Memoir of an Old Rain Tree ( Samanea saman )

The old Rain Tree ( Samanea saman ) - which was trimmed not long before and is seen covered with wild vegetation - Picture taken recently around noon time. 

To the east of my childhood garden, separated by a wire mesh fence, a shallow drain and a narrow, tarmac car lane, there stands an old Rain tree ( Samanea saman ). Ever so mighty and unmoved by the many vegetation that grow wild on and below it. It has been that magnificently big for as long as I can remember. It was under this tree that I was first introduced to and picked Daun Kadok ( Piper sarmentosum ) vegetables. One of the most delicious wild growing vegetables which I still love to pick every time I go back. And it was under this tree that I had had my first encounter with a blood-sucking leech as a child. 

While it is a norm that Rain trees have beautiful, symmetrical, umbrella-shaped crowns, this particular Rain tree somehow differs. It has a crown that surprisingly tends to tower to the west. Overshadowing our east-facing garden. More so during the rainy season. When its growth speed escalated exponentially. Its shape resembles an unfinished, odd-shaped, half-round umbrella. 

" Perhaps it loves human companions, " Mum used to say. " That's why it grows towards our house and garden. And not towards the vast empty space on its other side! " Which seems very likely to me, until now. As I could not find any possible factors or reasons that could have made it behave so.

When Mum was still around, she used to carry out her morning routines; harvesting, sorting and washing vegetables out in the garden. So, she especially loved this Rain tree. She enjoyed its most cooling wide canopy that provided shade to more than half of our over 5000 square feet garden area till around noon time. Though we did have a few mature trees in our own garden back then, they were not as good, or so she thought. And I think so too.

Growing up, I had had many lazy mornings, waking up late - long after the sun had risen. Had it not been for this cooling Rain tree's canopy, I could not possibly have slept so soundly past breakfast. And only waken up prior to lunch during the weekends and on school holidays. The sun would have entered, shone on and burnt me alive through my east-facing bedroom's windows. Not that I underestimated our own garden trees's ability though.

Most people in our neighbourhood know about this Rain tree. Even students from a nearby secondary school know about it. They always come and sit under it after school every day. Along the edge of the shallow drain right outside our fence. Its shade is so comfortable and cooling that they would usually hang around for an hour or two before going back to their own homes. They often make a lot of noises. I dislike them. As I feel they disturb the peaceful silence and privacy of our garden and home. I have to stay indoors whenever they come. Not only that. Some nasty ones ( all boys ) even smoke and fight under it at times. While some playful ones ( also boys ) purposely set fires to the tree. Just for the fun of it. Once, the fire spread so fast that we had to call the Fire Brigade. Poor old Rain tree! It was quite badly burnt. Luckily, before long, it grew back again.

So, though I love this Rain tree for its shade, I also dislike it at the same time. Because of those nasty boys ( trouble makers ) it attracts until these days. More so when I was still a child. When my everyday chore was to sweep the outside of our house. Since our garden was a part of it, I had to also sweep all those ever falling flowers, leaves and twigs from the Rain tree that landed on our garden. It was not easy. I remember always complaining about it. As it did somehow, significantly increase my workloads. Especially on those days after storms. 

Talking about storms, I really feared them whenever they struck in the past. Not only that they left me with a lot more work. But they made me ( us ) fearful on most days when they struck. They caused the Rain tree to sway. So furiously that it hit at and resulted the adjacent electrical wires to brush against each other and send out sparks. A series of explosions actually! The explosions were so massive at times that we were afraid the sparks from them would touch our house and burn it down. But luckily what we feared never did happen. Every time we complain to the local authority, they would just come and trim off a few nearby branches. They never resorted to do a bit more. Like making sure that the electrical wires would not get to touch each other again. 

Nowadays, Big Bro ( my eldest brother who is still staying there ) would make a complain long before a tree branch gets near the electrical wires. I wonder why we never do just that in the past. Before the problems came. That would have saved us from all those unnecessary fears! Though we have less hours of shade now, it is very worth it. At least we are fear and worry-free! And we have much less debris on our garden and so, less work! If only the boys who come for its cooling shade are more well-behaved, I guess we would have nothing more to complain or worry.... 

And the old Rain tree, I suppose, would be much happier to be of service to us too!

Some Harvests and My First Compost-making Attempt

My neighbour who stays a few houses away from mine came and greeted me when I started to do some harvests for Fourth Sis, at my backyard in Ipoh on Wednesday morning. She told me that she has been harvesting my Butterfly Pea or Clitoria ternatea flowers all the while, while I was not around. She thought it is necessary to be honest with and inform me about her deed. I said I am fine with that as long as she would only do so whenever I am not around. As I may need them myself. Either for making tea or giving colours to my food. Though most of the time, I just love to leave them on the vines for the eyes to feast on and to beautify the dull fence. She said she understands and thanked me before leaving for her morning walk.

There were quite a lot of Butterfly Pea flowers for harvest this time but I only harvested some - just enough for Fourth Sis to use in her dessert-making this coming weekend.

The Basil plants were very strong and healthy. But the leaves were quite aged and tough. However, Fourth Sis did not seem to mind that. She insisted that I harvest some and bring back to Kuala Lumpur for her to cook.

The sweet potato leaves were aged and tough too. But still Fourth Sis wanted them. She said they would still taste good if stir fry with a bit more oil and water. And so, I harvested some for her.

After doing all the harvests, I began my first compost-making attempt - which I hope would eventually, become my long term project. ( Making my own compost has become very necessary and urgent nowadays, considering the fact that there is very little supply of coffee grounds by Eldest Sis's neighbour recently, and that I am not someone who would go around and ask for some! ) 

I had bought five quite big but rejected ( with a little bit of manufacturing defects here and there ) clay pots ( glazed on the outside ) from a nearby pot-making factory the day before with a good bargain price. I used the one that has a good depth and with a wide opening to pile all my compost material. I collected a lot of dried leaves, twigs, fruit peels and some long-expired food stuffs like grains, seaweeds, baking yeasts and mushrooms from my kitchen in Kuala Lumpur - and dumped them all into the pot. I had read about people putting in egg cartons to speed up the composting process. I have no idea how good is that and whether there would be any chemical leeching from them into my compost. But I tried anyway and see what happens next. 

The pot was only partially filled-up this time. I did not have any more to put in. So, I just watered and covered it with a more shallow glazed, clay pot for the time being until I go back again next time and put in some more material.

I wonder how long it would take for the compost to set and be ready for use. I have no idea at all. But I think I would find that out somehow! Someday!

All for now. Thank you for reading this! Till next time. Bye!

My Sweet Potatoes ' Have Come A Long Way ', Nobody Knows It But Me!

The sweet potatoes that I had dug up yesterday. 

A neighbour of mine looked on in awe as I dug up some sweet potatoes from my front yard planter yesterday morning ( when I happened to be at my home in Ipoh for a short two hours ). She was amazed at the quantity and size of the sweet potatoes that I had dug up.

" You know, I've planted sweet potato vines many times since years ago but they've never had any sweet potatoes. " she told me. 

Just then, as she was telling me this, another neighbour ( whose house is on the left of hers ) came out of her house. She called out to her and asked her to come over and see my sweet potato harvest. 

" A lot of people have said that you've got to plant the vines on raised beds in order to get some tubers ( sweet potatoes ). But as you can see, she didn't! Yet, she managed to get some - some quite big ones! How's that possible? " she asked her next door neighbour, pointing at my newly-dug up sweet potatoes.

Not really expecting an answer, she continued, " Moreover, her planter is so small and she is seldom around to look after the vines, what more, water them! Oh, I just can't figure out how she can easily get those tubers! And I must admit that I'm actually quite envious of her! " ( Little did she know that I have actually put in a lot of time and effort in nurturing the vines and weeding the planter they are planted in whenever I got to be around! )

Funnily, her next door neighbour never seemed to get her news right. She suddenly shot these questions or remarks at her as she got nearer, " I thought it's the pumpkin!!? What're all these? Oh, yes you were saying sweet potatoes! Weren't you? How silly I am! That pumpkin thing has long since been a history! Well, what a wonderful harvest all these are! "

All the while ( while they were busy discussing and talking about my sweet potato harvest ), I just maintained an all smiling face. Only when they had finally finished with all the talking and turned to me that I started to speak...

" I'm just lucky and patient! " I said, with a wide smile on my face. " Lucky that nature has ( most of the time ) been kind to me. Lucky that I've got some good soils to work with. And lucky that I've got some coffee grounds and homemade eco-friendly enzymes to feed them, and to boost their energy. Finally and most importantly, I've got an inborn patience. Growing sweet potatoes could take about four months or more. That is probably too long a time for those who lack patience! " I continued, hinting her that ' impatience ' could be the reason she is not getting any sweet potatoes all these years.

........... I have only harvested a few sweet potatoes ( tubers ) ( total weight = 1.2 kg ) this time, but already, it has initiated a discussion among my curious neighbours. The story of my previous one and only precious pumpkin has been ( and still is ) one of the many topics of conversation among my neighbours since three months back ( whenever they meet - while walking their dogs around the neighbourhood in the evenings )! I think if I were to harvest a couple more sweet potatoes when I go back to Ipoh again next week, they would remember and talk about them for years!

My sweet potato vines on the planter before the digging up of the sweet potatoes.

Would You Be Interested In SNACKING On SEA ALMONDS?

Part picture of the Ketapang or Sea Almond or Terminalia catappa tree ( with fruit clusters ) - taken adjacent to A'king Jetty, Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia.

Once, my Singaporean friend was hesitant, when I extracted a tiny nut from a small fruit which I had picked up from under a big tree at the East Coast Park and handed it over to him to taste, " Are you sure this is edible, and not POISONOUS??? "

Seeing my serious gesture, he popped it into his mouth anyway. Not without a doubtful look on his face though. His eyebrows raised questioningly and that made me laughed out aloud.

He chewed on it for a few seconds. Then, he blurted out, " Oh, this tastes just like almond! " 

" It is one, " I smilingly said. " An almond... - well, a sea almond to be exact! " I told him, happily. 

" We had lots of these fruits landed on our garden - dispersed by fruit bats and squirrels from an adjacent tree - when I was still a child. Our parents told us that their kernels are edible. Growing up, I have had eaten lots of them - especially whenever I feel bored. And as you can see, I am still around today! " I continued, laughingly.

While the trees are most commonly found growing on our coasts or in our jungles and parks or along our roadsides, the Sea Almond or Ketapang or Terminalia catappa fruit kernels ( nuts ) edibility is rarely known to a lot of people. It is not surprising though - considering the fact that they are extremely difficult and not worthwhile to extract. Thus, making them uninteresting to people and so, words about them, not widespread too. Only a FEW like me, I suppose and some wild animals like fruit bats and squirrels know about and appreciate them, it seems.

To me, they make really great snacks on a boring day. The fun is all about having to really ' work hard in extracting them ' - in order to enjoy just a tiny bit of them - which I find most challenging and interesting! 

What about you? Would you be interested in SNACKING on SEA ALMONDS too?

An old Ketapang or Sea Almond or Terminalia catappa tree - Picture taken at Tenggol Coral Beach Resort, Tenggol Island, Terengganu, Malaysia.