Thursday, June 7, 2007

Story Jar -The Soya Lady

copyright 2007, Elaine Hardman

In 1985 we lived in a brick and concrete house in section SS2/44, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia – a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. Ours was a corner house so along the front and on one side were ditches about 4 feet deep and 2 feet across. When the rains came they pounded into the streets turning the lawns to ponds and the ditches into raging rivers within minutes.
Our small ditches flowed to larger ones and those to larger still so that it seems almost a canal system – ridiculously large under the sun and woefully inadequate in the rain. Large ditches had narrow boards or slippery pipes stretched across them so that people could scamper across the ditches – shortcuts. Occasionally, people would try this when the water was flowing and now and then they would fall in and be swept out to sea in the torrents of rain and mud.
Actually, there was a small, narrow ditch behind every house – for gray water. This was the sewage system for bathtubs and showers and sinks. Every house had a pipe or two that emptied into the backyard ditch sending gray water into the system.
Next to our house was another just like it and on and on down the winding streets were rows and rows of brick and concrete homes surrounded by brick and steel fences with broken glass or barbed wire on top. Each had a car port and paved driveway and several air conditioners.
A regular visitor at our house was the Soya Bean Lady. This is how 7-year-old Emilie described her in a letter to her aunt– “The Soya Bean Lady walks around SS2 and other sections. She carries a stick over her shoulder. The stick must be very strong because it holds weight on each end. She must be very strong to hold up the weight. It must weigh 75 or 100 Kg. My mother and Uncle Bill tried to pick it up once but they couldn’t and the Soya Bean Lady runs up a hill with that thing.

The Soya Bean Lady wears a big hat for shading. She must be about fifty years old. She carries a big wooden container full of soft soya. She scoops up the soya with a spoon into a bowl that I bring out to her. The size of my bowl costs 30 sen (12 cents).
She carries a metal container on the other side of the stick. This container has water for washing her hands, sugar water for the soya, and bowls and spoons for people out on the street that buy her soya. She comes to our house in the morning.”
Emilie's description of the Soya Lady was spot-on. The woman was rail thin and toothless old. She carried a portable restaurant on one shoulder. The wooden bucket held ice and the metal pot with the soya. It easily weighed 35 pounds. The metal box on the other side doubled as a table and she had two folding benches to place on either side of it. She could wash her dishes and spoons (Yes, she carried the water.), serve her soya and wait while her customers ate. She could then wash up again and pack it all together to move onward to another home or another street corner.
The soya was fresh tofu. We don’t know what fresh tofu is like in the US but when it’s really fresh it has the taste and consistency of custard – creamy, smooth, sweet.
The Soya Bean Lady spent her mornings traveling the neighborhood, earning a few pennies at a time for very hard work. Emilie would hear her call (Soya! Soya!) and run out to reach her red plastic bowl through the iron gate.


Emilie said...

Wow. This was a serious trip down memory lane. I remember running with my white and red bowl out to the street to get my soya and sauce. I think it must just have been sugar water, but it was all so good. I'm glad you found the pictures, they're really great to see again.

What the heck were Jay and I up to? Very strange. What the heck was my hair up to? Very '80s. Oy.

Elaine said...

I think the under the umbrella photo was taken when we were packing to leave and the toys were unavailable so you and Jay stacked furniture and made up games with shoes and clothes and anything you could find that wasn't in a box.

The hair was a perm gone wild and yes, the sauce was sugar water.