Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Woes of One Man in Sibu-

This is about modern day Sibu my hometown. And for this interesting situation to occur one has to really study it carefully. Perhaps some public opinion from a far away city needs to be aired too.

So just my two sens --

This is worst than a prison cell in terms of size. But How Sing can have his afternoon siesta al fresco.

Dinner time! How Sing eats his meal in his trailer. He has has utensils and crockery all neatly arranged in this mini trailer.

At night the mini trailer is found in a five foot way. May be he needs some mosquito coils to keep the moskies away.

Sarawak has a huge landmass of 4825 sq.miles as compared to Singapore's 120 sq miles. Sarawak has about 3 million people and this means that an average Sarawakian can get about 0.2 sq mile of land .

In India according to the latest Indian government figures, people in its cities have just 5.5 sq m (59 sq ft) per person - the minimum specified for US prisons.

According to the country's 63rd national survey, 55% of the country's urban population live, sleep, cook and wash in a space no bigger 5.5 sq m. The comparable figure for the average American is 83.6 sq m per person.

How Sing here has a nice cosy little self made wooden trailer measuring 2'x3'. It height is about 3.5 feet.

He sleeps and eats in the trailer. In the day time he moves his trailer to the central market place where he does odd jobs and at night he parks his "home" on a five foot way.

It must be uncomfortable for him to say the least. But he seems to be fairly at home and at ease without a care in the world. Or if he is uncomfortable he is not telling.

My blogger friends from Sibu (Steve Ling and Philip Hii have been very gracious in their communication with me. In what ways can we help a man like How Sing?

What is the social responsibility of a government when faced with such an unusual "situation"? Is it a case by case situation for the Social Welfare Department? Or should How Sing be just allowed to have his free will to live as well as he can?

But at least he does not have to worry about Municipal Assessment Rates and Lease Renewal. He can always use the Public toilets and save on water bills. Electricity? The street lamps are better than kerosene lamps.

There may be more than meet the eye.

Photos : Steve Ling and Philip Hii
Statistics Source :

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Old Oil Drum

The oil drum has always been on my mind as a good memory trigger.

It was a very important receptacle for rain water when I was young. A home in the Foochow villages would never be without one in the 50's and 60's before the diesel run water pump was invented and water was then piped into homes. Pipes then were heavy lead pipes and not the PVC pipes which we know now.

At the bottom of a staircase one could always find an oil drum full of rain water ready for feet washing before a person could come upstairs. This washing of feet was important because in those long ago days many would have been barefoot so before entering any one's home they had to wash their feet.

My mum as a young woman used to carry tins of water with her pian dan or bamboo pole to fill up one or two oil drums. Those water carrier tins were recycled from the huge cooking oil tins. My mother's family had always been frugal and innovative in every way. Thinking of this simply warms my heart.

Later on in my life I would always be on the look out to see how people use the oil drums. Those oil drums were free from Hock Chu Huo. Mr. Wong Liong Dick is still around to tell tales of oil drums and their usefulness. Do visit his petrol station near the Sarawak House.

Today we even have to buy an empty oil drum should we want to recycle it for our personal use. Of course different people have different perception of the ubiquitous empty oil drum.

This used to be a common scene in Sarawak. Floating jetties were ubiquitous before the fast river express boats swept them away in the 70's and road transportation became the common mode. These days you will see this in small rivers where people still need to berth their little long boats and bring home their purchases. Here use see oil drums as part of the floating jetty. Nice platform for river fishing. I was very happy to be able to capture this photo.

This is a photo I took recently of an oil drum used as water container like what I remember of the old days of Sibu riverside lifestyle. The oil drum had been used to collect rain water now it is a charcoal stove / oven for his roasted chicken and pork. Many coffee shops in Sibu have some of these drums standing at the back . This is a frugal way of saving rainwater for incidental washing of the drains etc. This would save on water bill which can be exorbitant at times. Sarawak is a land of rivers. Yet our water supply is one of the most expensive in Asia.

According to the shop owner once the oil drum started to leak he turned it into a fire place to cook his roasted chickens and pork. So in a way he will definitely make full use of the drum until it literally disintegrate with rust. No wastage at all.


Oil drum used to make briquettes from ground nuts . Source : Jakarta Post. This is a very interesting concept which is popular in Indonesia where many recycle the oil drum and use ground nut shells to make briquettes.

A bitter sweet beach scene - a rusty oil drum left on the shores. I have often seen oil drums floating in rivers and the sea but never took any photo.

Photo by Steve Ling of Sibu - a Sibu hawker selling chicken wings - roasted over a fire in a half oil drum!!

An ingenious Chinese in Beijing fashioned a stove out of an oil drum. He adds a bike to the stove and has a mobile kitchen in mid winter!!

source: - these oil drums are used to keep seeds and other stuff. A wood in England.

Although the world sees the oil drum as a serious pollutant many good people will continue to use it in as many different ways as possible.

Dumex White Crockery Collectors' Items 1950's - 1960's

(This tea set is from my cousin's collection - she brought up her children on Dumex)

(Newest packing for Dumex follow up milk formula)

(Collector's item - a pitcher)

Before I write any further I would like to say that I am all for breast feeding and that my article today is not in any way promoting the benefits of any baby milk formula.

When my younger siblings were born my parents decided that they should be given Dumex milk powder instead of breast milk. And this started the family odyssey of our Dumex crockery collection.

My mother (now in her 80's) still has a large collection and for years our Chinese New Years were celebrated with a grand display of the Dumex plates and bowls.The white crockery against green table cloth made by my aunts for my father's 50th birthday were indeed beautiful and gave all of us a sense of deep joy.

It was heart warming for all of us siblings to enjoy watching mum's collection grow. And we were also very careful not to break any of her collection. The white procelain was beautiful. The only drawback was the fact that we never could afford to buy a glass cabinet to display her grand set. But it was a true journey of careful maternal spending and proper saving of the many tokens which were needed to exchange for the plates and bowls. My sisters and I spent a lot of time counting and recounting the tokens and reading the flyers to help mum get the best deal! Losing a token was like losing a large sum of money!

Here are some pictures to show you what mothers and daughters liked to get in exchange for their Dumex tokens. It was memorable indeed while the trend lasted. Or perhaps we did indeed outgrow the almost compulsive collection. Today women have different articles to collect be it Tupperware or AMC items. But nevertheless many families in Sibu would still have a large set of Dumex crockery. If not they would still have a few small pieces. And this little article would bring a smile to Dumex crockery collectors at least.

Enjoy the nostalgia!

And finally we would always remember how disappointed my mum was when my youngest brother was born 10 days earlier instead of being born on the Malaysia Formation Day of 31st August 1963. If he was born on Malaysia day my mum and he could have been awarded 12 large tins of Dumex Milk Powder and other gifts from the Borneo Company which was then the chief sponsor of Malaysia Day Babies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old Street , Old Memories of Sibu.


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This is Old Street with its latest look in 2008. I was there not too long ago to take the photos. I love to see my hometown Sibu change steadily but slowly. And it is too bad i do not have a very old photo of this road to make comparison. It is common in most Asian cities to have at least one street called Old Street. And how I love the name - Old Street.

It is perhaps indeed the oldest street in Sibu as two of the oldest families own shophouses here : first lot from the left belongs to the descendants of Wong king Huo, a great friend of Rev James Hoover and the third shop from the left (I may be wrong now) belongs to the banker Chew Geok Lin's family. The family retains its name Wah Tat on top of the building as seen in the first photo. I am wondering why the address is 18 Old Street.

This street has always been the most popular street for many years and even until now in Sibu in my opinion at least. During the boom time of rubber in the early 50's all the rubber tappers would hang out (lepak) here in the early morning after they had had their coffee in Moi Soung Cafe.

The quaint colonial type windows are quintessential . And each shop has a different style of colonial windows which is actually delightful to the eye. I can always remember my maternal grandmother standing at the windows on the first floor of the Hock Chuo Huo shop watching the regatta in a very regal manner. And then I love to imagine catching sights of nyonyas with their nice gold earrings sitting at the windows watching life passing by along the street. Today the windows have been refurbished but they still retain their past grandeur and historical flavour.

We continue to come across lots of movies made by the Hong Kong and Singapore Film Companies showing this kind of setting. And I hope one day a film will be made about a wonderful historical romance of the pre - second world war period of Sibu. That is when Old Street will be the perfect setting. That would really put Sibu on the media and film map. I have dreams that it might even win a national film award or two!! How proud Sibu could be.

