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Forty-four…

Towards the end of the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s, there were only two Form 6 classes in Sibu and in fact, in the whole of the central region of Sarawak – the Arts stream in Methodist Secondary School and the Science stream in Sacred Heart Secondary School. Many would drop out of school at Primary 6 or after Form 3 or later, after Form 5…by which time, there were not all that many left. Being an Arts student, I had to move from the latter to the former…and I had classmates from the other schools in the town and from far and wide, from places such as Betong, for one.

Our class was bigger, Lower 6, 1970, but some dropped out when they did not get Grade 1 in the Senior Cambridge Examination, a few left to go overseas to study and some moved to other schools such as Tanjong Lobang in Miri. By the time we finished Sixth Form in 1971, there were only 27 or 28 of us left…and to date, a few had passed away.

There was an attempt to hold a reunion sometime last year but there were not all that many who could make it at the time for one reason or other. After that, somebody suggested holding one in Sibu and I was given the task of organising. I would not say that the response was overwhelming – only 15, yours truly included, joined though there were others who signed up but later, pulled out owing to unforseen circumstances. Still, we appreciated very much the effort of everyone who came especially those who came back from as far as Australia and also Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Betong and Sarikei…

MSS 1970 1971

I made a booking at this hotel and asked specially for their special room where I had attended two reunion dinners not too long ago with my Kanowit students here and here. With some of our spouses and our children, we were able to make up three tables and that was all the room could accommodate. It was very private with two staff members – a waiter and a waitress assigned to serve us, very comfortable and had its own toilet plus there was a PA system and karaoke facilities as well.

This was the first dish – their hot and cold mixed combination…

Phoenix Court hot and cold mixed combination

…which was followed by the fish lips’ soup with dry scallops and crab meat – I had requested for that instead of the unmentionable offensive stuff. I did not take a photograph of it though as the efficient staff divided the soup into little bowls and served it to us individually.

After the soup came the roast duck…

Phoenix Court Roast duck 1

…which was pretty well done…

Phoenix Court Roast duck 2

…and came with the dark sweet bean sauce dip. I do think though that what I had with my Singapore friends at another restaurant in town had a slight edge over it but then again, that was a different duck dish, not the same.

The curry fish…

Phoenix Court curry fish

…served with rice, was a hit…and was gone in no time at all. One of my classmates, back from KL, said it was the best siakap he had ever had anywhere and added that the chef must be really good. Hmmmm…I did not even know what fish it was – I just ate. LOL!!! My missus said this was nicer – it had a very slight sourish taste and not sweet like the one at the other place but my girl said that though this was very good too, she would prefer that other one. Like with everything else, I guess this was obviously a case of to each his own, one man’s meat another man’s poison.

After the fish, the dish of braised abalone slices with fresh mushroom and broccoli was served but I was up and about at the time so I did not get to snap a photograph of it as well. I guess it was good as by the time I got back to the table, there wasn’t very much of it left. The final dish was the Vietnamese prawns…

Prawns

…served with their really awesome own-made bun…

Bun

…that was so good you could eat it on its own and in fact, one of my classmates’ son did. He was allergic to prawns, he said but he tried the bread and loved it! They did not use the giant freshwater udang galah (bamboo prawns) this time around and I was glad they didn’t as the last time we had that, I thought the prawns were kind of bland, not all that nice. These big seawater prawns were a lot better as they were very fresh, sweet and succulent.

Then came the desserts – a lovely bowl of ice-cold peaches and longans each and this platter…

Dessert

…of or nee (yam paste) and mochi with or tau sar (red bean paste) and whatever else inside. The paste was not as fine as what we had with our Singaporean friends but personally, I would prefer it this way.

This dinner with 6 main courses and two desserts, 8 altogether, cost RM400 per table, exclusive of the 6% government tax. There were only 28 of us, 10 at one table and 9 at each of the other two but we all agreed to divide the total, including the drinks and everything, equally…and in the end, each of us had to fork out RM50.00 per head only for the very delightful meal and a wonderful evening. Service was great so I gave the waiter and the waitress RM10.00 each to show our appreciation of a job well done.

