Hugh M. Lewis, 1996




Copyright, 1996, Hugh M. Lewis

Copies of this text may be printed for research and classroom use only.



Food offerings on the birthday of the Jetty god.


"A candy in one hand and a cane in the other."


This is a descriptive study of a clan (surname) organized Hokkien Chinese community which is situated in the "clan jetty" area of downtown Georgetown on Penang Island, Malaysia.1 These Chinese are proletariat and lower working class, and are associated with the poor "foundry" side of town, compared to the more prosperous shop house Chinese of the downtown area. Stereotypes are that they are rough, crude and involved with gangs.

Within the framework of the Hokkien world, ethnocultural patterns of health, labor, diet, social relations and religion are inextricably bound up with one another. Sense of physical well being is tied symbolically and behaviorally to patterns of oral socialization as well as with values of material fortune and social success. A clan organized community consists of an arrangement of persons that serves the attainment of legitimate social and personal ends--"the gaining of a livelihood, the setting up of a family and the preservation of health and well being." (Fortes, 1953:170) Maintaining harmony and balance by a continuous round of propitiation of the tutelary Gods that look over and protect their community ensures their continued survival, fortune and identity as a people in a larger, uncertain world.

A number of dimensions (migration and settlement, population and physical environment, work and wealth, openness, health, diet, fishing, children, social patterning and religious rituals and beliefs) emerged as empirically important to the analytical description of this community.


Settlement Pattern

The Jetty area is situated along the edge of the inland part of the island where Penang faces the mainland about a mile across. On this calm, wave-free side, poor immigrant Chinese settled three and four generations ago and built their homes on stilts over the inter-tidal zone.

As one uncle from the Tan Jetty described to me, there was originally only a landing pier for ships to come down and a structure at the end for people to temporarily reside. Several men of the Tan clan then began sleeping within that structure, instead of staying at the Kong si in town. They built a small temple at the end of the Jetty, and the first home for themselves that he pointed out was the fifth house down in a row of ten. They brought wives, or married local girls, and later other people came to join them.

Another uncle told me that in the 1930's the beach began at the road. His Grandfather had come with his wife when he was 30 year's-old. There was a sea wall from which 13 steps led down to the water that came right up to the edge of the wall. Now it has been silted in and filled by people dumping trash for about one hundred feet from this point, a process that is slowly continuing. There were 12 stone pillars at each of the original Jetties upon which cross supports and planks were laid, and from these supports narrow gangways extended for some distance out into the sea, which allowed passengers and freight to be off-loaded. In the olden days, smaller ships would come right in and off load at these points.

Their ancestor's came from small coastal communities in Fukien province, where they were mostly fisherman and gatherers of oysters. A few of the men have returned to these ancestral villages to find there the same Gods that are worshipped in their own temple. The deity that sits in the temple now was brought from the same village in the Chinese homeland. The homes in China were not built upon stilts--that is a Southeast Asian adaptation. They were situated close to the coast but not over it.


Ancestral home of Penang's Jetty people in Fujian, China.

(adapted from Chan & Chiang, 1994:xii; Cheng 1969: x; and from Turnbull 1972:13, which were based on maps by Lt. T Woore in 1832 and J. B. Tassin in 1836).

Location of the Jetty with insets of the island in relation to mainland.


These communities are interlinked to one another by ties of intermarriage, as well as to several other small Chinese fishing communities on the mainland, from which many of the wives come, but to which few if any husbands ever go. These communities are described as being situated on small islands or at the edge of river mouths, and are relatively closed, backward and full of mosquitoes. Small children help out with the cleaning of the shellfish in the middle of the morning. There children know how to take care of their parents when they are sick. Some of the women that we interviewed come from these communities.


Bar graph showing the length of residence upon the Jetty and Penang combined, of a sample of 64 families at present resident upon the Jetty.


The settlement pattern by reported estimates of time of arrival both on the Jetty and in Penang of families by 65 informants who estimated the length of time their families had lived upon the Jetty and had lived in Penang, is shown in the graph above: 2 The jetty community must be seen against a broader background of patterns of Chinese emigration to Malaysia and within Malaysia itself. There was steady immigration to Penang since the founding of the Jetty community, which probably occurred just over one hundred years ago.


Population and the Physical Jetty

The community that we worked in most intensively is the largest of seven such communities. It comprised approximately 80 homes. We also worked in the next-door neighbor jetty community that was one of the smallest, comprising only about 11 homes. Among all the communities of the Jetty, there are basic cultural affinities of religion, manner of living, values and community ethos, especially between the first and the second largest Jetty, comprising about 34 households, and the three smaller jetties, comprising approximately 22, 20 and 4-7 homes respectively. The rest of the communities of the Jetty area are composed of Chinese of miscellaneous surnames, of about 18 houses, and an uncounted number of homes (50-100) built on a small spit of land which intrudes into the sea, as well as along an inland extension of the community several hundred meters at the far end of the Jetty. Basic cultural affinities belie many important and interesting variations between these communities. They are distinguishable in terms of relative apparent affluence, organization, work, community practices and social patterns.

Altogether the Jetty communities are comprised of between 173 and 190 homes, and well over 200 when the houses situated on shore are included.3 Of these, we managed interviewed families in more than 70 homes-- a third of the total number of households. There are actually many more families than this within the community, because many houses have multiple families living under one roof. It is impossible to estimate the total number of families, except that it may approach over 300.

On the Jetty where we worked, the official head count from the clan secretary was 876 persons. The results of our survey indicate an approximate number of about 773 persons (plus or minus 25) distributed among some 70 families and in about 65-67 houses. The average household size was about 11 persons, with a median of 8 and a mode of four. If we add to this number the 13 or so households which were not available for interviewing, of which two were vacant, and one had only two people; this figure would make an approximate total population of 887 persons plus or minus 30, which agrees well with the secretary's official count. The graph below shows the distribution of households surveyed according to the number of members per house reported by informants.4


Graph showing the number of persons per household of Jetty sample.


Given the crowded conditions of the Jetty it is worthwhile to consider the physical layout, floor plan, living area and population density of the Jetty in closer detail. There is a sense that the kinship ethos and close nature of the people of the Jetty may reinforce, and be reinforced by, a pattern of close and crowded living quarters.

There are 80 homes on the Jetty. Most of these homes are roughly rectangular in shape with about a one-to-five width-to-length ratio. These homes are separated by an unfloored alley space which allow sea breezes to pass between the wooden walls to cool the homes, with an average space of about four feet and three inches between houses, ranging between no space to over eight feet apart. The illustration below shows the floor of a typical Jetty house.

Usually, there is a short porch on the front of the house extending about five-and-a-half to six feet. Houses vary in width from about 12 feet to over 18 and a half feet wide, with an average width of about 15 feet. At least two houses reach a width of about 24 feet and at least two are just over nine feet in width. The average length of the main structure and living area of the homes measured is about 54 feet, though this varies considerably, with several homes only 16 to 20 feet and a few measuring more than 88 feet in length. If we multiply the average width by the average length of the living spaces of the houses, we have a rough estimate of about 810 square feet per household on average, and a total of about 64,800 square feet for the whole jetty community.

If we divide this household average by the estimated 11 average persons, we get an average of 73.64 square feet per person, and for the total estimated 773 persons we have an average of about 83.83 square feet per person over the entire Jetty, not including the gangways, alleys, porches, and back deck extensions which are of considerable area.5

The average number of bedrooms of those houses counted was 4.67, with five being a better estimate for the whole Jetty. The average bedroom area is estimated to be between 27.7 and 37 square feet, or slightly more than half of the revised area per person. Most bedrooms are square in shape, and are probably a little larger than this estimate, being roughly about 7 X 6 (42 square feet) in area.


Rough Map of the Jetty community.

This means that the individual's area of the household is shared pretty evenly between the bedrooms, and the rest of the house, including the kitchen and the two halls, and the back deck area with the toilet and shower. It is also probably the case that there are about two people per bedroom. It seems that few people sleep in private bedrooms, but usually share their sleeping arrangements. There is then a premium on bedroom and sleeping space in these households, which may become critically short when houses are crowded.


Typical hallway with small bedrooms.


The rooms to be added on are bedrooms, and several homes have built second floor spaces, usually small bedrooms, that extend the area a little more. Sometimes small bedrooms are built as an extension of the house on the back decks. This lack of private sleeping arrangements is indicative of the overall lack of privacy by the individual--privacy is a western luxury. Many people can be found sleeping on the floors or in hammocks during all hours of the day.


Children have their own sleeping arrangments in sometimes crowded households.


The lack of privacy does not necessarily translate into a basic insecurity. There are apparently few thefts on the Jetty, besides young children taking their mother's money to buy candy or gamble with. Most doors are kept wide open during the day, and people known to the community traverse in and out of houses constantly. Bedroom doors are more secure and are kept locked, as are cupboard and cabinet doors.


Kitches tend to be large and spacious, a focal area for activity in the home.


These averages hide quite a bit of variability, in which several 20 plus person households must have a much higher population density, while there are also one or two vacant homes and a few other homes with less than three occupants. Most homes that face inboard from the sea have decks off the back of their homes which extend considerably the area of the house, and the deck area becomes a cool and frequent place for family members to be. Kitchen areas in most homes, always located between the back deck and the central bedrooms and hall, are usually the largest rooms in the household, with an average floor space of about 140 square feet for those homes counted, followed by the front or central


Diagram of a typical floor plan of a Jetty house.


hall. The front hall that usually contains the main altar of the house is on average 78.68 square feet in area.

Living room of one household equipped with votive offerings.


There is a noticeable lack of furniture in these homes. Sometimes there are small cane sofa sets, but usually there is just a chair or two and always an altar and one or two tables. People squat and sit on the floors for most activities.


Interiors of some jetty homes can be quite spacious, cool and comfortable.


There are numerous immediate behavioral settings that occur simultaneously in different spots across the Jetty, and individuals move casually and relatively unrestricted between these different settings in the course of the day. Children especially roam freely between these alternate settings. Space is so partitioned that what is occurring in one such context may be completely unknown to those occupying another, virtually adjacent space just a few feet away. Networks and intracommunal schisms of neighbors no doubt determine who affiliates with what network upon the Jetty, but the complexity of this pattern defies description with a study of this length.

Here a group of boys may be gambling or playing some game, there a group of mothers is peeling garlic or cooking food, here a group of teenage girls is gossiping and watching a baby, there a group of young men is hanging out or playing mah jong.

In these settings, one can find the daily to-and-fro of life on the Jetty which always proceeds at a relaxed pace in the heat. On hot days, people tend to remain indoors more, but come out in the evenings to sit on their front porches to talk and cool off. As one wanders from one end of the Jetty to the other, one witnesses the proceeding of daily life within the contexts of these multiple settings and networks.


New board used to replace old boards of the deck.


The homes on the Jetty are made of wood, as is the entire deck. Wood is also at a premium, and driftwood is frequently found and recycled onto the Jetty. But boards are in a constant state of decay and they are always being inspected and replaced by new supports or reinforced by cement buttressing. Odd job men are frequently employed in such endeavors on the Jetty. The boards of the Jetty grow old and worn with age, and over time they become so contoured at their joints that they may form nice natural seams between the planks that follow the overall twists and turns of the walkways.


Old boards rot and form dangerous holes.

  The people of the Jetty are proud of the fact that no home has rotted at its stilts and fallen into the sea. They attribute this and the lack of fires to the good will of their tutelary Gods that they continuously propitiate, or at least that is the official version. The ocean takes its toll. Accidents do occur with children's legs slipping through rotted holes or loose boards, as happened to my daughter one day. Slivers in the foot of children are a frequent and common problem. The use of hand dollies are very important to the work that is done upon the Jetty, being used to carry articles for prayer, for hawking, for building, repair and for fishing up and down the Jetty. They are freely available to be used by all the Jetty members.


Doing repairs with cement in an interior.


There is always a demand for new lumber, which becomes a bargaining chip for local politicians. Lumber has grown quite expensive, and not easy to come by. Renovations and extensions of homes upon the Jetty can be quite costly adventures. As one old Uncle told us, he could have bought several nice new flats for the amount he had paid into over the years to extend and repair his home on the Jetty. Recycling and repairing are continuous activities that employ the services of many of the day-work men.


Wooden doors, showing carpentry skills.


Workmanship within the homes reveals a fair level of sophisticated but unrefined carpentry. Window portals (lacking any glass) are shuttered with sliding doors, as are side doors. The front doors are fit with a carved round groove and peg at the top and the bottom, and many are painted with red Chinese letters. One door reads "Luck as wide as the sea, Fortune as high as a mountain."

People on the Jetty enjoy a relatively good quality of life, despite the incessant heat alleviated only by the sea breezes that rarely penetrate the center of the Jetty. They mostly do not live in fear of their neighbors, and their doors are always open. People have lived in the same house for generations now, and the rhythms of their daily lives are not unlike the rhythms of the tides that wash beneath their feet.


New thatching being put on a jetty house--it will take three days to complete.


Many homes have thatched roofs. Thatching a roof takes two or three days to install and thatched roofs are replaced once every 14 years. It costs about RM $2,600 and takes two days to thatch a house and people have to make reservations months in advance so the thatch materials can be properly prepared. Other homes have tin roofs or simply tar paper rolled out and held down with thin strips of wood. Surprisingly, such roofs are no less expensive than thatching a house. Everyone reports thatched homes to be cooler, with more ventilation in the heat draft spaces, of which there is little in the homes for lack of openings near the roof. There are no ceiling structures below the roof, so that the thatch material continuously "rains" little granules that are sometimes considered to be a nuisance to keep cleaned up.


Work and Wealth

These communities are largely proletarian Chinese who are day laborers, stevedores factory workers, hawkers, unskilled or semi-skilled laborers, sampan drivers, fishermen, and people who work on boats in one capacity or another. A few have set up small businesses, and many of the grown up children have found jobs outside of Penang.

The results of our survey indicate the following distribution of work with the largest of the Jetty communities. About 318 people reportedly worked out of a total sample population of 773 people.

Of a sample of 68 households, the most frequent category consists of "odd jobs" (33 households, 42.6%) which is mostly reported by men and involve the off loading of the ships on an irregular basis, construction, repair work around the Jetty and on boats. The income from this manner of unskilled work is relatively low and irregular. Workers will earn an average of RM $.40 per crates moved off the ships. They work intermittently and may move up to 700-900 crates per container.


A small percentage of jetty women work in nearby sweat shops.


The second most frequent category cited was that "factory" worker (30 households, 44%). Since most people employed in factories are women, it can be said that women may be the largest single component of the labor force of the Jetty. The average factory worker's salary begins around RM $ 8.00 (U.S. $3.20) per day and goes up to RM $15.00.

