I was born in Binatang, a small town with a predominantly Foochow population. Anyone growing up in Binatang would almost invariably be able to speak Foochow with an acceptable level of fluency. I am no exception. I am a Hokkien but I too can speak Foochow. My birth certificate and my Malaysian identity card carry Foochow names and my wife is Foochow. I work for a Foochow tycoon. And the majority of my friends are Foochow.
Foochows have their fair share of colourful and foul languages. It is funny but people tend to pick up “colourful” and “foul” languages faster. For those of you who are not Foochow, think back and try to recall what were the Foochow words or terms that you picked up first. I am sure they would include the followings: siah pa moi, keng chin kuan, ching ku long mo kan ngieng, eh ho meh, kar liew.
A couple of years ago, I bought the book “160 Foochow Proverbs And Idioms” by Angela Yong. Yong was born in China in 1926, the year her parents migrated to Sarawak. She grew up in Sibu. During World War II, she married James Hii Mee Chiong. They raised eight daughters and five sons. James died in 1986. Yong was a former teacher at St Francis Xavier Primary School in Kanowit.
I read the book again today and I have a few chuckles over some of the proverbs and idioms. I am sharing some of the proverbs and idioms that I find are more interesting:
Kieh long moh sang, kieh sai uh nah: This is often used to refer to people who bring no benefits but cause trouble or inconvenience.
Loh sik, loh sik, pu loh chok chik : This is used to describe a person who appears quiet and humble but is actually a different type of person
Lau mah toh meh tiok, meh chek lau siok chiok. Lau mah tok eh tiok, yiang kuo siak puo yiok : This literraly translates as “Marry the wrong wife, tears will soak the whole mat. Marry the right wife is better than taking nourishing medicine.”
Meh sung kang sung teh, toh ching kang tiong neh : When buying a boat, look at the hull. When looking for a spouse, look at the prospective mother-in-law.
Nang een nang tek sang kang chii, nii een nang tek ngu si sang : Male difficult to be born at midnight, female difficult to be born at noon. Chinese believe the best time for a boy to be born is at midnight and the best time for a girl to be born is at noon.
Ho mah moh siak hui tau chau : Good horses do not eat grass from old pastures This refers to someone not going back to someone/something that he or she has left behind in the past.
Ah Moh tiang lai kung : Mother duck listening to thunder When you cannot understand what someone else is saying, you are said to a duck listening to thunder.
Chit kong pek kong : Talking rubbish
Pu meh, pu lak cheh : Knows nothing but acts like he know everything
Sang chit niet ik (3, 7, 21) : When you disagree with someone, you say “I don’t care you three seven twenty-one.”
Uh nieng moh nguok : Taking a long time to finish doing something
Siak lau puong : Literally translates as eat old rice. This refers to the meal for workers, friends and relatives after the funeral of a deceased person.
If you want more Foochow proverbs and idioms, go buy the book. I bought it for RM6.90 at Belle’s Bookshop in Miri. By the way, Angela Yong is now 86 and has written 8 books.
To all my Foochow friends, colleagues and relatives, I dedicate this song to you: