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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Borneo Literature Bureau - Dolphin and other publications

Does any one still remember how much we primary school students looked forward to receiving our precious Dolphin each month? The blue cover,light weight magazine published by the Borneo Literature Bureau was the joy of our simple 1960's hearts.

Later on ,the Dolphin was published in Chinese as well as Bahasa Malaysia. But my sisters and I kept each copy of the Dolphin neatly as if they were the most precious treasures in our life.

Today the Dolphin is no longer in publication but our memories of the magazine which helped us in our studies remain. And whenever we mention the name Dolphin to our friends, a lot of good feelings will flood back in torrents.We had a shared love. We bonded because of a simple very affordable school children's magazine .

The Borneo Literature Bureau, established in 1960 was a "publishing and bookselling organization which helped to provide suitable books for the people of Sarawak and Sabah and build up the local commercial book trade".(Sarawak,1962)

It encouraged local writers and published a wide variety of books and other items for sale. The then Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) governments shared most of the recurrent costs of operating the Bureau, but it was partially self-supporting and some of its was financed from the revenue it received from the sale of books.

In the fifties and sixties most people in Sibu in particular and in Sarawak in general found it difficult to buy books. The only book store which supplied good books was the Rex in Kuching and most schools throughout Sarawak obtained books from it. It was much later that Tai Hwa Bookstore in Sibu was established by lady from Hong Kong, followed by the Chien Feng Bookstore operated by the Kwang family and then much later the Rejang Bookstore which is still owned by the Wong family.

The BLB published books written by local and foreign writers like Hedda Morrison and others. In 1962 alone, it was reported that 27 new books were published and 8 were written by local authors. A fair number of books were published in Chinese and Iban. But what was very interesting was the fact that several books were published in seven Sarawakian languages and Bahasa Malaysia. More than 10,000 copies of the Dolphin was published for students in 1962 alone.

When Malaysia was formed and the Dewan Pustaka dan Bahasa spread its wings to East Malaysia it was felt that the functions and objectives of Borneo Literature Bureau could be well covered by DPB. Thus BLB closed shop after it had served a very important function for Sabah and Sarawak. It had in a very small way helped launch local writers, and raised literacy levels.

And what was saddest of all for all of us children was that our beloved magazine Dolphin too met its demise because it was considered irrelevant by then and because of the National Education Policy and other national policies. We lost a part of our childhood so to speak. Dolphin was such a "friend".

However all is not lost as some digital references can still be made through this excellent website. Enjoy!!

The Methodist Girls' Hostel,Sibu

I have often toyed with the idea that a modern girls'hostel in Sibu would be an excellent memorial to Mrs. Mary Hoover. For I have personally experienced many good years of visiting friends staying in the old Methodist Girls' Hostel within the Methodist School Compound and then in its newer location in Archer Road.

A few personalities are brought to mind also as I type this article out and they have contributed to the lives of many girls by helping them mould their character and develop their Christian perspectives in their live. Whether the old Christian values did rub off at that time or not, I feel that staying in the Girls' Hostel then was already a good foundation for any girl's life as it helped her gain a good education to say the least.

What do I remember about the Methodist Girls' Hostel?

First of all, strict discipline . The girls were very quiet and well behaved. They were under the "control and discipline of Mrs. LU". Mrs. Lu had a vision and mission to bring up good Christian girls. She was very focussed in her dutyt. And in fact , although I was just a student and a frequent visitor I was petrified of her. She had only a small smile and we behaved very very well, by being quiet and mild mannered. All the girls studied hard in the hostel as they were all from outside of Sibu and perhaps their family expectations were very high, so they did indeed behave correctly, like my cousins Lau Kiing Dan and Lau Kiing Hoo, who parents lived in Kapit.

Secondly, the hostel also was home to several teachers like Miss Ida Mamora and her sister Miss Saroha Mamora. These were excellent teachers and role models. We liked their piano playing. So many of the girls picked up piano lessons and played very well. Wong Yuk Hee, another cousin of mine, learned to play the piano very well and later served the Methodist Church as a pianist. We had all been very envious of her and the others who could play the piano. Music became a very important part of our lives because of the life in the girls hostel. We did not realise at that time that music had a very great future. At that time, we only wanted to pass HSC and get into an univeristy. We did not realise that we could do so many other things in life.

Thirdly, the girls who lived in hostel excelled in the games like basketball, volleyball and badminton. The rest of the school girls did not have the opportunity to play these games so well. Because the hostel girls were good at these games, they immediately became the stars of the school, greatly admired and appreciated by the school. The best of them was Wong Yuk Hee who excelled in basketball. We went to watch her play most of the time. Sometimes by telling our mothers that we were going to watch our girls' team play was the only way we could get to do some night activities. Otherwise we were very much stay at home because of the political situation at that time.

fourthly, I remember that the girls had very simple food at meal times. But I thought that it was very interesting to live like them. As I was a day scholar, I did not have a chance to be a hostelite. Years later I was a hostelite at the university but it was definitely not the same. Somehow the cool cement floors, the ceiling fan, the wooden walls and the double bunks seem to be very romantic and even ethereal. I enjoyed watching my good friends Tiurida and Minar keep their rooms clean. I thought that they managed very well without their mother's control. But little did I know then that independence at such an early life would enable them to become excellent mothers and housekeepers.

