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Laid-back Papar the next Penang in-the-making?
Published on: Sunday, May 26, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol


While most people only know about the famous Papar Belacan (shrimp paste) and Papar Kuih Cincin (local delicacy), the district has many other attractions to offer.

The town’s building structures has historical value perhaps only environmentalists or history buffs would be able to appreciate.

While the city centre continues to erect new shopping and office buildings, Papar would remain as it is. In fact, there are efforts from the creative industry to turn the town into something like Penang’s vibrant past merged with its modern values.

 

Photos of Papar in its early days are displayed at a shop.
 



This writer’s journey started with a hefty breakfast at one of the longest standing coffee shops in Papar town – Liang Yung Hua – located at the corner of an old building.

Jeremiah Leong Boon Hou, being the fourth generation in the family to run the business, said he knew all the “secret recipes”. When he was very young, he saw his father prepare the sought-after food and learned by-heart how to make them.

“I can make Lapchong (local sausages), Sau Ya (roasted duck), Char Sau (sweet meat) and Sau Nyuk (roasted pork), Khiu Nyuk (yam pork) – everything at my fingertips,” said the 19-year-old

After completing his Form Five, he attempted to learn bakery as he thought it was his interest. However, he was thinking of his family and three older sisters who have their own responsibilities, so he decided to stay put and continue helping his father to run the restaurant till today.

 

A train passing through the town.
 



The restaurant was started by Jeremiah’s great-grandfather in 1941, handed down to his grandfather, then his father and today, since he is the only son in the family, it looks like he will take over the helm soon enough.

His father, Leong Kong Luh, is a Papar native while his mother is from Labuan.  The family had always focussed on their restaurant and served nothing short of fresh meat with noodle everyday.  Needless for introduction, the whole district knows where to get the popular Papar noodle. 

Jeremiah’s sister opened a new branch with the same name, in Papar also, as they want more people to have a taste of their family recipe.

 

Papar is blessed with picturesque river scenery. 



Evelyn Charlie, the “tour guide” for this writer, explained that a team of artists and creative industry enthusiasts are in the process of working out an approach and paper work to transform Papar town into an exciting and vibrant setting but at the same time also maintaining its heritage.

Jeremiah’s restaurant would be one of the icons, among other shops, in the township as it has historical values and authentic appearance.

“To reach to fourth generation is not easy.  But this family is indeed admirable as they have the perseverance and able to sustain till today,” said Evelyn.

 

The sought-after Papar noodles. 



 

Asked how he prepared his freshly-made meat for his noodle everyday, Jeremiah said he and his father would wake up at three in the morning to do all the tedious work, right from A to Z tasks, he said.

“All are handmade, no machines.  We tried to use machine before but, somehow, the meat turned out different. The texture wasn’t the same, even the taste was different.  

“So we gave up using it, and back to square one. We’d rather use the original way – our hands – although it can be quite tiring but the satisfaction is there.  You get to taste the original Char Sau, Sau Nyuk and so on.

“I watched my father make all that when I was young.  I need not refer the book to get the recipe, it is all in my head, as I learned from observing and doing it (practising),” he said.

Evelyn advised him not to change too much of the interior of his coffee shop and maintain the recipe of the family as it is one of the sought-after noodle shops in Papar.

Evelyn shared that in her younger days, she remembered her father used to “tapao” the noodle from the shop whenev=er anyone was warded in hospital or bedridden at home.

“The next thing we knew, we recovered from our bed (not sick anymore) after having the hot fried noodle that was being ‘tapao’ for us,” she said, laughing.

A few blocks away from Jeremiah’s restaurant, another Papar native, is believed to be the only few who can still produce “Siung”, a type of hat worn during special occasion.

 

Jeremiah is the fourth generation to run the popular noodle shop. 



Margaret Kiat, 54, of Kg Sebandil said currently only she and an aunt have the know-how on “Siung”.

Tinuim Sabiat, 87, Margaret’s aunty is still making the hat to this day.  While Margaret takes seven days to complete one, Tinuim may need two weeks to produce one Siung, due to her age.

Margaret explained that there are meaning to all the motifs used in the Siung.

“There are a few motifs that I can do – the Sinusahati, Ginoluda and Sinalapa.  Each carries its own meaning.  

“Sinusahati motif represents the social culture of Papar inhabitants where it portrays how their hardship made the people determined and persevere.  They want to remember their difficult life before as an encouragement for them to move forward,” said Margaret.

 


Evelyn asking Tinuim on Siung-making. 


Evelyn added that Ginoluda motif means the people’s way of life before, and how they emerged from that hardship.



She added Sinalapa motif means a place that becomes their central in life.  Sinalapa is actually a container to put all the condiments such as beetle nuts, beetle leave and tobacco. Women, who were mostly housewives then, would gather and the Sinalapa which became the central attraction during a get together. Margaret’s mother, Sehalim Sabiat, who died in 2011 was a very creative person.  When she was alive, she could practically do all kinds of motifs with beautiful arrangements for the Siungs, with different sizes and colours.

“I got my talents from my mother.  It is a skill inherited from the earlier generation.  Today, I am still producing Siungs, especially during the harvest festival,” she said.

“In fact, I am still keeping my mum’s first set of traditional Papar costumes.  It is hard to get the design nowadays. I used to wear it on special occasions, but as I have grown bigger, the dress becomes smaller to me,” she said, breaking into a liaghter.

On the price, she said it all depends on what type of motifs and sizes the customers want.  She roughly estimates that with a pair of traditional dress and a Siung may cost around RM1,500 for the complete set.

She said the Siung is made of bamboo thin skin and it is difficult to process.  

The first hurdle is getting the right bamboo plants and not just any bamboo that grows anywhere.

“I cannot ask anyone to help me to get. I need the right one, not too old and not too young. I can see it with my eye which bamboo is good to make the Siung.

“I have started to train my son, Shane, to follow me to the jungle to identify the correct bamboo. He is doing pretty well with the identification work,” she said.

 

Margaret showing some of the Siung products. 



Shane, 22, had been following his mother to do the tedious job of getting the raw material to prepare it into thin sheet of material and so on.

“This is an inheritance from my family, I cannot just simply impart my knowledge to anyone.  It has to be someone who has the passion and love for our culture to do this.  Otherwise, if it becomes commercialised, I am afraid the cultural side of it would diminish without us realising it.

“Therefore, I am now starting to train my children to slowly take over from me, and hopefully they will continue the legacy,” she said.

At another shop, the owner made an effort to collect photos of the early days of Papar and by hanging the photos on the wall of the shop.

The coffee shop also collects antiques such as manual typewriters and old bicycle, which instantly became an attraction for the shop.

On the other side of Papar town, they designed a platform for river cruising, the writer was told.  However, the project has not taken off yet.

The railway train, another attraction, is used as one of the modes of transportation.   

Perhaps Papar would soon be known internationally, hence, enticing more visitors to come as compared to other districts in Sabah due to its heritage and uniqueness.   

 





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