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kotmj

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Hainanese chicken before being converted into edible form. They belong to a neighbour.

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Lunch under a bougainvillea canopy. These people know how to enjoy life. There are 5 acres of land adjoining the house, in case you were wondering.

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After lunch, because I asked for it, we were brought to a café within the village for authentic Hainanese coffee. They preferentially drink "kopi-o" -- the direct equivalent to ours.

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I wandered around and saw pretty sophisticated dim sum. Bear in mind, this is a village café in a small village belonging to the Wenchang district, which is a very small town in the backwater that is Hainan Island. In the whole of KL, there are only a few places which serve dim sum of this level.

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I had no idea where we were being led...

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It turns out to be a communist-era cemetery where 80% of the headstones bear the Tok surname. The Chinese are really huge into being able to trace your ancestry. Features to allow traceability are built into your name, into various tablets in red, and in the headstones of graves. On this headstone, belonging to my great grandfather, even the names of his grandchildren are inscribed, even though they were born in Malaya and have never set foot in China. The names of my uncles and my father are inscribed on this headstone in Hainan Island, even though they were little children in Kuala Terengganu at that time. The Chinese are crazy.

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Many Toks were buried here.

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The male children are supposed to master the intricate but robust system which allows traceability of your lineage. Over here, they take it very seriously. I guess I should start getting interested in this.

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This is the wife of the younger brother of my grandfather. Both my grandfather and his younger brother left Hainan in 1936 on the same boat. She stayed behind. Fourty six years later in 1982, her husband came back for his one and only visit; I was only one-year old then, and he came to our house to make preparations for his journey with seven bags of clothes and foodstuff. He left for Hainan on a ship in Port Klang. Once back in the village, he stayed 6 months, then returned to Malaysia where he had taken another wife and had established another family. He died 5 months after coming back.

 

Her one and only son died aged 80 this May; while there is no documentation, we think she's 100-years old.

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My whole life I've had a fascination for things in general, and for tools in particular. In fact, I view the clothes we make as tools. So imagine my fascination when I saw this knife in use at the Tok Ancestral House-Complex.

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It is a full-sized Chinese chef's knife in the most rustic specification: hand forged carbon steel blade with hammermarks, steel ferrule and a naturally water-resistant wooden handle. I asked my relatives where I could buy such a knife. They all told me to just take this one.

 

There is no way I was going to deprive the Hainan branch of the Tok family of their best kitchen knife, so I kept refusing being given this knife, and insisted they just tell me where to buy one. They never did; in the end, I found this knife cleaned and carefully wrapped inside my Filson duffel.

 

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I was showering in my room at The Haikou Hotel earlier today. I reached for the hotel bath towel, shook it open, and proceeded to drape it over my head to towel my hair dry. Immediately, images of blood smeared over the towel flashed through my mind. Images of blood and carnage, communicated through the towel.

 

I took it off my head. The images stopped. I put it back on, and despite the uncomfortable images, toweled my hair. No images while toweling my body.

 

I wonder if that specific towel was involved in some bloody affair, or if it absorbed some of the negative energies from another affected towel through being laundered together.

 

It's the first time I've experienced anything like this.

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My whole life I've had a fascination for things in general, and for tools in particular. In fact, I view the clothes we make as tools. So imagine my fascination when I saw this knife in use at the Tok Ancestral House-Complex.

1-IMG_9377_zpsvpocitmk.jpg

 

It is a full-sized Chinese chef's knife in the most rustic specification: hand forged carbon steel blade with hammermarks, steel ferrule and a naturally water-resistant wooden handle. I asked my relatives where I could buy such a knife. They all told me to just take this one.

 

There is no way I was going to deprive the Hainan branch of the Tok family of their best kitchen knife, so I kept refusing being given this knife, and insisted they just tell me where to buy one. They never did; in the end, I found this knife cleaned and carefully wrapped inside my Filson duffel.

 

1-IMG_9570_zpsgmc6vwr1.jpg

Pray tell more bout this knife.

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Well, I'm back since a few hours ago in the International Headquarters of kotmj Industries. On the way back to said HQ, I managed to buy Malaysia's best Chinese traditional knife. I bought it to send back to Hainan, since they gave me their knife.

 

Here are the two side by side.

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For those unfamiliar with Chinese chef's knives (a.k.a. chai dao, literally "vegetable knife"), they are not cleavers, though they have the shape of a Western-style butcher's cleaver. The Western equivalent of the chai dao is the chef's knife. This knife has a delicate cutting edge and is used for slicing only, not for chopping chicken or pork bones (which would destroy it).

