It was early in the morning in Sibu and my friends and I decided to walk to the Central Market to do some shopping before going back to Miri.
The Esplanade was magnificent in the cool morning breeze and three men were already at the end of their morning Tai Chi exercise. How graceful they looked!!
As we approached a group of ladies who had already finished their Tai Chi I caught sight of a fair complexioned and tall lady exuding charm and dignified grace . She turned around and that sudden moment made me feel that Sibu is just too small....In a town of 250000 people I could meet up with my father's seventh sister! Without appointment. It was a magical and wonderful moment of reunion.
This is what we call "heaven's arrangement". It can perhaps only happen in Sibu when you strongly feel for your relatives and wishing hard to meet up with them. I had already spent 4 nights in Kapit travelling into the ULU. Six degrees of separation?
And this was that photographic moment too...when she turned she recognized the photographer! The eldest daughter of eldest brother. Family ties. Tears in the eyes.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
It was early in the morning in Sibu and my friends and I decided to walk to the Central Market to do some shopping before going back to Miri.
A group of my friends buying rice in the Sibu Central Market where prices are very reasonable. In many places all over the world rice price can skyrocket at the whims and fancies of the suppliers and government. Some rice have to be even bought at black market prices. We are indeed blessed by Sibu suppliers who have been able to maintain a good price.
Rice is fresh and nicely displayed in this age old style. You can tell that rice is fresh from the shiny look and good solid colours without any speck of dust and smell of mustiness.
This is the ancient metal scoop for scooping an amount of rice into a plastic bag for good measurement on a scale. We used the daching a long time ago but today that is no longer permissible by regulation. So a normal international metric scale which is easier for most people.
The Foochows would used the term "leurn mi" meaning to measure some rice. Many decades ago in Sibu when the farmers did not have ready cash for their purchaes they would have to say "chok mi" meaning "borrow some rice" and the shop keepers would know that they would get first and pay later. Immediately the shop keeper would take out the account book and write down the rice bought against the name of the farmer.
I still remember a very very old story of a relative who had many children who ran out of rice. His wife did not have the "face" to borrow some more rice from the shopkeeper. Finally when the son came home from school at about six in the evening he was asked to borrow the rice . He took his father's bicycle which was way too big for him and pedalled the three miles to Sibu from their rubber garden. He was very embarrassed but he knew that his sickly father could not tap rubber fast enough to feed the family. Each push of the pedal must have been excruciating for him. After the incident he decided that he must tap more rubber by getting up even earlier before he went to school. At a young age of 15 he was already more than the "father" to his siblings. He is one of our most filial sons of Sibu.
He developed great humility from his daily errands. Today he is a multimillionaire and is always very helpful to poor people. He continues to be very frugal and simple.
Looking at rice always make me think of katis and tahils for old time sake. But very few people can remember that any more. However in most places in China this measurement is still being used.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
(Bukit Lima Park Plank Walk - Source : Rajang Basin - http://mengleiwong.blogspot.com)
A good plank walk for running in very cool environment (Source : Rejang Basin)
Map of Bukit Lima Park Sibu (Source Rajang Basin)
As Earth Day and Love Your Park Campaigns become catch phrases all over the world (especially these few days of unusually high temperature @34 degrees and above ) even the very busy Sibu folks talk about the neccessities of cooling down the earth and making the environment more live able in the coffee shops and in the market places. The awareness for a better environment is catching on very positively and I hope speedily ASAP.
A good nature park would be one of the answers to the global warming conditions in Sibu. Thus the Bukit Lima Park should be truly made full use of. More nature friendly programmes must be incorporated into Park Education for the locals and tourists in order to make the park more cost effective and lively and attractive. Children need to learn more about loving the earth . they are our hope. A day out there is a spiritual and physical family trip. One way of getting gratefully nearer our Creator! And a sweet down memory lane journey for those who would like to remember their pioneering ancestors who brought them to Sibu.
As we drove back from Sibu to Miri we noticed how the roadsides were cleaned up of all the plastic bottles and paper wrapping thrown out from cars!! A young lady wearing a uniform jacket drove along and picked up all the rubbish from her motor bike using a long wrought iron tong! ( A "hui keeng"!!) She put all the rubbish in a big black pastic bag tied to her motor bike. As the Oya Road is fairly a long road her work must be too tedious for her to walk all the way and then back. Her mode of transport is light enough for her to "work from her bike". ( I did not take a photo because of the long line of traffic line behind me and I would not want in any way jeopardise her work prospects. My apologies to her for writing this comment) Furthermore it might be dangerous for her to be working and walking alone in this long stretch of road especially when the traffic becomes light or non existent at all.
We did not have the time to visit the Bukit Lima Park although we were in the vicinity. A pity. Next time we must make an effort to spend a day in the park.
We left our hometown with a sigh - we need to go elsewhere to "cari makan" and thus missing all the goings-on and lifestyle of Sibu.
(Source : http://sloppychic.com)
Han Suyin wrote one of the best descriptions in the English Language about the origin and spread of the Hakkas in her book "The Crippled Tree" and I never forget her words. I read her book as a recommendated text for my sixth form history and was very inspired by her as a writer.
When I moved to Miri some twenty years ago I lived amongst the Hakkas and developed greater insights about their life and espcially their cuisine. Lui Char is a signature dish and delicacy of the Hakka people usually served on the first day of their Chinese New Year to visitors for CNY open house and other religious obervation days. But it is a must for Hakkas and their family members to eat 7 kinds of vegetables on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year.
The Buddhist/Tua Pek Kong vegetarian-inclined Hakkas relish this dish. Some very strict Buddhists would have only this dish on the first and fifteenth of the Lunar month regularly. But I think different Hakkas in different regions of Asia would have a different approach to the serving of this dish at home.
Now that Lui Char has become a commercial item like KFC and Pizza some stalls only serve Lui Char as a flourishing business wherever there is a strong community of Hakkas. So it is quite recognisable that there is a big pupulation of Hakkas around when you notice a Lui Char stall. You can be assured that information of the Hakka people in that particular area if you start with a bowl of Lui Char.
This is a bowl of rice topped with the selected vegetables. You can call for your choice of vegetables or choose all (for the price of RM3.50 only)
This are three of the vegetables you can get besides roasted peanuts and fried salted radish - stir fried curly vegetables stir fried long beans and stir fried ok choy.
This is Koo Lay Sim a Chinese herbal plant which forms part of the soup for Lui Char
This is peppermint of Po Hor.
And this is Ngiah (which can get rid of wind in your body)
Blend all the three herbs you get a greenish paste which is boiled into a herbal soup which is cooling and nourishing. Besides it dispels of lot of toxin in your body.
The Hakkas and generally most Chinese who love the Lui Char believe that eating this lui char for lunch especially two or three times a week is a great de-tox dietary choice.
This New Cafe in Miri which serves Lui Char has been around for more than 20 years and it is a group of lovely ladies who prepare and cook and serve all the food. A remarkable lovely Iban lady who has grown "old" with them speaks Hakka serves the drinks with great cheerfulness and understanding. She has excellent eye contact and a fast way of assessing the cutomers' needs and in fact sizing up the whole afternoon's meal needs in a few seconds. The whole New Cafe outfit usually makes my afternoon sojourn in the shop very worthwhile in a very family way. Sometimes the very interesting social interaction there becomes remarkably therapeutic even before the meal is completed as you watch how the diners feel good and greet the serving ladies and the towkay neo and exchange well wishes and commonalities. Hakka bantering can be the most amusing of conversation.
You do not need to use a social survey form to find out how popular this cafe is.
My family and I have adopted this dish very positively. I have a liking for it and will try if I have the time and opportunity to eat it at least twice a week. The more one eats it the more one loves it.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Not many people can remember that photos were printed in special dimensions in the 1950's - 3.5" x 3.5" or a slightly bigger sized called "postcard" size (6"x 4") Do correct me here. the two well established studios at that time were Anna Studio and Heng Kwong all along Blacksmith Road and Island Road. Interestingly the photo labs were upstairs. It was quite a tight squeeze for a bridal group to go right up the narrow wooden staircases.
