesday 6:31 a.m. A prediction: Mainstream media companies will master blogs as an advertising tool and take over vast commercial stretches of the blogosphere. Over the next five years, this could well divide winners and losers in media. And in the process, mainstream media will start to look more and more like -- you guessed it -- blogs. Clay Shirky, a Web expert at New York University, calls it "an absorption process where the thing doing the absorbing changes."

Take a look at blog advertising today, and it's hard to see a glittering future. Sure, enterprising bloggers make room on their pages for Google-generated ads, known as AdSense, and earn some pocket change. Some blog entrepreneurs, such as Nick Denton, publisher of New York's Gawker Media, sell ads for everything from Nike to Absolut Vodka (FO ). Popular blogs can land sponsorship deals for as much as $25,000 per month, say consultants. O.K. money for an entrepreneur, but a rounding error in the ad industry.

Blog power simply doesn't translate yet into big bucks. For now, it's running mostly on people's passion to communicate -- especially in developing markets. Consider Hossein Derakhshan. He's a 28-year-old Iranian blogger based in Toronto. He has thousands of readers, and politicians respond to his postings -- even as the Iranian government frantically tries to shut down the servers hosting his blog. Yet Derakhshan can't yet cash on his fame. "Google doesn't have AdSense service in Persian yet," he says.

Still, blogs could end up providing the perfect response to mass media's core concern: the splintering of its audience. Advertisers desperate to reach us need to tap niches (because we get together only once a year to watch the Super Bowl). By piggybacking on blogs, they can start working that vast blogocafé, table by table. Smart ones will get feedback, links to individuals -- and their friends. That's every marketer's dream.

The big companies have what the bloggers lack. Scale, relations with advertisers, and large sales forces. They can use these forces to sell across all media, from general audience to bloggy niches. Already, Yahoo and Microsoft have been investing heavily to position themselves for niche advertising. And in February, the New York Times (NYT ) laid down $410 million for About Inc., a collection of 500 specialized Web sites that smell strongly of blogs. "What's to stop them from turning those 500 sites into 5,000?" says Dave Morgan, founder of TACODA Systems, an Internet advertising company.

Thursday 9 a.m. Hate to get wiggy here. But if the blogs eventually swallow up ad revenue, what's going to happen to us?

Yes, we, too, are under the gun. MSM, the bloggers call us. Mainstream media. And many of them delight in uncovering our errors, knocking us off that big pedestal we've occupied since the the first broadsheets started circulating.

We have to master the world of blogs, too. This isn't because they're taking away ad revenue, at least not yet, but because they represent millions of eyewitnesses armed with computers spread around the world. They are potential competitors -- or editorial resources.

Blog reporters showed their value following the Asian tsunami in December. Thousands of them posted pictures, video footage, and articles about the disaster long before the first accredited journalists showed up. MSNBC, which ran hours of tsunami footage on its Web site, has since opened an entire page devoted to citizens' journalism.

Dan Gillmor, who quit his San Jose newspaper job, is lining up investors for a new type of media company, Grassroots Media. He's interested in elements of an online journalism business in Korea, called OhmyNews. It mingles articles from 50 staff journalists with reports e-mailed and text-messaged in from thousands of citizen reporters. OhmyNews says it has been profitable for a year and a half and expects revenue this year of $10 million. "I keep hoping that all of the new conversational forms will augment the existing one," Gillmor says.

11:57 p.m. Thinking out of the box here for a minute. What would this article look like if it were a real blog, and not just this glossy simulacrum?

Think of the way we produce stories here. It's a closed process. We come up with an idea. We read, we discuss in-house, and then we interview all sorts of experts and take their pictures. We urge them not to spill the beans about what we're working on. It's a secret. Finally, we write. Then the story goes through lots and lots of editing. And when the proofreaders have had their last look, someone presses the button and we launch a finished product on the world.

If this were a real blog, we probably would have posted our story pitch on Day One, before we did any reporting. In the blog world, a host of experts (including many of the same ones we called for this story) would weigh in, telling us what's wrong, what we're overlooking. In many ways, it's a similar editorial process. But it takes place in the open. It's a discussion.

Why draw this comparison? In a world chock-full of citizen publishers, we mainstream types control an ever-smaller chunk of human knowledge. Some of us will work to draw in more of what the bloggers know, vetting it, editing it, and packaging it into our closed productions. But here's betting that we also forge ahead in the open world. The measure of success in that world is not a finished product. The winners will be those who host the very best conversations.

Friday 11 a.m. So why not start here? We've done our research on blogs, made our dire pronouncements. Pretty soon, someone in production will press the button. But this story should go on, as a conversation. And it will, starting on Apr. 22. We're launching our own blog to cover the business drama ahead, as blogging spreads into companies and redefines media. The blog's name? See you there.

By Stephen Baker and Heather Green

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Chinese Checkers

I have always wanted a picture of my family playing Chinese Checkers painted by one of my daughters. But someone has painted this beautiful picture already.

In the 60's and 70's Sibu was often under curfew because of the political upheavals of the time. And being young and active then and having a lot of time in our hands we would have been very bored if we did not have Chinese Checkers to play . Although we also have other card games and toys to amuse us Chinese Checkers remained our favourite.

When it comes to imagination,I am just wondering why we never thought of this giant Chinese Checkers for our playgrounds. Now so many years later the Americans invented it.

(see also description below)

We played Chinese Checkers during the long curfew days of Emergency during the 60's and 70's in Sibu. And many of us could spend hours just trying to beat one another. Some times in the thick of the game we could not even hear our mother calling us for dinner.

It was also admirable when someone had a personal set of his own. Even though the box was always cardboard and the checkers coming from China, we were always careful when we played and the box sometimes would last. Many of us have been keeping our sets for more than 30 years!!

As students we also played Chinese Checkers in competitions organised by schools, unions, and even churches.

Good parents liked to teach their children to play the game so that they could learn to concentrate on a simple game, and strategise. So one can usually find a box of Chinese Checkers in a Foochow home. I wonder if De Bono always won in Chinese Checkesr Games. What about Bill Clinton? Would Chinese Checkers be too boring for him?

Furthermore,this game also taught us how to be good losers, good winners and even good on lookers. It also taught us to be patient. What was very pleasant was when an opponent would suggest a move so that the game would not jam. Today whenever I get stuck in a traffic game I always think of someone coming to move a silly marble(vehicle) out of the route so that we could move on. That is just being wishful. Many adults still park three cars side by side (triple parking) so that their kids could get into their car in the afternoon school jam. Their big cars still jam up the traffic. These parents remind me of the days when we had players who only wanted to win by hook or by crook.

Have you ever been cheated by a friend who would deliberately roll a few of your marbles away by distracting you to look at something else?

Of course we did come across players who would cheat. But then winning was not everything. We also had people who stole our marbles. Well they were forgiven. Mother always said that we could also buy extra marbles. But we can never buy trust.

Here's a nice description from Wikipedia, in case you do not know how to play it.

Chinese checkers or Chinese chequers is a board game that can be played by two to six people. It is a variant of Halma; the objective of the game is to place one's pieces in the corner opposite their starting position of a pitted hexagram by single moves or jumps over other pieces.

The Chinese checkers board has 121 holes or indentations arranged to form a six-pointed star much like a regular hexagram, with ten such spots within each triangular star-point of the hexagram, and 61 within its hexagon. The game pieces are usually six sets of colored pieces (typically marbles), ten of each color. Each set of ten pieces begins placed in the spots of one of the star-points. Play rotates amongst contestants in fixed order, each player making one move before the next player. A move advances a piece towards a opposite corner, either to an adjacent spot or, by a “jump” over an opponents piece, to a spot two places removed. The objective of the game is to place one's pieces in the corner opposite their starting position of a pitted hexagram by single moves or jumps over other pieces.

Despite being called “Chinese checkers”, this game does not actually originate from China or elsewhere in Asia, nor is it a variation on checkers. The game itself was invented in Germany in 1893 under the name “Stern-Halma”, as a variation on the older American game of Halma. The “Stern” (German for star) refers to the star-shape of the board (in contrast with the square board of Halma). The name “Chinese checkers” originated in the United States, when an American tried to make the game sound more exotic.

(The game was mostly introduced to Chinese-speaking regions by the Japanese.

Source : Wikipedia.

(description of Giant Chinese Checkers...)

Enlarge ImageGiant Chinese Checkers
Price: $99.95

Prices are in US Dollars

Great for the gym or outdoors! This huge Chinese Checkers set keeps the fun going for hours. The object of the game is to place one player’s pieces in the corner opposite their starting position by moving them through jumps over opponents’ pieces. Includes 24 soft, 6 1/2"H cone-shaped nylon “pieces”, 8 each in red, green, blue, purple, yellow, and orange, and a durable 82" x 82" vinyl mat with colorful board game design.

Unusual Way of Repairing Roads in Sibu

This photo by Philip Hii shows an amazing attempt of Sibu road builders to control the sinking of a small road. The round holes were made by the piling of bakau at equi-distance from each other. It looks like a piece of art.

Belian Road, Chung Hua Road,Bukit Assek Road for example,were actually heavily piled with bakau when they were first built and later during the repairs. But the roads continued to sink until today.

I am wondering what engineering miracle can take place to contain the great challenge of road building in peat swamps.

Bukit Lima Swimming Pool

Memories of the Bukit Lima Swimming Pool started before Malaysia in fact.

As children we became very excited when we heard about the possibility of having a swimming pool!! Most of us had been swimming in the fierce Rejang River without fear.
The idea of having proper instruction in swimming was in fact so wonderful. And then cycling the 8 km to the pool at Bukit Lima would be no problem for us!!

When the pool was newly opened we went to the pool at least twice a week and that was a bonus for many of us because our parents were quite open minded. We learned to swim well but as girls we did not form a good team and then Sibu did well by sending only boys to competitions. Perhaps we girls were not really committed swimmers or we could not go every day.

Then the British Army,during the Confrontation, conquered the pool for a while,so many of us girls did not dare to go to the pool too often, unless we had adults accompanying us. It was good that my parents could agree to take us swimming.

I also remember one particular year when a good friend of mine wanted to be a beautiful bride. By then I was already a trained teacher. We swam every day so that her waist line could go down by an inch every day. She did it. She has always been a disciplined dieter and slimmer. Today she is still as beautiful as ever. I can not forget her determination. To have beauty,one must have a very strenuous regime. It is true. I love to sit and write. So my waist line just improves (plus)all the time. :) :)

I also remember that the swimming pool was a place for the local people to spend some time to bring their newly engaged partner to see the sights. Sometimes many new couples would also "pato" or date in the lovely surroundings. While many unattached girls would be soaking themselves in the water, these couples would be soaking themselves in their new sea of love. A popular tune at that time was "Come with the the sea of love..."

My friends and I used to laugh because we soaked ourselves too much in the Bukit Lima Pool, we did not know what it was like to be in the sea of love. Many of my friends actually married late. Some never married. My sister and her friends who are still single number more than 20. They are all good single ladies.

Back to the great boys who swam and got their gold medals. They were good and very determined. But they also had very good coaches like Mr. Hii Hieng Cheong. Another contributing factor was the support given by the community elders who saw to it that they were motivated and well financed.

In ancient days artists,scholars and musicians needed palace support without which they could never become well known. Today it is still very true in most cases. It would really be hard for any one from the fringes of the society to make it to the top unless they are "discovered" by a miracle.

The Swimming Pool did give many Sibu people a lot of pleasure.

Blacksmiths of Sibu - All Gone Now

There were a few blacksmiths in Sibu in the 50's and 60's. They did not make horseshoes and there were no horses in Sibu. They also were not exactly found in Blacksmith Road. These black and white photos were taken by Philip Hii in the 60's. So we are very fortunate to have them.

They were small operators and used a lot of charcoal fire. They mostly made changkuls, parangs ,hoes, huge hammers and even the kitchen choppers. Sometimes they would repair engines of bygone days.

One interesting article they made was the ring for stoves. Another was the base for the charcoal stoves. I am sure they also made the various farm implements.

It is a pity we do not have a good record of their life and work.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lesong or Mortar and Pestle

This is my own photo of M and P with pounded ginger in it. For people with butterfingers like me, a simple M and P is more practical than a blender or food processor because it is quite an intricate business to wash all the small parts.

Photo from

The mortar and pestle set is the ancient and traditional forerunner of the food processor, blender,juicer and similar home appliances. It must have been originated from the Stone Age when man started to pound large pieces of food to help in their chewing and biting of food.

But the M and P will always be a simple but the best appliance for the discerning housewife.

One can always tell how carefully a housewife prepares her meals in mid morning by the hoise she makes with the mortar and pestle.

Once a long time ago , in London, I heard a neighbour complain that I made too much noise with my lesong. After I gave her a portion of my evening meal,she understood immediately how we Malaysians prepare our meals. From then on, she would be curious what I could pound for my cooking.

I also taught her the Foochow way of smashing garlic or ginger with a Chinese chopper. That was also the way I introduced kung fu to her, how we Chinese would use almost anything as a weapon of defence. We shared a lot of laughter in the kitchen.

Later an Indonesian lady joined us and she told us that in her country it was very important for girls to learn to pound their onions,ginger and garlic very finely. This would ascertain a good smooth marriage.

Malaysians like to pound their dried shrimps,anchovies, and all the other spices well so that they are almost invisible in the soup,sauce or stew. This is considered very refine. However many people still continue to use the mortar and pestle even when they can afford to buy the best of food processors. They always say that by using the M and P,their food tastes more "authentic".

The father of Po the Panda is a chicken who serves noodles and there is a secret in the secret recipe. It makes me smile. And I love to see the way Shifu and Panda fight each other with chopsticks to get their dumplings. Brilliant ideas!! Excellent moves!!

Well, I don't think I will let go of my M and P. I simply love the sound of stone hitting against stone in the kitchen. It's a happy contented sound. Nourishing to the soul.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Kerosene Lamps

It was the duty of my third uncle to fill the lamp with kerosene, which our family would buy by the tin. (Hence the idea of kerosene tin - the rectangular voluminous tin with a hole at one of the corners for us to siphon out the oil.)

Each evening all the kids would surround uncle Pang Sing, waiting for him to light the lamp and then we would sit around for him to start telling us stories . Grandmother would be there too and the highlight of the evening would be her telling tell tales of China.

How many stories were told
under the lights of the kerosene lamp?
How many fears were quelled
because of the warmth of the light and the gentle tones of a mother's voice?
How many beautiful evenings passed
because grandmother was there mending a blouse, with her tiny fingers?
How many girls giggled and shared confidences in the room
bathed by the shadows of the lamp?
How lonely did life become when the light was put aside and the fragrance of old kerosene no longer filled the air?

Some stories to come soon.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bakau Piling for Housing Construction in Sibu

Luxuriant leaves of bakau trees.

A pretty bakau tree from a distance.

Air roots of the bakau tree can be seen more than a foot above from its mud base. Bakau trees are best found in what we know as mangrove swamps . Today it is popular to call these mangrove swamps wetlands. Bakau trees are found at the river mouths of most rivers in Malaysia.

A photo from Philip Hii which shows bakau being carried from a motor launch in Sibu by a "coolie" or labourer. At the time the crane had not appeared in our wharf yet. This is indeed a very valuable black and white historical photo. This kind of "open" motor launch which looks like a slipper,was made locally. They were very commonly seen in the Rejang in those days for ferrying of important goods like nipah,sago,etc from Mukah,Dalat,Igan or Baligian.

This picture is from Daniel Yiek's blog

My first encounter with bakau was the day my mother had her shophouse built in Sibu. It was a widow's determined effort to "develop" her land. And it was the right time.