It truly was a memorable gathering and I was glad to have had this opportunity to meet so many of them that I had not seen since we left school…forty-four years ago!

Goodbye again…

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye again to my friends from Singapore. It was quite a rush this trip as they spent one night at the longhouse and I was not able to be with them most of Sunday until the evening…and that was about half the time gone plus it did not help one bit that some places were closed on Monday.

I was out early that morning to go to the market and buy some midin

Midin
*Alfred’s photo*

…for Alfred to bring home. I wrapped the ferns in newspapers and I sure was glad to see that they arrived there still looking fresh and nice.

I wanted to tapao some kampua noodles for him too but he insisted that he would get some himself from one of the shops around the hotel. He said that he tried a plate there and it was good (enough) so he just bought from the same. No prize for guessing what he ate as soon as he got home…

Kampua
*Alfred’s photo*

LOL!!! Well, I did buy 10 packs of The Kitchen’s instant kampua noodles for him as well so that should last for quite a while, I think.

I drove them to the airport and after they had dropped off their bags and boxes of goodies from Sibu, we went for a bite here and needless to say, I had their fish sandwich…

Sugar Bun fish sandwich 1

…my favourite, none better anywhere else.For one thing, the fish fillet is coated with breadcrumbs…

Sugar Bun fish sandwich 2

…and not batter which may get soggy and is kind of oily too and the coleslaw-like stuff in it…

Sugar Bun fish sandwich 3

…sure complements the taste really well.

Three of us had the same and they also ordered the coleslaw…

Sugar Bun coleslaw

…which they said was not as nice as The Colonel’s but they said the mashed potatoes were very good…

Sugar Bun mash and chickies

…and they loved the “chickies”.

Oh dear!!! They went and ordered the nasi lemak

Sugar Bun nasi lemak

…without and with the chicken curry…

Sugar Bun curry

Personally, I do not think too much of what they serve here and there would be a lot of other nicer stuff on the menu that they could have gone for.

And good grief!!! Just look at the fries they ordered…

Sugar Bun french fries

…and the most amazing thing was that they were able to finish all that!

Ah well! I guess they would need all of it as they had a long journey ahead of them – we left the hotel at around 9.00 a.m., their flight took off at around 11.40…and after disembarking at Senai, Johore, they would hop on the shuttle to the Causeway, go through Customs and Immigration, take a bus across to the island and take a cab from the other side, reaching their homes in Singapore at around 4.30 p.m.

For one thing, I thought it was kind of expensive…

Cashier's receipt

…but I guess that’s the thing when you eat at such franchise fast food joints…and I do know for a fact that there are others a lot worse. With that kind of money, we could have gone some place and have something really really nice – like the dim sum here, perhaps. We certainly would much rather do that the next time they come to town!

Thanks so very very much, everyone, for coming again…and thank you for all the things you all brought…and all the treats while you all were in town…and above all, thanks for the delightful company – I sure love having you all here and had a great time myself and yes, do check the airlines and see when you can all come again. I would be looking forward eagerly to that. In the meantime, take care & God bless. Cheers!

Your wish…

Alfred saw my post where I had fish head curry…

Fish head curry
*Archive photo*

…and Vietnamese prawns…

Vietnamese prawns
*Archive photo*

…served with this very special bun…

Bun

…and he said he would like to have those when he came to Sibu and of course, I told him that his wish would be my command.

However, I decided to take them here for the “original” that many would say is the best in town…

Sheraton fish head curry

…but one of the ladies was of the opinion that it was kind of sweet and was not quite accustomed to it like that. Perhaps she would prefer what they call assam fish head curry which would be quite different, a little sourish – something like what I had a long long time ago at a place called Maxims in Miri and to me, that was really very nice as well. In fact, I do know for a fact that this fish head curry dish varies from place to place and between races too. I had the one in KL and it did not tickle my fancy and someone told me that the Indians have their own version too.

