Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chinese Poetry on a Grave


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My grandmother Chong Ching Soon (JS Chong) passed away at a very young age of 38 from hemorrhaging while giving birth. In those days the infant mortality rate was high and so was the mortality rate for mothers who gave birth unattended by any qualified nurses or doctors. Times were really bad too at that time and nothing could be done to save her life during the early days of the Foochow Settlement.

While my grandfather was already prospering from his businesses the young family of 9children (we Foochows had termed it "children like the steps on a staircase") were bereft from the loss of a wonderful mother who came from Singapore to marry my grandfather . The young children grieved for a long long time. My father was a very taciturn man but the little I heard from him made me feel how much pain he suffered for having lost a mother at a young age.

The match was made by Rev. James Hoover according to family history. Together with her came Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong. My grandmother's brother was Mr. JB Chong who taught English in the Methodist Boys' School.

My grandfather's greatest friend in Sibu was the very educated and academic Rev Yao Siew King. The two of them were in many committees serving under Rev. James Hoover.
Rev Yao and my grandfather were selected to open up Bintangor in 1912 by Rev. James Hoover and the rest is Bintangor's history.

The untimely death of my grandmother was a great blow to my grandfather as she was a good helper in many ways. She was literate in English and had helped grandfather fit machinery by reading the manual for him I was told. Being a very cautious and strict lady she had also brought up her children in a very systematic and proper ways.

This Chinese poem was written by Rev Yao to summarise her character. Our family is indeed honoured by his poetry which now is looked upon as a plague in her honour. My grandmother passed away more than half a century before my grandfather left this world.

One of these days I will get Wong Meng Lei to translate these beautiful words properly for me.

Today her simple and solitary American style grave is still standing on top of a hill in the oldest Methodist Cemetery in Sibu. While the belian gate remains strong and sturdy the hinges have been changed several times due to rust.

I often sigh because I never got to see her or know her as a person. Our grand uncles and aunties from the Chong family are still around in Sarawak and we remain in touch with some of them as they continue to contribute richly to the state.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ozzie - Sarawak Lunch

I will let you have a key hole peep into my social life in Miri.

Two friends have been sharing my Miri life since I moved over towards the end of the 80's when I bundled four children into a four wheel with a truck load of personal effects for the biggest move I ever made in my life. It was like out of the comfort zone to an unknown world. It could have been the Sahara Desert!

Well so many years have gone "under the bridge" ! Now two girls have found their life partners I have two to take care of.

Since my retirement I have also learned to visit friends at their homes and perhaps have a dinner or two out with old friends in one of the nice restaurants in Miri. It is indeed a different kind of lifestyle.

Here my Ozzie Connection brings you a few photos of the lovely lunch I had not long ago. Good conversation and lots of laughter and of course good food and good wine made the afternoon such a wonderful occasion. Without moral support from such good friends the years living in Miri might not have been so amazing and enriching!

This is an Australian Egg curry which is served on special occasions in Australia. Not as spicy as Malaysian curry you can get this dish in many Australian restaurants.

A good Sunday lunch with an Australian family often includes a nicely roasted chicken which is fragrant and tender.

White rice is well loved by my Australian hostess.

Olives is part of a good lunch and a special treat for a good friend.

My friend makes a superb salad with a great dressing. Her herbs are from her own garden. I can even feel that Jamie Oliver is out there cutting her beautiful herbs for the meal!

My friend's husband does a good Iban/Bidayuh BBQ babi (tunu babi). Excellent and juicy. Definitely one piece is not enough.

As we sat down and enjoyed the tropical heat(an occasional natural breeze) with such a wonderful spread we wonder where all the years have gone. Our children are away from our nests and here we were talking warmly about the past and even small hopes of the future.

But laughter is definitely a greater part of our life now as we journey into the early twilight years of our life....Here's cheers to good friends!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Old St. Elizabeth Convent - School Rivalry


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In the 1960's and 70's St. Elizabeth Convent school was a "rival" school of the Methodist School. The girls wore a special maroon skirt and pink blouse. So they were called Red Ants.

Most of the girls were prettier and daintier (generalisation) than the girls of Methodist School I remember from the gossips. On sports days we would meet in the padang and glare at each other for no reason at all - just because we were wearing different school uniforms or just the different badges I supppose.

But then I had cousins studying in St. Elizabeth and that toned down the rivalry in my family. My aunt Carrie studied in that school too. So in this way as a family we did not have such an intense feeling against the School.

We cousins and aunts get together we talked about general things and not what school we went to. We might have compared principals and what we learned but we would not strangle each other over differences.

My boy cousins who went to Sacred Heart often told us how they amused themselves by waiting for the girls to come out of the school giggling and shaking their luscious hair. Sitting on their bicycles wearing their all white school uniform these boys were really conspicuous. And of course they loved whistling at them. It was just the boy thing then. But the girls felt good about themselves. Perhaps in a co-ed school like ours the boys and girls did not really notice each other in that way. Life was just so normal we often forgot our gender differences.

Later many of us studied Romeo and Juliet and related the situation to our school rivalries. The Capulets and Montagues fought hard but ended up losers.

