Twelve months, one year…

Today, the 4th of March, marks the 1st Anniversary of my dear mum’s passing from this world…so yesterday, on our way to my girl’s school in the jungle, we stopped by the memorial park along the way to offer prayers and flowers…

Mum's 1st Anniversary

My girl insisted on going to the shop and picking the blooms herself for her beloved grandma and she got the florist to do the arrangement and paid for everything. She truly is a gem, that girl of mine. They were very close when my mum was still around – all the years that she was bedridden and my girl was posted to teach in her present school, she would keep asking when her grandchild would be coming back. We would send her on Sunday and when we dropped by the house on Monday, she would be asking about her already, right through till Friday!

In the meantime, my brother is back in Sibu for this and last Saturday, we went here for a simple lunch together, the three siblings plus my girl and my missus. We had the sizzling venison on a hot plate…

Sizzling venison

…something we had not had for quite sometime and the general consensus was that it was very nice.

My sister suggested their fried cangkuk manis with egg…

Cangkuk manis with egg

…as my brother had not had that since he got back this time around.

My girl wanted the Four Heavenly Kings, ching chao (fried plain)…

Four Heavenly Kings

…again and also their salted egg chicken…

Salted egg chicken

…as well.

The four dishes plus their Foochow tofu soup, 5 altogether, for the 5 of us came up to only RM72.00 and my girl insisted on picking up the tab as she has been working for six years now in that school in the jungle and she had not had the chance to give her uncle a treat whenever he was back in town. She’s a sweet girl, really – has a heart of gold.

RUBY RESTAURANT  is located at No. 71, Jalan Kampung Nyabor right next to HOME COOK CORNER  (2.292756, 111.825335) with the AmBank Tunku Osman branch in the very next block.

Pray…

It was not a very good day last Sunday. There was this landslide at a small town not too far away that not only cut off its communication links but also disrupted the water supply.

We did not manage to go for the novena and the sunset service the night before as we were at the wedding reception so we went for the early morning service before going for breakfast here.

My girl wanted the Sarawak laksa (RM6.00, small – up by 50 sen now)…

Thomson Corner Sarawak laksa

…the other day but not that morning. Anyway, I tapao-ed two packets for her and also for her housemate/colleague for their dinner that evening and yes, it was good as always but I thought that two of the prawns were a bit off so I spat them out and yes, the sambal belacan

Thomson Corner sambal belacan

…was good, obviously made from the better quality Bintulu or Mukah varieties, much nicer than the one here and heaps nicer than this one as well.

My missus had their kampua mee (RM3.20)…

Thomson Coerner kampua mee

…which, of course, is more expensive than most around town and at best, I would say theirs is pretty all right – good enough if you do not have a lot of time in town and would like to get to eat as many of the local delights as possible.

My girl had their pian sip (RM3.50)…

Thomson Corner pian sip

…which at one time, was one of my favourites in town but for reasons unknown, it was taken off the menu. Well, they have it back again now and my girl complained of it being too salty so she had to rinse each of them in the complimentary soup before eating. Probably, the employee spilled too much of the light soy sauce into the bowl. I did try one, rinsed too, of course, and I thought it was good.

After that, we headed home so I could have a short rest before we made our way to my girl’s school in the jungle. Just before leaving, I saw a Facebook friend sharing a photograph of this accident so we decided to use the old road…

Old Oya Road
*Google Maps photo*

…to avoid the slippery road (because of the oil spill) and the congestion. This is a very narrow two-lane road, one going and one coming, a bit winding at times but it is very good, mostly, hardly any of those bumpy “patchwork quilts” along the way and that morning, there were hardly any cars, none of those horrendous reckless, fast and furious show-offs and none of those road bullies that one would meet on the other road that we would usually use. If it is going to be like this all the time, I certainly would choose to go by this way in future.

It was an uneventful drive all the way to my girl’s school and when we reached there, it had started to rain so we did not stay long and quickly made our way back to town. We had just left the school when I received word from my sister, “Very heavy rain in Sibu! Drive safely!” Well, it did not just rain heavily there but where we were too till we had gone past Selangau Bazaar. Much to my relief, it was not raining, just extremely dark like late evening , almost night and I was glad to be able to make it past many of the lencongans (diversions) along the way.

Then, it came! The heavy downpour, so heavy that visibility was close to zero and there were flash floods everywhere which came as no surprise as the people involved in the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway did not bother about the drainage at all…and there was no way whatsoever by which one could tell if there were any potholes, big or small under the muddy water as one crawled through slowly.

We came to one part that was severely flooded and there were many cars all lined up in the heavy rain, all unsure whether to take the risk and make their way across the fast-flowing water or not. I did not want to wait any longer as if the rain would go on for a while longer, it might render the road completely impassable to traffic. I certainly would not want to end up like the inter-town bus in the flood around this same time last year.

