Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Can 30 or 50 Sen Do?

This picture was taken between the late 1950s and early 60s, when I was about to enter primary school in my hometown in Tamparuli. Second from right, I am seen here with my brother and nephews and nieces. Picture taken in front of our old family home which has since been demolished to make way for a new one. (For a larger view please click on picture.)

So, what has that got to do with the title of my posting today (What Can 30 or 50 Sen Do?) ? I got the idea when I read in the papers a few days ago that consumers complained to the Consumer Affairs Minister that a glass of plain water, which used to be free, nowadays costs anywhere from 30 to 50 sen in a coffeeshop or restaurant!

Which reminded me of what 30 or 50 sen (it used to be cents) could do when I was in primary school, around the time this picture was taken. You see, life in a small or rural town like Tamparuli in the early 60s (when Sabah was still British North Borneo) was simple and hard; bearing in mind that it was not that long ago that World War 2 had just ended.

Every morning, my late mum gave me 10 sen as pocket money in school. I came from a poor family. My father died while I was in Primary One. There were 10 of us and that was all my mum could give me. Despite this, that was 10 sen of almost half-a-century ago, mind you!

Still, I did not use the 10 sen in the school canteen. There were two reasons. Firstly, I had my breakfast at home before going to school, simple though it was. Secondly, I wanted to save it so that by the weekend I would have 50 sen.

Why? There was a lot that 50 sen could do those days, that was why! For one, me and my friends would use the 50 sen to eat noodle or meehon soup at the Tamparuli Tamu held every Wednesday. Even then, 50 sen was already for the big bowl as the smaller bowl would cost only 30 sen!

So what was so special about this what we called 'Soup Tamu'? What made it special was its taste which until today nobody could copy. Apart from the noodle or meehon in the soup, there was also a generous serving of beef or chicken. The taste is so unique that I still head for the Tamu whenever I visit my hometown nowadays, almost half-a-century later!

But of course the original stall-owner and his wife had since passed away and their children took over the business. In other words, this is already 2nd generation 'Soup Tamu'. In other words too, me and my friends literally grew up eating their 'Soup Tamu'!

Another unique thing about this 'Soup Tamu', besides its taste, is that it's operated by a Chinese family. I say unique because normally this Chinese equivalent of 'Soto' is operated either by Javanese or Malays. What's the big deal, as a lot of Chinese operate 'Ngiu Chap' stalls in Kota Kinabalu, you might say? Well, it may look like 'Ngiu Chap' but you just have to taste it to know what I mean! In any case, they don't call it 'Ngiu Chap' in Tamparuli but simply 'Soup Tamu'.

But of course too it's no longer 30 or 50 sen! Nowadays the price has risen, understandably, to almost ten times. After all, we are now in the 21st Century or 3rd Millenium. If a glass of plain water can cost you 30 or 50 sen, what do you expect for a bowl of delicious mee soup? After all, it's a more comfortable stall now, with new building and fans, what not, compared to the 60s when the stall was made of bamboo and attap.

So the next time you are in Tamparuli, no harm trying our unique 'Soup Tamu' for a change instead of Mee Tuaran (which is also found in Tamparuli) all the time. There are only a few food stalls in the Tamu ground. There is no sign board but you can't miss it as it's in the middle. The best guideline: the crowd is also the biggest. Their rest day is normally Thursday (after a busy Tamu day) which means you can also visit it during weekends. They close by late afternoons except for Tuesday when they stay open until night time in view of the weekly Tamu the following day. Many farmers from the villages spend Tuesday nights in the Tamu ground so that they can start business early Wednesday. You can even ask for 'ta pau' of the 'Soup Tamu' to bring back to KK and let your family or friends taste it.

For newcomers, you can't miss the Tamu too. It's just next to the old Tamparuli bridge, otherwise known as the low bridge. And the old bridge is just next to the new suspension bridge, otherwise known as the 'hanging bridge' which literally ends up in the Tamu ground itself. The old suspension bridge further upstream was washed away by flood years ago. As you approach the roundabout leading to the new concrete bridge (Jambatan Tamparuli) turn right to go to the old Tamparuli Town road instead of going straight.

There was something else my friends and I would do with our weekly savings of 50 sen but I suppose I better leave it to another day to tell you so as not to bore you for now.

Bon Appetit!