Fifthly, I learned from my hostel friends that it was important to read the Bible on their own, and say their prayers all the time, at meals, and before their study time and their bed time. Today I am still in touch with Tiurida (in Indonesia) through the Internet, and meet up occasionally with her sister Rita who has become a real sister to me as she lived with us when her missionary parents moved back to Indonesia.

These are my memories of the old Girls' Hostel. It meant a lot to me because my true friends lived there and were brought up very properly by good Christian women like Mrs. Lu, Miss Ida, Miss Saroha and the others. If only all girls could have the chance to live together and be disciplined by such Christian ladies,we would have an excellent generation of good women.

New SS08 Layout

Hey people, it's that time of the year again for a new layout! BG and I were totally panicking about making a new banner. On one hand, as those of you who have read our blog long enough would know, we always try to update the S/S banner on March 1st. On the other hand, we have been more uninspired than usual about this S/S season, (perhaps because the F/W08 fashion shows are currently showing) and it's the end of the school term ( i.e. lots and lots of work!) The nerdy side of my brain has convinced me that this layout is our optimal layout: the MC of personal time spent photoshopping= MB of this blog. For those who don't do econ, we mean that this is the best we could have done given our circumstances.

Let's admit it, this season is confusing -too many trends; too many 'in' colours; together with a lot of loud accessories. With prints, there are the sort-of-tacky-looking stars and the spring-friendly flowers. As you can see, we favoured the flower prints. But the trend of black, white and grey is still very 'in', (think black skinny jeans + tee + blazer combo.) OK, so this isn't really the reason why we have half the flower picture in black & white and half in colour. We just think it's cool. Plus, we love how the Balenciaga model seems to pop out on the b&w side and the Prada model looks like an edgy fairy stomping around in a garden. But it all works out in the end! Neat huh?

This oh-so-artistically taken flower photo was shot by me at the LA Getty Center Central Garden last summer. If you haven't been there, then you must next time you're in LA. It's such a gorgeously designed garden. There are so many types of flowers there and they're designed in a really organised, pretty way. I'm not the type to enjoy nature, but this is as one of the few gardens that I actually loved. (Yes, I know, I'm such a city bumpkin that I even consider an immaculately-designed garden to be nature.)

Credit to for the runway model photos. As usual, if something is technically wrong with this layout on your browser, please let us know. We hope you like the layout and get some S/S vibes from it!

William Somerset Maugham

One of the most interesting short story writers in the twentieth century must be William Somerset Maugham. Born January 25, 1874, in Paris, France and died on December 16, 1965 in Nice France, at a fantastically ripe old age of 91 Maugham had taken me across continents, cultures and a beautiful language through his books, and especially his short stories. Many of his writings have been made into films, which I equally enjoy throughout the years.

A few facts about him :

He visited Sarawak in 1921.

He was extremely well paid in the 1930's.

Maugham came from a family of lawyers. His father was an English lawyer handling the legal affairs of the British embassy in Paris. His grandfather was also a prominent lawyer and cofounder of the English Law Society and his older brother, Viscount Maugham was Lord Chancellor between 1938–9.

Maugham's mother Edith Mary (née Snell) suffered from TB and died when he was eight. Two years later his father died.

He was raised by his uncle, Henry MacDonald Maugham, the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent.

He was bullied in school because he was small in size and had an emotional stammer.

He was a medical student at King's College London when he started his writing life. He wrote,"I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief..." Maugham saw how corrosive to human values suffering was, how bitter and hostile sickness made people, and never forgot it. Here, finally, was "life in the raw" and the chance to observe a range of human emotions.

He was one of the earliest travel-writers in the world. He travelled and lived in places such as Spain and Capri, the Far East and Sarawak.

There is no grave for Maugham. His ashes were scattered near the Maugham Library, The King's School, Canterbury.

A must read book by him : Of Human Bondage.

My interest in his works are those short stories dealing with the lives of Western, mostly British, colonists in the Far East, and are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the colonists by their isolation. Read Rain, Footprints In The Jungle, and The Outstation. Others : The Gentleman In The Parlour, On A Chinese Screen.

Like all writers, he received good and bad publicity. Anthony Burgess,George Orwell , Paul Theroux, were somewriters who praised Maugham.

He was a secret agent in Russia during World War I

Maugham was ruthless in his description of his women characters who "for the sake of sex would sacrifice any thing, yet for the sake of position and wealth, would do nothing."