That was why I drove straight ahead into the water. I am not sure but maybe there was a massive pothole and I drove into it causing an upsurge of the muddy water, splashing all over my bonnet. “This is the end!” I thought to myself, expecting the car engine to stop dead and we would end up stuck in the middle of the torrential current…but miraculously, the engine did not give up and I managed to drive on…out of the water and the next instant, we were on our way.

The rain got heavier and heavier and I was feeling the toll so I decided to stop at Stapang for a brief rest and to wait for the storm to abate. It was there that I realised that I had lost my front license plate…

casualtyofthepanborneohighway

…and also the plastic cover of the spot/fog light on the right. Well, that was not as bad as what we saw – somebody’s bumper, liver red or maroon in colour, dropped off and was left behind in the middle of the road! Of course, I am most thankful that we got home safe and sound, everything else is secondary but one thing’s for sure, should we ever be caught in a similar situation again in future (God forbid, touch wood!), I will never ever attempt anything so foolish again. Lesson learnt!

Every week, without fail, I would pray fervently for God’s guidance and protection all along the way to my girl’s school in the jungle and back, twice (four  trips) a week, at least…and I will always give thanks that He has never failed to keep us safe all the time and yes, I do believe that it is because of our faith in Him and it was He who calmed the wind and the sea that had brought us safely across the raging flood, praise the Lord!

SIBU THOMSON CORNER (2.296517, 111.840710) is located at Pusat Tanahwang, opposite Sacred Heart Secondary School, Oya Road or you can go to their other outlet on the 1st floor of the Medan Mall, Jalan Wong King Huo.

You’re next…

My friends’ eldest son, Daniel, got married in 2014. Wow!!! Was it that long ago? That was some 5 years ago and of course, he and his wife, Natalie, are blessed with one pretty little girl now and last Saturday, the 23rd of March, my friends’ youngest son, Alvin, tied the knot with the love of his life, Stellia. Of course, we were at the church service…

Wedding mass

…that morning for what I always believe to be the most important part of any wedding for the solemnisation of their marriage vows.

I did not go round taking a whole lot of photographs as they had a few professional guys to do the job but I did get this shot of the father of the bride with his daughter…

Here comes the bride

…as they walked up to the altar to give away her hand in Holy Matrimony and another one of the bride and groom…

Just married

…as they were walking out of the church as man and wife.

That night, we attended the wedding reception at the grand ballroom of the leading hotel in town…

Backdrop

…and no, I did not take a lot of photographs either…

Centrepiece

…but I did snap one of my favourite duck stuffed with glutinous rice…

Duck stuffed with glutinous rice

I guess I enjoyed it very much which prompted my girl to comment that I had quite a few helpings that night.

Both my friends were in the education service, now retired…like me and the gathering that night was like one big happy reunion, meeting so many old friends – teachers, principals most of whom are retired too…like me. We sure had a lovely evening, I must say.

Thank you so much, Catherine & Stephen for the invitation and congratulations to you two, the proud parents and of course, to Alvin and Stellia – may God bless you both with abundant bliss in the years ahead. All the best, cheers!

No one’s home…

Last Tuesday was Chap Goh Meh which marked the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities.

My missus asked if I wanted a steamboat dinner that night and I said no. I did not see any point going through all that when there were just the two of us at home. In the end, we just had a simple dinner like on any other day.

I can imagine those old couples with lots of children but either they and their own families are living and working elsewhere in the country or abroad or the girls have got married and have their commitments (among the Chinese, they are considered as having “married out” already) or have moved away as well. No matter what they may say or do, at times like this, I am sure they would feel something when no one’s home.

My girl enjoys a steamboat dinner so I suggested having a belated celebration on Friday evening when we had gone to her school in the jungle to bring her home.

It was our no-meat Friday – yes, we can eat fish and other kinds of seafood and ever since my growing-up years, I have abstained from meat on Fridays. I guess that was some kind of sacrifice but these days, it is not so much the going without meat part but the pinch that one feels when paying for fish, prawns and all kinds of seafood. It is so expensive, a luxury many can ill afford. Incidentally, they have stretched this practice even further these days – you may choose another form of sacrifice like not watching television, not going online, giving up smoking or drinking for the whole day, for instance…but I still choose to follow what I have been doing from young.

That was why we did not have any meat in our steamboat…

Steamboat

…but we had fishballs (own-made bay kar/ikan tenggiri, no less), quail eggs (my girl loves those) and prawns…

Prawns

– I still have quite a bit left from those that I bought for Chinese New Year and later, my missus threw in a bit of sotong (squid)…

Sotong

…and these left-over Pacific clams…

Pacific clams

…which sure do not come cheap either nowadays.

