|My mother, Agnes Bibiana Leong was the older sister to Cyril Joseph Leong. Both were born in Kuching but Uncle Cyril eventually left to work in the 3rd division. That was sixty odd years ago. He married Cikgu Suasa Abu Bakar, a Muslim Kiput in 1959.|
|Dora Mohd. Leong with her parents Uncle Cyril and Cikgu Suasa. The family would grow to a total of 22 siblings (adopted siblings included).|
|My family with my mother Agnes Leong Chin (centre and myself in front of her) at the Were Road government quarters. Later, we would have the addition of a little sister, making us a family of 8 siblings.|
For the first time, only a few months ago, I met my cousin Hajjah Dora Binti Haji Mohamad Leong and her family at Taman Mesra Bako. Living and working in Marudi and Miri for most of her life, Dora was relocated to Kuching recently. I have no clear recollection of Uncle Cyril, Dora’s father, if only for a faint memory of him during the time when my family was living in the government quarters at Were Road, a wooden house on stilts, at the end of the lane. I was only three or four years old then. Dora, who’s six years my junior, has a better memory than I do of the past.
“When I was 10, my Dad and I came to visit your parents at the house in Jalan Pisang Selatan. We stayed for a week. I remember your Mom talking about food a lot and your Dad showing us his collection of orchids”, recounted Dora “but I don’t remember much of the rest of the family”.
That was 44 years ago.
However, the family ties simply did not end there. These were ignited in the mid-70s. My second elder sister, Celia, husband Nick and their two very young children, together with our late mom, Agnes, paid a visit to Uncle Cyril in Marudi. At that time my sister recalled, Dora was still in her early teens, a vivacious and bubbly personality (and still is today!).
Then in the early 80s family ties were reconnected with the presence of my youngest sister Stella, whose husband, a doctor had been relocated to Marudi. The young couple spent most weekends at the Mohamad Leong’s house. She remembers too, how gracious, generous, warm and kind Uncle Cyril and Aunty Suasa and other family members were.
Sitting in the cool and quiet of her office area just a few days ago, cousin Dora and I shared the many things we had in common despite the total absence of each others company for all these years. Food, charity work, dancing, preserving our culture and a desire to put ink to paper on how we are related were affectionately discussed.
Hajjah Dora Binti Mohd. Leong
Her passion for food goes a long way. Winner of many Divisional level culinary competitions, she continued successfully to State level competitions. To celebrate the festive season of Hari Raya, Dora has reproduced her winning dish for KINO “Recipes from You” in this issue.
The criteria of the competition, she explained, was based on choosing between 2 products. Sago flour or Gula Apong. Representing the MAKSAK Bahagian Miri, Dora chose the Gula Apong and made it a savoury dish. This was the challenge she gave herself. Over 60 competitors, her dish aptly called Rendang Daging Kisar ala Gula Apong won her the “1st Anugerah Emas”. Organised by FAMA (Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority), it was in conjunction with the National Day, held in Miri. In 2006, she was asked to represent the State for the National level in Kuala Lumpur. She declined as her mother Cikgu Suasa had just passed away 3 days earlier.
1st Anugerah Emas winning dish
Sharing her knowledge about our family history, Dora said “your mom and my father were put in St. Joseph’s and St. Teresa’s missionary boarding schools when grandfather returned to China after the death of grandmother. My father worked as a dresser at the Sarawak General Hospital” she continued, “until he left for the 3rd division to join the Government Agricultural Department. He was 20 years of age when he left Kuching. Long Lama in Baram eventually became his home after a job relocation and that was where he met my mother Cikgu “Yot” as she was known”. Before moving to Long Lama, they had lived in Kampung Benawa in Central Baram, the only Malay kampung in Ulu Baram. Dora also relates that both my parents often visited them in Marudi.
Dora’s mother attended the Batu Lintang Training College for 3 years here in Kuching. When she returned to work as a teacher she would be transferred often from one town to another. Dora said that because her mother was away often, she was taught cooking by her father and her maternal grandmother. “Father was the cook. He taught me many chinese dishes like the Seaweed Soup or the Ayam Kicap with Ginger”, said Dora adding that “my mother, although a Kiput, learned to speak Hokkien and because my parents spoke to each other in Hokkien, I am able to speak it”.
“The Kiput were the first people to arrive in Baram” she said, explaining that there are about 5000 in Sarawak and 2000 of them are Muslims. Her father converted to Islam when he married her mother. “He was such a devout Muslim, praying 5 times a day for as long as I can remember” added Dora in visible awe of her father. “I have 4 brothers and 11 sisters. Included are 2 sets of twins. I am the 2nd oldest in the family. My parents then adopted 6 more children making us a family of 22 brothers and sisters”.
Dora is married to Haji Wan Abu Bakar bin Dato Sri Wan Hashim, who she says “gives her moral support and is a good chief to my family”. Her family is without doubt the source of “strength and inspiration” behind all the culinary competitions she has entered. She has 4 children and a grand daughter.
My mother Agnes, Uncle Cyril and all of my mother’s other siblings have long since passed away. For this simple reason, I feel deep gratitude to have these renewed family ties that bind us to treasure old memories. Even more delightfully amazing for us, is to learn that our Leong lineage has been traced back to the Bisayah-Berawans of Baram.
On the 20th of May 2015, my father, John Michael Chin celebrated his 95th birthday here in Kuching. Of course, my cousin Hajjah Dora Binti Haji Mohamad Leong was there to share this most special family day.