The third most frequent form of work cited is that of manual laborer, or "wage earner" or "employed by others" (12 households, 17.6%) which implies a low, but more regular income than that of "odd jobs." The fourth most frequent categories are self-employed in petty businesses and employed regularly as stevedores. (11 households in each category, or 16%)

The fifth most frequent category consists of hawking (nine households, or 13%), including hawking of food proximal to the Jetty, and at morning markets, and clothes at the "pasar malams" (rotating night markets). The next category is a general "clerical" one (seven households, 10%) and seamstresses (six households, 9%) and men who are lorry drivers (six households, 9%). We interviewed several of these seamstresses, all women, who worked at a small sweat operation nearby the Jetty. They earn by the number of pieces they can sew, on the order of RM $.04 per piece sewn (U.S. 1.5 cents per piece), and work about 12 hour days (earning about RM $8.00 per day). The last major category is that of fisherman (four households, 5.8%) which is a part-time occupation of quite a few men of the Jetty and represents an important source of protein for the entire community. A fisherman told me that on a good day he can bring in as much as RM $50 to RM $100 ringgit of fish, but that was rare.6

Two separate groups of women on the Jetty from several households combine their efforts in the morning to peel and cut garlic for distribution to local hawkers and restaurants. They earn about RM $.50 (U.S. 20 cents) per kilo, and finish about 20 kilos in a day. It takes a group of three or four women about several hours to finish this much, and it is a setting for gossip and mutual support.

The number of appliances in the household serves as a relative measure of the real wealth and income of families, and it demonstrates the relative level of affluence of the Jetty, as well as some important changes in patterns and the distribution of income within the community itself. The most frequent items cited were fans (64 of a total of 66 households) and televisions (63 of 66 households). The actual number of fans is probably double or treble the frequency given, since each house had at least 2 or 3 fans and many houses probably had a fan for every room. A similar pattern occurs with televisions, to a lesser extent, such that the actual number of televisions might be double the number reported. From our observations, it appears that each family, and many individuals, had their own televisions within each house, though this was not reported. The upshot is that neither fans nor televisions can be considered to be valuable indexes of relative affluence, as they may have been 20 or even 10 years ago, either on the Jetty or probably anywhere else in Malaysia. What such ownership does represent is the growing real wealth of Malaysia as an affluent, rapidly developing nation.

Next on the list are VCRs, of which there were 59 in a total of 66 households, and of which at least 4 came from the same household. The VCR is an important and valued appliance on the Jetty, as it allows the people of the Jetty to watch Chinese and Western movies, and judging from the distribution of language patterning on the Jetty, represents a primary source of linguistic, as well as acculturative influence.

After the VCR comes the motorcycle (52 of 66, 78.8%). The motorcycle is the principle means of transportation by the people of the Jetty, being convenient, reliable and relatively inexpensive to own and operate. There are a high number of motorcycle accidents and injuries either observed or reported by people of the Jetty.

The rice cooker (47, 71%) and the refrigerator (44, 66.7%) are the next in frequency, and can be taken as good relative measures of the real wealth of the community.7 Both represent important adaptations of life on the Jetty, reflecting the central importance of rice to the community as well as the value of the refrigerator in preserving foods and keeping drinks cool in a tropical environment.

Next are the radio (33, 50%) and the automobile (30, 45%). By radio is generally meant a relatively nice radio-cassette player combination, and the actual proportion of radios per household may actually be higher than reported. A car is an important, and expensive acquisition, and signals the rise of affluence for those who have them and the lack of mobility and low class status for those without. The car has become an important social status symbol. Two households reported more than one car, and a number of households reported having no car at all, owning just motorcycles or bicycles.

After the car is the washing machine (29, 43%) that is a recent acquisition among the people of Malaysia, and must be considered a good index of relative wealth, air conditioning (16, 24%), electric hot water heaters for showers (12, 18%), bicycles (9,13.6%), electric water kettles (7, 10.6%), irons (5, 7.5%), slow cookers (4, 6%), clothes dryers and blenders (2 each, 3%) and one microwave, typewriter, freezer, toaster and aquarium.

Air conditioning is reportedly not too popular on the Jetty because the salty sea air tends to corrode it quickly. Good indices of relative wealth must be considered to be presence or absence of at least one of the following VCR, cassette-radio, motorcycle, rice cooker, car, refrigerator, washing machine, air conditioning, hot water heaters, hot water kettles, irons and slow cookers.

The average number of appliances per household on the Jetty was 7.8 with a median and mode of seven and a range of 17. These seven or eight appliances are most likely to include 2 fans, 1 television, 1 VCR, 1 motorcycle, 1 rice cooker, 1 refrigerator and maybe 1 cassette-radio player.

On the basis of the frequency distributions of the number and types of appliances per household on the Jetty, the following sets of criteria were judged to discriminate the socio-economic distribution of households upon the Jetty:

1. Dependence on only a bicycle, four or less appliances, and lack of fans or television, indicating lowest poverty.

2. Five or fewer appliances with just one motorcycle is also a indicator of unskilled, semi-employment.

3. More than five appliances and a motorcycle indicates unskilled working class.

4. More than 10 appliances and a car represents a semi-skilled working class

5. Possession of more than one car or several motorcycles, along with multiple appliances must be taken as a sign of accumulating wealth.

According to these categories, four of 71 households (5.6%) were at the bottom poverty line, while ten of 71 (14%) were in the second category of unskilled, semi-employed, 28 of 71 households (39.4%) fell into the unskilled working class category, 26 (36.6%) into the semi-skilled category, while 3 (4.2%) fell into the category of accumulating wealth. Figure 5-3 illustrates these distributions:



Distribution of relative wealth on the Jetty by indicators of reported appliances.


This profile of the distribution of real wealth on the Jetty can be interpreted in a number of ways. It seems to represent a solid unskilled/semi-skilled working class orientation, as well as a transition occurring in the Jetty in a rise from the unskilled to semi-skilled categories, indicated primarily by the acquisition of cars, a transition which I take to reflect the overall profile of development in Malaysia.

The people of the Jetty may be relatively poor compared to the other Chinese communities of the downtown shop house area or of the outlying suburbs or flats, and remain only partially incorporated into the larger economy and then mostly only at the lowest rungs. But they might be seen as relatively affluent compared to their more rural Malay or Chinese counterparts. Thus they are in a transitional and "interpositional status" in more than one way. They retain the rural oriented communalisms and habits and community ethos, and yet they are tied into the larger economic system in crosscutting ways.

Their relatively low socio-economic status is reflected in the attitudes of the non-Jetty Chinese toward them, who view them as rough, irresponsible, lazy, easy-going, prone to gambling and gangs, and "clannish" or "clan-centric." These non-Jetty Chinese would regard me with incredulous curiosity when I told them that I was working there.


From the beginning there was a great deal of resistance to outside intrusion, resistance which made fieldwork often trying and sometimes impossible. I cannot presume to know the actual reasons for this marked resistance, as the people who manifested this attitude were never available to be questioned. Beyond the alleged stereotypical "closedness" and clannishness for which Chinatowns all over the world are renowned, there are several important factors in the background of the Jetty which in part explain this strong resistance.8

There is a strong local cultural orientation to illegal gambling and betting on numbers, there is some amount of illegal traffic in uninspected, "duty-free" cargo from off the ships in the harbor, there are several gangs, and, judging from the number of heroin addicts and incidents of police arrests and reports in the newspapers, there are possibly drugs and secret society activities there as well. There is a small amount of evidence of prostitution, perhaps associated with gang activities, but this is not widespread and the Chinese of the Jetty are quite proud of the fact that they do not prostitute their daughters, unlike the Thai people in the north. There are also other skeletons in the closet about which the Jetty Chinese are tight-lipped; incidents of animosity and fighting between neighbors, cheating, theft, and incest.

But this resistance points up another facet of the Jetty Chinese--they are quite satisfied with their way of life despite its economic hardships and social frustrations. Many people who have moved off the Jetty regularly return to visit there, and report that they like being there. Women who marry off the Jetty are reported to return regularly too, at least once a week. There is an unusually strong sense of community solidarity coupled with a relatively high level of tolerance for deviant behavior on the part of individuals within the community. The Jetty Chinese like to take care of their own, indirectly sanctioning behavior by means of ostracism, ridicule, and gossip, and they probably resent the intrusions of outside authorities, whom they do not trust.

In order to analyze the extent and implications of the cultural resistance to my presence there, toward the end of the study I completed two head counts on two separate days of all the people I met upon the Jetty. I sorted these people by sex and by age and by how much they had done for me--nothing, one thing, a couple of things, a few things, and those who would do anything I asked of them. Of this group, men as a whole, and especially those over 30, were significantly more resistant to be interviewed than women of any age. Men of the same age group seemed to be also the most available to being interviewed (133, 38.1%), with all males counted comprising 215 of the total (61.6%).9


Frequency distribution of number of places to which Jetty members have traveled outside of Penang and abroad, as reported to us by a jetty sample of informants.

A way of analyzing the relative openness of the community was through several questions on our household survey pertaining to travel outside of Penang and Malaysia, relatives living outside of Penang and Malaysia, number of Malays and Indians known by the interviewees, languages known by the interviewees, and the amount to which they watch news on television or read the newspaper. The table above represents the distribution of the Jetty sample of 70 according to the number of places outside of Penang and abroad that they had reported they traveled to.10

Informants were asked the number of Malays and Indians known personally, as an indication of interethnic experience and interaction. Chi square tests indicate that significantly more men know Malays or Indians than women.11


Frequency Distribution of languages reported known by Jetty sample.

In terms of language distribution, a sample of informants reported what languages they knew and how well they knew each language. Language competence was divided into the categories of good and partial.12 The graph above shows this relative distribution.

Though the statistics indicate that the average number of languages known is 3.3, with a median and mode of 3 and a range of 6, the total ratio of languages reportedly known well to those known only partially is 44:119, or about 27% to 73%. Eleven of 70 (15.7) indicated knowing only Hokkien. This distribution indicates that the Jetty community is only one quarter multilingual and three-quarters either a monolingual society or partially fused multilingual society, unlike the larger host society that is at least bilingual or trilingual, and only partly fused in multilinguality.

If other Chinese dialects are known well, it is likely because of birth, close interaction with such speakers, or through marriage. It is interesting that the VCR and television programming are primary sources for the four major "other" languages represented, Cantonese, Mandarin and English, as well as for Malay, and that Mandarin, English and Malay are learned primarily through education, and, for Malay, also through work and business. Most people who qualified their answers with partial Cantonese, Malay, Mandarin or English indicated that they could "hear but not speak" the language.13

Regarding the watching of news on television, that can be considered to be an indication of interest and awareness of events outside of the Jetty, 15 of 70 indicated that they never watch the news on television (21%), 30 (42.8%) indicated that they sometimes watch news on television; and 13 (18.5%) indicated that they watch it frequently, and 18 indicated that they watch it everyday (24%). Twelve (17%) indicated that they watch Mandarin news, two English (2.8%) and one (1.4) Malay. It can be surmised that most of the Jetty watch the Mandarin news when and if they watch, and sometimes also news programs in the other languages.14


We sought basic physical measurements of height, weight, blood pressure and skin fold as indicators of the general state of health and nutrition of the community. These first interviews served to break the ice within the community.

The average height of a sample of 63 men between the ages of 17 and 77 was 166.9 cm., and their average weight was 69.4 kgs (153 lbs). The average height of a sample of 61 women between the ages of 16 and 67 was 153.9 cm. and their average weight was 59.4 kgs (131 lbs). There is across the board a significant sexual dimorphism between the men and the women.

A male sample (n=71) had an average systolic blood pressure reading of 136.5 and an average diastolic reading of 86.3 (average heart rate 78.4). These curves are also positively skewed. Women (n=80) had a much lower, more normal, average systolic of 128.3 and an average diastolic of 81. (average female heart rate was 79.5) Thus it appears that men have slightly higher average high blood pressure than the women.

The highest significant difference is in the rates of borderline or high blood pressure of men (n=38) and women above 39 years-old (n=51), compared to men (n=33) and women 39 or under (n =29), respectively.15 It appears that: 1) older men (n=38) have the highest systolic blood pressure compared to younger men (n=33, chi square of 9.2, significant above e .001), 2) older women (n=51) have higher systolic blood pressure compared to younger women (n=29, chi square of 6.45, significant above .01), 3) older women (n=28) have a higher rate of systolic blood pressure than older men. (n=25, chi square of 4.95, significant above .05) This is reinforced by the fact that among the women especially, the lowest blood pressure reading of several was taken.

There is a relatively high level of blood pressure among middle-aged to older adults on the Jetty. Five or six informants whom I measured sought a doctor afterward and then began treatment for hypertension. One man whose blood pressure was high went to a Chinese sinseh who prescribed a tea-concoction prepared from the stem of a pink "ang chio," or banana. It seemed to be partly effective in reducing his high blood pressure. Taking blood pressure readings in the community at large seemed to have a positive affect, stimulating health awareness. Most informants seemed quite receptive to having their blood pressures taken, and most did not mind their body fat measures, being more curious than anxious about it. Many informants actually sought me out to have their pressure taken and had told me they had never had their blood pressure taken before.

Average composite body fat of men as determined by the skin fold test was 22 percent. Average body fat of women was 33.8 percent.16 For men, there is a slight gain in body fat with age, from an average of just above 19%, to about 21%. For women, there is evidence of a much greater increase in body fat with age, until about 60- 65 years of age, after which height, weight and body fat begins to decrease. With women there is a steady increase of body fat from an average of about 31%, up to about 36.5%, and almost certainly is correlated with number of children.

For women, birth control appears to be well understood, even among teenage girls, and that the two preferred means of contraception are the rhythm method and the pill, with the IUD having been a means among an older age group but no longer preferred for the risks and complications it entails. There were only two mentions of abortion, and if abortions do occur, then they are probably infrequent and probably by means of a Western trained medical doctor in a clinical setting, or else by means of local herbal remedies from a Chinese sinseh which precipitate the flow of blood early in the first trimester. No women mentioned the use of a mid-wife. The use of the hospital as the preferred setting for giving birth is due at least in part to the open medical system instituted by the Malaysian government, which renders quality medical care (including prenatal treatment) available and inexpensive for the poor, and without the social stigmatization that accompanies similar programs in more developed societies.

One of the questions asked in our survey was whether the interviewee would go first to a Chinese sinseh or to a Western medical doctor. Of 42 women and 28 men asked this (total of 70), the response pattern was overwhelmingly to the western medical doctor first (18 men, 64%; 31 women, 74%; total 70%).17

It seems that for both men and women the first health choice is overwhelmingly to seek Western medicine. These statistics may be biased as I suspected that many informants, out of deference to me, were not telling me their actual patterns. The actual course of action in most cases may be more of a mixed pattern, in which they typically try to keep all their bases covered at the same time. They may go to the Western doctor first, but if the condition warrants it, they will then also go to a Chinese sinseh, and then sometimes even seek supernatural or magical help.

For some conditions, such as sprains, feeling bad, indigestion, and aches. A Chinese sinseh is probably the first choice. As one man told me, the Chinese sinseh massages you and touches you, and treats the whole body and gives advice about diet, which Chinese like, while the Western doctor does not touch you, and seems cold and impersonal, not caring about matters of diet.

Ethnographic observation reveals numerous instances in which the individual actually sought out remedies and cures from the Chinese sinseh before thinking about going to seek a Western Medical doctor. This occurred several times with treatment for high blood pressure. They would usually try the sinseh's remedy for high blood pressure first, and afterwards have me check them again, and if it did not come down then they would be more encouraged to seek Western medicine instead.

One young man with high blood pressure who I repeatedly checked told my wife in private not to tell her husband that he had gone to a Chinese sinseh instead of a Western doctor as I had advised him. He told her he did not trust the Western doctors, that "Western medicine is very 'san,'" meaning its properties are too strong for the body, and would produce side effects.

