In 1925, Kai Chang sailed home. Chong Choon was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing his first born for the first time after 7 years. He paced restlessly around the compound in anticipation, anxiously peering down the road, willing his son to appear quickly. He had slept fitfully the night before and had been restless the whole morn, and now it was almost dusk, and Kai Chang was still not in sight.
Then Kai Chang appeared at the door. Indeed, he had grown up to be a fine young man, handsome and proud like him, with the same caring eyes. Firecrackers were lit to welcome him. Chong Choon could not restrain himself anymore, he ran up to his son, and hugged him ever so tightly, tears streaming down his eyes.
Kai Chang could not wait to show his father the beans that had brought all the way from Penang. He excitedly showed Chong Choon his treasure. Black caramelised coffee beans. Chong Choon was puzzled. The beans did not appear appealing, their aroma was however pleasant though unfamiliar. Rather than explaining, Kai Chang darted into the kitchen, to fetch some piping hot water, to brew a cuppa of bitter sweet black coffee for his father. A sip, a satisfied smile and Chong Choon was a convert in paradise.
Kai Chang’s mother fussed about him all day, every day. His two younger brothers were all over and under him, literally. He promised them that he would fetch them to Nanyang one day soon. Relatives and neighbors were his constant companions, always eager to hear his tales of Nanyang. He savored voraciously the sumptuous meals, especially “Ang Chow” and “Mien Sian” cooked by his mother.
“Ang Chow” is the red rice wine of Foochow. The elixir of life for all blue blooded Foochow. Sweet, full bodied, fragrant and pack with a mild punch. Its residual is never wasted but used to flavor meat dishes or soup. “Ang Chow” is fermented using red yeast rice or red rice koji. The rice acquires its bright reddish purple colour from being cultivated or overgrown with the “Monascus purpureus” mold culture, and “Monascus” in turn is used to produce Monacolin, a statin drug which inhibits cholesterol synthesis. It is now no wonder, “Ang Chow” is reputed to be a healthy hearty rice wine, good for hearts, potent cholesterol buster.
“Mien Sian” is air-dried and salted hair thin vermicelli. It originated from the Southern Song Dynasty some 800 years ago. It is normally served in celebrations for longevity. First soften in hot water followed by a quick dip in cold water, then served in piping hot “Ang Chow” soup. “Ang Chow Mien Sian” is a connoisseur’s fare anytime anywhere.
He shared his plan with Chong Choon each time they were alone. Like any proud fathers, Chong Choon was both excited and pleased with his son’s confidence and plan. He blest him, in double portions. Seven months passed quickly against Kai Chang’s wishes. Soon, he was on his way back to Penang, albeit reluctantly.
He revealed his plan to his fellow clansmen. He was venturing out on his own to a small backwater town, Sungai Petani or “Farmer’s River” in Kedah. The silence in the small room, above the coffeeshop, home to him and 8 others, was deafening. They wanted him to stay. They had gone through thick and thin together. They were like family. They were family. He could see it in their eyes. Reluctantly, one by one, stood up and hugged him, wished him god speed in his venture. They understood him. They shared the same dream, he was just a bit braver.
Kedah is the most ancient of kingdoms on Peninsula Malaya. Early traders from India settled in an area known as Bujang Valley, on the outskirts of Sungai Petani, since 100 A.D. Known as Kodaram in Tamil, Kedah was ruled in succession by Hindu-Buddhist Kingdoms of Chola, Pallava and Sri Vijaya. Even the present day Kedah Sultanate could trace its ancestry to the 1st Hindu King named Merong Mahawangsa. The 9th Hindu King Phra Ong Mahawangsa took on the name of Sultan Mudzafar Shah, Kedah’s 1st Sultan, when he converted to Islam.
Legend has it that Merong Mahawangsa acquired the craving for human blood. He started killing prisoners, and when his prisons ran empty, turned his attention onto his subjects. His fangs grew menacingly. His insatiable craving for blood could not be quenched. His subjects revolted, and he was banished from his kingdom.
In banishment, he wandered aimlessly and hoped to find a cure for his blood crave. Legend recorded that he was somehow miraculously cured the further he got away. To rid himself of the wretched curse, he wrenched out his fangs and threw them away. His fanged teeth whistled forlornly away from memory. Merong Mahawangsa was then lost into history. If such legend is to be believed, one could interestingly still find the towns of Tawar, Merbau Pulas, Baling and Wing, west of Sungai Petani, meaning “cured”, “wrenched out”, “thrown away” and “wing” whistling sound in local malay, purportedly footprints of Merong Mahawangsa’s journey into legend.
Kai Chang packed up his few belongings with a heavy heart, and looked around the room, his home, for one last time. After quick farewells, bear hugs and back pats, he was soon waving goodbye and headed for “Fire Ship’s Bow”. He paid his fare and boarded a ferry for an hour ride to the Mainland. The sea was choppy that morning.
His feet were however as sure as any seasoned sailors. Could it be from his ancestors? They did migrate from Henan, south of the mighty Yellow River, where famed sailor soldiers of old who destroyed Cao Cao’s horde of 1 million at Red Cliff. The victory was immortalized and romanticized in the novel “Romance of the 3 Kingdoms”.
His thoughts wandered. Hmmm, could Liu Bei be his long lost ancestor? Kai Chang would have preferred Guan Yu, one of the 5 tiger generals, famous for his unwavering loyalty or Kung Ming, Liu Bei’s far-sighted advisor. Regardless, deep down, Kai Chang knew his forefathers were descended of kings for his surname “Ong” meant king or royalty. One even founded the short-lived Min Kingdom (909-945 AD) during the 5 Dynasties & 10 Kingdoms period following the collapse of the Tang Dynasty.
He was day dreaming. He was on his way to fulfilling his dream.