Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sunderlands and Catalinas: "Flying Boats" or Buoi Sung of Sibu 1945-1952

My Fourth Aunt escaped from an arranged and forced marriage by going on a slow boat to Kuching and then Singapore just before the Japanese arrived. She went on to be one of the best senior nurses in Singapore after a very lonely and courageous personal fight against all odds. Her first plane ride was very much later in her life. My Goo Poh (Tiong Yuk Ging) came back from China after the fall of the Japanese by a very slow boat, the first one out of Foochow City in 1945. Again her first plane ride was very much later in life. Today none of us could even need to go on a slow boat to Singapore. We just click on the internet and get a ticket to fly to any place in the world. Now everyone can fly according to Airasia. And one can fly to Timbuktoo within very reasonable time.

In the 50's most people travelled by coastal boats from one town to another in Sarawak or by the regular steam ships to Singapore and Europe. One could however fly from Singapore then.

The first plane over Sibu was in 1930's which took aerial photos of the town. There was a hangar in Sibu too but it was soon forgotten. Later the Japanese planes came and then the Allied Australian Forces arrived to defeat the Japanese.

The intermediate years of 1945 and 1952 saw frequent landings of the Sunderlands and Catalinas. Today not many people remember those days and not much has been written about them. Then the Dakotas and the Twin Otters started to fly all over Borneo in the 60's.

A Sunderland Model

Sunderland (Museum in New Zealand)


A beautiful painting of a Catalina

Another Sunderland

These flying boats were seen landing with a big splash in the Rejang between 1945 and 1952 . In fact there are several interesting facts related to the Sunderland and the Catalina Flying Boats in Sarawak . Indeed they were actually very famous planes which dominated the skies in the 1930's to 1950's. They made a very significant mark in world aviation history. Aviation museums all over the world have models of them on display. Many paintings of them are lovingly kept by former air force personnel who were involved in flying them. Many paintings were also seen in museums the world over. In fact many documents also record the thousands of lives they saved.

Perhaps not many people today can remember seeing them in Sarawak. My mother and her siblings were teenagers then and they have recollection of the Flying Boats. In Foochow dialect they are called Bui Soon . Exactly - Flying Boats.

Because the Sibu Airport was damaged by the war these flying boats came in handy and at the right time. While the Sunderland were huge RAF four-engined flying boats the Catalinas were twin-engined. Both were used to transport many especially the POW who required urgent medical attention to Labuan after the war.

The Foochows from the villages and the town people crowded on the bank of the Rejang when a Sunderland flew in with the Rajah Sir Charles Vyner Booke and Ranee Sylvia for their last farewell visit to Sibu. Right after the war the people were still quite numbed and they probably did not realise that it was a monumental event which ended 100 years of Brooke Rule.

A Sunderland also brought Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald in his first visit to Sibu. This was quite an event for many especially the headmen of Sibu. the Malay and Iban leaders lined up to greet him. So did the Foochow headmen. There were a lot of hands being shaken and much English was spoken that day to the delight of MacDonald. He wrote very positively about the local people whom he grew to love.

And sadly Duncan Stewart the second British Governor of Sarawak who was fatally hurt in Sibu by Rosli Dhoby and his friends was flown out of Sibu by a Sunderland to Singapore for treatment. He did not recover from his wound.

When the old Sibu airport was repaired and completed in 1952 these Flying Boats were not seen again in the Rejang River.

Today we can still see Sunderlands in aviation museums in New Zealand for example. The newer versions of Catalinas are still being flown in many islands for transport and tourism purposes.

Sources : 1. Tan Gabriel : Japanese Occupation : Sarawak - a Passing Glimpse
3. http ://

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pen Pals and Red Pillar Boxes - 1950 - 1970

Can you remember the first time you posted a letter in Sibu? Did you ever help an older friend post a love letter? Did you drop it into the red post pillar box situated at Island Road Sibu? Did you have loads of pen pals when it was fashionable to have many pen pals ?

