Yes, I am a ‘Sibuian’ (Person from Sibu), a fact when mentioned to most people outside of Sibu would go, ‘What?’ or ‘Where?’, coupled with a blank face, or believe Sibuians are part of Sabah, or perhaps think they live on trees. Sibu, is the 3rd largest town in Sarawak, out in East Malaysia on the Borneo islands. It doesn’t quite have the glamour of Kuching (state capital of Sarawak), nor does it have any great landmarks of interest to tourists, and remains relatively unknown to foreigners. It is where the largest concentration of ‘Foochows’ reside in Malaysia (and yes, I was one of them). It is my official bithplace, or so it says on my passport. It is also where I spent the first 12 years of my life. Long enough to leave a permanent print in my memory bank, albeit a small print.
I was fortunate to pay a quick visit to Sibu last weekend, in part I could, given I am so much closer to it now (being based in Singapore). My parents happen to drop by Sibu as well, so we arranged our flights to co-incide with theirs to arrive in Sibu on the same flight. My parents are probably the only link I have left with Sibu and without them I doubt that I have much reasons to come here. Our uncle was kind enough to arrange a hotel room at Kingwood Hotel (his boss’s hotel), and I was surprised to see a rather nice but nostalgic view…
Right there lies the legend and what encompasses what Sibu was or is still about. Sibu is a river town, with the longest river in Malaysia, the Rajang River running right through it. It’s hard to believe, that this river, was until 15-20 years ago, the main mode of transportation of Sibuians, especially for the agriculture and timber communities. There’s still traces of this legacy with the unique Sibu only ‘express boats’ still lying around, although no where near the peak number of boats during the glory days when so many used to clutter the river side (Think ‘traffic jam’ on the river).
As much as Sibu is part of Malaysia, it is ‘different’ and unique in its own way. For my wife, it was a weekend of treats to cuisines she had never had, eventhough she is ‘Malaysian’. No doubt it was a weekend where we threw our ‘strict’ diet out the window, with a semi legit excuse to overeat. You simply cannot skip such unique cuisines like Kampua mee….
Or Sibu wontons (which is wonton with very very thin skin)
Or this so called ‘Dian Bian Hu’ (Literally Lake near a Wok)
And you certainly cannot skip the ‘Gong Piah’ (Hot Biscuit), which is ‘oh-so-delicious’ when served straight out of oven. It can be too hot to handle by hand though, so this is how I handled it:
I am fortunate that my grandmother is still around, and glad she still remembered me! At the advanced age of 83, she’s not as mobile as she used to be, but I was able to surprisingly still pull off a light conversation in Foochow with her. Mind you, she’s moved out of her ‘Shang Ba’ home or farm house (1 hour drive away?) for several years now, and would have far preferred to live there, except it was getting more difficult to do so on her own. It would have been nice to be able to visit her farm house where my dad grew up. But unfortunately, that house is no longer maintained and no longer liveable.
Anyway, take a look at the photo, and I challenge you to find a 83 year old who still does not have a single strand of white hair on her head! That has to be one feature that is the envy of so many!
So how does a Sibuian welcome relatives when they visit? They shower you with a ton of food…
And you know what? Every single dish cooked up on that table was well and truly ‘organic’, in the true sense of the word. The veges were hand grown, picked out my uncle’s garden out the backyard that morning. The chicken was just slaughtered that morning, and the noodles were hand made by one of my aunties!! Coupled with some traditional method of cooking that I can’t remember tasting since I was 8 years old, it doesn’t get any fresher or more ‘home cooked’ than this. Did we have any remote chance of finishing those food though? Absolutely NO……
2 days in Sibu can be more than enough time to spend in this relatively small town, if you didn’t plan or do your research about where to go. By the 2nd day, we were already driving around aimlessly having covered all the major shopping centres in town. Heck, I even had time to drive past my parents’ old home, where I grew up. It was also the same home a few of my uncle and aunties lived during my childhood years and shared together. Amazingly, nothing much have changed about that house (at least from the outside)… even the street number sign (which my dad raved on about how he obtained those from Indonesia) remained intact and still displayed the clearly visible label ’24A Delta’. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, but it’s certain the street address that have sentimental value for me, my parents, and quite a few of my uncles and aunties.
Anyway, before you know it, it was already time to head off. What better ways to bring back memories than an actual visit to my home town. A lot have changed, but a lot have not changed either, if you know what I mean. Sibu still embeds so much of my childhood memories, I hope it will still be there when I next visit it. It was as much a trip down memory lane for me, as much as it was a trip to visit the countless uncles, auties, cousins and nieces that I have long lost in touch with. I am certainly now in a much better position to pay it a visit more frequently than I could in the past. So until then… good bye.. Sibu!!!