Monday, March 31, 2008

Family Reunion 28-30 March 2008

Sarawakiana became a journey.

Where would my journey start? Perhaps my journey began with the birth of my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping, who came to Sibu with Wong Nai Siong.

Grandfather Kung Ping was born in 1886 in Yunzhi, a suburb of Mingqing in Fujian, China.

My big extended family means a lot to me, as it would to any one. Thus when a family reunion was mooted sometime ago I was thrilled.

Then we started bulding a family tree. The idea or ideas originated in just one person. So the poem goes, It only takes a spark......That was as long ago as 1992.

Having a family reunion takes time, commitment, and planning. It sure did . the family tree took a long time to build, as it spans six generations, and the family members are almost all over the world, Canada, Britain, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and in several towns in Sarawak.

The Third Generation started a Yahoo Group and more than 300 messages later, we formed a committee in 2007 to garner the forces for a REAL Reunion in Sibu perhaps (perhaps?) in 2008 March or December the months which seemed to be very suitable, Ching Ming or Christmas/

The committee had an organising chairperson, a treasurer, a secretary, a member each for food, transport and accommodation. this committee had only one skype discussion, and registration started and a date settled. Done!

When the family came together, there were 108! All meeting at RH Hotel in Sibu for the first time, many started to introduce themselves. Some were tongue tied, some were almost choking. But it was warmth and lots of soul searching and brain work!!

That is what family reunion does to you.

Testimonies of Strengths of our family

1. Communications

Communication with family members helps to generate information and maintain interest over the months of planning for the reunion. Our Yahoo Group was a great means of communications.

2. Facilities & Food

Indeed the RH Hotel was the correctly selected facility, the family reunion is perceived as a time for a vacation and members want a nice place. Very comfortable and near to shopping too. A 10 on the scale.

3. the Informal dinner and lots of old photos on the white screen

Family members do look forward to having fun together, getting to know each other, meeting each after a gap of some 30 years. Photograph taking breaks down a lot of barriers and distances.

4. Finances

It does cost money to come all the way from the ends of the world. But with a few accountants in the family, the planning made the reunion a very affordable one. We value one free breakfast sponsored by an ethereal ever green Aunt.

5. Family History

With the help of the younger computer savvy generation the sharing of the family history as major activity at the family reunion became a piece of cake. Something that was considered an impossibility became a reality.

6. After the Reunion
After the reunion, now it is time for evaluation.

We definitely can call it a success (but we need to admit to our teething problems and shortcomings) - thanks the family....

The Tiong Way!

We tapou back (tiong) back a lot of love, family spirit, telephone numbers, future contacts,medical tips,secret recuoes, pomeloes,new friendship,new respect, promises and smiles......

.......and Ah Goong would have been so proud of us. So much noise, so much laughter!!

Till we meet again.

Graduation Photo

My aunt graduated from Missouri University in 1958 with a Master's degree in pyschology.

We were too young to know what she studied, how she studied and what kind of student life she had in the States.

But we remembered that she introduced Scotch eggs, tomato soup, mashed potatoes and steaks to our meals. We were delighted with the new kinds of food.

We also learned from her not to speak with a wide open mouth. And we also learned that we had to be articulate and slow in pronunciating the English and Foochow words.
We must not slur.

aunt Grace did not stay long in Sibu because she wanted to have Grandpa's permission to work in the US. There was no place then for her because of her educational level. She was made Dean of the Methodist Secondary School and perhaps the post was too elevated. Many people advised her to go away for further studies.

It was very much later in life, that I learned from my older aunts that Aunt Grace is one of the most intelligent girls Yuk Ying Girls' School ever knew and she was a pet of many teachers.

She was a model student.

The First Foochow Girl to Graduate from University

In 1958, Grace Tiong Ging Sieng came back from Missouri University,USA, with a Masters Degree to a warm and joyuous welcome from her family and her then aging although still very healthy father, Tiong Kung Ping. Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping was 69 years old then and he would live another 5 years. My aunt Grace thus not only was the first Foochow woman graduate of Sibu but held a Masters' degree. Her father, who was literate but had only a few years of education was very proud of her. Every where she went with him, he would take a paper umbrella to protect her from the sun. He always spoke to her in very gentle tones.

In this respect, I think my grandfather was a very polished gentleman. He was not loud like many others and he spoke with a great gentleness to his daughters and granddaughters. Somehow, all of us spoke in gentle tones and we would seldom raise our voices. Perhaps because of this gentility, many people thought that we were lesser beings or weaker people.

In our upbringing through three generations, we have followed Confucian ways of using a gentle voice to say strong words. We were very respectful of our elders and I remember that all my uncles and aunts never said a single word of disagreement when Grandfather had made a decision.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Farewell to a Friend from Sibu 1947-2008


Time disappears and flies away as the second hand ticks and the hour tocks. The trees next to our school have grown old and would be cut down to make way for an very much enlarged car park to accommodate the growing number of staff. The Old Hostel for Girls has long gone. The tennis courts in which we played looked old and mould ridden. Upon looking at the scene, I once exclaimed, "Spring has gone, winter has set in!" Our teenage years have fleetingly left us and now we are in our senior citizen years. Some classmates have met over the years to celebrate success and marriages of children. Some have come together for reunions. Now perhaps we are coming together to say our final farewell.

My classmate , and friend of more than 50 years passed away on Wednesday 23 March 2008 7 a.m. in his own home in Singapore, amidst family, brothers, sister and in laws. They were gathered together, in hushed tones,ready to send him off in the Chinese Foochow way - to listen to his final breath. It was chokingly touching moment for any one, dear and near, and the saddest moment for a beloved wife who had to part with a beloved husband of more than 30 years.

A sixth form classmate called up to let me know all these. Our class of 13 Sixth Formers have been very thick friends since 1967, and we said a prayer together for our good friend and started to reflect on friendship and on life in general. I only wished that Celcom would give a discount for people who make bereavement or condolences calls.

How do I remember Cheng Hua Chuan? The school stage on which we played Julius Caesar, the Gypsy Baron, Salad Days and Carousel, is now part of the school library. He acted in all those plays because he was tall, had a good singing voice, and good English. That stage was where Hua Chuan as a prefect had made announcements as was his duty - I remember that in particular. I also associate the Tennis Courts with him as they were used by him for years for his tennis tournaments. He had cut a great figure as a star tennis player. Somehow these images keep floating around all the time.

But I remember him too for he and his brother Hua Ging would send eggs to my home after my father passed away. His family had in those early days raised chickens and sold eggs as a side line. My father had passed away suddenly and we were in dire straits. His father, being a good friend of my father’s came to lend a helping hand and we children had cheaper eggs from Uncle Cheng. Not only did we get a discount but we also had home delivery. This source of protein will be always appreciated and remembered by my family. Hua Chuan and his brother Hua Ging formed the best pair of loving brothers that I know of. In later years I would look at school photos, and the two would always be standing together in the photos.

When his father passed away, the family was held on together by their mother and continued to receive a good education. The determination of Mrs. Cheng and the unity of the family impressed me. The Cheng children were brought up, humble, kind, considerate and Godly. Hua Chuan’s brother , Hua Kong was the “permanent” choir conductor of Wesley Church. Hua Chuan himself remained a strong Methodist throughout his life, blessing the Singapore churches that he attended.

He had been a formidable business man with global interests and concerns and a business partner of his wife Jenny. Perhaps that is for the business world to write about. But it was his honesty, his concern for his employees and his good Christian heart that helped him rise up in the ranks of the corporate world. And there is no doubt, his acumen was sharpened by wisdom granted by the good Lord.

When he heard from his brother that I needed heart surgery three years ago, he was so full of good advice and told me that I would have excruciating pain and a scar. I had fears of death on the OT table . And one long distance call from a very unexpected source ,from him, an elevated business personnel and someone who was not very well himself, in such humility and gentleness, propelled me to greater hopes that the operation would definitely meet with 99.9% success with God's blessing. I was touched by an angel's act of kindness.

My last meeting with Jenny and Hua Chuang was just last year before I went on a mission trip to China. Although he was shockingly frail, he made it to a restaurant to meet me and my fellow missionary. He still had that very straight, chest up and out, walk. He had never changed his gait of walking. He had told Jenny,” We must give C....Y.. the very best of meals.” This was definitely more than the usual Foochow gesture of hospitality and and "having face" amongst good friends.

For that and so much more, I remember him. Ah Chuan had always given the Best to his wife, his children, his brothers and sister, to his friends and indeed to every one he knows. He was a very dedicated friend to his school mates, his classmates, his colleagues. He was a very inclusive kind of Christian. He was clearly a servant of God.

Perhaps all our friends who wish to think of him, would like to remember this song from our school play, Carousel, in which he had a good role.

Ever since we staged the musical in our school my memories of the school and school friends, and teachers would come back when I hear the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" which is by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In the musical, in the second act, Nettie Fowler, the cousin of the female protagonist Julie Jordan, sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" to comfort and encourage Julie when her husband, Billy Bigelow, the male lead, has killed himself after a failed robbery. It is reprised in the final scene to encourage a graduation class of which Louise (their daughter) is a member. Billy attends this ceremony during his return to earth and inspires them with his words of encouragement, assuring them of his love.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho' your dreams
Be tossed and blown

Walk on..
Walk on..
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on..
Walk on..
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

(This song was the Methodist Schoolo's Arts' students' song for many years. And we kept it in our heart. Any one of us humming this song would bring back lots of memories of our school time. It is now a popular commencement song in American colleges and a football club song in the UK.)

Hua Chuan, as an angel he had always been, will be amongst angels in Heaven. Rest in Peace.

(Note: I wrote this in Miri at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in lieu of my presence in his memorial service in Wesley Church, Sibu,on Friday, and I am sure my classmates will like to join me in conveying condolences to the Cheng and the Lau Families. Margaret Teng, Talip Epi, Catherine Purnell, Charles Yip, Sebastian Gaong, Ling Teck Chung,Winnie Yii, Sheila Kang,Datin Siti Zaharah, Paul Loi,Tan Kui Chiang)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Interesting note on dialects of the Fujian Province

Most of us in Sarawak would think immediately that the Hokkiens are from the Fujian Province. And only a few would know that the Foochows also come from the same province. Perhaps we need to clarify this here.

The Chinese of Fujian Province in China speak seven different major dialects, of which Minnan Huà is the major dialect spoken in southern Fujian in Quanzhou-controlled counties such as Hui'an, Jinjiang, Nan'an, Tong'an, Yongchun, and Anxi; and Zhangzhou-administered Xiamen, Zhao'an, and Jimei (or Chipbee). The word Min refers to the root dialect and nan means south.

Many other bloggers have touched on this subject. But by writing about it myself, I am beginning to learn more and more. Furthermore, my own children would also be learning alongside me.

Of the six other dialects:

Fuzhou Huà is spoken by people living in Fuzhou in the east coast of Fujian and the counties under its administration such as Fuqing; The Sarawak Radio announcers used to announce using this standard Fuzhou Hua.

The Henghua dialect is spoken by the people in Putian of southeastern Fujian and counties under its administration. In Sibu there is one particular place called Heng Hua Pah as it was delineated for them and their farms.

The Hakka dialect is spoken by the people in Yongding in southwest Fujian. Most of the Hakkas in Sarawak are found in Kuching and Miri.

Longyan Huà is spoken by people living in Longyan. Personally I have not come across any who speak this dialect.

Minbei Huà is spoken by residents living in Wuyi Shan in the north of Fujian; and

Mindong Huà is spoken by those who live in the northeastern part of the province, whose capital is Ningde.

None of the dialect groups understand one another's dialects; for instance, Minnan Huà is not understood in Fuzhou or Putian, nor would Minnan Rén understand Fujian Rén speaking Fuzhou Huà, Henghua, or the Minbei and Mindong dialects. Neither could Longyan or Yongding Rén understand Minnan Huà The only way they can communicate with one anther is through Mandarin, the official language of China.

This is the reason why when the Foochows migrated to Sibu in 1903, they could not understand their neighbours, the Cantonese, the Hokkiens (who spoke Ming Nan Hua)

According to some sources,there are also some differences in the cultural characteristics within each dialect group. Basically, those who live along coastal lines such as Quanzhou and Jinjiang are more adventurous and open-minded, and those who live inland are more conservative. Fuzhou and Henghua Rén are regarded as the elite in Fujian as there have been good scholars from their areas, and they are more reserved.

In the neighboring province of Guangdong, groups who speak Fujian dialects are mainly concentrated in the province's central and western regions.

The minnan dialect group and its regions

The Minnan dialect and the areas where it is spoken in Fujian include the autonomous region of Xiamen; counties administered from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou such as Tong'an, Nan'an, Hui'an, Jinjiang, and Yongchun; and controlled towns such as Zhao'an. This region is situated in the plains below the Jinjiang River.

Fujian Rén of this region have developed an oceanic culture, being near the sea. They are adventurous and brave in their pursuit of wealth. Since the Tang dynasty, the Fujian Rén of this region have developed an enterprising spirit especially in Quanzhou, which grew into one of the world's biggest ports of the time. This endeavoring spirit of the Minnan people reached its height during the Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty with a large number of Fujian Rén sailing abroad to trade. Their influence extended to Japan and Korea in the Far East, the Philippines, Siam, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaya in Southeast Asia. This spirit was however curtailed during the Qing dynasty when the Manchu rulers prohibited all Chinese from leaving mainland shores because they were afraid that they might assist the resistance movement started by Koxinga (another name for Zheng Cheng Gong), a Fujian hero who had fought .ercely against the Manchu rulers. Despite the restrictions, many Zhangzhou and Quanzhou Rén migrated to the Philippines, and Quanzhou Rén also travelled to three of the Straits Settlements of Malaya under British control.

Most Minnan emigrants of Fujian had come from the south of Fujian. They are more adventurous and brave, having experienced the impact of foreigners and ocean culture. Nearly 90 percent of Filipino-Chinese today are descendants of emigrants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou and the majority of Singapore-Chinese are descendants of Minnan Fujian Rén. It is estimated that there are over 20 million Minnan Rén from South Fujian residing in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Minnan Fujian Rén are not good ideological thinkers but they donate money generously in promoting education and other useful causes. They are strict in controlling their offsprings’ upbringing and behavior. They would not allow their children to be tooWesternized, to behave in un-Chinese ways, nor to become assimilated by the pre-bumiputras of Indonesia or Malaysia [the descendants of Chinese immigrants who have become Baba and Nyonya or peranakans (locally born Chinese) who behaved like the natives, eating with their hands, wearing sarong and who have been assimilated, gradually loosing their Chineseness].

Migrant cultural assimilations in language and music

Minnan Fujian Rén are proud of their dialect, which they believe had once been the official court language used by the mandarins of the Tang imperial courts. Many court officials who migrated to Fujian had brought with them their official court language, which has developed into the Minnan dialect. Buddhism had flourished during the Tang dynasty and the dialect was used to translate Buddhist scripts that were written in the Sanskrit language from India.

The Tang dynasty officals also brought with them the Tang Nankuan music, which developed into the classic Fujian Nankuan music of today, which incidentally also resembles Japanese imperial court music. Whenever I attended a Japanese Imperial Palace function, Gagaku (the Japanese word for Nankuan music) always fascinated me. This music could have travelled from Xi'an when the Japanese had brought Chinese Buddhism to Japan, just as many Tang officials who had migrated to Fujian had brought Tang music to Fujian.

There is also a great similarity between many words in the Japanese language and the Minnan Fujian dialect. These words are pronounced almost exactly the same: sekkai (world) in Japanese is sehkai in Minnan Fujian Huà; shizen (natural) is zijian; jinsei (mankind) is jinshui; denwa (telephone) is tianhua; and densen (electric wire) is tianxian, and the Minnan Fujian word kaisiow (introduce) is shõkai in Japanese. At first I thought it was due to the migration of Fujian Rén to Japan but after some research, I discovered that during the Tang dynasty, the Japanese had learnt these Minnan Fujian words through the introduction of Buddhism from China and Japan had copied almost everything culturally -- from Buddhism to Confucianism -- from Tang dynasty China.

Gu Hong Ming: An Unusual Chinese Scholar Who Translated Confucius' Four Books into English

Tong'an, a county in Fujian, has also produced some scholars, one of whom was Gu Hong Ming (1856-1928) who was born in Penang, an island off northern Malaysia. His father was a migrant from Tong'an. His father wanted him to become a merchant and sent him to London for further studies. He later got his honorary degree from a German university in Berlin and then went to Edinburgh to finish his doctorate. After his studies, he toured Europe extensively, visiting France, Italy and Austria, and became well versed in the various European languages such as English, German, French, Italian as well as Latin and Greek. He was interested in European culture and took pains to study it.

After ten years of wandering, Gu returned to China during the reign of Guang Xu in 1881. On the way there, he passed through India and came to know a Chinese scholar named Mah Qian Chong, who introduced him to Chinese culture. Under Mah's influence, Gu went back to his father's hometown of Tong'an and isolated himself to study, like a traditional Chinese boy, the Chinese classics of Confucius, Mencius and other fundamental Chinese classical authors.

At 28, Gu had mastered both Chinese and European cultures and was appointed to work in the secretariat of Zhang Zhi Dong, the Governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. He helped to translate all the files written in English and other European languages, and with secretarial work. One day, Governor Zhang employed a few German experts to train Chinese soldiers. The Germans were asked to kowtow to the governor according to Chinese rules and to wear Qing helmets. The Germans refused to do so. Gu was the only one who could speak German and explained to them the signi.cance of kowtowing and wearing the Qing helmet. After Gu's explanation, the Germans agreed to follow the Chinese custom.

After the OpiumWar, Zhang Zhi Dong was appointed Governor of Hunan and Guangdong in 1889 and Gu was one of the six high-ranking officals he brought with him. Gu became one of his con.dants. These six were referred to as "Liu Junzi" (Six Gentlemen). In 1891 when Tsarist Russia sent ten high officals to China to tour Hebei, Gu spoke to them in .uent Russian, which took the Russians by surprise. In 1894 when China was in need of .nances, Governor Zhang Zhi Dong sent Gu to negotiate for a loan from banks in Germany and he succeeded in concluding a huge loan for the development of naval construction.

In 1900 when the eight Western powers invaded Beijing and during the negotiations between Qing dynasty's Foreign Minister Li Hong Zhang and European representatives, Gu played an important role. Gu wrote a book entitled Respecting the Royalty. Ci Xi, the Empress Dowager of the Qing dynasty, had supported the Boxer Rebellion and had urged the Boxers to get rid of the Westerners. When the soldiers of the eight Western nations invaded Beijing, she escaped to the interior of China. In this book, Gu wanted to explain that Empress Dowager harbored no ill feelings for Westerners and that she had been misunderstood.

Gu was against Kang You Wei's reforms and warned of its dangers. He made friends with the Russian author Tolstoy and explained his views about the reform to him. Tolstoy agreed with Gu that Kang's reform was foolish and would not succeed. But in 1902 when Gu saw how Governor Zhang Zhi Dong lavishly celebrated Ci Xi's 60th birthday, inviting foreign diplomats to attend the function, he composed a song showing his displeasure. He began to become disappointed with the Ci Xi administration.

By 1911 when the Xinhai Revolution erupted, Gu was already an old conservative. He was sad and put on a false pigtail, got into a rickshaw and toured Beijing. The revolutionaries tried to convince him to join the movement but he refused. In 1913, he went to Japan trying to get support from the Japanese but failed. In 1917, he was one of the 13 stalwarts who tried to revert the tide to conservatism but again failed.

The educationist Cai Yuan Pei later invited Gu to be a professor in charge of the English department at Beijing University but he could not get along with the other professors. In 1924, he was invited by the Imperial University of Japan to teach for three years. In 1927, he returned to China and resumed his old job as a professor at Beijing University.

Gu died in 1928 at the age of 71. He left behind many books including an English translation of Confucius' Shi Shu (Four Books).

Liu Bu Chan: The Patriotic Qing Dynasty Admiral Fujian has also produced a patriotic admiral called Liu Bu Chan who has become well known in history as the brave hero from Fuzhou. He refused to surrender to the Japanese.

Liu was born in 1852 in a well-to-do family of mandarins in the village of Houguan, in Fuzhou. In the mid-1860s, China was pushing ahead with training naval personnel and established naval schools in Fuzhou. Liu joined the school and graduated with .ying colors. In 1875, he was sent to Europe to further his studies inWestern naval technology. When he returned to China in 1879, he made proposals to improve China's naval establishment. The Foreign Minister Li Hong Zhang discovered his talent and sent him to Germany to purchase battleships. On his return, he was put in charge of the naval .eet and became an admiral.

In those days, though China had its own naval school, it had to depend on European instructors. One of these Western instructors was ambitious and longed for promotion. When the Commander In Chief Ding Ru Chang received orders to go to Hong Kong, he asked Liu Bu Chan to take over his position. This European by the name of Willy was furious. He resigned, returned to England, and wrote a book ridiculing Liu Bu Chan as a coward and his inef.ciencies.

When Empress Dowager had used public funds to build her marble ship in the Summer Palace, Liu Bu Chan protested strongly but to no avail. Japan was then becoming ambitious and China had to prepare itself. In 1894, Japan invaded China and the Sino-Japanese War erupted. Liu Bu Chan's naval ship sank a ship called Kishimura, resulting in the death of 11 Japanese naval of.cers. The Commander In Chief Ding was injured and Liu took over. Under his leadership, the Chinese navy won several battles against the Japanese. Liu Bu Chan proposed that each year, China would need at least two battleships. But Li Hong Zhang was a nervous leader and afraid of antagonizing the Japanese and Liu was handicapped by his indecisive and cowardly behavior. Then on an early morning in May 1895, the Japanese torpedoed the battleship of Admiral Liu Bu Chan that was anchored in Weihaiwei of northern Shandong. The ship had landed on the shores and could not move. The sailors of the ship had wanted to surrender but Liu refused. He blew the ship up and committed suicide. He was only 42 years old.

Lin Jue Min: The Martyr of the Huanghuagang Uprising from Fuzhou Another Fujian Rén, Lin Jue Min (1887-1911), was one of the 72 heroes who had sacrificed his life during the Huanghuagang Uprising in Guangdong. Together with the 71 others, his name appears on the Huanghuagang (Heroes of the Yellow Flowers) Mausoleum in Guangdong to commemorate these martyrs who had died in the uprising on April 27, 1911 in Guangdong. The 72 include many from Fujian.

Lin was a Fuzhou Rén, born in a prominent family of a Fuzhou scholar. Since childhood, he was influenced by Western thought and technology and was against feudalism. In 1907, he went to Japan to further his studies at Keio University. In Tokyo, he joined the Tongmenghui started by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Lin was not only good at Chinese literature but could also speak Japanese, English and German, and had translated many books about Kang You Wei into German and English.

On his return to Fujian, Lin gathered many patriots and participated in the revolution initiated by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. In the revolt, he was arrested and sentenced to death.

Yan Fu: The Anti-Monarchy Writer from Fuzhou

In modern history, the name of Yan Fu does not ring a bell. In terms of political contribution towards social revolution, he cannot be compared with revolutionary figures like Dr. Sun Yat Sen, Hong Xiu Quan or Kang You Wei. But in terms of ideology and thoughts, Yan Fu has done a lot through his writing to revolutionize the minds of the Chinese. Even Mao Ze Dong had high regard for Yan Fu, the thinker. He was the one who had introduced modern Western thoughts to China.

Yan Fu (1854-1921) was born in Fuzhou into a family of doctors. His father died when he was young. When Hunan Governor Zuo Zong Tang opened a naval school in Fuzhou, Yan joined the school and graduated with .ying colors at the age of 15. He had learned Western science in the English language and studied geometry, mathematics, physics, electronics, geology and navigation. In 1877, he was sent to England to study navigation. He was the first Chinese to study in England and was very impressed by British democracy and Western science. In 1879 when he returned to Fuzhou, he was appointed a lecturer in the naval school. In 1895, he started writing in a Tianjin newspaper supporting Kang You Wei's reform movements. He also concentrated on translating eight volumes of books on Western science and introduced Western technology to the Chinese people. He analyzed the reasons for China's backwardness and blamed the monarchy for delaying China's progress. Yan Fu studied in the same University as the Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) and they returned to their respective countries almost at the same time. Ito recommended the knowledge of the Western world to his country and they accepted and implemented them and Japan made progress and caught up with the Western world. In the case of Yan Fu, the Qing authorities did not make good use of his knowledge, only appointed him as a lecturer and made him frustrated. He spent the rest of his life and energy on translating useful books from English to Chinese, enlightening the Chinese of Western knowledge and wisdom. China could have made similar progress as Japan if the Qing rulers had taken heed of the recommendations of Yan Fu.

Although another prominent Chinese translator Lin Shu had translated a great deal of Western books into Chinese, he could neither read nor write English or any Western language. In the case of Yan Fu, he was an expert in English and was also a thinker. Yan's eight famous translations were: Evolution And Ethics by T.H. Huxley, An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith, A System Of Logic and On Liberty by J.S. Mill, L'Esprit des Lois (The Spirit Of Laws) by Montesquieu, The Study Of Sociology by Herbert Spencer, A Short History Of Politics by Edward Jenks, and Primer Of Logic by W.S. Jevons. His translations have influenced many leading Chinese revolutionaries and intelligentsia and led them to push for reforms. Yan has done a miracle to Chinese cultural history. For this, he has contributed a great deal to China's development.

Copyright © 2007 World Scientific Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ba Kui or Foochow Rice Sticks

One very special food of the Foochows is the White Rice Cake which is sliced and fried with an assortment of garlic,slices of pork, prawns,eggs and leeks. It used to be served only during the Chinese New Year. But today in Sibu, fried ba kui or white rice cakes ,is available throughout the year.

Most Foochow women can make the White Rice Cake from scratch. The recipe is quite simple to follow and each cake is about half an inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. The cakes are steamed and are then ready for slicing. The slices are then fried with the other ingredients. Sesame oil is a must for this dish.

The freshly made White Rice Cakes are available in the wet market in Sibu. All one needs to do is buy them, take them home and slice them. They will be ready for frying. If you know someone who can make them, it is even better as you would then have a good deal, as good home made White Rice Cakes are precious items.

If fresh rice cakes are not available, you can buy the dried type , usually important from Fuzhou, China. They are now available in the better supermarkets throughout Malaysia.

When I was a young bride I was very interested in making this bak gui from scratch but unfortunately I did not know anyone who would want to share the recipe, even at a price. Recipe books were also not easily obtainable in Sibu. So I tried many times to make the rice sticks. Each time I failed, I had to turn the recipe into something else in a creative way...most of the time they became tang yuan or glutinous rice balls. It was a good thing I used only a handful of rice flour.

Almost thirty years later I met a very nice lady, the late Kim Hua, a cook in the Miri General Hospital. She was so kind to me that she not only taught me to make the bak gui,but also a few other traditional dishes. I cannot thank her enough.

The secret lies in a cup of very hot water. I will let you know in another posting.

Here's the recipe for cooking the rice sticks. (for 2 persons)
1. Soak 25 - 30 rice sticks or less overnight for 2 person.
2. When soft and ready to cook, mix the rice sticks with a bit of sesame oil and salt, steam them for about 10 minutes or until soft.
3. The Sauce: 4 pips garlic, chopped finely
4 -5 pieces of spring onions
2 tablespoons of thick soy sauce.
1 tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs - beaten
10 prawns shelled and deveined
4 leeks - sliced thinly
pepper to taste
80 gms of sliced pork
(optional - 2 pieces of Chinese sausages,
sliced very thinly)
some water mixed with a teaspoon of corn starch

4. Just before your meal,
fry the garlic in two tablespoons of sesame oil
add chinese sausages, pork,and then prawns
next throw in the leeks, stir fry quickly.
add the steamed rice sticks,stir fry the ingredients quickly.Add some water
add the beaten eggs and cover the pan for about two minutes to let the eggs settle.
Take the cover off the pan, add soy sauce, sugar and pepper. Give it a quick little stir.
Add the spring onions finally. Stir again.

The dish is ready for serving. White pepper powder is one of the secrets of Foochow cooking.

The rice sticks can replace any pasta . Use the sauce of any pasta recipe and it will taste just as good. We use a lot of these rice sticks because many of my relatives are not encouraged to eat yellow noodles or yew mien medically. And it is a very convenient substitute.

Enjoy the dish!!

Note : It is called Fried Bak Kuih, or Fried Ba Guo if you cannot read Chinese(depending on the dialect of the stall owner) Do not confuse this with another kind of Bak Guo which is Gingko, a famous nut which can give one a longer life.

You can always replace the nonhalal meat with halal chicken or beef and it will taste just as nice. Use more pepper and add chillies too. This dish is not just for the Foochows. It is for all who love food.

The Forgotten Unusual 1950's and 1960's School Sports Events

Remember the Slow Bicycle Race? What about the Sack Race? And the Spoon and Potato Race? Three legged race?

I cannot remember when these races were taken off the Sports Day Events list. But I remember we laughed ourselves silly at these races, at our friends and at ourselves.

The slow bicycle race probably went out of fashion in Sibu by 1960's. I cannot remember exactly which year it was when the event was taken out of the school sports day. I remember taking part one year and I was soon on my legs instead of on my bicycle. One lanky girl from another house won the slow bicycle race because she could steadily move ahead, inch by inch, and never for once put her foot down. It was a real test of balance and mental alertness. It is a pity that not only is the race no longer an item, even the bicycle is now something people do not event want to use. I just hope that one day more and more children will take to mountain bikes and ride around to look at nature and be environmentally friendly.

Many boys loved to be in the sack race because it seemed very easy. But more importantly it was a fun race. We would scream words of encouragement to them. The game was designed so that those who were not athletes could win a race based on skill, not really on speed. So many boys volunteered to take park. I remember the points collected by this race were not included in the total points for the sports house competition. In the race participants placed both of their legs inside a sack and hopped from a starting point toward a finish line.One particular boy was so good that he put his pointed toes into the tips of the gunny sack and ran all the way just like a ballet dancer, tip toed to the end. He won the race easily.

Sack racing is traditionally seen as an activity for children. I have not seen it for a long long time.

An egg and spoon race, or spoon and potato race, is a sporting event in which participants must carry an egg or a potato ,on a small spoon and race to the finish line without dropping the egg or potato.

Synthetic or hard-boiled eggs, potatoes or even ping balls have been used in recent years.

Here's a description of a three-legged race. "It is a game of cooperation between partners as much as it is one of speed. It involves two participants attempting to complete a short sprint with the left leg of one runner strapped to the right leg of another runner. The object is for the partners to run together without falling over, and beat the other contestants to the finish line.

Typically the contestants run over a distance of about 50 meters, with the trick being to coordinate the timing of the partner's step"

It is strange that what was fun in all those long ago days do not appeal to the new generation any more in Sibu.

Today, I would like to thank all the teachers and friends at school for being so sporting during sports have all made our days fun and happy. We really looked forward to sports days in our younger days. Those were truly days when we could breathe a different kind of air, and take our eyes off books, and perhaps get to know others a little better. We did not have the best of shoes or sports wear but we were just grateful to have a chance to develop our athletic skills without fear and discrimination. Sports training were quite inclusive then.

Sibu Scouts at Tenth World Jamboree 1959

1959 was an outstanding year for Sibu Scouts. My cousin, the late Robert Lau King Ching was one of the 8 delegates to attend the Tenth World Jamboree in Manila, Philippines. Mr. David U Duang Ung, former Methodist School teacher,and Arbie Zainuddin, a friend too, who later went to study in Tanjong Lobang School, were the other two from Sibu.

Arbie Zainuddin wrote a very good report on his experiences and as a result, when I was a Girl Guide in the school, I got to read the report and kept it until now.

Arbie wrote:

The Scout world jamboree is usually held every fourth year,though wars and other compelling causes may break the sequence. The purpose is not only to bring the scouts of various countries in the world together for the opportunity of meeting their brother scouts and exchanging their experiences, but also to demonstrate the art of unity and loyalty.....

The site of the 10th World Jamboree , the first ever held in South East Asia,was along the braod slope of Mt. Mahiling which is about 1000 fet above sea level and overlooking Iguna de Bay. It is a well known tourist attraction.

This is the scond time Sarawak sent her scouts to take part in a world jamboree. The first jamboree attended by Sarawak scouts was in the UK.

On 15th of July we took the Cathay Pacific Airways from Labuan and as the weather was pretty bad, all of us were air sick!!

We landed at Manila and were quite fine after the rousing welcome.

We learned the word, "Mabuhay" which means welcome in Tagalog.

....we were placed with host families before the opening of the Jamboree. They were kind to us and took us sight seeing in their cars....

....The Jamboree site was divided into seven sub-camps. The Sarawak contigent was in the Eastern Mindanao sub camp. We had several bathrooms, one ration headquarters and several shops selling refreshments. We were told to keep our own stuff safe and secure . The opening ceremony was on the 18th July.

....we had to cook our own meals and we took turns to do all the routine chores.

....Performances were held to entertain visitors and important people. So time passed very quickly.

....we were invited to dinners by other contingents.

....we experienced bad weather throughout the ten days but we made many friends.

On the 20th of July we left Manila and we brought back to Sarawak many happy memories.


Arbie continued to be a big brother to many of us junior Guides when we were at the Methodist School.

My cousin , the late Robert Lau King Ching became a Queen's Scout. There were very few of them who reached that level. So it was indeed a great honour for Sibu. And I also remember that Mr. U continued to help Sibu develop the Scout Movement for a long long time. He was definitely a very dedicated Scout Master.

As Sibu develops into a huge town, the little efforts of the Scouts and Guides are no longer big as before. But to me, they are still important and very significant efforts which help shape our character: Be Prepared. Lend a Hand.

Mr and Mrs.John Pilley in Sibu

In our ever changing world, it is not often easy to come face to face with a person who truly serves her God and loves a people which is not of her own race. When I was a young teacher, a new mother, and perhaps a new person, I had the honour of meeting up with Mrs. Pilley when she came "back" to Sibu for a visit to her beloved school, which happens to be my own beloved school, the Methodist Secondary School. It was an "aha" moment, a "wow" moment in my children's language. So much of life, so much of service, so much love, all unccountable nouns were embodied in her frail, gaunt body. There was not an inch in her body that spelt "pride" or smelled "money" or proclaimed "high position". And best of all, she spoke in perfect Foochow. Amazing? It was amazing grace.

As an English teacher in charge of the Journalist Club, I arranged for the school magazine committee to interview her and she was such a fountain of information and love. My students , from different racial backgrounds, were very impressed by her. One commented, " How can any one have so much love, and at such an age?" I answered, "Only through God's grace and her love of God. She walked the talk."

Mr and Mrs. John Pilley were both born and educated in China and served as missionaries in Fuzhou, China. In 1949, they were forced to leave their beloved China by the policies of new Communist government which were not favourable to foreigners.

Sarawak and Sibu in particular was blessed by their arrival as they were " strong advocates of "Education for all", especially for girls, and for the poor".(Source: Methodist Pilley Insitute Website)

They continued to work selflessly in establishing schools and churches. They served in Sarikei and helped developed the churches and schools there. Later Mr. John Pilley came to serve as Principal of the Methodist Secondary School, where he worked so hard, until his heart failed him. Mrs. Pilley worked as a missionary helping in the various Methodist activities like Women's education, children's home, and general education.

In 1960, Mr. Pilley passed away as a result of a massive heart attack. He was mourned by not only his own family but by the big Methodist Church congregation. He was buried in Sibu.

Mrs. Pilley left Sibu and resided in Nashville, Tenn. U.S.A. until 11 July, 2002 when she passed away at the age of 93.

Although Mr. & Mrs. Pilley served as missionaries in the Methodist Mission in Sarawak for only 11 years (1949 - 1960), the impact of their love, service and sacrifice for the people of Sarawak, especially Sibu and Sarikei will be for time immemorial.

In order to repay Mr. and Mrs. Pilley's love and service in the mid 1960's the Board of Education of the Methodist Church in Sarawak (SCAC) met to set up a private Methodist Secondary School in Sibu to cater for the needs of Form 3 to Form 5 students who did not do well in public exams. The school was unanimously named "Pilley Memorial Secondary School".