In the 50's and 60's the other attraction here was the clinic belonging to Tan Sri Dr. Wong Soon Kai and his wife Puan Sri Dr. Jane Yong. I remember that at the height of their political careers almost every patient was charged only RM2.00.

And then there were difficult days after my father passed away suddenly. It was painful and hard for us to make ends meet because my mum was not a career woman. It was quite a blessing when we children were given almost free treatment by Dr. Yong. As little fatherless children we felt really miserable and worried that we could not afford to pay for our medical treatment. Fever seemed to run in our family and once I was down with a strange fever for more than ten days. I remember my eighth aunt had to take me by trishaw to school for a few days after that until I could walk a little better. I suppose my mother must have thought that another tragedy had struck the family and she had a physically challenged daughter to feed for the rest of her life!! During my fever I was delirious most of the time and had very bad dreams of just white lights flashing.

Dr.Yong also found out that I had a curved spine and predicted that I could not grow tall. How right she was!

The buildings along this road were the old colonial buildings having all the specifications of a five foot way,three small steps leading up to the shops as the shops had to be at least two feet above the drain and road. Today the road is almost the same level as the shop.

In the 60's I loved to hear the swiftlets winging in and out. Their song was beautiful and would always make me feel that I was indeed in town! For a while in the 80's a few of the shops were abandoned and they created an eerie feeling whenever we passed by. It was old street indeed.

Another memory of the Old Street is the waft of freshly baked kompia which came out of the last shop along the row of shophouses. Names have changed and I notice that it is now called Chung Nam Coffee Shop.

New business outlets have started with very trendy names. I suppose in the days to come the Foochow names would disappear with time. Already shops have names like Fisherman's, Maju Jaya, Rasa Sayang sprouting up in Sibu.

Times are a'changin!!

But I hope Old Street will be Old Street forever. There is so much history and romance there. Would someone consider preserving these old buildings as Historical Heritage sites?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Embawang- it is in season now

Embawang is in fact a wild fruit found in the equatorial regions and some of the best fruits are found in the Rejang and Baram River valleys of Sarawak. However today many of the indigenous people have learned to select the best seeds to produce the best trees. So today in Sarawak and Sabah you can get both the wild and domesticated embawang and they are more or less the same.

When you buy this fruit in the tamu or market you might by chance choose a very sweet one and on another occasion you get a really sour one. The sweet ones can be eaten on their own. The sour ones have to be eaten as a salad eaten with limes and ikan bilis or sambal belacan. Many years ago we coated the embawang slices with generous portions of sugar. Some very ingenious housewives have even made jam out of embawang.

Embawang trees grow up to as high as 200 feet tall. The canopy is not very widespread but the tree has many branches which are usually found nearly at the top of the tree. There are not branches further down the trunk like the rambutan tree. Each good tree can produce up to 500 to 800 fruits per season. One must never walk or play under an embawang tree that is full of ripening embawang on a windy day. It has been known that the fruit has been responsible for the deaths of many men and women. I was told that even a crash helmet cannot save your life should an embawang falls on your head.

These photos show you how to prepare the fruit for eating.

(You must make the first cut at the top of the fruit )

(Make about six or seven longitudinal cuts from the top to almost the bottom)

(The skin of the fruit completely taken of the flesh - this is quite a skill.)

(You make thick slices of the embawang)

(the large seed of the embawang)

We seldom eat embawang by itself. The fruit can be eaten with rice as part of the meal or as a dessert at the end of the meal. I like my rice with salted fish and embawang and perhaps another salad. Some steamed or fried bitter gourd would enhance the meal so that you have all the five tastes of salty, sweet, bitter , chilli or spicy and sour altogether.

(Tip: always have a layer of newspaper under your cutting board to make cleaning up easier. The fruit is very juicy and it leaves behind a very strong sourish smell.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yomeishu - A Wine Which Promotes Longevity (Yang Ming Jiu)


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(Photo by Sarawakiana)

Yomeishu or Longevity Wine has been around for as long as I can remember. My grandmother had a glass every now and then. My mother drank it as a tonic for her poor health and I love it as a tonic too whenever I feel like having it nowadays. Once opened it does not have to be finished. You can drink it spariningly until it is finished. A small plastic container is usually provided for you to measure the prescribed amount you can drink.