Most young students in the 60's looked for pen pals in the Movie Magazines and in the Dolphin Magazines. We also wrote to lots of pen pals who advertised in the local newspapers. We were actually encouraged to use this method to improve our English! Sometimes our expatriate and missionary teachers even introduced their own friends' children to correspond with us. And in order to make sure that we were not writing romantically our family would make us read our letters aloud . Sometimes teachers would also make us read our pen pals' letters aloud in class too.

I wrote to my cousin in Singapore and indeed improved my English. Today we are still emailing each other. I did have one pen pal from Mukah by the name of Winnie. She is some one big now. May be she has forgotten this pen pal from Sibu of the 60's. Life was very simple then. Having a pen pal was like opening a window to another part of the world.

I have often wondered when this significant red pillar boxes were removed from our social scene in Malaysia. Perhaps it was 1978 or early 1980's

I have found some pictures of those pillar boxes for you. Look at these and I hope nostalgia will take you back to those old days. There was one such pillar box right in front of the Heng Kwong Shop. I cannot remember when it was "removed".

Source : Wikipedia

On the brass plate we could read when the post men would come and collect the mail dropped into it. I remember they would come twice every day.

Secondly there is collection of pillar boxes or post boxes in Inkpen Post Box museum in Taunton Somerset England. Isn't it wonderful to see so many of them together? I get all nostalgic at once and remember how much the post office has done for the people throughout the ages. Lovely symbol isn't it? The pillar boxes below:

Source : Wikipedia

Several movies recently also remind me of the signficance of postmen in our lives:

This is a very good movie made in China featuring an excellent actor Liu Ye.

This is Kevin Costner's futuristic movie :

And this is a lovely post card from Malaysia - Bicycle used by Malaysian postman.

And many years ago many post men also walked their rounds to deliver letters.

And finally there is this song Please Mr. Postman by the magnificient Beatles ....

What memories these are!!!!

Extra Note :
Pillar Box
The Royal Mail red pillar box is one of the most familiar items of British street furniture. Introduced in 1853, only 13 years after the foundation of the penny post, it meant that posting a letter no longer involved making a trip to the nearest Post Office.

Its inventor, surprisingly, was none other than the multi-talented English novelist Anthony Trollope, who worked for the postal service in both Britain and Ireland for over 30 years. Pillar boxes always bear the monogram of the reigning monarch, and some of the most iconic examples of this particular icon are those that show the initials V.R., for Queen Victoria, making them over a century old. Though we may take pillar boxes for granted, a tour through their changing designs and an exploration of the part they play in the national postal collection system can be surprising and fascinating...

Source :

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Elegant Farewell to a Woman of Beauty and Strength

My aunt's funeral was elegant simplicity with subdued Christian tones. The family had done away with traditional sack cloth, muslin mourning clothes with unsewn hems ,beating of the chest and wailing. It was a quiet and gentle farewell to a dearly beloved member of the Christian community.

Instead each of the children just had a white muslin sash around their waist. They wore a white collarless t-shirt and a pair of black pants.

The grandchildren from the only married daughter wore blue sashes. The grandchildren from sons wore the traditional yellow sashes.

Arrival of the coffin at the Church was quiet and without fanfare. There was no brass band.

The sermon by the young Methodist pastor was about tears and strength of a person. It was a very meaningful sermon for all those present. Jesus wept twice in the Bible.

Part of the funeral service was a choir made up of Women's Wing of the Church . These ladies are ever ready to sing for a dearly beloved Church elder - my Third Aunt had been close to the Methodist Church from the first day of her school at Yuk Ying Girls' School in the 1930's under Mrs. Mary Hoover until her demise.

This is not a good photo as I took it from a long shot and it was rather dark on the stage of the beautiful Methodist Sin Fu Yuan Tang. The Third Son of Third Uncle (Colin) gave a touching but affectionate eulogy of his late mother peppered with a pinch of humour and a dash of serious meaningful social overtones. "Though Ma is gone we shall remember her always in our hearts..she was well read and behind her back we called her Dr. Lu..."