In 1991, as response to the changes in the educational policies,the Methodist Pilley Institute was set up to offer tertiary education namely, Diploma in Accounting, Diploma in Business Management and Diploma in Computer Science, and thus becoming one of the pioneer higher learning Institutions (IPTS) in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia.

Recently there has been plans to establish a Methodist University. and perhaps it will become a reality with the help of grateful Church members and Methodist Church leaders at the national level.

In other private ways Mrs. Pilley had in her lifetime influenced and helped so many Sarawakians to pursue further education in the United States. Many have come back to serve Sarawak in various capacities. These in particular have shown great appreciation to her and her children. And the people of Sibu in general also acknowledges the fact that they have shared their surrogate's love and care with her very own children. Mrs. Pilley's children have also been visitors to Sibu lately.

Thus these advocates of "education for all" have walked a wonderful journey on earth and helped so many to achieve their dreams. Today their legacy will continue to enable more to become truly educated, through the Methodist Pilley Institute, which I hope will soon become the Methodist Pilley University.

The youngest orphan who was carried in the arms of Mrs. Pilley would be about 50 years old now!! Half a century! A lot has been done. The ripple effect has indeed taken place.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Uncle and A Cock Fight

Cockfighting is an ancient and perhaps cruel sport found in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam,the Carribean Islands, Malaysia and Indonesia. Perhaos unkown to many, the United States also has a long history of cockfighting, and where good fighting cocks are specially bred for sale at top market prices. In England cockfighting is an exciting sport. Shakespeare's "Henry V" made mention of the sport. Many kings, princes and noble men have long been in favour of
of this sport.

Check this out -!!!!! Yes there are so many websites dedicated to this ancient sport.

I have an interesting story to share with you.

In the 1970's when folks were still unpretentious and every day was a working day if possible, most families I knew paid attention to how much they spent and how much their fathers brought home. Most people in Sibu lived very very frugal lives. Saving money was a great art. Spending money unnecessary was almost a sin.

ONe day, my third uncle was invited to go along to a fun place just to "look". Normally my third aunt would make sure that he had only a small bit of money in his pocket, so that he would not buy beer or stay too long in town.

On this occasion, unknown to my uncle, his brothers-in-law actually took him to a secret cock fighting stadium where betting was going on in a heated manner. My poor innocent uncle placed his first ever bet and he dared not even look at the faces of the other gamblers. In about 2 minutes, the bird belonging to his brother-in-law was killed and he lost all his money.

Now he was terrified because his brother in law asked him to hold the dead bird, which was bleeding very badly. My aunt definitely knew how much the bird was because it was specially purchased by her own brother for breeding in the farm. Furthermore, if the police came, he would have been the first one to be arrested because he had the best evidence in his hand.

While his brothers-in-law continued to bet, he quickly took a taxi to our house. He asked my mother to cook the chicken and he sat down at a corner to think of a way to tell his wife how he lost all his money. Definitely he was not going to tell his wife about the cock fight. Every one involved would get into trouble.

It was hilarious. My mother and my sisters and he had a big laugh together, saying that he should never have told a lie about where he was going. Now he had to admit to his wife that he had lost his money.

The chicken was not easy to cook as it was very tough. However, it was quite tasty.

When it was time for my uncle to take the boat back , my mother slipped some money into his pocket. Furthermore she also put some food and other things into a basket for him to bring back to his wife, saying that all those should be considered as bought by him.

My shy, timid uncle finally went back with stooping shoulders. He never went to another cockfight again.

To this day, I still remember how hilarious it was for him to come to our house in a taxi, carrying a limp bird and with a scared look.

It was very difficult to replace that expensive fighting cock. It took his brothers-in-law and he almost a year to save up enough money to buy a similar bird and start breeding again. His brothers-in-law were so certain that they had a winner. But instead the cock took only took two minutes to fall. My aunt was a very stern and serious woman. And she would stand no nonesense from her husband or her brothers.

His brothers-in-law continue to secretly gamble on fighting cocks. But he never went again. Because he could not face the music!! And any losses would have been too much for his heart.

My uncle after all was a loving husband and he did not want to upset his wife in anyway. Gambling is never in our family's blood.

Special notes from Wikipeadia:

On May 3, 2007 President Bush signed into law the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which criminalizes the transferral of cockfighting implements across state or national borders, and increases the penalty for violations of federal animal fighting laws to three years imprisonment.

In 2006 the United States Virgin Islands passed a bill which outlaws the use of artificial spurs. Thus far the bill has not been enforced.

Cockfighting has a higher level of social acceptance in Puerto Rico than in Louisiana. It also has a much larger human population and pool of fighting cocks than the Virgin Islands or Guam. Metal spurs causes a high mortality of birds. With the interstate transport ban Puerto Rico is likely to be the last holdout. The United States Virgin Islands government is trying to move the sport towards Gamecock Boxing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Remember the first kerosene refrigerators in Sibu? What about some families who owned kerosene fans in those long ago days? They were the envy of their neighbours. I remember my Malay friend owning the most beautiful oven which sat on top of a lovely kerosene stove. And her mother made wonderful sweet and colourful cakes for Raya.

Horrified mothers would wash the lice out of their children's hair using kerosene. Catching lice at school was like getting a punishment and there would be a ritual to get rid of the creepies. It was indeed a painful procedure and it hurt the scalp and the hair. But in those days we did not have the lovely scented lotion which can help delouse a child's head.

Kerosene is called "Western Oil" or Yong Yiu in Foochow.

The Sibu population depended a lot on kerosene in the early days. Although fewer people are dependent on kerosene today, those living on the outskirts of Sibu still depend on it.

Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek "keros" (κηρός wax).

It is commonly called paraffin (sometimes paraffin oil) in the UK and South Africa (not to be confused with the waxy solid also called paraffin wax or just paraffin, or the much more viscous paraffin oil used as a laxative); the term kerosene is usual in much of Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

Kerosene is widely used to power jet-engined aircraft, but is also commonly used as a heating fuel. It is obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum between 150 °C and 275 °C, resulting in a mixture of carbon chains containing 12 to 15 carbon atoms.

Kerosene was first described by al-Razi (Rhazes) as a distillation of petroleum in 9th-century Baghdad. In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets), he described two methods for the production of kerosene. One method involved using clay as an absorbent, whereas the other method involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac). In 1807, kerosene was refined from a naturally-occurring asphaltum called Albertite by Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner, founding the modern petroleum industry in the process. Gesner went on to establish his Kerosene Gaslight Company to market kerosene around the world in 1850. Scottish chemist James Young built the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil extracted from locally-mined Torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal. Polish chemist Ignacy Łukasiewicz discovered the means of refining kerosene from the less expensive seep oil in 1856.

Interestingly,the widespread availability of cheaper kerosene was the principal factor in the precipitous decline in the whaling industry in the mid- to late-19th century, as the leading product of whaling was oil for lamps. Our literature students would be interested in re-reading "Moby Dick" a novel with a setting on the whaling industry.

At one time the fuel was widely used in kerosene lamps and lanterns. Many fires in the late 18th century were caused by defective kerosene lamps. Today,its use as a cooking fuel is mostly restricted to some portable stoves for backpackers and to less developed countries, where it is usually less refined and contains impurities and even debris.

As a heating fuel, it is often used in portable stoves, and is sold in some filling stations. It is sometimes used as a heat source during power failures. The use of portable kerosene heaters is not recommended for closed indoor areas without a chimney due to the danger of build-up of carbon monoxide gas.

Kerosene is widely used in Japan as a home heating fuel for portable and installed kerosene heaters. In Malaysia and Japan, kerosene can be readily bought at any filling station or be delivered to homes.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland kerosene is often used as both a cooking and heating fuel in areas where there is a limited gas supply.

today in the less developed countries like like India, kerosene is the main fuel used for cooking, especially by the poor. Kerosene stoves have replaced the traditional wood-based cooking appliances that are unhealthy and inefficient. The price of kerosene can be a major political issue; the Indian government subsidises the fuel to keep the price very low (around 15cents/litre as of Feb.2007).

Kerosene is also used for fire performances such as poi (New Zealand) and staff because of its low flame temperature when burnt in free air, making the fire low risk, should the performer come in contact with the flame.

It is often used as a fuel for fire dancing. But it not usually used for indoor fire-dancing as it produces an unpleasant odour which becomes, in sufficient concentration, poisonous.So methanol is often used instead, but it can be a more dangerous fuel because of its lower flash point, and it also produces less "impressive" flames.

In the olden days many countries had used kerosene to treat pools of standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, notably in the yellow fever outbreak of 1905 in New Orleans, USA.

Today many collectors are looking for kerosene fans because they were the rage in the 1950's and they are indeed very pretty and elegant. Good enough to grace any living room!

Kerosene has indeed helped many people of Sibu. It can not and should not be considered something lowly.

Curses of Past Generations

An distant aunt and another friend came to visit recently and brought some bad news about a "medium" lady we used to know when I was younger.

This lady passed away not long ago leaving behind two daughters who are still unmarried and already in their thirties. And although one of the daughters is a career woman the other is a little abnormal.