Another incident occurred when a child fell off a chair and broke its arm. The young father took the baby to be treated by a Chinese sinseh, who set it, rubbed it with some kind of liniment, and gave the parents instructions on what foods not to eat. I tried buying some kueh (glutinous rice cakes) for the child, but the father told me it was taboo. I was surprised when in fact the arm healed up fairly quickly, though I could only think the child must have been in some pain during the process.

A similar thing occurred when a woman in her fifties fell from a rock and severely sprained her foot. She sought out treatment at a very famous, and very busy, sinseh. She ended up having to wait in line for an appointment all day and didn't see the Chinese sinseh until late that night. I was in fact surprised when her foot healed up within several days.

On the other hand, a 15 year-old boy fell down and broke his lower arm. I saw him afterward and he told me he had gone to a Chinese sinseh who had massaged it for him but had not set it properly or immobilized it. He had been in a great deal of pain for about two days when I saw him, and his arm was badly swollen by then. I advised him to go right away to the Western doctor, which he eventually did.

One thirty year-old mother who died of breast cancer had learned of her condition only about three months before she died. She was treated with Western medicine, but refused to enter the hospital, and died at her in-laws home (as did another woman with breast cancer) on the Jetty. During that time they also went to the Chinese sinseh and her family spent a great deal of money on her herbal medicine. Her father-in-law told us afterwards that they spent over RM $200 per tin of herbs to try to cure her illness, and that she would require several of these tins a week. They also sought out magical remedies and talismans to try to cure her, a common course in the late stages of terminal cancer.

Babies born appear healthy and of good birth weight. One boy was born purportedly with problems because the mother, fearing weight gain and hypertension, refused the advice of the prenatal program and literally starved herself during the pregnancy with practically every food taboo. Although she had a history of high blood pressure, she refused medication for hypertension and ended up the last month of her pregnancy in the hospital because of her extreme hypertension. The boy was born under weight and had early developmental problems, which they have tried to solve by the use of medical nutrition advice, Chinese sinsehs, and even Chinese bomohs (shamans) who exorcised the spirits for the boy when he fell head long off the Jetty into the water.

There appears to have been a relatively high frequency of infant and child mortality on the Jetty (3%) due in part to accidents--drowning, falling off chairs and beds. Ten percent of a sample of 100 women reported infant deaths. This rate is especially reported by older women over 40 years of age (60% of those reporting infant deaths). The average age of 100 women interviewed who had children was 49.5 years with the mode being 34 and the median 45. The average number of children was 4.13, with a mode and median of three. Among a smaller subsample of 57 women who had an average age of 45 and had an average of 3.9 children, the average age of marriage was 21.3 years, with a median and mode of 21, and the average age at which they had their first child was 22.6 years, with the average difference between age of marriage and first child being 1.3 years.

Among this subsample, the average number of years of education was 3.3 years. Significantly, most of these women received a Mandarin education compared to an English education (32:3), while 23 were illiterate with no formal education at all (40.4%). Of this subsample of women, 4 smoked (7%); 10 drank (17%); and 18 worked out of the home (31.6%).18

Of a sample of 47 men, 40 smoked (85%) and seven were nonsmokers (14.8%) and two of these had quit smoking. Of the same sample, 24 reported drinking (51%), of which nine reported drinking only in moderate amounts. (19%)

There is a high rate of dental caries among children of the Jetty, who are always eating pure sweets. Skin disorders, especially of the legs, from insect bites and reportedly from "fish scales" that apparently get under the skin to cause permanent scars.19 Burns, broken bones and sprains, and motorcycle accidents seem to be common types of medical problems.


  Diet and Nutrition

Nutritional information was also sought in the sample. A total of 46 people were interviewed regarding their diet (34 women and 12 men). Only 12 out of 46 (26%--four men and eight women) indicated that they thought their diet had changed substantially since they were children. The kinds of changes that they mostly indicated were more a matter of their own personal dietary habits and preferences.20

Everyone eats pork on a regular basis (100%), chicken (42 of 45, 93%), and fish (36 of 46, 78%)-- meats which are mostly purchased at the morning market (42 of 45, or 93%) or else bought ready cooked (3 of 45, or 6.7%). There was ambiguity in the question of "bak" (literally "meat" but to the Chinese it means "pork") because its Chinese equivalent refers to all kinds of meat. To specify pork one must say "pig" or "too" ("too bak"). So when this question was qualified with what kinds of pork, the responses indicate pork (100%), mutton (10 of 46, or 22%, and only in small amounts), chicken (9 of 46, or 19.6%), beef (7 of 46, 15%, only with at least pork and mutton indicated too), duck (1 of 46, 2%) and two people indicated any kind of meat. ("except human", 4%) Thus pork, fish, and chicken are the main protein sources of their diet, supplemented by shellfish, crabs, squid, bean curd and token amounts of beef and mutton.

Most of the people do not eat beef, as there is a general cultural prohibition to beef if one is to worship the Goddess of Mercy. When queried on this point, approximately 55 of 78 (70.5%) people answered that they do not eat beef, a couple saying that they used to but quit, while 8 said they ate beef sometimes or rarely (10%) and about 15 indicated they do eat it. (19.2%)

The normal diet is supplemented by a number of different protein sources, including squid (35 of 44, 79.5%), crabs (42 of 44, 95.5%), and shellfish (36 of 44, 81.1%) as well as soy bean curd (in solid form or as "tau chooi" or bean curd water) that is taken regularly by most people. These are mostly taken infrequently--a few times in a week, or in a month. Eggs are also taken by fewer people, but more regularly by those people. (24 of 44, or 54.5%)

All of these foods, plus the kind of ready cooked pork and that bought in the market, would indicate a relatively high level of cholesterol intake for those people who do not restrict their diet. People who restrict their diet in one way are more likely to restrict dietary intake in other ways as well, as a matter of habit, whereas those without dietary restrictions in some regards are less likely to have such restrictions in any regard.

The other important question concerns the consumption of fast food, that comes in two forms, the local hawker food, that is taken frequently, almost daily by most people of the Jetty, and Western-style fast food, that is an infrequent part of most diets (once or twice a month at most) and yet which is nevertheless becoming an increasing part of the dietary pattern.

In regard to Western fast food, 43 of 46 questioned eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken (93.5%, seven of which indicated rarely); 38 of 46 eat at MacDonalds (82.6%, nine of which indicated rarely); only 12 of 46 eat at Pizza Hut (26%, seven of which indicated rarely). The reported frequency seems to be about once every two or three weeks, and more often for children than for adults.

Hawker food is taken more regularly, almost on a daily basis, and several of the 46 informants indicated they do not cook at all but take all their food outside. This is a predominant pattern on the Jetty.21 Those who do not eat out much usually shop at the morning market and do their own cooking.

The Jetty Chinese sport their own local prawn fritters that are good to eat with the hot and sweet sauce. Every day two kueh (cakes, pastries) sellers bicycle onto the Jetty to sell, and later a Sikh and sometimes an Indian ice cream seller comes onto the Jetty. In the evening a Chinese woman usually walks onto the Jetty selling fish balls and soup, and occasionally a seller of sweet potato, banana and yam fritters also walks onto the Jetty in the afternoon.


Salt fish being dried in the sun on the edge of the Jetty


There is an interesting pattern of cooking in homes and selling to the other people of the Jetty. Several households engage in this activity on a regular basis, one house cooking mostly "koay teow tung" (soup) and "mee" (noodles) and another cooking "rumpah hu," (fried fish stuffed with chili paste made with chilies, shallots, lemon grass, wild ginger, tumeric, kaffir leaves and tamarind juice), fried rice, "beehoon" (fine noodles), "lor bak" (pork sausage), chang (rice dumplings), and other things. See Appendix C for a classification of these food terms. Kids can frequently be found selling various kinds of food. One wife of a sampan driver, whose mother-in-law cooks regularly to sell on the Jetty, opened a small juice stand to sell to those walking up and down the Jetty on hot days. Several hawkers from the Jetty set up regularly at the entrance in both the morning and evening time, and it can be said that most people take at least one meal a day from these hawkers. Children of all ages are freely given money to buy whatever they may like during the day, and there seem to be few restrictions concerning consumption of candy and coffee by small children.

The pattern of marketing for food is related to the relative frequency and preferences for the morning market and for going to the Western-styled supermarket at the downtown shopping center. Morning marketing is important because it defines a central pattern of "buying back" food and cooking meals on a daily basis--food thus cooked may constitute the main meal, or else is set out for people to eat during the day. See Appendix A for an inventory of these markets. Of a sample of 70 persons, it appears that 37 (53%) either go themselves or have one member of their household go daily to the market to buy food. Another 23 (33%) indicate that they go weekly.22 Seven (10%) indicate that they go irregularly to the market, frequently because of work, and six (8.5%) indicate they never go to the market, mostly because they do not cook but eat out on a regular basis.

Regarding the supermarket, only one of 76 people goes everyday (1.3%); eight (10.5%) indicate they never go; four (5%) indicate that they go but not the frequency; 29 indicate they go only rarely, irregularly or infrequently (38%); 12 (16%) indicate that they go weekly (ten once a week, one twice a week and one 2-3 times a week); 22 (27%) indicated that they go only on a monthly basis. 23

Of a sample of 75 persons, five households still use charcoal as the only source of cooking fuel. This is no longer to be considered an index of relative wealth, because as the number of charcoal outlets have decreased, the price of charcoal has gone up, making it expensive to cook with charcoal on a regular basis. As one aunty told us, she still uses it because it gives the food a good flavor, an important factor for the Chinese who take eating very seriously. Thirty-eight people (50.6%) indicate cooking with only gas, and 30 (40%) indicate that they cook both with gas and charcoal (or else electric, one, or kerosene, two). Two people indicate not cooking at all because they only eat out. This is to be considered an important and relatively recent change, as 20 years ago charcoal and wood were probably the exclusive fuel sources for all but the very affluent. The need for gas propane bottles serves as a linkage to the larger economic system.

Concerning food beliefs, ethnosemantic elicitations of food categories reveal the following significant components: hot foods, cold foods, intermediate or "temperate" foods which seem to overlap with both "heaty" and "cooling" type foods, "tok" (toxic, or "strong") foods, "cleansing" foods, and foods with "hong." (wind)

Mostly things we eat are "heaty." Hot foods include certain hawker dishes that are favored among the Jetty Chinese--"Hokkien mee," "char koay teow," "curry mee," fried chicken, as well as fried fish, fried mee, Big Mac hamburgers, chocolate, fried banana (cho ko do), "moi yu" or teel seed sesame oil, rambutans, peppers, lychees, ginseng (go lee, or Korean ginseng), coffee, pork, fried koay, "kam" or mandarin oranges, lychees, gung beng, ginseng, tong kuei, or Chinese herbal medicine, stout beer (malt beer "is not that hot"), and brandy, whiskey, and Chinese wine.

Anything fried in oil is considered hot by some people. "Anything with a shell covering it is usually hot." Beef is "heaty," so only men eat it. Horsemeat is hot, and mutton, according to one informant, is more "heaty" than beef. Curry is considered "hot for the anus--when a person shits, it heats up the anus, so cannot eat too much." Fried tofu is hot. "Durians" are the "hottest," though the people enjoy them immensely and eat then by the tens.

"Overall, cooling foods are better than hot foods. But this depends on where you stay. If you live in a hot place then you need cooling foods, and if you live in a cold place then you need hot things." Cooling is better for the residents of the Jetty.

Cold foods include shark fin, abalone, noodles if cooked with soup, soups if cooked without oil, mangosteens, bird's nest, "aga-aga," bali and coconut water, chrysanthemum tea, water chestnut, "balitong" (sea snails), crab, goose, shrimp, most kinds of seafood and fruits, papaya, and pineapple. Oysters alone are cooling, "but if you fry them, they become heaty already. If you buy them from the market and cook them with ginger, then they become cooling and good." Papaya and pineapples are "cooling" as is tau "chooi" or bean curd water, and soft tofu. If one drinks too much "tau chooi" then the body will become cold. Carlsberg beer is cooling, though you pee a lot. Grape wine is cooling. Beer is considered cooler than stout or heavier alcohol, because of the lower alcohol content.

Intermediate or "temperate" foods include plain bread, porridge, "bak moi" or pork broth, "hu moi" or fish broth, rice ("unless in all the heaty stuff"), soups, "koay teow tung," "wanton mee tung," soda pop, mee, pickled salted vegetables, diakon radish, napa cabbage, some fruits and bananas. "Lady fingers that are steamed are O.K., but if fried with chili it becomes hot. Steamed meat and rice is also temperate. Food that is steamed rather than fried is cooler, depending upon one's age. If one is young and healthy one can eat ten Durians and nothing happens, ten peppers and the same, but if old."

Such foods are "not hot, not cold," but can be bad for women if they have a lot of white discharge. It seems that the rule regarding temperate foods and balancing hot with cold is "everything in moderation." Duck-base broth, salted vegetables, cabbage and radish can also be windy. "Hong" (windy) foods include prawns and pork.

"Tok" (toxic) foods have strong "poisons" in them and must therefore be cleaned before eating in small amounts. Fried noodles are hot, but become poisonous if you also put clams into them. Tok foods include seafood, yam, mackerel, sting ray (which is the worst one), clams (ciput, shellfish), cockles, "bok kok hu" (fish), salted fish, mangos, glutinous rice (chu bi, "not too much"), and crab. Chicken is also tok. "Everything else is non-poisonous." Salted fish is only good if you do it yourself.24

Cleansing foods are frog ("one's sold at the market"), "lay hu," (a kind of fish for people with operations), "hen chai," (spinach is not really "cleansing" but is iron rich to build the blood) soup, "pao sum" (ginseng). Vegetables mostly cleanse the body. Snake meat is cleansing of the blood system. Snake is also considered "temperate."25

If constipated, one can eat papaya or pineapple. One cannot eat too much of these. If a woman conceives and eats too many papayas it can cause a miscarriage. They are like purgatives. Bananas are also a purgative, though some kinds give one "wind" like eggs. One can only eat a little of certain kinds of bananas, in moderation. Fruits in general also act as purgatives.

If one has surgery one cannot take seafood. If one is sick with a high temperature or congestion, one cannot take cold drinks. Men cannot eat too much ginseng, but women can eat a little of it. Women are tabooed for one month after parturition. Post-partum mothers can only eat pork and fish (non-toxic), and can't eat anything else. "After two weeks she must eat pork, and after two weeks can eat chicken. If she eats chicken also, then it must be an ordinary smaller one, two katis only."

Mothers do not breast feed their children (37 of 46, or 80% indicate formula only, while 9 of 46, or 19.5% indicate some breast feeding, one for one year, one only the first child, one for six months, two for one month each, one only the first child for two months). The form of milk infants and children are given is either formula drinks or powdered milk (39 of 46, or 85%), or sweetened condensed milk mixed with water, Milo, coffee or tea (5 of 46, or 10.8%).26

Fish are a regular part of the diet of the Jetty. Most of those queried eat fish everyday or regularly several times a week. Of a sample of 46, 37 (80%) get it from the market, 12 (26%) indicate that they buy it ready cooked from hawkers, and 7 (15%) indicate that they fish for it.