The clear soup stock from boiling the prawns and the fishballs got sweeter and sweeter when we were enjoying everything with my missus’ very nice and spicy chili dip…

Dipping

…and yes, we all enjoyed ourselves very much that evening.

A steamboat dinner with everyone in the family sure is very symbolic. It helps enhance togetherness and unite all the family members as they sit around the pot, talking and eating while at the same time, laughing and enjoying one another’s company, thus creating a natural atmosphere of closeness among all those present.

Superstar…

I’ve been here once before and had their kueh chap and the other day, we dropped by again for the Sarawak laksa as my paternal cousin did say it was good too.

That was on Friday and as usual, we went to get my girl from her school in the jungle to bring her home. She wanted to go for our favourite in town but I was not all that keen as I’ve blogged about it so many times already. Actually, we stopped by here first but all the stalls were closed, not a single one was open, even though it was just around 2.00 p.m. so we just walked to this place instead.

There is a Malay stall there now, right behind the kampua mee stall but no, we were there for the Sarawak laksa so that was what we had…

Sarawak laksa 1

As it was on our no-meat Friday, we did not want any of the shredded boiled chicken and yes, the lady did seem to add a lot more of the rest unlike other places that I know. More often than not, it would be a case of if you don’t want it, then that is it!

The ladies had the small/regular (RM6.00) while I had the large (RM7.00) and I lived to regret it. No, it wasn’t because it was not nice but one bowl is approximately equal to two of the regular ones…

Sarawak laksa 2

…and it was quite a struggle for me to finish all of it. Just like the kueh chap, I would say it was not the best in town, nor the worst and I would say that exact same thing too about their sambal belacan

Sambal belacan

…too.

Walking back to the car, I spotted this banner at a Malay coffee shop nearby…

Superstar

What? RM2K for the winner? That’s more or less my one month’s pension! Gee!!! I wish I were younger – I certainly would give it my best shot. Anybody interested?

This coffee shop (2.290717, 111.822459) is located near the Sibu Town Square/Dataran Tun Tuanku Bujang at Jalan Lau King Howe Lorong 1, facing the Lau King Howe Memorial Museum which is on the opposite side of the road.

Where did all the love go…

I can’t remember the last time I went out for a dinner just for two on Valentine’s Day but I do recall it being a really special event to look forward to, a fine dining experience with fine table linen, real flowers, candles, soothing romantic music and all. After all, it is the festival of love so it has to be really very special.

Payung Café here…

Valentine's Day at Payung

…sure went all out in dolling up the place for the occasion, red heart balloons, pua kumbu or batek sarong tablecloth, flowers here…

Flowers 1

…there…

Flowers 2

…and everywhere…

Flowers 3

…with burning candles at every table…

Flowers & candle

…and here…

Candles 1

…and there…

Candles 2

…too.

With the soothing and sentimental love songs playing, including the keroncong versions of the favourites and soft dim lights all around, the ambiance sure was perfect for a romantic date with one’s sweetheart.

The response did not look all that good though – yes, there were quite a lot of people but no, it was not really crowded but I do think that is a plus point – if it gets too crowded AND noisy, romance will go right out the window and one might as well stop for dinner at some coffee shop instead.

However, most of the groups comprised couples with a child or children. It is great that even though they are married, they still make an effort to celebrate the day together but probably they could have left the kids with the grandparents or an aunt or somebody. One thing that I noticed about these “older” couples was that they did make an effort to dress up nicely which was more than what I could say about the young couples that were there, looking so casual in their t-shirts and shorts like it was just any other day. I did not bother to look – they probably were too busy, all engrossed in their smartphones all evening. Incidentally, there is no free wifi here and I suspect that is one reason why people keep away – they cannot go online unless they have their own data plan.

Yes, my missus and I were there that night and yes, I did try to make myself look a bit more presentable, not in those same clothes that I would go and do my gardening in. Dinner was RM60 per head and you get to choose your own main course.

I did manage to take a photograph of two from the list of selections – their butter chicken and Payung chicken…

Payung butter chicken & Payung chicken

…and one could help oneself to all the salads – their salads have always been a hit among those who drop by and that night, other than the Payung rojak and the papaya salad (som tam), they did come out of those not on their regular menu. They had the vegetable salad (which I thought was their very popular herbs salad) and their very very nice fruit salad – Peter said he added strawberries and that helped bring the taste to a whole new level. I sure enjoyed their potato salad…

Payung potato salad

…a lot as well. Gosh!!! I noticed that the salads were running out faster than they could make them to refill. No, you can’t make a lot at one go – after you have let it sit for a while, the “water” will come out and the salad would not be as nice anymore.

There was also the very nice mushroom soup, eat-all-you-can and the garlic rolls to go with it and for dessert, they had their banana cake, chocolate cake and their own original “Dreamy Nite” and for the drinks, there were the free flow of pineapple ginger soda, anjung smoothie and iced water for those thus inclined.