Having no relatives to depend on, my aunt said that the daughter who is often sick had to be sent to the "mental hospital". And she wanted to know how the Mental Health Association could help.

Apparently there is a long story behind all these incidents of her poor mental health.

The "medium" lady was practising her craft in a little temple in a rubber garden in Sibu and had earned quite a bit of money from helping suffering women to talk to their dead relatives. She was also able to predict some fantastic outcomes for those who gambled with numbers. Every Chinese new year, she would receive a lot of red packets. So that went on for many years.

However, her husband apparently did not treat his grandfather and grandmother well. The family was not filial at all as all his own brothers and sisters had not taken pains to look after their elders well. Furthermore they have squandered the family wealth away by not working properly and often they gambled and ran into heavy debts. Thus when the grandparents passed away, their spirits came back to torment them at night and caused the family to have a lot of trouble in the day time.

Perhaps that was the beginning of the poor mental health of the daughter, who is already the fourth generation of the family.

And this problem also resulted in the girls not wanting to be married off.

Before the lady medium passed away, she had gone to another more powerful medium who took more than four hours in his trance to find the cause of the daughter's poor mental health. He found out that the great grandmother would want to take her away "to serve" her in the other world.

Actually after the visit to this more powerful medium, the lady medium passed away suddenly.

By then the wealth of the family had also declined and one misfortune after another occured. Many friends and relatives distanced themselves from them.

I am not sure if you would believe in this story but I am very sad to know about the poor condition of the mentally troubled daughter. For as long as we are on this earth I believe that we just need to be extra careful with our elders and respect and love them as much as we can.

In Britain today many very senior citizens volunteer to help babies who are in the hospital to stay alive by just offering "cuddle time". Apparently this short sessions of cuddling do help the unhealthy babies to recover. I am relating this because many people do not have grandparents to help them at times like these. But when we have our very own grandparents, shouldn't we love having them around?

Singapore is encouraging three generations to stay together to reduce social costs and to improve social health.

Our community should really look into all the ways and means to improve the life style of older people. We cannot afford to abandon them just as we like. Churches are making more and more effort to carry out activities for senior citizens. And many senior citizens who are still healthy are doing great social work!!

As my son at aged four, in all his innocence, said, "Grandparents should not have an expiry date....."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sworn Blood Brothers - Ten Brothers of Sibu

I started very early in life my hobby of people watching. I watched people at work. I watched people chopping wood. I watched mothers beating their children. It has been a life long hobby. From the day my uncle married my youngest maternal aunt , I have never been wrong in saying that he is a good man. Such a thought from a young child was laughed off then.

But my sixth sense is of course not often accurate. But with this uncle of ours, I can always tell relatives,"See, I was right then."

But indeed he is very ethical, very upright and a very disciplined man. As a teacher, he is the best of mentors. As an uncle, he is blameless. As a father, he is strict but most loving. As a brother-in-law, he is more than a brother. And as a son-in-law, he is more than a son. As a son, he is probably more filial than any Chinese son ever written about in Chinese literature. And as a friend, his nine sworn blood brothers will give evidence that he is one of the best men who ever walked on this earth.

He belongs to a fraternity of ten brothers. In Foochow they are the Ten Ngie Hing Deh. He is not the eldest of the blood brothers. They call each other Eldest Brother Second, Eldest Brother and so on until the youngest or the tenth.

I have never doubted that the relationship amongst them has always merry and excellent. They started off the brotherhood when they were in their teens having known each other and recognising that their poverty could only be overcome by the banding together. Hunger would not have to be so unbearable if they could get together to talk about their dreams and their hopes. Thus amidst poverty there grew this wonderful band of blood brothers who vowed not with the traditional bowl of blood but by their sheer determination to support each other in times of adversity and to share the joy of success together. By being a band of brothers they were also offering each other protection from town bullies or even school bullies.

When each had their turn to get married they shared the event and helped out in every way possible. In times of their children's birth they shared their knowledge of bringing up of children. When celebrations came they would get together for better or for worse. They had often gone of for Ching Ming together in a large band. When it was the turn of their children to go overseas for further studies they even pulled their financial resources together.

Theirs is an enviable group. The sisters in law too have shared great times together and helped each other in times of need. I had seen them making more than twenty bowls of mee sua together. It was not an easy task. When they got together in the past it was really a noisy time with every one wanting to say something or to share something.

With this kind of relationship they have never too far away from each other in all these sixty years or more.

Recently the youngest brother Tiong Tai Poh passed away.

Uncle Tiong was a cheerful man a service provider. He would be every ready with his service with the best smile in Sibu. He would not sneeze at a small job of repairing just a small kitchen or a small hole in a wall.

I have often wondered why this kind of "tukang" or service man has gone out of fashion? He did not bother if the owner of the house was an Iban or an Indian. He would do his very best and he would never be at a loss to say something or coming out with the wrong word.

The spirit of the ten blood brothers is still around. Those remaining continue to help and save the day for each other especially now that they are in their old age. The kindness they have shown each other will always be there for as long as they live.

Most of them are beyond sixty years old now. They have been successful in their ways.
But they are most successful in leaving behind great examples of Foochow fraternity and everlasting friendship. I see no reason why the Foochow community cannot carry on such a wonderful institution.

Cheers to blood brothers. Cheers to blood uncles!! And thanks for making me feel hopeful that all men can still be brothers.

Note : Sample of an oath from Romance of the three Kingdoms

A variety of oaths were used, but all were modeled after the famous oath sworn in the Peach Garden by Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and Guan Yu and described in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and all stressed the same essential virtues of loyalty to one's sworn brothers and commitment to righteousness (yi):

"We three, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, though of different families, swear brotherhood, and promise mutual help to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty, and we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the people. We ask not the same day of birth, but we seek to die together. May Heaven, the all-ruling, and Earth, the all-producing, read our hearts, and if we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness may Heaven and man smite us! "

The Year of the Rabbit and Sg. Teku

This is the story of one of my relatives who is China-born and experienced KMT rule, the Japanese Invasion of China , the Communist Long March and the Party's triumph in 1949. According to her,life was extremely difficult for her then in China and also in Sarawak.

Her background is typical of brides who came from China in the 1900's right up to 1954. Because she was given as a bride by her poor parents to a man already in Sibu, she was "sent out" to Sibu in the Year of the Rabbit. She never went to school. So it was then very difficult to read and know about calendars especially. She did not understand the Kuo Ming Tang calendar (which started in 1901 by Sun Yet Sen).

She is still very quick at calculating one's age by the Animal Zodiac.
So, my relative arrived in Sibu in the Year of the Rabbit. With reference to the Gregorian calendar and the Lunar Calendar, I found out that the year of the Rabbit was 1951.

Her skills in addition and subtraction are entirely done mentally. I do not think many can beat her in counting, adding amounts of money mentally and quickly. She told me that she can never be cheated by shop keepers because of her maths skill. And as a sharp consumer she would be able to get the best bargains. In this way, she saved a lot of money for her family.

She said that when she first arrived, her husband was still very poor even though he had been working for several years for his relatives. Thus she planned that they should go on their own independent life just a year later after her arrival. When she had the opportunity to rent two acres of land from the Ibans in Sg. Teku,she was twenty and her husband twenty eight. Together they planted padi. The year had a great harvest and they harvested enough to pay off all their debts and start truly as a married couple with the remaining l gunny sack of rice. From then on, the husband and wife team worked very hard to acquire some land and build a simple wooden house.

When a child was born, she would nurse the baby herself, and carried him every where she went, planting pepper and tapping rubber. Her eldest son was often hung in a typical Foochow sarong "cradle" from the three legged pepper ladder as she plucked the berries or as she went around adding fertilizer to the pepper vines. Every child would be brought up in that way. Her daughter was so obedient that she would sit in a box under their farm house for many hours.

She looked after two generations - her own children and her son's children. Some house as a "career" woman she was very positive and excellent in bringing up children. All her neighbours admired her and even envied her.

She later obtained a motor cycle license and became more independent of her husband. She literally worked non stop from the age of 20 until recently when she broke her arm because of a fall from the pepper ladder. She is a typical pepper farmer who is not afraid of the sun and the heat from the ground. And she said that if she can, she can work right up to her old age and never never say, "Retire".

When she was alone in the farm house in the early days, she had a basket of rough stones , ever ready to throw at thieves or intruders. This was her security system which I find very ingenious. Her husband, when he was alive, used to work every where in Sibu, in Oya,and in Kapit too, wherever people could find odd jobs for him to do.

According to her the first few years were very difficult because the general public looked at her with suspicion . They waited to see if she would return to China!! But she was very hardworking and was willing to do everything for the sake of her family.Some neighbours were even jealous of her because of her size and yet she could develop her farm well and looked after her children who were very promising.

Both she and her husband experienced discrimination from shop keepers who would not allow them to "carry and pay later". Only one shop allowed her to "utang".She suffered a lot because there had been times when she could not buy a lot of supplies because prices of rubber were down and her pepper were just growing. Later when she was able to sell tons of rubber and pepper, with the help of labourers, the shop keepers asked her to become their customer. She refused a few because she wanted to teach them a lesson. She said that because they were poor, they kept all these sufferings in their hearts. And she also said that her suffering in Sarawak was nothing compared to the times under the Japanese in China.

