It’s the thought that counts…

In 2017, my young and handsome blogger-friend, Nick, came all the way to Sibu from Sungai Petani, Kedah to pay me a visit.

It so happened that my mum was admitted into a private hospital at the time and my sis had to be with her there while I had to keep my dad company at their big house at night. That was why I could not spend as much time with him as I would like to but I did the best I could. He did say that he would like to come again but that was before the pandemic and at this point in time, I really don’t know when that will be possible.

Every year, without fail, the sweet and thoughtful boy would send me a Chinese New Year card…

CNY card from Nick in SP

…and this year is no exception…

Signed, sealed, delivered

…and inside, he wrote this…

Message

Yes, I took him to try our kompia when he was here and all the local Foochow delights and of course, we did stop by Payung…briefly. Owing to time constraint, I did not manage to take him to a good place for kampua mee but I think he did make his way here himself for my favourite in town.

Unfortunately, I did not manage to send out any Chinese New Year cards this year. I hope Nick and everybody else will forgive me for that but honestly, I had every intention of sending them. Why, I even took all the cards…

Chinese New Year cards

…out but before I could write and send any, there was the emergence of this truly horrifying cluster at a longhouse here that infected so many people not only in Sibu but throughout the whole of Sarawak!!! Since then, Sibu has been in the Red Zone and is at the top of the list in the total number of cases every day.

I guess I shall just have to put back those cards and hopefully, I shall be able to send them next year. As they say, it’s the thought that counts and rest assured that everybody is in my thoughts all the time. Thank you so much, Nick, for the card and all the good wishes – I certainly look forward to seeing you again someday…soon. Qong Xi Fa Cai to you and all your loved ones too – a Happy & Prosperous Chinese New Year!

We can do it…

My cousin in Kuching sent word to me to tell me that they would be sending me their delightful fruit pudding via courier service…

The box

Usually, their mum would be the one making it but recently, she was not feeling too well – thank God the COVID-19 swab test came out negative and she recovered after a few days. That was why my cousin and her brother took over to make the pudding for Christmas under the mum’s strict supervision. Everyone who had the chance to try it was praising it to the skies.

The instant I opened the box…

Open

…I caught the whiff of the liquor used in the making – they always add a whole lot of rum, that I know.

They even sent me a greeting card…

Chinese New Year card

…enclosed inside the box. Oh dear!!! I had all the cards ready but I was not all that keen on going out to the post office to buy the stamps and posting them, not with the current situation here. I did send them one for Christmas though – things were not so bad then.

My cousin sure did a great job in packing the pudding…

Nicely wrapped

…with all the bubble wrap and air bags even, plus layers and layers of cling wrap!

I unwrapped it…

Fruit pudding from the Banggus for CNY

…for the photo shoot…and this is the view from the bottom…

Bottoms up

The festival is just a few days away so actually, I would not have to wait very long to cut and enjoy eating it. However, the fragrance was killing and I succumbed to the temptation – I ended up slicing it to try and boy!!! It was so very very good!!! I would not say it was exactly like the mum’s, despite her strict supervision. This one had a lighter cake texture unlike the mum’s heavier pudding texture but it was very nice in its own right. We loved it!!!

Thank you so much, Uncle Paul and Auntie Irene, Sabrina and Jude in Kuching, and not forgetting Imelda in KL. Fondest thoughts and a very Happy & Blessed Chinese New Year to all of you from all of us here in Sibu – take care and God bless always! #staysafe #staywell #stayhome

Think of me…

I had just had my lunch that day and had gone upstairs to have a nap when I heard a car at our gate. I was already horizontal so I did not bother to get up and see.

I checked my Messenger via Facebook and saw a message from Daisy, an ex-student of mine. She said that she was at the bakery in my neighbourhood when she thought of me so she picked up something for me for Chinese New Year from her, her hubby, also my ex-student and their son, Ian…and their mum, a retired teacher like me – she gave me the mint and oregano that are growing so well in my garden.

When I got up later, I went and had a look…

Louis Bakery

It sure looked like the people at the bakery had started stocking up on cakes and cookies for sale for Chinese New Year…

New Year 2021

Daisy had bought me a prune layer cake…

Prune layer cake

I have seen those pop-up ads on Facebook advertising the ones from Lavender in KL. My good friend, Mandy, bought me one once, without the prunes, and it was very nice.

I cut two thin slices from both ends and divided them into smaller slices so all of us in the house could try…

Louis Bakery kek lapis prune

Yes, it was very good – moist, not dry and hard and best of all, not sweet. We all loved it but I’m keeping the rest till Chinese New Year. At least, we’ll have cake, pineapple tarts, keropok and acar, come Chinese New Year.

