Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mud on My Shoes

This is the a LIFE magazine photo of a Chinese man wearing straw sandals. My grandfather and his father must have won this kind of straw sandals. In the Foochow Association Museum in Sibu one can see an exhibit of one such straw sandals.

A photo of a bamboo basket and straw sandals. These straw sandals were worn by the Foochow pioneers when they came to Sibu. It was many many years later that the Foochow men and women learned to wear leather shoes when rubber prices shot up and there was plenty of money for every one. I still remember my grandmother used to tell us that when many of the men started wearing leather shoes they made noises which went like this "bok bok bok" because they could not walk properly with the heavier shoes. They also suffered from blisters for the first time in their life!!

Jesus sandals modelled in Jerusalem.

I go walking quite a lot and so muddy shoes really do not both me or my friends.

One Sunday I went to Church with mud on my sandals after a short term mission trip. I had not checked if those comfortable sandals were clean or not. Furthermore they were a little aged but they were comfortable throughout my journey.

The church was full. Ladies were well dressed and the guys were wearing their Sunday best. A few were even wearing their suits!

When it was time to receive communion I went with the others and knelt down in front of the altar. Most of the ladies were wearing glistening high heels and most of the guys were wearing polished leather shoes. Because they were town people and were driving cars naturally they had clean shoes. But unknown to me my sandals had marks of mud. I did not have time to wash the sandals before the service. Actually they were not too muddy in my opinion.

Later a lady whispered "There's mud on your sandals."

I was surprised someone noticed. But I am sure many saw that my sandals were muddy and a little tattered and they did not give a second look. But as an afterthought I could also have won a pair of Japanese slippers and no one would really bother about what shoes we were all wearing in front of God!

For many days I reflected on mud on my shoes. As I meditated I realised that it really does not matter. I remember the man with the tattered coat who went to have a feast in the story of long ago and he was not allowed into the room.

But the feast of God is open to all - mud on the shoes or not!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blind Masseurs in the Streets vs Foreign Reflexologists in 5 star establishments

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blind masseurs are found in the streets of Kota Kinabalu doing a good service to lots of customers in broad daylight and the charges are reasonable.

On the other hand beautiful girls from foreign countries are hidden on third floors doing a flourishing business (in the darkness of the night may be) and charging great fees.

Is this one of the unfair things in life?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ear Biscuits today and yesteryears

Hunting for the illusive hat or ear biscuit in KL is not easy unless we have local knowledge about local biscuits.

And to find this delectable biscuit in Sarawak isn't easy either.

This is to say either the biscuit is out of favour or no factory is making it now for the local market in Sarawak.

This was indeed a very popular biscuit a few decades ago in Sibu. Most mothers knew how to make them from scratch. And on top of that we could buy them in little packets in the sundry shops or even in the little stalls set up along the five foot way. They were often packed in small packets of five for the price of 10 cents. School children would bring them to school to munch and mess up their desks. Or if by accident they dropped the biscuits on the floor they would be scolded by their teacheres. These biscuits were very easy to carry and easy to eat. With very little choice then no one actually called them poor man's food.

They were crunchy and tasty as probably a lot of ajinomoto or Vitsin was used in its making. But nevertheless we loved to eat them. Perhaps they were the forerunners of today's crunchies and munchies which are not exactly healthy.

Sometimes we called them "bra biscuits" too.

A search on the net reaped two pictures.

(source :


I also discovered that some of my friends still remember them and still like them. According to one of my friends she still can buy from some shops in West Malaysia. But many Sarawakians have forgotten about this biscuit.

I am wondering if some shops in Pandungan Road in Kuching still make them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eating Crabs in Sibu

Crabs have always been a favourite food of the people of the world!

Sibu people are no different! And in fact in the past it was quite easy to get one's own crabs from the banks of the Mighty Rajang in the evenings.

Crabs were always a dish for the table whenever there was something to celebrate especially in the 60's. It was common to stir fry crabs with just thick soy sauce and eggs.When Rajang Park was started many families would go to the two open air restaurants there to enjoy a Saturday night of open air eating. Crabs would always be one of the dishes ordered. The crabs shells would be strewn all over the place and dogs would come by to sniff at them. I sort of remember that whenver we went to the open air market in the morning the smell from the rubbish bins would be horrendous. Restaurant mess was absolutely challenging.

Later on as cooks became more versatile they started cooking crabs in fancy ways like with butter and milk and fermented soy beans for example. Today Sibu has probably as many styles of cooking crabs as there are restaurants. Tastes keep on changing actually.

I often think about what the world is doing regarding crabs. Will global warming remove the delectable crab from our table?

And as everyone is thinking of a Christmas wish list mine would be to have a book about crabs on the list. It is not that I love eating crabs. It is because crabs remain the most challenging food to cook well in my opinion. It is hard to get at the flesh and there is just so much work involved before we sit down to eat it.

I will always associate crabs with this story: a father went out to the Sibu market to buy crabs to win his children's hearts. It was very sad that at the table he was told that his children were allergic to crabs. And as he sat eating the crabs he realised that he had never been part of the family and he did not know his children. He had forgotten so much about his children! It could be too late for him to win over his children who watched him eat his solitary meal.

Here are some interesting points about crabs:

Singapore's Chili Crab - well known favourite

Baked Mud Crab - a Sarawakian favourite

May be the tastiest crab in the world

The biggest crab in the world in 2008

The Blue Crab - unique and pricey (ONLY FOR THE VERY PRIVILEGED)

According to the Encyclopedia Americana [1995 edition] there are approximately 4,500 different species of crabs living on Earth. They are distributed throughout the world. It is probably impossible to tell for sure who (much less where!) ate the first crabs. Food historians tell us crabs were known to ancient Greeks and Romans.