Apart from relatives and church friends a group of gracious lawyers came to the funeral even though it was a working day. My aunt had a son and a grandson who are lawyers. In many parts of Malaysia lawyers would turn out full force to attend the funerals of the family members of their legal fraternity as a show of solidarity. Thus the presence of part of the Sibu legal fraternity at this funeral service was very appreciated especially when this group of lawyers are from different religious,racial and political backgrounds.

Prayers before the final sealing of the grave.

The Sibu Methodist Church provides services for its members from the cradle to the grave. This man is a member of the Funeral Management Committee (his tie has a cross and his pocket has the committee emblem) who makes sure that the funeral is well taken care of. The committee is very efficient and professional. the bereaved family does not have to worry about any thing at all.

Flowers and floral arrangements mean a lot to many during a funeral and especially to my late San Ning. She was a grand dame who appreciated beauty and elegance. And during the funeral the flowers and floral arrangements were symbols of love and affection for her.

My late San Ning would have approved of this beautiful arrangement on her grave.

Usually many wreaths would be presented to the bereaved family during a funeral and these would be left at the graveside. Here is one that is very tastefully arranged with black and white ribbons and backed by China made rattan stand.

Before the grave is sealed completely the photo of the deceased must be framed by a piece of red cloth to indicate that the deceased has just been buried. And this photo will be brought home by the eldest son.

This is always the saddest part of a Foochow funeral when the photo is brought back home framed by the red cloth. All the other siblings will make a line behind the eldest son after bidding farewell for the last time to the beloved departed.

The post funeral step is a meal provided by the bereaved family to thank the relatives and friends who attended the funeral service and accompanied the coffin to the cemetery. This is called the "old rice" or lau puong. Most people would like to attend this meal because eating it, according to our Foochow tradition, would mean that one could also live as long a life as the deceased. But for many of us it was to also meet up with the family members after the funeral for one last moment before going our separate ways (away from Sibu). During the meal the bereaved family will officially thank the attendees for their presence. They will do the three traditional bows or Kiik Kiing. (not the kowtow or kerk tow)

The meal was excellent and my late aunt would have selected such a menu very carefully to make her relatives happy. She was such a meticulous person making sure that everything was in place. And Shareton was one of her favourite restaurants.

Here are some of the 8 dishes of the well selected menu. The first dish was the Foochow Style Peace Egg Soup - a must as it conjure up good wishes for all present at the lunch. I was not sure at first if it was appropriate for me to take photos of the meal but after three dishes I took out my camera for the "scoop".

This was followed by the hot combination dish which came out in style and in a huge portion. The sharks' fin soup also impressed the diners.

Now this head of semah (steamed Foochow style) was fresh and tasty.

The brocoli with mushroom dish.

She would have approved of all these.....She would have smiled her lovely smile and place her hands gracefully on her lap.

(My apologies to all if I have inadvertently written something untoward.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Sibu Post Office Telegrams and Postmen

When we were small the Post Office looked so big and the trees around it were so tall. Today the cars in front of the building make it look so insignificant and forlorn.

We also thought the verandahs were huge places for us to rollerskate. Now they are too small even for four people to move about.

But there are lots of memories there.

This morning when I woke up and still groggy from interrupted sleep and terrible dreams I thought of riding a bicycle down to the Post Office as I really needed to send a telegram which says STOP GRIEVED TO HEAR AUNT'S PASSING STOP SHE MEANT A LOT OF ALL OF US STOP GOD BLESS STOP... When I came downstairs and saw my living room furniture I realised that I was in another town and Sibu Post Office of the old was twenty years ago. I had slipped from one era to another in just seconds.

When I shook my dream like feelings off I regained my composure and came to my old faithful laptop and wrote this posting.

