Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moi Soung Cafe

Photo by Wong Meng Lei - home made Foochow meatballs served as soup to accompany the Kam Pua in Moi Soong Coffee Shop.

(Photo by Sarawakiana) The old shop sign board and an old clock. Need to read from right to left.

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(Photo by Sarawakiana) The sign board at the front of the shop along Channel Road.

Three things I would associate with Moi Soung Cafe.

It was the earliest Coffee Shop of Sibu and has been there since the 1900's. It belonged to a Wong family which prospered over the years. The family has contributed towards the social development of Sibu.

The propretor of the coffee shop was indeed very kind to several five foot way vendors - the tangerine seller who came with two baskets on a bian dan (bamboo pole) over his shoulders and then plied his fruits and daching (hand scale) right at the fet corner of the coffee shop. In other places in the world this would not have been tolerated for even a single day. But the tangerine seller was soon recognised even a part of the shop. I used to buy fruits from him and asked "Are the tangerines sweet?""Where do they come from?" He must have been fed up with me. I have always been a nosey customer,asking too many perhaps obvious questions! He would shoo me off when he wrapped his fruits in the paper bags. (These paper bags were special then,during the era before plastic bags - You will read a posting on this soon)

At another corner there was a lady who sold her chickens and eggs. Many people would buy from her because she would ply her product with the comforting announcement : "These chickens are fed by me - very fleshy and still young and untainted. These eggs are from my own hens. Look at them they are the biggest you can find in Sibu." This lady was the forerunner of an organic chicken farmer and Grade A egg sellers. At that time I could see that she was a very honest trader and breeder.

At the rear end of the coffee shop was the vendor who sold soya bean milk and two or three different kuihs. He was a quiet man and operated alone like the other two. He sat on his wooden stool and waited for his customers who would pass by. Life was slow but I am sure he enjoyed watching life passing by him.

In the evenings Moi Soung Cafe had a night life. The Sibu Traditional foochow Orchestra would come alive. Five or six men who gather together with the proprietor to play their musical instruments like er hu,drums,etc. I often think that it is a pity that no one had made a CD or a video of their performance. Perhaps I am wrong there and I have not asked the right person.

This corner coffee shop has been meaningful to many travellers who went up and down the Rejang River. And visiting it recently I could still feel that any moment my grandmother would step on to the pontoon from the wooden motor launch called "Sing Hai Huong" which would arrive right on the dot at eight. I miss the sirens from the launches as they arrived. They would also blare the loud sirens to tell travellers that they were leaving for the afternoon trip home,downriver. I miss the Foochow cries " Kay mang Li Loh! Sung ai kian loh!" (Quick, hurry up,the boat is leaving!)

The sounds and sights are slowly disappearing from Old Sibu. Even the archaic Foochow (e.g. kay mang or kay kay li) is disappearing as the younger generation speak more Mandarin and other languages.

I can already see that the old coffee shop lifestyle is being phased out slowly and new fish and chips,KFC and Sugar Bun outlets are taking over like aliens intruding into a provincial town. Rural Italy or France would rise up in arms if an alien outlet would jar the milieu of the landscape. But perhaps I am too irrelevant or unrealistic here.People's tastes have changed over the last ten years or so. So that's it I suppose. No reason for nostalgia.

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