Friday, December 30, 2011

松口 - tsungkeau where the heart was -

Perhaps because it is deeply imprinted in the  psyche – there is a constant draw to this ancestral land.
Grandpa ventured forth to the new world, starting his journey from this river in the early 1900’s. He was probably in his late teens.  On his final journey  to his homeland - he was already in his mid 60’s.
By then Tsungkeau  was already a bustling river port that rivaled  Meizhou -  梅州,  the capital town of 嘉应州 – the Jiaying District - in  business activities .
This view from the Meidong Bridge -  梅东桥  - which has
practically remained unchange since the 1940/s- attest to her past glory.
The calm water of the Meijing River belies a past era of a bustling river town.   Interspersed between these rows of Republican era buildings were piers where an un-ending stream of travelers come and go. 

Located in middle reaches of Meijiang  梅江 -  Tsungkeau served as a strategic river port in this Hakka heartland located in the  mountainous  NE Guangdong .  For those venturing out to the new world – many a   last night was probably spent in one of the hotels before going -  过番 - guo fan – or heading to a foreign land. 
Those that came back from afar – brought along with them new ideas from the new world as well as their foreign born children and wives. Such a legacy from the past era could still be found in the old building – as well as in  the old folks –
An old building – with the name Tsungking Hotel –written in English  engraved on its facade
A 75 year old relation – who was born in Indonesia and returned when she was 13 years old could still speak a sprinkling of  Malay words. 
At her height of activities -  there were over a thousand shop houses - with hotels, banking facilities, a post office and  regular steam ship service plying  between Tseungkeau and Shantou – Swatow – on the eastern seaboard.
When Grandpa  finally bid farewell to  Menglembu in August 1946 he was 63year.   
Looking back to that period in history -  what was it that made Grandpa to return to his  homeland for good after close to a 40 year stay in  Nanyang -   南洋? 
The political situation in China was very unstable then to say the least, and he was headed right into the civil war.   Due to the unrest and fluid political situation the republican dollar was headed into rapid decline and depreciation in value.
Probably it was the heart that ruled the mind.  Home is where the heart was  & the land of his childhood beckoned.
In the December of 1945, soon after the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, & over a period of close to a period of two years he started a regular remittance from Ipoh to  Tsungkeau.   He had plan to bring his entire family home, and a greater part of his fortune went in advance to prepare for the uplift of the family members.
Perhaps Menglembu – 万里望-  the mining town located in the outskirt of Ipoh in the  then Malaya  - had  always been the distant land.  Though he had toiled there for many decades and where he had all his associates, friends and relations – Tsungkeau was still where the heart was.
However less than two years or so after he returned home – he passed away  of a stroke  age 65 in the Autumn of 1948. 
As they say, the rest was history, and the rest of the family was left in Malaya - 

Postscript –
a)   The assumption that Grandpa returned to China possibly in the months of Aug 1946 was derived from the entry made in the record of remittance –
 汇款暂记扎, 卅五年份 
李三茂 大号汇贰百万元 
广通庄交 大号(叻币〡〢千元)
大人亲手收款  -  -
Remittance record – 1946 copy
1946 Oct 07)
Chop Li Sanmao remit Republican Dollar 2 million 
Delivered thro
Chop Guangtong Zhuang  - Straits Dollars $1,220.00
To be received personally by the respected Father

(This entry in the account book was probably made by Dad – as the writing resembled his)

The remittance entry prior to this entry -  dated Aug23 1946
Asum of   Republican dollar 100,000 to be hand carried by Brother Lim ( 锦琳兄- 4th son) who is returning to hometown (Tsungkeau ) to be handed   in person to 锦荣 (eldest son)  -equivalent to Straits dollar $79.00 & remitted thro Chop Li Sanmao.

