These photographs are probably close to 90years old now.
Looking at these old photographs now inadvertently brings back those childhood memories.
Maternal Grandpa Lim Fook @ 阉鸡 - 福
Grandpa Lim Fook would practice his skills in the Menglembu market, and traveled to markets in the surrounding township. It was common for families to rear their own fowls in the old days. Caponized chicken was a special treat during festive season.
The folks would time when the chicken would be caponized such that it would grow to the right maturity and size came the big festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn or Winter solstice. The young chicken 生鸡 – young rooster - would be caponized at a tender age and would be ready for the table after 6 months or more.
In the pre-war years cost one cent or so to caponize a chicken, and Grandpa Lim could make a decent living.
He supported the family with his trade, and able to sent her two elder daughters to school. Mum was always grateful to mention that hat she had a few years of primary education and could read and write in Chinese. She would sign my report card in Chinese, when I had poor results from school & dad would refused to sign the card.
She also said that her dad used to own a shop in Menglembu. The shop had a signboard in bold characters hanging above the entrance - 福林-Fook Lim -and coined from Grandpa Lim’s name. This single storey wooden building right in the middle of town used to be a bicycle repair cum barber shop as early as from the 1960’s. It was gutted by fire in the mid-2000.
Grandpa Lim Fook’s house was in the north-western area of Menglembu-北区. Mum used to say that her maiden home was before the railway gate in the direction of a Chinese temple.
To folks of mum’s generation – the railway gate was a landmark of Menglembu in the pre-war years. It was located at where the round-about with the groundnut monument is now.
(A railway line used to run from Ipoh to Tronoh, passing thro Menglembu town – which is now Jalan Lee Man Hin. However during the Japanese occupation, it was dismantled by the Japanese military and the rail removed to build the Burma – Thai rail link. This railway was made into the popular movie - Bridge over River Kwai - in 1957).
Grandpa Lim Fook was the eldest son & he had at least two other younger brothers and a younger sister. The 2nd younger brother who lived to the 1970’s & whom we called sookgong 叔公– moved to the western part of Menglembu - choo kai pang, probably during the resettlement of the rural household during the emergency period in the early part of 1950’s.
It was not clear which year Grandpa Lim Fook passed away- probably in the pre-war years. However what we heard from mum was that he passed away on the eve of Chinese New Year. As it was a festive occasion, there was minimum ceremony, and was sent for burial on an on an ox-drawn carriage.
Maternal Grandma Lim-Chong –
As to the photograph of this lady of good stature, who looked relatively tall, the fashion and era of the photograph pointed to one taken in the 1920’s.
My only guess now was that she could be maternal grandmother whose family name was Chong -张. In the 1960’, mum would visit her maternal grandmother who lived in Pasir Pinji, 兵如港怡保Ipoh. She would bring me along.
She had on her left hand a watch, and was holding a handbag on her right. She wore a pair of matching medium heeled cover strap shoes.
Her hair was neatly combed back into a bun with a decorative gold hair pin. She complemented her dressing with pieces of western fashion article. This blend of east and west was the fashion of that period.
She was probably in her early 30’s then.
If I recall well, Grandma Lim-Chong together with her mum was probably a dulang washer in her maiden years. They live in the Pasir Pinji village.
They would venture out to the tin mines early in the morning together will the village women folks to wash the tin tailing's from the open cast mines or palong, for tin ore.
On a good day their labor could fetch a good return. By early evening they would troop home with a small tin of tin ore and dulang (wooden pan for panning tin ore) in hand.
Grandma Lim-Chong first two eldest children were girls. In order to wish for a boy, mum told us that she, the 2nd girl was given the name - 锦娣 – Kim Thye . The character 娣 means - younger brother - in Chinese. True to the word – Grandma Lim-Chong next two surviving children were males.
Mum told us that the year her mother passed away, the family broke a porcelain bowl during the Chinese New Year festive period. This was supposed to portend bad luck for the coming year.
As such it was a custom to wrap the broken pieces in red papers and to dispose them off after the auspicious day - so as to ward off bad luck.