Photo : Sibu Post Office by Tony Hii

My Third Aunt was a special lady who saved many keepsakes to be taken out to see and feel and to go over sweet memories: her son's first pair of glasses; her husband's beautiful photo album ; her children and grand children's photos and even a cheongsam or two. Her keepsakes dazzled me and my siblings when we were young. She was a beautiful and inspiring relative. And we found her stories wonderful to listen too. My thoughts have been of hers since I received a mobile phone call to tell me of her passing.

I would always associate the Post Office with her because she was the first relative to show me a real personal letter written in beautiful handwriting in English from Aunt Grace her best friend. She and her family lived in Hose Lane in the 1950's and 60's before they moved to Hin Yu Park and one day when I was visiting her the postman came to deliver letters. Somehow that scenario was exceptionally memorable. She put a strong inprint of what a best friend was like in my mind.

The Post Office of Sibu would also remind me of three other important things even though today we have very efficient and "cannot live without" email system. I do almost all my mails at the tip of my fingers but some things from the past are still dear to my heart.

Take for example sending a post card or the annual family "report" to friends in the traditional way. I still send Christmas cards and Chinese New Year Cards via the normal mail!! Especially to older friends and relatives,even those I can reach via email. Sending a whole stack of cards before Christmas is almost like an annual trip for me in the last forty years or so. And perhaps the stack becomes increasingly smaller over the years. And last year I sent out a card to a friend who passed away just before the end of the year. Perhaps he never received my card and I hope his family did. For as usual very often the mail is slow. I once received a Christmas card in May with a post chop of 22 Dec 2....!!!

The Post Office is often remembered by me as a place where my father and I received parcels from his Singapore sisters. My father and his sisters were very close and all of us would get the beautiful hand-me-downs from our second Aunty whose husband held a very high position in the Singapore government. So we got to wear really beautiful frilly party dresses from our cousin June and read her children's books. Papa was always very touched when we get these parcels. Because he was a frugal man we knew that his sister's care and concern touched him very deeply. Today when someone receives a parcel from home or from a friend I know and understand the hidden feelings.

When a dearly beloved relative died in the olden days the family would receive telegrams of condolences. Sibu was small enough then for us to know our own Postman who would send letters and telegrams to the house address.

An example of these condolence telegrams would read like this one:


And these telegrams would be lovingly and respectfully read out during the funeral service in the church. Very important people would have more telegrams. So such telegrams could even be perceived as a status symbol during a funeral of some big shots... . I believe in many parts of the world telegrams are still being sent.

In a lighter mood MANY WILL never HAVE a chance to send these out nowadays...






because sending telegrams today in Sarawak is "out of fashion now"......and I do not have to teach people to write telegrams any more be they happy or sad ones......

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mui Suong Cafe and Foochow Opera

Source : Foochow Opera 78 rpm black vinyl records

I am glad to come across this photo from Heritage Post Singapore. It was like finding a long lost (30 years?) gold bracelet in a small milo tin left behind by your grandmother.

These records are very hard to come by now. I thought I would have a great source to take photos of these. So I called a distant uncle a few days ago who gave me some very sad news. He told me that he had THROWN his Foochow Opera records away!! What a pity. They could be a part of any museum in Sibu or SArawak. One man's rubbish is another man's treasure.... He said that his daughter in law complained that the records occupied too much space in the house. So he had to throw them away.

This brings to mind the nice evenings I remember as I hanged out the Old Street playground of Sibu. The scenery was a brilliant pink and lavendar sunset with the small shy tunes of er hu filtered through the air. Birds would wing above in the skies and a soft gentle breeze would cool my flushed face. As the old men sang their heart out we young kids would swing high up the air and swoop up and down again and again.

Somehow this very stable and slow kind of lifestyle sticks to my mind all the time. How nice it was for the gentlemen to live out their twilight years in this way I thought at that time. Lots of camaraderie and warm ever lasting friendship and I had wished this for myself and my Goo Poh who so patiently took us to the playground. And in the evening hours the scent of tea mixed with coffee was in the air.

