Your Ad Here

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

When we were very very young, my father had a turn table that played 78 rpm black vinyl records. And because the family listened to a lot of records, we could sing several of the English songs quite well while my mother could easily pick up the Chinese songs. That was our only entertainment in Hua Hong Chiong. My father bought a Philips radio only much later.

Turn tables were popular home amenities in those days. Many families already had them and in the evenings, the records would be played over and over again. It was especially interesting when the turn table needed winding and the singing would go a little haywire. So children would compete with each other to wind the turn table and get the record going at the correct speed.

One song that my mother sang to us was "How much is that doggie in the window?" And we would join in singing the chorus. I remember it was very very happy time for us. Mother has always been a good singer. And we would also try to outdo each other with the arf! arf!!


How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
The one with the waggley tail
How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
I do hope that doggie's for sale

I must take a trip to California
And leave my poor sweetheart alone
If he has a dog, he won't be lonesome
And the doggie will have a good home

How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
The one with the waggley tail
How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
I do hope that doggie's for sale

I read in the paper there are robbers (roof! roof!)
With flashlights that shine in the dark
My love needs a doggie to protect him
And scare them away with one bark

I don't want a bunny or a kitty
I don't want a parrot that talks
I don't want a bowl of little fishies
He can't take a goldfish for a walk

How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
The one with the waggley tail
How much is that doggie in the window? (arf! arf!)
I do hope that doggie's for sale
I do hope that doggie's for sale
Arf! Arf! sounds like a small dog.
Roof! Roof! sounds like a bigger dog.

Today, we have learned that "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?" is a popular novelty song written by Bob Merrill in 1952. It was adapted from a well-known Victorian music hall song.

The best-known version of the song was recorded by Patti Page on December 18, 1952 and released by Mercury Records.

The song tells the story of a young woman who "must take a trip to California," and wants to buy a dog for her boyfriend so that he will not be lonely (and, presumably, not look for affection from another woman).

Despite its original popularity, "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?" gained a reputation for being especially obnoxious. The critic Donald Clarke wrote that "Nobody knows how many music fans stopped listening to the radio after hearing 'Doggie In The Window' too many times. (???) But children in Sarawak in those days enjoyed the song.

I am not sure about its popularity amongst mothers and children today although I have seen CDs for children carrying the title. But humming the tune continues to give me a lot of happiness.

Mr and Mrs JB Chong - The First Chinese English Teachers of Sibu

There used to be a beautiful wooden bungalow sitting in a very sizeable piece of land near the Methodist Theological College along Queensway (now Jalan Tun Haji Openg). And there lived a beautiful Nyonya who wore beautiful Indonesian sarong kebaya, before our former First Lady of Malaysia made it famous throughout the world.

I had quite a few visits to the house because it belonged to my grandmother Chong's brother, JB Chong, who passed away before I was born. But I had a great respect and perhaps even "fear" as children would always have of Grand Aunty Chong, who was a very grand and proper lady in fact. She had a very imposing personality. It was later when I became a teacher, that this seriousness of personality was a very important trait of a good English teacher. Included in this trait is the by product "we have to mean what we say and say what we mean".

Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong taught English alongside Rev and Mrs.Hoover. Thus they became the first Chinese English teachers of Sibu. And that is really a historical record.

Mr.Chong would spot a European suit for official functions and he looked every inch a Western educated Chinese. In actual fact he was raised in both Java and Singapore. More importantly he was educated in English in Singapore. His English, being impeccable, helped nurture and inspire many Sibu Foochow young boys and girls, including Tiong Kung Ping's children. His teaching according my father, was very simple, straightforward and he made sure that all his students could remember what he taught them. His eyes were fascinating and the most significant part of his personality. His students worshipped him and held him in fear. Of course the rotan cane was part of the classroom. How often he used, no one would know now.

He worked extremely hard as a teacher, helping the students to memorise words and sentences, and at the same time groomed his own children to be learned, hardworking and genteel in attitude and outlook. He encouraged them to be both knowledgeable in western and east cultures and traditions. Thus they grew up to be extremely scholarly and well behaved.

Mrs. Chong, a true Nyonya was beautiful. Fair, very disciplined and very neat, she often indicated to us children how to behave well and respect our elders. I remember her as a person having a very neat handwriting. She loved photographs and taking photographs. She gave my father some photographs of a gathering she had with her former students and she wrote in her neat handwriting on the photograph itself. Today, such photographs are family heirlooms!! We will treasure them always.

Another thing I remember about Mrs. Chong was her beauty care. She was meticulous about her face powder and how good she had to smell. She would carry that remarkable fragrance with her and the air of a well cultured lady we do not often find today. I would of course remember her embroidered white cotton handkerchief.

It was not by coincidence that my grandfather,Tiong Kung Ping,married Mr. JB Chong's sister, Chong Soong Ching. The marriage was actually arranged by Rev. Hoover who thought that a hardworking and enterprising young man like my grandfather was a good match for the English teacher's sister who at that time and by that time's standard,very well educated. And together my grandparents had nine children before she passed away untimely at the age of 38. She was buried on top of a lovely hill in the Methodist Cemetery in Sungei Merah,Sibu.

Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong had four boys and two girls. Their second eldest child,Professor Dr. Chong Chung Hien is a famous surgeon and represented Malaysia as a medical officer in WHO in Korea and then US. His wife was the late Julia Chong, the well known Malaysian composer , musician and symphony orchestra conductor. The youngest son,Peter Chong was an engineer with the JKR, Sarawak , and before he retired, he held a very high position. Peter passed away very recently. They had two daughters. Mary became a nun of the Catholic Church and another served the Methodist Church as a women's leader for a long time.

Living together with Mrs. Chong in the lovely bungalow were their eldest son, Mr. Chong Chung Sing, a very good pianist, and his family. And they faithfully looked after her until Mrs, Chong passed away in her eighties. They also grew the best grade rambutans and other tropical fruits in their garden. For a long time while Mrs. Chong was alive, she would hold court in the garden with her children, former students and friends.

Today the Chong family's third generation are all over the world, making contributions wherever they go,bringing a part of Sibu with them.

Coffin Street

Sibu did indeed have a Coffin Lane. It was the lane which faced the Lembangan River, which also flowed behind the Palace Theatre. The Coffin Lane supported four or five coffin makers. They therefore established their shops in the two story block which was perpendicular to the Central Road. This was after the bridge from Tiong Hua Road. The Fire Station was not far from them.

The business of course was frightening to us kids who cycled around the area. Sometimes we would cycle very fast past the bridge because we did not want to see the wooden coffins drying in the sun. They were reclined on the wars and those horrible looking wooden coffins with sharp ends seemed to be beckoning to us.

The men owning the coffin shops also looked very thin and scrawny and they looked like Chinese zombies to us, and of course, they did not have the Manchu robes.

These coffins were popular in the 1950's as every Chinese family would like to have a traditional funeral. The coffin would be carried by bamboo poles during the funeral procession around the town. This was considered very filial to the Chinese.

I suppose after the Chinese Communist Government banned the sales of coffin in China in 1949, ( to prevent ostentatious funerals and preserving land for other uses), the Chinese in Sibu also looked at more western coffins for their elders.

Coffins have never been sold openly in a busy street. Hence the Coffin Lane in Sibu at that time was very much "at the back" of the town.

Each coffin craftsman must have learnt his skills from his father. Perhaps at that time, they had used local meranti or other hardwood for the crafting of their coffins. I remember seeing pieces of wood drying in the lane. The wood would have been hollowed out and polished, mostly by hand. There would be one long plank for the bottom, two semi circular for the sides and a cover. According to an elder these planks were then carefully fitted together without the use of nails to form a coffin.

These coffins were about 200 straits dollars at that time if I am not mistaken. My grandfather's coffin during his funeral in 1963 was the traditional type and I thought that it was very expensive looking and very massive. I remember him "lying in state" while waiting for my uncles and aunts to return and his coffin was next to him on a raised platform.

Some how I also remember that some of the rich men had their own coffins ordered from Singapore years before they were dead!! I found this very morbid. And these coffins would be placed in their houses.

The Coffin Lane must have been completely removed when the Sarawak House was constructed. Where did these coffin craftsmen go perhaps some one could tell me. When modernity arrived in Sibu, this traditional craft disappeared without much fun fare.

Hoops and Mischief

Last night was a Tokyo extravaganza to remember! To celebrate the launch of chief&mischief on TOKYOMADE, a delicious crowd of designers, dancers, photographers, artists, djs and fashionistas made their way to the stylish Velours in Aoyama, Tokyo.