This photo from my family album shows my three married aunts coming home to Sibu for a rare visit. They had married Singaporean men and were all working in Singapore. Aunt Phyllis (my second aunt ) brought back her son Michael. I was standing fourth from the left in the front row of "grandchildren". Notice the little handbag I was carrying. And very significantly we were either wearing Bata leather shoes. My aunt Laura standing next to me turned up wearing pretty socks and shoes. Our frocks usually had "smocking" fronts made by Aunt Pick. Yes indeed we did wear "smocking" dresses then!!
The whole extended family were all formally attired in their Sunday Best. Young girls were in frocks and the older married women in fashionable western frocks and eastern Cheongsams. My grandmother Siew as usual wore her nice samfoo. All the men wore their best tie. My grandfather Tiong Kung Ping stood in the centre looking every inch a commanding patriarch and social leader.
Our family was very tight knit and gave a great deal of moral support to Grandfather especially. And we loved "returning relatives". Thus the whole extended family came to the airport to give our aunts Lily; Phyllis and Ngiin Sieng a rousing welcome. This was followed by a few welcoming and memorable dinners - very Sibu and Foochow style. As a child I always looked forward to going to the airport to welcome or send off relatives. It was a big deal then. Grandfather had adopted a very American attitude towards proper dressing or "wearing Sunday Best" perhaps a heritage of the influence of Rev. James Hoover and the China born missionaries.
When did wearing our Sunday Best disappear? As the twentieth century ended we became less formal in our dressing. We used to remind each other that we were entering the house of God and we had to be "proper and decent". But today t-shirts seem to a kind of social uniform.
With travels becoming easier these days and new forms of communication developing family get together become less significant moments and less formal. The nuclear family has also become more prominent and the extended family is weakened to a very great extent.
But whenever I see three generations of a family getting together for a wedding or just a birthday I just become so nostalgic for the old slow days. I am glad some family traditions are still maintained by many people all over the world.
In comparison our Malay brethrens seem to continue with the social habit of wearing their best for their communal events. The returning of the Hajis/Hajjahs for example nessitate a blessing and kenduri today. The forward journey of the pilgrims at one time in Sibu caused the whole kampong to come out in full force for a grand send off. I remember fairly well those were signficant days for many of my mates.
Old photos capture so much of our social norms of the past. A "revisit" conjures up lots of fond memories.
No wonder we used to write at the back of photos which we give to our relatives or friends "Keep this photo for remembrance of our good time together. Fond memories." We used a fine fountain pen and the best of our cursive writing! We usually ended with the date and some xxxx. Perhaps inadvertently we were documenting our own historical development!
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I really love going to my Christian Sister's house. Food is always forthcoming and the green vegetables are always served very nicely and in large portions!! For years my Ah Chia (Sister) has been tending a little plot at her backyard and her green fingers are fantastic. She is never short of vegetables. Sometimes she even has enough to salt them!!
She has been growing vegetables since she was a young girl in Sarikei. When she married her then teacher husband (salary $180) she needed to supplement their small income. Finally after a few years of rubber tapping and vegetable growing she and her husband decided to start a mee stall in Sarikei. From there they raised a family of pharmacists teachers and doctors. Now some of their grandchildren are doctors!
And if and when I drop by (without prior notice) I would always have a place at her table be it lunch or dinner. Just like in the old days whenever we walked long distances in the rubber tapping village we would be warmly welcomed by a fellow Foochow for a simple meal. Even if it was just a soup and rice. But my grandmother bless her heart would always ask my uncle to "go catch a chicken" and cook mee sua for a weary traveller!!That was Christian neighbourliness in its true sense in the past in the Rejang Basin.
Whenever I share food with Ah Chia or any other Christians we would signal to each other 5 fishes and 2 loaves to show how much we appreciate this kind of sustenance.
I feel so blessed whenever I am at this home. Look at the abundance and blessings in her backyard!
Potato leaves - excellent stir fry.
Beautiful ketola flowers - soon two of these soft and tasty gourd will be at the table.
This is a red herb which can help to reduce cholesterol. Very popular health drink.
this is Lang King Herng (nan king herng)- brought from Fuzhou. It is used to fry beehoon and it gives a purple colour to the beehoon. Very tasty. Believed to be eaten by the Foochows only. So here is an additional purple coloured vegetables to your health food list besides purple egg plant and grapes!
This used to looked down upon years ago. But now it is a restaurant dish - and given a good name - Emperor Shoots.
This is a hybrid - sweet honey pomelo tangerine (tangmelo or pomerine?)
Two egg plants here can give at least ten fruits - enough for three to four meals.
Bitter gourd - flowering.
Round gourd growing steadily.
Ping pong longan. Very very sweet and hundreds of them.
If you look at these photos you really do believe in the phrase "Your neighbour's grass is always greener." But truth be told...she has really worked on her garden to produce good harvest year after year and enough for many neighbours too. In times of economic downturn this kind of home vegetable growing can definitely help our economy to build up again.
Families must be cautious with their spending. SAving is the key to economic recovery and further take off. Since the family unit is the basic organisation of a society we must all look at strong family units to help sustain our economy. If our families are dysfunctional then our society cannot survive the great tests.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I am an immigrant in another city. I experience grief certainly and indefinitely.
I do not really have any antidote for homesickness. But if I am homesick for Sibu after all these years I have a few.
I recently tried this antidote. Got up to a bright sun drenched morning. And I got myself two soft boiled eggs and took out the coffee shop set.
I arranged the still life for photography session...and after a while (not too long) I had some photos....but my soft boiled eggs had hardened a wee bit too much....
This is a good try - trying to carry on life outside Sibu where the Moi Soung Cafe and its er hu is just a long ago dream.
Being homesick is a normal emotional situation.
The Foochows when they first left the Min Valley in their cramped boats were very homesick and a few even tried to escape from the boats!
The Bishop Warne came on board to pray and help them and accompanied them all the way to the swampy and mosquito ridden Sibu. It was definitely a hard life then. When James Hoover came the worship services must have helped them.
At that time there were no counsellers to help them to overcome their sense of grief. Hardship was there. My grandmother Lau used to tell me that when she opened her eyes in the morning she could see only WORK WORK and WORK. And then when the day was done it was hard to find her bed! Sleep was an antidote. If only sleep could come! And not to think was a challenge. For her the stages of grief (unstated) were real. Finally she accepted her situation after many many years. When she went to the Min River for a visit she brought money to celebrate her new life in Sarawak. It was a kind of triumphant return as a migrant. She and her family had worked hard for that day.
Perhaps missionaries all over the world feel very homesick more often than not.
What about Rev. James Hoover. Was he ever homesick? What about Mrs. Hoover was she ever homesick?
Perhaps all the Methodists and the Hoovers sang "This World is not my Home" (a hymn which often is said to cure homesickness) at all times.
Now what is your cure for homesickness?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Kompia or Kwang Ping is a kind of plain unleaven bun (made only by the Foochows)which is round in shape with a hole in the middle. Fresh from the oven the crust is usually crunchy and covered with sesame. A little saltish in taste it is chewy nonetheless. Actually the more you chew the more you will like the bun.
It is one of the most popular snacks of the Foochows and is found in almost every place the Foochows have settled in. In Malaysia the kompia and some its variations is found in Sitiawan and Sibu especially where the Foochows first settled in the 1900's. Today the kompia is spreading far and wide where there is Foochow enterprise. And if you see Kompia you are assured that there is a Foochow Settlement nearby.
This little shop in Rejang Park in Sibu is operated by three young people who are energetic and systematic. Two of the bakers will roll and prepare the buns and the third young person is the front man who sells the kompia and collects the money. He is also the man who picks up the baked buns from the hot oven located right in the front of the shop. This threesome makes a very effective team. In no time the morning's business is over and a profit is made. The operation is completely done only in a ten by ten square feet of business space!
The photo shows the huge dough ready to be divided into small balls. Each ball is to be made into one little kompia. The green enamel bowl is a common bowl used by the Foochows for soup and even for measurement.
Here the small balls are ready for further kneading and flattening.
This is the Foochow rolling pin with a bigger part(to press the kompia into a round flat dough) and a small part (to make the small hole )
the young lady is skillfully flattening the dough. In a few minutes she can make many kompia. The quickness of the hand in making the kompia is always the most important part of the production line. If the kneading is too slow the dough will not be spongy enough.
These are the kompia ready for the oven.
This young man forms the other assembly line in the making of kompia. He is ever cheerful. I suppose he can make as many kompia as the girl with his eyes closed!! (This is the Foochow expression meaning a person is very good at his work.)