Chop Li Sanmao was - a merchant shop in Ipoh.

b)   Tseungkeau – Hakka pronunciation for Song kou 松口镇,  Meizhou  County – 梅州市, Guangdong Province - 广东省

c)   Grandpa’s last day -  during this trip over dimsum  conversation in HKG  with relation – age 76years -  got a glimpse of Grandpa’s last day.  She said that on the night of his stroke,   Grandpa loving touched her head –  a teenage girl of 13years, then.  When he was struck with stroke,  he aunt who was living next door was called over to help.  She said that Grandpa  & her aunt were –bosom friends - sworn fellow mates -  死党.  They would often meet to chat.

d)      To Songkou :  23-24Dec 2012 – went on a 2nd visit to Songkou,a day after the winter solstice -  exactly to the day 14 years ago, first visit was in 1997, when the  Asian financial crisis was rising storm. The town is in a desolate condition. Due to season flood the occupants have moved to upper grounds and almost abandoned the old buildings.

dd 10Feb2012/

Monday, October 10, 2011

- a hundred years hence - once a ROCer

This passport was issued by the Republic of China consulate in Ipoh dated 20Oct 1948. It was the 37th year of the Republic of China. The in-country consul was Ibrahim TY Ma.

As could be known from his name, the consul was a Muslim from China. Perhaps it was along this practice of sending emissary that was familiar with the Islamic faith, that Ibrahmin Ma was chosen to Malaya. The best know of which was Admiral Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644CE) – a Muslim from Yunnan province.

The fact that there was a ROC consulate in town was perhaps another testimony of the importance of Ipoh in the then British Malaya. With the opening of tin mining industry and there came huge migrant Chinese population.

It was well-known fact that Sun Yat-sen, had his revolutionary base in in Penang, while planning the Canton uprising. As to Ipoh, I was curious -

Googling thro the web –I was surprised to learn that Sun Yat-sen, while on a visit in 1906 to the Kinta Valley was hurled stones and cow dung in Menglembu, by supporters of a different political affiliation.

From citizens of ROC – or hua qiao – 華僑 - the folks have moved on to become - hai wai huaren – 海外華人- ethnic Chinese residing overseas.

From being a citizen of the ROC of China, when Malaya became Independent – dad being born in Malaya, got his citizenship as a citizen of Malaya. And when Malaysia was established – he naturally became a citizen of Malaysia.

At one time – in the early 1960/s – citizenship was a sensitive and hot topic. I recall being told by dad that cos he was a citizen, and being an offspring of a citizen, - by operation of law I was naturally a citizen of the land.

The Xinhai Revolution -辛亥革命 – or the Double-ten celebration to the ROC-er then, used to be celebrated with pomp in Ipoh, and I remember seeing an old photograph of a arch being built for the occasion in Hugh Low Street near the bridge.

To our ancestors – who left Qing China - 清朝 代 -( 1644-1911) - there was ever the yearning to make it rich in Nanyang ( 南洋) to return to their poor beloved Tangshan (唐山)that they came from, to us there was the cultural China we hope to see prosperous & strong, and to our young ones China is an awakened dragon - counting in superlatives.

Postscript -

1. Xinhai Revolution - 辛亥革命
Today 10Oct marks the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. 辛亥革命
It brought to an end a centralized dynastic system that lasted for 2,133 year, (from 221BC to 1911CE).

Measured in the time frame of the Chinese world view – with a continuous civilization of 5,000years, a century is perhaps, just a bleep in their historical clock.
Unlike the End of History by Fukuyama – to the Chinese history is an unending cycle – measured in cycles of ‘glorious ages’.

I wonder if they still call it the Double-ten Festival - 雙十節 - Shuangshi Jie - in Taiwan .

2. In 1948, dad returned to China with her mum – to attend to the burial, and family and matters of his late father who died in summer that year. This was perhaps his second visit back to the ancestral home since he was a child of 4-5years old.

3. The Star –

‘ Perak's former tin mining towns linked to Sun Yat-sen ‘

depot rd

Saturday, July 09, 2011

老照片 –arabian garden – 星洲阿拉伯花园

For a while I was wondering where this garden was.

It was taken in Jun/Jul 1940 – while dad was on a school excursion to Singapore with the Yuk Middle School graduation class -育才初级中学. Dad was 16years old then.

Written on the back of the photograph in Chinese was -星洲阿拉伯花园 - Arabian Garden, Singapore. A google on – Arabian Garden Singapore - did not throw up a meaningful link.