It was a super special night for me though as I had been asked to hoop dance in the club. This was my first ever "public appearance". I thought I would be more nervous. I had a few pre-performance worries earlier in the week doubting my ability to keep a handle on the new and much heavier LED hoop I had ordered from Super Hooper but something told me I was going to love the experience. That something was totally right.

chief and mischief tee
(Rocking the Heavy Metal tee by chief&mischief)

Masao is a wise old man. When I said to him earlier in the week that I didn't think I was ready and I wasn't sure if I could do it he said to me, "No one ever thinks they are ready for anything so most people sit around thinking they can't do things because they are not ready. If you wait until you are ready you will never do it and then you can't get better". A simple piece of advice.

light up skirt

I was set to perform at 11pm and 1am. I had practiced a little routine to the first song, Boyz by M.I.A, to be mixed in by dj James. When I took my place in the tiny little space in the middle of Velours that routine flew out the window, the music and cheers from my friends and rest of the audience took over and I felt completely relaxed and spun in a heightened sense of flow. My only analogy for this feeling would be something drug related. The ultimate high.

hoop joy

I really need to thank so many people! My mum for buying me my first hoop, hoop store tokyo for giving me my first few lessons that was a great springboard, Masao for always encouraging me and putting up with hoops and hoop marks all over the apartment, all of my gorgeous and crazy friends for giving me more courage than they realise, my students for cheering me on at school and sharing my love for hoop videos on youtube, hoopers around the world, chief&mischief Caroline and Brandon for thinking of me and inviting me to perform, Bunny for being an inspiration, everyone who cheered, clapped, whistled, complimented me last night you made my year!

More pics HERE and HERE

Stories from Construction Sites

The 1960's saw a large surge in the construction industry. A new kind of labour force developed in Sibu, involving a large number of villagers from Sibu and its vicinity.

The housing and industrial development and urban sprawl resulted in a greater mobility of Foochows. Many moved their families from the villages to Sibu town itself, Oya Road,and even Brunei where the Brunei government was beginning to give out contracts to Sibu contractors to construct Shell offices and staff residences in Kuala Belait, Sg. Liang,etc.

In Sibu, these construction workers helped build up houses and shop houses in Chung Hua Road, Melian Road, Queensway, the Delta Estate, and Lanang Road. Sibu expanded very fast which resulted from both population expansion and communist insurgency.

Most of the Foochow labourers, ranging from very skilled carpenters to semi skilled piling labourers,cement workers,and steel rod binders brought their wives and very young children along with them. It was the only way for them.

They stayed in make shift huts called "mang nang" which in fact is a corruption of an Iban word, "Mangsang" meaning "arriving". These mang nang were flimsy makeshift huts which had no piped water supply, no electricity and no gas supply. Some times all the bachelors would stay in one huge room or hut. Families would be given what could only be called cubicles.

The women who had come along with their husbands made do with whatever they had. A pit toilet would be dug a little far away from the construction site and it would have not water supply. If there was a stream, it would have been a blessing. Sometimes water would be transported by a lorry for the labourers if the contractor was humane. Rain water would mostly be used, and a tank would be filled up with rain water. That would provide for most of the drinking , cooking, washing and bathing needs.

Lighting was from kerosene lamps and at best a pressure lamp. Generators were not yet introduced then. So it was rather dark at night and reading was definitely not possible.

A relative of mine went to two different places to work before her husband earned enough to settle down in Miri. They had moved from Maling, near Sg. Bidut, Sibu, when they were newly married. They first moved from one mang nang to another in Sibu. During her first pregnancy she did not have any one to help her go through her suffering. There were four other women in the mang sang and she learned to keep house in the temporary hut.

It was a tough time for all of them. Having to use kerosene stove to cook simple meals, and having to carry water from a stream when water was short in supply was just too challenging for a young bride. But she managed to bring up three of her young children in this way. She had very tough times in Brunei,the secod place her husband worked in, where the construction site was far away from the main town of Bandar Seri Begawan. Sometimes she and her family had to walk to do some shopping. But she was very fortunate because her husband was very provident and understanding.

Another blessing in this kind of work was the fact that her husband and his relatives formed a very good team of workers and they would get work as a team. So the women folks actually got to know each other very well and relied upon each other, after some years.

Bathing was very difficult for her because she had to learn how to use a sarong and bathe from a stream if there was no water from the tank. And then she had to do all the washing and have the clothes dried in a place next to the huts. Sometimes,dogs and even monkeys would come and create havoc. So she and her neighbours had to look out for these intruders.

In the small area available she was able to rear some chickens. Her husband as well as the other Foochow men grew vegetables like kang kong, changkok manis and sawi. A popular vegetable was Hern Chai or amaranth , (see the picture) which is very healthy and full of nutrients. They even grew enough to sell the fresh vegetables to the local people.

Sometimes intruders came to steal their stuff, including the chickens and vegetables. But they took all these in their stride and did not really get too bothered. According to her, she was just too busy looking after her children and her husband to be really bothered by trivial things and talk.

Whenever they moved to a new construction site, she would learn something new. Sometimes it was how to get along with women of another race, sometimes it was learning to cook a new dish. And at all times, she had to make sure that her children behaved well towards others, and especially their father. She was able to keep peace very well by not sticking her nose in other people's business she said.

When the children were older, they had already spent more than fifteen years moving from one mangsang to another and they were ready to live in a proper housing area. They rented a small place and continued to save money to their own home. By that time, her husband was able to buy a second hand car and he was also then a supervisor and part time sub contractor of two construction projects.

According to her, life was truly difficult but they were happy and that was an important ingredient in their lives. Their children also grew up to be obedient, studious and hard working. Lives with hard knocks only made better people out of them. For more than forty years, they had make their way home for the Chinese New Year reunion, even from Brunei.

Today the loving couple are retired and counting their blessings. They have travelled to China, Vietnam, and West Malaysia in their old age. And they continue to visit Sibu.

Perhaps their love story had extra meaning because their love had started in a mangsang.

Friday, February 1, 2008

School Children's Biscuits Soaked in Condensed Milk

Condensed milk played a very important role in my life in Sibu.

My siblings, cousins, and other relatives and I practically lived on it.

As children we looked up to this marvellous food and would always remember it for several reasons.

Firstly, because it was so easy to use, this milk, called Ngu Neng Ko (milk cake) was used to make a quick drink. And to fill our stomachs, we were given Osborne Biscuits or Soda Biscuits ( Suda pian). Our parents would break the biscuits into the bowl of milk and we would eat the softened biscuits.

This was our only known snack before the advent of cereals, and maggi mee.

Secondly, the milk does not go bad easily. So our parents would leave them in the food safe (hang diu). And whenever we wanted something sweet we would take a little out. A favourite way of eating condensed milk was to spread it lavishly on the soda biscuits and we made soda biscuit sandwiches. I would have these to bring to school until I was in Form Three. I never grew tired of it.

Thirdly,this condensed milk was used as a first aid ointment whenever we had a burn. I once burned myself with an iron. I put some of the milk on the skin and I felt quite comfortable. There must be something good for healing in it.

Fourthly, the milk was an excellent way of getting kids to take their medicine. After giving children their medicine, many mothers would give them a spoon of the milk . It was such a comfort food for all of us.

Fifthly, this condensed milk was very convenient to use in the hospital. Whenever any one was sick, it would always be at their bedside. Visitors would often bring half a dozen as gift for the sick. It would always be a welcome gift.

Sixthly, it was a cheap milk for all of us. Milk powder was very expensive and many children were not given it. Instead many of us grew up having the extra water from cooking rice mixed with condensed milk. I remember many of my girl friends had this kind of diluted or pseudo milk mixed with hot rice water because they were girls. Their brothers were given the better milk and better food. Fathers would always say that girls would be married off and belong to other families. So it would be a waste to feed them too well. This perception or attitude came from the Chinese belief of " regarding sons with more respect than daughters" or "valuing sons more than daughters". It took a long time for Chinese parents to discard this belief.

Finally, as a bottle of milk made from condensed milk did not go sour easily, many children would bring a bottle to school. It was very obvious in their bag and many kids would just take out their bottle and drink it in its cooled form. These days kids are so lucky to have thermos flasks which are either cold or hot. And they are spoilt for choice.

Foochow Saying : A greedy woman makes a double dough

My maternal grandmother taught us many moral values through well known Foochow sayings.

And she would always tell us this story during the Winter Festival when we made the Sii Yang or tang yuan.

Our Foochow "sii yang" or glutinous rice balls are thumb sized and coated with delicious soya bean powder and crushed peanuts with a lot of sugar. We would eat them all skewered in a chopstick. In fact, we would have a sii yang eating competition immediately when they were ready for eating.

The saying goes like this: A greedy woman makes a double dough so that she could have more.

Whenever we make our rice balls, we would have the rice soaked and then milled to the exact amount and we seldom would have too much or too little of the rice balls.
In the olden days, the rice would be measured in gantangs (tuirn) made from aluminium, which was equivalent to 2.2 kg. In this kind of mathematical calculation, my older relatives would never be wrong in their recipes. And because they had the correct measurement, it was easy for them to do the exact portion for each festival. They would not make too much and would not waste. Just enough.

Therefore a greedy woman would try to make just a little bit more, and then a little bit more, thinking that what she had was not enough.

This kind of addition of rice and water would end up so much more that she had a double portion of dough.

Therefore, accuracy in the kitchen, was a highly respected value in the olden and frugal Foochow days.

Mother and Son

My father's cousin used to live across the road from us. We called her Ah Koo Rou. she was Mrs. Ling by marriage and had a very big family of very active boys.

Aunty had a brother who was well known for his filial piety. He would visit his mother, downriver every weekend. In those days,whenever a son visited his mother, he would bring some fresh food, including pork,and lots of tinned food like laici and peaches , sardines, tomato sauce, condensed milk, milk powder (Klim) and cabbage. The presents would depend on how much the son could afford and neighbours would come around to have a good look at him and what he brought back and at the same time welcome the boy home.

One weekend this uncle went back home to visit his mother and he was very excited about going home because he knew that his mother would cook his favourite braised duck. His mother had a fairly big duck farm as she lived by the river side.

As was the practice, his mother gave him a duck drumstick to go with his rice. the son pushed the drumstick towards his mother and asked her to have it. But she declined emphatically because she said that she had hers. After a few pushes back and forth, the son decided to eat the drum stick and he expected his mother, who would eat later, to eat hers.

The next day, the mother pushed the second drumstick to her son's bowl and this time, the son refused to eat it. He quickly finished his meal and asked his mother to eat. His mother was very happy to see her son eating up all the vegetables.

By evening time, the meal was made up of what was left over from the other two meals. And as they had no refrigeration, what was left of the duck was stale unfortunately. The second drumstick was stale.

The son was terribly disappointed and the mother was very upset. The son told the mother that it was wasteful to stand on ceremony, or seh ni (in Foochow). As mother and son, they did not have to be so courteous to each other.

To this day, my relatives and I still remember the story of the mother and son and their reluctance to eat the second duck drumstick.

Foochows are still very courteous and they do really, stubbornly stand on ceremony most of the time. You have to strategise to get them to do what you sincerely want. And that is quite difficult.

But today, due to perhaps modern education,many Foochows have changed. It is not so difficult to entertain modern Foochows now.

A Mother's Heart

One of the most impressive women I know in Sibu is a lady who has a fantastic heart for her children and a filial heart for her mother-in-law. She has put own self as low priority and lived a life which served the generation above her and the generation below her.

The western world has written about the sandwich generation, the group of women who have to look after their own children and at the same look after their aging parents who may already be experiencing their second childhood. In this situation the women do not have their own time and self actualization . It has become a social phenomenon in countries, especially Britain where the extended family is not the norm. Usually when women become the sandwich generation, they are more often than not left by their husbands who usually cannot tolerate the extra burdens of their wives.

Hence many of the members of the sandwich generation are also single mothers, left on their own to survive in an even more challenging world, financially, spiritually and socially. And all too often, they are in dire straits.

Having said so much, I would like to get back to this particular mother who has a special heart.

When she found that her husband had gone away or "disappeared" for reasons best known to himself, she was left with five growing and school going children to look after . She took everything in her own stride and was advised by her very good brother to be patient. Her own family , although not wealthy at all,supported her in every possible way.

I believe that when she hanged her husband's photo in their small living room, in a small rented apartment, it was a kind reminder to her children that their father was still in the picture. Her husband had also lost their family property and savings.

She looked after her children until they grew up, went overseas to study even and then gotten married and have families of their own.

At the same time, she never failed, every day to cook for her mother in law. When her mother in law was bed ridden later, she would take the food to her bed side and feed her, spoon by spoon. This she did for more than five years. She went everywhere on foot. At noon she would be sending food to her mother in law and in the evening, she would again do the same. The journey was not too far, but to do something that she did, twice a day, 365 days a year and for so many years,it must have been a gargantuan feat. She would carry an umbrella and walk very slowly in her slipper-clad feet, her tiny frame moving so fraily. It would seem that a wind would blow her away any moment.

This saintly lady never lost her patience and she was very very cheerful at the same time. I have always wondered where she derived the strength to do all that she did. Her love for her children enabled her to be a giant among women.

Today, her unmarried sons are looking after her and she is enjoying, finally her well deserved old age. She continues to care for her children and grand children.

This woman is a very good example of a very strong Foochow woman who has great fortitude and determination, a woman who can even sacrifice her own happiness for her loved ones. Her greatest happiness is to see her children become useful citizens of the society.

Random blurbage on random films...

The Namesake

Mira Nair's film based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri is beautiful to look at, but I am afraid it is nothing more than that. I wasn't particularly moved by the film, although I was certain I was seeing something worth investing my emotions in. However, a lot of it just seemed very formulaic and sitcomy. I liked the performances and I liked the early relationship of Gogol (Kal Penn) and his father, and the story about how is parents came from Calcutta to New York City. To me that was the most interesting part of the story, the first hour or so really works, but it falls apart in the third act when Gogol (going by Nick, since he doesn't want to be called by , what he thinks, is a weird first name anymore) seperates from his likeable and understanding girlfriend, and marries an Indian woman in order to make his mother happy. This dynamic is interesting at first as we get some profound commentary on the roles of women in Indian culture, and how Gogol just thinks that his mother would want him to marry "one of their own" as his aunt puts it.

I wish they would have abandoned the relationships problems between Gogol and his new Indian wife and would have explored the deeper emotions and problems that Gogol's mother has with him so easily falling into tradition, when he was so hell-bent on breaking free from it (something she wishes she could have done). To me, the mother is the most interesting character in the film, she is marginalized by her husband (who is compassionate, but upon leaving India for New York City, repeats the mantra to friends and family that "she'll get used to the city") and expected to be nothing more than an Indian woman. Sadly, the story marginalizes her by the end of the film, and where there really could have been an epiphany between mother and son; they opt to have that moment for the not so shocking scene in the car between Gogol and his father, which reveals the origins of Gogol's name.

It's too hit and miss in the third act, and a lot of the emotional oomph is predictable. However, it is still worth seeing for that first hour and the cinematography is beautiful as the great Frederick Elms (he shot one of my favorite films of the 90's The Ice Storm) shoots the film in a washed out almost black and white look and distracts you long enough in the third act to where you are too busy noticing the beautiful filmmaking, to realize you are watching an ending (to an otherwise good movie) with about as much emotional power as a Lifetime movie.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Well, this is my least favorite of the three. It has its moments (like the extended car chase where not a word of dialogue is spoken, that was awesome) and some good performances (once again Matt Damon does a lot with so little and adding David Strathairn to the mix only helped) but overall I was glad the series was coming to a close. I got my fill of Jason Bourne at about the half way mark of the second film, also directed by Paul Greengrass (and scripted by Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy), which frustrated me beyond belief because not only could I not keep up with the action, I couldn't understand why they were fighting. The camera work in this film is much like the second, so shaky and so feverish that I just wanted to slow it down and watch a frame at a time. Fight scenes in movies that pose as intelligent spy thrillers are only relevant if the audience understands why the protagonist needs to fight. It's hardest to get a grasp on that knowledge (apart from the very basic "they are after me" storyline of the Bourne films) in the third entry.

It's been a good run and I like that the trilogy offered something a little fresher and cleverer than what the genre usually churns out. But I was glad when this film was over that it was the last time I would have to sit through the shaky cam action stylings of Jason Bourne.