This is always the moment we are waiting for - the kompia is hot from the oven!! Chu Lu Loh!
A very modern shop sign. It means Fragrance for All Seasons. ( Reminds me of A Man for All Seasons.)
As I watched the threesome produce their kompia and took in the fragrance of dough baking mixed with the tantalising sweetness of fresh burning charcoal in the open oven I was reminded of my Grandfather Tiong Kung Ping who was always very careful with his money and very humble in his outlook . He would pick the rather maimed or distorted but cheaper kompia when he was a young father with many young children. In that way he could buy more for his money. The bakers in those days would always sell the "deformed ones" at a lower price. In fact when I was a kid walking to school I would stop by Wan Hin (No 1 Island Road) owned by the Toh family and I would too ask for the "ngaew ngaew" ones which were actually placed in a side basket. This meant that for ten cents I could get one or two more . Grandpa used to say - "the amount of flour (content) is the same - looks do not matter. It is important to be able to fill the stomach."
But to me even in those days that kind of bargain was a good one. So with such discounts we got more to eat!! We learned not to be choosy and difficult. He passed on a lot of wisdom to us especially about humility and frugality. At all times we must always stretch our dollar/ringgit to its limit and be careful with our spending. And always remember drive a good bargain.
Later in life I would give a home to some of the ugliest and unwanted dogs in the kennel and leave the good looking ones to someone else. These dogs turned out to be loyal and faithful guard dogs. This could be one of his influences.
Naturally today I still do not mind the badly formed kompia. There is something special in them. Just give me more!
(To my aunts and uncles and cousins please correct me/scold me if I am wrong...)
Monday, April 20, 2009
I have lots of these Chinese licorice growing in my garden. They appeared all of a sudden some time ago so it is considered wild. But as time goes by I would throw the seeds around and I get fairly good batches of them . Relatives would come around to harvest them perhaps five plants at a time when they like brewing a soup.
The fresh plants are cleaned and dried in the sun roots and all included. And then cut into smaller pieces for boiling of soup with a bit of pork or chicken. No salt or any other flavours is permissible. A clay pot or a Chinese medicine pot is best for brewing the soup.
I normally cook my own brew whenever I have too many nightmares which are indicative of an overheated liver. However in order to be cautious I do not often take the brew. Probably once or twice a year when needed. I was told that when SARS was wreaking havoc in Sarawak very little Chinese licorice was left standing on any ground!! It was sold at more than RM10 a kilo in its dried form.
If you do not trust the real plants growing in the garden then you can always get a few hundred grams from the Chinese drug stores. Simply ask for Kan Chou and the Chinese Sin Seh will give you a good measure and some complementary bits and pieces to make you a good potion for your ailment!
Chinese Licorice root stands next to ginseng in importance in Chinese herbalism. It is one of the most widely used of all Chinese herbs. Laboratory tests in China have demonstrated that the extracts of Chinese Licorice can help eliminate or detoxify over 1,200 known toxins. It is believed to drive out all poisons and toxins from the system and to eliminate side effects from other herbs used with it. It is also effective in relieving the intoxication due to bad foods, drugs and alcohol. Thus the Chinese calls it the 'great detoxifier' and the 'great adjunct'.
Chinese Licorice is said to help revitalize impaired stomach energy. It helps supplement the energy and strikes a balance between the internal regions of the body. It is a tonic to the spleen and kidneys and helps regulate stomach functions. Chinese Licorice acts as a blood tonic through its positive effects on the kidneys (bone marrow) and spleen. It sedates and soothes excess fire and helps moisten the lungs and throat.
Chinese Licorice is used throughout the orient simply because of its ability to build and sustain energy. It is now known that this is at least partly due to its remarkable power to regulate blood sugar balance, sharpen the power of concentration, relieve abdominal pain and congestion, benefits the functions of the abdominal organs, clear the meridians and allow chi to flow smoothly. In addition Chinese Licorice helps build muscle growth, beautifies the countenance, fortifies the sinews and bones, cures swollen wounds caused by straining or incisive injury, detoxifies the blood and relieves pain and tension due to stress. It has been used successfully for a thousand years in cases of anorexia, which is now a growing health concern in the West.
