Friday, January 2, 2009

Magnolia 2:Michelia champaca

Michelia Alba or Michelia champaca

It started like this, My Great Grand ma aka Ah Tai and Grand ma aka Bo Dai both had houses in the town and in the village / farms. They both have corner shops where they sold almost everything and were collection centres for rubber, jellutong, pepper from the Ibans. Grand Pa/Ma also had fish ponds. The farms were along the Rejang river where they had dug out canoes and private jetties.

It was heavenly visiting them, because we were wild and free. We helped ourselves to goodies to eat from the shop, pens, pencils, colour pencils, exercise books, art blocks to take home, fish hooks to catch fish. Grandma and Grand aunty who ran Ah Tai's shop never stopped us, instead they said," Take, take, take some back home." We climbed their fruit trees, swam in the river, smeared ourselves in river mud, indulged in mud fights, waved to the boats passing by.

Alas, that was a by-gone era, none of the nine siblings still live in Sibu, half of us are thousand miles away. Half of us have reach a half a century mark.

But something still lingers on, it is the fragrance of our Ah Tai and Bo Dai. The elderly ladies of that generation had Magnolia or Michelia X alba or White Champaca trees in their garden.

When I wanted to do a post of this plant of my ancestors, I had to refer to my siblings.


When I was researching for my book, I asked you about the flower that Ah Tai used to soak in alcohol to make perfume and they put the buds in their hair bun. You wrote about the HAM SIEW FA, Are they a kind of magnolia?

Charles replied: It could be Frangipani

Ann: No, Frangipani in Malaysia and Singapore are known as Graveyard flower. The Muslims like to grow the Frangipani among the tombstones of their little graves. Just to side line, we alwasy wonder why the Malays have so many tombstones. The Malays bury their dead without a coffins. Some one says they bury them vertical (needs to be cited). In Sibu, Elizabeht, Charles and I studied in Methodist school. The school bordered a Malay Graveyard.

Helen: Could it be Gardenia. They smell nice.

Ann: Not Gardenia I am talking about. gardenia opens up, the bud is fatter. We have a story about Gardenia flower.

Margaret: Yes, the smaller version of Magnolia.

Finally, Grace has done her research.

This native of southern China has a large delicate white flower. The scent is used extensively in aroma therapy products as well as Joy perfumery. It is an esteemed tree of Hindus and Buddhists, and it is often planted on temple grounds. Trees begin to bloom at 1-2years of age.

also known as white sandalwood, BAI YULAN

The flowers from this tree are used to make the world's most expensive perfume'Joy

We remember our Ah Tai very well and I remember trying to pick the right flower for her. She wanted the bud only. Our late Ah Tai used to call us by the order of birth in the family. Like Ah One, Ah Two, of course in Cantonese. I might be wrong but I think she did. Upon seeing me, she would ask if I was one of the Ah Toi, or one of the twins, then someone would correct her that I am the Ah Lai, or the last. If one of us greeted her, she gave each a HONG BAO or red packet, 10 cents hand wrapped in red paper. In latter years, she did away with the paper and took her money from her pocket that's on the inside of her top. ( A Traditional Chinese woman's top has a diagonal from her neck to the side of her body. There is a hidden pocket inside*** Ann) I thought it was quite obscene. I think the money was a bribe to acknowledge her.

Charles: As soon as I saw the pictures I remembered the flowers. Good work Grace!.

*** I chuckle, this expensive perfume, my Ah Tai knew how to make them decades ago.***

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this with me Ann. How very interesting and what sweet memories.