Some one wrote of him ''To be a man of the world, to be acquainted with all sorts of different people, to be tolerant, to be curious, to have a capacity for enjoyment, to be the master of a clear and unaffected prose style -- these are great advantages.''

Readers will continue to read and discover more about him. But in my own life I have enjoyed his writing. Most important of all, he had been able to record a little bit of our Sarawakian social history and people just from his short stay in Kuching.

He must still be haunting the descendants of his bullies in Canterbury now. Smile....

Friday, February 29, 2008

Black List Tokyo

Photo by Hiroki and Andrea

Black List Tokyo is an ultra sleek monthly gathering in Tokyo. Exclusively for Black List members and the ones they love, these funky happenings in some of Tokyo's smoothest night spots are a fusion of French club scene and the Tokyo international set.

Tokyo Black List
was established in 2005 by Beno creator of the BOEGE label and his partner Cedric. As the Black List site croons, they are "2 Frenchmen with a passion for luxurious parties and good community". As we witnessed they also know how to keep a crowd entertained and cozy in stunning surroundings well after last Tokyo train.

Check out the Black List site gallery for more eye candy, but here are a few of us lapping up the fun at last month's Parisian festa. All photos were taken by super glam photographers Hiroki (it is worth going just to see his Swarovski studded camera strap) and Andrea.

Masao and I with BOEGE team Beno and Noriko.

Me with what looks like a powerful, red laser beam coming from my head! Yes I have extraordinary super powers, watch out.

My wings in full flight.

The Limited Edition 2.55

The luxury retail market is always coming up with gimmicks and limited edition goods to lure customers into buying more and more.
Chanel's latest Limited Edition product, is this 2.55 in honor of the Chanel Mobile Art Exhibit. Now this may look like any old 2.55, but for once in fashion, the beauty lies on the inside.
Inside the flap to be specific. Inside the flap, is this signature by the legend of fashion himself, KARL LAGERFELD, commemorating the Mobile Art Exhibit in Hong Kong. Logic tells me that Chanel is trying to rip people off, because the scribbling of a few words inside the flap is certainly NOT worth the premium they are charging for it over the standard 2.55's. A mere signature does NOT bring one closer at any level to the author of the signature. The red/orangey color isn't even that complimentary!

But the fashionista side of me is in AWE that I have been able to get so close to and even trace Karl Lagerfeld's signature. I admit, I might have even let out a tiny squeal of delight. A little like what Victory Ford felt when she found Coco Chanel's dress form in Lipstick Jungle (though of course, this is not QUITE as cool nor meaningful, since I know nothing about designing and making clothes). I know this reaction is probably completely illogical and against my better judgment since it is obviously a marketing ploy to make more money for Chanel, but oh, I just can't help it! :)

And I can't wait to go see the exhibit! Its fully booked this weekend, but I'm definitely going next week! Report back!


OK I am officially mesmerized! This style of dance that seems to be steaming it up all the way from France can be seen on a Yelle film clip. A big Yelle fan after being tipped off by Dj Brandon to the magic of their sounds, worlds collided in a very fabulous way when I realised that Yelle and what is being called Tecktonik go arm in arm - wild flailing arms!

When I was in Grade 3 there was a boy who lived across the street from me, he was in Grade 7. His name was Calvin Norri. I can barely remember what he looked like and I don't think I spoke two words to him but I remember he was by far the coolest kid in the school. Calvin would bring brown cardboard boxes to school, set them up in the ally near the toilet blocks, press play on the ghetto blaster and break dance his heart out. Back spins, head spins, he had all the moves. Calvin's cool factor shot to an all time high when he broke his arm break dancing. This was in the thick of the 80s, 1984, a time when backs were being spun on, leg warmers were essential and the school wide sport of choice was Electric Boogaloo.
This vid reminds me of the primary school breakers, I watch this with just as much awe and excitement as I did the boys busting their moves near the toilet block.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Check it! Hot Euro para para. Definitely something to incorporate into any dance routine! Love it, totally using it!
The over head swipe is hotter than hot!

Have watched this approx 476 times so ready to bust these moves on the dance floor.
I am so in love with Jey-Jey.


After the super successful S.A.I.A.S events Masao got together with LADE Clothing and Bros Wear Designs to collaborate on a new style of gathering in Tokyo. Fragment is designed to bring together creators from all over Japan to share their latest pieces with other designers, creators, thinkers, art stalkers, friends, shoppers and fans.

Held at Wedge in Shimokitazawa on March 23rd, Fragment will be the first of it's kind bringing together creators and designers featured on TOKYOMADE with other Japan-based designers. Set to the sounds from some of the finest Tokyo djs and the possibility of another hoop up by moi!

See you there!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fuzhou Paper Umbrella

In the days gone by one of the most important items one should carry in Sibu was not a handbag or a wallet. It was a lacquered paper umbrella which cost about 2 dollars. There were two types: one type for men and one very obviously for ladies. Any one going "outside" would not fail to carry such an humble oriental umbrella,to protect oneself from the hot sun, and from the sudden torrential tropical downpour.