Billy Ray's film is a clinic in how to make a smart political thriller. Much like Michael Clayton (my pick for the fourth best film this year, had I seen this at the time I made my list, I would have made them both #4, as they share so many elements), Breach is in the tradition of such great thrillers as The Falcon and the Snowman and 3 Days of the Condor. It excels in the basic understanding that the audience is smart enough to enjoy a thriller that is thrilling based on character development, crisis of conscience, deception, and guilt that just build and builds until a conclusion that is not only a satisfying payoff, but also ambiguous and frustrating in the same way that the tete-a-tete at the end of Zodiac is.

The film is about the accounts of Eric O'Neil, an ambitious FBIer looking to make agent. He is assigned the seemingly boring duty of being watch dog over a perverted, religious, soon-to-be retired Agent, Robert Philip Hanssen. O'Neil (played by the surprisingly good Ryan Phillippe) thinks it's a junk job, a waste of his talents. Watching for perverted mannerisms is not his cup of tea. Hanssen (the criminally underappreciated Chris Cooper) is pushed into a small office while the FBI higher-ups investigate him (O'Neil thinks they are just investigating Hanssen for his unpopular personal online hobby), but in fact he is being marginalized so that he may not have access to the files he once did, you know, seeing how he was selling them to the Soviets and all.

The film tells us that this was the greatest breach in the history of American security. There is a moment when they strip down Hanssen's car and the things they find are pretty incredible. But the film succeeds because they don't look to villainize Hanssen (he did a good job of that himself) rather, Ray and Cooper make a smart decision to portray the troubled traitor as a complex character; deeply religious and devout not to just his God, but his family as well. He is like a grand inquisitor, always sizing people up and never quite sure of a situation, but he isn't paranoid. He looks normal, like any other suit in the organization, a drone if you will, driving his Ford Taurus, he is hardly recognizable. It is in this portrayal of Hanssen, that the film is most intriguing.

As O'Neil slowly begins to realize the "why" he must learn how to concentrate on the "who", as in who is Hanssen? Earlier in the film there is a crisis of conscience as O'Neil feels like the FBI is ragging on this guy for his immoral vices.

What I liked about the film was that Ray decides not to try and explain Hanssen, rather he paints a portrait of a man that felt disrespected and did something to show his superiors just how good of a spy he was.

Religion also plays a large role in the film. It is used not to cleanse, but rather to deceive, and one has to wonder if the last line of the film isn't a joke. Is there any sincerity in the prayers of Hanssen and O'Neil? It seems to me that they use the device as a means for deception, rather than any form of spiritual revelation.

This blurb has already gone on way too long, but there is so much to explicate with the religious themes in the film. Billy Ray is a talented director, his previous film, Shattered Glass, shares many similarities with this one. That film was also about deception (and it also got a surprisingly good performance from a bad actor, Hayden Christiansen), but it had a much more pathetic, yet likeable liar. It was at least understandable why Stephen Glass fabricated his stories. With Hanssen, there is no starting point in trying to understand why he did what he did. Much like the frustration felt in Zodiac, Breach also builds upon the audiences frustration that Hanssen keeps things so close to his chest, he never blows up and reveals his intentions, he never lets on why he gave so much information to what calls "that godless country."

However, the miracle of it all is that Cooper's brilliant performance and Ray's understanding of the material, having treaded similar ground already, is that (much like Stephen Glass) they turn Hanssen into a likeable enough person. By the end of the film, when he utters that last line to O'Neil, you can't help but be moved by this request from a man we have no business feeling sympathy for. It's one of the best films of 2007.

For Hoot The Bell Tolls

Bez, Triple Six Tattoo

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Camera Evolution

Illustrator icons

Super Model

I don't care what my teachers say
I'm gonna be a supermodel.
And Everyone is gonna dress like me,
wait and see

When I'm a supermodel
and my hair will shine like the sea.
Everyone will wanna look just like me

Cause I'm young and I'm hip, and so beautiful,
I'm gonna be a supermodel

I adored this song from the Clueless soundtrack. The lyrics flooded back into my head last weekend when we did a super fun photo shoot for the hot New York label recently launched on TOKYOMADE, chief&mischief.

That Piece of Metal

Up to now, my favourite and most trust-worthy going-out handbag is a small Vuitton Vernis pouch. While I'm not big on monograms, I do think that the monogram on Vernis isn't as obvious or popular as the typical tan-coloured monograms. But what I really like about the Vernis bag is that it's made of patent leather, meaning that it's not 'the end of the bag' if someone spilt a drink on it. Plus the shininess of patent leather just somehow seems to suit going-out at night. But after using it for a few years, it's beginning to turn yellow and just recently at the back of Teen Vogue, the Vuitton ad was advertising this new Vernis bag:

On first glance, I thought it looked like a pretty and practical going-out bag that could last at least four seasons. But right in the centre of the bag, there's gold piece of metal that says 'Louis Vuitton'. In my mind, that's a con.

Unfortunately, having this big piece of metal on bags seems like a thing Marc Jacobs has been favouring in the recent seasons, whether it's at Vuitton...

or Marc Jacobs. Honestly, when I first saw those Marc Jacobs bags in real life, I remember thinking, 'That's ugly. Why would MJ add that brand-named-metal on such nice, contemporary bags?' And is it really necessary? It's usually pretty obvious when a bag is by Marc Jacobs (to me anyways.)

MJ seemed to have started these metal tags a few seasons back with Vuitton's canvas bags. I remember really not liking the tags back then. The thing is, it's understandably harder now for designers to differentiate their bags in the market from high street ones, especially when high street stores manage to produce the bags so quickly and some stores (eg. Zara) actually manage to make the bags to not look cheap. But is this really what designers are offering us now?

This season, Marc by Marc Jacobs has shrunk their metal tag smaller into this 'standard supply' tag, which is kind of an improvement from last season's metal plates (literally). (If you've visited a Marc boutique last season, you would have probably noticed some of the bags had HUGE Marc metal plates on them.)

Gucci has stitched on italic 'Gucci' on some of its bags in recent seasons too. But for some odd reason, it seemed more artistic and prettier than the Louis Vuitton metal tags -and I'm not even a fan of Gucci bags. (The picture here has a huge 'Gucci' name on it. The Gucci bags I'm referring to have smaller ones stitched on.)

Anyways, back to the first Vuitton bag on the top of this post, what does everyone think about it? I can't decide whether the gold metal tag is horrible enough to make me stop considering it!


I have been recently diagnosed. The prognosis; I am a Hoopaholic.

Bunny Hoopstar and her hulahoop troupe based in Sydney are all about cranking the hoop cosmic style.
I am about to embark on a super exciting adventure down under to meet Bunny and hopefully some of the other troupe members.
Stay tuned, I intend to bring back to Tokyo as many zip lock bags as I can filled with their juiciness!

Thank you Bunny!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dr. Xavier and Race Course Road

It is interesting how in the early days,Sibu had street names which came out of an English magician's hat. We had High Street, Race Course Road, Green Road,Cross Road, Bridge Road and Queensway. And of course there was a Market Road. Interestingly there was a Blacksmith Road too. This is indeed the legacy of colonial rule.

However,at some point of time,the local community leaders changed the names of many roads to gain political mileage. With due respect to all those in the road naming committee, some new names like Jalan Tuanku Osman, Jalan Lucky, Jalan Pahlawan were given to some existing and already well named roads. Some of the road names were translated into Bahasa Malaysia. So Lucky Road became Jalan Tuah for example. No one, I believe made any public outcry on that.

One road in Sibu in particular would often bring back many memories of a beloved Indian doctor to me.

Dr. Xavier was the first Indian doctor in Sibu, and he had his clinic on Island Road, next to the See Hua Daily News office, along the block of shop houses as Lee Hua Sawmill, Ting Nguiik Choon Coffee Shop and a large bicycle shop which filled its frontage with lots of new bicycles for sale. There was a Malaysia Daily New (now defunct) office there too. And opposite this block of shophouses were the Methodist Masland Church and Methodist Primary School His clinic was taken over by the son of his dispenser, Mr. Lim I remember when he passed awau. Dr. Lim's Clinic , now renamed,later moved to Jalan Tuanku Osman.

There are several things I remember about Dr. Xavier and his family.

Dr. Xavier was a very strict doctor who would tell his patients to be health conscious and hygienic. I really think that the people of Sibu were not at all unfriendly or unwelcoming to a person of another race. (And furthermore, Dr.Xavier was not a local man as he had come from Kuala Lumpur). We welcomed his services and in fact depended so much upon him for good private medical services. We even gave him a good name, "Seh Mii Ah Ee Ren" or Dr. Seh Mii Ah.