In the July issue of Biblioasia (Vol 7 Issue 2) published by NLB – there was a familiar looking photograph of the garden in the article on Serangoon, and it dawn on me that this garden was the Alkaff Lake Garden – located close to McPherson Road.
From the photographs - the scale of the garden looked grand, with the big lake and the small hill in the background. It must had been one of the must see – tourist spot in pre-war Singapore. Located – in the northern outskirt of the city – it brought to mind another privately developed garden in the vicinity that was lost in history. The garden build by Hoo Ah Kay located at Bendeemer Road.

The arch bridge provided an oriental landscape – and for a while I thought it was a early rendition of the Japanese garden on the Island.


1. Alkaff Lake Garden
2. Bibioasia - NLB

3. Graduation class of 1940 – Yuk Choy Junior High, IPOH

4. Yuk Choy school

19sep/mon - 4:35pm -


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

老照片 – to china 1927

When the folks are no longer around to tell the tale, the only means to unravel the story behind the old photographs is to postulate & from what one know and heard  from the elders.

Where were these two photographs taken, who were they & when?

The ancestral home in China Songkou, Meixan- 松口, 梅县。The courtyard of the house was much the same from what we saw years later on a visit in 1997.

There could not be any doubt that the litte boy was dad. These two photographs were kept with dad’s other old photographs all these years. The boy was possibly 3 or 4 years old then. With that setting, the photograph would then had been taken in 1927 or 1928 – and in the deep of winter.

As to the woman holding the hand of the little boy – it should be 2nd grand aunt ( 二伯婆). . The facial feature of this middle age woman, with strong cheek bones look similar to that of her in another photograph taken 20 or so odd years earlier in 1906. From the elders, she was tall of stature, and this was very much borne out in the photograph.

As to the grand old lady in a pair of round spectacles, she must be great grand mother. She ought to be in her seventies by then. In the genealogical record she was addressed as a 黎氏 – from the Li Family – though there was no mentioned of her year of birth.


1. For whatever reasons – dad had never told us of the family history or for that matter the folks in China. Possibility cos it was a memory of of grief and anger, that to him was better left there and be forgotten.

For when his dad returned to China in autumn of 1946 & died two years or so later –it was a sad closing chapter of a 40 odd year sojourn in Nanyang.

2. In the genealogical record it was stated that dad was half-adopted as a 2nd son to 2nd Grand Uncle -

過繼半嗣永亮為次子 guojibansi yongliangweicizi
The Gu-family (Koo) record- 古氏族譜革公派 - was completed in the 18th year of the Republic – 1929.

3. This trip was possibly dad’s first trip to his ancestral home to see his grandmother - travelling with 2nd Grand Aunt.

- 08Sep11/5:15pm/depot road

4. Visited Songkou a 2nd time on 23-34Dec2011.  In transit in HKG - heard from aunt Nyukmoi - that dad had a scare on his forehead close to his eyebrow.   She had previously tried look out for this scar - but it was not visible. 
- recall a tale that while on a visit to the ancestral village when he was a kid, dad had a deep cut while going up the steps visiting a temple.  Possibly this tale had lived on in the village, and the trip could be this one when he was a boy of 3-4years of age.

updated 13Feb2012


Saturday, May 21, 2011


Year 2532

27Aug /18:55
Liang Court

It was the year of the Seoul Olympics. A month or so later shifted from SS2 PJ to Daisy Lane.

..this book was one of the first on a journey of discovering - the Light of Asia.

..mahaprajna & mahakaruna - knowledge & compassion..
..the many paths leading to the one realisation..

Year 2555

..the monkey mind..
..the universe in a grain of sand..

Perhaps it's the mind..that all that matters..


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the hanami – ガンバレニッポン

1981 April 09 -

When the JAL flight from Subang International Airport, KL touched down in Osaka, it was late eveing.

There were two seniors from the Osaka - University of Foreign Studies OUFS - to receive us. There was minimum conversation and after a 6-hour journey – these seniors came across as a little detached. They put us into a cab and we were on our way to the campus.

All in there were three of us from Malaysia – another male student, and a Malay female student. It was our first trip to Japan – to further our graduate studies in the - Land of the Rising Sun. And this was our first stop – to do a six month course in the Japanese Language before we moved on to the college of our major.