I loved carrying an umbrella myself. The umbrella could be placed across the handlebars of one's bicycle, or it could be clipped at the back of the bicycle on the metal carrier tray. Likewise,all trishaws would have an umbrella permanently fixed to an upright rod to give the trishaw driver shade in the hot sun or protection during an afternoon downpour. And in a very thick traffic jam, one could see a familiar opened umbrella trembling in the heat of the mid day sun. Sometimes we could recognise our favourite trishaw driver by his umbrella even.

Besides for giving us shade from the sun and protecting us from the rain, it was a useful weapon against any attacker. It was also a very useful piece of artillery for a woman to use if or when she wanted to beat up her philandering husband, should she meet up with him at the wrong places. An umbrella was always a good piece of prop to help someone to disappear from an embarrassing scene. Sometimes two women could be found gossiping under an umbrella!! I also remember that many mothers had chased their children with raised umbrellas along the streets of Sibu.

I was once witness to an extremely sad and unforgettable scene of one funeral which was carried out in the rain. The organizers provided every mourner with an umbrella each. The funeral procession moved slowly as the rain pelted down,however because of the traditional stoical ritual and respect for the dead the bereaved family was not allowed umbrellas. thus subsequently they were completely wet from the downpour. The poor widow's skinny white hands held tightly to the coffin as the lorry moved slowly ahead.

I cannot remember when the paper umbrella went out of fashion. But perhaps 1980's would be the last decade when Foochows used them on the road. After that period, the Foochows became increasingly affluent and cars and airconditioning became the norm of the day. The humble paper umbrella thus took its place in some obscure corners of one's mind and perhaps even in some dark corners of houses and never taken out for use again.

The history of this lacquer paper umbrella actually went back more than 1000 years in Fuzhou,China!! And very few people realise that.

However, today (see picture)most of the paper umbrellas produced in Fuzhou are sold to the overseas markets, though less popular in the local daily use in China.

And for remembering the good old times, it would be nice to remember the role of the paper umbrella in the 60's in Sibu and during our parents' times. A match maker would carry one such umbrella. And naturally, I still remember one Chinese traditional sin seh who on his rounds to see his patients would carry one too. All missionaries would hold on to their umbrellas as they might have to sit in the front part of a Chinese motor launch should it be overly full. It was a very exciting sight too to catch a glimpse of a lady sitting pillion on a Honda Cub and yet trying to shade herself with a trembling paper umbrella. It was almost a circus feat to be able to balance well in this act. Incidentally it was a traffic offence in those days to ride a motorcycle and carry an umbrella at the same time.

Later all motorcyled icecream vendors who have a huge plastic umbrella (with the word Magnolia written over it) fixed to their bikes!!

I love the smell of the lacquer in the sun. It really invoked a lot of happiness and sense of belonging.

I am sure you can still buy a good man's lacquered paper umbrella in Bintulu. Give it a try.

God Save the Queen

When we went to school in the fifties and early sixties we were taught to sing the Anthem and that meant, "God Save the Queen". I did not have a chance to sing, "God Save the King" because I went to school after Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.

And interestingly it has taken me almost 45 years later to have a proper look at the anthem which we sang so often as children. It did not mean much to us then, but we knew that we were singing it to show our loyalty to the Queen. Apart from that we did not have any idea what the anthem really meant, being such naughty kids. And any way no one actually took the pain to explain to us the lyrics.

And today, thanks to the Internet, I have more information on the anthem.

The British National Anthem dates back to the eighteenth century.

'God Save The King' was a patriotic song first publicly performed in London in 1745, which came to be known as the National Anthem at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The words and tune are anonymous, and may date back to the seventeenth century.

In September 1745 the 'Young Pretender' to the British Throne, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, defeated the army of King George II at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh.

In a fit of patriotic fervour after news of Prestonpans had reached London, the leader of the band at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, arranged 'God Save The King' for performance after a play. It was a tremendous success and was repeated nightly.

This practice soon spread to other theatres, and the custom of greeting monarchs with the song as he or she entered a place of public entertainment was thus established.

There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition. Additional verses have been added down the years, but these are rarely used.

The words used today are those sung in 1745, substituting 'Queen' for 'King' where appropriate. On official occasions, only the first verse is usually sung.

The words of the National Anthem are as follows:

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen.

Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour,
Long may she reign.
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen.

The British tune has been used in other countries. European visitors to Britain in the eighteenth century noticed the advantage of a country possessing such a recognised musical symbol.

In total, around 140 composers, including Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, have used the tune in their compositions.

The last time this anthem was played in Sarawak was when the last Governor Sir Alexander Waddell made his salute to the lowering of the British Flag just before the birth of Malaysia came at 12.30pm on Sunday, September 15, 1963.

A description of this exit of the most unusual Brooke Rule and then another 17 year of British rule is taken from the book ‘The Formation of Malaysia’ written by the late Ho Ah Chon: “On getting abroad the HMS Killisport, the Governor took another salute from a Royal Navy Guard of Honour.

“A 17-Gun Salute boomed from Fort Margherita. The Governor returned the salute. It was a touching moment. Made sadder as the frigate sailed past

Fort Margherita, where the Sarawak Constabulary played ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

“As HMS Killisport gathered speed downriver, the crowd lining the river bank, seemed conscious that as the last of the British Governors of Sarawak departed, one chapter of the country’s history — 17 years of benevolent British rule — had closed and a new chapter — independence with its great challenges and promises — had opened.”

The next day, September 16, 1963, Malaysia was born… 16 days behind schedule because originally, the formation of Malaysia was slated to be on August 31 to coincide with the Independence Day of the Federation of Malaya.

Paris Fashion Week F/W08 Wrapup I

This is why Paris Fashion Week is THE fashion week I look foward to the most. I mean, if I'm not going to be able to afford anything on the runway, I might as well ogle at the most creative and gorgeous collections, starting with Balenciaga.
Genius. Seriously genius. Once again, Nicholas Ghesquiere used Balenciaga's history and created a very modern collection. The clothes all look very structured yet still so sensual.
The show started off with minimal, well-cut and structured evening dresses. Take note of the shoes: pointy shoes are back! Is the trend with round-toed shoes soon to be over?
These are the more work-suit looks. I hope those tulip skirts become part of the mainstream trends, (and hopefully high street retailers will be 'inspired' to make affordable versions!)
Metallic, shiny dresses are nothing new. But the shapes of these dresses are amazing.
The velvet top with skinny pants/ skirt combo seemed to be a huge favourite. I love how pretty the colourful tops are. And the black & white velvet top look is just amazing with the black eye makeup! Seriously loves it!
The show closed with printed coats and dresses. While I can appreciate how these artistic pieces form part of the collection, I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the coats. For example, the coat on the left makes the model look like she's got a muscular costume on.
Can't wait for more Paris fashion! Did you love the Balenciaga show too?
Image credit:

My Left Hoot

More Doug Billian owly things, and all apologies for the title.

Sibu's Tung Lok Sia Brass Band

The Foochow Community is very well organised in many ways. Since the establishment of Tung Lok Sia, an association set up by some Foochow elders , there is always a brass band at their command to help with weddings, funerals and birthday celebrations. The meaning of Tung Lok Sia is Association of United Joy.

This group of musicians play the trumpet, trombone, drums and the French Horn too.
Their presence is always felt (and heard) whenever there is an occasion in Sibu.

Today, the Chairman of Tung Lok Sia is Mr. Tang Hua Kiong. The Association ,being Foochow in nature ,is always in great demand.

These musicians would play tunes like "This is My Father's World", "Jesus Loves Me" and others in extremely slow beat and make them as mournful as possible for funerals. Somehow whenever the notes are "pulled" for a longer beat, our hearts just break into pieces. Grief is in the air!!

The brass band would be wearing their black and white uniforms and remain as distant as possible, with straight faces and calm demeanour. Although they play foreign instruments, they are nevertheless very Chinese in character.

Some how they always seem to be so conversant with the rituals of a funeral that they never seem to miss a beat. I would often think that no funeral could really move forward without their drum beat.

Even if there is another group of musicians playing the Chinese cymbals and other Chinese instruments they do not seem perturbed at all. And as if right on cue, they would play out their mournful tunes. And a few mourners would start crying again.

The brass band would be with the funeral ritual from the beginning to the end, which could be at the cemetery. This would definitely depend on how close the family is with the Tung Lok Sia, or how much donation the bereaved family has made to the association. So quite often a lorry would bring the whole brass band for the final journey towards the cemetery and it would play out as many sad tunes as possible along the way thus letting folks know that there is a death.

Many of these brass band members have been with the band for more than twenty years and some have already very greying hair.

Sometimes I wonder how long this band will be around, and how many younger Foochow musicians will join the band to continue their services to the Foochow Community.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What I was Really Looking For

This is what I was really looking for when I stumbled upon Danny!

Thanks to Martine I rediscovered MylesinLondon and his outstanding captures of Tokyo.
Yes, this city really does move that fast, no camera tricks there! ;)
Here is a brighter yet more serene view of the gorgeous city we live in. This is the first of Myles' videos that I spotted on MySpace a while back!

I used to think of Tokyo as so unique and very foreign for so many years yet watching these it seems so familiar and usual. Which it not necessarily a bad thing. I just wonder is it time to move on or is the feeling a sense of being at home? Lucky for me I am heading back to my real home of Australia in a few weeks time for a big reminder and soak up of the GOOD LIFE! Ah I cannot wait! I love Tokyo but it is far from a cozy, comforting, relaxing home. Lucky for me, right now I am not looking for anything too cozy. When I am I know where my real home is!