My aunt told me a longevity story which circulated in Sibu many years ago.

A very rich man (name withheld) was very impressed by one of the hardworking gardeners he employed as he was still working at his ripe old age of 76. Each day the old man would ride his bicycle to cut grass and in a week he could finish cutting grass for about 8 houses along that particular road. He was like a permanent fixture in that area. Rain or shine he would be around. Not many actually paid attention to him and his activities.

One day the rich man made a special effort to stop by the gardener and asked the old man a question,"How do you live this long - nu di mian jin yi eh sia hiin mang dong." He went on to ask the old man,"What's your secret?"

The old gardener said "It is simple - simple cold tea and cold rice,towkay. Have no worries. Work hard each day and sleep well."

Apparently the old man lived almost to a 100. The rich towkay passed away a few years ago in very lonely and pathetic conditions. The face to face encounter probably took place 30 years ago.

The Chinese drug stores have on their shelves many different types of wines and many concoctions to prolong life. It seems like the Chinese emperors of long ago we too are still looking for the elixir of life!! Yomeishu is perhaps on such concoction from Japan.

Most Foochow women think that it is an ideal tonic for poor health and especially those who need to dispel cold winds in their bodies. Many new mothers would have a sip of it every day during their confinement period. A few ladies i know even claim that it can cure their headaches and stomach aches.

It is an interesting tonic wine which contains the following ingredients (per 60mL)
Cinnamomi Cortex (J.P.) 270 mg Carthami Flos (J.P.) 12 mg
Rehmanniae Radix (J.P.) 60 mg Paeoniae Radix (J.P.) 60 mg
Caryophylli Flos (J.P.) 24 mg Ginseng Radix (J.P.) 60 mg
Saposhnikoviae Radix (J.P.) 96 mg Curcumae Rhizoma 36 mg
Leonuri Herba 48 mg Epimedii Herba 114 mg
Linderae Umbellatae Ramus 594 mg Eucommiae Cortex 18 mg
Cistanchis Herba 48 mg Agkistrodon Japonicae 12 mg

Manufactured in Japan Yomeishu is popular in Asia and is often prescribed as a health tonic. No one can actually get drunk with it.

Most women feel that if taken it is for the improvement of the following symptoms: poor appetite, gastroenteric weakness, poor blood circulation, chills, fatigue, weak constitution, and weakness after disease.

It is the best gift to give to your friends on their birthdays, and when they are ill or having their confinement.

Men of course can drink this wine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

10 Things about the Sarawak Methodist Calendar

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Each year while growing up in a Foochow family one of the most important things my mother would do was to collect a free Sarawak Methodist Church Calendar from Masland Church. It would be posted on a very special place on one of the more prominent walls of our home.

Years later as I worship in Miri I will still delight in getting one. This one in the photo is posted on my office door for the whole of 2008 and I have another at home.

What have been the purposes of this calendar which was (hopefully I am right) designed by Rev. Hoover in the 1910's? But I do have ten points about this special calendar.

1. It is a recognisable feature of a Christian Methodist home when visitors see this calendar in a home.

2. the calendar has the Apostle's Creed and The Lord's Prayer on the top right and left hand corners respectively. When I was young I thought that these two would be the "charms" or a "dispeller" which would protect my family from the Devil. My children continue to believe that this calendar is a "protector" of our home. Today I still read the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer in Foochow with a Foochow City Accent to my great satisfaction.

3. the calendar is a one stop information centre. We can find the names of our Methodist pastors and many significant telephone numbers. We know where they are in Sarawak for the year. This calendar also has websites and email addresses apart from telephone numbers.

4. we are reminded of important dates and activities of the Methodist Church in Sarawak.

5. I value this calendar because like the strong Church system and God's love the calendar is always there for us as a gift. It has stood the test of time. It has great historical value to me. The word LOVE or Ai is on the red cross.

6.although I may have said a lot about "free gifts being not good and good things being not free",this is one free gift that is indeed invaluable. Missing it will upset me for the whole year. I once had it sent from Bintulu by my cousin who is a Pastor in March when I did not get one at the beginning of the year.

7. having this church calendar in the office or at home ,visitors will know at once that we are church goers and that we are Methodists. Peace will reign in all negotiations and confrontation will also dissipate.