And soon many of the girls from St. Elizabeth came over to Methodist School's Sixth Form Arts(1967-1987). This helped to dilute any fierce fighting amongst the youngsters of Sibu.( I was later a sixth form teacher to many of the brilliant St. Elizabeth girls who came over to the Methodist School for Sixth Form Science.)

My sixth form life went on to be one of the happiest parts of my life. We all did well in life thanks to the great teachers we had. The friendship formed during those years lasted until today. And I am sure many school mates (and those from St. Elizabeth and Sacred Heart) would agree that friendship formed in the school is the best kind of friendship we will ever have in life.

Today I do not think such fierce school rivalries exist any more. If it does it could be just a passing phase to strength certain competitions or feed the pyschological needs of certain teachers and school heads. School rivalry remains a very amusing part of my life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Basketball Players

This very valuable photo is from the collection of my friend S.Teo "The Old Guy" (

Mention basketball and most people would think Yao Ming.

But to me basketball has a lot of meaningful memories.

Firstly I have always wondered if this statement is a sweeping statement : "Basketball players always have a place in any Sibu girls' heart."

Growing up in Sibu good basketball players were heroes to us. We knew their names and we knew their scores. And most importantly most of them were Foochows so that made most of us very proud being Foochows!!

Sibu players used to be selected to play for Sarawak : Kong Kiong Ming and the Wong brothers of Hin Yu Park who came from the Methodist Secondary School. I never had the opportunity of obtaining and keeping any Sibu basketball team photo. The photo shows the Limbang team (1950's)for which my friend played. He is of the same Clan (Zhang) .

Later in the 80's basketball seemed to just fade away for a while . Today basketball playing is still fairly significant but it no longer dominates the conversation in coffeeshops any more. And furthermore if you do not read Chinese newspapers you may not have any news about Sibu basketball at all. But luckily for me I continue to watch NBA on TV/Astro. What happiness I had when watching the recent Olympics basketball!

What do young men and young women learn from basketball ?
1. Rules - must be kept to play an honest game. Dishonesty is a shame.Play fair always. Never scratch.
2. Discipline - be obedient to the coach. Respect fellow players. And you just might even practise your Christian principle : Love Your Enemies. Stick to the game plan. The whistle is a clear instrument of discipline. The whistle controls and disciplines. It is an instrument that has formidable powers. It can paralyse and it can rejuvenate. How I miss the whistle blowing of Miss Jackie Fries (one of the greatest basketball coaches of the Methodist Girls'team )as I write this.
3. Skills - develop your own skills with the help of team mates and coach. Best players are well remembered.Practise Practise Practise...I remember my cousin Wong Yuk Hee practise shooting baskets for two hours every morning during the holidays. This annoyed the Matron of the Girls' Hostel a lot. One must always remember to pass on one's skills to younger players.
4. Physical Growth - basketball helps players to grow tall...much taller and stronger than others who don't play basketball.
5. Attraction of the opposite sexes....most boys who play good basketball have star quality and girls fall in love with them easily. So if you are the jealous type do not get basketball players as boy friends. You will be in trouble.
6. Time - you need plenty of time to play basketball...and if your mum needs you at home you have to sacrifice play time and play a lousy game due to lack of practice to the irritation of coach and fellow players. It is very painful to be dropped from the team.
7. Friendship - some of the best friends you ever get in life are those you find on the court.
8. Cooperation - scores and good play can only be achieved if you cooperate with each other and remember the game plan.
9. Training - believe in training. Listen to the coach who gives good instruction.Believe in the game plan and execute it.
10. Health - every child should learn to play a ball game...and the cheapest is basket ball. Most people develop good health by playing basketball every day. You can play basketball using a lousy ball and wearing cheap made in China basketball shoes.

I think Sibu should promote basketball again for below 12 age groups.

And one of the best scenes I love in life : a group of happy young basketball players going towards a court with a ball. Few things in the world can beat that. And definitely one of the best sounds in life? A ball being dribbled on a good wooden floor.

Finally I would to say that everyone should be allowed to play basketball regardless of race and religion!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ubi Belayar

I uploaded these two photos some time ago. It is amazing what one can find and buy in the Native Market every where in SArawak. There is this special Kedayan Market in Miri which is found in the new Centre Point. Most of the hawkers are Kedayans or Ibans who have come down from as far as Niah and Bekenu. It is a marvellous educational cum shopping day for the whole family.

This is Ubi Belayar - a not so common tapioca/yam found in Limbang and Brunei and sometimes in Miri.

The Kedayans love this tapioca/yam which is tasty as a fried snack or cooked in porridge with rice and coconut milk. It can be fried with ikan bilis anc chilies. Another way of eating it is boiling it with milk and sugar and then add some sago pearls.

Because not many people plant it this tapioca is not often sold in the market. When it is available most housewives would buy only about half a kilo or less. It is also more prcey than the normal types.

My information here is only based on what the lady hawker told me. Any further information would necessarily come from my learned friends who teach in the University in Brunei or working in the Ministries.

I did not buy a lot. That evening I added some small cubes of it to my fried rice (Penang style) which has sweet corn +chicken+ green peas+ pineapple+ small dried prawns + salted fish and lots of pepper)

The ubi belayar in this photo is roughly four kg.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Scenic Spot along Miri River - Rarely Seen by Many

I love riverine life. And I often reach out to friends who have a boat to take me up the Miri River. One boat had cost me RM180 for a two hour ride once and a tragic accident caused my friend and I to drop our cameras into the water filled boat.