Unfortunately, they did not have those Vietnamese prawns on their menu so we had to order something else instead and settled for their so-called Peking duck. which included this plate of roast duck…

Sheraton Peking duck 1

…and the paper thin egg crepe, strips of scallions and cucumber and the special sweet bean sauce…

Sheraton Peking duck 2

…and  one of the waitresses would do all the rolling…

Sheraton Peking Duck 3

…and serve…

Sheraton Peking Duck 4

…so we did not have to do that ourselves. The difference between the one here is that they do not just give you the skin unlike at other places where they would roll up only the skin with everything else in the special white pancakes (but Alfred did say that they do have places in Singapore where they use egg crepe like what they do here…or some would give diners a choice between the two) and then, they would take away the meat and cook something else with it and take it out and serve again. I was told that at some places, they would use the meat to fry a plate of noodles – hmmm…I wonder what that would taste like and I sure would love to give it a try.

I guess everyone loved it. There were no comments all round but of course, my missus did not touch it – she doesn’t eat duck. Alfred liked the or nee (yam paste)…

Or nee 1

…and I really love how they serve it sandwiched in between cheese crackers, covered with sesame seeds at the side and deep fried…

Or nee 2

Very nice, I must say…though it may not go down too well with people who are not really into deep fried stuff!

After dinner, I took them to the hawker centre here just to look around as we were already too full and anyway, most of the stalls were closed – I guess Monday is their off day. We just had a quick drink and then I sent them back the the hotel to rest – they would be making their way back to Singapore the next day.

Do that for me…

I mentioned in my previous post that we bought some big freshwater udang galah (bamboo prawns) at RM45.00 a kg but no, we did not buy one whole kilo – just 6 of the crustaceans for RM27.00 (SGD10.00) and I wanted to bring them along to a restaurant and ask them to cook them for me…or rather, us.

We went to this place as my friend, Alfred, loved their butter scotch prawns that they had on their previous trip here and he would love to have that again but unfortunately, it was closed. No, it wasn’t because it was a Monday – normally, they would close on Wednesdays. They were taking the week off for their much-needed rest after the very busy Chinese New Year period and I guess they had gone off on a holiday some place.

In the end, we went here and they sure did a very good job of it…

Creamy butter udang galah

- in our favourite creamy butter prawn style. The prawns were so fresh and sweet, very firm and succulent and needless to say, everyone loved it to the max.

Of course, we had to have the midin

Midin

…since they enjoyed it so much and I also ordered the fried cangkuk manis with egg…

Cangkuk manis

I was also thinking of having venison…

Venison

…as well for them to try. Normally, at most restaurants here, they would fry it with soy sauce and ginger but the one taking the order said that they had one other style. Unfortunately, I could not really understand most of what she said and I just went ahead and ordered that anyway. As it turned out, I didn’t really like it as I could detect the use of black pepper sauce in it and I’m not fan of the stuff.

Alfred sneaked off to settle the bill and luckily, I was on his tail. The total came up to over RM60, inclusive of rice and drinks for the four of us and when I asked, we were told that they had charged us RM25 for cooking the prawns and I thought that was absolutely absurd! Once, we asked them to cook a fish…

Fish
*Archive photo*

…for a table of 10 persons or more and we were charged RM20 for that…and this was just a small plate of 6 prawns for 4 persons. Of course, I had to point it out and in the end, it was reduced to RM15.00 only…and Alfred only had to pay over RM50.00, around SGD20.00 which I guess was very cheap for them. The total for that plate of prawns came up to RM42.00 (RM27 + RM15) and for them, considering that back home, they may get one not-very-big one for SGD15.00, this was truly unbelievable!

Wait a minute! If you’re thinking that was it for the afternoon, you are very very wrong. Alfred insisted on dropping by here again for the banana cake…

Payung banana cake

He said that since he could not buy any back to the island republic, he wanted to have it one more time before leaving town…and he would want to eat their rojak

Payung rojak

…and mushroom roll…

Payung mushroom roll

…that he had the last time we was in town as well. He said they were “legendary” – something he must have again.