I was very happy when the first lorry load of bakau arrived at the site and what an elation it was, standing there with my mother, after all those years of suffering ,making ends meet, counting every single dollar and spending sleepless nights of not knowing if we had enough money.

But my mother's careful spending,careful housekeeping saw everything through. And we had our five storeyed building - almost cash! This was the first project of Soon Hup.

My mother did pay extra for more bakau piling. The building has very solid foundation indeed and a maternal uncle saw to that. Like in our life a solid foundation is very important. We cannot short change any one. WE have to remember that.

Bakau has a special smell of the sea. It is distinctive and carries piles of memories many of the children who grew up in the slowly expanding days of Sibu.

Many contractors had a bad reputation because they did not provide adequate bakau for piling. Some owners had to secretly or may be openly put in more bakau for a better foundation. Unscrupulous contractors often were cursed for generations. Whenever cracks appeared on buildings or homes, curses started flying. Some contractors even took off to Taiwan after collecting huge sums of money from the landowners. Those were the hazy,semi forgotten days of economic progress of Sibu in the sixties.

However, up till now , in my research, no one can really tell who was the man who started off the idea of bakau piling in Sibu. Bakau piling was not required in most parts in Miri where engineers deem the soil here (as I live in Miri) to be solid enough without bakau piling. However I did see some bakau in lorries a few days ago.

The bakau piling machine is unique too. Just a pulley system with a heavy pounder. Two men are needed to put the bakau trunk into place and one man can move the piling machine next to the bakau and down will come the pounder and the pile is smoothly done.Most of the bakau piling workers in Sibu in those days were Ibans, as were the other menial workers.

I used to watch these movements once in a while and wondered how long these bakau could stay strong as a foundation.

Today, so many years later, many shop houses in Sibu have no cracks and their foundation seem to be as strong as ever.

The answer is in the water table and the uniqueness of the bakau.

Change the water table in Sibu, all the shop houses may have no foundation. Bakau piles will dry up and become perhaps powder.

A few such cases in West Malaysia will provide evidence to my statements.

There is indeed more to bakau than meet the eye.

"Mangrove species are tolerant of salt water and known to produce high- resistance woods commonly used as piling poles in construction. The woods are also extracted for charcoal." (Borneo Post)

I am glad when I read about the following that “We now have 12,400 hectares of mangrove forests under totally protected areas and 16,622 hectares as permanent forest reserves and we are suggesting to add another 25,344 hectares as totally protected areas and 30,390 as permanent forest reserves.”

"....the mangrove projects would be monitored carefully to ensure their success."

“After the planting we will monitor the situation and make sure the mangroves flourish.

“And we have persuaded the local folks to help us. This way, we are also giving them jobs,” he said.

Source : 26/11/ 2007, Borneo Post

Friday, July 04, 2008

The 9 Layered Kui (Kow Tiing Kui)

Photo by Sarawakiana. June 2008

Early in the morning one can buy a few pieces of these delectable Chinese folk food in Sibu. Many of these kinds of traditional or folk delicacies have lost their original authentic tastes and exquisite touches because of economics and profit margins.

In the past,a housewife would be proud to show her skills of making this sweet delicacy. She would make sure that all the little Q's (tips) were followed to reach excellence.

Here is a checklist - the right temperature, the almost there measures,timing, when to add this or that ingredient, etc......many would keep these secrets to themselves so that they were like the Kung Fu masters who need to keep a few "chou" in order to survive and strike down their enemies.

My grandmother would make her nine layered steamed cake in the following way.

First she would soak a few cups of glutinous rice overnight and then early in the morning she would have it hand ground by her stone grinder or mill. The rice flour would then be weighted down and soon she would be able to stir in coconut milk to make a wonderful batter. Of course today one can buy a packet of glutinous rice flour imported from Thailand any time in the supermarket. So one can skip the soaking and the grinding steps.

Coconut milk would be squeezed out from a grated coconut (using a very old kitchen tool - cannot be obtained nowadays. I believe I can still take a photo of one such tool in Marudi. So watch my blog.) Today this step is made easy by the usage of packet coconut milk.