No, I did not take photographs of everything as by the time, everything was ready, it was already too dark – great for those on a romantic date, not too great for those trying to take some decently nice snapshots.

I was recovering from a slight flu and a terrible cough so I asked for their Indian chai tea…

Inidan chai tea

…with freshly-brewed Indian tea leaves and spices and instead of rice, Andy made these awesome capati

Payung Andy's capati

…for us to enjoy with Karan‘s specially-cooked changezi chicken…

Karan's changezi chicken

He did cook some for Chinese New Year and it was really good so he wanted to give me some, just that Peter said no – he did not want to give me the leftovers and insisted that he cooked it again and this time around, they invited my missus and I to go for the Valentine’s Day dinner on the house and the changezi chicken was on the list of options that one could pick for one’s main dish. For the uninitiated, you can read up to find out more about the dish here.

Well, we certainly had a lovely evening and yes, we enjoyed the food very much, thank you so much to the wonderful guys at Payung for the invitation!

Things had slowed down by the time we left at around 9 – I wonder where everybody went on their Valentine’s Day date that night. Maybe they went their usual haunts, crowded, not necessarily cheaper and definitely not half as romantic as here, none of that love is in the air kind of feeling, but I heard that quite a lot of people came in after we had left and they could only close for the day way past their closing time at 11.

PAYUNG CAFÉ (2.284049, 111.833014) is located at No.20F, Lanang Road, Sibu, Malaysia, back to back with the multi-storey car park of the Kingwood Hotel which faces the majestic Rejang River.

Memories of the past…

This was the final year of the prestigious Cambridge English Language 1119 Examination, an independent test like the American TOEFL – the following year, it was bought over by the Malaysian government and incorporated into the English Language subject in the SPM Examination and its quality and value have since dwindled over the years while Cambridge went on to host other similar English Language examinations like the IELTS.

Quite a few students here would sit for it every year and the fees were by no means cheap. Some of them did go for some kind of preparation at the tuition centres but unfortunately, most did not manage to do well.

It so happened that I had a friend in the department who went on a working trip to Cambridge and she did manage to bring back the marking scheme and the examiners’ reports. I studied those carefully and then I called those of my boys who would want to sit for the examination that year and shared with them all that I knew so they would not go in blindly.

It certainly made me feel so happy and proud that they did so very well – I remember there were at least 5 or 6 who got a distinction A1 and a few more managed a distinction A2 and these were two of them…

Raphael & Mark

…who got A1 – Raphael is now residing and working in the US while Mark is now a Jesuit priest, pursuing his doctorate degree in Oxford, England.

The two of them and the others were at the reunion that night and they contacted me to ask if I would be interested in joining them. Of course I was! But there were just about 9 of them – I certainly had a lot more than that in the top or the top two classes every year. Maybe the rest heard that I would be there so they all had cold feet and chickened out. LOL!!!

They picked the relatively new restaurant run by the family of one of them as the venue and yes, a few of them had a few beers…

Beer

My boys are grown men now, double their age from the time when I was their teacher.

I asked Andy and according to him, the chief chef is originally from Sibu, back here after 5 years in Melbourne. Australia and his assistant is from Miri.

This herbal chicken…

Herbal chicken

…that they dished out was really very nice. They did it differently from the other restaurants – no paper wrapper, no cling film, no aluminium foil were used in the cooking.

This…

No sharks fins

…was very nice too and no worries, there was no sharks’ fins in it – save the sharks!!!

The cereal prawns…

Cereal prawns

…were great and we also had this broccoli and mushroom dish…

Broccoli mushroom

…and the sea cucumber soup…

Sea cucumber coup

We sure enjoyed the steamed fish, ikan sultan

Fish

…done in a way that I had never seen before – I think that was their own pounded chili on top and everyone agreed that It tasted absolutely great.

We also had the crispy pata, more popularly known here as the Philippine pork leg…

Crispy pata

…and that looked like the same pounded chili by the side. For dessert, we had the canned peaches but with laichee instead of longans for a change and it was good – cold and refreshing!

It sure was a delightful evening of who did what to who, who sat where and so and so forth, recalling those fond memories of the past…and of course, there were those questions – who is where now, who is still single and available. We were so caught up with everything while enjoying the lovely dishes served that we didn’t realise it was almost 10 and time to make our way home.

Oh yes! I asked them how much I would have to pay for my share of the dinner and they told me that they had discussed that among themselves and had got it covered. Gee!!! Aren’t they all so very sweet and nice, my boys?

SIONG KEE RESTAURANT (2.293215, 111.836281) is located along Lorong Chiew Siik Hiong 1 in the Fortune Commercial Centre, behind the Rejang Medical Centre. It is at the corner opposite Lok Ming Yuen Cafe behind which is Sushi Tie, the Japanese Restaurant.