After that, we went here and there to get this and that and we stopped at the Sibu Resident’s Office to get their copies of THE book…and while we were in the vicinity, we did stop to buy some kueh lenggang (ketayap) and they loved the keropok lekor from  the stall at Bandong (afternoon only) – very nice, they said. It was past 4.00 p.m. when I dropped them off at the hotel to bathe, rest and get ready to go out for dinner at around 6 that evening…

The next day…

My Singapore friends only had one full day here this time around so we had to squeeze as much in as possible.

I picked them up at the hotel…

New Li Hua Hotel 1

…where they were putting up…

New Li Hua Hotel 2

…and drove them here for my favourite kampua noodles in town

RTM kampua

…and yes, they liked it too. Alfred did say it was not exactly authentic, more like a cross between kampua noodles and kolo mee and yes, I would say that he hit the nail on the head. Gee! He sure is becoming quite an expert now, eh? Hehehehehe!!!

After that, we drove around in search of this shop for the tom yam giant freshwater prawns served in a coconut but unfortunately, it was no longer there. We found out that they had moved to the Salim area on the far end of town on the other side so we decided we would just give it a miss this time around and reserve it for their next trip to Sibu…and since we were in the vicinity, we just headed to the nearby park and they went up the hill…

Up

…where you will get a bird’s eye view of the whole of Sibu town…

Aup 1
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…if you climb up this tower…

Aup 2
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…and there is this rope suspension bridge…

Aup 3
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…as well, among other things and after some time at the top of the hill, they came down…

Down

I know the kompia and the rojak here are pretty good and visitors can buy the feed to give to the thousands and thousands of kois and the rest in the lake but unfortunately, the stalls were closed – they close on Mondays. I guess that would give the fish a break as the guy there said that there would be a lot of people on weekends so the fish would get a lot to eat over those two days.

After that breather, we headed here for the nice Sarawak laksa that would be very much more like the authentic ones in Kuching, unlike what they had the last time they were in town even though they thought it really tasted so very good and had a second bowl but oh no!!! It was closed  – they close on Mondays too! Tsk! Tsk!

Then they were keen on having some yong tofu, so we stopped by here and they had these…

Yong tofu

It seems that one does not need to order in the fixed sets as depicted in the photos displayed at the stall. According to them, one can just order a bowl of fish balls with the tang hoon (glass noodles) and pick whatever else one would like to add to it and they would charge accordingly. There is a list of items with the prices at the stall…but it is in Mandarin.

They said it was nice and I ordered some sio bee for them as well – they were pretty good when I had them once but this time around, I thought they were not at all great. Too bad the middle stall was not open or they would have the big thick own-made noodles (like the one in KL Hokkien mee) with char siew or roast duck or stuff like those…

Noodles
*Archive photo*

- konlou noodles in KK/Sabah. I guess this one’s closed on Mondays as well. Sigh!!!!!

Next stop – the Sibu Central Market…

Market

…because Alfred wanted to buy some Bintulu belacan (dried prawn paste) and our local unpolished brown rice home…and while we were there, we stopped by the freshwater udang galah (bamboo prawn) stall and bought some big ones at RM45.00 a kilo. The prices have gone down now – the medium-sized ones that we would usually buy are back to RM30 a kilo now that Chinese New Year has gone past and besides, it is in season right now – there are a whole lot available but of course, one need not expect the restaurants around town to lower their prices. Don’t even dream that would ever happen! We also had pineapples, real nice and juicy ones – the so-called kelapa sawit variety and also the ones from Sarikei, very expensive in Singapore, but I did not take a photograph of those.