As we wound our way thro Osaka to the university campus in the North – it was already dark and we could not see much. I remember there were road works on a narrow stretch of roads, and the barriers that segregated the roads were well-lighted.

When we arrived at the foreign students dormitory - a resident lecturer who was in the office received us, and aided our registration. As it was still holiday season and the new academic term had not begun, the campus was very quiet.

After which an elderly caretaker guided us to our rooms. This old man was much friendlier – though we could not really make out what he said in Japanese – we found him to be helpful.

The dormitory canteen was closing for the day and there was only one staff left. As we had not had our dinner – she was kind to stay on to prepare a light meal for us.

Dawn broke early in spring.

It was barely 6am and it was bright outside. The weather was cold - much colder than Cameron Highlands - our only reference then of a cold day.

Spring came early that year.

The Sakura trees had already gotten into full bloom a week earlier. New leaves were sprouting - and we could still see the lingering flowers and it was the tail end of the cherry blossom season.

For a true hanami-花見– cherry blossom viewing, I would have to wait till the following year to experience the awe & splendor of the Sakura trees in full bloom.

Monitoring the advance of the Sakura trees flowering as it moved from the southern to the northern part of Japan was and is as much a national activity.

For the next two springs in Japan, I would be as eager as the locals, on the lookout in the TV forecast when the 桜前線 – sakura zensen - the Sakura front - would be reaching Tokyo.

Hanami – was also a time for merry-making – a time for picnic and party – to drink sake, sing & dance beneath the Sakura trees. After the harsh winter, it would be the first outdoor activity to celebrate the harbinger of spring. It was also a time to renew bonds with fellow students, teachers and colleagues.

The hanami was one of a list of many customs and traditions that was uniquely Japanese that I enjoyed during my stay in Japan.

2011 April 09

Due to the colder weather the Sakura season was late this year.

It was reported that many a Japanese in the spirit of self-restrain - jishu - 自粛 - & in empathy and solidarity - with their fellow countrymen hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake – 東日本大震災 - had refrained from celebrating hanami.

However, the 5th generation sake maker of Nambu Bijin – 南部美人酒 – traditional rice wine - located in earthquake-hit prefecture of Iwake - had loaded a plea in you-tube to fellow Japanese to put aside jishu & to go out to enjoy the cherry blossom viewing.


In addtion to all your donations in kind and spirit -which they are most thankful, the sake makers in the earthquake hit zone of Iwate prefecture would be most appreciative of your choice in drinking their sake at your hanami gathering … wherever you may be...

Gambare ! Nippon –


1. 被災地岩手から「お花見」のお願い②【南部美人】

2. ガンバレニッポン, 頑張れ日本, GAMBARE NIPPON - Go! Japan
- Rally to aid victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake

3 . QSL card – Radio Japan
DX - verification card


Friday, April 08, 2011

old photographs - 老照片 - the early generations

The photograph was taken at the Young Cheong studio - 容昌- in Ipoh.

Ipoh was written in Chinese as 壩羅 – Balo - instead of 怡保。

Seated in the middle was great grandfather and great-grandmother & their family. Grandfather the 3rd son was seated on his far left .

As the photograph was not dated, the year 1906 was derived at from the age of the baby seated on the lap of the lady dressed in peranakan attire on the far right of great-grandmother. The nyonya lady was grandfather’s wife.

According to the record in the family genealogical record – grandfather’s son was born in the year of Emperor Guangxu - 光緒乙巳年 – in the 7th lunar month. That would be Aug 1905.

Assuming that the baby to be about 6 to 8 months’ old, that would make put the photograph to be taken between Feb – Apr 1906.

Grandpa was born in the year 1883 – and he would be 23 years old.

What a dashing scholarly figure he looked - in his traditional garb, wooden cloth shoes with thick soles and complemented with a round fan. Being the 3rd in his family – he was known as Gu San - 古三– to his town folks in later years.

It was common then for young men to marry local peranakan ladies. Grandfather's first wife the nyonya maiden was from the Xie Family- 謝氏.