His treatment was careful and pretty good and so a lot of patients got well. My relatives used to say, "One injection from Dr. Xavier and you will be cured." there were three feared diseases at that time : meningitis, TB and polio.

Children used to cry a lot when they went to see him because he wore very thick glasses which magnified his eyes. The older children started to comment on his glasses : "If you wear thick glasses like Dr. Xavier, you must be very clever." Remembering this still brings a smile to my face.

Dr. Xavier built a very good colonial and 1950's style wooden bungalow in Race Course Road. It was a lovely house with a big garden. And his family would drive out of the road from the house. They had a very big European car and it could have been one of the older Volvo models . Mrs.Xavier would always sit at the back of the car, looking very grand. Today whenever I watch a Hindi movie with a scene of Bollywood older ladies sitting at the back of a 50's car, I would think of Mrs. Xavier. Mrs. Xavier was a very white, pale looking Indian lady who looked more European than Indian. She had an extremely sharp nose and sometimes we naughty students would whisper and say that she was a "Persian", thus making the lady even more legendary in our minds.

The couple had two daughters who were very friendly and spoke local Hokkien extremely well. Peggy used to play a lot of soft ball and was a good runner. Joan the older daugher, was more a scholar and she went on to beoome a very good English teacher.

Today the Xaviers are no longer in Sibu but many of the older folks would remember Dr. Xavier with fondness. He had saved many lives. And he was a man who inspired many Sibu students to become doctors. In many ways he showed the people of Sibu what it was to be a really good professional.

But to me, whenever I see the road sign, Race Course Road, I would think of the Xaviers.

Lancome: L.U.C.I

The other day I walked passed the Lancome counter and caught a glimpse of their new SS08 collection. Intrigued by the pretty shell packaging and vibrant colors, I booked an appointment to try out the new collection the very next day!
The theme of this SS08 collection by Gucci Westman is L.U.C.I, Luminescent Colorless Color Intelligence (And yes, I am aware that Colorless starts with a C and not a U. *shrugs* Maybe its a french thing?). The idea is to have a collection of colorless shimmery make-up that changes color all the time adjusting to different skin tones and the reflections of light. Doesn't that concept sound so awesome???
To begin with, the make-up artist did the whole usual cleaning, moisturizer, toner, pore minimizer (it is such a Lancome thing!) routine with me. Then she introduced me to their new make-up primer, La Base, which she applied to my face/nose (to fill in the pores) and under my EYES! Apparently, this is a special oil free formula that is even suitable as a eye primer! I'm not sure I follow the logic of oil free --> suitable for eye thing, but I LOVE the idea of undereye primer. It is SO annoying when the skin there is dry/flaky (even my eye cream has been applied!) and thus looks AWFUL when you apply concealer there. This product is genius. And it might be my imagination or the foundation, but I felt that my pores did look smaller. After all that base, foundation and concealer, she finished off the face with the Photonic Illuminating Powder, which is just loose powder with the sparkly light reflection stuff that is suppose to help highlight and sculpt your features. I really didn't feel the difference.
Moving on we had the eye make-up, where I daresay is where the whole luminescent thing should be at it's best. One of my favourite products out of the whole collection is the Illuminator, which is basically cream eye shadows. that goes on clear but reflects color when light hits it. How totally awesome is that??? I LOVE it. I got the "ray of pink light" shade. You can also use it as a base before you apply powder, but personally I think the powder would just mask the effect. If you get the more neutral apricot shade, you can also use it to highlight your features. After all, it DOES say it is an illuminator for the eyes and face.

The other eye make-up product is the eye shadow palette in the pretty white shell shaped box, the L.U.C.I EYES light color in motion duo eye shadows. I was really excited about it. I love eye shadow palettes and the colors looked so vibrant! The white shade that comes with the color is not simply a typical highlighting color, but it is a photonic eye shadow that changes color when light hits it. You can use it for highlighting or blend it with the color to create a third shade! The lady did a combination of ray of green and ray of purple (which is really quite blue) for me and let me say, the colors go on VERY sharply. Unfortunately for me what looked soo pretty in the palette did not go so well with me.... it was so overdramatic that it bordered on tacky on me. Maybe I am just unused to it? I mean, vibrant colors looked SO well on the models! Or could it be that Asian complexion doesn't go well with greens/blues? Well, in the end, as much as I LOVE eye shadow palettes, I had to pass on these ones. And a good thing too. I met up with 3 of my friends after and they were all totally horrified to see me as such!
To complete my eyes, she applied the Courbe Virtuose mascara on me (after the mascara booster of course). This one is suppose to make the lash curve and give divine length, but to me it just felt like any old Lancome mascara for me.... like Hypnose. Another thing I LOVE about this collection is the lip stuff. Even though the packaging is a bit bulky, I really like the Color Fever Shine (left). Especially since they came out with THE perfect ice pale pink color (Pink Flora) that I've been dreaming about. I love it. It applies quite smoothly too. They also have a collection of photonic Color Fever Gloss (right). They have this nice sheer shade that gives the perfect shine by itself and over lipstick. But one must be careful with these lip colors though. They have these two shades that are completely white that are loaded with photonic stuff that when you put it on your lips, it becomes a scary glowing alien color- not good.

Over all, I like the concept of the luminescent thing and subtly it works. But I reserve judgment on the super vibrant colors and the photonic overloaded lip stuff- thats just a little too much for me!

Phew~ well that was a lengthy review of a make-up collection. Kudos for finish reading it!

Image Source: Lancome

See For Yourself!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Foochow breakfast in Mui Shun Coffee Shop

I have not been able to get a photo of some one playing Erhu in Sibu, specifically in a coffee shop. So I found inspiring photo of Wong Lee Hom playing erhu. I find him a very amazing musician even at my age. So it is fun just to help him advertise here a bit. In my younger days I would have put this poster in my office. However, the point is I do wish he can play his erhu in Sibu and perhaps join the old folks in Mui Shun Coffee Shop.

Mui Shun is a coffee shop that must have existed since 1903, or at least since 1928 after the fire of Sibu, when the whole Sibu town was rebuilt with concrete and steel. It is situated on Channel Road and faces the Sibu Express Jetty. You cannot miss it because it is at the corner of Island Road and Channel Road. It can be considered the busiest corner of Sibu, especially during the 60's.

The coffee shop has another beautiful feature - in the evenings, the Foochow orchestra of Er Hu and other instruments would be practising even while people began to go home for their evening rest. Mr. Wong Nieng Siing was the leader of this Foochow musical orchestra at that time. Perhaps they were the only ones who kept Foochow music alive.

Many people would associate eating you char kueh with soy bean milk, with this coffee shop.

You Char Kueh has an unusual story behind its existence. This popular breakfast food, for as long as I can remember, first became known to me in Mui Shiin in Sibu and the towkay made good ones in the days of my youth. The night market stall owners came much later. But then, I am not very sure, after so many years, who was the one who introduced You Char Kueh to Sibu. That would be a great find indeed.

So whenever you are in Sibu, go to Mui Shiin Coffee shop and order a nice cup of coffee and watch the people go by.

Perhaps today, you might not be able to buy you char kueh directly in the shop. But you can get other breakfast items.

Below is the story of you char kueh:

You Tiao and You Zha Gui - Deep-fried Ghost came from China, naturally. You Tiao, or You Zha Gui (deep-fried ghost), the Chinese deep-fried breadstick stuck in pairs, is such a common breakfast for hundreds of years. Often eaten with hot soya milk or plain rice porridge (some call it congee) in the morning, it is also used to complement Bak Kut Teh (pork rib in herbal soup) and all sorts of rice porridge such as chicken porridge.

What’s interesting is, the breadstick gained its intriguing name from a rather heavy and serious part of the Chinese history. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), there was a famous and well-respected General, Yue Fei (岳飛), who had been known for his loyalty towards the kingdom and his Emperor, to the extent of getting the four words: 精 (jing - utmost) 忠 (zhong - loyal) 報 (bao - serve) 國 (guo –country) meaning “serving the country with the utmost loyalty”, tattooed on his back by his equally patriotic mother. Yue Fei had fought hard to protect the kingdom, against the outer invasions particularly the Jin Dynasty (or the Kingdom of Jin: 金國).

However, the Prime Minister of the time, Qin Gui (秦檜) had unusually resented Yue Fei for some, or no reason. With the manipulative influence from his wife and to gain real power, he accused Yue Fei of a crime “Mo Xu You” (莫須有: could be or could be not guilty, but not necessarily innocent) and executed him.

