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Tomorrow is the first day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. In some places like Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, this festival is very popular among the Taoists.

In Ipoh, there is a temple dedicated to Mother Dipper or ‘Duo Mu’ and her nine sons. This old temple called the ‘Tow Boo Keong Temple’ is more than a hundred years old and had gone through several renovations throughout the past century. It stood opposite my former school along the junction of Jalan Kampar and Jalan Tokong. Each year, giant joss sticks with the craftings of dragons were lit up at the entrance of this temple. Stalls selling tortoise buns, flowers, joss sticks and oil could be found at the entrance too. I remember there were Chinese opera shows held and vegetarian meals served throughout the nine days at this temple.

One particular year, my mother bought a dozen tortoise buns and left them on the altar inside the temple. After coming back from placing joss sticks around the temple ground, she found all the buns missing! Someone must have accidentally taken them, so can you imagine how packed the place was. From then on, she would always rope me in to ‘guard’ her buns. It is not an easy job – the smoke that came from the joss sticks inside the temple made me teary. But I love the buns – they were filled with kaya and very soft after steaming. Eating them will bring good luck, mother said.

On the last day of the festival, there is usually a grand procession along the major streets of Ipoh New Town. One of the routes is along Hugh Low Street. Each year, we had a clear view from the windows of our shop. I remember seeing mediums in a trance swaying the sedan chairs with the Nine Emperor Gods inside as they made their way back to the temple. Other mediums could be seen carrying swords and slashing their chests with these swords. Some would have their mouths pierced by a long skewer. Pretty girls holdings baskets of flowers and young men balancing large Chingay flags on long bamboo poles added more variety to the procession.

Mother is no longer around. I do not celebrate this festival. But the memories of her and the festival still lingers in my heart.

The Haunted Wooden Clogs….

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In the city of Hangzhou lived a wealthy businessman and his beautiful young daughter Little Jade in a large mansion surrounded by servants and a lovely garden. Since there was no electricity at that time, most households used oil lamps to light up their places. For this reason, peddling oil was a lucrative business then. Uncle Lim and his son, a handsome young man, used to go around selling oil from large earthen jars held onto their backs.

One day, father and son came to Little Jade’s mansion to sell their ware. Out of boredom, Little Jade decided to follow her servant to the gate to watch the transaction. When the beautiful girl and the young man set their eyes on each other, they fell in love at first sight. From then on, Little Jade would always follow her servant out to the gate whenever the father and son come to her mansion to sell their oil.

This went on for months until one day, the old oil peddler fell sick and his young son went on the rounds by himself. When he reached Little Jade’s home, her father happened to be away on a business trip. Realizing this was the only chance for them to chat up each other, they decided to sneak out and headed straight to a beautiful park outside the city. Once there, they chatted merrily and in no time, were madly in love with each other.

When Little Jade’s father came home, one of his loyal servants told him what his daughter had been up to. Furious that his daughter would associate herself with a young man from a poor background, he ordered her to be locked up in her chamber. Little Jade cried and begged to be let out but no one dare to. But one day, when her father went on another business trip, she managed to bribe her maid to let her out and before long, she met up with the young oil peddler and once again, they ran to the isolated park. Little Jade did not come home again. Neither did the young oil peddler. When her father came back and was told of his missing daughter, he sent his servants out to look for her and days later, they found a young couple hanging from a tree. They held their hands together in death. Their bodies were taken down and quietly buried as instructed by Little Jade’s father to avoid gossips and embarrassment to him.

Years later, a clog maker came to chop down some trees to make wooden clogs. The tree from which Little Jade and her young lover hung themselves was one of those trees being chopped down and turned into clogs. Not long after this, news began to spread that some wooden clogs brought from this clog maker could move on around the house on their own and could even speak! Those who brought the haunted clogs came and returned these clogs to their maker and demanded a refund. Puzzled, the clog maker asked the returned clogs who they were. Out came the grievous voices of Little Jade and the young oil peddler, “Our souls were trapped inside the tree from which we hung ourselves and which you have chopped down to make those clogs. Please burn the clogs so that we could be released,” they begged him.

On hearing this, the clog maker then burnt the whole batch of clogs made from the trees he had collected from the park that day. In doing so, he helped to release the poor lovers’ soul and set them free…..

The hot Malaysian sun is perfect for making ‘bedak sejuk’ or compressed rice powder in droplet form which is a cheap, natural, effective and chemical-free antidote for pimples and acne. Both my children are loyal ‘bedak sejuk’ users. The ones I have made years ago are almost running out and so today, I have made some for them again. I started soaking the grain six months ago with rain water collected on the night of the Festival of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl last year. The soaked grain is now soft enough to be blended into a creamy mixture. This mixture is then squeezed into little droplets before being left to dry in the sun. Some chopped pandan leaves were then added to the finished product for extra fragrance. I am lucky that today, I can use an electric blender to blend the soaked rice. During my grandmother and mother’s time, they have to use a big stone mortar to do this.

Finally, my ‘bedak sejuk’ or “sui fun” is ready, all packed in these glass bottles. Each bottle is going for RM22 (approx. gross weight 250g). You may place your orders now. Stock is limited.