8. Not having this calendar is like losing a limb or a leg throughout the year. I had that feeling many years ago when i missed getting it. A relative who is so used to the calendar once came to the house and asked why I did not have one (that year). She went on to ask, "Lost your faith?"

9. It is like a family heirloom. We love it so mch that there is a place for it on our wall. The marked blank is so obvious after years of hanging the calendar in the same space that we are reminded that we have not been doing the right thing. For as long as I remember my grandfather had one in his Sungei Merah house when he was alive. My maternal grandmother in Sg. Maaw also never missed posting hers up at the beginning of each year. I liked it when the Pastor (Rev Lau Ngo Kii) would always remember to keep one for her especially at the beginning of the year. That was how much Rev. lau cared for my elderly grandmother.

10. Having this calendar is like having a good conversation piece at home when strangers especially Methodist Foochows come to visit.

I must get one this year again. Will you get one yourself?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Thoughts: Thick Sauces and Homemade Bubble Tea

Have you ever thought about the humble tapioca flour as almost an indispensable part of your life? Tapioca flour used to be 10 sen a kati? And it must be in a jar near the foochow stove? But if you are a stranger to tapioca, never mind. Just enjoy this article.

First of all I am happy to say that tapioca flour is a commercial product made in Sibu and many other tropical places. Unknown to many there is indeed a factory in Sibu producing this indispensable product for several decades.

Secondly tapioca flour is a very important ingredient in Foochow cuisine. It makes sauces thick and rich like sweet and sour sauce. Add a teaspoon of the powder to three tablespoons of water and you get a thickening sensation!

Thirdly tapioca flour is a helpful dusting powder for babies and even adults to make skin dry. It is a great alternative to store bought talcum powder. So if you suffer from chaffing of the skin between the legs and under the arms use some tapioca flour. This is a useful tip given to me many years ago by my cousin who is a very wise Foochow doctor. I have saved a lot of money by not buying commercial talc when I took care of my babies. And in fact some talcum powder indicate that they have tapioca as part of their contents.

And now tapioca flour is part of the world famous Taiwan Bubble Milk Tea . The pearls are in fact tapioca balls.This new age tea is a craze in South East Asia for the last 15 years or so. It has indeed changed the social attitude towards the traditional tea shop or coffee shop. Most of the bubble tea shops have nice names like Hong Char Dao or Tea Boat or just Taiwan Bubble Tea. The price of course is three or four times that of a normal cup of coffee shop tea. The innovation involved is the huge variety of flavours to try, depending on the tea house or stand you visit. The drink is usually a mix of tea, milk, sugar, and giant black tapioca balls. The "bubble" refers to the foam created by shaking the freshly brewed tea with ice (the drink must always be shaken and not stirred). And you really need a specially made straw to get those big marble like pearls into your mouth!!

After the first initial drink you may develop a liking for it especially on a hot tropical day and after a few long hours of shopping. I read somewhere that the whole idea came from a school canteen in Taiwan which served this tea to small kids after school many years ago.

Ever since I saw Anthony Bourdain drinking Taiwan Bubble milk tea with a gigantic straw I have been making my own milk tea at home.


All you need is a small packet of tapioca flour (make small balls with hands and add pink or green colouring)
One tine of Ideal Evaporated Milk
Some sugar
Some honey
Jasmine tea
hot boiling water to make your jasmine tea.
Lots of ice.

And large tall glasses
And of course gigantic straws of different colours which you can get in supermarkets. If you know some one in a Bubble tea outlet get some off him for a small fee. Don't let on you are making your own.

You can save hundreds of ringgits per year. Better still your children will be so happy to bring their own bubble tea to school. And furthermore if you make those tapioca balls with your children they would be so proud of themselves.

And for many of my friends who are gluten intolerant tapioca flour is a blessing. It is a great alternative. Smiles are all around when they can have their cakes too.

Come to think of it...tapioca flour in so many occasions has helped us through thick and thin!!

Make your own bubble tea?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Foochow Muffins

Photos show the Traditional Foochow Muffins - note the unusual shape . This shape has been around for as long as I can remember. The texture has somewhat changed over the year (due to changes in flour may be) but the shape remains the same throughout Malaysia.