Chinese Licorice root is obviously quite highly regarded by those who know and use this most remarkable of Chinese tonic herbs. When used over a long period of time, Chinese Licorice root is said to produce radiant health and prolong life.
Note - Chinese Licorice root is a very different herb from the Western variety of licorice (glycyrrhizae glabra). The Western variety can cause nervousness, an obviously undesirable side-effects when use regularly. To the contrary, Chinese Licorice, (glycyrrhizae uralensis) is energizing but calming and does not have the side-effects associated with Western Licorice. Be sure to use Chinese Licorice root, which is also called gan cao, for all of its wonderful health benefits.
Note - Nothing within these pages should be construed as medical advice. All information on these pages is intended for educational use only. Nothing herein is intended to diagnose, treat or cure any specific disease. Please consult your health care provider if you have a serious condition.
Source : http://www.healthcareherb.com/chineselicorice.html
Many Foochows grow some of these plants in their garden plots. But in Miri I see them along the spare land between houses and every other possible grounds.)
Sunday, April 19, 2009
One of the fishermen in Bakam has several dried specimens hanging from the roof of his stall. And to my delight I came face to face with this rounded and puffed up form of a buntal!! This fish also called Puffer Fish or Fugu in Japanese. While the Japanese have been famously preparing the fugu as an exotic delicacy for generations we Sarawakians only like the eggs and in its salted form. However many have also found a new taste in deep fried buntal but its preparation has to be very delicate as prepared wrongly the buntal is fatal.
I must commend the fisherman for his proactive attitude of bringing good well preserved natural specimen to his stall and making it a living classroom!! Pity he was too shy to have a photo taken. May be next time I'll offer to take a photo with him like a tourist or I can persuade him when I bring this photo and a printout of this posting to him in the future.
The Chinese characters for this fish is River Pig. (Shui Ju) The Japanese actually eat thousands of tons of well prepared fugu every year.
Pufferfish contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin in their internal organs, especially the liver and the ovaries, but also in the skin and the testicles. And to be absolutely safe from poisoning only licensed chefs are allowed to prepare fugu. So be warned.
The well preserved puffer fish/buntal specimen hanging from the "kajang" atap or roof of the fisherman's stall in Bakam.
Newly marinated buntal eggs look like this. One pair and not really separated. Today you can buy a pair of salted buntal eggs for about RM10 in Saratok shops.
FromNicolekiss Thanks Nicole!!
Isn't she pretty in blue?
Another pretty puffer fish.
I am writing this post especially for my children who once loved salted buntal eggs. In the early 80's we travelled "up and down" a lot the whole of Sarawak looking at small towns and visiting Kuching and Sibu. We as parents with our own agenda dragged them around everywhere and I am really ashamed of having put them in discomfort and in a lot of personal agonies at time. Perhaps sometimes in danger too. I just hope that as they grow older they too will forgive the nasty nightmarish parts(bad and dusty roads and poor road side food at times of emergency and unpreparedness and of course the occasional puncture) but enjoy the good memories.
One of our favourite places to stop by was Roban near Saratok where we could buy a few tins (!!)of salted buntal eggs and stretch our legs.These eggs were sold not by weight then but by the piece. And then like Santa Claus I would distribute the buntal eggs as gifts to friends and relatives in Miri!! While we would be just so happy to eat one or two of the eggs every day until we finished our stock we would think of other ways to improve our meals!! I really like the way our boy used to ask while we were in the middle of lunch "What's for dinner ma?" He really loves food!
But be assured we were just never too tired of the salted Buntal eggs then. One of my regrets was the digital camera was not invented then. All my coloured photos taken then are turning yellowish brown in the albums like fading memories.
Today alas - we can no longer get buntal salted eggs easily as we don't go to Roban any more. Our friends have moved to Kuching to be with their grandchildren( hopefully just temporarily). I have been thinking of kampong style fried rice served with a sprinkling of fried buntal eggs on top with lots of basil leaves with chopped spring onions and fried onions.
What a pity that these "caviar" of Sarawak may be disappearing slowly.
I can think of Special Sarawak Fried Rice with Five different Kinds of Eggs . What a fusion cuisine it would be - Fresh chicken eggs -Century eggs- Salted eggs- salted buntal eggs- and fresh /salted terbuk eggs!! How more exotic can you get?