Thank you so so so much, Daisy, and all in the family. That was so very sweet of you! May God bless you all abundantly in this coming Year of the Ox!

LOUIS BAKERY LW.Pattisserie (2.316411, 111.839847) is located along Jalan Ruby in the same block of shops as Kim Tak Co., right next to Ah Kau Cafe at the end of the block to the left.

Sister…

My sister celebrated her 60th birthday yesterday, the 13th of January, 9 years my junior. If I am not wrong, there was another one in between us but sadly, my mum had a miscarriage.

No, she did not have a grand celebration, not at a time like this but over the weekend, she did get us and also our paternal aunt and her family over to her house for a little get-together.

We ordered a cake specially for her…

Birthday cake from Marcus

…from Marcus, no less. She said that every year, when he was still around, fit and able, our father would call Marcus himself to order a cake for her and on the actual day, at exactly 3.00 p.m., he would drive over to his house to get it.

She ordered a few dishes from this very old-school restaurant, going all the way back to the 60’s and 70’s, at least,  one of the oldest survivors  in town and one of the most popular when it came to catering for home parties at the time and of course, she specially asked for the fried mee sua (longevity noodles) with the golden eggs…

mee sua with eggs

…by the side.

I did not take snapshots of all the dishes but I would say that they were all very nice including this braised pork leg…

Braised pork leg

Of course, I have a weakness for that and yes, I enjoyed it to the max.

There were around 8 dishes altogether and we decided to have it buffet-style instead of a sit-down dinner so we could take the food and sit some place in the big house to enjoy eating – that way, we could ensure there was physical distancing the whole time.

I must say that I enjoyed all the dishes that night and the cake, of course. A very Happy Birthday once again to my sis, may God bless you with a wonderful year ahead and many more awesome birthdays in the years to come.

SIONG LOKE YONG RESTAURANT (2.311051, 111.831036) is located in the Dewan Suarah area of shops, off Jalan Melor, a stone’s throw away from the SESCO Customer Service Centre there, to the left of Jen Pharmacy. 

What a day…

In the peninsula, they have Tenaga Nasional (National Energy) while in Sarawak, we have our Sarawak Energy or what we still call SESCO to this day as that was what it was called before, the Sarawak Electric Supply Corporation.

I bought our house in 1988 and I don’t know what special arrangements my dad made with the former owner and all these years to this very day, we have been paying for the electricity bills issued to his name.

However, it seems that SESCO is switching to e-billing so I clicked the link and went to the website to register. The first thing they asked for was my name (according to my MyKad) and I hesitated – should I just type my name or the former owner’s name? In the end, I decided to go and change it once for all to avoid any complications in future.

I contacted my ex-student from a previous school, now an officer at SESCO, Sibu and she told me to go over to the office which I did. When I got there, she said that she had checked the contract and found out that the guy, wherever he is now (after he sold the house to me, I heard that he moved to Johore to manage a bank there), has a lot of contracts to his name (I guess he owns a lot of property) so they cannot transfer his deposit to me – I would have to have a new contract drawn up registered in my name.

Everything went well – I had to pay the deposit (RM500.00) plus another RM150.00 connection charges for meter fee and RM10.00 stamping fee. They told me they would come to my house to fix a new meter…

New SESCO meter

…a digital one, the following morning – the existing meter was as old as the hills. Ah yes! My ex-student gave me another complimentary umbrella, the same as the one she gave me sometime ago when I went to the office regarding my auto debit and yes, they registered for me so I shall get my bills via email from now on.

The next day, I waited and waited and waited but there was no sign of them and finally at around noon, they showed up  and got the job done in no time at all. I watched them at work and I was amazed by how they had to take a lot of photographs of the old meter and the new one from all kinds of angles and one was busy the whole time doing whatever he was doing on his laptop and after they were done, it took him quite a while in the car to come out with the form for me to sign – he said the printer was slow. Good grief!!! In the old days, they would just come and change and all documentation, report and what not would be done when they got back to the office…and they say with all this modern technology, our lives would be a whole lot easier? Hmmmm!!!

Unfortunately, the story does not end there. They turned off the main switch outside so they could do the work and once they finished, they switched it back on. It turned out that my UNIFI modem refused to reboot – the TM light at the side came on but none of the little ones appeared. The other two, whatever they were, looked all right.