Add a little sugar and a bit of salt.

This batter would be divided into two portions, one to be coloured red.

An wooden steamer would be prepared and she could steam her layered delicacy in no time.

In those olden days even if she had to multi task, she would be ever so patient in turning out even layers of white and red in her steamed cake.

And furthermore even without any absolute scales of measurement she could turn out a tin of steamed layered cake which would be so delicate, sweet and delicious to bit into.

A wonderful breakfast treat.

Note :Today many young people do not know how to make it. One can buy it any where in the coffee shops or market. But some people do bother to make this kuih out of love.

Old Food Safes or Puong Dieu or Wan Dieu

A long time ago, when we were kids we were told that we must never open the doors of the food safes unless we were told to do so. If did not adhere to this rule,we would end up marrying a hopeless, good for nothing man.

Whenever an elder heard the creak of a food safe door opening,she would say,"Someone's peeping at the food again!!" This would deter the culprit. Those were the days when we had very little pocket money. And the next door little village shop would only have the least of sundry goods for sale. With training like that, we never ever did open the doors of the food safes. It was too embarrassing to be caught red handed.

So how did we contain our hunger? We would try to open the huge tins of soda biscuits or the hard Osborne biscuits after getting the permission from our mother or grandmother.

Actually this old saying helped discipline us, so that at no time, we would go and pick the food. Picking the food from the bowls would mean that one would be getting more than his fair share of food and mum would have nothing to cook for the next meal. Most afternoon meals would have left overs which would be just enough for the evening meal. In this way, the budget would always be well managed.

There is another Foochow saying, "Calculate carefully and you would have enough for 9 meals!!" Thus we Foochow girls were brought up to be very careful with our housekeeping money. And no wonder we have some kept away for the rainy days.

These two pictures are some of my favourite pictures of Foochow life in Sibu.

And looking at a Foochow food safe would just make me more homesick for my hometown than ever. Memories of childhood days would just come flooding!!

Sarawak Centenary Celebrations in Sibu August 8-9,1942

(Adapted from The Methodist Episcopal Church in Borneo 1931-1950 by Sarawak methodist Centenary Celebration Volumes, Chief Editor : Wong Meng Lei, Published by SCAC, The Methodist Church in Malaysia.)

The Sarawak Centenary Celebrations of the Brooke rule were held in Sibu on August 8th - 9th 1942. In connection with the celebration, a committee was set up, and at the same time, they took the opportunity ti raise funds for the British War Effort Fund and the China Relief Fund, under the leadership of the District Officer, Mr. J.C. B. Fisher. They raised more than $45,000.

Funds were raised from football and badminton tournaments prior to the Centenary Celebration. A Land and Water Sports and a Regatta were also organised. School students keenly competed with each other. There was even a duck catching contest which gave a lot of enjoyment to the on lookers. however, the boat races provided the best entertainment of the day. Ten long boats with sixty paddlers each for one race was considered the best event of the day. The shouts of the Dayaks provided a lot of excitement.

On 24th Sept 1942, the centenary was also celebrated in Sbiu. Methodist Schools played an important part in the day's activities.

At a Police Guard parade in the Government Grounds, the Distrcit Officer, Mr. S.G. hansom, representing the Resident, presented a Long Service medal to the Tua kampong of kampong Puloh, Haji Salleh.

The Methodist Schools studnets went out to sell Sarawak Centary Badges for the British War Effort and the China Relief Fund. They raised quite a bit of money.

A very successful lantern parade was held at night with six schools participating. Although there was a slight shower, the spirit of the public was not dampened. The Methodist Boys' School led the parade. Ong Poh tong, a Standard VI boy was the artist behind the three lanterns which featured the likeness of the three White Rajahs.

All the Methodist Churches made special efforts to hold special Centenary Services on the Sundays before or after the Centenary.

So in a way, the Foochow church leaders and members of the Methodist Churches and staff and students of the Methodist Schools, and Sacred Heart School, played a dominant role in the Centenary Celebration of the Brooke Rule in Sibu.


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