My trip in pictures

Little Borneo Girl had been away.

The last three weeks had been a great time of family reunion and of course lots and lots of feasting.

Sharing a photo each of the places I visited from Huizhou, Guangzhou, Macau, Bali, Kuching and Singapore.  Amongst the many shots, these are significant shots of those places visited.

To Huizhou for Joanne & Vincent's Wedding Dinner

To Huizhou for JoJo & Vincent’s Wedding Dinner

Beijing Lu (Road) in Guangzhou for those who love shopping

Beijing Lu (Road) in Guangzhou for those who love shopping

Macau's most famous landmark, Ruins of St Paul's

Macau’s most famous landmark, Ruins of St Paul’s

Mulia Nusa Dua, Bali is the place to be to relax and unwind

Mulia Nusa Dua, Bali is the place to be to relax and unwind

Once upon a time, our ancestral home was on this vacant piece of land in Tabuan Rd, Kuching where I grew up

Once upon a time, our ancestral home was on this vacant piece of land in Tabuan Rd, Kuching where I grew up.  We returned to Kuching this trip for a family reunion on the occasion of JoJo (my daughter)’s Wedding.

Enjoying a bowl of Ice Kacang during my Singapore stopover

Enjoying a bowl of Ice Kacang during my Singapore stopover

That was a snapshot of my recent trip. More stories to follow ……..

My family home, my kindergarten and my cats

Our family home was located at Jalan Tabuan (Tabuan Rd).  This was the main road leading to Kuching town (and still is) and most people who went to town usually drove past my home.  When I was young, I did not feel proud of my home.  My house was a mansion but not built of concrete but wood hence I felt it was substandard.  I envied my friends’ houses made of brick although they were just linked or terrace houses unlike mine that stood on over an acre of land with a mango tree, a rambutan tree, a jambu tree and a banana tree.  There was also a lake in our garden which my aunts used as a landfill for dumping our garbage.  Within the same compound of my house was a small ‘attap’ house.  We called it ‘attap’ house because the roof was made of ‘attap’ (a kind of palm leaves probably nipah).  This was tenanted out to a widow with six children, the youngest girl was my age .  The rental was RM8 or 10 per month (out of goodwill to house the family) even up to the day our house was sold.  There was never a tenancy agreement signed and when our family decided to sell the house in 1978 years after grandmother passed away, this tenant refused to move and my uncle (Ji Pek) had to get a lawyer to write an agreement that they move out and they were paid a couple of thousands as compensation not to mention the legal fees and the stress that it caused when the tenant’s son created havoc most nights bringing his gangsters (samseng kia) friends into the house after given due notice to vacate as the property was on the market.

Our house was a double-storey house.  It stood at the slope of Tabuan Road so whenever the rainy season came, our house would be flooded ankle high and at times knee high during bad floods.  I thought it was quite fun because we got the chance to miss school and stayed home.  There were seven bedrooms in my ancestral home.  I shared a bedroom with my aunt (2ko) with a window that looked into the ‘attap’ house and into my 2ko’s chicken pen.  I liked my bedroom because this is where everyone came in to peep and shouted at petty thieves that came in the middle of the night to steal the ducks and the chicken in their gunny sacks.

My 3ko was the family’s treasurer and shopper.  She biked to the wet market every morning around 6.30am to buy meat and vegetables.  She taught my sister and me how to bike and our first bike trip was to the Padungan wet market with her one morning.  We went real early before 6am as the roads would not be so busy then.  It was easy breezy biking to the market but not to school because going to school, we had to paddle up the hill which was a huge effort on a bike with no gear, not that we had to bike to school often.  I recalled the number of times I had to bike to school and it was only for extra curricular classes in the afternoon.  We were privileged to be dropped to (primary) school in Ji Pek’s flash car and I was told that previous to this, one of his old car and was sold to the present Chief Minister of Sarawak in the 1950s when the CM first started work as a mere civil servant.