After about an hour we would walk back towards Island Road and allow Koo Poh to know that we were going home safe and sound to Kung Ping Road. Somehow at that time I so much wanted that such worry-less evenings would last forever.


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This famous First Foochow Coffee Shop - Mui Suong has a special place in every one's heart in Sibu. In fact the Foochow opera music of Sibu found a niche in this cafe a long time ago. It was a very enthusiastic group of Foochow elders who played their er hu and other instruments to perpectuate the Foochow Opera in Sibu.

Foochow Opera was performed only once or twice a year then. And after old Mr. Wong passed away perhaps with no one to lead the Foochow Opera took a back seat. Probably it is hard to organize performances now especially when there are few who could appreciate it.

On the other hand in Fuzhou China the Foochow Opera is very healthy. Naturally with more 20 million Fujian people it is easy to organize the opera and even set up both public and private funds to encourage such arts.

Will the curtain rise again for Foochow Opera in Sibu?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Aunty Cannot Read and Write?

Today there is no question asked when a young person is given a phone number . And furthermore it is even expected that he or she can remember up to 10 digits like 0168305678. But have you ever asked an illiterate person to remember your number? Even a simple four digit number?

Today every one uses the telephone and the mobile phone. But how does an illiterate person make a phone call? Perhaps he or she can read at least 0 to 9 but what about names? In Chinese? In English? Can he/she remember? Yes today you can still find some illiterate people. And they need help.

This situation brings me back to the olden days when I had to help my relatives to make phone calls. We devised various methods. One was just to write down all the important numbers and names for them in a little note book with certain symbols and the aunty for example carried that note book for dear life. We found that very useful and she could get just anyone to dial the right number. Most people were kind those days.

In connection with illiteracy the rotary telephone was more friendly than the pressed or touch phones. They were also easier because the person dialling could dial slowly and see the number rotating. Here are two of the old telephones that I really like from the long ago days:


And this is how one relative helps her illiterate mother dial the most important telephone numbers in her life. Like many old widowed ladies she often lives alone when her children travel on business. So this white board is indeed a useful method devised by her loving children.

You can figure out how she makes out the numbers and the loved ones she has to call.

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What method would you devise for your loved ones who cannot read and write should the problem arise? I know many famous dyslexic people who have personal methods of knowing what numbers to dial.(see another post on dyslexic people...soon)

Memories of Flashlights (Torchlights)

pen light used by doctors and scientists.

A nice torch light for outdoor use : for lighting and for defence.

Typical heavy duty flashlight.

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Photo taken of a Pasar Malam Stall selling cheap flashlights made in China.

What is the history of flashlight like?

In 1898, Joshua Lionel Cowen invented a decorative lighting fixture for potted plants which consisted of a metal tube housing a light bulb and a dry cell battery. It failed commercially, and so Cowen sold his company and patents to Conrad Hubert that same year and turned his attention to building and selling model trains. Hubert renamed Cowen's company the American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company and, recognizing the true potential of Cowen's invention, hired David Misell to produce a tubular flashlight for portable use.

They donated some models to the New York City police, who responded favorably to it.[1] These early flashlights ran on zinc-carbon batteries, which were poor at providing sustained currents; they would run down after a while and needed to rest before being usable again.[2] Since these early flashlights also used energy-inefficient carbon filament bulbs, this happened rather quickly, and consequently they could only be used in brief flashes, hence the popular name flashlight.

Source : Wikipedia.

Here's riddle we used to get as students many years ago.....Students loved riddles in the past. I do not know if today's students still like to crack their heads to get an answer for a riddle like this.

Four members of a band are walking to a night concert. They decide to take a shortcut, but must cross a bridge. Luckily they have one flashlight. Because of the varying size of their instruments, it takes each member a different amount of time to cross the bridge - it takes the first person one minute, the second person two minutes, the third person five minutes and the fourth person ten minutes. They must cross the bridge in pairs, travelling at the slower speed so if the one minute person went with the ten minute person, it would take a total of ten minutes. Since there is only one flashlight, one person must come back across the bridge, then another pair can cross. They only have 17 minutes to cross the bridge and still get to the concert on time. What order should they cross to get everyone across and get to the concert?