On the way back to the car, they said that they wanted to stroll around the hawker centre on the first floor just to have a look and they promised not to eat anything as it was almost time for lunch. However, they caught sight of this…

Pig's blood

…at the stall with the bright lights on…

Hawker centre

…and their defences came down! They said that they love it so much but they cannot get it in the island republic as it has been banned ever since the H1N1 or swine flu or whatever outbreak in the Asian region many years ago. I thought they would always cook this with kangkong (water spinach) but they said that they had asked for midin instead as they loved midin so much and would like to eat as much of it as possible while they were in town. That big platter of pig’s blood plus the ferns only cost RM8.00 (around SGD3.00) and of course, they enjoyed it very much.

They also ordered the rojak

Rojak

…from this stall and they liked it but I did not think it was all that great – I’ve had many others a lot nicer elsewhere. I had the ngor-bee therng (literally translated as five-flavour soup)…

Ngor bee therng

…which is supposed to be a cooling dessert but somehow or other, I did not think I derived as much pleasure from it was when I used to have it at a stall in town during my younger years. Time passes, things change…and one’s taste too, I guess.

Now, this, I like!!!

Free seating

At “some places” (not here, not in Sibu), you will be unceremoniously shouted at, scolded by the rude people there for sitting at the wrong table…or on the wrong stool. I really wonder how/why people can be so nasty – surely they can just say it in a more pleasant way. I always believe that it is not what you say but how you say it that makes the difference.

And YES, believe it or not, right after this, we went for lunch! LOL!!!

All in one night…

The one-week school holiday was coming to an end, so early in the morning on Sunday, I had to go to the airport to pick my girl’s friend/colleague and after an early lunch, I had to send them to their school, half an hour past Selangau Bazaar. That was why when my Singapore friends were back from their longhouse trip, I was not around and they were left to their own devices that afternoon.

I only managed to meet them at around 5.00 p.m. and because the restaurant that I wanted to take them to was still closed, we dropped by here as they insisted that they wanted to give it a try even though we were just an hour away from dinner time. We shared their signature barbecued pork ribs…

Ribs

…that they all liked and they also loved their classic pork burger…

Burger

After that, it was still early so we went to stroll around the pasar malam (night market) round the corner. I had to keep reminding them not to buy anything and save what was left of their tummy space for dinner. Luckily, it started to rain so we had to leave the place and head back to the restaurant.

I ordered the traditional Melanau dish – the umai

Umai

…which comprises raw fish with lots of calamansi lime juice and other ingredients. They enjoyed that though I would say it was rather sour but it went well with rice. They liked the paku (jungle fern) in santan (coconut milk)…

Paku in santan

…too but all of them shared this same opinion – they would prefer midin a lot more. Unfortunately, it was not available at this restaurant that night.

I also got them to try the lokan

Lokan

…which was basically the shell of the clams stuffed with the flesh/meat, minced and mixed with minced meat and whatever else…

Lokan - inside

…and deep fried. My! My! The ones we got that night were extremely small – about half of the usual size only. I wondered if this applied to the price as well…but knowing how things would usually go around here, I would think that was highly unlikely.

I did not want the prawns as I knew that would cost a bomb so we asked for three only…

Prawns

 …for the three of them. That turned out to be RM25.00 each so the total was a shocking RM75.00, just for the prawns alone. They loved the huge prawns and they were really good – firm, fresh, sweet and succulent…

Prawn

…but the soup, like the umai, was way too sour. There was no way one could just drink it like that or not a whole lot of it, at least. One of the ladies did not like how there was a little too much tumeric (kunyit)…and actually, when we cook our very simple version of this at home, Melanau-style, we do not make it THIS sour and we do not use a lot of tumeric or in fact, much of anything either, so we would have a lighter soup which, to us, would be very much more delightful. This, I feel, comes across more like gravy than soup – great with rice…but I do know for a fact that different people cook things differently like how the curry in one family may not be the same as that in another and preferences may vary too. To each his own!