Then there was another occasion when another friend hired a boat for half a day and it rained so heavily that we just lost our deposit and the kindly fisherman went home while we sat at a nearby coffee shop to nurse our emptied pockets and sick hearts.

That put an end to my ideas of travelling up the Miri River for a while.

A few weekends ago a dear friend of mine took me to her relatives' home and I got these three shots...We spent a lot of time cooking nasi lemak and socialising and soon the sun set and that was it...a golden opportunity was gone too quickly.

Perhaps some other time.

NEAR.... NEARER....... NEAREST......

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Road before the Sungei Merah Bridge

One of the bridges of Sarawak I know best is the Sungei Merah Bridge.And the first time I saw the bridge was when I was about six.

At that time the most important shop to me must be the one selling cakes which was situated next to the Seduan River at the end of the wooden bridge. Below the bridge would be berthed wooden fishing boats unlike the colourful ones today.

Young men would sit on the railings of the wooden bridge and watched the few vehicles passing by. More bicycles passed through the bridge than cars or small lorries then. I also remember watching people fish from the bridge in the evenings and their catch was fairly good as they had big aluminium pails with them.

It was a real thrill and a treat to be brought by my father to the bridge and watch the red but very clear water passing below in the evenings as there were very few places my father could bring the family for "makan angin" or siak hoong (a short trip).

This bridge has been very important to the people of Sibu from the time of James Hoover until the 1980's when a second road to the old Airport was built to facilitate Government activities.

The Sungei Merah bridge before 1980's was the most important link to the Chinese cemeteries on the eastern bank of Sungei Merah/Sediuan. And also the only route to the Old Sibu Airport. This bridge was also very significant to the Henghuas who developed Sungei Teku and the surround areas of Ulu Seduan etc. I also remember that the Ibans from Sungei Aup found the bridge a very convenient link to Sibu otherwise they have to row their longboats all the way along the Igan to Sibu which could even take up to one whole day!!

The area below the bridge continues to be "harbour" to many fishing boats which fish in the Igan River and then out to the South China Sea.

Thus our Foochow pioneers must have felt rather at home in this part of the world as they would have found similarities between the Min River of their homeland and Sungei Merah of Sarawak.

Today the bridge is much improved under the circumstances. However because it is still a small bridge trailers are warned not to cross it. But any feelings of nostalgia seem to have disappeared.

Perhaps the name of the road before the bridge would evoke some nostalgia - but only to people who recognise the name : Wong Ting Hock - to the other younger people Sungei Merah is just another suburb of Sibu with some historical but newly constructed memorials. Lots of modern lines have come up and industrial shophouses continue to dot the concretised landscape.

This point should always be remembered by the Foochows as the landing place of the First Foochow Pioneers in 1901 and where the Rev James Hoover and the struggling pioneers managed the first hard years of their lives in Sibu.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bridge Over Mukah River

This is one of the most important bridges in Sarawak for without it road travellers cannot reach Sibu and Kuching from Bintulu and Miri. I wonder how many people realise that. I would say that this is like one of the valves in our heart.

Besides that fact the first bridge which was a Bailey Bridge built in the early 60's made the Mukah and Balingian SLDB Oil Palm Schemes accessible from Sibu. A friend who graduated from Australia Julius Linggod brought his young Aussie wife Leslie to this newly developed and pristine equatorial rainforest. Leslie was well exposed to outback life and took everything in her stride : the shortage of water - the wooden huts- the lack of utilities - the lack of good conversation- and the mosquitoes.

When their first baby was about to be born he brought the heavily pregnant Leslie in his tattered old jeep all the way from the Mukah scheme to Sibu and left her to wait for her time. He went back to work immediately being very conscientious and loyal to the corporation. That drive would have taken them more than 8 hours one way. In the several years they were there they must have "eaten" lots of dust driving back and forth the long and bumpy Oya Road. According to Leslie to be in Sibu was like coming to civilisation for clean water and nice bed sheets and air conditioning. But Leslie over the years have become a great Sarawak Old Hand. Cheers to Leslie who has shown me what a gutsy woman should be like!

Julius and his family had a very good stint of work in this area before they moved to Peninjau in Miri several years later. Their stories are full of early development and the struggles of early oil palm schemes - some are heroic while many are touchingly nostalgic. A few are bittersweet. But as they move on...these memories become more endearing than ever.

Today when many of us (like Leslie and I) look at this bridge we often think of how many years of our lives have been sacrificed for rural Sarawak to make it better for our people.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Iban Barefoot Doctor's Antidote for High Cholesterol

This is a very interesting jungle product called Palah. According to most local Ibans it is a good antidote for people suffering from high cholesterol. Apparently this bitter shoot (cooked in boiling water with some added ikan bilis ,onions and garlic) can help reduce some cholesterol. But of course the cynics would think otherwise.

Mind you I did try a few times but it is terribly bitter. However after a few more attempts I grow to like the bitter soup. It is like eating bitter gourd when one was young but as we grow older the bitterness in the vegetable becomes a welcoming taste.

