"Have you started the fire?" shouted my mum from the kitchen. "Yes!" I replied, feeling
frustrated after having some difficulties in starting the fire with charcoal. It is the eve of the
annual Dragon Boat Festival again and my mum is busy making
dumplings. She has specifically
chosen to cook the dumplings with charcoal, claiming that the rice will then be uniformly cooked
and fragrant. I still prefer to use the gas cooker. "It's just more convenient and cleaner too!"
grumbling helplessly, I stared at both of my soiled hands.
Fanning the hot stove, I watched my mum lower down two strings of dumplings. "Stay put
and watch over them. Mind the time too!" She instructed sternly, knowing what a fantastic
daydreamer I am. Feeling bored only minutes after she had left, my mind starts to wonder about.
Reminiscing the life back at home town, I recalled myself popping over at Uncle Chin's charcoal
manufacturing factory frequently when I was a child. Being
inquisitive, I would always ask Uncle
Chin questions which sometimes were repetitive. What an irritating kid I had been?
Charcoal was made by burning woods in a charcoal-kiln. Uncle Chin's charcoal kiln was
about fifteen feet tall and it had an arched cross-sectional opening. Clay made, the top of the kiln
was always covered with attap leaves. The daily charcoal-making work was well divided among
the workers. Every morning, the workers took turns to collect mangrove woods from the nearby
swamps. Upon returning, they sawed the wood into appropriate lengths to fit the kiln. Uncle Chin
would then stack the pieces of woods vertically in the kiln. When the kiln was full, the fire would
be started and the woods were burnt from the top, downwards, just like a burning joss stick.
Staying by the kiln, Uncle Chin would explain that the fire must not be red hot; otherwise,
the wood pieces would be reduced to ashes. Instead, a slow, greenish fire should be maintained for
the wood to be sufficiently smouldered.
"Uncle Chin, then, how do we maintain such an appropriate fire?" As usual, I would continue
my endless questions.
"It's all through experience..." With a grin on his face, Uncle Chin recalled how he was
scolded by his teacher for not being able to judge the appropriate hotness of the fire.
The aroma of the cooked dumplings brought me back to the present. "Oops! Time's up. Mum,
the dumplings are ready?" I shouted in excitement, waiting to try one of the mouth-watering
Uncle Chin's workers took turns to collect mangrove woods
for charcoal making at a nearby swamp every morning. After
returning, they sawed the woody into smaller pieces. Then
Uncle Chin would stack the woods vertically into a fifteen-feet
tall, clay charcoal kiln. The charcoal kiln was used to make
charcoal and it had an arched opening into which wood
pieces were inserted. After all the piling, the stacked woods
were burnt from the top, downwards. The fire cannot be too
strong as the woods would be over burnt. Instead, a slow,
greenish fire should be maintained so that the woods would
be sufficiently smouldered. It all takes an experienced man to
judge the appropriateness of the fire.
( 114 words )