One day we ask an uncle who is a sampan taxi, the water boat man and a fisherman about all the fish. "There are a lot of fish" he says, "one cannot mention them all." There's grouper, "koay kao," "ang kao," "chio kao," "kua kao," and "neo chu kao" (all varieties of grouper). Then there's "no wa hu." The brown jelly fish (hai te) one cannot eat, and another one that's red in color. The big Jelly fish (tou te) is the best, it's one that one can eat, that they send to Japan. The two best are "tau te" and "teo te." There are "mua hu" (eels) like "pek mua," "ang mua," "hai mua." There is "toe ling" (fresh water and sea). "Sua hu" (shark) is further out, deep sea already. "Hang hao hu" (electrical ray) cannot eat be eaten if it has a short tail. "Oba ee," the flesh is black in color.


A variety of fresh fish can be found on any given day at the Jetty.


Uncle points, "sam gee" is the small fish floating dead in the water. "Tai pang, ki hu (sword fish, if prick you then you die), to sak (catfish, with poisonous thorns on the fin) sua mor, chia ma, hong ma, hoo hu, sen ga, tek ka, kong hu (tiny fish), hoa kui (can't eat), ooi kui (puffer fish, the yellow small one can eat), taga hu."

"Sea snakes (sai to hu) are in the water. Sometimes they come up. The kind the head and tail are very similar, very thin like a chopstick. If you pick up the head they bite you. 'Hui kim ka' has yellow stripes. There is 'gim chua' and 'chua che ku' (soft snake, also poisonous). If it bites you cannot drink, smoke, or touch. The cousin of the soft snake hides underneath the ground. Sometimes it goes up to take air then goes down fast."

Children make pocket money by catching the mudskippers (kong kang) and small fish (pa tiow) in the water and selling them to fishermen for bait. Sea worms (hai tang) are collected from the mud beneath the Jetty, in which they abound, and are used as fish bait. Rolling them in sawdust renders them easier to separate.


Different crabs are often taken along with an odd assortment of fish.


They are then set on the end of the hooks along the edge of a basket. When finished, the baskets are then taken out to sea. The bait is laid out in a line. A couple of hours later the fishermen will come back, with a bucket full of the little round fish which the people of the Jetty love to eat.

Fishing techniques vary, and include nets and various forms of cages that are laid in the water. Different kinds of traps are designed for different kinds of fish.


Uncle cleaning off some old cages


There are many different kinds, shapes and sizes of cages. Round ones are used for catching crabs, that enter through the openings of the sides to eat the baited fish and then become caught, not to get out again. Cages also catch grouper, which are highly prized and may fetch a good price at the market.

New cages are continuously being made to replace old ones. Fish will not swim into cages that are too dirty or encrusted with barnacles. One uncle spends a great deal of time washing, scraping and maintaining his cages. Cages are normally weighted down with bricks tied to them, or are anchored down with irregularly shaped stones. If they are not properly anchored down, they may be dragged by the current and damaged or lost.

There are several families that fish regularly at the Jetty for a variety of fish. During our stay there we were able to glimpse most of the kinds of fish commonly found there. Reports indicate the presence of "si ca chuas ("four-legged snakes," or monitor lizards) which I have witnessed, and which reputedly reach lengths of over six feet. They live under the Jetty and the sunken wrecks and swim beneath the water, and have been known to come upon the Jetty to eat chickens in cages.27 The tail is so powerful that it can hit the cage with it and knock the cage over and open it. One informant told me that the Jetty people consider the monitor to be part of the same family as the cicak (gecko) in the houses. If a person wants to kill a lizard it cannot be done in the house. If you do, the "crocodile lizard" will come into your house. If you kill a monitor, then cicaks will come in droves into your house. People eat the monitor lizard, if they can catch it, but will not clean it inside the house. Fishermen report being afraid of the monitor because its claws are infectious and sharp, and thus try to avoid them whenever possible. Another boy told me that he takes sea snakes and monitors to his teacher's house who boils them up to eat.

More than fifty jelly fish have been found entangled in a mass at the edge of the Jetty, as well as sea snakes which are commonly killed and even pythons have been found swimming by "with the head as big as the hand." Sometimes swordfish are seen at the end of the Jetty--they are brown in color and are as "big as a person." We have also sighted sea otters playing off the Jetty on several occasions--reportedly a rare occurrence.


Men, Women and Social Relations

The jetty community is democratically organized. They hold local annual elections for the office bearers for the temple committee, as well as for leadership of the whole clan. All men and women can vote, though only about 60 percent of the adults do vote, and they are mostly men, according to one well-versed informant. Only clan members can be nominated. Whoever gives donations to the temple can vote in the temple elections. There is a ballot box and people give donations and names are submitted for nomination to office.

There are important differences in patterning between men and women. While women were more than twice as cooperative and responsive to us than the men in almost every aspect of our research, it is also clear that the women are more inbound within the community and less open in attitude toward the outside world. This difference of attitudinal orientation is clearly evident in all the dichotomous tasks that attempted to elicit responses relating to attitudes about authority, sexuality, gender, etc. Women are less worldly in experience and less educated. Most young girls, with a few noteworthy exceptions, are expected not to venture too far from the fold in the quest of a career and a separate, more modern life-style.

While men are without a doubt the outside breadwinners (discounting the largely invisible female factory workers) women are perhaps the more stable and productive of the two groups. They are the primary caretakers of the children, they are more seriously interested in feeding, clothing, and caring for their young and for their homes. Though they are the least available for productivity, being more outside of the system than the men and being essentially controlled by the men within a paternalistic Confucian ethos. In controlling the purse strings and avenues of outside income, men are perhaps also the least responsible, siphoning off more of the income for other purposes than the women.

An example is a hawker family who befriended us. The woman usually sold mee (noodles) in the mornings and on an average day earned a profit of about RM $50 over the RM $50 daily operating costs, which she put right back into the household. On a good day she could earn up to RM $70 and even RM $100 profit. Her husband worked intermittently outside as a subcontract plumber as well as other odd jobs in carpentry, and when not out, would help his wife with the hawking. Her primary complaint was that he had to drink at least three or four liter bottles of stout a day on a regular basis, which cut into her profit margin by about 20 to 30 ringgit, or half, everyday. She also complained that it required at least RM $1,000 (U.S. $400) per month to make ends meet in her five person household, while her average base income was about RM $1,400 per month, and the average cost of her husband's drink would be about RM $750 per month.

An explanation of this socio-cultural patterning might involve socio-genic stress which is felt differentially between the sexes and which may have different consequences for men and women. The stresses and strains associated with lower class status within the larger society, the low-class status identity, the nature of the physical labor, and lack of opportunity (or screens of opportunity), is probably felt by everyone in the community. Psychological and ethnographic evidence from the tasks suggests that it is felt even by small children at an early age, and is pretty much ingrained by adolescence and the teens.

It is possible that cultural predispositions render the men most vulnerable to these stresses and perhaps least capable of dealing with them. There may be a sense of secondary gain (Dowhrenden & Dowhrenden 1969) experienced by men under such chronic circumstances, by the formation "solidarity associations" with other men in contradistinction to the predominant ethos outside of the local community.28 This pattern may in the long run incapacitate their competencies and motivations to overcome the social obstacles which stand between them and achievement of social success and mobility--values so prized an ethnic characteristic of Chinese communities all over the world.

Women on the other hand, bound by an ethos which keeps them within the home, may also suffer such stresses, or even more when they must suffer indirectly the stresses of their husbands abuses as well, and yet appear less susceptible to the "secondary gain" entailed by such stress. Instead, ethnographic evidence of petty entrepreneurship by women suggests that they may even experience "secondary loss" that, by a pattern of negative reinforcement, impells them to successfully manage and overcome the stresses and strains of their environment to achieve, if not personal success, but survival for their families. Indeed, numerous examples exist on the Jetty of women as petty traders and hawkers catering mostly to the Jetty community itself.

The men appear thus caught in a vicious cycle that is partially rooted in their own cultural, community ethos and which is partly a consequence of their inferior positioning vis-α-vis the dominant Chinese society. They therefore are more prone to seek outlets for the achievement of identity and success outside of the normal framework for such achievement--in gambling, in strong oral patterns of eating, drinking and smoking, in the abuse of children and women, or in other illicit activities. Their behavior is marked by withdrawal from participation within the larger social arenas, and a confinement of the locus of their activities to within the Jetty community itself.

But I do not think this hypothesis alone is enough for explaining or understanding either the general predicament, orientation or ethos of the Jetty Chinese. Other patterns are equally apparent and perhaps equally important. There is a sense of a "diffuse" paternal role model which is either absent, inconspicuous or adulterated by the presence of "uncles," grandfathers, middle aged sons, of older brothers and of mother's brothers who may not even be from the Jetty, who undercut the authority of fathers. Thus there is a noticeable lack of a single, strong, positive male role-figure, but the doubtful presence of many weak, often negative examples.29

There is also a pattern of the mother/daughter-in-law relation in which the husband as mother's son is situated between two sets of often competing and conflictual interests. Cultural ethos demands subservience of the daughter-in-law to the son's (and mother's) demands, and the mother's preference for sons which is also culturally defined.

Most men of the Jetty are hardworking, responsible bread winners for their families,30 and what the Jetty lacks in money, opportunity, education and material possession, it more than makes up for in communal solidarity and richness of a shared cultural heritage, and it is the description of these rich cultural patterning that makes the Jetty so anthropologically interesting.

The table below derives from our survey, showing the correlation matrix that exists between the number in the household, number of workers, number of children under 18, the number of senior adults over 60 and the number of smokers in the household:



# workers

# under 18

# over 60

# smoke

# household






# workers






# under 18






# over 60






# smoke






Figure 5-6. Correlation matrix of frequencies of household composition.


From this simple profile an interesting picture emerges of a household that gradually increases in size as sons grow up, go off to work and begin pooling their resources, gradually marrying and creating an extended family household with grandparents and several brother's families under the same roof. The number of children then begins to rise, at which some point the size of the household peaks out. As children grow older, the household begins its decomposition as families break apart.

Wolf (1972:14-31) notes in her description of a Taiwanese family that the tensions related to its breakup could be traced to latent hostilities between adult brothers and their wives. Hsu (1967) and Wolf (1972:166-7) refer to the conflict between daughters-in-law over the control of their husbands' resources. Besides structural tensions which may be latent within the patrilineal kinship model of the Chinese (especially between brothers, their wives and the mother, but also possibly between uncles, aunts, grandfathers and children), the reasons for the breaking up of the household may be complicated and multifactorial.31

There is hidden in this picture another pattern which was ethnographically apparent. This is one of large nuclear family households bringing in young adult boarders who work and contribute to the income, and this can be seen as an alternate strategy of adaptation to the more conventional Chinese pattern.32

The problem of household management of people, social relations, space, time and resources is of central importance in social patterning and relations upon the Jetty. Money for bills, taxes, repairs (anything to do with the house as a whole) needs to be collected and pooled. A key individual, whether an elderly man or woman, must be competent and dependable enough to organize in a productive manner the members of the household. It appears that this burden of management may as often fall on the shoulders of a senior woman as upon the senior man.

One noteworthy example is of a large house composed of more than six households (total over 30 persons), in which both grandparents were deceased and the grandchildren (cousins) are all adults. One junior aunt received possession and control of the house because she was single, and is in charge of organizing the daily and annual rituals of ancestor worship such as the death anniversary.33

It is also interesting that within this particular household, it is the adult sisters, the female and male cousins, and their offspring that are at the locus of its management, rather than the several sons (or male cousins) and their wives, most of whom have left the Jetty or moved out of the house (though the sons regularly support the household). Some of the sister's are fairly independent, and all of them are quite attractive. The crowded household appears to maintain its unity and harmony despite the death of the great grandparents and the obviously crowded and confined conditions of adult cousins and offspring sharing the same premises. Members of the extended family are always coming and going, and permanent residence within the household does not seem to be fixed. This household cannot be considered poor compared to other households on the Jetty, though they cannot be considered wealthy either. It appears that mutual advantages accrue from the pooling and sharing of resources which individual families might not otherwise have, and household members, especially the adult females, appear to be very mutually cooperative and supportive (as in minding each other's children or in cooking and feeding the children).34

Of the 68 people surveyed in our sample (40 women and 28 men) all but one of the men (96.5%) had the clan name as their surname. Of the forty women interviewed, only five had the clan name as their maiden surname, implying that these five (12.5% of 40) brought men into the Jetty from elsewhere. The surnames represented by the women were, in order of their greatest frequency, Ong (seven), Tan and Lim (five each), Koay and Yeoh (three each), Tow, Ooi and Lee (two each), and one each of the following: Low, Seow, Koh, Ng, Loh, Ang, Soon, Goh, Chiah, Chooi, Lau, Teoh, Chuah. It is significant that at least some of the Ong, Tan, Lim, Yeoh and Lee women came from the other jetties.

Thus the picture this pattern represents is one of women marrying into (87.5%) the husband's father's household, and of a patriarchal community structure--the daughter's-in-law being at somewhat of a disadvantage in their mother-in-law's son's households. This situation became apparent in interviews and informal relations with some of these women on the Jetty, and there was sometimes quite a bit of subsurface friction between the paternal families and the wife's own family. There is one incident of a wife who, being labeled as "siow" because she was hospitalized after a nervous breakdown (possibly post-partum depression) after having her first baby, was, with her two sons, physically ostracized from the husband's family household, to the point of physical violence and abuse, and neglect of the children. Every morning she would have to go to fetch hot water in a flask from the coffee shop to feed her young infant son, even though the mother-in-law's house was right next door.

It also appears that this structure is not invariable, and many different factors may underlie a man might marrying onto the Jetty into the wife's household, as appears to happen in a small percentage of cases. Some young couples find reason to set up a new residence separate from (but close to) the natal homes of both.

A case of a young seventeen year-old woman who had a one-year-old baby boy allows us to examine the complexity of the patterning of residence on the Jetty. Her husband is the brother of a woman who married a man on the Jetty; he and the mother moved onto the Jetty to reside in the household that was being managed by his own sister because at the time of marriage the house was essentially unoccupied. When subsequently he married the seventeen year-old girl from the Jetty, they found a residence renting a room in another home. The girl takes her meals and divides much of her time at her mother-in-law's house, from whom she receives some caring support and child-care assistance, and does her laundry at her own mother's house, just across the gangway.

A lot of people are related to one another, however indirectly (cousins, with some cross-cousin marriage possible, though this is frowned upon), and many people have children in the same households in which they were born. It appears that the most predominant pattern is one of patrilocal residence with the daughter-in-law moving into the husband's household. There are a few cases of husbands moving into the wives' households, and this can be understood in terms of the poverty (or other reasons, such as convenience) that contextualizes the relationships of the families as well as in a patrilineal tradition which puts a premium upon sons. It seems that rules of surname exogamy are mostly observed. In other words, most of the people marry off the Jetty, though not always.

Elicitations of terms of address were made, as what to call whom is an important matter in a place where everyone knows everyone else all their lives. There are glosses for uncle and aunty that are extended to senior adults that are not actually one's relatives. There is an indication of "blanket" equality (and perhaps reciprocities) which pretty much extends over the entire Jetty, and that is indicated by the common use of "Ah" for names of people ("Ah Heng," "Ah Hoe," "Ah Chong," "Ah Seng"). We have seen older adults scold younger children for mischievous behavior, only to be dressed down properly by the child in rather unambiguous and vulgar language, after which the child runs off. I've never seen an adult punish a child for this stand off of "face."

There is not a great deal of overt aggression between neighbors on the Jetty. A couple of older boys tended to pick on younger boys without great provocation. The history of bickering between families was never a topic open to much discussion with us as outsiders, though some people complain of women who do a lot of gossiping.

The following is an account given to us by a woman in her early fifties of an incident that happened to her several years previously. She had been blinded in her left eye as the result of a brutal attack by ten people (seven men and three women) from another Jetty residence about five houses down.

In 1974, when she was thin, she had an IUD put in. After that she began putting on weight and then her husband who was a fisherman began going out to the bars a lot and womanizing. She was taking numbers illegally as a resident bookie. She afterward realized she had a problem with the IUD, and then she had a nervous breakdown because of her husband. The doctor then put her on medication. Because of her weight, she claimed, the IUD moved up to her "heart" so that the doctors couldn't remove it for her. She had to go to a specialist at Lam Wah Ee to have it removed. She owed the doctor a medical bill of RM $2,000--quite a bit of money. She paid the doctor half the amount but there was a balance and she received help from the government welfare department. Her husband was still womanizing and wanted her to recoup the money she lost.

One of the people in the house five doors down owed her money. She went to the house when she was under a lot of stress and pressure, when she would become angry very quickly, and she scolded them out loud. She "abused the people at their house."

Then ten people came from that household afterward. Three forced their way in, pushing her inside the house. They started hitting her. The rest of them stood and blocked the doorway so nobody could come in or go out of her house. One then took a sharp instrument and tried poking her in the eye with it, but missed and hit her just above the eye in the temple region. Another person with a steel bar in his hand began hitting her too. The daughter tried telling them to stop, but when she screamed out one hit her on the back and caused her to fall down and lose consciousness. After they beat the woman up they all left. She called out to ask people to find her sister-in-law but no one was around. She stayed for about two hours trying to stop the bleeding. No one came to help her at all. Finally she got on a motorbike and rode down the main road to stop at the police station.

She told the policeman that some people had beat her up and then she lost consciousness. They took her to the hospital where she regained consciousness. The doctors tried to save her eye but it was injured to severely, and they couldn't save it.

Afterward the husband found out about the beating and became angry. He wanted to call people to have a gang fight, but she told him not to find any more trouble. Police came onto the Jetty and jailed several of the people involved in the incident for ten days, questioning them.

This occurred in 1989, and the case is still pending litigation. The people who did it are still carrying on life as if nothing had happened. The informant complains of headaches and takes medication. From her own house, she sells little snacks, which her children have provided to her, to kids on the Jetty, and she helps out her daughter with hawking economy rice out in front of the Jetty in the afternoons. Now she always keeps her doors locked and is terrified of going out. Her door is one of the few unopened, locked doors on the Jetty today. Her husband is always with his second wife. She told us she worried a lot and often becomes angry. "But I am not mad."

Other people told us that this woman was "mad" and had a bad temper and deserved what she had gotten. It appears that labeling people as "siow" or mad on the Jetty is a common, and sometimes useful way, of defining aberrant behavior, and perhaps also of conveniently justifying the continuing mistreatment and neglect of these people. Families who adopt an extremely local, sinocentric orientation and world view, hold cultural definitions which do not allow them to define this kind of aberrant behavior in such a way as to render life more bearable and happier for these "misfits." This orientation is ameliorated to some extent by a strong live-and-let-live ethos that allows the community as a whole to continue tolerates the physical presence of these people and their behavior without complete ostracism. An extremely selfish and sinocentric mother-in-law who maintains a tight reign over a household can make life a hell for the wives' of sons who do not easily submit to such victimization. I suspect this was not the only incident like this to have occurred on or around the Jetty. A couple of other older people I have noticed there (as well as in greater Georgetown) are missing one eye.



Our study did not, could not, ignore the children of the Jetty, as in many ways they turned out to be our most rewarding and helpful informants, and were often a real pleasure as well. Growth charts constructed of boys and girls 16 years and below reveal a steady increase of both height and weight by both groups until about the age of 12 to 14, during which time the growth of the girls tapers off, especially in height, while weight continues to increase, whereas for the boys after this age there is a continuing growth in both height and weight until full physical maturity.


Frequency distribution of age sets of jetty children.


The graph above illustrates the distribution of children between the ages of less than two years old and 18 years of age. Of a total of about 168 children (drawn from a total census count of approximately 250 plus or minus 30), the number of the children per household was 3.96, with a mode of two and a median of three and a range of 11. The average age of the total sample of children was 9.7, indicating slightly more children above the age of nine than below. For each age set, between the ages of "under 2" and 18, there was an average of 9.72 children with a median of ten and a mode of seven and a range of 11.

The kids from the Jetty are growing up with an average age set of 8.7 other kids, with a range of 8 years, of which half are likely to be of the same sex. Thus, for each age group of boys and girls, there may be one or more loose cliques of four or five children of similar ages and the same sex (spanning a couple of years) who share many affinities and mostly likely play and fight together. The different age sets may partially overlap with one another by a year or two, as individual children migrate from one group to another.

Generally, children of opposite sexes do not play together very much, though such behavior does not become sanctioned until after adolescence. This represents a fairly tight group of boys, especially when the boundaries of the age sets overlap in broader periods of several years. The importance of these age groups in influencing the socio-cultural ethos of the Jetty should not be underestimated, as it may account for the closeness of the bonding that apparently occurs throughout childhood between children of similar ages, as well as of a social pecking order of older children (or groups of children) over younger ones. Older adolescent kids seem sometimes to take the lead in some groups. Both girls and boys are also noteworthy for their ability to swear and use vulgar language in Hokkien.

Then there is a pattern of extremely strong peer pressure exhibited and exercised in a number of ways. There is in this a sense of a basic social vicariousness of lived and learned experience. The people of the Jetty are commonly using one another as indirect sources for their experience of the world, and this pattern speaks of a strong sense of social


Young boys bond closely with an age set of several other boys.


interdependency among the people of the Jetty. Their lives are often inextricably bound up with one another. This intertwined orientation is manifest in the physical touching and closeness of people of the Jetty, an expression of feeling via physical closeness and body contact which is not verbalized. It is a pattern that begins in early childhood and possibly extends until old age (see picture above). This closeness of the Jetty people creates a sense of belonging and community solidarity which can effectively exclude non-members on a very basic, affective level. This pattern is reinforced by group norms and sanctions on the overt expression of intracommunal conflict, and of certain emotions of anger and unhappiness, sanctions reinforced upon children, through gossip and through ritualized expressions. Behavior of individuals, of practically everyone coming within the purview of this community, is judged and sanctioned by these sets of Chinese standards.

Dichotomous inventories reveal a strongly shared (and mostly implicit) attitude that parents must not show too much affection and emotion to a child, but have an obligation to teach a child, principally by means of imitation, instructing, scolding and punishment. (Wolf 1972: 68-9) Open expression of emotions will not be a commonly reinforced pattern. Loud, mouthy people are particularly noticeable and are treated with quiet disdain and contempt behind their backs, though such people by their assertiveness may actually take the lead in small cliques.35

In terms of education, our survey of 84 families indicate that 30 households (35.7%) either had no children of school age or attending school or else neglected to complete the sample. Of the remaining 54 families, 32 (59%) households sent their children exclusively to Mandarin school; 16 (29.6%) sent their children to English school; 12 (22%) sent kids to both English and Chinese school; two had children in kindergarten; two (3.7%) in Malay schools and two remained unidentified.

The predominant preference for traditional Mandarin style education is corroborated by the high positive correlation with the education of a sample of women of which of 91.4% were Mandarin educated. There is also in these statistics a clear indication of significant change of attitude toward a greater preference for English style education among children compared to adults. The chi square test for significance shows that this pattern of change is significant above the 0.01 level.

There is yet another pattern that is quite apparent on the Jetty, and this involves the caning and physical punishment of children by parents and scolding by non-parents. Children are caned as a matter of routine, and the threat of the cane is the primary means of controlling a child's errant behavior. An example of this taken from my notes involves a young boy with some physical problems who was left momentarily outside the house while the mother went back inside. The boy ran toward a group of women and then stopped and picked up a crumb on the boards and put it in his mouth. We told him not to eat it and an


Children, 6 or 8 years-old, can be seen still sucking the pacifier.


Aunty took it out of his mouth. Soon the mother came back with a bamboo back scratcher and grabbed him by the hand and swatted him four or five times until he started crying. She dragged him back into the house by the arm as the old women all started laughing. But I have also seen a child slapped across the face with an open hand, kicked with the foot, and even beaten with the end of an electrical cord, ruler, feather duster, and clothes hanger wire. A primary form of nurturance of children is through the offering of candy and the feeding of the child, and thus nurturance and love toward the child is expressed principally through touching and oral gratification, which is developed freely among children who are given their own money at an early age of 3 years-old with which to buy food, drinks and candy. The strong pattern of oral gratification is suggested by the continued use of the pacifier by children 5, 6 and even 7 years-old (see the illustration below) This is interesting because almost no women breast feed after one or two months, though they themselves may well have been breast fed.

The pattern of the expression of affection through physical touching is evident in the way that hitting grades off into "love slaps" and pinches, and in the way that love toward children is verbally expressed as they are the parent's "pain."36 This orientation is also evident in the response pattern to certain questions which indicate that the culturally predominant attitude is that children must be taught as a form of love, and that punishment is a primary form of teaching the child.37

Children have several games that they commonly play together--the spinning top, "seven stones," and a form of gambling with marbles, stones or coins. There is a noteworthy absence of girls playing "house" or "dolls." Girls and boys take great pleasure in playing with crabs, mudskippers and fish caught off the Jetty. The people of the Jetty are inveterate gamblers and spend a great deal in a day on gambling. One seven-year-old boy is held to normally carry as much as RM $500 in his pocket at any time for gambling with, and another boy is regarded as a mathematical wizard in computing gains and losses numerically in his head. People are continuously buying numbers through illegal bookies, of which there are three on the Jetty. Rarely does anyone win anything through the numbers, and most people know this, but "we must always have hope." One time the people all won big on a number taken off a Burmese boat that came in to dock. News went ahead of the boat that its numbers were propitious. The people won quite a bit of money and bought things like bicycles for their children.

Some of the gambling is quite illegal, such as the game I photographed that a group of boys were playing in an old Burmese house at the end of the Jetty, in which they had boarded up all the windows and posted a look out at the entrance. They allowed me in to take some pictures (see the illustration below, showing boys playing with "belangkas" and with RM $5.00 and RM $10.00 notes in their hands). On any given day a group of boys can be found gambling in one form or another


On any given day, a group of boys can be found gambling for money.


around the Jetty (most commonly a form of craps, but also betting on sporting events, numbers, Mah Jong for older boys, and belangkas). It is interesting that young girls were never seen playing dolls or house. They always seemed to busy taking care of their younger siblings or being taken care of by older siblings.

Plain clothes police disguised as a Chinese couple have been known to make arrests at the end of the Jetty. If police come into the Jetty, a signal is sent down to the end where people gamble by tapping on the exposed water pipe which runs the length of the walkway. People will jump into the Jetty water, or flee down the back way. There are numerous loose boards in the wood that serve as trap doors through which people can slip into the water in emergencies. There are also numerous, smaller loose boards fitted into spaces all over the Jetty through which people throw their trash when it becomes inconvenient to hold on to it any more. But people don't have to resort to such holes, and more frequently just toss whatever over the edge directly into the water.

It can be said without a doubt that everything goes into the water directly--urine and feces, sanitary napkins, plastics, garbage, tires, motor oil, everything people find no longer useful. One day I saw an old man drag a large cupboard out to the edge of the Jetty. Wondering what he was about to do, I watched him break it up a little so no one else could use it, perhaps, and then just toss the whole thing off the edge. I later found it floating away. One hot day I hung a plastic of ice coffee I had finished on a board at the end of the Jetty, intending to dispose of it when we left. A child came along and grabbed it and simply threw it over the side. The Jetty area must considered a major source of water pollution on Penang. There is very little if any trash pick up, and such facilities are minimal, consisting of only a single straw basket for the entire population of almost a thousand, and of one tin can set out in front of the second sundry shop down, which inevitably is also emptied into the water.

This was the one of the few aspects of the Jetty that I found personally difficult to accept, along with the physical punishment of children by the use of canes. The relativity of the latter form of punishment must be understood in context. When it was found out that I punished my daughter by giving her "time out" word got around. Children began asking their parents why they had to be caned when the "ang mor kao" only gave his daughter time out. Parents came back to us with questions, and we explained we thought it not necessary to hit children. After that I didn't see much more caning directly, though I saw many threats of it or would hear the screams of children inside closed houses.

One day I almost got into a fight with a middle-aged man there after I had timed out my daughter and he began to interfere. He told us that I was like a Japanese concentration camp director, although I felt I had just cause for my relatively modest form of punishment. Another time I was chided and reprimanded by a mother who looked at me indignantly after I timed my daughter out while in her kitchen. It seems that to Chinese, who don't think twice about whipping a child with a cane, think that timing out a child out appears "cruel and unusual" punishment.

One day I asked a teenage girl for the different kinds of feelings she felt. She told me "hua he" (happiness, a good feeling, like getting good results on exams), "beh sio" (sad, bad, being scolded by mother), "kee kong" (angry, losing something), "kin tiong" (nervous, a bad feeling, like waiting for exam results) "chi kek" (frustrated, excited, a good feeling because afterwards it makes you laugh, like being chased by a dog), "siow" (crazy, a bad feeling like you can't find something), and "lang mann." (Mandarin, being romantic, "a good feeling like being in love") She told me she never felt lonely or homesickness and dared not ever daydream when I asked her these things.

The following is a brief account given of the Jetty by a young teenage girl who has lived there all her life, in the same home in which her mother was born. She was my best "primary informant," and one day I gave her a blank piece of paper and told her to write me a story about the Jetty and her family. This is her story:


I'm the eldest in my family.

The sister whom I like the most is my first younger sister. She is a very funny person. She is fat but she never holds herself in contempt. She is cheerful all of the time. She is not selfish and she is very generous and helpful.

Well, sometimes I am selfish but of course sometimes I am kind. I have a bad temper. I'll get angry when I can't achieve something. Almost all my friends and my family and even my relatives will sometimes become afraid when I am angry, because I'll scream out and sometimes I'll break something on purpose. But most of the time, I'll be cheerful in school and get along with my sister. I'm very fortunate to have this sister. Of course, I'm kind to someone if they treat me kindly, but if they do something wrong to me I'll get my revenge.

Anyway, I don't feel any stress or any trouble, because my sister teaches me not to have pressure, and I just need not to bother about it, but just leave it alone.

Actually, I like to be left alone because I can have peace of mind and can think about everything without anybody disturbing me. By the way, I also do not need to talk too much.

Of course, we don't know about our future. Nobody can predict what the future will be. Nowadays, our world is facing a lot of trouble that we are not really able to solve, or maybe there will be an end to the world one day. Or maybe all the creatures or living things in the world will become extinct.