 

It's obvious from the picture which knife was made artisanally, and which more industrially. That said, the Brand 55 knife on the right (manufactured in Johor, I believe), is possibly the highest-grade knife of this sort made locally. Many chicken rice sellers use Brand 55 -- the cleaver version, which is quite a bit thicker and heavier.

 

The Hainanese knife has a heel that is angled towards the handle vs the perpendicular heel of the Brand 55. This particular Brand 55 appears not to have been forged; it looks like it was stamped out of a steel sheet, then ground into shape and heat treated. I have two other earlier production Brand 55 knives and one of them -- a cleaver -- has certainly been forged. There is no doubt the Hainanese knife was hand forged.

 

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Looking at the spine, you notice again how the Hainanese knife embodies more of the characteristics of high bladesmithing. Near the tang of the blade, the spine is thick. It tapers gradually towards the tip, becoming ever thinner. The Brand 55 exhibits little of this tapering of spine thickness. It starts out thin, and remains thin all the way to the tip.

 

I prefer the ergonomics of the Brand 55. The ferrule has this nice shape which has no sharp edges, whereas the ferrule of the Hainanese knife is pretty crude and has abrupt transitions. Brand 55 has always used a copper ferrule coated with tin. So charmingly old-fashioned.

 

I once had a famous Hong Kong chef's knife to compare to a Brand 55 -- the Brand 55 won. It was just the more refined knife. Chan Chi Kee is the brand of Hong Kong's best chef's knife.

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Is the traditional Chinese chef's knife as light and agile as the western chef knife?  Honestly, before this, I just thought that Chinese cooks were very handy at using cleavers. Never knew there was a specific Chinese chef's knife.

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Road safety standards are abysmal in China. Motorcyclists are not seen as motorists -- they are subject to the same traffic regulations as cyclists. Almost nobody wears a helmet, they do not switch on the lights at night, and they need not follow the traffic lights. I even saw one driving in the wrong direction. They use their mobile phones while driving with complete nonchalance. One fucking disaster.

 

Drivers of cars are no better. Here's a Chinese product you will not see being imported into Malaysia. I found it in the car of my 24-year old relative.

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It's a safely belt plug. Nobody uses the safety belt while driving, and to prevent the car's seatbelt warning system from annoying them, they plug in this thing in lieu of the safety belt.

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The Wenchang district where the Toks have their roots is also home to the Soongs. The Soongs are much more famous. They were like the Kardashians.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soong_sisters

 

As a consequence, their ancestral house has been converted into a memorial park open to the public. We, of course, had to visit.

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It is unusual for a Hainanese house to stand alone like this. In the Tok village, houses are built very close to each other, not for a paucity of land but because humans are intrinsically communal. This tells me that they demolished all the houses neighbouring the Soongs, since it is the only historical house standing in the whole memorial park. They destroyed so much to preserve so little.

 

The red plaque says the father of the Soong sisters was born in this room.

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It is a pretty humble structure. Smaller and less ostentatious than the Tok's. Compare the Soong's altar room, pictured here (notice the altar tablet sitting on the wooden beam)...

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...to the Tok's altar room.

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Wow fascinating journey you've taken us on kotmj!

 

Isn't Wenchang the origin of the famous Wenchang chicken (the ancestor of chicken rice?)

 

Interesting to see how humble the Soong family ancestral house is. HH Kung, the husband of Soong Ai-Ling was the richest man in China (and the Finance Minister) at the time. Never knew they were from Hainan, traditionally a place where officials were banished to as a punishment.

 

The shots of your village look so idyllic. I'd much prefer to live in that sort of communal single-storey complex than modern Western-style housing.


Blogging on Style & Menswear -
http://avantistilo.blogspot.com

Handmade bespoke watches -
http://maisonceladon.com
http://maisonceladon.tumblr.com/

 

 

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It is a pretty humble structure. Smaller and less ostentatious than the Tok's. Compare the Soong's altar room, pictured here (notice the altar tablet sitting on the wooden beam)...

1-IMG_7913_zps2mqz5vaz.jpg

 

...to the Tok's altar room.

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I have a simple theory for this. The Soong sisters and their parents were Christians. Charlie Soong was a Methodist missionary while being a businessman. As such the Soongs kept any idolatry as simple as possible. You can also see that there is no soot on the rooftop, a consequence of either there had not been evidence of joss-stick burning or that the roof had been restored/repaired. When Soong May-Ling met Chiang Kai-Shek, not only was the General 11 years older, he was a Buddhist, married and with 2 concubines. He had to convert to Christianity before marrying May-Ling as well as divorcing from his wife. 