I called their 1-100 number and got to speak to a machine. She gave me 4 options but none seemed to be what I was looking for. I called the TM service centre number but nobody answered and I kept being redirected to their voice mailbox. In the end, I gave up and drove to their office. Who says with technology, things are a whole lot easier these days. Tsk! Tsk!

Luck was on my side! There was nobody at the office, just the security guard and a sweet young girl at her table with her monitor right in front of her. Yes, she was very nice and friendly and I did not have a problem at all in lodging my report. She told me the people would go to my house that afternoon or to the latest, the next morning. I had no choice but to go home…and wait. By the time I was done by around 1.00 p.m., I saw that a queue was starting to form right behind me.

The technicians showed up very soon at around 2.00 something and they changed the modem to a brand new one…

New UNIFI modem

…free of charge. When I first registered and got connected, the whole set was all silvery chrome in colour and looked impressive. Over the years, they have changed the other two (I think one is a router and the other small one is for the online TV) so now I have three odd ones, all looking different. Ah well! As long as they work fine, that would be the most important.

I asked them what happened and they said that we did not switch it off when the SESCO guys turned off the main switch outside and when they turned it back on, the power surge caused it to go kaput. I give them canned drinks to take back and a tip in appreciation of their prompt response for them to go for tea.

Gosh!!! All this is just one day…and what a day it was!

Growing in my garden…

I’ve been plucking my butterfly pea flowers…

Butterfly pea flowers

…and sending them over to my friends at Payung for their nasi kerabu.

I read somewhere that the flowers must be plucked or once they wither, they will produce seeds and the leaves will not grow luxuriantly anymore. No wonder I saw dried leafless vines with lots of seeds dangling from them. I am supposed to take the seeds, remove the “dead” vines and plant afresh. Well, the good news is ever since I started plucking the flowers and the seeds and removing those unwanted vines, new leaves have appeared and it is starting to look good again…and yes, I do pluck the pods and take out the seeds so if anyone would like to plant their own, they can always get them from me too…anytime.

One thing about the flowers, they seem to come back with a vengeance. I pluck all of them one day, more will bloom the very next day, even more than the day before. Of course, those people at Payung will not need so much so if anyone would like them to use for the natural colour in their nasi kerabu or nyonya kuihs…or their drinks or whatever, they can drop by my place to get them, free of charge.

The wife of an ex-student of mine saw my Facebook posts on the leaves and asked for some so I told her to come over to my house and I gave her the ones I plucked that day plus the seeds. The following evening, she PM-ed to tell me that she was on the way to my house and she gave me these…

Fong's serimuka

the rice tinted with the natural colouring from the flowers (her second attempt at making the kuih, she said) and she also gave me these chicken quiches…

Fong's chicken quiches

…that she made. Thank you so much, Fong & Henry.

In the meantime, my Brazilian spinach…

Brazilian spinach

…is growing very well too, so well that I’ve been harvesting it ever so often and giving bags and bags of it to my neighbour (they shrink badly in the process of cooking) – she says her grandchildren love it! If I am not wrong, they use it at Payung for their herbs salad so perhaps one of these days, I can give them some too. For one thing, I do not use pesticides, 100% organic, so some of the leaves would be quite badly eaten by whatever and would have holes all over. I would just cut and throw those away even though my missus said that I should not do that. Since the pests will eat it, she said, it should be good for us too – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. LOL!!!

I planted some sweet potato leaves sometime ago and they grew rampantly and went completely out of control. We ate and ate till we got quite tired of it so I got rid of all of it. After all this while, I felt like eating it again and that day, I bought a bundle from my neighbourhood shop. We ate the leaves and I planted the stalks/stems. They seem to be growing pretty well…

Sweet potato leaves

Hopefully, we can harvest and eat our own-grown sweet potato leaves soon.

I saw that FINALLY my cangkok manis

Cangkok manis

…is thriving not too badly so I decided to harvest the leaves to cook and eat. At the same time, I selected the bigger, sturdier stems/stalks and pushed them into the ground in the hope that they will sprout leaves so we shall have even more to enjoy the next time around.

I thought there was not enough for a dish so I went to buy some baby corn and sweet potatoes to cook sayur masak lemak (vegetables cooked with santan/coconut milk). It turned out that there was enough to cook on its own so we just fried it with egg…

Fried cangkok manis & baby corn with egg

…but we did throw in a packet of the baby corn.

Not too bad, don’t you think? At least I am getting something back from all those things growing in my garden after all my effort day in and day out.

Just can’t get enough…

The other day, we dropped by here and my missus had their kacangma chicken. It was so good and she enjoyed it to the max. I told Peter, the boss and he said that his sidekick, Andy, cooked it! That was amazing, I must say, Andy being Indian but of course, he has been here for so many years (He sure looked different way back in 2012!) and his favourite foods to date are kampua mee and mee sua in traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup.

