Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ireland Tobacco Company and Wedding Feasts

I came across this on E-Bay and my memories brought me back to the Foochow wedding feasts of the 60's. Yes indeed my cousin and I tried to pinch one of these. And the banquet steward gave us a wink. (I am wondering if he still has it). Much later I obtained one from Ban Chuang Coffee Shop when I asked for one from the "Coffee Hand" ,the man who made the coffee. But I have lost mine.

F and N was a favourite label for us as it conjured up imported stuff which was better than Ta Fong Aerated Water. (F and N drinks were made in Singapore!!)

All these hard liquor were placed on the tables for guests to enjoy. This was to show how generous and happy the host was.


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The Ireland Tobacco Company was owned by a family who used to live in Brooke Drive (beginning of the Oya Road). The house is still there and is used as a car show room today. Next door to it is the property belong to the Yew family. Ms. Yew Jen Kie's father owned the first and most famous Tien Pian Hoo Shop in Sibu.

The towkay neo was a big lady who drove an equally big car,probably one of the biggest cars in Sibu in the 1960's . Their house was huge too with a big garden and many fruit trees. Whenever we passed by their house on our way to school via Hose Lane we would look at the fruit trees which were heavy with fruits.

The cigarettes produced by this company were sold in the smaller towns like Mukah,Bintangor and Sarikei,Kapit and Kanowit. They were appealing enough to the financially challenged communities. Each small packet of 10 was 25 cents!!! The bigger packet of 20 were sold at 50 cents. As the price was not that prohibitive the number of smokers must have multiplied.

I remember attending a few Foochow wedding banquets fondly. On each table would be an unopened bottle of XO or Black Label,a packet of Ireland Tobacco Cigarette,a box of matches,three or four bottles of fizzy drinks made by Ta Fong, and a few bottles of bear.

When guests filled up a table they would take the cigarettes and opened the fizzy drinks for the children. A few ladies would try their very best to force the host to take the XO away from the table,saying that it was a waste to open such an expensive bottle of liquor and they did not drink any way. There would be a lot of pushing and pulling and of course adding to the merriment. We would wait to see who ended up with the bottle of XO. I would sometimes pray that the bottle would stay with our table and then we could have a few sips and redden our faces. It was popular to pour a peck or two of brandy into fizzy drinks,the Foochow way. Very few would drink brandy or whiskey on the rocks.

At the end of the wedding feast any left over cigarettes would be pocketed by the smokers after they say loudly,"Don't waste,don't waste." This statement was the prelude of taking something they like. Sometimes they would offer one or two sticks to the little boys who would laughingly shake their heads. The invariably the adult would rub their heads and say"Good boy!!"

I must confess that I once took half a packet of the cigarettes when no one was looking and gave it to the trishaw driver. Another time when attending a wedding banquet of a close relative I managed to wrap up more than 6 siew mai or meat dumpling for the deaf mute . My mother would also ask for a bag to take away the extra sweet and sour pork chops for our next door neighbour,the height challenged Ah Moo. If I could get a packet of cigarettes (unopened)our Ah Moo would also have that. (I found it very difficult to stomach the fact that she would save her cents and then buy only one stick of cigarette from the corner little shop.) Even at that time we were very conscious of the benefits of getting freebies.

The men who loved a drink would gather at a table where XO bottles were opened. They would be the ones who make the banquet more merry and very loud indeed. In those days we did not say Yam Seng the way we do it now. There were lots of real laughter,slapping of backs, pushing each other and pouring of drinks into glasses. The host would go around picking up food to offer to his guests with chopsticks to ensure that they had a lot of food. A wedding would then be considered well celebrated. there was no karaoke of course!

This was the way Foochow men and women behave at a feast in the 60's.

I cannot remember when the Ireland Tobacco closed down. But I will have all these memories to savour and share with others.

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