From the family structure, it seemed that the relations from the maternal side settled in Malaya a generation earlier than from the paternal side. Had Grandpa Koo came to Malaya in the 1900’s then, Grandpa Lim and Grandma Lim-Chong who were born in Malaya, their parents would have migrated to Malaya in the 1890’s or earlier.
1) Maternal grandpa and grandma
Maternal grandfather was the eldest son of the Lim family. He married a maiden from the Chong family, and had four surviving children to adulthood – two daughters and two younger sons. Mum was the 2nd daughter. The two sons though born and bred in Malaya, left for New China in the early 1950’s.
As such, each year in early April during Qing Ming, 清明- tomb-sweeping festival, it was left to mum who dutifully performed the ceremony at her dad and mum’s graves, until she passed away in the 1980’s.
Grandpa Lim’s ancestral roots was supposed to be : 赤溪，广东省
Maternal Grandma Lim-Chong was the eldest daughter of the Chong family. She had a younger sister whom we called – yee-por - 姨婆. I heard that she lived to 100years old. She had a brother who died early and survived by his wife who we called –kiu por - 舅婆. There often were visits by Mum to her relations in the 1960’s, during the Chinese New Year festive season..
2) The maternal great grandma’s
Maternal Great grandmother Chong . 姐婆太 – jia po tai was in her nineties, then. She was mentally alert and clear, and when mum would chit chat with her and she would reply with a soft gentle voice. I remember her calling us young boys – ah moi –阿妹 - which is a term for girls.
It was a perhaps a tradition of her generation to call young boys – in the female term. It was a belief that, addressing a male child as the female gender, would avoid unwarranted calamity to the child. The female gender was considered a lesser treasure that would not attract undue envy in the greater realm.
Mum often narrated that maternal great grandmother Chong was a kind lady and that - Zhu bak por – 朱伯婆 - a dear family friend of paternal grandmother – remembered this kind neighbor giving her food when she went hunger in the young days.
Maternal Great grandma Lim, Grandpa Lim Fook’s mother, whom we called- AhTai – 阿太-survived their elder children and lived into the 1960’s. Great grandma Lim however was inflicted with eye problem in her later years and she became blind.
These hardy great-grand mothers probably came to Malaya in the 1890’s or even earlier, and they would probably be the early wave of female migrants that left their villages to venture to Nanyang. Their children were born in Malaya.
From the maternal lineage, ours would be the 4th generation in this land.
3) Mother’s marriage
Mum married in to the Koo Family in the Feb of 1945, six months before the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore.
Over dinner, mum used to tell us that during the war years, she was working in paternal grandpa’s timber yard - soo liao chong - 树料厂 - making cigarettes.
Probably cos of the deteriorating situation of the economy in the later part of the war years, Grandpa Koo diversified from supplying timber to the mining industry to making cigarettes – the end process of rolling the tobacco into cigarettes, and most probably they were making cigars - or chee-root yan, as they use to call locally. Mum was one of the young girls working there.
Paternal grandmother was seeking a marriageable partner for her eldest son. Dad was then 21 years old and mum was 22. And, as they said the rest was history ..
4) Photograph cum post card
The back of the photograph were printed the following words: Post card, Carte postale (French), Cartolina postale (Italian), Tarjeta postal (Spanish)
5) Menglembu - Choo kai pang – (in Hakka dialect)
A notorious area in the 1960's -
To the local residents this regrouping area to the western part of the town had seldom been called Sai-khoi, 西区but always as Chowgai pang – in Cantonese dialect. The other three areas to the eastern, southern and northern sectors of the town are known as: Doong-khoi, 东区，
Lam-khoi, 南区and Buk-Khoi -北区
How did the term chou-gai pang came about? A possibility was that it came from a combination of Chinese and Malay word.
Chou-gai – meaning to extract taxation. Chukai is the Malay word for taxation, and chou – is the Chinese word for extract – 抽
Pang – meaning a shed 棚
Bordering Chou-kaipang – is Bukit Merah new Village – 红泥山新村.