"Great Penyamun Scare of 1894 was one of the most extraordinary features in Sarawak history, for it spread panic throughout the country and brought trade to a standstill in many parts."

According to history,around 220 B.C.E., Qin Shi Huang was the first Emperor of China to bring about the unification of China . The Great Wall of China, the only human construction visible from outer space was attributed to him .

In actual fact, Emperor Qin connected a series of earthworks forming a few smaller walls along the border, with the goal of keeping out the Mongol invaders. He reinforced these walls and conscripted peasants and others to build the start of the Great Wall. Later rulers continued to reinforce and add onto the wall, often with forced labor. Construction lasted for more than 2,000 years and when it was done, the wall stretched an astounding 4,000 miles (6,700 kilometers).

Emperor Qin is also known for his elaborate tomb filled with life-size terra-cotta warriors. Over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and other artifacts were buried with Qin, and the mausoleum wasn't discovered until 1974. However, it was also rumoured that many "actual slaves were buried together with various emperors and empresses thoughout the whole history of China". Many others were probably "kidnapped victims" taken in to "keep the royal dead company".

In actual fact, prisoners of war, convicts, soldiers, civilians and farmers provided the labor to help the Qin Emperor construct the Great Wall. Millions died for this cause and many Chinese stories speak of parted lovers and men dying of starvation and disease. Their bodies were buried in the foundations of the wall or used to make up its thickness. Thus their stories became part of local traditional folklore to confirm that many were even buried alive in the construction of the Great Wall. The moving and touching story of Meng Nu crying for her husband at the Great Wall, became a well known tragic-story on both stage and film.

Today the beautiful Great wall crosses loess plateaus, mountains, deserts, rivers and valleys, passing through five provinces and two autonomous regions. It is about 20 feet wide and 26 feet high. Parts of the wall are so broad that 10 soldiers can walk abreast. Materials used were whatever could be found near by-clay, stone, willow branches, reeds and sand. Parts of this wall can still be seen in remote parts of China. What most visitors, perhaps numbering up to 25,000 a day, see of the Wall now was restored in the Ming dynasty, when stone slabs replaced clay bricks. It took 100 years to rebuild and it is said that the amount of material used in the present wall alone is enough to circle the world at the equator five times.

Closer home to Sibu, we often heard of penyamun when we were kids and we would hide in our bedrooms at night. It was a good reasons for mothers to keep their children at home for days, and even months, just at the whisper of "penyamum".

Penyamun was an ancient Sarawak indigenous practice of putting a skull into the foundation of a longhouse, or a bridge or a monument to ensure that the human spirit would support the structure. However various stories spread around for ages and today, a rumour of penyamun would mean "the taking of a boy" for the "construction of a structure like bridge, road, or a longhouse". Whoever is responsible for such a rumour was definitely not in his right mind because according to a longhouse elder penyamun is not practised nowadays. This practice went out when Christianity became the acceptable religion of the Ibans and Bidayuhs.

But if someone is naughtily practising penyamun just to scare some folks away, then an investigation must be mounted before greater damage is done to hurt the harmonious life of the local people.

Swarovski Necklaces

I've always had the impression that Swarovski jewelry were either not very interesting looking or so loud that it bordered on gaudy. However, recently I've had a change of mind. Suddenly these delicate, simple, elegant looking necklaces that I used to find "not very interesting looking," looks very attractive indeed. This has mostly been due to this recent TV show I watched, where this character in it pairs all her very chic work outfits with these very elegant and sleek looking necklaces, which I later found was sponsored by Swarovski. Intrigued, I looked up more of these necklaces and realized that while they are not super loud and ultra trendy, they are the perfect accessory for a smart work outfit. They are subtle and elegant, but are still very pretty and feminine- perfect for work.
Trendy elements are also subtly added to their designs, such as above.
This chained necklace is one of my favourites (left). The design is simple and elegant but still makes a statement. And this gorgeous purple crystal necklace (right) is just the thing to brighten up the usual dreary colors of work clothes in a quiet way. I can just imagine it looking fabulous, with a plain black suit and white shirt paired with simple diamond (or crystal!) earrings and subtle purple eye shadow!

Image Source: Swarovski

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ah Sam - the black and white maidservant

photo from

Growing up in Sibu I could not help but notice that some children were so lucky that they had uniformed maids to follow them every where. Several families had the special and unique black and white amahs and were exactly what the writers have written about.