Although we are going to achieve Vision 2020, I think we should confront these obstacles. But, of course, everybody wants to have their own good future, so that they can live easily. People are quite selfish and always think of themselves. They always want to receive advantages and benefits from someone else.

I hope that every country may have a good future and all residents can live in a good condition. But all the residents of all the world must become shouldered together and to challenge all the trouble like pollution, disease, starvation and war.

Nowadays, the world is developing from long long ago until today. But, of course, some countries progress easily and more quickly than others. Unfortunately, some countries are "greedy," they want to control and administer the other countries. So they make war. War causes an unpeaceful world and destroys all of the buildings and all the people die. It also leaves all the residents living terrible, horrible lives. Every body lives in fear and scarcity, and no one lives in a peaceful environment. It's so terrible! I don't like it!

The world is facing another problem--pollution. Nowadays this issue is being discussed by all the countries in order to solve it. Why do they want to do such a foolish thing? It is better for them to take some effective action and save the world. Now the ozone layer is becoming less and less and the oxygen is not sufficient already. It is better if everybody is cooperative. It is better if they do not cut down the trees without control, or burn down the forest for development, wasting all the timber, releasing all the useless and poisonous gases.

Malaysia is a nice country. There are no wars or earthquakes here. It can be said that Malaysia is very peaceful and does not harm other countries.

Malaysia is administered by an intelligent and capable leader--Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir. I like him very much. He is a perfect man. He can progress and advance our country's economic condition and make friendship with other countries. Although he is now becoming old, he still looks young and strong.

Well, Malaysia has 3 vital races: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Most of the population are Malay, followed by Chinese and Indians. Some of the Malays here are lazy and some are hardworking. Why are they lazy? Of course, because of the government. They have privileges like private companies having to give at least some of them work. And most of them are protected by the government, such that they can get a high job in government companies. The Chinese are always serious. They are always hardworking in order to earn money. Most of them could be rich because they are stingy. Some of the teenagers do not like to study because they have in their minds just money x 1000.00. Well, I do not know much about Indians. But they are quite friendly.

Well, my family has seven people: mother, father, four sisters (including myself) and a brother.

My mother is a very strict person. She is very hardworking in order to raise the family. She wants us to study hard so that we can have a nice future. She is a capable person. She can work and work without stopping. Even though she always gives us an earful, we still respect her.

However, my father is a kind and cheerful person. He never becomes angry at us. He always makes jokes when we are under pressure or stress or are sad. He never controls us. We respect him, too, although he does not work because he is ill all of the time.

I have three younger sisters. The first one is very cheerful and generous. But of course sometimes she is not like that. She is very liberal. She doesn't want to be controlled by anyone. She wants to be free. My second younger sister is hardworking but irresponsible. She never pays attention while listening to my mom or dad or us. She is a selfish person, and my youngest sister is impolite and stingy and a selfish person too. She always cares about money, money, money. I don't like her very much. She is never obedient to my parents. She always shouts at them, so I always am strict on her. The last one is my brother. He is a talkative boy. He doesn't like to study. He is very intelligent and funny. When I ask him to study and learn to write, he always says 'Oh, I want to sleep now!' He is also not obedient. He doesn't respect my parents because he isn't afraid of them. So I get him back. I control him strictly. Even though he is still a child, he must also be taught from now.

Most of the people who live here on the Jetty are Hokkiens. There are about sixty to seventy houses here. All of the houses are built of wood.

Most of the old men here are working as fishermen or carrying passengers by boat. some of them do not work. They are "pensioned" already. But, of course, they will find something to do. Most of them are very kind and generous.

The women here are snoopers and busy bodies. They like to chat about other people's affairs. They are always gossiping behind the other people, although it is none of their business. They are always shouting to their children. They like to shout, and to chatter. Their attitudes make the teenagers here become very bothered. Every night, when they are free, they will sit outside their homes together or go to visit the other women to gossip. Most of them are selfish and stingy. They are jealous of other people who earn very much money. If other people earn money, then they will try to get close to them to learn their way of earning money. Some of them will start to gamble together. They also sometimes will become crazy when their children or kids are not obedient, study hard or can't earn extra money. They will mutter all the time.

However, the teenagers here mostly do not like to study or work. Most of the boys here are not studying anymore. Most of them stopped studying after Form 3. Of course, they are very intelligent in their math. They can calculate their money or whatever very quickly because they are always gambling most of the time, and they like to show off. They think that smoking, racing with motorcycles, gambling and spending luxuriously in front of ladies is more masculine.

And the ladies here can be said to like to beautify themselves to attract the attention of the others. They also always sit together to chat too.


Religious Rituals

We were there long enough to take part in several weddings, to see several newborns, and to see two women die of breast cancer, one of whom we had interviewed on several occasions. Both times the death of someone born into the community, who lived there all her life, and who had been known intimately by everyone and related to many, opened up the door to a chasm of feeling that the community usually kept tightly closed. This door remained open in a sullen and sad social atmosphere for two or three days, until the community closed it again and life got back to normal.

The following accounts are of some of the rites of passage, ceremonies and beliefs as described to me by several people there or which we observed:


When a baby is born, everything must be cooked with teel-seed oil for the mother, not regular oil. First she must eat pork only, just pork. After one or two weeks she can eat chicken and eggs, but only cooked in teel seed oil. If thirsty she must drink "oo cho te" or "geng geng." Take black dates and "tang kwa" (dried sweet squash), grind it, mix it, boil it and drink it. Don't drink water. If you drink water then you have wind. She must be on a restricted diet for one month. She can't eat fruits because they are too cold, cooling. After one month, she can wipe her body but cannot yet take a bath. Some Cantonese can, but only with warm water for just one month.

For one month she can't wash her hair. After one month she must boil lemon grass, for one month, and bathe with it. She can't eat anything "tok" (toxic) like "kembong hu" (mackerel). She can eat certain kinds of salted fish but not all.

If the child has colic during that month, then she must take a betel leaf, get "wind" oil, put it on and let it smoke until it fills the room (smear it on the leaf, and put it in a "kemenyeh lor" and smoke it over hot coals). Then put it on the baby's belly. Not too hot. Good for the heart. If too hot it will boil the baby up. That will take the wind out of the baby. Some people, if they can afford it, will hire someone to cook and clean and wash for the mother.

The informant herself asked someone to cook for her while she took care of the baby by herself. For the period of one month post-partum mothers are considered impure. They do not wash their clothes with other people of the household. Post-partum mothers don't pray to the Gods because they are dirty. They can pray at home, but they cannot go to the temple. Exactly one month after the child is born, the mother takes the child out of the house, and walks the baby around to show it off. "That is the custom. Announce the birth. One round. The first month don't take the baby out of the house if possible, you don't want to take it out."

On the thirtieth day, the mother brings the baby out and walks around the Jetty so that people can see it. She will take the baby to the temple to pray. If you have a girl you must have "ang ku" (turtle dumpling) or "ang toe" (peach), red eggs, yellow sticky rice, chicken curry. If it's a boy, "ang toe" is replaced with "ang ee," a round nut shaped like a peach. Then the mother gives that to friends and relatives to announce the birth of the child. Some post-partum mothers undergo 40 days, ten extra days for the restrictions, because "it's better to stretch it longer."

We attended a couple of weddings at the Jetty, that took place in the traditional Chinese manner, complete with the elaborate tea ceremony, except that the bride and groom both wore Western wedding dress. After the tea ceremony attended in a hot front hall with too many overdressed bodies, the groom, with his best man, walked the bride around the Jetty one time, and soon they were off in someone's Mercedes-Benz.

We attended the wedding feast the day before at the house of the groom, where we ate and drank a beer, while the groom sat there to entertain us while we joked with him about getting married, and then we soon took our leave to make room for another set of guests to eat.

A woman peeling garlic described her wedding to us. It was a love match. They got a "sing ke em," a person who knows the rituals the bride must go through. The day before the wedding, in the "kui bin" ceremony the first day the new bride (supposedly a virgin) gets to put on make up for the first time in her life (in the olden days). The "sing ke em" takes a boiled egg and mashes up the yoke. With a taut thread, the "sing ke em" removes the facial hairs with the egg yoke. It hurts. She plucks the eyebrows and fringes the hair. Then the bride-to-be is made up. After they do that, they come out and pray to the ancestors. For her it was after midnight.

Later that night, at a propitious time, the parents feed the bride colored rice balls boiled in water with syrup mixed in. They pray to the God of Heaven, then the bride goes through a tea ceremony with her parents on the eve. After that ceremony, once she goes into the bedroom she cannot come out again until the wedding. Others can come out but they won't let her out. Our informant needed a chamber pot.

The next morning our informant went to the hair dresser in her makeup. The hairdresser did her hair. The "sing ke em" is old fashioned. She follows old-fashioned ways. Our informant came back and put on her wedding dress. The bride-to-be then dons the veil, or "tou kin." Once the parents put it on her, she can't take it off again. She can adjust it but can't take it off the head again. Then she has to wait for the groom to come.

The page, usually a small boy, but any young man will do, opens the door for the groom who has to give the boy "ang pao." Then the groom gives the bride a bouquet of flowers and the bride will pin the corsage on the groom's lapel. This is "reintroduction." Then they come out to pray to the Gods of the house. At the tea ceremony, they serve tea to the older people at the bride's house. After the tea ceremony they go to the bride-groom's place to repeat the ceremony again. Once they reach the groom's house, they pray to the ancestor's again and have the tea ceremony again.

Then they go to have their pictures taken. They return to the groom's house where they enter the "ching pang" or bridal chamber. "This is your house now." The next morning, the bride must "pang chui" or "bin pang chui." She takes a basin of water, and a face clothe, and gives it to the mother-in-law and father-in-law to let them wash their faces. If they don't say anything and give "ang pao," then she has to do it the next morning, and keep on doing it every morning until they say "you do not have to do it." After they wash their faces, she gives them tea.

Sometimes in the "ching peng" ceremony in the bridal chamber they wrap a chamber pot with red paper. Inside there is a red packet, an orange, red dates, "ang pao," "geng geng," and "ang cho." Then they have a boy go and punch a hole in the paper. The boy will take everything inside the pot. Some people have a rooster and a hen in a basket, and put it under the bed. The bride and groom tilt the cage and whichever runs out first predicts the sex of their first born. The rooster and hen have to be especially reared from young. One cannot slaughter them. If they die before the ceremony then it is "soi" (bad luck) That's why people now don't want to do it.

We did not have any one describe a funeral to us, but we managed to discuss the views about death with an uncle of one woman who had died on the Jetty while we were there. When the girl was alive they did everything possible for her but they couldn't help her. But in the end it was fated, they did their best but couldn't do any more. There was no miracle drug. If someone had told them there was a miracle drug for a million dollars, they would have gone and bought it no matter what the cost. "What to do," he said, "it's meant to be--when your time is up you have to go also."

I got into a discussion about funerals with a younger man down on the end of the Jetty one day. He told me that in the olden days when they carried the coffin, if it was a woman, they had a phoenix, and if a man, a dragon on top. The coffin with the rounded end is very heavy. They carry it with a pole. They would have 32 people to carry it. Now no more, he said. One hundred days one must wear black. Now no more black. One could not shave hair for a hundred days either, but that custom is no longer practiced.

Here if they carry the coffin from the Jetty, it will be down to the end of the Weld Quay only, where it is on a hearse and taken it away. Now young people have no experience in carrying coffins, so they don't carry them. There is a taboo on it, people "pan tang" it. They mention it is too heavy. So no one carries it. They just keep the rituals short and go to the funeral and pay last respects.

"You need the people to carry the coffin," he told me. Young men carried coffins on both shoulders, changing shoulders as they went. Then some one else took over. "It is to pay last respects, but need people who can do it. If they carry it to the funeral it is more proper, more fun, more traditional. If you put it in a hearse then no fun." He told me he liked it when they carried the coffin. "The Jetty people carry it, even if they are young. Some people are scared if they carry a coffin. If money, take this, take that, then '932' (take off, leave the ceremony) enough already. A dollar, enough already--then you meet up with spirits, ghosts."

After the funeral of a middle-aged woman who had died of breast cancer, two small red candles were laid at the door step of all the homes of the Jetty. Death is darkness, and this darkness has come over the house of the deceased. Since the houses of the Jetty are so close, darkness descends upon the whole Jetty. If you go to a funeral, it is "dirty" or polluting. The red candles are symbolic of "lightness and cleanliness" and are distributed (like candy) as a "thank you gift," to give back the lightness again. The candles are lit and burned that evening to purify the houses, to bring back the "sweetness and lightness" and good fortune.

Regarding the religious beliefs of the people of the Jetty, a newspaper article based on an interview with its headman reported "The residents also strongly believe that they are blessed and protected from harm by the gods or deities they worshipped and to date no serious misfortune has struck the jetties." No homes have collapsed into the sea or been razed by fire. Elaborate rituals and opera shows are staged three times a year on the Jetty (the opera players reside upon the Jetty while in Penang), to "appease the deities and to ensure their continued protection." It then reported a baby was found floating unharmed in the water, which the jetty residents attributed to the power of the Gods.

Part of the our survey included asking which Gods the people of the Jetty worshipped. Out of 45 households surveyed, 36 worshipped the god Tua Pek Kong, or "God of Prosperity" (80%). Another 13 mentioned the Goddess of Mercy (28.9%). Two mentioned "Kuan Kong" and one each of the following gods: Hai Ching, Buddha, Chor So Kong, Hung Chen, Yi Hon Wah, Kuek Seng Ong, Seng Chai, Hua Kong, Huat Cho Kong, Loh Chay Kong, Tai Seng Eya, Chek Kong, Christian Jesus, Choon Tah Por Say Teh, Teh Cho Kong. Most people reported only worshipping one god, 34 of 45 (75.6%), yet it is safe to say that most of the people will at times worship more than one god.

I asked one informant to break down Chinese heaven for me:


There is Ti Kong, the God of Heaven. The God of Heaven holds the highest rank. Then there is the household God, Tua Pe Kong. Kuan Kong is for business people. Lo Chia Kong is the baby God. Pu Cho Ma is the Goddess who takes care of him. Ma Cha Po is the household goddess who takes care of fishermen. Fishermen usually pray to her in their households. Sam Thai Chu is similar to Lo Chia, another household God. Chai Lai is for luck. Kong Chu Kong is for students to pray for good results in exams. Siam Te Kong has one foot on snake and one foot on tortoise. All worship Gods for money. Tai Te Yia is the resident God of the Jetty.

Hell is Gam Lo Hong. Cow face and Horse face. They take care of hell. They are the bottom ones, Tua A, Gia A--the tongues stick out long and they wear a high hat. During the seventh month they ask for money also. Tai Su Yeh is the King of Hell. A dangerous spirit, you simply can't talk bad about him.

Humans stay on earth. They cannot stay in heaven or hell. When we are here they are bigger. We have to tow the line.

For me there are no such things as ghosts. If you believe in ghosts, then there are (ghosts), but if you don't (believe in them), there is no such thing as ghosts. After you die you become a ghost. Ghosts materialize. After you die, its like sleeping. You don't know anything afterward.



Two boats loaded with offerings, including gas, to take to a deity for safe fishing.