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There are some variations of the seat belt plugs. One more sophisticated type replicates the entire plug which allows one to escape scrutiny from eyes of the law while eliminating annoying warning sounds from the car. There is also a version with a short length of seat belt extender for those with a more prosperous belly. There is also one incorporating a bottle opener, which I hope is only meant for opening soda bottles and not Tsingtaos. 

 

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Wow fascinating journey you've taken us on kotmj!

 

Isn't Wenchang the origin of the famous Wenchang chicken (the ancestor of chicken rice?)

 

Interesting to see how humble the Soong family ancestral house is. HH Kung, the husband of Soong Ai-Ling was the richest man in China (and the Finance Minister) at the time. Never knew they were from Hainan, traditionally a place where officials were banished to as a punishment.

 

The shots of your village look so idyllic. I'd much prefer to live in that sort of communal single-storey complex than modern Western-style housing.

I had done almost no research on Hainan before departing, and had never heard of Wenchang until I found myself in it. Now that I'm back, I'm doing the reading I should have done before going. Here's a nice article on Wenchang chicken.

http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2012/12/pampered-poultry/

 

Throughout time, most humans have lived close to the soil; it is only in our times that we live like battery chickens.

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Honkie habitation in Tung Chung. When I saw this, I thought of battery chickens. Their source of food comes from the Food Republic food court and fast food outlets.

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I have a simple theory for this. The Soong sisters and their parents were Christians. Charlie Soong was a Methodist missionary while being a businessman. As such the Soongs kept any idolatry as simple as possible. You can also see that there is no soot on the rooftop, a consequence of either there had not been evidence of joss-stick burning or that the roof had been restored/repaired. When Soong May-Ling met Chiang Kai-Shek, not only was the General 11 years older, he was a Buddhist, married and with 2 concubines. He had to convert to Christianity before marrying May-Ling as well as divorcing from his wife.

I think the Soong house has been restored/renovated. Just look at the clay roof tiles -- they are new.

 

The Tok house has also been rebuilt: The original wooden fixtures (roof beams, window frames, doors, etc) were dismantled, then elaborately refurbished. The walls and floors were demolished, rebuilt, then the refurbished wooden fixtures reinstalled. The configuration of the house was not changed.

 

Many of these houses have to be renovated to remain viable as homes. Some would rebuild to the original configuration, while some just levelled everything and built to a new architecture. The next-door neighbour's was also rebuilt -- by the Malaysian owner, who inherited it. He's rarely in Hainan though, so his relatives live in it. Here's one down the road from our house in original condition.

 

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I have a simple theory for this. The Soong sisters and their parents were Christians. Charlie Soong was a Methodist missionary while being a businessman. As such the Soongs kept any idolatry as simple as possible. You can also see that there is no soot on the rooftop, a consequence of either there had not been evidence of joss-stick burning or that the roof had been restored/repaired. When Soong May-Ling met Chiang Kai-Shek, not only was the General 11 years older, he was a Buddhist, married and with 2 concubines. He had to convert to Christianity before marrying May-Ling as well as divorcing from his wife. 

 

Hmm those are quite astute observations and it sounds like a valid theory. On a related note, Chiang Kai-Shek is an asshole.


Blogging on Style & Menswear -
http://avantistilo.blogspot.com

Handmade bespoke watches -
http://maisonceladon.com
http://maisonceladon.tumblr.com/

 

 

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I had done almost no research on Hainan before departing, and had never heard of Wenchang until I found myself in it. Now that I'm back, I'm doing the reading I should have done before going. Here's a nice article on Wenchang chicken.

http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2012/12/pampered-poultry/

 

Throughout time, most humans have lived close to the soil; it is only in our times that we live like battery chickens.

1-IMG_7682_zpsozkfggou.jpg

Honkie habitation in Tung Chung. When I saw this, I thought of battery chickens. Their source of food comes from the Food Republic food court and fast food outlets.

 

Nice article there.. well it's like everything else now isn't it, from cattle to plants to fish.

 

I'd be interested to hear how you think Wenchang chicken compares with the ones in Malaysia. There's some really good chicken breeds in Malaysia. In fact what's the name of that huge-chested but small male chicken that is used for competition, and food?

 

I've eaten all over the world and to this day, the best chicken ever is still the ones I've had in the Jiangsu province countryside. Virgin chickens with pure yellow skin, lean and full of flavour. Superior to the much-feted Poulet de Bresse from France even.


Blogging on Style & Menswear -
http://avantistilo.blogspot.com

Handmade bespoke watches -
http://maisonceladon.com
http://maisonceladon.tumblr.com/

 

 

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