Scroll down for the answer at the bottom.

In those long ago days in Sibu and especially in the villages we all had to have a flash light each. My grandmother had one and she kept it very well under her pillow and she would take it wherever she went. When she visited us in Sibu she would also bring the flashlight in her basket. And we loved to play with her flashlight. But of course we also would help her buy batteries. She usually used Eveready batteries.

We needed flashlights when we went tapping rubber in the early hours of the morning if we did not use the carbide lamps or kerosene lamps. Hence a flashlight was often considered a thing of comfort to us. We would not be afraid when we had this life saver.

Flashlights were useful when my uncle went fishing by the jetty. He would throw his net into the river and then flash the lights to catch the bright eyes of the fish or the prawns. He would often hum as he fished and we knew that he was having a good and rewarding time by himself, thinking and wondering about life. When he pulled up the net we would all come out of our quietness and shriek with delight at the catch if it was a big one. If only a few fish were caught we would be very quiet and then wait for him to make a comment.

When the tide was up and it was time for old time fishing we would all bring our little torchlights and trail behind our uncle for a great evening out. Nothing can be better than that and times like these are past. Can any one get a good jala-ful of prawns and fish in the Rejang today?

For us when we were older and living in town, we would use flashlights to read under our blanket as our mother would want us to sleep early and not waste electricity. We had a lot of fun under the bed also and pretended that we were hiding from bandits.

Later flashlights we learned that we could use them to send signals to save lives. Doctors used them to check our throats. But most important of all when we went camping flashlights were important for our various activities. So as Girl Guides and Boys Scouts most of us made full use of our own flashlights. It was always delightful when a Girl Guide brought along her father's huge torch light and we would bask under the special huge light in the outdoors. We felt comforted and secure whether it was in outside the tent or inside the tent. How wonderful it was to have light!

Today with such frequent blackouts it is good to have a few flashlights handy. Candles are of course our mainstay at times like these. But a flashlight in the car and in house is a must, even today.

What are your memories of using flashlights?

VEC158BD - Black & Decker V-3 million Power Series Flashlight

answer: First, the one minute person and the two minute person must cross the bridge, for a total of two minutes. Then the one minute person should come back with flashlight - total of three minutes. The five minute person and the ten minute person cross together next, making the total thirteen minutes. Now the two minute person goes back and (total now fifteen minutes) and gets the one minute person and they cross together bringing the total to seventeen minutes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tian Jin Preserved Vegetables or Dong Chai


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This little ceramic jar of preserved vegetables from China has been a staple of my family for four generations now.

In China vegetables are grown in spring summer and autumn. The farmers would preserve most of the vegetables for winter when nothing can be grown. Radishes and cabbages are good for preserving. This tien tsin vegetables are in fact preserved cabbages.

My grandmother used to cook this very often when fresh vegetables were not available and especially to help those without an appetite to have a fairly decent meal. (She would say" this is good to help your rice go down".) And then my mother would cook soup with this vegetable as often as possible to save on housekeeping money so that we could get a good education. As children we would never complain for the lack of food on the table. A bowl of white rice was decent enough. Better days would come in the future.

In some ways I associate this vegetable and a lot of other Chinese preserved vegetables with home economy and a frugal campaign to save money for the proverbial rainy day.

When I was living in Kuala Lumpur I often cooked an egg soup using this vegetable for an evening meal when I was rooming with a good friend. She too agreed that we should spend not more than two ringgit per meal . Sometimes we would share a plate of kway tiau and have two fried eggs and the free Jasmine Tea. That would be less than RM 3 between the two of us. As we were university students living on a small scholarship we had to stretch our proverbial dollar a little more.

