I have run out of topics to write on this week. Enough of politics, Covid, controversies and whatnots! I am going through a writer’s block, so I guess I will write on something that doesn’t require much brainpower or research.
I will write about my hometown, Sibu.
Last Saturday, I had a sort of ‘reunion’ with my old Sibu childhood pals at my favourite mamak joint. They were here for a business meeting and Siew Ping, my childhood crush, had buzzed me a week earlier to suggest a lunch meet-up with three other Sibu fellas.
So, there we were — four Foochow fellas and one Indian chap — talking about good old times from the 60s to 90s, chatting aloud and laughing as if we were the only ones in the eatery, much to the chagrin of the other patrons.
Siew Ping, still as lovely, beautiful and alluring as ever despite being in her late 50s, set the ball rolling when she asked me, “Raj, still remember much about Sibu? You’ve been in Kuching for the last 35 years … how’s your conversational Foochow now? Guess you must’ve forgotten much of Sibu now?”
“Ngui xi Shiwu neng (I am a Sibu boy), so I haven’t forgotten and will never forget about my hometown,” I said.
Sibu holds memorable moments for me and my family. After dad, a Post & Telegraph (P&T) — now Telekom Malaysia — employee, who spent half of his life working in Sibu, passed on a decade ago, mum, my three sisters and I uprooted ourselves and moved to Kuching in the 80s.
Anyway, let’s get back to our topic on Sibu.
What’s so special about Sibu? I find the town has its own specialty — the food in particular, the people and the surroundings.
Sibu is very famous for its kampua mee and kompia (unleavened bread), which are Foochow specialties. Whenever I get the opportunity to return to this onetime timber-rich town, I will make a beeline for a particular kopitiam in Rejang Park, one of the first housing estates in the town, where dad bought a terraced double-storey house in the late 1970s for a giveaway RM28,000. We let the unit go for RM200,000 in the early 90s before we moved to the capital.
Though infamously known as the ‘Cowboy Town’ back then due to the nature of ‘lawlessness’ and frequent triad activities, the Third Division of Sibu was the commercial hub of Sarawak with thriving timber activities. It had the greatest number of multi-millionaires in the state.
The Foochows are a hardworking community and you won’t go wrong if you say that Sibu is what it is today because of this very clannish people who are very prudent. Their philosophy is: always save for a rainy day.
Their emphasis on education is legendary. They made sure that each and every child is given the best education. It was therefore not surprising to see many Foochow children going overseas, especially to Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain for their tertiary education.
And when they returned it was their sacred duty to find decent jobs and finance their siblings’ education.
I remember we had a Foochow washerwoman who worked in several households in the 60s so that she could finance her son who was doing accountancy in Melbourne. The dutiful son returned and saved enough money to acquire a bungalow for his mother.
My family has the Foochows to thank for. They inspired us in so many ways, notably in the fields of education and business.
I adopted their work attitude, which is: work hard now and enjoy life later. But somehow that philosophy didn’t work for me. I worked hard then, in fact very hard, but now years later I am still working hard as a journalist. I don’t think I have time to enjoy life. It’s not the money I am after. I am simply married to my job; just say I am addicted to my work.
Another thing which I remember about Sibu is that it’s the town that brought down its deputy chief minister, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Wong Soon Kai, a Foochow. The Foochows in Bukit Assek, apparently unhappy with him over the town’s lack of development, abandoned him and voted for DAP’s Wong Ho Leng in the 1996 state election.
Never ‘play play’ with the Foochows; if they are not pleased with their leaders, they will show it in the most unexpected way.
That’s Sibu people. Mess with them and you won’t know what hit you.