I attended two years of kindergarten.  Pei Tee kindergarten was just a ten minutes walk uphill Tabuan Rd.  I did not particularly like those times in kindergarten because I was soft spoken and often got bullied by other girls because I never reported them to the teachers.  2ko was quite surprised when I had to do two years of study because most students only had to attend a year of kindergarten and then went on to primary one.  We were told I had to stay two years because I was underage to attend primary one in 1968.  We started primary school aged seven in Malaysia.  I was born on 6 January 1962 and turned two on 5 Feb 1962 according to the Chinese calendar after counting the months I was in the womb and every Chinese new year, you aged a year so I turned two years old when I was a month old.  At the end of every school year, we had to perform dances, story telling, singing during an annual concert and prize giving.  I was not good in any of those but my younger and only sister Lilian, a year younger than me was a star.  She performed at the annual concert in 1968 and it was a dance performance holding a lantern with a lighted candle (similar to the lanterns we lit during Lantern festivals).  Her lantern accidentally caught fire but this did not alarm her in the least. My sister carried on the act as gracefully putting out her hand holding an imaginary lantern.  This drew huge applause from the audience.

I was and still am a cat lover although now I have a pet dog and not a cat at home.  I used to have cats and cried my eyes out whenever one died and it was often due to ‘hit and run’.   My 4ko was responsible for walking us to and from kindergarten and I believed my cat Bimbo (named after Enid Blyton’s Bimbo & Topsy) followed us up the hill and one day while walking home, we found our beloved cat lifeless body on the road.  I lost several other cats in this manner.  It was heart breaking for my little soul. My cats were named Bimbo, Cartoon, Snowy, Blue-eye, Tiggy, Kitty, Fee Fee, Fee Bee and Fee Tee to name a few.

I have a story to tell of Fee Fee and Fee Bee and will post one them one day.  Todate amongst my pet cats, only Fee Fee is alive and she lives in a cage in Kuching and my email is named after her.

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Snowy, Cartoon & Blue-Eye
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Cartoon & Me
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Fee Fee
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An Attap House

Baba & Nyonya

My paternal grandfather’s name was KHO Boon Toh and my grandmother’s name was EE Cheng Neo.  I never knew my grandfather as he passed away during the Japanese Occupation.  I learnt that my grandfather was a rice trader and migrated to Singapore and then Kuching in the 1920s or 1930s.  He had grocery shops in Boat Quay, Singapore and several in Main Bazaar and Padungan Rd in Kuching.  By the time I was born, the family were no longer in business as my grandmother just lived on accumulated wealth and the rental from the shophouses in Main Bazaar and Padungan and the ones in Boat Quay were probably sold to pay off my late eldest uncle’s spending spree from owning horses down to his frequent visits to brothels.

I remembered my eldest uncle vaguely.  He had two wives.  His first wife and him were separated and they had a daughter whom my grandmother acknowledged of course as his official wife and daughter in law.  His second wife was a Malay woman and they adopted three children, two girls and one boy.  My eldest uncle (Tua Pek) used to come to our house and perhaps because of the stories I heard of his visits to brothels, I used to fear him a lot and was afraid he would touch me.  Tua Pek’s motive for most visits were to ask grandma for money and my 3ko who was grandma’s ‘treasurer’ would open up the antique money safe that stored bundles of notes and gave him a few.  I would hide whenever Tua Pek visited under the big square table that had a table cloth around it so I would be safe in hiding there.  That table stood at the front entrance hall of the house and my late grandfather’s picture hung on the wall where the table stood.  This table was the ancestral table to display food whenever there was any occasion to worship such as ‘Cheng Beng’ (All Souls Day).  I hated ancestor worship then and the burning of joss sticks and incense but have now come to accept it a way of respect of the death, being part of the family’s tradition and culture.  One day when I was about eight years old, I remembered someone came to our house and told us that Tua Pek had died falling down the staircase of a shop in Main Bazaar (which I believed he must have visited a brothel up there, had too much to drink and fell down and died).  No one really talked about it and to this day, this is what I thought had happened.

My second uncle (Ji Pek) was a top government officer hence no one carried on my grandfather’s grocery business when he passed away.  My father was also a government officer (we called them government or civil servants during the colonial days in Malaysia) and so were the rest of my other younger uncles.  I was told the japanese invaded grandfather’s shops and warehouses and grandpa feared them so much that he died of a heart attack (maybe).  Looking at my grandfather’s photo, he must have been a successful typical chinese ‘Tau Kay’ (business owner).

