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.