The Foochows call these muffins Long Koh or Kie Long Koh (or Egg Cake ) and we have loved them from our childhood days.

This is probably the oldest "cake" made by the Foochow pioneers of Sibu and has lasted the test of time. Today this cake is still being baked every day by the Foochow "biscuit shops" in Sibu and other towns in Sarawak. The Foochows call them "Pian Daing" or biscuit shops and not bakeries. Although the market for it has shrunken it is nevertheless still a popular "gift" to bring when Foochows visit one another.

The traditional shape is distinctive and there is a lovely peak in the middle. Most of these cakes can last a week without refrigeration. These muffins made in Sibu were sold all over the Rejang Basin. During the days of motor launches which plied the Rejang River these cakes were indeed very marketable. Easy to carry and easy to eat. Today the pian daing have lost a lot of their market due to competition from different kinds of trendy cakes and other snacks. Several have closed down. The art of making these is passed from father to son and son to grandson. You can judge the age of the shop by looking at their signboard which may be as old as 70 years!!

A pack of Foochow Muffins was the easiest gift to buy and they could be distributed easily amongst the children. When my Fifth Uncle visited my Goo Poh in the Methodist Primary School the Long Koh would be one of the gifts he brought besides six tins of condensed milk. This set of gift was always welcome by a growing family. Milk and freshly made muffins from Wan Hin which was just around the corner from the primary school. Very nourishing and very comfoting.

The ingredients are simple - eggs and sugar with a secret amount of cooking oil and some raising agent. They used to be sold for five per dollar in the 60's but today with flour and eggs being very expensive they are more pricey. Sungei Merah still produces a large number of these muffins. The Central Market in Sibu continues to sell freshly made ones every day. If you are more adventurous you can go to the bakeries along Market Street and queue up in the early morning for the fresh from the oven ones. You can be assured that the bakers are all Foochows.

I have bought one this one for seventy sen in Miri as it is homemade and larger in size. It has a lovely triangular shape.

My First Bite into something quite historical!!

Second and Third Bites


This one is homemade but less oil is used. I have made it from 8 eggs and 8 spoons of fine castor sugar. Some flour is added but no raising agent is used. In fact this is the bahulu recipe but in m any ways it is Long Koh to me and my children. I only need the special bahulu mould.

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Writing about Foochow Muffins remind me of those long ago days when my grandfather was still alive.

Tea time for my grandfather was a nice cup of Jasmine tea and two cakes which could be this Foochow muffin freshly bought from Sungei Merah. Grandfather had a special style with food. He must have acquired it from his days with Rev James Hoover whom he admired. And grandmother would always make sure that she served him very well in this respect. Grandfather would sit at the dining table in the kitchen and he would have his tea alone!! We used to say that "the Lord was at his table" and giggle at the thought.

We would always get our cakes after he had his. Grandmother always kept her tins of cakes well filled for all the children who came to visit. Somehow those muffins seemed to be just so wonderfully delicious. We would dunk our muffins into our cup of condensed milk.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kang Ngii Kian or Ikan Bilis or Anchovies

This is a traditional way of selling and displaying ikan bilis in Malaysia - along the five foot way. In well appointed shops the ikan bilis is packed nicely and sold by the grams. Most road side stalls also stock these dried fish in gunny sacks or thick paper boxes. Ikan Bilis is also sold in tamu or the open market. They are either from Sabah or Langkawi.

At the moment the price is around 20 ringgit per kilo more or less. The exorbitant price tag is due to fuel price increase. I am wondering if the price of petrol per barrel is now at USD $51 whether our ikan bilis would be priced lower. When I was a child the price was just 10 cents per kati.

The ikan bilis was so sneezed at that it was in the referred to metaphorically in local Foochow vocabulary to mean "a nobody". Thus an ikan bilis or "kang Ngii Kian" meant no one could respect you. Some girls I knew were married to small guys considered "kang ngii kian". Fortunately after many years of hardship they have grown into big fish or rather pomfret!!

The tides do turn. Have no fear. There is a Foochow saying " 10 years the river flows east and 10 years later the river flows west."

And on the other hand ikan bilis used to be considered poor man's food sometime ago. But 50 years later they are excellent gifts for the tourists and the rich and famous. Poor people can no longer afford a lot of it. How the proverbial table has turned. Shrinking of earthly riches?

