The Perak Qiong Hai Association, one of four Hainan Associations in Ipoh, is updating its image by creating an account on popular social networking site Facebook, garnering over 300 friends in a record two months. “Actually there were so many enquiries, we were overwhelmed. We did not anticipate the response,” said Alice Chim the media officer for the association who created the page.
Flurry of Interest for All Things Hainanese
The enquiries posed online were looking for other Hainanese acquaintances from the same village, where to learn to speak Hainanese and sharing of Hainanese recipes. Chim also realised that suddenly a lot of Hainanese wanted to visit Hainan.
Ipoh Echo met up with the President of the Perak Qiong Hai Association, Mr Ho Koon Kan to understand the background of the community and its association.
Four Hainan Associations in Ipoh
The parent body is the Perak Hainan Association. Apart from the Perak Qiong Hai Association, there are Perak Heng Seng Association whose members were involved in opera and Chinese music culture.and Perak Kheng Khiau Shin Hau.
“Qiong Hai is actually a province in Hainan but had a substantial number of members located in Ipoh. Hence they decided to have their own association.”
According to Ho, the Hainanese were the last community from China to migrate to Nanyang (Southeast Asia) to escape the turmoil in mainland China. Arriving last from the island of Hainan to Malaya at the beginning of the 20th century they initially settled along the coast and Hainanese communities are noted in Johore, Malacca, Klang and Langkawi, though some have been diluted due to migration.
Arriving late meant that much of the larger economic pie, such as tin and plantations, had been penetrated by the other Chinese communities like the Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien.
Making a Living/Cari Makan
Hence the community ventured into operating coffee shops. Although at that time it could not be compared to working in the tin mines, one could still make a few cents from each cup of coffee, an area the other communities were not keen to explore.
In Ipoh the community concentrated their presence at Old Town especially along Leech Street (now Jalan Bandar Timah) from where began the spread of the Kopi Tiam breakfast or traditional breakfast of our infamous Ipoh white coffee complete with toast with egg or kaya.
Many Ipohites will be familiar with the coffee shop names of Nam Heong, Sin Yoon Loong and Sun Yuan Foong, all popular Hainanese Kopi Tiam outlets along Jalan Bandar Timah for over 70 years while a block away is Nam Wah & Co, a Hainanese coffee bean roaster that has been supplying coffee powder to Ipoh for over 50 years.
Another area where the early Hainanese ventured into was to become housekeepers for the Colonial British Administrators, where they picked up tips on western cuisine. In later years these housekeepers were recommended to look after the rest houses around the country. One such Hainanese Lim Tock Hee operated Ipoh Railway Station Hotel providing quality service for decades.
Eventually these ‘cookies’ (as they were known in those days) found other employment at clubs and establishments like the FMS and YMCA in Ipoh. Eventually the name Hainanese became synonymous with good oriental food.
One Hainanese recipe that found its way from Hainan Island to Malaya was the Hainanese Chicken Rice. In Malaya it was originally a dish served during Chinese New Year but it subsequently made its way to coffee shops nationwide.
Focus on Education
Once the communities had established themselves they set out to ensure their communities became educated “in order to be prepared to take advantage of economic opportunities when available,” said Ho.
In the 50s the Qiong Hai association initiated a fund raising effort for their community and 50 years ago started handing out education incentives to the young in their community and subsequently assisted with examination fees. In 1976, the association started their loans for tertiary education and to date “close to 100 graduates have benefited from the assistance”.
The Perak Qiong Hai Association has maintained this practice of acknowledging the educational talent of its young members for 50 of its 57 years as an association and it is still reaching out but with more efforts now to bond its members. Hence the setting up of the Facebook account.
For Ho the most exciting part of the Facebook action was that they had connected with the portion of the community that was computer savvy, youthful and more importantly, young. “The young people today cannot relate their feelings and ideas during a face to face meeting but will easily say a lot more on Facebook,” said Ho excitedly.
In early May, the Perak Qiong Hai Association, held a dinner to mark their 57th anniversary. Besides the association officials and members, their invited guests included the 8 young graduates who had returned from outstation and overseas.
A fortnight earlier at their association house along Jalan Theatre, Ipoh, 60 young students were presented education incentives in the form of token monetary rewards for getting good results in their school examinations. The students were given extra if they excelled in Chinese studies.
A lot of the Hainanese in Malaysia now are 2nd generation residents said Ho, an engineering consultant by profession and admitted that he is one of them.
The positive fact about education is that a lot of the Hainanese children are now professionals in a wide variety of fields from engineers and doctors to successful business persons. However there is a drawback as the educated children are “not bothered to take over” the coffee shop outlets from their parents.
An aspect of the Qiong Hai Association constitution allows the girls from the community who marry another dialect to still be entitled to the education incentives for their children. Another amendment to their constitution 2 years ago even allows affiliation to the association despite marrying someone from another race. All these initiatives “enables the members to maintain their link to their community,” explained Ho.
Of more concern to Ho is the loss of their dialect. He explained that 30 years ago when Mandarin was being promoted, “it unwittingly eliminated the bond in the community, its dialect. Now every community speaks Mandarin but when you mention Suukee a Hainanese word which means ‘same clan’ to another Hainanese the meeting becomes “more warm and meaningful”.
During the presentation of education incentives this month, Ho, instead of giving advice to his young audience posed a question to them for a change: “what is it that You want from the association?”
Ho apparently got his answer when several of the children logged into the Facebook account that same morning to be “friends” with the association.
Footnote: Controversial Malaysian Rapper Namewee is Hainanese and has come out with a Hainanese song appropriately titled “Suukee suukee”.