This lady prepares the inner stems or shoots for the consumers.Each morning she would go to the jungle and bring back a large bag of the shoots or stems still in their raw state and then cut them up while waiting for the buyers to come. She has to do this in the tamu because the soft stems may decolourise/oxidise too much after a few hours. The stems must be cooked on the same day if possible to keep the freshness. Her daughter helps her out by attracting buyers while she cuts the shoots into small size.

According to her it is good selling her jungle product outside under the hot sun where she can catch either people coming into the tamu or buyers going home. (But there must be other reasons why she is not selling within the Bekenu Tamu and is placed in this particular corner.)

I am worried that this jungle product may soon disappear from our natural forests which are diminishing due to rapid deforestation and constant rapid modern agricultural development. According to the lady if only people collect the food for personal consumption this vine would never be in shortage. Bulldozers and rapidly burning projects kill the vines within days.

And soon another human food (which may have medicinal value) is gone forever from the surface of the earth.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lovely Kedayan Ladies at Bekenu Tamu

My two friends from Bekenu Tamu.

This is a nice savoury glutinous rice cake wrapped in leaves.

This kuih cerolot wrapped up in the kelupis leaves (yellow screwpine)

This is a sweet rice and sago flour cake wrapped in banana leaves.

These two ladies are good friends who have been selling kuihs (local Kedayan cakes) at the Bekenu tamu for many years. Having made friends with them I have visited them often but this was the first time I suggested photographing them and they happily agreed. Please remember that not many local people like to be photographed without permission and even if you ask them they will decline especially some very suspicious and superstitious ones. So please take note of that. WE need to be sensitive about their intellectual property too.

They both sell almost the same products although one has more fried kuih than the other.

These three types are kuihs are wrapped up in three different types of leaves. Traditionally the Kedayans use leaves to wrap up their kuih and food to assure hygienic practices!! They are resourceful and environmentally friendly. In fact this really needs to be highlighted by everyone .

I find food taste better when wrapped up in leaves like this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baby Shark for Sale

I have always wondered how people could eat baby sharks or a puppies.
I have always wondered how people could eat unhatched chicks.
I have always wondered at the dried up cockroaches found in some Chinese medicine prescriptions. (To get rid of wind in the body)

And I often wonder how many baby rats we Foochows have eaten many many years ago in Sibu.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saffron (fan hong hua)

I used to be amazed by my grandmother making red eggs for birthdays especially for the first month celebration of a baby boy.

And in the earlier days of Sibu (50's) real saffron was used. And my aunts' and cousins' fingers would be red for many days. Nope rubber gloves were not invented yet then.

I went to town in search of saffron. And lo and behold I found some in Kwong Choon Tong which is located next to Judson Klinik. (Photos will be shown in Sarawakiana@2 later). I bought some saffron to prepare a nice little Saffron Chicken Rice. Instead of using tumeric I used a few strands of saffron ( at RM 5 you can allow the saffron threads to stretch a bit).

Diabetic Recipe
2 cups (480 ml) no-salt-added chicken broth
few threads of saffron
1 cup (180 g) raw Thai fragrant rice
2 tablespoons (21 g) golden raisins
3 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon (7.5 ml) grated orange zest
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh orange juice

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth and saffron to a rapid boil. Add rice, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook rice, undisturbed, for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Remove from stove and add raisins, scallions, orange zest, and orange juice. Do not stir. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
Uncover and fluff rice with a fork, mixing thoroughly. Serve at once.

Extra Notes:

Saffron is known as the most expensive herb in the world, due to amount of time and energy it takes to harvest. The term saffron actually refers to the dried stigmas and top of the saffron crocus.

In China, saffron grows predominantly in the Henan, Hebei, Zhejiang, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The stigmas are picked by hand and dried. It takes approximately 75,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of saffron stigma. In many cultures, saffron is used as a spice and for culinary purposes; however, it has many medicinal uses as well.
In traditional Chinese medicine, saffron has a sweet taste and cold properties, and is associated with the Heart and Liver meridians. Its main functions are to invigorate the blood, remove stagnation, clear the meridians and release toxins. It is typically used to treat conditions such as high fevers and related conditions that may be caused by pathogenic heat, and to help break up blood clots. There is also anecdotal evidence that saffron can inhibit the growth of some types of cancer cells. Small amounts of saffron can increase the incidence of contractions in pregnant women.

Dried saffron can be found at Indian sundry shops or Chinese Medicine shops especially the more reputable older ones. Always use only a few threads in your cooking.

There are many recipes which request saffron but because it is expensive not many people actually want to cook with it. But using it will definitely enhance one's cooking. Today we Foochows seldom make red eggs with saffron. Instead we use artificial colouring.

Safety Note : Because saffron can stimulate contraction of the uterus, it should not be taken by pregnant women. Extremely high doses can be toxic; symptoms of saffron poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. In addition, because saffron helps break up blood clots, it should not be taken by people who are on blood-thinning medications or who have heavy menstruation. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking saffron or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

(Sources: Wikipedia/Mr.Kuok - owner of Kwong Choon Tong)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Foochow Table

This is what I call a Foochow Table with legs which could be folded and a top that could be taken off when not in use.

Another table top which can be larger for twelve people can be placed on top. With a table cloth no one would know any difference.

