Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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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.

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.


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