She learned in a hard way and early that she must buy everything cash and have a lot of savings in the bank. Life is quite basic she said. If you have cash, you don't have to be afraid, especially when you are older. By now she is all "prepared" for old age.

She has one very interesting skill. And that is relating a lot of Chinese wisdom in rhymes.

Here is a Foochow rhyme used by young unmarried people in China when they got together to debate humourously - this is about marriage. It is amazing how she can remember all these.

Men :
Have you ever seen a boat without a bamboo pole?
Have you ever seen a chopping board without a chopper?

Women in reply:

A ship sails the seas without a bamboo pole.
A monk stays single and so does a nun.

Men in reply:

When a ship berths at a harbour, it drops anchor.
Nuns are actually companions of our monks.

Here is another jewel from her :

The best of good land dishes are mountain deer, and mountain goats
The best of good sea food dishes are mackerel and white pomfret

(Foochow goat - yiong rhymes with Chiong or pomfret)

I am glad that I have a "Foochow Mentor" like her. May I wish her happiness and a long life.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mosquito Coils

In the evenings, my maternal grandmother would carefully take out her box of msoquito coils, kept safely in a Jacob's biscuit tin. almost with the greatest of care, her small gentle hands would take two twinning coils out and slowly separate them. then she would light one for the "landoh", the covered bridge between the kitchen and the main house where we would sit and tell stories under the pressure lamp. And she would bring one coil upstairs , to be placed in front of her room.

Thus mosquitoes were kept at bay in our riverine paradise. Most of us were still under the age of ten at that time.

In the day time, we would bring a small piece of mosquito coil whenever we went to the outhouse, built about 100 feet away from the main house. Some of us were terribly afraid of going, so we would get three or four to go along. My grandmother's outhouse had four cubicles. They were very properly built.

The flush toilet came to our village many years later when my uncle built a smaller house further in land, after the huge currents caused by the Express boats had slowly swept away our land and lastly our wooden mansion. By then she was already completely visually disadvantaged. So the modern sanitory facilities were a boon to her old age.

In later years an American Peace Corps told me that it was part of their orientation course to separate two twinning pieces of mosquito coils. It was one of the most difficult living skills for an American to learn. Perhaps he had big hands, or perhaps he was not used to applying gentle pressure, and that particular "break" on the most important leverage part of the coil to separate the two coils, so well meshed and factory placed together.

The nostalgic fragrance from a burning mosquito coil invokes memories and the magic of yesteryears. My grandmother's stories, her sense of humour, my uncle's laughter and the shrieks of playing children would just come floating back. It is no wonder that Shirley Lim, in her poem, Monsoon History, wrote about mosquito coils as part of her memories forty years ago.

On the down side, mosquito coils have been known to cause home fires, burning of babies in their cots, and bad asthma attacks.

In industrial description it is a coiled clay-like material which is set on top
of included stands which will serve as a biting and nuisance flying pest repellent when lit. When burning, they will release a pleasant odor to people but one that is highly repellent to pests. They will burn slowly and generally will last 2 or
more hours per coil.

Today, with camping and outdoor living becoming very popular, the mosquito coils have become a heaven sent gift indeed.

A company producing them advertised that they are made of nature's own insecticide (camphor) and using these coils one can get hours of constant protection. Perfectly safe and pleasant! 12 coils per package. Wt. 7oz.

In Malaysia a decent pack of mosquito coils are about RM1.80 for 12 coils.

As a Sarawakian, I would always travel with a packet of mosquito coils, kept safe in a biscuit tin. This would be what my grandmother would do. then there would be no frustrations from mosquitoes. And the nights would be as wonderful as days. Some extra anti insect repellent would help too.

But strangely with all the development around us, we should have less mosquitoes or no mosquitoes at all. But instead, we have mosquito netting on our windows and for outdoor activities around the house we still depend on our ever faithful mosquito coils!!

Stories of People Connected with the Borneo Company

The Borneo Company Limited had a fairly big building right opposite the Masland Church, on Island Road.

While it operated as Borneo Company in Sibu, it was almost like an icon in the business world.

In the 1950's the Manager of the Borneo Company together with the Manager of the Standard Chartered Bank were the celebrities of Sibu. No social function would happen without their presence. Such was their economic significance. And for a long while these two managers were English, appointed from the London offices.

The Borneo Company developed one of the best houses in Sibu, situated along Tun Haji Openg Road. As students we would all get the gossip whether the "mem" would be having a party or not since we cycle in and out of those roads. And one of our school mates was actually related to the Manager's cook. It was fun listening to the gossips.

But today, many young people of Sibu would not know much about this company. Perhaps it is no longer important. As they say, "It's history." But somehow, I feel that it is important to know this historical period of Sarawak, how our economic life was interwined with world development. Borneo Company was already global at that time.

Another interesting personal recollection from my memory bank regarding the Borneo Company was the interesting personnel connected with the Borneo Company. One such colourful person was Mr. Chiew Hock Siew and the other was the older Mr. Chiew, who was known as Panjang. Both spoke excellent English.

Mr. Chiew Hock Siew was a heavy drinker but he was an absolutely interesting character. He wore what I considered a colonial attire : white shirt,long stockings,nice leather shoes, nice leather belt. He could drin like a fish. Legend has it that he even kept a small bottle of whiskey in his office drawer. What amazed me at that time was his great ability to speak English like an Englishman.

He would come around our school,which was just opposite the Borneo Company, to pick up his children. And he would speak to some of the parents in his perfect nicely accented English. We as young children were very impressed. Our Headmaster Mr. Wong Kie Mee would also exchange a few words with him and they would have a good laugh.

I suspected that at that time all these laughter must be related to their love for drinking. Perhaps almost everyone in Sibu knew that the late Mr. Wong Kie Mee and his brother the late Mr. Wong Kie Ing were famous or infamous for their alcoholic adventures.

The older Mr. Chiew or Panjang was an old Borneo Company hand. (This is a very old colonial word). Panjang's life was indeed remarkable as he spent his whole life working for Borneo Company as a travelling salesman. He went far and wide in Sarawak,especially the interior, even though, according to one story, he was actually born and raised in Singapore.

He met his Melanau wife at a Bangsawan in Mukah. He was so taken by the beauty of his wife that when at the end of her singing, every one threw coins at her, he threw his pipe. She was amazed by this unusual act, that she picked up the pipe and sort of fell in love with him. What followed was a very romantic Chinese-Melanau love fit for a drama series.

According to his son, Panjang was a very "obedient servant" who would go out and distribute about to be expired goods to the longhouses, free, under the orders of the English Manager who did not want to waste the goods, This was not dumping of expired goods. This was charity as the goods would still be good for three months. In fact, to day, very few business men would do this. They would quickly pass the nearly expired goods to the rural people and sell them as quickly as possible. Even with alll the Enforcement Officers around, there are still many such commercial culprits. Some are even known to have scraped off the expiry date!! Of course we do have some lelong goods along the five foot way. That is still in practice.

Panjang went on to buy some property , bought by the gold owned by his Melanau wife, and his own savings, in Sibu, especially around the Roman Catholic Church but unfortunately he was cheated by some developers in his old age in the early 70's. He was invited by some contractors to have a business share. But things did not turn out well for him. His young son then was just too young then to help him. It is a pity that the family lost their property in this way. Otherwise the family would have been one of the richest in commercial land today. (Source of this story: His son and I went to the same school in Sibu for quite a number of years.)

The Borneo Company Limited was formed in 1856 to "exploit" the business opportunities in Borneo (Sarawak). It was also active in other parts of Asia.

James Brooke was a man who believed in business and connections, as it was the lifestyle at that time in Britain. He was nevertheless fairly well connected . After he successfully established himself as Rajah in 1842, he started to manage Sarawak like a vast estate and planned for its commercial development. Trade was foremost on his mind.

James Brooke , after he was given adequate advice, enlisted the help of Ludwig Helms, a Danish merchant who was operating out of Singapore. Helms incidentally was well connected to a Glasgow-based merchant house of MacEwen & Co. which had branches in Singapore, Batavia and Manila. MacEwen's office in Singapore became Brooke's agent while Helms managed Brooke's business in Sarawak.

The BCL thus became very much involved in importing and exporting, banking, production of agricultural commodities, mineral exploitation, and development, with a lot of political support from James Brooke.

The first motor car came to Singapore in 1896.But the BCL started selling imported cars in Singapore and Malaya only in the 1920's. Five years later, due to the vast business it had to handle,its subsidiary, Borneo Motors Limited was incorporated in 1925 to import and sell cars. Car sales subsequently became one of the most important businesses of the Borneo Company.

After World War II, the company's business expanded to cover other products. In 1967, BCL merged with Inchcape Group of UK. As a result, the Borneo Company became a subsidiary of Inchcape, while Borneo Motors Limited was split into two separate entities - Borneo Motors (Malaysia) Sendirian Berhad and Borneo Motors (Singapore) Limited.