I remember in the 1950's these little fish were the staple on the tables of the Foochows , the Hokkiens and all the other humble people of Sibu. They were served fried , in sambal and in porridge for the healthy children. And every one could enjoy a nice meal with it.

They are also made into famous Maggi Fish Powder and Fish Stock today.

The anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water fish. The anchovy is a small green fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin. It is a maximum of nine inches (~23 cm) in length and body shape is variable with more slender fish in northern populations. The snout is blunt with small, sharp teeth in both jaws. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish which anchovies closely resemble. The anchovy eats plankton and fry (recently-hatched fish).

They are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. It is generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. Anchovies are abundant in the Mediterranean, and are regularly caught on the coasts of Sicily, Italy, France, and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12° C (53.6° F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the shore, near the surface of the water.

Overfishing of anchovies has been a problem. Since the 1980s, large mechanized anchovy fishing vessels based in France have caught the fish in fine-mesh dragnets.

Interestingly in our world history in Roman times, they were the base for the fermented fish sauce called garum that was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce produced in industrial quantities. Today they are used in small quantities to flavour many dishes. Because of the strong flavor they are also an ingredient in several sauces, including Worcestershire sauce and many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish such as tuna and sea bass.

The strong taste that people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor.

In South East Asian countries, "ikan bilis", "setipinna taty", or in Indonesia "ikan teri", with "ikan" being the Indonesian word for fish, or "dilis" in the Philippines. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and to a certain extent Singapore, anchovies are used to make fish stock, sambal, or deep fried and served with Nasi Lemak. Ikan Bilis is normally used in a similar way to dried shrimp in Malaysian cuisine. Anchovy is also used to produce budu, by a fermentation process. In Vietnam, anchovy is the main ingredient to make fish sauce- nước mắm- the unofficial national sauce of Vietnam. In other parts of Asia such as Korea and Japan sun-dried anchovies are used to produce a rich soup similar to "setipinna taty". These anchovy stocks are usually used as a base for noodle soups or traditional Korean soups. There are many other variations on how anchovy is used, especially in Korea.

Foochow Ikan Bilis and Peanuts (What I grew up with)

2 bowls of peanuts - deep fried
2 bowls of ikan bilis - deep fried in peanut oil and drain the oil

Drain the oil from the ikan bilis and add in two tablespoons of sugar. wait until the sugar is a little caramelised. Add chopped chillies,chopped onions and garlic. Stir for a while. Finally add the peanuts.

Serve with porridge or rice.

Sambal or Spice paste (pounded or blended):
10 dried chillies
10 shallots
4 cashew nuts
2 tbs belacan (dried shrimp paste)
Other ingredients:
1 tbs tamarind pulp
1/2 cup water
4 tbs oil
100 g raw peanuts with skin intact
1 cup oil for deep frying ikan bilis
1/2 cup coconut milk mixed with 1/4 cup water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100 g ikan bilis (heads removed), rinsed and drained well.
Mix tamarind with water then strain over fine sieve, discard pulp.
Heat 2 tbs of oil over medium fire, stir fry peanuts till golden.
Remove and drain on paper towels.
In the same pan, add oil for deep frying. Heat oil over high fire and deep fry ikan bilis till crispy. Drain ikan bilis on paper towel.

Discard oil from the pan.
Using a clean pan and new oil for saute, heat 2 tbs of oil and fry spice paste for two minutes.
Add half the coconut milk and fry another 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add tamarind extract, sugar and salt.
Lower fire and simmer until thicken, about 2 more minutes.

Add ikan bilis and peanuts to the sambal paste. Stir to mix well.

Ikan Bilis Fried Rice

You will 5-10 minutes for ingredient prep, and have everything ready when you stand in front of your wok:).