Grandmother was a Nyonya dressed in Sarong and chewed betel nuts.  Every morning, 3ko would comb her long hair and tie it into a bun.  In the early days, my grandmother had servant girls (or maids or slaves as they were called in those days) that waited upon my grandmother and my aunties. These servants were children from poor families who came to live in my family home when they were young and in return their families received some money as compensation. Once these girls were of marriageable age or got married, they were then independent to move out. My three aunties never got married because grandmother did not find any men good enough for them (maybe).  My late eldest aunt was married to a Singaporean businessman, a business acquaintance of my grandfather.  My father had fallen in love with a woman of Catholic faith but grandmother was against it.  My mother was my grandmother’s choice for my father.

Grandmother came to know mother through my eldest aunt (Tua Ko).  Ah Nen (what I called my mother) was a young woman of eighteen who came round to my Tua Ko’s house once or twice a week to help with the household cleaning chores.  Ah Nen was the eldest child of my maternal grandmother and they lived in a farmhouse in Yishun (previously known as Nee Soon) before all the apartments were built.  To get to the bus route, one had to take a 30 minutes walk by foot through the jungle to get to the main road.  I used to dread visiting Ah Mah,  something we did once every year and would stay for a month during the last school term holidays.  I would write letters home to 2ko and drew faces with tears on them and she would fret and missed me so much till I came home.

Grandmother passed away when I was twelve.  She gave me my first monopoly set.  She named me ‘Jessica’ and she named my sister ‘Lilian’.  Grandmother also named my brothers ‘Samson’ (after the strong man who lifted the earth on his shoulder as in Samson & Hercules) and my youngest brother ‘Robin’ as in Robin Hood.  Samson did not like his name so he changed his name to ‘Roger’.  We were typical Malaysian Chinese family where English names were rare in the 1960s and I have no idea how grandmother came to know all these English names.  Most of my childhood friends (except for a few) adopted their own English names when they attended school.

Next post of this little girl growing up and going to school to follow …….ImageImageImageImage

I was born …..

The Chinese tradition is to regard a baby as one year old at birth taking into consideration the time spent in the womb. The baby will be one year older at Chinese New Year. So if you were born one day before the Chinese New Year your Western age would be one day old and your Chinese age would be two years old on the Chinese New Year.

I was born on Sat 6 Jan 1962 (first day of the twelve lunar month, year of the Metal Ox) and Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) fell on 5 Feb 1962 (year of the Tiger) and that day, I turned two.  I went to school with all the ‘tigers’ hence everyone thought I was a tiger too.  I was brought up by my aunt (my father’s elder sister) who was also born in the year of the tiger.  I am neutral towards birth signs or horoscope but to some extent, what is described of me is pretty accurate.  I find it really true that been born in the early hours of the morning and being an Ox, you have to work hard for your living.

“Those born under the influence of the Ox are fortunate to be stable and persevering. The typical Ox is a tolerant person with strong character. Not many people could equal the resolution and fearlessness the Ox exhibits when deciding to accomplish a task or an objective. As we used this great creature long ago to plow the soil day after day, so do Ox people labor through their daily responsibilities either at work or at home without complaint or gripe. Oxen know they will succeed through hard work and sustained effort and find no truth or benefit in concocting get-rich-quick schemes.”

This post shares with you why I was raised by my aunt (2ko) rather than my mum (Ah Nen).  To this day, I still call my mother ‘Ah Nen’ and ‘Nen’ means milk.  My 2ko told me I called mother ‘Ah Nen’ because she breastfed me and I was crying out for milk.

I am the eldest child in the family of four children.  My sister Lilian was born a year after me.  We grew up in a big household headed by my grandmother (Dad’s mother) and lived with two other uncles (Dad’s brothers) and their family.  My father was the third male child and probably first generation Chinese Malaysian.  I had two elder cousins (who have now passed away) and when I was born, I was the baby of the big Kho family.  When my sister came along, according to 2ko, Ah Nen had no time for me hence she took over the motherly role.  My 2ko (as well as 3ko and our late 4ko were spinsters).  She loved and cared for me as her own.  When my brother Chuan (Roger) was born, 3ko became my sister’s ‘mother’.  We were raised like only child and very much loved and pampered.

Today, I reflect on my 2ko’s love for me.  I know you are counting the days for my visit home every year.  You started counting from the day I leave Kuching and it goes round and round every year for the past 9 years.  At times, I felt guilty leaving you all alone, guilty leaving home that my pet cats had to moved out from a luxury home to live in a cage …. that’s another story to be shared.

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2ko & Me