Dog…

Qong Xi Fa Cai! A Blessed and a very Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to one and all…

Mandarin oranges

It’s the Year of the Dog and whoever said that “it’s a dog’s life” sure had it all wrong looking at how these man’s best friends are so well-loved and pampered nowadays. Let’s hope that our lives would be just as great in the year ahead.

Thank you once again to all those who sent me gifts for this auspicious festive occasion, the first being my blogger-friend, Merryn, who went through the trouble of sending me her super-nice own-made cookies

Cookies from Merryn
*Archive photo*

…and I got this packet of bak kua (barbecued pork slices)…

Bak kua from Mandy
*Archive photo*

from my dear friend, Mandy and these two…

Bak kua from Wilfred
*Archive photo*

from my ex-student, Wilfred, in Singapore and of course, my cousin, Jude, in Kuching sent me these…

Bacon jam from Jude
*Archive photo*

which almost did not reach me as his sister, who went through the chore of packing and sending, did not include the lane so it was declared an “invalid address”. LOL!!!

These traditional Melanau/local delights…

From Ah Lek

…came from my cousin and his wife and family and my ex-student/friend, Justin, is home for the special occasion and he gave me these…

From Justin

– one pack of the celebrated Musang King – truly a gift of gold, like the D101 he gave me the last time he was home and one pack of the sio bee from Johore plus one pomelo…and no prize for guessing who gave me these…

From the folks at Payung Cafe

Yes, they’re from the wonderful people at Payung – their otak-otak and Payung chicken and their kuih bangkit.

My niece, the one working in Singapore who said that she would not be coming back this year had a change of heart after seeing those heart-wrenching Chinese New Year commercials depicting old parents having the reunion dinner alone at home, their children are all not coming home…and she brought us this…

From niece in Singapore 1

– more bak kua, one of the celebrated most established brands in Singapore. Gee!!! It certainly looks like we have enough bak kua to last the whole year through. LOL!!!

I guess she picked this…

From niece in Singapore 2

…up at KLIA2, the branded pop corn that a lot of people had blogged about or shared on Facebook but we all thought that it is somewhat over-rated and the ones we got from my old friend, Jasmine, in Adelaide, Australia were very much nicer.

I also got these much-coveted groundnuts, a must-buy for anyone coming to Sibu…

From Toh Chin Hock & family

…and kuaci (pumpkin seeds) from my ex-student, Chin Hock, who is also home for the festive occasion from Singapore, thank you so much to him and the Toh family, the ones in this line of business here in Sibu.

Moving on from all the gifts that I received, thank you also to those who went through the trouble of sending me Chinese New Year greeting cards this year.

The first came from another cousin of mine in Kuching…

Card from Tina

She did send me one for Christmas but the aforementioned cousin-who-always-left-out-the lane gave her the wrong address so it never reached me. This time around, she made sure that did not happen again.

Yvette, my paternal cousin in Perth, Australia sent me this one…

Card from Yvette

…and I got one from my blogger-masterchef-friend, Elin, in Ipoh, Perak

Card from Elin

…and this one came from my young and very handsome blogger-friend in Sungai Petani, Kedah, Nick

Card from Nick

…who came to visit me here in Sibu around this time last year.

This one came from a dear friend’s firm in Kuching…

Still...

…but he passed away recently – God bless his soul, may he rest in peace…but I guess I am still in his company’s mailing list so like for so very many years gone by, I did get one again this year.

Chinese New Year will be very low-key for us this year as my father passed away in July last year and it has not been a year so with all due respect, following the Chinese customary practice/tradition, there shall be no celebration within our family this year.

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No time at all…

I received a surprise message from my very dear friend, Mandy, one morning. It seemed that she was in town on another of her working trips and as always, she had no time at all to herself and we could not get to meet for a bite to eat or something – it certainly has been quite a long while since the last time I got to see her in person way back in 2015.

Well, she asked me to drop by the hotel where she stayed the night as she had left something at the reception counter for me and that was what I did.

When I got there, I saw the Chinese New Year decoration

Peter's CNY decor at Kingwood

…and it certainly looked like I was right – it was stretched vertically to fit the wall but personally, I do think that it was nicer horizontally.

The ever so thoughtful and generous Mandy sent me this packet of bak kua (barbecued pork slices)…

From Mandy

…for Chinese New Year – I’m not familiar with this brand so I have no idea if it is any good or not; I’ve yet to open it to try.

It was good that coincidentally, Mandy came right after the horrendous flood that hit the district where my girl’s school in the jungle is located. It was so terrible at some places and I was worried that she might not be able to come home and would be stranded there last weekend…or worse, for Chinese New Year! Mandy’s company has a base/workshop in Selangau so she had to go there and thankfully, the flood had subsided right before that very day – she told me that there was no flood, everything was pretty much back to normal and all the potholes had been patched. I was indeed so very relieved to hear that and glad that my girl was able to come home after school on Friday as usual, no problem at all.

Moving on, on Saturday morning, I received a call from the sister of my ex-student who is working and living with his family in Singapore. He did send word earlier that he would not be coming home for Chinese New Year this year as their second baby is due very very soon but he would be sending me something through his sister…

From Wilfred

It is indeed so very nice and sweet of him to remember this old teacher of his without fail every year. Last year, he did not come back either and he sent me this tin of almond cookies

Almond cookies from Wilfred
*Archive photo*

…through my niece, the one also working in Singapore.

Thank you so much, Mandy and Wilfred. Qong Xi Fa Cai, a very Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to you and your loved ones, may God bless you all abundantly in the coming year and other than that, Wilfred, may your missus have a safe and smooth delivery when the time comes.

Hmmm…now it is quite obvious what I will not be buying to enjoy and usher in The Year of the Dog, right? LOL!!!

Dinner for two…

*This is NOT a paid post* and no, despite all the unfounded rumours circulating around town, I do NOT own this café nor am I one of the co-owners so let it be known here and now that I have NO vested interest in the place whatsoever.

Yes, I do go there quite often – I like the food, the ambiance and the people are very nice and hospitable and yes, they have helped me in more ways than one but make no mistake, I am just a regular customer and like all other customers, I have to pay the regular prices for everything that I eat there though some would insist that the servings I get SOMETIMES, not all the time, do seem a little more than usual. They do not charge me for the water that I drink there though but yes, according to the menu, under normal circumstances, it is chargeable and I may get to try some nice dishes they are having for their own lunch or dinner.

Well, in case you have not seen it on their Facebook page or heard about it, they are going to have something special for Valentine’s Day – the 14th of February, Wednesday….

Payung Cafe Valentine's Day special

…at RM55.00 per head but if you book before the 8th, this Thursday, you can get a discount of RM10.00 so you will only need to pay at RM45.00 per head, RM90.00 if it is going to be a romantic dinner for two.

For that amount of money, you get to pick ONE of the main meals – the chicken chop (usual price: RM25.00)…

Payung Cafe chicken chop

…or the chicken or beef spaghetti (usual price: RM17.00)…

Payung Cafe beef spaghetti

My guess is the hot and spicy curry lamb is what we often had, their Bangladeshi lamb curry (usual price: RM19.00)…

Payung Cafe Bangladeshi lamb curry

…and of course, their butter chicken (usual price: RM18.00)…

Payung Cafe butter chicken

…is one of our favourites here.

We tried the sedha beef (usual price: RM20.00)…

Payung Cafe sedha beef

…also a Bangladeshi dish, once but it did not really tickle our fancy – at best, I would say it was all right, non-spicy, not even a bit.

It so happens that Valentine’s Day this year coincides with Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence (from meat) for Catholics and unfortunately, there is no fish or prawn dish in the list but no worries! I spoke to the Payung people regarding this and they assured me that if anyone is thus inclined, abstaining from meat, he or she can let them know when calling to make the reservation and put in a special request for their very popular Payung otak-otak (usual price: RM13.00)…

Payung otak-otak

…or their very nice Payung fish (ikan keli/catfish: usual price RM15.00)…

Payung fish

…and they will arrange for it to be served that night.

They also have two prawn dishes – their belimbing prawns and their tom yam prawns but I hear those crustaceans are kinda scarce these few days. Of course the sellers will put the blame on the current bad weather but we all know that they are hoarding them for Chinese New Year that is coming right up at the end of next week when they can jack up the prices and fleece the customers. Tsk! Tsk!

Like in previous years, I would expect a somewhat elaborate buffet spread and other than the main meal of your choice, you can help yourself to all the mushroom soup (usual price: RM5:00)…

Payung Cafe mushroom soup

…that you like and also the salads which I am pretty sure will include our favourites here, the Payung rojak (usual price: RM10.00, small)…

Payung rojak

…and their pomelo salad (usual price: RM8.00)…

Payung Cafe pomelo salad

…and their herbs salad and probably their papaya salad…

Payung Cafe papaya salad

…as well.

For the dessert, it is most likely that they will serve the very nice dreamy nite…

Payung Cafe dreamy nite

…and their banana cake…

Payung Cafe banana cake

…but I am not sure if you can get to enjoy their durian or mango ice cream or not or their Mulu ice cream…

Payung Cafe Mulu ice cream

Drinks will be free flow – I expect they will serve my girl’s favourite here, the pineapple ginger soda but there may be other options to pick and choose.

So, if anyone is interested, you can call them at 016-8906061 or 011-53375498 to make your reservation. I’ve never been to any of their Valentine’s Day dinners before but I did hear that the response in previous years had been very good, a full house no less, so it would be best that you book early to avoid disappointment.