In the 1980s, the company was agent and distributor for a wide range of pharmaceuticals, consumer, technical, sports and leisure products. Meanwhile, Borneo Motors was involved in the distribution of motorcars and trucks and motor-related products and services. They were selling leading brands like Austin, Rileys, Vauxhall, Bedford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Chrysler, Pontiac, Buick and Leyland.(1)

Source :(l) Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

Friday, March 14, 2008

Village Shop Keeper's Generosity

Along the Rejang River amongst the enclaves of Foochow settlements were little shops which helped with the economic development of people.

Each area would have a small shop often built near a primary school and that would be like a market square of an European village.

My mother's Ah Nang Chong, or Lower Southern Village boasted a fairly vibrant primary school called Kwong Nang Primary School and a little sundry shop called Huo Ling Shop. Huo Ling Shop was sited at the head of a bridge , a locality similar to any Chinese shop in China, as it was strategic that all people must pass the small bridge whenever they travelled up and down the road to all the different villages along the river.

Every day the children would be given some pocket money for snacks and at the end of the school day, they would buy some supplies for their mothers. Such was the simple and easy life of that time. A bit of sugar, a bit of salt, some dried squid, ginger, and everything else for the villagers as most of them would only take the slow motor launch ride of more than two and half hours to Sibu once in every two or three months.

Going to town was a celebration!! And not all children would be brought by their children to see the town lights. A trip would have meant a real treat and the children would have many stories to relate to their siblings and friends at school.

My mother's youngest sister is married to an extra-ordinary man. He was a teacher, a principal and then later personal assistant to a timber tycoon because he has proven himself to be exceptionally trustworthy, ethical and loyal.

This exceptional man has an extra-ordinary childhood filled with bitter sweet experiences which helped him turn into a very strict disciplinarian.

When the children were growing up in the village, most of them had a certain amount of pocket money. they were not however, extremely rich. So they could afford an icicle may be, a lolipop or even a biscuit or two with the few cents they had. They would of course had brought their own packed rice which they would eat cold.

But my uncle unfortunately had a mother who considered pocket money insignificant.

Ikan bilis was only a few cents a kati at that time. And so was peanuts which were really sold for peanuts. The owner of Huo Ling shop did not really pay much attention to any child who came into the shop to pick up a few ikan bilis and chewed them right in front of him. Many ladies would also come into the shop and pick a few peanuts to chew. He did not mind at all.

So my uncle would walk into the shop during recess and grab a handful to put into his pocket. Whether the towkay saw it, we would never know. But my uncle would have something to bite or chew during recess or at lunch time. According to my uncle, he was creative enough to have "something to eat" during recess and no one was wiser to know that he never was given any pocket money by his mother.

whenever my uncle recall his days in the primary school, he would look so sad and shake his head. He had suffered so much. Perhaps it was also God given that Huo Ling's towkay kept one eye close on this matter. In later years, my uncle treated him with respect and they were truly the best of friends. My uncle was so grateful to him for allowing him to fill his empty stomach with ikan bilis.

This quiet generosity of the shop keeper reminds me of the Bible verse that when we measure grains for our customers, we have to make sure that the measurement is overflowing and beyond the required weight. God's grace would be overflowing for you too.

A Washerwoman's Tale

In the 1970's when I was reading the Chinese newspapers I came across a Chnese style obituary of man whom I knew as a child and on the list of relatives, the children had put up two names under "spouse", with one deceased and another, the name of a good Chinese lady I knew as a teenager. But what was very interesting was that the old man had adopted three children who maintained their own surname.

Being curious, I called up my aunt who related a most unusual story of the 50's in Sibu.

Apparently the surviving wife had come from China in the same way as many brides in the 1950's to marry her fiance. After a few years, and after having three children, her young husband passed away.

Because she could not read and write,she went around washing clothes for a few families. She could not do much else. The lady and her three children shared a house with several other families, which was typical of the 50's in Sibu. I believe at that time, she also received some allocation of rice from the Welfare Department. And furthermore there was no micro-credit to help her finance a little retail shop.

After many years of struggling, a shopkeeper who had became a widower, saw that she was very kind and still pretty, asked for her hand in marriage. It was like a gift from heaven and she asked her children for permission to marry this fairly older man.

From then on, her life was smoother. According to my aunt, the shopkeeper's children treated her extremely well and they were ever so grateful that she was willing to be their stepmother. These children also treated their step brothers and sister very well.

She had agreed to marry the shopkeeper on two basic conditions. Her children must carry on their own surname and the shopkeeper must educate them.

The shopkeeper agreed and they were married in a very simple ceremony in front of all the children.

I don't think there are many similar stories but I am glad that there was this little heartwarming story of an older man who took in a young family in this way.

According to my aunt, the two sets of children are all very capable people and received very good education, and probably they are now all overseas. Because they followed the Confucian rules of correct behaviour towards each other, the family members have been especially blessed. However, the old man's business was not carried on by any of the children, so the small shop is no longer in existence in Sibu.

People move on,some memories fade. But the strong imprint of an exceptional woman of character would remain.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Giving Away A Daughter

One of my mother's cousins told me this story years ago. This is actually one of the many stories I know about Foochows giving their daughters away when they were born. There were many reasons to give girls away :poverty, lack of amenities,ill health,disabilities,etc. But this story has a unique twist.

"I was extremely sad knowing that I have given birth to my 8th daughter. And as I was still warm and tired from the difficult child birth, sitting under my mosquito net and waiting for the first flow of my breast milk, I looked at my beautiful daughter, newly born but soon to be taken away by the Malay family down the road."

When she related this story to me so touchingly at that time, I could smell my own breast milk flowing unceasingly to feed my own hungry daughter, my first born child. I could still feel the warmth of the confinement bed, without air conditioning and even a fan. When she shed her tears, I could feel every muscle of my body twitching with pain.

It can never be easy, giving away a child you have carried for nine months.

The story continued as she told me that the Malay couple came to the house with all the clothes ready to take the new born child away. She and my uncle had already discussed that the 8th daughter would have a better life with the new family who loved and appreciated girls because of their culture and religion.

It was not because my aunt and uncle did not love girls. It was because they had too many children. The new born was the 8th daughter, but the 10th child. There was no family planning at that time and my uncle had just lost his job as a sailor. He had to go further away perhaps Simmanggang to work and send money back and my aunt had to take care of the children who were only a year apart.

As the child was taken away lovingly, the other children stood by, close to each other, some hidden behind the door. My uncle passed some old clothes as a token of love and comfort for the baby to take away. And the Malay couple indicated to the chickens they had brought for my aunt's confinement food, as was the agreement.

Everyone was upset and emotions were high in the wooden house. But not much was said. In fact a mutiny was brewing without the knowledge of my uncle and aunt.

Two weeks later, my cousins , all nine of them, approached their parents and told them very sternly , that they would fetch their baby sister back. They would start earning "spare money" and "small change" every day by chopping wood,glueing paper bags, washing coffee cups in the coffee shops and anything else. My uncle and aunt were amazed and touched by this unity amongst their children. They too had been having qualms about giving their child away.

So the nine children,ranging from age 10 to 2, carrying a small basket, marched to the kampong house and took back their baby sister from the surprised Malay couple who turned out to be very understanding and humourous.

My cousins , in one single act, reunited the whole family.

Today they are very successful and determined parents themselves and my aunt and uncle are as happy as can be. They are still very united and strong as a family. They have kept their promises.

Why So Many Chinese Men are Single

Have you ever wondered why many immigrant Chinese men remain bachelors all their life?

I am not saying that many Foochow men in Sibu have remained bachelors. Statistically that is not a proven statement. But in many countries, I have been told, the immigrant Chinese men, and also the Chinese in Mainland China today, are still bachelors even in their forties. And if they don't ever get married, they will reach their old age as old bachelors.

While most men would find it a necessity to marry and have a family, it has been found out by researchers that some Chinese men consider it virtuous to stay single and be within a certain kind of fraternity. For example many of the the cultural troupes from China and Korea have single men who remain loyal to their art long after they retire from their performances. Some of the modern kungfu fraternities are filled by members who remain single all their life.

Many Chinese men in the 1950's and 60's in China after the Revolution had found it expensive to marry so they remained single. Some were divorced during the Revolution but they maintained their single life after their divorce. According to research, many of the farmers could not fine a suitable wife because they did not have anyone to choose from, as most of the single female workers have gone to the cities to look for jobs and better marriage prospects.

Now this new "phenomenon" has actually quite upset the so called apple cart in China where it has always carried out the Confucian teaching that men must marry to carry on the family surname, thus producing a male heir was like a life long objective of a Chinese male. this new finding has indeed been much debated upon.

Furthermore,with the new imbalance male:female ratio in China because of the one child policy, more and more men will remain single. It has been the cause of concern for many demographers lately.

In many other countries where the Chinese males have migrated to, it has also been found that many remain single all their lives. They had started off working very hard and probably had been sending money back to China. when the time came for them to look for a bride, either their choice had married or they had no choice left. Sometimes, a bride by mail order might be sent to them but the consequences might not have been too positive.

Because they are immigrants, they will find it difficult to marry local born, but more educated Chinese women, unless of course, they are themselves very well educated.

But with new values, new mobility all over the world, Chinese men should now have no problems of finding a life time partner. But then perhaps unknown to us, some secret societies will continue to have a large number of unmarried Chinese men members.


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