Although frustrated, there was nothing the public civilians could do. To relieve his anger, a baker thought of an idea of making bread in the shape of 2 people twisted together and deep-fried it in burning hot oil. The shape was to signify Qin Gui and his wife, and this fried bread was named “You Zha Gui”, meaning deep-fried ghost, because the word ghost in Chinese is pronounced the same as “Gui” in Qin Gui’s name; and in the public’s eye, they surely were as bad as ghosts. Symbolically, they had burnt the Qin Gui couple in hot oil and eaten them up.

Through the years, You Zha Gui has been given another name as You Tiao (plainly means deep-fried breadstick), and its shape has also been much simplified to what we see today. This is however, just what we’ve learned in primary school history, and a small extract from the much more complicated Song history (which is good enough for You Tiao). To know more about the Song Dynasty and the detailed biography of Yue Fei, a library that stock academic books on Chinese history would be a good place to go.

Crullers are a popular Chinese breakfast item.
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon alum
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
7/8 cup water
2 cups all purpose flour
8 cups oil for deep-frying
Place salt, alum, baking soda, and ammonium bicarbonate in a mixing bowl. Add water and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add flour. Stir with chopsticks to make the dough soft and smooth.

Knead the dough until it is elastic.

Ang Pow and other stories

Today I received an ang pow or Little Red Envelope or - "Ya Sui Qian" from a very loving eighty year old aunt. She insisted that any one, at any age, who visits her must have an envelope. I was terribly touched by her traditional attitude, and she has no reservations about giving her gift of money, even though she is no earning an income now.

You may have seen the little red envelopes containing money, given out during Lunar New Year. Some call it Hung Bao (means red packet), some call it Ang Pao (depending on the dialect), but the original name of the money wrapped in little red envelope is Ya Sui Qian. It is given to children by their parents for good luck, and it is only given by those who are married, to those who are younger. It will usually be given to children who come to visit the family, or to the younger frined and relatives whom we visit. Chinese are very particular about longevity of life, and they - well, we - believe that by doing so, our ageing process can be decelerated. (Ya Sui means compressing age, Qian means money) Honestly, a lot of younger Chinese nowadays, are not aware of this. The money contained in the packet has over-shone the real meaning of the gesture.

I have a few anecdotes about the giving of ang pow, some are sad, some are hilarous and some a totally mean.

A friend told me that when she was young, her widowed mother would never let her visit any of her father's relatives because the mother would not be able to reciprocate the angpow they received and these relatives would say a lot of negative things about their unlucky family. So when she was young, the only angpow she received was from her mother. And she developed a terrible fear of visiting people because she did not want her mother to suffer from unnecessary anxieties. Besides, she and her siblings developed very low self esteem. But because she and her sister became Christians, they were blessed by an unusual intelligence at secondary school. They graduated with top honours and went on to become high ranking bank officers. In later years,the family was blessed with exceptional wealth and health. Her father's family changed their attitude towards her mother. But childhood nightmares often cannot be erased from one's mind.

In my own experience, many relatives would give less to us so that my mother need not reciprocate with a large amount to give to their children. We received one or two dollars very shyly from these mean-er aunts. We did not develop much social confidence actually after my father passed away. But I remember fondly one or two aunts who were very good to my mother and us. We would sit in the kitchen on our visits and they would open up every biscuit tin to give us pieces of goodies. We were not bashful to visit these aunts on Chinese New Year. They were the same genuinely good when my children visited them in later years. It was so kind of them.

A wealthy woman was known to give out ang pows marked with stars. The children of lesser important people were given one star ang pow, the significant ones were given two star ang pows, and the close relatives and very significant ones were given three star angpow. She had all these angpows in different hand bags as well. Her maids would be told to hold these hand bags properly. I believe that she has an excellent memory to be able to manage all these little red packets through out the days of her New Year Celebration . One year my friend's star must be shinning particularly bright upon her. Her children were delighted to receive an extra star of angpow. The following year, they went very early to visit her. But their star dropped. I wonder what kind of evaluation system she used. She is ahead of ISO creditation.

But I think the best angpow that I ever received was from a well known local dignitary, now a Tan Sri. My husband and I met him at the old Sibu airport accidentally one Chinese New Year season and he just automatically reached into his pocket to put a good handsome note into my son's hands. He simply said, "How wonderful to meet such a nice looking boy. Here's his angpow for the New Year." He was genuine, and he had no hesitation of giving the money (although not wrapped in a red envelope. I was overwhelmed by his genuine kindness,sincerity and display of family love! I have been blessing him all these years.

Other Activities, Practices and Taboos
Other common practices are new clothes, new hair-cut (traditionally, those who are in mourning stage are not allowed to have their hair cut), paying visits to friends and relatives to give good greetings to each other, reconciliations, etc. popular festive activities such as Lion Dance and Dragon dance are believed to have the effect of ridding evils and bad luck, and to bring harvesting rain in the coming year.

Naturally, there are taboos that we have to abide during the festive season. Any sharp, pointy objects are not to be visible, no sweeping is allowed during the first few days of the New Year - even brooms have to be hidden away - to prevent any good luck or fortune that may be swept away. Breaking anything is also a taboo. Should it unfortunately happen, we will have to quickly say something nice to accompany it, such as Sui Sui Ping An - which means "out of harm's way, all year round". "Sui" means age or year, which sounds the same as "shattered". Apart from that, any vocabulary related to unfortunate event is a big No-No. In our family, we have to even hide the eggs away.

Vegetarian meal

Many Chinese choose to eat only vegetarian meal throughout the first day of the Lunar New Year. This is mainly for the belief of cleansing and for good deeds.

Other must-haves

Other new year must-haves are Mandarin oranges, dried oyster, various types of melon seeds and sweets, steam cake (Fa Gao - symbolises proprerity), oil-preserved smoked duck and smoked sausages, etc.

Then it will be the spring-cleaning, that indicates sending the old and bad away, and prepare to welcome a better new year.

Modern takes on decorations

As the New Year is approaching, most Chinese will shop for some good luck plants. More popular ones are Narcissus flowers, chrysanthemum, plum blossom and peach blossom. It is believed that, if the peach blossom blooms on the 1st day of New Year, the person or the family will have good luck for the year or find love. But these plants are only found in 4-season countries so Chinese who are in warmer countries will have to settle for other alternatives.

The red strips of paper with writing on are called Dui Lian (paired sentences), which come in pairs. These sentences should be written in complimenting manner, for instance, the first sentence (Shang Lian - "upper sentence") should have the noun, verb, etc complimenting the noun, verb, etc in second sentence (Xia Lian - "lower sentence"), in the same order. These phrases often describe the mood in spring and receiving fortune and luck. People will also put up other red decorations such as the word "Fu" (luck) on the wall or the main door. Some may like to place it upside down, reason being, "upside down" in Chinese shares the same sound with "arriving". So it in a way signifies the arriving of a lucky year.

A Long and Colourful Celebration
The Lunar New Year celebration officially lasts for 15 days. The second day of the New Year is the day when all married daughters have to go back to their parents' home for a visit. They is usually accompanied by their husbands, especialy the newly weds.

Yuan Xiao - The Chinese Valentine's Day

This is not really practised by the Foochows in Sibu. But we know more about it from old stories, books, movies and now the TV.

The 15th day is also being referred to as the Chinese Valentine's day. On this day, many single girls will gather at the riverside upstream to toss mandarin oranges into the river, with the hope that the right single men who await downstream, will pick up the oranges.

It is believed that this act will bring the person to his/her right match. So it's no surprise the mandarin oranges will sell really well on that day.

The Rejang is just too big for this to be practised!! And it is not practical any way because there are too many different races living along the river. One can imagine how a marriage could be concluded if a person of another race picks up the orange!! A Malay friend of mine did indicate a long time ago that he was waiting to pick up a mandarin orange because he would like to marry a Chinese girl this way.

Chinese New Year Eve Memories

When we were young we would be so excited about the arrival of the first day of the new year and we were asked to sleep early so that we could get up early the next day to help father let off the fire crackers to announce the lovely first day of the new Lunar Year. That was an exciting time.

Later as we grew older we learned about other Chinese who would stay up all night to play mahjong or gamble or talk. We felt that we were very different from other dialectic groups. And we wondered about the differences. However we just accepted that we Foochows were just different.