Most restaurants in the past like Hock Cheu Lou and Yen Ching had these kinds of t ables. The fold able legs were ubiquitous. And when banqueting staff started to roll out the table tops to the five foot ways bystanders would know that definitely there would be a huge banquet that day.

The Banqueting staff long ago would be strong men and their attire was simple - Pagoda or Chili brand singlets.

There were many occasions when one single banquet staff could carry a wooden tray with five dishes for five different tables. I used to be amazed how a man could carry five bowls of sharks' fin soup on a single wooden tray on his head!! And then like an acrobat he would bring the tray down to one of the tables and place the bowl nicely at the centre of the table.

There wasn't any food presentation at the beginning of the feast like today. And music which usually comes with the food presentation like Star Wars Theme was entirely different.

It could be "Today I am not coming home" playing at full volume when the first dish came out!!

(I had this table personally made for me recently as my own retirement gift for myself...for old time's sake...It is a disappearing style. According to the craftsman he is too old and no one can make this style any more. The younger generation prefers imported tables from China or West Malaysia.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Planting a Church in 1927 in Sg. Maaw

(Photo of Hook Ming Tong from the Centenary Celebration Methodist SCAC Souvenir Magazine)

This Methodist Church was built on two acres of land donated by my maternal grandfather Lau Kah Jui in 1927. Though my grandfather was not an extremely rich man by any standard he was a God fearing man who felt the need for a church to be built for the Foochows of Tiing Nang Chong or Middle South Village as his settlement area was called by Rev James Hoover. He had come with his brother Lau Kah Tii who became the second Foochow Kang Chu. My grandfather was dependent on his older brother for many years until he later went "independent" and built his own house on the opposite of Ensurai. He was a good tailor by profession and self training.

The land he donated was enough for a church building and a primary school with a hostel for teachers and some students. The first Headmaster was Lau Kiing Juo. From the first three families of Christians the number increased to 56 families after three years of hardwork carried out by the pastor and his co-workers. Several well known pastors served in this church : Rev Wong Lee Huo and Rev Lau Ngoh Kee in the very early years. The latter served the longest and was well loved and respected by the local riverine settlers.

One amazing feature of this early Foochow church was the outreach made by the pastor. He would bring along several church sisters who had already completed their rubber tapping chores in the afternoon and walked from one house to another. This church served mainly rubber tapping and farming families residing in Sg. Maaw and the primary school.

I remember once when Rev Lau came to my grandmother's house which was a good two hours' walk from the church along the old mud rubber garden road: he was hot and sweaty. But he was able to sing enthusiastically with his booming voice " This is My Father's World" in Foochow!

I will never forget that because in my mind were the English lyrics (I had been taught to sing in English at the Sunday School conducted by Mrs. Coole in Sibu) and there he was singing in Foochow! Most of the ladies were not able to sing...they were half a note behind a little toneless and tuneless. This was one of the incidents which made me want to study hard and break out of the illiterate world of my Foochow women relatives.

Today my maternal grandfather's descendants are all over - Mainland China and mainly Malaysia. There are a few in England. And there is another family in Australia. Yet another family in New Zealand!

This is the normal kind of Foochow migrant story. Every generation sees an outward migration for a better life. And I hope that the values we have adopted from Methodism and the strong foundation laid down by the Foochow pioneers will help us survive in our challenging world for always.

As we continue to sail the seven seas we must not forget that Grandfather Lau had the opportunity to help plant a church way back in 1927. And we should also remember that more than 44 churches were built in the Rejang Basin between 1901 and 1935. Such was the faith of our forefathers!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Girl with Paper Umbrella (My Third Aunt Pearl)

My grandfather Tiong Kung Ping named all his 13 daughters Sieng (fairies) and rightly they were beautiful beings. My Third Aunt was Pearl Fairy (Chuo Sieng) and she has been a very beautiful aunty and is now getting into her 9th decade of life.

When she was young she had great expectations and great aspirations being good at maths and her studies. She often tells me stories about her school days under the supervision of Mrs. James Hoover who was a very good mentor and teacher. She later became one of the earliest ladies to work in an office to the admiration of many. She and my uncle (eldest son of the Lau Kah Tii the second Kang Chu of Sibu after Wong Nai Siong) brought up a big family of professionals of lawyers and accountants now serving both locally and overseas.

This is one of the earliest studio photos kept by our family. It is a very representative of the era : before the Japanese Occupation when life was at its best for the Foochows in Sibu. To me every girl must have a studio photo taken when she becomes a teenager and this photo would be kept as a treasure to be taken out every now and then to be looked at. A very beautiful and sentimental moment in the life of a young girl. I remember many Sibu photo studio owners who were very pleasant and enterprising in the 60's especially and they too believed in capturing significant moments of one's life. A still life art picture!! A treasured memento of a different lifestyle and a special era.

Not long after this pretty photo was taken she was married to Uncle Lau Pang Kwong and she was "protected" from the Japanese scourge. My Great Grandfather Tiong King Kee was greatly in favour of this arranged marriage and indeed the whole community came out to celebrate it first at the Masland Church and then at the large house in Ensurai.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kampong Bakam Mother Supplementing Family Income

Not too long ago my friend and I dropped by this Kedai Kopi Kita at Bakam to try out the lady's coffee (in a glass mug with lots of condensed milk).