One day we showed up on the Jetty to meet a young man preparing two sampans to be taken out around the end of the point to the north side of the Island to a shrine that could only be reached by sea. There the fishermen and sampan taxi men of the Jetty pray every year for safety. They offer to the God some yellow cooked rice and chicken curry. About ten men get into the boats and set off. It will take them about a half-hour to reach the other side. They will pray for about an hour, and then bring their offerings back.


Actors praying to the Jetty God before beginning their performance.


Another day when we come down to the Jetty the actors residing there are praying at the temple with their costumes on before they play. One has a mask on. They come outside. Four are praying at the altar under the tree. It is the birthday of the tutelary God of the Jetty, Tai Teh Yia-- (Chinese physician who prescribes herbal medicines). The Baby God, Loh Chia Kong, who is also worshipped at the Jetty, is being honored that day as well. At 12:45 P.M., they pick the man who will carry the urn next year. The numbers lady is taking more numbers down on the end. She remembers the numbers off the top of her head.38

A young man is throwing up the two pieces of wood that land on the ground. Each time he throws it one of the boys plays the gong. A lot of old women are there praying with their joss sticks. The furnace next to the coffee shop is smoking a lot and many joss sticks are dumped into it. Flames are shooting out of the ventilation shafts at the top and scorching the roof of the coffee shop. It is too hot to sit too close to it, so we move to the other side. We are concerned that the roof will catch fire as it begins turning black and smoking, but no one else seems to notice and the old stevedore uncle puts more joss in to fuel the fire.

A boy with a gong sets off through the Jetty followed by a train of small boys, banging the gong to tell all the people to come out. Soon he comes back. The aunties are bringing their food out and some men and children are setting up the red tables and benches. The women stand in front of their food as they get it all out. More and more people come out. There are pigs, dishes, and bags of rice.

A man inside the temple begins trancing. He is on a red stool, yawning. Dressed in yellow trousers. He yawns again. Slowly he goes into a trance. His head is quivering. A boy picks up a cobra headed rope whip. Now the shaman is in a full trance state. Snot is coming out from his nose, he is spluttering and foam is coming from his mouth. His whole body is tense. He hits the floor with his hand, kicks up his legs back, pats a hand on loor and suddenly jumps back. A man catches him from behind. He remains frozen in a fixed posture and the man sets him back down. He does this four or five times. They begin dressing him with a red apron--a smock.

A younger man outside the temple, directly behind the first, goes into a trance more slowly and looks less practiced at it, following the man in front of him (see Illustration 5-8). Then he too is foaming at the mouth. And suddenly he quickly lapses into a trance. Someone gives him a baby bottle and they begin braiding up his hair with little ribbons. He is foaming at the mouth as they put a pacifier in his mouth. Two braids are tied with red string. He is giving some people numbers.39


Jetty Shaman entering trance to become the Baby God.


Now they are both walking in a stylized manner (the "horse walk" of some martial arts) over by the tables where all the food is stuck with joss sticks like so many giant pin cushions. One is cracking his whip, giving lucky charms on the yellow paper with a red brush and ink.

The second man who is not as strong as the first tries cracking his whip too, but doesn't do a very good job of it. His performance is not so impressive or convincing and I am left in doubt whether they are really in a trance or not, or just pleasing the crowd.

The man is holding flags--old tattered, faded purple, triangular flags, like miniature versions of the kind that the people fly in front and in back of the Jetty. Both men are dressed the same way. Holding flags, waving them. A dirty red one, a green one, brown, white, black. He is giving more talismans outside the temple. As he cracks the braided whip, fluff comes from the rope of the whip. He is clearly giving the people a performance. He drops a flag and waits for a man to pick it back up for him, not breaking his posture. He is throwing up the two pieces of wood and people follow him around for talismans.

They are still foaming at the mouth, cracking the whip, eyes are partially closed, squinting. One man plants a flag in a pot of food. The entire performance lasts from about 3:00 to 3:55 P.M. They are now planting flags in all the food. Black, green, yellow, red, white ones. They are still holding the brown and light purple flags, carrying 3 or four joss sticks and waving the purple flag.

I count about 74 men and boys and about 67 women and girls present. I recognize most of them. And not everyone is present. The old fishing uncle on the end told us he doesn't bother with it. It is 4:08 P.M. and the baby God with two locks in his hair is giving candy to the children, who are taking it with glee. He then cracks his whip to scare the kids back. All the women are around the back tables praying with joss sticks. Both children and adults are very excited. The women are putting the joss sticks in all the food. All the women are around praying. By 4:12 P.M. the trancing in front has stopped, but the drum and gong beat on. The two trancers look tired in their performance as they struggle to keep up a good show.

The drumming continues. Paper money is mounded up in six different places. The sixth mound is burning. The trancer comes around and lights each mound around the tables in counterclockwise fashion. The small paper horses with the grass hay in their mouths are burning. (The horses transport the spirits down to earth, and the horses are being cared for also. They must eat like the Gods during the ceremony). The green grass in their mouths are smoking on top of the mounds.

All the fires are now lit and the trancers are going back around the tables cracking their whips. One of them is now throwing up wooden blocks behind the tea offerings at the back of the table. Then he does a horse-walk quickly back into the temple. The other trancer, the "Baby God," is still giving candy to the babies and children. He takes out his whip and strikes it as the children move back. By 4:27 P.M., the food is being kept back inside the homes. The food disappears fairly quickly. They talk in a strange voice, like hysterical little children. One of them goes back inside the temple trancing. The Baby God remains outside, talking to the children. The other shaman is inside now, writing talismans on the back of a young boy's T-shirt.People are asking the shaman-priests questions and for talismans inside the temple. He cracks his whip.

The whip cracks, the drumming resumes. The baby god comes back outside and people escort him to their homes inside the Jetty so that he can pray for talismans for them. Later they were to come back out of the trance in the same way they entered it. The one was back on his stool inside the temple, jumping back and being caught by the man behind him. Soon they were back to their old selves, no longer possessed by the Gods.


1 Nearby the historical "clan complex" of the 19th century of the five or six original clans of Penang, which influenced the resulting dialectical patterns of Penang Hokkien. Khoo 1991:26-28. back

2 Of a sample of 64 households upon the Jetty where we worked: five (7.8%) indicate that they had been on the Jetty less than 20 years, six indicate that they had been there between 20 and 30 years (9%), 22 between 40-50 years (34%), 13 between 50 and 70 years (20%), 11 between 70 and 100 years (17%), and seven over 100 years (10%). back

3 The difficulty in getting an accurate count is that on the larger two Jetties the homes are built interconnected in a labyrinthine manner, such that it is difficult to judge where one home begins and the other ends. Even on the largest Jetty where we did most of our work, after we thought we had mapped all the homes fairly precisely, we discovered the existence of one or two more homes that are so well hidden from view we walked by them everyday without knowing about their existence until the end of the study. In the non-surname communities we were not inclined to walk about too much, because we didn't know any people there and this area was notorious for several gangs. back

4 How many people lived on the Jetty was one of the first questions I asked of people living on the Jetty. Of 26 men asked, five said they didn't know; two said between 600 and 800; six between 800 and 1,000; nine said over 1,000; two said between 12 and 1,400; two said over 2,000. Thus among the men there was a slight tendency (50%) to over estimate the numbers, 30.7% were close to the mark, and 19.2% didn't know. This number is interesting because the profile of 42 women asked three (7%) didn't respond, six estimated at "over 1000," (14%) and 33 (78.5%) said they didn't know ("I only cook," "I don't get around much," "I don't mix with many people here," "Too many to count," "People come and go," "I just moved here one year"). It points to a significant difference between men who overestimate the number compared with women who do not know, with a chi square of 17.9, significant over the .001 level. I interpret both of these differences to reflect the difference of perspective between men and women of the Jetty, and their focal orientation towards jetty life. back

If the average of 11 persons per household is extended to hold as well for the other communities, then the overall population of the seven jetties would be approximately 1,980 people plus or minus 100 persons, and probably on the order of 2,640 people plus or minus 200, for the entire jetty area. If we use the median instead of the mean as a more realistic estimate, then there would be about 1,440 persons on the seven jetties and about 1,920 for the whole jetty area. back

5 Measurement of the total area of 21 homes yields an average of 478 square feet per household. If we divide this by the average of 9.52 persons in these households then we get an average of 50 square feet per person. back

6 The other categories also represent more specialized and skilled occupations. There were three goldsmiths (4%), two people working in the dyeing trade, two canteen workers, two salespeople, two cashiers at supermarkets, two car paint sprayers (2.9% each), and one each (1.4%) of the following occupations: school shopkeeper, shipping, small business employee, remisier, construction, restaurant worker, ceiling tile setter, sundry shop, shop keeper, auto mechanic, printing, carpenter, fireman, crane operator, tile-setter, toiler paper worker, coffee shop worker, biscuit shop worker, baby-sitter, sampan driver, welder, telephone operator and furniture maker. back

7 These numbers are probably deflated and disguise the actual frequencies. It safe to say that there is at least one refrigerator for all but the most poor households. At least one or two households were so poor that they lacked a refrigerator. But in Penang a refrigerator remains an important acquisition, and many refrigerators may be undersized compared to the number of people using it in the household. Though it may not be a "necessicity" in the strict sense when hawker food is so easily available, it is a superlative and much coveted convenience in the tropical climate. back

The rice cooker is such a basic part of everyday life that people probably just didn't think to include it in the inventory of appliances. There may be more than one rice cooker per house. back

8 This resistance is especially marked on the Jetty where we conducted our study, which paradoxically can be considered perhaps the most open Jetty to intrusion. Everyday several busloads of wealthy white tourists come down to the Jetty to take pictures and walk along its front pathway. On any given day several hundred of such wealthy tourists turn up, and all day long tourists are coming in individually or led in small groups by a trishaw cum tour-guide. Despite so much heavy tourist traffic, the Jetty Chinese have almost no contact or interaction with these people, and have not set up any business or sell anything to these people. Needing film, I asked the sundry shop lady why she didn't sell film to attract the tourist dollars. She told me that no one on the Jetty took any pictures. back

9 On the first day, I counted about 221 people outside, over which 128 were males and 93 were females. Of the males, 97 did nothing for me at all, and 31 did one or more tasks for me. Of those males who did nothing for me, 46 were estimated to be over the age of thirty and 36 between the teens and twenties. Of the women, 48 counted had done nothing for me, and 45 counted had done one or more things for me. back

On the second day, I had counted a total of 128 people, of which 87 were men and 41 were women. Of the men, 61 had done nothing for me and of the women 15 had done nothing while 26 had done at least one task for me. Of the men who had done nothing for me, 47 were above 30 years of age. back

On both counts, the most salient, highest frequency group were the men between the ages of 30 and 60. The chi square test for significance in a 2 x 2 contingency table for 1 degree of freedom in the first case was over 13, significant over the alpha level of .001, while the same test for the second case was 12.989, also significant over the alpha level of .001. Hence there is a significant correlation between males' unwillingness and females' willingness to perform the tasks. Though many reasons may account for these differences between men and women, the significance of this difference is clear.  back

Of a total of 349 people counted, 222 (64%) had done nothing for me, though most of them had regularly appeared to be available to be interviewed and many of them had been asked repeatedly but always declined. Of those who did perform at least one task for me, a total of 27 did only one task (7.7%); 57 did two or three (16.3%); 21 did a few for me (6%); and only 24 would do almost anything I asked of them (6.6%). back

These differences between men and women on the Jetty serve to highlight some of the kinds of differences which were ethnographically apparent upon the Jetty--women appeared to be more open and available to being interviewed, and consistently completed more different kinds of tasks than the men in almost every area. There may be many reasons operating in the background to account for these kinds of difference, but they are nonetheless empirically clear and consistent and statistically significant differences.  back

10 In terms of travel abroad, of 70 households interviewed, the average was 1.6 places traveled with a median and mode of two and a range of five. Of the 70, 12 indicated they hadn't been anywhere outside Malaysia (17%); 47 indicated Singapore (67%); 45 indicated Thailand (64 %); six indicated Taiwan (8.5%); five indicated Indonesia and Hong Kong each (7%); and one each (1.4%) to China, Japan, Australia, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, South Korea and the U.S. back

In terms of places traveled to within Malaysia, interviewees traveled an average of 3.6 different places, with a median and mode of four and a range of ten. Out of 70, nine had not been outside of Penang (12.8%); 49 indicated Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city (70%); 30 to Ipoh (42.8%); 29 to Genting Highlands, a gambling resort (41.4%); 19 to Taiping (27%); 14 each to the Cameroon Highlands and Langkawi, both popular local holiday resort spots (20%); nine each to Johor Bahru and Pangkor (12.8%); 7 each to Perak and Malacca (10%); five to Kedah (7%); three each (4.3%) to Alor Setar, Sungei Petani, and Kelantan; two each (2.8%) to Selangor, Telok Anson, and Trengganu; and one each (1.4%) to Kroh, Sabah, Perlis, Kuala Kurau, Batu Mertajam, Pahang and Baling. Three men (2.8%) said they had been all over Malaysia. back

In terms of relatives living abroad there was an average of 1 living abroad with a median and mode of zero and a range of three. Out of 70, 37 had no relatives abroad (52.8%); 17 had relatives living in Singapore (24%); four (5.7%) each in Australia, Thailand, and China; three in the U.S. (4%); two in Japan (2.8%);and one each (1.4%) in Canada, England, Taiwan and Hong Kong. back

In terms of relatives living outside of Penang, there was a average of one per household. Seven of 70 (10%) had no relatives outside of Penang; 18 (25.7%) in Kuala Lumpur; 13 in neighboring Butterworth just across the channel (18.5%); 12 in Perak state (17%); ten in Johore Bahru (14.3%); four in Taiping (5.7%); two each (2.8%) in Kedah state, Ipoh, and Malacca; and one each (1.4%) in Lumut, Teluk Tawar, Trengganu state, Sungei Petani, Sarawak, Sabah, Bukit Mertajam, Kuala Kangsar and Pangkor. back

11 In terms of Malays known, the average was 6.7 with a median and mode of 0 and a range of 101. Thirty-Nine of a sample of 70 (55.7%) did not know any Malays; 20 indicated under ten (27%); six indicated between 10 and 20 (8.6%); four indicated between 20 and 30 (5.7%); two indicated between 40 and 50 (2.8%); one indicated over 100 and one indicated "a lot" (1.4% each). Two indicated having known Malays from childhood days on the Kampong, and one from work. back

The average number of Indians known is 3.5, about half the number of Malays reported, with a median and mode of one and a range of 75. Of 70 people, 45 (64%) knew no Indians; 20 knew under ten Indians (28.6%); 2 each knew between 10 and 20, and between 20 and 30 (2.8%) and one each (1.4%) between 30 and 40 and over 50. Three persons indicated knowing Indians from work. back

12 Twenty of 70 indicated speaking good Mandarin (28.6%); ten of 70 indicated speaking good Malay (14%); six of 70 good Cantonese (8.5%); 2 each indicated good English and Burmese (2.8%); and one each indicated Teo Chew, Khek, Thai and Japanese (1.4%). Of the same 70, 36 (51%) indicated partial Malay (hearing only or speaking a little bit or poorly); 31 (44%) indicated partial Cantonese; 30 (42.8%) indicated speaking partially (usually hearing but not speaking, or only speaking a few words very poorly) Mandarin; 17 indicated partial English (24%); two indicated partial Teochew and Burmese (2.8%) and one each (1.4%) Khek and Thai. back

The Chi square test for the difference between men and women in those who know no Malays versus one or more Malays is 10.93, significant past .001. back

The Chi square for the difference between men and women who report no Indians known versus those who know one or more Indians is 12.48, significant past the .001 level. back

The Chi square for the difference between men and women together who know no Indians or Malays versus those who know one or more of either is 25.644, significant past the .001 level. back

13 It might be inferred that there is definitely a significant connection between television viewing and knowledge of Malay, and probably between Mandarin and television viewing, and not likely between television watching and English. I suspect the statistic of Cantonese is biased in favor of those who speak it well, because of either giving no indication of level of knowledge of Cantonese or of having learned it so well through television that the difference is blurred. back

14 In terms of newspapers, only nine indicated they never read it, largely because of illiteracy (12.8%); 28 (40%) indicated they read it sometimes; 23 indicated they read it everyday ( 32%). Thirty-eight indicated that they read only Mandarin newspapers (54%) while five (7%) indicated they also read English newspapers and one (1.4%) also Malay newspapers. back

Correlations between TV news, newspapers and other categories indicate there is a positive correlation of .3 between watching news on TV and the wealth ranking, and between reading the newspaper and number of workers per household, size of the household, wealth ranking, number of appliances; a .2 positive correlation between TV news and number of workers, household size and work-skills rating, and between newspapers and number of Indians known, languages known, travel outside of Malaysia; a .1 positive correlation between TV news and reading newspapers, number of Indians known, number of children in household, number of appliances in household, number of relatives living outside of Penang and number of Malays known, and between reading newspapers and number of children in household, number of relatives living outside of Penang and number of Malays known.  back

15 Chi square tests for significance for the following categories are presented: back

For women above 39 years old compared to men above 39 years of age the significance of systolic pressure above 140, chi square is 4.595, significant above the level of .05.