The Gu family genealogy - 古氏族谱- recorded that she gave birth to two sons and died at an early age of 22 years old. Only the first son survived to adulthood.

Grandfather's two other brothers were in the picture. 2nd granduncle was seated next to great-grandfather, and the one next to grandfather was 4th granduncle.

2nd granduncle's wife was seated next to great-grandmother. She was from China.

As a Hakka’s it was not a custom for the womenfolk’s to have dainty bound feet – for the Hakka women folks had to work in the fields, tending to the housework bringing up kids, and attending to the elder in-laws, while the husband venture out to work in distant land.

What was the occasion for this family photograph? Why was  great-grand father and great-grandmother & all the family members here in Ipoh. Grandfather and 2nd grandunlce and their families stayed on, while great-grandfather, great-grandmother and 4th granduncle returned to China. How long was their stay in Nanyang, and when did they return to China?

If I remember well, I heard from dad that great-grandfather initially went to Burma, that is Myanmar, but later made their way to Malaya. As such grandfather could have left the village for Nanyang - 南洋 - in the late 1890/s or early 1900/s.

Photographs of great-grand fathers’ and great-grandmothers’ graves in China, used to hang in the old house together with this photograph.

These questions of when the early generations left their village and what was the occasion for the gathering in Ipoh / Menglembu - were family history lost in antiquity.

Perhaps, some living elders who still have the answers, be it here or back in the village in China.


This wedding photograph was badly soiled when it was salvaged from the old house 1A.

As a wedding memento - it was clearly dated and the event and date recorded in ink at the back of the photograph -
映於〡〩〢〧年乃民國〡〥年 六、二六号
陰暦 丙寅五月十七日

It was taken on the 26June1926, the 15th year of the Republic in the lunar year of binyin on the 17th day of the 5th lunar month. The bridegroom, age 21, standing in the middle of the photograph in black suit and bow tie was the baby in the 1906 photograph.

Grandfather was seated on the right of the bridge, a maiden from the Liang family -
梁氏. Grandpa would be 43 years old.

Seated on this right was his 2nd wife, and our immediate grandmother. His peranakan wife – as we heard died at a young age and subsequently grandfather re-married. Grandmother was born in China and she was from the Zou family - 鄒氏.

Seated on grandmother’s lap was a baby - about six months’ old. He would be our 3rd uncle, while the groom being the eldest son of grandfather was our 1st uncle. The first of grandfathers’ sons from his 2nd wife, was dad. Dad was on the far right among the children seated on the floor in the front row. He was 2 years old then.

All in grandfather had six sons and 6 daughters that lived to adulthood - one from his firt nyonya wife, and the rest from his 2nd wife.

2nd granduncle and his wife, were seated on the right of the photograph. The adult womenfolks were his daughters, as we know that 2nd grandmother had three girls, and did not bore any male.

The house where this photograph was taken was in Menglembu. It was probably behind 1A across Jalan Lee Man Hin. That was before they moved to another house where the current police station is located. When I was small, I heard that dad was born in that house - and it was probably this house in this wedding photograph.

Interestingly, there were two big lantern's - one was written with the characters - Gu Family and the other - Welcoming the bride. It was the custom and tradition of then, and these red character lanterns were too seen in the peranakan wedding ceremony.

Grandfather returned to China in 1946 after the the Pacific War ended. By then he would have left his village close to 50 long years. His vision then was to bring his brood back to China.

However, before it could materialise, he passed away in 1948, and his wife, his children and the grandchildren remained in Nanyang...


This 1926 wedding picture, together with the 1906 photograph, was left behind in 1A when the family moved house in 1983. In the late 1980/s or early 1990/s went back to 1A and found these two photographs on the floor in dad’s room, beneath the windows. The photograph frame had rotted badly after years of exposure in a dank and humid room where water would seep thru the windows during heavy rain.

The numbers written in the back of the photographs consisted of Shuzhou numerals蘇州碼子– which was the numerals for Chinese accounting then -


1. Chinese calendar – 万历年

2. Shuzhou numerals蘇州碼子

3. 古氏族谱- 革公派 - Gu Family Record - Ge-gong branch -

卅五世 ( 35th Generation)


卅六世 (36th Generation)


長子 永明

次子 永亮

(2nd granduncle died in Lahat, Perak, and 2nd grandaunt in Menglembu. They were buried in the 'old hill' cemetery, Menglembu.

三子 永禎  
清光緒癸未年(1883)十月十七曰子時生配謝氏操烈廿二歳生二子錦榮錦鑫継妻鄒氏光緒壬辰(1892)八月廾日丑時生現生三子錦宏錦環錦琳 (後錦朱錦昌)


Grandfather passed away in his home village Songkou, Meixian, in 1948, and buried there. While grandmother passed away in Menglembu in 1961 and buried in 'new hill'.

All their sons and daughters have too since passed away.

四子 永祥
光緒戊子崴 (1888)四月廿七自曰配李世

(4th granduncle and family remained in China. The elders from China mentioned that one of his daughters migrated to Malaya too).

Update -
12.04.2012 - replace  photographs re-taken on 13Mar/Menglembu


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

clear & bright – 清明

Living in the tropics where the climate is hot and humid the year round, an indicator of the passing of the seasons is the traditional festivals.

Qing Ming falls on 05April this year. Variously it is translated as the Tomb-Sweeping festival and it is a major event in the calendar of traditional Chinese festivals.

Its importance as one of the major traditional festivals is perhaps re-emphasized when Mainland China officially declared Qing Ming as a public holiday in 2008. Qing Ming has been a public holiday in Hong Kong and Taiwan all this while, though not a public holiday in countries in SEA with large Chinese diasporas. Qing Ming – in itself is one of the 24 solar nodes in the Chinese lunar calendar – as such it always falls with the first week of April each year - usual on the 4th or 5th of April.

Another traditional Chinese festival fixed by the solar term is Winter Solstices – which usually falls on the 2nd or 3rd day before Christmas.

The Qing Ming as I recall as a child:

When we were snall mum would used to tell us that a hundred days’ after Winter Solstice it would be the Qing Ming festival. Truly so – to be exact – it’s 104 days after deep winter – Spring is in the air.

However, in the tropical climate – there is nothing much to remind us of spring time, other than this festival – the big one after the Lunar New Year festivities. It’s the time again where we would have chicken for dinner.

Days before the festival – mum would earnestly prepare the offerings that would she would take on that day to the grave of the ancestors. There were the paper offerings of gold & silver – with pieces of paper sutra that she would bundled together with candles and joss-sticks. As the number of sets to prepare was quite many – she would mark each bundle neatly with a pencil to identify the relation that she had prepared for.

Other than the immediate members on dad’s side of the family, she would also prepare the offerings for members from her own side of the family, namely he mum, dad and her grandmother. This was because – she was the only daughter around that had the time to perform this annual filial task – as both her brothers had returned to China in the early nineteen fifties to support - the New China in construction.

As far as I could remember, the tomb-sweeping obeisance had never been observed on the actual day of Qing Ming. For one – it seldom fell on a weekend – a non-workday, and even if it was on a week-end, the ceremony was observed a week or so earlier for some feng-shui reason. Usually it would be by word of mouth round the community to perform the prayers earlier.

We would set off early at 8:00am where the air is till cool. It’s an extended family spring excursion of sort – with the uncles, aunt, cousins, nephews, nieces all in tow. It would take a half a day to make the rounds making the obeisance – with clearing of the weeds.

First it was to tombs of grandma and 5th uncles, on the new hill. After which it was to the old hill where 2nd granduncle and grandaunt – the elder brother of grandfather - were buried.

After these observances and prayers on dad’s side of the relation, mum would then make her way to offer prayers on her side of the relations. By the time all the prayers were done, it would be close to noon, and the sun is high.

As with other traditional festivals, the Qing Ming tomb-sweeping observances imparted an invaluable part of the Chinese culture and tradition to the young impressionable mind. For one it passed on values of filial piet. It also promoted family kinship and it was one of the rare occasions where the extended family of the same progenitor went on outing together – albeit to the hills.

Our elders would tell us stories that back in China then – Qing Ming festival would spread over many days- as they would literally had to hike to remote hills where the ancestors were buried.