I asked for TWO pieces of the lamb, each piece cut into two so each of us could just have a bit. After all, we were already rather full from the pre-dinner dinner. However, this was served…

Lamb

- four thick slabs of roast lamb! It worked out to RM20.00 a piece which I would say was not all that expensive if we compare that to the prices of lamb chops here, there and everywhere…but the total for the dish, RM80.00, was indeed quite a pinch! Nonetheless, they thought it was very nicely done and worthy of praise.

The bill came up to a whooping RM202.00, inclusive of rice and drinks…but they still said it was all right, less than SGD80.00. I would have to think twice about bringing guests here in future, really…and if I ever do, there would not be any lamb, that’s for sure…and no prawns either!

Now if you think that was it, you are very very wrong! They insisted that we dropped by here for the durian…

DIC
*Archive photo*

…and mango ice cream…

MIC
*Archive photo*

…and I also asked them to try the banana cake. Good grief! My friend liked it so much that he wanted to buy some to take back to Singapore. Unfortunately, they were out of the cake and only had enough for their own use so the plan had to be aborted. It was too dark to take any reasonably good snapshots (that is why I have to resort to those old ones above)…but if you stick around, there will be a photograph of the banana cake in one of the posts coming soon.

There you have it – our two dinners plus dessert, all in one night!

Something to remember…

I mentioned in an earlier post that my Singapore friends rented a car and drove on their own all the way to the longhouse in Kanowit

RK Kanowit 1
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…for a one-night stay. I wished I could go with them but unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right.

They had a memorable and enjoyable experience and got to go jungle trekking…

JT
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…while they were there and they also had to pick stuff from the jungle…

Picking midin
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…to cook for dinner including some midin

Midin
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…and tapioca leaves

Daun bandong
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

They also cut some bamboo and the ingredients needed to cook ayam pansoh (chicken in bamboo).

However, I was rather disappointed to hear that they did not get to eat all that. It so happened that there was an Australian there already and  he was staying in the headman’s bilek (house) and my friends had to stay in another one under that same homestay programme. The wife in the one where they put up cooked dinner for them but they had none of all the aforementioned – they said they probably had that in the other bilek…but they were not too sure. Actually, I was expecting them to get together at the ruai (common corridor) to enjoy the food together…and luckily, they were very nice people and did not mind one bit and were quite happy with what they were served…and they said that the people they stayed with were very pleasant and hospitable and they really felt at home with them. Hmmm…they did not even know who had the ayam pansoh and all in the end but if I had been there, I probably would have kicked up a fuss and demanded for all that jungle produce. Tsk! Tsk!

They were supposed to go boating…

Boat
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…but it rained heavily so they decided to put it off till the morning the next day.

When evening fell…

Sunset
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…they had some traditional dancing – the ngajat

Ngajat
*Alfred’s photo n Facebook*

…to the music played with all their traditional instruments including the sape and the gongs and drums, big and small. I heard that the ladies joined in and had fun while my friend, Alfred, was shy and insisted he could not dance. They also tasted the tuak (traditional rice wine) but they said it was kind of sour. Maybe it was not the right time of year and they had run out of the good ones – usually, they would have new wine around May and June for the Gawai Dayak Festival which certainly would be a better time to visit to join in all the merry making.

The next morning, they decided to skip the boating as they could not wait to head into town for the Kanowit red kampua noodles. Unfortunately, they said the town was flooded with people, so very busy, the shops were so crowded and the roads were terribly jammed and they could not find a parking space so they just left and headed back to Sibu.

However, they were able to make a pit stop here for my favourite popiah

Popiah 1
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

- the best I have had anywhere and yes, they really liked it too…

Po piah 2
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

They also had the kampua noodles…

Kampua
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…from a stall at the coffee shop there and they said it was good.

After having had their fill, they headed to the brand new hotel…

New Li Hua

…just declared open earlier this month – another one in the same chain of hotels as the one where they stayed on their previous trip here. I had made prior reservations there for their stay in Sibu at only RM98.00 nett (around SGD38.00) per night for each BIG room with a king-sized bed, so they were able to check in as soon as they arrived…and return the rented car.

They said they enjoyed it all, very different and truly something to remember.