My maternal grandmother once explained that wealthier Foochow families in Fuzhou City in China had bond maids (ah tau ) and adopted girls (ngie nu) at their beck and call. These were girls who had lesser fortune and were either given to the wealthy families or sold for a pitiful sum. Thus rich men had a household of women whom they could use and even abuse. All these girls would be given simple names like Ah San (Number Three) or Ah Moi (Sister) and they would carry the surname of the rich man. It was the dream of many Foochow girls to marry into a family which was rich enough to provide her with ah tau and ngie nu. In which case, she could have a life of ease and luxury. Her hands would be soft, and her stomach well filled. Failing to marry the son of the family, a young woman would not be too bothered by the morality of the day , and she would happily end up becoming a concubine.

However the situation was a little different in Sibu. While the rich in the early 1900's continued to buy girls for their families, the treatment was a little better because of the advent of Christianity. Many families were even giving safe harbour to younger women who wanted just a bowl of rice, so to speak.

In the 50's, I did notice the presence of these less fortunate women in town but to me at that time, it was another kind of romantic, traditional and conservative lifestyle which could even be considered as upper crust and interestingly feudal!!

Indeed we often watched with interest a great lady, whom we affectionately called Ah Sam. She wore blue samfoo top and black cotton loose trousers with a lovely pigtail tied very neatly from the back of her head. She would send two boys to our primary school and would stay for a while to see them settle in properly. While the boys were treated like royalty by the teachers, the amah was treated with admiration by mothers who brought their children to school. News were often exchanged as most of the mothers were interested in just enough morsels of gossip for the day.

After a little while the Ah Sam (amah) would run along and do her grocery shopping. The town was very used to the family's dog (probably pure breed Alsatian) which was trained to carry the grocery basket. He would run ahead of Ah Sam, with a basket full of grocery to the shop house where the family lived. Ah Sam would cheerfully walk quickly back home. It was indeed a fine sight.

Actually I quite miss this scene from my childhoo now that I come to write about it.

I would not be too wrong if I remember that Ah Sam was indeed a very cheerful and positive thinking woman. Ah Sam probably worked for this banking family for the whole of her life,and that would mean two to three generations. She could have migrated from China herself just to work overseas. And having found a rich family to work for, she found dignity in her employment. This was characteristic of the black and white amah of those days. She would have done everything for her mistress or lady of the house.

She would have done all the ironing (with a charcoal iron to start with after the Second World war),cooking, cleaning, shopping, and looking after the small babies. And all these she would do very happily. And definitely she would be the first person waking up in the morning to wipe everything clean before the family woke up. Breakfast would have been cooked before seven o'clock in the morning.

Today, having an Indonesian maid would cost a bomb. A live -in maid would not be that easy to get as the government is rather strict on acquisition of a foreign maid.

Below is a write up on Amahs taken from some books for your quick reference.

The Cantonese word amah is a variant of the romanized version for “mother”: “ah ma” is synonymous with “ma ma.” Strictly speaking, the word amah as opposed to “ah ma” is used in reference to a surrogate mother or a wet nurse. In the 1930s, amahs were single celibate Chinese female migrants who performed paid reproductive labor ranging from childcare to washing clothes and cooking.

The majority of migrant workers who came to Singapore and Malaya during the 1930s were Cantonese women from the Kwangtung region in Southern China. They belonged to a well-established anti-marriage movement: “Nearly all the girls there had a habit of swearing sisterhood to each other, taking vows of celibacy, and looking upon their prospective husbands as enemies. If, as a result of family pressure, they did marry, they would refuse to consummate the marriage, return home on the third day of the wedding and refuse to return to their husbands.”

In order to remain independent from men, young and older unmarried celibate women worked as silk farmers and spinners in Kwangtung’s silk industry. They would pool their resources to build Ku Por Uk or Old Maids’ Houses/Grandaunt’s Houses away from their familial homes. 18 Female residents of Ku Por Uk accepted collective responsibility for household tasks and finances. Patriarchal Chinese society sanctioned Cantonese women’s actions so long as the latter undertook a ritual called sor hei (to comb one’s hair into a bun at the back of the head) in a temple. The ceremony symbolized religious legitimation of women’s newfound rights and status.

The introduction of European technology in the Chinese silk industry during the 1930s, coupled with a series of natural disasters and political strife in Southern China, encouraged women’s out-migration. However, migration was not entirely due to economic factors per se. Even though most of the women had lost their jobs as silk farmers and spinners, their decisions to migrate were precipitated also by the desire to remain socially independent from men. In a 1994 interview with a newspaper reporter, a retired amah explained that:

There is no point in getting married. After all, people like us would not be marrying rich men. If we did get married, we would still have to work so hard, have to have babies and all. There is no point slaving for your husband, is there? You might as well do the same work and get paid for it. If you are on your own, whatever money you earn is yours. No one can tell you what to do.

Out-migration was a key avenue by which the women could retain their independence during a period of turbulent socioeconomic and political change. They migrated with the help of male labor brokers called sui hak (“water guest”). Upon arrival in Malaya, the women were placed in halfway houses until they found employment or they lived in rooms rented by their fellow village/kinfolk.