In the past, Peter’s sister-in-law did most, if not all, of the cooking – the others would help to peel, cut and chop but eventually, she decided to call it a day and retired. After that, Peter had to do the cooking himself but Andy did help by cooking some of the dishes as well. Well, Peter is no spring chicken himself and it is good that Andy has picked up the skills and is able to replicate more and more of those lovely dishes at Payung including this traditional Chinese/Hakka post-natal confinement dish for convalescing ladies after child birth. You can read more about it here and here.

I did not get to eat much of it myself that day as I had my own pick for the day and seeing how my missus liked it, I went back there and tapaoed some…

Payung kacangma chicken

…to eat at home. Gosh!!! It truly was so very good, very hiam (lots of ginger) and so very generous with the pek chiew thow (Chinese white wine). It has been raining quite a lot here lately, every morning, more or less, for around half the day so it is nice and cool – just perfect for kacang ma. I would not want to have that on very hot days as with all that ginger, it is very heaty, good for brand new mums to protect them from the “cold” that may lead to ailments in their old age.

Sibu, being a Foochow town, is not known for this. As a matter of fact, at this point in time, this is the only place in Sibu selling it. If you say this is an acquired taste, I would most certainly agree and my girl, for one, is not really into it. That was why I bought this Payung fish…

Payung fish

…specially for her, their ikan keli cooked with soy sauce, ginger, serai (lemon grass), chili and what not. She loves that!

This is in a way an all-in-the-family dish – my mum used to cook that and we loved it so much. My sister has stepped into her shoes and she will cook this sometimes. My missus can cook it too but she is no fan of ikan keli nor unagi so she would never bother to do it. My cousins from Kuching had not eaten it for so long and when they had it here, they were all head over heels in love with it!

I guess this will have to do for the time being but needless to say, we just can’t get enough and shall go back there soon enough for more.

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.

Two-way…

I saw on Facebook that Mary’s sweet & beautiful daughter, just like the mum, would be making some cheesecakes for sale for Christmas. I remember she did give me one once with lots of chocolate but no, I am not so into cheesecakes.

A few days later, I spotted another post and this time around, she would be making pies! Aha!!! I would want those! She made me an apple pie for my birthday that day and it was so good – it sure put those miserable ones at that franchise place to shame. Of course, this is partly a matter of giving and taking, a two-way thing or in Hokkien, we say oo lai oo khi (got come, got go)…and considering that they have been giving me things all this while, the least I could do to reciprocate was to show a little bit of support.

I asked for a box of each type, three…

Pies from Mary's girl

…altogether.

There were these chicken ones…

Chicken pies

…with its very nice filling, so generous with the meat…

Chicken pie filling

…and these beef and pumpkin ones…

Beef and pumpkin pies

…which were a little on the sweet side, probably because of the pumpkin…

Beef & pumpkin filling

…in them.

Last but not least, there were those awesome apple ones…

Apple pies

I remember in 1994, when I was at Marjons, Plymouth in the UK, the housekeeper (who looked like Susan Boyle before she became famous) gave me a box of mince pies. She told me that traditionally, they would eat them around Christmas as because of the shape, the pie symbolises the manger where Baby Jesus lay in the stable after He was born. Silly me, I thought there was minced meat in them but no, there was fruit mince instead. Well, we can’t get those here, not in Sibu and I thought these apple pies would make a great substitute, what do you think?

I can’t remember the prices now – they were over RM30.00 per box of 4 so that worked out to around RM8.00 per pie. I paid RM106.00 for all the three boxes, freshly baked, hot from the oven.

Moving on, it was the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, when I got a call from Bubu, my girl’s coursemate. He was posted here in 2013 and has been teaching here since. He and his family could not go home to Terengganu because there are only two “government-approved flights” per week and those that they booked were cancelled over and over again so they just gave up and decided to stay here for the holidays.

I understand that if you go to the airline website, there are a whole lot of flights and you can book any one of them…just that they would not be flying! This is absolutely ridiculous!!! Besides, when they come back, they would have to go through the tests and the 14-day quarantine and these would not be free for non-Sarawakians, RM2,400 per person so for the three of them, he would have to fork out over RM7,000 altogether.

That was why they drove to Sarikei the other day and I did hear them say that they would be going to Kuching the following week, putting the holidays to good use.

They went to this bakery in Sarikei that they said was very popular and they bought me these butter milk buns…

Butter milk buns from Honeybee, Sarikei

…and this assortment…

Buns fom Honeybee Sarikei

…as well, thank you so much.