"Renaissance...Lobster, crayfish and crab were greatly enjoyed, though they seldom reach the inland eater. At formal meals they presented difficulties. 'Crab is a slut to carve and a wrawde wight [perverse creature]. By the the the carver in a noble household had finished picking the meat out of ever claw with a knife-point, had piled it all into the 'broadshell', and had added vinegar and mixed spices, the tepid crab had to be sent back again to the kitchen to be reheated before he could offer it to his lord. Crab and lobster were also boiled and eaten cold with vinegar, as were shrimps."---ibid (p. 43-4)

Who are eating the best crabs in the world? Those who hold political power and own vast financial empires.

Those lowly ones like ourselves might just enjoy a family day out and catch some crabs in Bekenu! The best crabs are shared crab meals.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Cheavin's Water Filter

This photo of Cheavin's Saludor Water Filter is taken at the Methodist Archival Museum in Sibu. This is a ceramic water filter fitted with an amazing filtration system. Doctors and dentists have been known to use them very effectively in the early days of Sibu.

This water purifier from the early 20th century worked on the principle of passing water through a carbon or charcoal filter. It is like water filters in homes today.

The tall stoneware ceramic container has a lead free glaze. Its domed lid has an interior ridge to prevent it from slipping off. Near the base of the container is a hole leading inside the container. A small metal tap blocks the hole, allowing water to be drained out of the container when required. On the outside of the container are the words 'Cheavins Saludor Safe Water Filter. Drinking Water of Absolute Purity, British Made Throughout'.

The filter system was inside the container. The container would be filled with charcoal, and water poured into the top of the container. As the water passed through the charcoal it was cleansed. The clean water was drawn from the bottom of the container through the tap.

Charcoal is pure carbon, made from the partial burning of organic waste. It contains ions that help to kill germs, and it works on the principle of absorption. Large amounts of gases, including poisonous ones, and gases that create bad smells and tastes in water stick to the charcoal. It is porous, and has, therefore, large surface areas that absorb gas.

Dimensions: Height:43cm

In the 1950's my family lived in Pulau Kerto at the Ice Factory and our water supply came straight from the Rajang River with the help of a small pump which my father worked at once in a while. Some of the water we used for washing came directly to the doorstep when the flood water reached the bottom of the stairs.

In the kitchen was this Cheavin's Saludor Water Filter standing at a small counter . I would always remember it as pure tasty water would come out of a tap at the bottom and my mother told me that the water was "spring water" after it was filtered inside the huge cannister. I imagined that I was tapping the water from a series of rocks and the water came out miraculously as Moses' rod struck the rock wall! My mother loved this particular water filter as it was not only a social symbol of well being but a symbol of my father's love for good living and for the family.

Our water filter mysteriously "disappeared" when the family moved lock stock and barrel from the Ice Factory to the house on Kung Ping Road in Sibu. My mother never knew who took it away or why. And father was not a person who would find fault with the movers.

I am sure many families in Sibu continue to keep them as treasures in their homes. This water filter was popularly sold all over the world in 1890-1950's before chlorine treated water supply became the norm. I have read somewhere that the original company which sold Cheavin's Saludor Water Filter was established in Boston USA. However I still need to check this fact out.

At the present moment Singapore History Museum at Riverside Point has one unit for exhibition. I do hope that the unit in our Methodist Archival Museum will continue to help educate our younger generation.

How I wish I still have one now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Aunt's Marriage Bed


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My aunt (mum's oldest sister) was a nurse trained in China and she met this tall and good looking doctor (Dr. Hsiung) while working in a hospital. It is interesting to note that my Tui Yee only wore cheong same until she was very very old when she took to wearing a blouse and a pair of long trousers. She was a very pleasant and understanding kind of aunt. As a mother she was strict and did not spare the rod. Uncle was equally stern and he was not from the Ming Ching group of Foochows. He was Ming Nan and so it was a little difficult to understand him.

When all the brothers-in-law got together in the 50's they had plenty to talk about. It was perhaps fate that my mother's sisters were all married to very educated man. So apparently when they visited my grandmother down river they found their table topics very interesting. My father and first uncle were both China-educated whereas the two younger brothers-in-law were locally but English educated. However all four were very good in Chinese due to their secondary Chinese education.

In the Japanese Occupational years they were married and lived a simple life in Sibu. However after the war the young couple moved to Kuching and started a dispensary cum maternity clinic in Padungan.

They went on to raise a family of successful sons and a daughter.

Their shop house at Padungan was a haven for many new mothers and my uncle helped a large number of people to regain their health. He must have saved a few lives but he was very taciturn and calm about everything. Today the children still keep his chest of drawers and a dresser.

However apart from success stories and very motivating tales I particularly remember my aunt's bed.

It was a spring bed with brass rods and frames. And she had this very interesting mosquito net hanging from the four posters.

I used to peep into the dark upstairs room and check on the bed to see if it was still there. I love to remember how my aunt would place her books and Bible by the side of the bed on a small table. There would also be a small flask and a small glass mug.

The upstairs of my aunt's shop house is still there in Kuching. But the downstairs have seen lots of change of hands in business ever since my aunt and uncle passed away several years ago.

A brass bed will always remain a family treasure.


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