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.

New arrival…

My ex-student, Kho Peng, and Hilda tied the knot in 2016 and the good news is that now, they have a new addition to the family, a baby girl, Abigail. He was so very nice as to remember me after all these years to invite me to their very lavish wedding banquet and this time around, he sent word to invite me to his house for what the Foochows call seng ngang.

Traditionally, the convalescing Foochow mum would have to stay in confinement for 30 days. In the old days, before there was air conditioning, she would have to stay in a hot and stuffy and very dark room – all the windows would be closed and the stench was unbearable. Yes, she would not be allowed to bathe for that whole month! In fact, she would not get to see the light of day at all.

There would be a confinement lady to do everything – slaughter the chicken, cook the soup and serve her mee sua with lots and lots of ginger to combat the “cold” in the body and lots and lots of wine to regain the blood lost during delivery. Of course, these days, anything alcoholic is to be strictly avoided as they say it will go through the breast milk to the baby. Hmmmm…no wonder we were all such good babies way back then, sleeping all the time. We were all drunk! LOL!!!

In the meantime, family and friends would drop by for this seng ngang tradition. They would bring ang paos (red packets containing money) or live chickens with a red strip of cloth tied to the ankles, trays of eggs or bottles of Wincarnis or boxes of chicken essence and the customary practice would be to stick a red paper square on them.

The well-wishers would be served mee sua

Mee sua

…and extra chicken…

Extra chicken

…and eggs too for them to help themselves if they so desired.

I remember the eggs were not pre-peeled – you will have to do it yourself and if it was a baby boy, the eggs would be dyed red and you would get the colour all over your fingers when you peeled them. They did not colour the eggs if it had been a baby girl but generally these days, they would do it for both, never mind boy or girl or they may not do it at all.

I do not recall eating anything else other than the mee sua and the chicken and the eggs but at these seng ngang sessions these days, they may serve a little bit more than those like these very nice homemade Foochow-style fish sio bee

Fish sio bee

…and these vegetable dishes…

Vegetable 1

…that we had as well…

Vegetable 2

…that day.

Upon leaving, everyone will be given some eggs to bring home. These days, many choose to give the eggs raw/uncooked so one would be able to take them home and use them in whichever way one chooses. Some may not be all that fond of eating eggs, hardboiled.

Thank you so much, Kho Peng, for the invitation and may God bless your baby girl, Abigail, and also Hilda and you with abundant happiness and all that is good in the years ahead. Cheers!!!

Still remember…

One of the most rewarding things about being a teacher is when the students still remember you, even those whom you do not have the opportunity to teach. I feel sad for those whose names their students cannot even remember – that thin one, wore spectacles…or that fierce one with a very loud voice and so on and so forth. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Well, this group of ex-students of mine in Kanowit around 1980…

Ex-SMK Kanowit students
*Ex-student’s photo forwarded via Facebook*

…sure remember me still, praise the Lord. They could even recall that I was their Form Teacher for two years when they were in Form 2 and Form 3. I was not able to attend their 2017 reunion in December that was held in Bintulu and the other day, out of the blue, one of them contacted me and  invited me to join them for dinner here, upstairs…

Sibu Town Cafe

I was quite surprised as I was not expecting it at all – I did hear from one of them that they will hold another reunion in Sibu sometime later this year and this wasn’t it. It sure was great to see all of them again and I felt so very happy that they are doing so well in their lives. I guess nothing makes a teacher happier than seeing ex-students making it good once they have left school.

My photographs did not come out too well except for this plate of the Four Heavenly Kings…

Sibu Town Cafe Four Heavenly Kings with canned pork cubes

…that went so very well with the canned pork cubes it was fried with and this one, a sourish pork leg soup…

Sourish pork leg soup

According to them, they were all their traditional Cantonese Hakka dishes including the sour duck, roast and soy sauce kampung pig pork and there was a plate of kampung chicken too plus the fried sweet potato leaves were very nicely done as well.

One of them went and bought this ikan semah

Steamed ikan semah
*Ex-student’s photo forwarded via Facebook*

…the upriver Kapit fish, second only to the very expensive wang poo liao (cannot forget) or the empurau and this one did not come cheap either – RM180 a kilo and the one we had was 1.4 kilo altogether. He got it from the brother of one of their classmates who was not with us that night and of course, it was very very fresh and very very nice unlike some empuraus that I have had lately, frozen too long and I thought they were kind of bland, quite tasteless and could have been any other fish.

We had a joyful evening filled with lots of smiles and I sure look forward to the next time we can get together like this again. Thank you all for the invitation and thank you especially to Hoi Kian, the host for the evening. May God bless you abundantly and everybody too in this new year and all the years ahead. Cheers!!!