One beautiful,treasured and memorable activity we had with aunts and cousins, dear relatives was the getting together on the first few days of the Lunar year to crack melon seeds and tell stories, over cups of warm Chinese tea. Seated around the family marble table we would crack the melon seeds daintily with our good teeth and relate stories old and new to each other. Sometimes it could be very academic, sometimes it could just be something so hilarious that we stopped talking and laughed our hearts out. And there would be teasing too. Seventh Aunt would always bashfully say that she could not understand our English and we would revert back to Foochow for her sake. And then all the banter would start again in English, in Foochow and even Hokkien. All these were just warm feelings which flowed through our veins , across three generations sometimes,and we would look forward to another visit, perhaps the next year, or even the next few months. These were good days of good family togetherness which wealth cannot obtain.

Although my maternal grandmother passed away many years ago, I

Chinese New Year Eve - 30th Night

My mother would usually go overboard when it comes to the 30th Night. She had known bad and hungry days when she was younger, when she had to give the only slice of chicken to her younger brother and she would go without meat herself. Those were the Japanese Occupation days when the extended family depended on everyone's effort to grow vegetables, rear chickens and dig for potatoes while at the same time being afraid of Japanese soldiers coming for a raid.

In the 1970's when she grew older and as we children started having jobs and bringing home enough for her, she was more than happy to cook a good New Year Eve's dinner for us.

Today, already in her 80's the Reunion Dinner on the New Year's Eve is important and everyone in the family is expected to be present. However each year she would also remember the loved ones who had gone earlier: my father and my brother. But the evening is for the living and there is a quiet joy as we count our blessings. Sometimes we would have an aunt or a cousin to join us and that is definitely an added blessing.

However certain years in the past, just to be a little different, we had dinner or made do with even a lunch in a local restaurant.

What is significant for the New Year Eve dinner is that we must have fish on the menu. In Chinese (Yu) shares the same sound with the word 'extra' or 'leftover'. There is a New Year phrase that says "Nian Nian You Yu" which means, "there is some (fish) leftover from the previous year, every year". Therefore the lucky fish is a lucky dish, and paintings of fish are also loved by many. We will usually keep a little leftover from the reunion dinner, just as a symbolic gesture.

Although we Foochows generally do not like Fa Cai, sometimes for the fun of it, we will cook this common lucky dish which means "prosperity and good fortune". Fa Cai is a type of fungi that looks a lot like shiny black hair, and its Chinese name sounds just like "prosperity" in Chinese; whilst Hao Shi is preserved oyster, which sounds like "good things".

Besides we also have duck, chicken, noodles, and a green vegetable which is usually leek (in Chinse it means count - so it would imply that we have plenty of money to count). Many Chinese like to have abalone and sharksfin. But as we become more environmentally conscious we are beginning to make do without sharksfin especially. Personally I cannot bear to picture the finless sharks' carcass being thrown into the sea.

The reunion dinner is always a happy occasion when everyone will let down their hair and eat to their heart's content.

And my mother would always enjoy seeing so much left over. She would say, "A lot , a lot!!" This is very auspicious for all of us and the year would be bountiful.

May you have a prosperous, blessed and healthy Lunar New Year!!

And a Chun Lian or Spring Couplet for you:
Ping,Ping, Ang, Ang (Peace) or Chu Jin Pin Ang (Peace wherever you go)
Wan Zhi ru Yi (Success in every endeavour)

Tung Kui or Nien Gao

I read in the Star how an Indian man each year would make thousands of nien gao for sale and this part time ibusiness of his is a booming one. I am glad thatan Indian can make a niche for himself in the Chinese community, and provide part time employment for more than forty people before Chinese New year. This is a good example of real supply and demand in Samuelson's classical economic schema.

Nien Gao is Chinese New Year must-have It means every year we achieve higher. In Miri, there is a figure 3099 (Samling Gao Gao) which is sported by Samling Company. It indicates that Samling goes higher and higher. Therefore the sound Gao is a good sound to the Chinese ear.

According to Chinese legends,this sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can't badmouth the Chinese family to the God of all Gods (Yu Huang Da Di). Nowadays, the Chinese can easily buy their Nian Gao from the supermarket, but may still choose to cook it traditionally.

The sweet sticky cake doesn't usually get consumed completely during Chinese New Year period, due to the overwhelming choices of other food. So we often have loads of leftover of the cake. We'll wrap it up and keep it in the fridge for future use, for example fry it up, or steam it for a snack.

Each year my family will retell tales of Chinese New year experiences when we get together. And this is one related to nien gao.

My grandmother's house in Ah Nang Chong, Lower Southern Village, was a typical Foochow house with the kitchen jutting out at the back of the house. Actually the kitchen was a separate unit, and it was linked to the main house by an open verandah,where we had our all night long story telling sessions. The verandah, called "lang nor" in Foochow, also acted as a sitting room. This is in fact an ingenious piece of architecture, most probably invented by the Foochows and was a safety facility idea.

My mother's eldest sister in law (Tui Ging)was a keen cook and she decided to make a lot of nien gao for the new year, to be given out as gifts to her close relatives. So she had herself prepared with lots of wood for the stove, lots of flour and sugar.
Having finished tapping rubber, and processing it, she started her work on the nien gao and in no time, the nien gao was ready for steaming. She steamed batch by batch into the early hours of the morning. And she had already been up and about for twenty four hours. At that time, the kitchen was lit only by a small kerosne lamp called "tu mah giang", as it was fuel saving. In the bed rooms, we had a small kerosene lamp, and in the living room or langnor, we would have a pressure lamp. The Yamaha generator was invented then.

My aunt was a child bride and all her life she tried her best to please her in- laws. She did not have the luxury of having an education but instead she had to rear pigs, chickens, cook, tap rubber, carry water from the river, wash clothes by the river side, raise a huge family of two girls and six boys(without family planning) and get along well with a huge extended family.

She was a loving wife,mother, aunt and sister. Life was truly a challenge to her. But towards the last two decades of her life, her family was able to buy a good house in Sibu and they became town folks with all the amenities to make her life easier. Foochow women in the past were often classified into those who had good fate and those who had bad fate. And most would like to be in the category of having good fate towards the later part of their life. So many would say that my aunt fell into this category.

After many hours of steaming, the last batch was in the kuali for steaming.She unfortunately dosed off . A fire broke out in her kitchen but luckily someone was awake and saved the kitchen from being hurt by a Chinese New year fire. My poor aunt was fast asleep. AT that time, alarm clocks were only used for waking up to tap rubber, not in the kitchen for nien gao making!!!! Sixty years later,today we are blessed with Tefal steamers which have built in timer.

Also, if there had been a fire, the verandah would have been literally hacked off to save the main house from the fire. This was the safety valve.

Everyone took it humourously and we had lots of nien gao to eat. There was only a slight damage. No harm done!! Four families were living together in this house with my grandmother. One can imagine how horrifica it might have been. All was forgiven. All the more reason to celebrate because of the lucky escape!!

(I hope my cousins will forgive me for retelling the story here.)

Here's the recipe for nien gao

Ingredients: (Makes 4-5 10 cm nien gao)

Cooking time : 8 hours.

250 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
250 ml water
280 g brown sugar
A few bamboo or banana Leaves, run over flame to drive out the moisture (but not burnt)
4-5 10 cm-width round baking tins
Some hemp strings
Few layers of muslin cloths (or aluminium foil)

Mix glutinous rice flour and water into a smooth paste. Add in brown sugar and mix well till sugar is diluted. Leave aside while preparing the containers.
Line tins with bamboo or banana leaves (make sure it is cut to a size that has excess on the top and can be folded down to wrap around the edge of the tin). Secure the lining with the hemp strings.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn heat to low.
Pour the paste mixture into the tins, and steam over the boiling water in the pot on low heat for about 8 hours. Securely wrap the lid with muslin cloths so that the water condensation will not drip into the cakes.

The New Year Cake will turn into reddish brown colour when cooked. Alternatively, wait till it is cool to get it out of the tins.

The better stoves to use for making this nien gao are the simple Chinese kerosene stove, and the huge Foochow wood stove. The huge Foochow kuali, which is quite rare now, can contain 10 to 15 litres of water for steaming three layers of bamboo steamers. So at one go, you can make at least 24 nien gao.

This year the going price is RM 6 for a small round piece. The price has really gone up.

Tip : place a china spoon in the boiling water through the steaming process, so that you can tell that the water has not dried up (the spoon in the boiling water knocks against the inside of the pot and make continuous noise).