The tread to the cemetery was also a geography lesson on China of sort. In each of the gravestone was carved the province and locality of deceased. Dad would point out to where these localities were in China.

The early migrants were mainly Cantonese and Hakka from Southern China. As such - 梅县 – Meixian, 焦岭 - Jiaoling, 五华-Wuhua, 兴宁-Xingning. 平远-Pingyuan, (the嘉应五属the five districts that make up the greater Jia-Ying district),大埔-Dapu, 三水-Sanshui,东莞-Dongguan, ,江门-Jiangmen,清远-Qingyuan – became familiar names.

Well, so much for Clear & Bright..

Postscript –

1. The photograph - Menglembu cemetery view from the ‘old hill’.

The cemetery should be more than a century old. On Qing Ming tomb-sweeping day , the first stop would be to the - Dabogong Shrine - 大伯公 庙 –dedicated to the God of Earth – the guardian of god of the cemetery - wooden building painted red.

Kledang Range - west of the Kinta Valley – in Perak, is located in the background. The grave in the foreground was built by the Menglembu Jiaying Assocation - a Hakka clan association. It was a - 总坟–a symbolic master grave dedicated to fellow sojourners from the home counties. It was consecrated 1941, Oct - 民国辛巳年.

The couplet:

萬里青坐凝紫氣 - a ten thousand li sitting on the green, the auspicious cloud gathers
五城芳草映斜陽 - the fragrant grass from the five districts, reflecting in the setting sun
澤蔭五城 – Beneficence to the five districts


1. Qing Ming

2. Menglembu Jiaying Association 万里望嘉应五属会馆


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

patching a heavenly leak - 補天穿

The lunar new year is here and gone.

From the start of the new moon to the first full moon of the lunar first month – traditionally each of the new day’s within the fortnight was marked with a special event. The last of which is yuanxiao – 元宵 - or Lantern Festival.

In between - there is the day to mark the birth of man - the 7th day of the Lunar New Year –人日- renri .

On this day mum would cook a dish with seven different types of green vegetables. Some years we would have porridge cooked with slices of raw fish.

This tradition of taking raw fish & vegetables to mark mankind’s birthday has morphed into the colorful must have LNY dish 鱼生- yusheng - & the rowdy joy of tossing it sky high while mumbling lucky wishes.

Lest we may forget it all – I recall another tradition of sort in the first lunar month. The eating of fried nian-gao – 年糕 - which was made from slices of the sticky new year cake fried with flour batter.

Returning from school in the afternoon, mum would have the fried nian-gao ready in the kitchen cabinet. A variation would have the nian-gao sandwiched with pieces of sweet potato and fried with batter. This would be the first time that we had a taste of the nian-gao since it was made about a fortnight or so before the LNY.

The tradition of eating fried nian-gao fell on the 20th day of the First Lunar Month on the day known as –补天穿 - butian chuan - or day of patching a heavenly leak.

Legend had it that during a clash between the Water & Fire Gods, the Water God damaged the pillar that held up heaven and created a hole in heaven causing great floods on earth.

Nuwa –女娲 - a mythical female goddess – & the creator of mankind – seeing the suffering on earth went to patch the heavenly leak, and thus saving mankind.

This tale is as old as antiquity.

A google in the www has it that this day is still remembered and celebrated among the Hakka in the heartland in Southern China and in Taiwan – by preparing and eating sweet cakes made from glutinous rice.

Come to think of it – ours would perhaps be the last in our generation that would recall that we had this tradition of remembering this day - butian chuan - 补天穿 - by eating fried nian-gao.

Postscript –

1. Day of Patching a heavenly leak - 補天穿 - falls on the 22Feb 0211.

2. Nian-gao - 年糕 - & kagami-mochi - 鏡餅

Nian-gao - 年糕

The nian-gao was home made. It’s made of glutinous rice and sugar.

A fortnight or so before the LNY mum would buy a good quality glutinous rice from the market – and have it soaked overnight.

The next morning she would take it to a grinder – a family house in the neighbor that offered this flour grinding service - and had the rice grounded to flour.

The task of making the nian-gao would begin in the evening. The flour was kneaded with sugar.