In our conversation which I really liked because we were her only customers she told us about her children and how she and her husband were so prepared to work hard to support them at tertiary education level. She has a son doing master's degree and that's important for her.

She used to fry noodles at Tamu Muhibbah Miri and after the squatters have moved away from Canada Hill she could not really make ends meet. In those days she was quite comfortable and was able to help educate all her children reasonably well. Life was comfortable too. But today life is a little tougher too because people are no longer spending as much as before.

She moved around and then finally came back to Bakam her own kampong to start this simple travellers' stop - a small wooden roadside coffee stall.

So many mothers today are working hard so that their children can fulfill their aspirations.

Today I would like to wish all mothers especially the working mothers a Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Ikan Baong

These are called Ikan Baong. Being top feeders they are avoided by the Malays in particular. Many others do not eat them for other reasons perhaps. However these fish are tasty if you know how to cook them and in the past they have helped many poorer families as a source of good and even free protein.

further afield the Baong is a valued fish from the natural habitats of the Kalimantan rivers. The Indonesians like the fish smoked (salai) or BBQed (pangang) besides they like to cook this fish with terong asam (or the Iban Terong of Sarawak) in soup. Tumeric is often used to cook the baong in Java. Some folks like to eat curried baong. So the recipes can be really varied and it is only your imagination that can bring this fish to a great level of gourmet cooking.

As a kid I enjoyed eating this fish cooked as a soup Foochow style - the way my Third Uncle cooked it. Today many of my friends would just call it "sup terjun". Uncle Pang Sing would catch quite a number of Ikan Baong in the Rajang River and come home whistling in the happy manner he always did.

My third aunt (Nguk Ling) would start the wood fire and chop the ginger. Grandmother Lian Tie would take out the red wine. The water would come to the boil and the ingredients would be added. By then uncle would have gutted the fish and sliced them into pieces ready for the pot.

We would either have the fish as supper( siaw yeh) or part of the big evening dinner with rice depending on what time my uncle caught the fish.

Gone are the days when a happy man could throw a jala into the river and come home with a pailful of fish and/or prawns. The Rajang was teeming with fish and it was truly a Mother River - a great provider.

Today the river is dying - dying - dying. We have to do something before it is too late.

Friday, May 08, 2009


This morning my reader counter clocked in 55555 !! It is a landmark day.

I am glad I have taken this journey
to blog all that I know
All that I feel
All that I want to share with my children
With my friends and new found readers

I am glad that this blogging journey
Has also helped me make friends
With other kindred spirits
All over the world.

But what is most significant :
I can use this free publshing method to
record a lifestyle and lots of stories
of the second half of the 20th century in particular of Sibu
and that of the new 21st century....

Thank you dear readers for your comments and for reading.

The writing has brought a lot of pleasure to me.

Chickens in the Central Market of Sibu

What thoughts do you have when you come face to face with a chicken all tied up ready for you to carry home or carry to a relative's home?

We Foochows continue to give chickens as gifts to honour and respect our elders. "I caught a chicken for you to eat." could be a nice greeting as you enter the door of your grandmother's house. And my grandmother Tiong Lien Tie would often insturct her third daughter in law to catch a chicken for the pastor Rev. Lau Ngo Kee and his family. Sometimes she would send a chicken or two to her sons-in-lau in Sibu. This was the way an elder express her love. I have always thought that it was a very nice practice of giving a love gift..

And of course in the olden days we would send a chicken or two as gifts for mothers with new born babies when they "sit the month of confinement out". Home raised and free range chickens were really premium chickens. In Foochow it is usually said "100 times better."

This is a red faced white chicken (Rhode Island Red)

I used to be horrified when the older generation chicken sellers would test the hens to see if they have laid eggs by poking their bottoms. This act or proof of age of hens continue to horrify me. But that is still part of their sales talk. (I am wondering if my friend Prof. H who might be reading this could construe this as anthropological or biological.)

Here's the proprietor or chicken stall owner of live chickens in Sibu. Wrapping up chickens in newspapers like this reminds me of how my mother and I bundled my less than month old babies in small little made in China towels so that they could be warm and feel as if they were still in the womb. The babies wrapped up in this way did not cry as much. According to our elders such babies were not frightened easily. After being wrapped up very well the babies were slowly oriented to life in the normal world and were ready to leave their mother's womb environment. Quite scientific really.

She wraps the chickens up nicely and tie them with raffia strings. Somehow these chickens remain very docile and cute...patiently waiting for buyers to come along.

Chickens remain a very important part of my family life and I found out how signficant it was ever since I was a constant visitor to my grandfather's house in Sungei Merah in the 50's and 60's besides visiting my mother's mother downriver.

I was constantly brought to visit my grandfather by my father as he was often "ordered" to see him besides the weekly visits I remember. Grandpa and he had a lot to talk about. My father was also very likeable and I think my Grandmother Siew was especially kind towards him because my father was the first born of the family and very respectful towards her. She even called him "Tui Koh" out of great respect.

Whenever my father was sick my Grandmother Siew would also bring a special chicken reared by herself from Sungei Merah to visit my father (We lived in Kung Ping Road which was later named Brooke Drive). Mum would always be very grateful and respectful towards Grandmother Siew.