When my children were younger and they felt homesick for Sibu and thinking of grandmother I would make a soup with this vegetable and eggs for them. In fact they could eat this soup every day. Today my now adult children continue to love this soup and other dishes cooked with it like omelette with Tian Jin vegetables, dumplings with meat and TT vegetables , and fried eggs with TT vegetables to go with porridge. And when we have no eggs we will just cook this saltish vegetable soup and one meal is complete and satisfying. Nothing much but we do have a hot meal and lots of stories to tell.

I know I will continue to use this vegetable for future generations, God willing, and friends who come by our home and take a walk down memory lane.

Though simple it is a wonderful memory triggering ingredient in our lives. If I have Alladin's lamp now in my hands I would wish that my grandmother was here to eat porridge and an omelette with tien tsin vegetables. Or stir fried noodles with TT vegetables with a Thai twist.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yen King Restaurant and Social Connections


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This is the first "big" restaurant in Sibu established when Sibu expanded just before the 1963 formation of Malaysia. One of its many attractions besides being in a new building was that it was fully air-conditioned, a new thing at that time. Owned by the Tong family and operating at the new Wong Nai Siong Road its food was "cheap" then considering that the total meal could cost only %25 and as whole chicken $5 only!!

But then in those days money was big!! And things were dirt cheap!A kati of corn for chickens was only 8 cents. I used to load my bike with 10 katis of corn in a paper bag every week.

If you look at this old advertisement you can see that it advertised its Peking Chicken. Perhaps many well travelled Foochows then already knew about Peking Duck (now made more famous by the Beijing Olympics 2008) but this Peking Chicken was the rave at that moment.

The Yen King Shark's Fin soup was nice I remember. No Foochow dinner even today can go by without this signature dish. It was just so wonderful to eat shark's fin.

But nowadays I do not eat Shark's Fins any more ever since I saw a mother shark being sliced open by a huge cleaver in the Miri fish market next to the Tua Pek Kong Temple and her baby sharks floated out of her ambionic fluid filled open stomach. I saw her giving me a very motherly stare. The baby sharks shrieked with fear on the very unfriendly pavement and the mother fluttered her eye lids again. If only she could talk. The men laughed loudly and started to count the number of baby sharks! It was tragic that they did not have any maternal feelings for child birth. It is pitiful that to them life is only dollars and cents and not blood and tears.

Most families would entertain their visitors with a table of good food (8 courses at least including the complimentary fruit platter) in this restaurant. Many bridegrooms had to consent to throwing a wedding banquet here. And most birthdays were celebrated here. Hence this restaurant made its fortune in the its first five years because it was the best and newest in town.

In due time other restaurants and hotels started to catch up and the restaurant competition went on. All had to find a niche market . Besides they must have certain signature dishes. And chefs had to leave their barefoot image behind by going "overseas" to learn new dishes.

I must admit that my family always had good and memorabloe meals there when it became fashionable to eat out towards the later part of the 70's before Blue Splendour became THE PLACE to be seen.(LOL) Sometimes three weddings could be concurrently held there and quite often some guests (who could not read Chinese)might just sit in the wrong compartment! A few crafty people I heard had some free meals from time to time and no one would be the wiser.

Cheapness and special rates must also be all the restaurants' forte otherwise the Sibu folks would not consider them as their venue for any celebration. In days to come political connection became very important so the towkays became party members.

Sibu thus became a town of obvious and blatant "connections" way ahead of many other cities in Malaysia .

One could see it very clearly when one went to restaurants like Yen King Restaurant and other Sibu restaurants. I might not be exaggerating if I say that you could see the lines of connections too obviously. We used to say that some people would shout about their wealth and connections from the roof top but in Sibu it was more or less just from the tables laden with good food.

If you have the right connection you might even get a free dinner some one once told me. But usually ordinary people like us have to pay everything including the 15% tax.

But one must always remember that the Yen King Restaurant was indeed the first modern and up to the mark restaurant trying its best to beat the traditional all time favourite Hock Choo Leu.


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