As the sugar melted it would get sticky and thicker in viscosity on blending with the flour. As such it was quite a energy consuming task that required a strong pairs of hand.

Then, after an hour or so of kneading the even brownish paste would be poured into mold – of tin cans layered with banana leaves. Before dawn the next morning– the can would be steamed in a big wok for close to 10 hours.

During the nian-gao making, it was narrated by the elders that grandma was particular that there were no frivolous talk or inauspicious comments around the table. As kids would tend to babble freely, grandma was particular to have the kids to keep quiet if they wanted to watch, or to shoo the children away in they talk.

For it was believed that any inauspicious comments would affect the outcome of the nian-gao – and the nian-gao would not cook well and remain whitish, or water pock marks would form on the surface. This would be a bad omen for the New Year.

A rich brown nian-gao with a shiny surface - would be an indication of a lucky start to the coming New Year.

This would be the local version of nian-gao – with its roots from Southern China.

Later I got to know that the Shanghai type of nian-gao – pieces of white glutinous rice – is closer to the Japanese version – plain glutinous rice without sugar.

Kagami – mochi - 鏡餅

The Japanese nian-gao is known as kagami mochi. Kagami means mirror. As it is round – and with similar shape of a bronze mirror – as such it is called kagami mochi.

The Japanese nian-gao is too made of glutinous rice but without sugar added, as such retaining its white color.

As a New Year decoration or offering is that it is often stacked in double layer – with an orange or other auspicious decorations placed at the top.


1. Nuwa - 女娲

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

spring couplet - 桃符万户换新春

What do a sprouting bean, young grasses, and the sun have in common? You could try a guess at the character.

Well, the character is the - zhuan form - 蒃体– of the Chinese word for –春 - SPRING – chun , Though it has morphed into its present form - 春 - the element for sun - 日 - is recognizable in both the characters, while, the radicals for a sprouting bean and the young grass have been simplified into three horizontal bars and two left and right tops down strokes.

With the warm sun & seeds start sprouting, with young grasses appearing on the fields – nature is signaling the arrival of spring.

As a writing form to communicate the spring season – these elements of new life and energy – were clearly seen in the oracle bones characters of the Shang-Yin Dynasty - 商殷 - (1600-1046BCE)some thousand odd years ago.

Subsequently the sketch was standardized to the – zhuan form - 蒃体– during the Qin Dynasty 秦朝 (221-206BCE) in the reign of the First Emperor.

When nature awakes after a long wintry slumber, it is time to till & farm the land. As such, spring is also the season of a new beginning – of a new plan and a new starting. In the traditional agrarian Chinese society where livelihood is so closely tied to the land and the changing seasons the Spring Festival - 春节- chun jie – is akin to the beginning of a New Year – 新年-xin nian.

One of the traditional practices during the Chinese New Year – is writing spring couplet - 春联 - chunlian . The couplet usually in two stanzas of five or seven-syllable – praises the arrival of Spring and convey good wishes.

Here’s a seven-syllable spring couplet - adapted from a poem Wang Anshi – 王安石- (1021-1086CE) of the Song Dynasty - 宋朝 (960-1279CE).


Baozhu yisheng chu jiusui
Taofu wanhu huan xinchun

-With a bang of the firecrackers - adieu the old year
Myriad families changing taofu – heralding spring -

Here’s wishing you - in the year of 辛卯 - xinmao - cyle of year of rabbit -
Good Heath & Good Luck & May your wishes come true -



1. Wang Anshi

元日 Yuan ri – Fist Day of New Year


屠苏 - 酒名用屠苏草浸泡而成, 据说饮了可辟瘟疫。旧时元日有饮屠苏酒的风俗

Tusu - name of wine, made from tusu herb, drinking will purportedly be able to prevent plague. In the olden days it is a custom of drinking tusu wine on the first day of New Year.

桃符 - 古时风俗,元旦用桃木板写神茶,邮垒二神名,悬挂门旁, 以为能压压邪

Taofu – a mahogany board written with the name of the gods – shencha and youlei – and hung on each side of the main door during new year to ward of evil.


1. 王安石

2007年6月30日百胜楼上海书局购 6元15新币