As far as the texture of the bread went, I would say that it was pretty much the same as most of the modern-day bakeries here in Sibu, not old school like the roti paun I bought at the kampung stall that day. Having said that, I must say that the filling is a cut above many that I have eaten here. The butter milk filling, for instance, is more fragrant and not so dry as some of those here. I loved the custard filling that that nice-looking cylindrical bun and the spicy meat floss on top of the one on the right was really good. I don’t think I ever came across anything like that here. The big one was meat floss and chicken sausages and whatever else, nice too but I think that would not be so hard to find here.

I wanted to give them some made-in-Mukah keropok udang that I bought the other day but I could not see any halal logo on the label so I aborted the idea in the end. I also had some boxes of the Indonesian-made pasta in the house. I’ve bought some more to keep since my girl enjoys eating the cheese bolognese one so I gave those instead. Bubu’s wife said that the son loves pasta so he probably will enjoy it.

HONEYBEE BAKERY (2.130238, 111.518739) is just next to SugarBun Sarikei at No. 75, Jalan Masjid Lama.

From afar…

My good friend/ex-classmate, Robert, stays on the other side of town, so very far away and needless to say, I hardly ever venture to that part of the woods.

I got a call from him one morning to confirm that I was home – well, I most certainly would be home these days as I would not want to venture out unless absolutely necessary.

It turned out that his missus, Angela, made these lovely chai kueh

Chai kueh from Robert & Angela

…and they wanted to give me some to try. Gosh!!! She even went through the trouble of garnishing them with some fried chopped garlic – that, of course, brought the taste to a whole new level and she also made some delightful chili sauce to eat them with.

I tried one…

Chai kueh, inside

…for “the phototaking session” and that one had mangkuang/sengkuang filling with a hint of hay bee/udang kering (dried prawns) and it was so very nice!

What we did not know then…and we only found out later when we sat down to enjoy them for tea that afternoon…was that there were two types of filling – I think there was yam in the other one and yes, it was very nice too. Having said that, I would say that old habits die hard and we prefer the slight crunchiness of the mangkuang/sengkuang filling and its more familiar taste that we are more used to.

Thank you so much, Robert & Angela – that was so very kind and thoughtful of you two and thank you especially for  driving all the way from your house to mine just to send these to me, much obliged, really!

The Hope of Christmas…

It’s Christmas Day, 2020…

Christmas 2020
*My girl’s DIY Christmas crib using recycled stuff*

I guess unlike those before, this one is not one to bring a lot of cheer and celebration after almost one whole year of living in dread and fear, following the COVID-19 pandemic breakout around March.

I only received four Christmas cards this year, thank you so much to all of them for the effort and their thoughtful and meaningful gestures. Well, I did not send out any myself, just three to the older folks in the family, all residing in Kuching and I was delighted that they reached them safe and sound.

My cousin in Cheras, Selangor sent me this pop-up Christmas tree…

Pop-up Christmas tree frrom Cheras, Selangor

…and I got these lovely ones from my cousins in Kuching…

From Tabuan Laru, Kuching

From Kumpang, Kuching

I certainly was surprised to get one…

From Brisbane, Australia

…from my cousin in Brisbane, Australia too. Our Malaysian postal services made an announcement sometime back that we can’t send anything overseas so I was thinking that would include cards and letters as well.

Every year, as December approaches, I would be keeping track of all the Christmas commercials as and when they appear. I’ve always loved the ones from the UK and sometimes, the Philippines too but this year, I was not really overwhelmed by any of them. Eventually, I stumbled upon this one…

…that I absolutely love and surprise, surprise – it’s from Malaysia!!! You can click the link and watch but be forewarned – make sure you have a box of tissue paper beside you. It is so relevant in these difficult times that we are going through and watching it really touched me deeply. “No one knows when these trying times will finally come to an end but…we believe that things will get better.” Well, for that, we pray.

There are a few new Christmas songs this year but only a couple fit into the context of the situation we all are in. I would say that my favourite is this one…

Some extracts from the beautiful lyrics go like this:
…Cause right now the world looks nothing like those innocent Decembers…
…These days, peace on earth is hard to find.

And I need You to remind me one more time…
You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart…
…May the sick find healing’s touch…
…And may every heart make room for you, the One who came to save us.

Even though things do not seem to be getting any better, let Christmas fill our hearts with hope, the hope that all this will be over soon.
A Blessed Christmas, everyone. Joy to the world, peace, love and goodwill to all mankind!