For women above 39 years old compared to men above 39 years of age the significance of diastolic pressure above 90, chi square is .014, not significant below the level of .9

For women 39 years or below compared to men 39 or below, the significance of systolic pressure above 140, chi square is 1.859, significant above the level of 0.1.

For women 39 years or below compared to men 39 or below, the significance of diastolic pressure above 90, chi square is 3.708, significant above the level of 0.05.

For women older than 39 compared to women 39 or under the significance of high systolic pressure above 140, chi square is 6.45, significant above the .01 level.

For women older than 39 compared to women 39 or under the significance of high diastolic pressure above 90, chi square is .154, significant above the .5 level.

For men older than 39 compared to men 39 or under the significance of high systolic pressure above 140, chi square is 9.2, significant above the .001 level.

For men older than 39 compared to men 39 or under the significance of high diastolic pressure above 90, chi square is 2.1, significant above the 0.1 level.

For women above 39 years old compared to men above 39 years of age the significance of systolic pressure above 160, chi square is 0.074, significant above the level of .95.

For women 39 years or below compared to men 39 or below, the significance of systolic pressure above 160, chi square is .814, significant above the level of 0.25.

For women older than 39 compared to women 39 or under the significance of high systolic pressure above 160, chi square is 2.17, significant above the .1 level.

For men older than 39 compared to men 39 or under the significance of high systolic pressure above 140, chi square is .716, significant above the .25 level. back

16 There was a positive correlation of systolic (.4) and diastolic (.32) with increasing age, and only slight positive correlations between body fat measures, height, and blood pressure. There is slight negative correlation between age and body fat measures, as well as with heart rate and height, and a slightly negative correlation with height and systolic (-.24) and bicep measures and height, as well as systolic and bicep measure (-.12). back

17 Other patterns were: to see the Western doctor first, and if treatment proved inefficacious, then to the Chinese sinseh (two men, 7%, four women, 9.5%, total 8.6%); to go to both equally (one man, 3.5%, six women, 14%, total 10%); to see the Chinese sinseh first, and then the Western doctor (one man, 3.5%, one woman, 2%, total 2.8%); to seek over the counter medicine from the pharmacies as the first health choice (four men, 14.3%, one woman, 2%, total 8.6%); to go to the "clinic" which is tantamount to seeking western medicine first (two men, 7%, two women, 4.7%, total 5.7%); one man mentioned the hospital as the second choice to over-the-counter remedies (1.4% of total) and four men mentioned that it depended upon the situation, according to the nature of the illness (14.3% of males, 5.7% of total). back

18 Correlations between age, number of children, age of marriage, age of first child, difference between age of marriage and child and years of education reveal that there is a high positive correlation between age of marriage and age of first child (.98) and between age and number of kids (.72) There are significant negative correlations between level of education and age (-.63), number of children (-.4) and difference between age of marriage and first birth (-.24). There is also a negative correlation between number of children and age of marriage (-3.9) and age at first birth (-.37). back

These measures are corroborated with the correlations of the larger sample of 100 in which there is high positive correlation between age and number of children (.7), number of children and death of children (.53) and age and the death of children (0.42).back

19 There is a common type of unidentified skin disorder on the legs from childhood up, consisting of festering welts and sores, which leaves permanent scars, and which appears to be associated with living near or frequent contact with the salty water, above mud, in a humid climate and upon wood. These sores may be confused with mosquito bites or bed bugs. back

20 Eating less meat (6, 13%); more vegetables (two, 4%); fewer vegetables (one, 2%); eating less overall (one, 2%); food not so good (one, 2%); food more expensive (one, 2%); and eating more (one, 2%) back

21 Of 46 people asked: 26 eat out everyday (56.5%, and four of these eat every meal out), four people eat out once a week, nine eat out two to four times a week, one eats out only rare, one twice a month, and six do not ever eat out. back

22 Six once a week, 11 two to three times a week, and six 3 or 4 times a week, or about once every other day. back

23 Seven indicate once a month, 12 indicate two or three times a month, one indicates 3-4 times a month, and one indicates once every other month. One person commented that only rich people go to the supermarket. One person said they go there everyday to buy stout beer. Four indicated that their womenfolk like to go, and four indicated their children like to go play there. One likes to window-shop, three only go when they need to buy things for the house, one for clothes, one for canned goods, one for milk powder, one for biscuits, and ten (14%) go because of the offers and sales. back

24 "How to make salted fish. It is very dirty. People who do salted fish for a business, their place is dirty. Bring up fish, clean it a little bit. Put it out until maggots and flies are crawling on it. Soak it in brine one or two hours, dry it outside until 60-70 percent dry. Pack it up and sell it already. This is bad, if you make it yourself then it is clean and good already. If it smells then it is good eat it. If you have a sore and eat salted fish, it will never heal." back

25 "The more poisonous the snake, the more cleansing it is. You buy a python and get the bile, dry it up until it is flat. If tomorrow you want to eat it, today you slice it. Small thin slices. Soak it. Drink it in the morning. Cool the body. Buy just a dollar's worth. Soak it in the water. It is very bitter. Kids don't want to drink it. I forced my child to drink it when she had the measles. The water changes color, yellow and black. If you put hot water then the bile will die. It kills the properties so you must soak it in cold water and dry it first. I have seen a Chinese medicine seller at Komtar slit a snake and immediately sell it to the crowd, mix the blood with wine. The council doesn't allow him anymore." back

26 Of a sample of 48 (36 women and 12 men): four (8.5%) do not take regular meals, none just take one meal a day, eight (all women, 17.4%) take only two meals, 22 take three meals a day (48%, 17 women, five men), seven take four meals in a day, (15%, five women, two men) and four take five or more meals in a day (8.5%, one woman and three men). Of these meals taken, 15 of 46 have no "main" meal (32.6%, 14 women and one man), only two women eat breakfast as a main meal (4%), eight indicate lunch as the main meal (17.4%, four men and four women) and 23 indicate dinner or supper as the main meal (50%, 16 women and seven men). back

When asked about morning meals, ten of 47 ate no breakfast, and the following items, in order of frequency, were mentioned, milk (16), mee (noodles, 11), bread (ten), milo (ten), eat out (eight), koay teow (three) eggs, porridge, biscuits, rice (two each), kueh, coffee, sugar, chicken, oats, nasi lemak (one each).  back

27 The people of the Jetty used to rear chickens, ducks, and pigs over the Jetty. back

28 We may also refer to patterns "adaptive stress response" which result in avoidance or withdrawal from participation in the outside world, and which in a vicious cycle incapacitate the individual's adaptability to these exogenous relations. back

29 It is not my purpose to explain away the pattern of poverty, its causes or its "culture of poverty" in relation to the Jetty. Any number of arguments may be developed (especially in terms of structures of opportunity) to explain why the Jetty Chinese are atypically poor in a typically more affluent Chinese city. It is a relatively poor community compared to the town Chinese, but it is not completely poor, compared to many rural Malays or other groups such as Indians. Poverty remains the predominant patterning in Malaysian society despite the number of Chinese towkays and their dragon-wives who drive Mercedes-Benz cars. back

30 In fact, most men are probably gainfully employed and many women are actually just housewives, and the number of men sitting forever in the coffee shop or young men hanging out gambling is actually only a minority which does not represent the dominant and more stable adult pattern. But this subordinate pattern is nonetheless salient enough within the community not to escape notice, and not to have bearing in the understanding of the community ethos and organization. back

31 It is apparent that fissioning is correlated with: 1) Grandchildren coming of age within the household, 2) The resulting crowding of the household, 3) The senior adults growing too old to effectively manage the household or else dying, 4) Growing wealth and material accumulation, 5) The inherently divisive career trajectories of the sons or daughters within the household that leads to relocation, 6) differences of personality or value orientation, especially between affinal or distant relatives. back

It stands to reason that when male and female cousins come of age under the same roof and are ready to earn money and engage in affairs of the heart, the affinally related mothers-in-laws would feel a strong inclination to avoid the possibilities of cross-cousin relationships, which would be seen as unnatural, and also to control their children's resources which might otherwise go into the extended family or to the benefit of other, only distantly related families. Wolf refers to the presence of "uterine" families within the larger extended family context (1972:166). Several instances were apparent on the Jetty of wive's of brothers actually partitioning the entire house in half, and though the families (cousins) live only a few feet apart, having almost nothing to do with each other. back

It is also the case that some individuals (particularly wives, sisters-in-law or step-children) who are more selfish and dependent than others will attempt to acquire or control resources for themselves and their "uterine families," often by deceit or manipulation and at the expense of others, though they are not themselves the producers of those resources (these individuals are referred to as "looi bin" or "money-faced," and they also appear to be conniving, gossip-prone, and relatively more sinocentric or closed-minded). This can result in conflict and in separation and mutual avoidance, especially between the son's wives, as the sons or males become "caught in the middle" and have clearly divided loyalties. It can be said that the men are not earning for themselves, but for their ancestors and for their children. back

In this regard, the example of a friend, who was a successful towkay after taking over his father's small business, is illustrative. After the father's accidental death, the mother and elder sons were about to sell off their shares in the business to the partner. One son, who was not even senior or from the first wife's family, decided independently to take over the responsibility, and learned the ropes of the trade almost from scratch. Within ten years he enlarged the company to the point of having many employees and international connections. The other sons who were not as hard working then began making demands on his profit, even though they had never directly contributed to the building of the business. He ended up buying them homes (costing a considerable amount of money) without his wife's knowledge in order to satisfy them. He was afraid to tell his wife, as it would probably have led to a permanent separation of the extended family, while his mother was still alive. back

A related pattern appears to be the occasional open fighting between women over a man. One such case, which we observed at a morning market, was between two women who were apparently sharing the same man and which resulted in some shoving, hair-pulling, slapping and much profane scolding. Everyone in the market took a great interest in the incident. The man was nowhere to be found. Numerous reported cases of first wives threatening or beating up (usually with the assistance of others) second wives or mistresses of the husband point to the same pattern. The "sharing" of men and their resources is not taken lightly, though sometimes allowed, especially if there are offspring from the relationship involved. These were the only cases of overt, public aggression among the Chinese that was apparent during our fieldwork, besides mothers picking on or publicly scolding or beating their children, or the acts of aggressive "siow" street-women.back

It appears thus that households cannot hold together well past a certain point of incorporation of members of the kinship model, unless some other factors are at work in the background (i.e., a strong patriarch, close or loving siblings, or a tolerant matron) to sustain the corporate household--beyond the third generation, or at the third remove of collaterality, the corporate household must fracture and split apart. back

32 Correlations between this ranking scale of wealth, a 5 pt. rating scale applied to job skills represented by reported frequencies, along with number of children in household, size of household, number of appliances in household, number of languages known by interviewee, number of places traveled to outside Malaysia, outside of Penang, relatives outside of Penang, and outside of Malaysia, and number of Malay and Indian friends reported, and the number who work in the household, reveal the following set of measures. back

There are high positive correlations between the number of children in household and size of household, (.7) and between the number of appliances in household and the rank scale for wealth, (.7) and the number who work and the size of the household. (.7) back

There are relatively high positive correlations between number who work and number of children (.5); the number of Malays and Indians known (.5); and the number of places been to outside of Penang and outside of Malaysia (.4); the number of places been outside Penang to the number of Indian's known. (.4) back

There are -.2 correlations between number of children in the household and number of Malays and Indians known and between wealth rank scale and relatives living abroad. There is a -.1 correlation between children in household, and job-skills rating, languages known, places traveled outside of Penang and relatives living abroad, as well as between number of languages spoken and the wealth rank scale and number of workers in the household. back

33 In most of the households (60-70%) on the Jetty, it actually appears that there is a central female figure (or small cliques of related women: i.e., sisters, aunts and nieces, mothers and daughters or daughters-in-law) who manage the household and "make things work." These women appear more active, are frequently involved in petty trade, cooking and selling food on or about the Jetty. If such a woman has a husband, he appears to be "standing in the woman's shadow" in a more passive or underemployed status. back

34 It is also interesting that this exceptional (though not unique) household on the Jetty is relatively open and were much more inviting towards us than other more "sinocentric" households. Another large household in which the grandmother was the senior managress controlling four families and had a similar cooperative orientation. back

35 Key individuals (both men and women in their separate spheres), within different cliques in various behavioral settings across the Jetty, can be quite influential and sometimes opened or closed the door to our getting anything done with those particular groups. We had to deliberately and continuously resist the influence of such people (whom we came to recognize over time) if we were to get anything done on the Jetty, by means of positive image control and small reciprocities to people (Wolf 1972:43). back

36 Love of a parent toward a child is expressed in Hokkien as "tiah" meaning literally "painful love" or "love that is so strong it is painful." back

37 Thus, we might further speculate at this point that many of the frustrations and stresses which are the lot of their parents become indirectly visited upon the child at a fairly early age, leading to a pattern of socialization that effectively undercuts the child's self esteem and their motivation for achievement. back

38 If someone tells her that they dreamed of a dog or a cobra or of a person drowning the night before, she knows the right "propitious" number that is associated with it. One uncle who does a lot of recycling on the Jetty asked me one day if I had any good numbers to give him. I told him I had a table of random numbers. He wanted it and afterward I ended up pinning the table at the back of the Jetty. back

39 By writing them down on a piece of big paper with a pen. It will be put down on a wall for all people to see. The numbers are not straight, but all squiggles which the people must interpret. back