You will need:
1/4 cup peanut/vegetable/grape seed oil, divided use
1/2 cup dried anchovies (rinse a little to get rid of salt and shop dust)
4-5 cups cooked rice (leftover from the night before is wonderful), broken up with a fork or with your hands if rice is hard/in clumps
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (the more the better)
1/2 cup diced chicken breast, skin discarded if desired
1/2 cup peeled and deveined shrimps (optional)
a small piece of belacan - toasted and mashed ( 1/2 inch will do)
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup mung bean sprouts(optional) replaced with corn kernels or peas
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions or big bombay onions
some chinese parsley chopped
some thin cubes of carrots (for colour)

Heat some parts of the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add anchovies and stir-fry until anchovies are cooked and golden. Remove with slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside. Discard oil from wok and wipe clean with paper towel. Return to heat and add the rest of the oil. Over high heat add the garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds until JUST beginning to turn golden, then add the shrimp and chicken, continuing to stir-fry, just until shrimp turns opaque. Add rice, soy sauce and salt and pepper and stir-fry 3 minutes. Add bean sprouts and scallions and continue stir-frying a few minutes more. Return the anchovies to the wok and stir-fry until evenly distributed. Your meal-in-a-wok is ready — serve hot!

adapted recipe source : wikipedia.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chinese Schools and Teaching of Moral Values

Photo by Wong Meng Lei - Chinese moral values embedded in the plaque or bian.

These four words were written by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. His calligraphy usually bears the name of Sun Wen. This wall plaque has been hanging from the hall of Kwang Hua School since it was inaugurated in the 1920's. Kwang Hua school was established by the Methodist Church and the Kutien settlers at that time who came in the second and third batches of Foochow Settlers brought in by Wong Nai Siong. While the Ming Ching Foochows settled in Sungei Merah and other spots the Kutien settled in Sg. Sadit.

This was a notable and noble ideology of the Chinese at the turn of the 20th Century who believed strongly that by hanging a bian above the heads of the teachers and students Chinese moral values and a strong sense of mission would be inculcated. These were indeed the noble thoughts or ideals of all the Chinese forefathers who were farsighted enough to establish Chinese schools wherever they went. And generations of Chinese would be living lives of high moral values and having strong community spirit as taught by the bian and other values found in the books.

The banner or plaque bearing the name of Kwang School Sibu was also by the hand of Dr. Sun Yat Sen whose calligraphy was well known.

According to the oral history of Sibu the local Foochow headmen went to China to request Dr. Sun to write these two plaques or bian. Hanging such a remarkable name plague was a great honour for all.

Photo by Wong Meng Lei - calligraphy on the wall of Su Lai School Sibu. This unique calligraphy belonged to another learned man of Sibu.

A special Pien calligraphy by the hand of General Chiang Kai Shek or Chiang Chung Cheng - Hua Nam Primary School Marudi. Photo by Ms. Lau King Ngo. I discovered this not too long ago when I caught sight of it in the See Hua Daily News. So I called up Ms Lau for a favour. And indeed she was so good to send a photo personally to me by the next email!! I am over the moon to have another collection of pien photo under my belt.

I am wondering how many of us ever remember all those four words (Pien) hanging on the wall of our Chinese School Hall today?

An even more interesting fact is that several of these plaques (pien) were written by Dr.Sun Yat Sen and General Chiang Kai Shek who responded to Oversea Chinese' request for the honour of getting them to write these words. The Overseas had raised a large fund to help contribute towards the new China in the early 1900's and these two leaders felt that it was their honour to write for the Overseas China as a token of appreciation from them.

So in a way the calligraphy of many mainland Chinese leaders and learned men were preserved in these pien and they are still hanging on the walls of many schools in Sarawak. What a remarkable historical link!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A white haired kind hearted and wise old lady came by my stall

This lady came to my Charity Food Sale Stall and fondly looked at my kuih muih.

Very gently she showed me her coupons and asked what she could get for them. I suggested the goodies she could buy and she decided very quickly what she wanted and gave me the correct coupons. She was still very alert and wise in her decision making.

I noticed her beautiful hair and her beautiful jade earrings. She was still very neat and her jade earrings indicated her sense of style. She must have kept these earrings all her life! (upon reflection I lost my pair of jade earrings to some petty thief who broke into my house! Now I don't have the heart to buy another pair.)

So I asked her if I could take her pictures. She graciously allowed me to photograph her.

And I did wish then I had a better camera. The second photo was over exposed because I was shooting from inside the tent and the camera had not adjusted to the lighting.

She then thanked me for the goodies and the photograph session. She was a real star!!

She was all for charity but she was more charitable towards me and my interest.A chance meeting like this is rare. She made my day!

I then wished that we should have more people like her in our world.
Good sport!!


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