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.

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.

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.

Each passing day…

I just received this Chinese New Year greeting card from my cousin and her family in Melbourne, Australia…

CNY card

…a few days ago. Well, it was a bit late for Chinese New Year’s Day proper but still very much in time for the festive season which ends on Chap Goh Meh (the 15th Night) next week, thank you so much to all of them!

This card is really special as it is not just a card. In fact, it doubles as a desk calendar at the back…

Desk calendar

…12-in-1 so I do not even have to turn the page twelve times in a year.

Yes, I am really hopeless with these things – I get the 12-page desk calendar from the Mouth & Foot Artists every year and unless I have given them away to somebody, they are all somewhere in the house, still brand new.

My 2016 Year of the Monkey a page-a-day wall calendar…

Wall calendar

…is still hanging on the wall on the cover page, not even the 1st of January…

A page a day

…talking about standing still in time. LOL!!! My dad used to love this kind of calendars whereby without fail, he would dutifully go and tear a page each passing day to see if it would be a good day or not. I kept telling him that they would print the same thing year in, year out and only the numbers had been changed but it all fell on deaf ears. Ah well! As long as it made him happy, we just let him be.

What about all of you? More into digital clocks and calendars…or you are completely dependent on your smart phone?

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.

Family business…

Andy has been my Facebook friend for a long long time but I could not recall having a student by that name and I could not recall anyone who looked like that either. I did not know what he was doing but he was very active in one of those international non-governmental organisations and more recently, I saw his name in the list of councillors in the town’s municipal council.

It was only when he and his family took over this place

Siong Kee 1

…and started running their kampua mee business…

Siong Kee 2

…on the ground floor and their restaurant on the 1st Floor and Andy shared a whole lot of photographs on Facebook that I realised he is actually the son of this celebrity in town! They used to have stalls all over the town like some kind of franchise but they’ve closed down all of them to concentrate on this one now.

Well, it so happened that my ex-students, all from the same year as Andy, invited me there on the 4th Day of the Chinese Lunar New Year for a reunion…

Reunion

The mother…

Mother

…was at the helm when we arrived and much later, when we were leaving at almost 10.00 p.m., his father had taken over…and even at that time, there were still a lot of people there enjoying the kampua mee among other things.

This was a special treat from Andy, their celebrated kampua mee

Siong Kee kampua, black

– somebody asked for the dark version and it was really very nice. I did not think it was all that great when I tried it in 2012 nor was I overwhelmed by what I had at one of the stalls more recently in 2017 and at RM3.50, it was the most expensive in town so I never went back for more.

Well, according to Andy, it is now RM4.00 a bowl, restaurant standard price, and instead of the miserable few slices of boiled meat coloured red, theirs would be served with eight slices of real char siew. The kampua mee here was also RM3.50 a bowl – I guess It must have gone up to RM4.00 as well seeing how the prices of everything have gone up there…but having said that, I really enjoyed the kampua mee there and I did not mind forking out a little extra for something I enjoy…and I certainly would say the same about the one here…

Sionge Kee kampua

More about the reunion with my ex-students coming right up in the next post! Do stick around!

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.