Zombie Attack

Bangka Island Massacre

Wars bring about many untoward and horrendous incidences, some are best forgotten, but some cannot be forgotten. And massacres are indeed horrific experiences. The Chinese would always remember the Nanking Massacre of 1937. But an incident quite near Sarawak, and very related to the Brooke Rule,was the Massacre at Bangka Island. I am writing about this because the massacre involved women and in particular, nurses. And it was related to Sarawak's last Rajah's coastal steamer, especially requisitioned for war effort. Wars also bring about greatness in men and women.

16th February 2007 will be 65th anniversary of the Bangka Island massacre.

Not many people today know of massacre. On 16 February 1942, Japanese soldiers machine gunned 22 Australian military nurses. There was only one survivor.

On 12 February 1942, the Vyner Brooke was requisitioned to help in the war effort. It left Singapore just before the city fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. The ship contained many injured service personnel and 64 Australian nurses of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. The ship was shelled and sunk by the Japanese. Two nurses were killed in the bombing, nine were last seen drifting away from the ship on a raft and were never heard from again, and the rest reached shore at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).

These nurses joined up with a group of men and injured personnel from the ship. Once it was discovered that the Island was held by the Japanese, an officer went to surrender the group to the authorities in Muntok. A small group of women and children headed off after him. The Australian nurses stayed to care for the wounded. They set up a shelter with a large Red Cross sign on it.

Shortly afterwards, ten Japanese soldiers led by an officer appeared. They ordered all the wounded capable of walking to travel around a headland, where they were shot and bayonetted. The soldiers returned and ordered the remaining twenty two nurses to walk into the surf. A machine gun was set up on the beach and when the women were waist deep, they were machine-gunned. All but Sister Lt Vivian Bullwinkel were killed.

Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel was unconscious when she washed up on the beach and was left for dead. She evaded capture for ten days, but was eventually caught and imprisoned. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.

In addition to my research notes above, I am including an account by a Maritime Historian, Vincent Foo, dated dated 6/10/2001 :

"According to an article published on pages 278 to 279 in the 1 November 1927 issue of the Sarawak Gazette, the Vyner Brooke had cabins on the upper deck for 44 first class passengers. These cabins were situated amidships. In addition, on the shade deck were situated the deluxe cabins. It is safe to say that the Vyner Brooke could accommodate 50 first class passengers. I have not, so far, been able to ascertain how many deck passengers she could carry. However, as her tonnage was 1,679 and she carried lifeboats, rafts and lifebelts for 650 persons (according to the same Sarawak Gazette article), she probably carried at least 200 deck passengers. There are no records to show that between 1927 and 1942 that the Vyner Brooke had been renovated so that her carriage of first class passengers had been reduced to only 12."

Here's Vivian Bullwinkel's recollection:
Originally built to carry 12 passengers, the Vyner Brooke soon became terribly overcrowded with over 265 frightened men, women and children, plus the 65 AANS nurses. Short of food and water, the ship finally set sail just as darkness set in. It was to be a never-to-be-forgotten scene: huge fires were burning along the whole front of Singapore and a heavy pall of black smoke hung over the island. In the gathering darkness, the captain unwittingly steered the vessel into a minefield and was forced to stop for the night.

The next day (Friday the 13th February) was spent hiding behind islands and avoiding detection. The day was hazy and hot, the sea was calm and the captain knew that he would be foolish to attempt to breakout in these conditions. That night, the Vyner Brooke attempted to slip out to freedom, and eventually it reached the Bangka Strait. After dodging bombs from Japanese planes and machine gun fire which had left the starboard lifeboats holed, the ship eventually received three direct hits (it was 2pm on the 14th of February). One bomb went down the funnel, while another exploded on the bridge, the third hit the aft section injuring scores of civilians. The vessel began to pitch and soon the frightened passengers heard the sound of pouring water. The Vyner Brooke was sinking and the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The ship was to sink in approximately 15 minutes.

Some of the nurses helped to move the wounded topside, while others lent a hand getting everyone up on deck. The civilians were ordered to go over the side first, and Vivian Bullwinkel was later to recall that "…those that weren't too keen to leave, we gave a helping hand to!" They were no sooner in the water, than enemy pilots returned and began strafing the human flotsam. There was utter pandemonium, one lifeboat holding the elderly and children turned over and two empty lifeboats, with bullet holes in them , dropped into the sea.

Later, Bullwinkel helped to see to the casualties and eventually evacuated the ship by climbing down a rope ladder. She was able to get ashore by hanging onto the side of one of the life boats. Though the lifeboat was overcrowded, they were able to reach Bangka Island by late afternoon. Earlier survivors, including Matron Drummond (one of the senior nurses), had lit a fire on the beach and it was this fire that acted as a beacon for the others still in the water.

Here is a write up on her life's contribution to Australia, and Malaysia.

In 1941, at the age of 26, Bullwinkel enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), Australian Imperial Force (AIF). She reported for duty in May and in September embarked for Singapore as a staff nurse with the newly-raised 2/13th Australian General Hospital (AGH).

Bullwinkel served in Singapore from September 1941 until she was evacuated with 64 other Australian Army nursing sisters aboard a small coastal steamer, the Vyner Brooke. It was 12 February 1942, only three days before Singapore fell to the Japanese. On 14 February, heading for Sumatra via Banka Strait, the ship was sunk by Japanese bombers. She was with a group of survivors on Banka Island when a Japanese patrol arrived and ordered the 22 women in the group to walk into the sea. They were machine-gunned from behind. All except Bullwinkel were killed.

After two weeks in the jungle caring for a wounded British soldier, Bullwinkel gave herself up and rejoined 31 other nurses who had made it to shore. The surviving 32 nurses spent the next three and a half years as prisoners of war on Banka Island and Sumatra. Of the original 65 nurses evacuated from Singapore on the Vyner Brooke only 24, including Sr Bullwinkel, returned to Australia. During their internment eight nurses died as a result of malnutrition and other easily treated diseases; tragically this occurred in the last seven months of their captivity.

Among Bullwinkel's papers (recently donated to the Australian War Memorial) is the only postcard she was allowed to send home, in March 1943. Exemplifying the courage of the nurses, she made light of her situation. Bullwinkel wrote to her mother with a great sense of humour, "My roving spirit has been somewhat checked."

Bullwinkel gave evidence before the Tokyo war trials in December 1946 and was described a model witness. After the war, she could not face working in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), and so she decided to become a civilian nurse. She retained her position at Heidelberg Military Hospital when it was taken over by Repatriation, and as assistant matron continued to care for Australian servicemen. From 1955 to 1970, Bullwinkel served as a lieutenant colonel in 3 Royal Australian Nursing Corps Training Unit (CMF).

On retirement in 1977, she was Director of Nursing, Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Victoria. While at Fairfield, she organised a rescue mission to evacuate Vietnamese war orphans from Saigon and supervised their convalescence before adoption to Australian families. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross, ex-service, nursing and other voluntary organizations. An achievement close to her heart was the instigation of nursing scholarships so that Malaysian nurses could finish training in Australia.

Bullwinkel received many honours and awards and was selected by the National Heritage 200 Committee for inclusion in the bicentennial publication The people who made Australia.

Bullwinkel married Colonel Francis West Statham OBE, ED in September 1977. She returned to Banka Island with Frank in 1992 to select a site for a memorial, and found herself once more standing on Radji beach, struggling to understand why such dedicated young women had so ruthlessly lost their lives.

In 1993, with the dedication of the memorial on Banka, she fulfilled a long-held ambition to make a fitting tribute to her colleagues. Vivian and Frank came to Canberra in October 1999 for the dedication of the Australian Service Nurses Memorial. Sadly, Frank died on 3 December 1999.

Bullwinkel was a great supporter of the work of the Australian War Memorial. From 1964 to 1969 she was the first woman trustee. On display in the Second World War gallery, her white nurse's uniform with the trace of a bullet hole above the hip gives testimony to the loss of life on Banka Island. To coincide with the dedication of the Australian Service Nurses National memorial, she donated diaries with entries dated from August 1941 to February 1942 to the Memorial. These describe her life in Singapore before it fell and the desperate evacuation aboard the Vyner Brooke. Then in April 2000, she donated her collection of personal papers, a rich source of material for historians and a significant heritage acquisition for the Memorial.

Vivian Bullwinkel died on July 3, 2000 and the whole of the Australian nation went into mourning. In the end, this naturally reserved woman, with the gentle smile, had helped her friends achieve a measure of immortality.

Malaysian nurses,in particular, have lost a great friend and a role model.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...