Oscar's Fashion 2008

To everyone-who-actually-enjoys-looking-at-glamorous-stars-in-gowns' relief, Oscar's wasn't cancelled. Stars went all out (in terms of the sizes of the gowns) this year as the Golden Globes ceremony was cancelled. This year, the main trend in the gowns were huge, black or red gowns, and empire dresses for the pregnant. The dresses were all pretty 'safe'. I'm going taking note of the dresses I liked here:
My favourite dress of the night was probably Cameron Diaz's Dior dress. Yes, it's not a particularly exciting dress, but I'm a fan of the fabric folds. It's simple, well-designed and pretty. And while it's arguable whether her makeup is too simple for Oscar's, I really like how she sticks to her natural-beauty style.
A trend seemed to be the long, simple dress + big necklace combo. Both Nicole Kidman (in Balenciaga) and Keri Russell (in Nina Ricci) looked very elegant. I thought Keri Russell's dress' colour looks really etheral on her, and the necklace is just a perfect match.
Black was one of the two popular colour choices, and huge gowns were equally popular. I thought the best was Hilary Swank's Atelier Versace gown, with Penelope Cruz's Chanel Couture coming in second.
The other popular colour choice was red. Katherine Heigl looked gorgeous as usual. However, I am getting a bit bored of her old Hollywood look, and her makeup seems a bit overloaded (-the blush).
Heidi Klum's vampy dress was comparatively interesting and she was equally gorgeous (in a slightly different way.)
The Marchesa girls: Anne Hathaway looked really pretty. I like how the dress is one-shouldered in an interesting way, especially the way the fabric looks like it falls and wraps around her arms so perfectly. As for Jessica Alba, she looked pretty (hard to imagine her not looking pretty), but she could probably have done better.
The two people who actually chose interesting dresses were Cate Blanchett, who wore Dries Van Noten and Marion Cotillard, who wore Jean Paul Gaultier. I love how the JPG isn't only shaped like a mermaid, but it also has silver 'scales' on it, and the dress didn't look like a costume. Not surprisingly, Marion Cotillard's dress was many critics' favourite.
If you've read my thoughts above, then you'll probably notice that I wasn't overly enthusastic about the dresses. They're weren't bad, but just not stunning or surprising. Whose dress was YOUR favourite?

The Red Cross in Sibu 1962, Red Crescent Today

It is rather interesting that many people did not realise that the Red Cross was only started in 1962 in Sibu. The initiation was propelled by the Great Flood of Sarawak of Dec-1962 and Jan 1963.

Through out Dect 1962, Girl Guides, Sea Scouts and Boys Scouts which were then very well established had been packing boxes of clothes for the flood victims. As a young girl guide then I was very starry eyed and inspired. Ladies like Mrs. Griffin, Mrs. Wong Muk Foo, Mrs.Dr. Wong Soon Kai were leading the women in the packing !!

At that time, a lot of money was also raised from the very generous public in Sibu. I remember the radio also broadcast very encouraging speeches from the dignitaries.

The Red Cross was well initiated by the then nursing sisters who trained the local volunteers (many came from the Youth Club and Women's Institute) and I remember the nursing sisters wearing their lovely head wear which flipped delightfully in the wind. Several local ladies were sent for training too.

What was very painful in those years was that blood donation was very limited and many people continued to have to buy blood for any operation which was not sponsored by the government, if I remember correctly, with due respect to all the helpful foreign and local doctors.

When the Malaysian Government took over the Red Cross and renamed it Red Crescent, all organisation came under Kuala Lumpur and I thought that many events were under very capable hands. The society became very vigorous and more and more Sibu volunteers came forward to help. So when any disaster struck, emergency response was available and aid was quickly organized. The idea that voluntary services should come from local people became a more readily acceptable one. In the colonial days, most local people had left everything to the "government", meaning, the Civil Servants.

When my mother had her operation we had to pay 700 ringgit for a pint of blood to replace the blood she used as she was a private patient and a non government servant. We were so grateful to our uncle, Henry Lim, a frequent blood donor,who donated a pint. Thus my mother's life was saved. And that was in 1972.

Today, the Red Crescent has come a long way and blood is always available and free in the hospital. No one need to die unnecessarily because of blood shortage, or because he does not have the money to buy blood.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I bumped into Danny while scouring youtube for Tokyo videos this afternoon. While I cannot say I am a fan I am certain I would have had an ongoing love affair with Danny's poster on my bedroom wall if he had been pumping out synthetic tunes 15 years ago. He may have even bumped the Bros twins in to second place. There is not much else to say but I will say, I wish my hair looked that good when I wake up in the morning!

Candy the Mushroom

i was so happy with the one I made for the needle swap, that i decided to make another one. it's made out of cotton, fleece and vintage buttons :)

Mushroom Girl for the Needle Swap

this was my entry for the needle swap.  i hope whoever gets this one will be happy with it.  secretly, i wanted to keep it for myself :D

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