Most Foochows at that time would bring a "ming nen" or a "chien mien li" which was actually a gift for meeting or visiting. This gift would be usually a chicken for good health of the "visited". It was in the form of a spring chicken (female before laying of eggs) or a big rooster if it was for a birthday or a festival. Personally I would not find any difference myself. Meat is meat. But I suppose our elders would find a great deal of difference in the meat and the taste.

The greatest mystery in our family was a strange gift my mother received after her very serious operation. My mum received a phone call to collect a basket of chickens from an upriver motor launch. My Third Uncle was asked to collect it. It was a basket full of free range or kampong chickens about 8 of them!! He asked around who sent the chickens to my mother. WE waited for weeks for a phone call to ask us to pay for the chickens. But that phone call never came. That was 40 years ago!!

Till today we have no idea who sent her the lovely chickens. She regained her health and was very grateful. It was no doubt the best mystery gift any one could ever get. I would like to thank the giver here from the bottom of my heart.

I have strangely grown allergic to chickens for sometime and develop a bad cough whenever I eat chicken.

But the sight of chickens in any market would make me think of that special person who sent my newly widowed mother a wonderful basket of chickens from upriver!!

We thanked God for years for the nourishment sent mysteriously. Praise God for his Providence.
Perhaps the giver was a real Christian.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Chuong Wang or Serati (muscovy duck)

A Serati in Miri Poultry Market. Very well constructed cage...He is a real "jailbird".

This is a great dish for special occasions( photo from You can get a good Muscovy(chuong wang or serati with the red face) in the market and have it dressed properly for a few extra ringgit. Take home and do a simple Pak Lo (Teochiew style). The secret is in the lam keong (galangal). If you want a bigger bird you buy the male/drake as in the photo below.

You need a duck to make a Loo Ark? Soy Sauce braised duck? You need a duck for soup with kiam chye?

Then you need a red faced Serati or Chuong Wang Hiing. A male Muscovy which will weigh in at about 4 kg. That should be around 50 ringgit after dessing. Muscovy ducks are good as meat birds and they are rather tasty to our taste buds.
According to Dr. Dennis P. Smith ) ) "During the more than 40 years that we have been in business, I must confess that we have bred and hatched some pretty interesting fowls. However, absolutely none can compare with the uniqueness, the adaptability, the pure pleasure, and the usefulness of the Muscovy duck."

Native to South America, their original name was "Musco duck" because they ate so many mosquitos. The Russian Muscovites were one of the first to import them to their country. Being very hardy, Muscovies are still roaming wild in the South American jungles today. Even here in North America, several states, such as Florida and Georgia, have wild Muscovies. These "wild" Muscovies are responsible for eating literally millions of pests every year. Were it not for them, these states would undoubtedly have more millions of "pests" that like to dine on people.

Mature drakes (males) will weigh anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds, while the females (ducks) actually weigh from 8 to 10 pounds. The females are much smaller than the males. Both sexes have what is known as a "caruncle" on their head.

Muscovy eggs are delicious and are used in many dishes prepared by individuals or by famous cooks. Their taste is rich and they are considered a delicacy. And Muscovy meat is one of the healthiest meats on the market today, being 98% or greater fat free. Many people say that the breast meat of a Muscovy is hard to tell from a Sirloin steak. Famous chefs know this and use Muscovy meat in a number of ways. They have become experienced at cutting and preparing the meat for various delicacies. It is even ground up and used as hamburger in a variety of dishes.

Muscovies love to eat flies, maggots, mosquitos, mosquito larva, slugs, bugs of all sorts, black widow spiders, the brown fiddleback spider and any thing else that creeps and crawls. As a matter of fact, they will search in, under, around and through places to find these tasty morsels. They will even eat ants and destroy ant dens. The Heifer Project Exchange of Africa quotes a development worker in Togo reporting that the local people were not bothered by flies because their Muscovy ducks killed them all. They even slaughtered some ducks, opened the crops, and found that the Muscovies had their crops filled with dead flies. The organization ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) has reported the same findings. In addition, a Canadian study of fly controls with dairy goats found that Muscovies caught 30 times more houseflies than commercial flytraps, baits or flypaper. The ducks also ate spilled feed and the flies that were in the feed, along with any maggots that happened to be there. In addition, Muscovies love roaches and eat them like candy.

The best "incubator," however, is a Muscovy duck hen. She will lay anywhere from 8-15 eggs and set. (Sometimes more.) Many times, she will hatch every egg. And, she will do this three or four times a year, depending on your climate. In addition, she is one of the best mothers of all.

Many people like to have the Muscovies on their lake or pond. The Muscovies will eat a lot of the algae and weeds. What about their dropping? While it is true that the Muscovy duck, just like other creatures, will "go" when the pain hit, their droppings are a natural part of the ecosystem and are easily biodegrade.

Muscovies like to breed with other muscovies. However, if you have a single muscovy male or female, he or she will breed with whatever duck is available. These ducklings are called "mules" because they are sterile and cannot produce offspring. Many people will deliberately cross Muscovies with a Mallard duck and get a Moulard. They use this duck for meat.(buang wang)

Source :

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pinang Pinang Come Buy My Pinang!!