“If you could only read one book this year, you have it in your hands.”
—Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times number one bestseller Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

Make reading more books one of your new year resolutions. Reading enrich our lives.

Reminisce your childhood through ‘The Scissor Sharpener’s Daughter’ – a memoir of growing up in Ipoh after the collapse of tin during the 1960s and 1970s.

‘A Daughter Less Ordinary’ is a personal experience with a ghost of the past – haunting yet enlightening and also about intense sibling rivalry – the unspoken nightmare of many families.

Both books could be purchased online through https://www.facebook.com/188HughLowStreetOnlineBookshop/

 

 

 

Beautiful Malaysians

One night in 1989, during a heavy downpour, I was walking home along Jalan Batu Caves after night class when a motorcycle whisked past me. To my horror, the pillion rider whom I suspected to be an Indonesian construction worker nearby, snatched my handbag and in the process, I was dragged a few meters away before slipping down into a monsoon drain almost four feet deep. Despite being in a state of shock, I frantically yelled for help. Two Malay youths manning a Ramly Burger stall not far from where I fell saw what had happened to me. In split seconds, they came running towards me and one of them had a wooden pole in his hand. He quickly lowered it down and helped me out from the drain. By the time I was out of the drain, I was completely covered in mud and rainwater. I also suffered some cuts and bruises on my limbs.

“Kakak, you okay ke?” they asked me in a voice filled with concern. I could only nod my head weakly. After thanking them profusely, I walked home in the rain which thankfully, helped concealed my tears.

In 1999, when my mother was warded in the Ipoh General Hospital for kidney failure, she shared a ward with female patients from other races, all sick and weak themselves. Like my mother, they could not afford the expensive private hospitals but made do with whatever facilities that were given to them. On many occasions when my mother was suddenly hit by a pang of hunger in the middle of the night, these Makciks who slept on the next bed would not hesitate to share a few coconut buns or some cream crackers which they hid under their pillows, with my mother. They even insisted she drink the warm Milo so preciously held inside their thermos flasks. Their kindness and sincerity still warmed my heart long after my mother was discharged from the hospital.

Finally, one night in 2007, after visiting my father who was also warded in the same hospital for heart failure, an old Malay couple offered me a ride home after seeing me waiting alone at the taxi stand outside the hospital.

“Amoi, nak pulang rumah ke? Tinggal mana? Mari ikut sama, kami pun tinggal dekat Bercham. Dah lewat dah, teksi tak banyak, lagi pun bahaya seorang perempuan naik teksi. Mari Amoi, kita angkat sekali.”

So I went home that night in their rickety car. They happened to stay near my father’s house. Needless to say, I thanked them profusely when the car paused in front of father’s house. They both gave me a toothless grin before driving off.

They are some of the best Malaysians I have ever met. Simple folks, just like you and me. Ordinary people leading an ordinary life. No hatred, no discrimination, no hidden agenda. Just pure kindness and sincerity.

To the two Malay youths who helped me out from the drain, the Makciks who shared their coconut buns and warm Milo with my mother and the elderly Malay couple who gave me a ride home one late night and to all my Muslim friends and readers, Selamat Hari Raya.🙂

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It was at the MGS Reunion Dinner held at Impiana Hotel in Ipoh last Saturday night (13th June) that my second book, “A Daughter Less Ordinary” made its debut. Past and present teachers as well as former students were the first to buy and read the tale of a girl born with a pair of yin yang eyes. I truly hope they will like the book and find a meaning in the story.

I am very grateful to the organizing committee for allowing me the opportunity to bring my book to more readers. Special thanks to Miss Yau Sook Fun for making this happened.

Meeting the school principal inspired me to donate two of my first book, “The Scissor Sharpener’s Daughter” to the school library so that present students could read the tale of a girl growing up at 188 Hugh Low Street as the daughter of a humble scissor sharpener struggling to make a living amidst poverty and despair.

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The night was even more meaningful for me when a little girl of hardly seven ran up to me and wanted to have a copy of my first book, thus becoming my youngest reader!

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It was during this reunion dinner that I managed to meet up with some former classmates whom I have not seen for more than thirty years. We had a wonderful time catching up.MGS 1981 group

All in all, it was a memorable night for all who were there that night.

Once again, a big thank you, MGS!

“Our utmost for the highest!”

 

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Mrs. Wong Yew Choong is my former teacher at Methodist Girls’ School (Ipoh) and she has helped me in editing my second book. I am very blessed to have her help and support. Below is her endorsement:

When Frances told me she was planning to write another book, I was pleased that she would continue on her chosen path as a writer. But when she said she planned to write about her experience as one who possessed a “third eye”, I had wondered what she could make of such a story. However, she has successfully penned her personal experience in a realm which few of us know about. Whilst believing that such events did occur, I had never explored the details about such “bizarre” occurrences. Reading what Frances has written, I have learnt more about this world of the supernatural. She has woven a fascinating tale of her life, love, sad and happy experiences…..a story everyone will appreciate and enjoy.

Thank you, Mrs. Wong!