SIBU TOWN CAFE (2.328216, 111.855481) is located at Ulu Sungai Merah 18F, opposite the Wonderful Supermarket and Departmental Store in that area of shops.

Put it together…

If you see these red lanterns here, there and everywhere around town…

CNY lanterns 1

…you will know right away that Chinese New Year is drawing very near…

CNY lanterns 2

…but of course, when it comes to the one and only Payung Café here, you can expect to see something unique, something very different from the rest every year.

This was what they had last year, 2017…

Payung CNY decor 2017

…and some people wanted that same thing for the Chinese New Year decoration at their premises this year.

It so happened that I dropped by that afternoon and Peter and his boys were very busy working on it. He had all the things…

Putting it together 1

…ready…

Putting it together 2

…and all they had to do was to put everything together…

Putting it together 3

…step by step…

Putting it together 4

…piece by piece…

Putting it together 5

…till it was done…

Putting it together 6

Peter never planned ahead – I had expected a rough sketch or something that he could work on but no, he just followed his instincts so of course, it would not be an identical replica of the old one. I have yet to see it on display with the lights and everything on but for one thing, the one this year is vertical as opposed to last year’s which was horizontal – probably that has something to do with the wall at the place, the space available.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to sample their durian cake…

Payung durian cake

This was their 3rd attempt at making that. The first time was very successful – I thought it was really nice but the second attempt failed to meet the mark – too much flour and not enough fresh durian cream so it was back to the drawing board and the third time around, I thought it was really very good, very fine and smooth – something like a cross between cake and bingka, not really like dodol, and like their banana cake…

Payung banana cake with ice cream

…it went so very well with a bit of ice cream…

Payung durian cake with ice cream

I don’t know if it is on their menu now or not – I have not dropped by since. Do give it a try if it is and see if you like it!

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.

Not this year…

It’s the 1st of January, 2018, so a very Happy New Year, all.

Everything is  rather low-key for us this year as my dad passed away in July last year and with all due respect, according to Chinese tradition, as it has not been a year, we should not be celebrating these festive seasons and the same goes to the coming Chinese New Year in February.

Anyway, since my girl is gluten-intolerant, we have not been baking cakes and cookies at all these days, never mind what special occasion it may be, unlike in the past. She did bring home quite a lot of gluten-free products from her recent trip to KL and the other day, she tried baking this one…

Melinda's gluten-free goodies

…and made some blueberry lemon cupcakes that we could eat ourselves.

While she was baking them…

2 easy steps

…the fragrance filled the whole house and when she took them out of the oven, they sure looked great…

Gluten-free cupcake

…on the outside.

Inside, however, there were a lot of holes…

Gluten-free cupcake, inside

…and the texture was somewhat different from regular cakes. Thankfully, though they were not quite the same as cakes that we are all familiar with, they were very nice and it did not take us long to finish all of them.

On Christmas Eve, we just had dinner early, just the three of us, a simple one with baked salmon, topped with garlic and dill and with a squeeze of lemon juice…

Christmas Eve dinner, salmon

…and roast pork with potatoes and peri-peri sauce…

Christmas Eve dinner, pork

…plus this salad with egg and crispy bits of bacon added…

Christmas Eve dinner, salad

…because we wanted to go to church hours before the time so that we would be able to grab some seats. Usually, at all the services around Christmas (and Easter), the churches would be packed to the brim with those once-a-year Christians creeping out of the woodworks..

The next day, Christmas Day, we dropped by the Coffee Garden at this hotel for lunch. I had their set lunch with lemon beef (RM9.00, exclusive of GST, with a complimentary drink and soup)…

Christmas lunch, lemon beef

…which was all right, not anything that would get me rushing back for more. The meat was all right, tender enough and not tough at all. I thought it would be something like lemon chicken but no, it had a taste of its own and actually, I didn’t think I could not detect much lemon in the sauce.

My missus had their fried kway teow with crab meat (RM10.00, exclusive of GST)…

Christmas lunch, fried kway teow with crab meat

…and it turned out that there was barely any – only the bits of imitation crab sticks were more prominent in the dish. I guess she was not all that impressed by it as she did not say anything nor did she insist that my girl tried a bit – she would do that all the time if she had anything nice whenever we ate out.

My girl had their mixed grill (RM19.00, exclusive of GST)…

Christmas lunch, mixed grill

She thought the beef was tough and the chicken was breast but she liked the lamb and the coleslaw and all in all, she did enjoy her pick.

After that, we adjourned some place else for dessert but that would be in my next post.

THE COFFEE GARDEN is located at The Garden Hotel ((2.288894, 111.831139) along Jalan Kampung Nyabor at its junction with Jalan Huo Ping.