I saw this lady selling a huge bunch of pinang at the front of a shop in Selangau.

She has come down from Ulu Mukah to make a few ringgit and has gone into the bumiputra version of trading - sitting by a small space at a five foot way and selling whatever she has.

Today her selling item is pinang which is an addictive nut many people chew with sireh (leaves) and some kapur.

I have been told that chewing pinang gives one a long life. It is an age old cultural custom too.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Salted Fish in Sibu Central Market

When I first went to University in Kuala Lumpur one of the food items I missed most was salted fish. I was definitely not used to the new cuisine of curried meat and fish and vegetables not fried in Foochow style. I had never left home for more than a week at a stretch before then. Mee sua was unheard of in the KL coffee shops then so we had to settle for the rather unfamiliar Wan Tan Mien. And many of us were not at all used to beef balls noodles with a lot of lengkuas (which is not easy on Foochow tongue).It was almost as cultural shock for my fellow Sibuans and I.

In my second year most of my friends and I had our mothers deep fry and bottle salted fish fingers. Our mothers would meet and buy salt fish from the Sibu Central Market and share stories about how their children were doing in MU (Universiti Malaya).

A conversation would go like this:

"'s your daughter doing?"
"Oh that stupid girl...just so so lah"
"My boy also. Ai hard every day . Sometimes forget to eat. So I have to send him this salt fish."
" stupid daughter also...very frugal. Never want to spend money. Just eat one dollar worth of kuay tiau with one fried egg in the evening."
"My son? He just drinks cold tea . Sometimes three days old tea also drink. Rice and salt fish enough for him. Very frugal...God is kind sending me such a son...Don't know what to do with him!"

We had several "kawans" in the salt fish market: the late Tang Tiong Kuok's father who was my mother's first cousin's husband and my cousin's father in law (Mr. Lee). We would always "teh yu" or buy our salted fish from my mother's Tiong cousin (from my grandmother Tiong Lian's side of the family). He was a haunched and white haired uncle whose children are prosperous titled business people today. In those days every one knew every one. And we even knew where they lived! Most of these salt fishmongers lived in "Ka Koh Chuo" a very famous dwelling place in Bukit Assek. From this house alone we have several Datuks actually.

I like the communal spirit amongst the salt fishmongers - their advice and their wisdom -- telling my mother which was a better buy for example. There was no such thing as best buy or special offer items. Everything was best buy at a price negotiated between the buyer and seller. I learned from the side carrying my mother's shopping basket. Years later as I read Hillary Clinton's book "It takes a Village to raise a child" I agree with her fully. She could have described life in Sibu!!

Today I remember with a smile the friendly men(UNCLES) who sold the salt fish and the others who sold the bean curd and bean sprouts and their sense of humour too. (WE ate a lot of bean sprouts because it was the cheapest we could get for 50 cents - great value).

Here I would like to say "thank you" to all those salt fishmongers (uncles and aunties) of yesteryears...they made our lives better because of their sincere kindness and sympathies.

I learned about Pa Tieh Poh (Ikan Kurau)- Muang Ngii ( Eel)- loong ma ka (wet salted mackerel) sai ngii (shark) hoong mui ngii (sting ray).

My memorable biology lessons in real life from these kindly old men. When they passed away life changed for me as well as for those around them. An era has gone by.

This is salted shark.

This is salted sting ray.

This is salted Ikan Kurau or pa tieh poh (one of the most expensive salt fish in the world) Equivalent to salmon.

This is salted eel or muang ngii - a Foochow favourite. I love it especially if it is not too salty.

As I left the salt fish monger's stall a strange nostalgia overwhelmed me. My eyes misted and I saw shadows of people of the past in front of me. Gone all of them.

It is still the aroma of that salty sea air and the identifiable smells of salt fish that bring us home to Sibu.

And finally who can remember who was the first salt fish monger of Sibu?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Anchovies from Bakam

(Still on the move but lingering at Sarawakiana)

Little did I know that a little morning trip up to the Bakam would give more pleasure than expected. And that is the essence of an adventure!

Not expecting much from a short half an hour's drive along the coast I did not bring a cooler box. Lo and behold the fishing boats had come in and I met this fantastic fisher woman who wanted to sell two lovely piles of anchovies (bilis) for peanuts! And I knew then that my evening's TV dinner was already prepared as I dug out my ringgits from my purse!

I had the heads cut off because I did not fancy eating the heads. Although I do know that most connoisseurs would keep the heads but clean out the stomachs. The scales were left on because they do give such a crunchiness and tastiness to the small fish.
My friend David said that when he was young these anchovies and other smaller fish were fried very crispy tail and heads and stomachs and all. He ate everything! So I hope he would see this page and have another eyeful of our local bilis/anchovies.

Here's my TV dinner - fried anchovies on a nest of thinly sliced cucumber with lots of lemon squeezed on them. The basil is from my own garden box. A little mashed potatoes at the side and a nice glass of white wine to wash down the feast!!


The anchovies can be grilled too but I was not in the mood for grilling - too much work for just one person. This is a photo of californian anchovies which are bluer and slimmer.

While bilis or anchovies remain poor man's food I hope the recession would not drive the price up. Let us all enjoy some great deep fried cheap fish from the sea.

A simple gift of the sea! Keep our water clean!


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