Engkilili’s century-old red temple — ‘1/15th Fraction Company’ (Travelogue Day 2)

The red temple of Engkilili.

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By D’Drift Team

SIBU, July 5: Engkilili has more to offer than just Batu Nabau, the snake rock.

There is also a century-old Buddhist temple which the locals call the ‘One-Fifteenth Fraction Company’, a direct English translation of its Chinese name (十五分公司). Even the residents of Engkilili nowadays appeared not not really sure how it got its name.

Was the company, or ‘kongsi’ in Hokkien, founded by 15 forefathers and they shared the responsibility in building the temple? Or were there other reasons for it?

The temple’s location itself is as mysterious as its name. Despite multiple attempts to ascertain its location with the locals we met, the D’Drift Team still had a hard time locating it. We were like a lost ball in the weeds.

Four times, we had to stop and ask for directions. Each time, the instructions given by those we asked were all but the same: “Go out from this road towards the main road and turn left and you will find it. It’s very near.”

That let us to think that the temple would probably be just a stone throw away after exiting to the main road, but it was not as “near” as we expected.

After reaching the Pan-Borneo Highway, one has to drive in the direction of Sri Aman. At the Sri Aman-Betong junction, turn left and drive about 15 minutes down the road.

On the left, look out for an abandoned bus stop with a red and white-coloured roof, which is likely to be hidden behind some tall bushes. There should also be a small green sign with Chinese characters erected there to direct visitors to the temple.

Enter the lane and go straight ahead. It will take a few more minutes until you reach an open space, and there it will sit seemingly in the middle of nowhere — the red temple with an open door, and red lanterns hanging from its high ceiling.

‘One-Fifteenth Fraction Company’ at Engkilili.

We hoped to meet someone there who could give us a historical account of how the temple came about and the legends tied to it, but not a single soul was to be seen when we arrived.

Inside the temple, there was an altar set in its centre. On the flanking walls, there were ancient-looking wooden plaques with Chinese calligraphy on them, as well as some newspaper cuttings which were too aged to be legible.

On the framed tablets were inscribed columns of people’s names, but we could not make out what the Chinese characters were. They looked very old and worn.

Wooden plaques on a wall inside the red temple.
A plaque with Chinese characters on the temple’s left side wall.

Due to time constraints, the D’Drift Team had no choice but to leave Engkilili, with unanswered questions about the temple on our minds. Later during the day, we looked up online and found a Chinese article with some information on the mysterious temple.

According to the article titled “The story of 15 Shares Company of Engkilili Sarawak” which was published in 2012, the ‘One-Fifteenth Fraction Company’ was established by Chinese gold miners from East Kalimantan, Indonesia as early as 1856. They settled at Sungai Marup, a small tributary of Sri Aman’s Batang Lupar.

It also said that the company was the first such company operating in the area. Later on, due to depletion of gold, the small settlement gradually vanished but Engkilili continued to  develop and grow until this day.

Google Betong, and all you find is Betong of Thailand

What about Betong in Sarawak? There are relatively few online articles talking about the place considering it is one of the 12 divisions in Sarawak.

According to the Betong District Council’s official website, the name ‘Betong’ was chosen collectively by both the Iban and Malay communities due to the abundance of Betong bamboo in that area.

But when you take note of the description on the rubber tree replica at the old Betong township, the name ‘Betong’ is synonymous with rubber.

Rubber tree monument at Betong’s old township.

The wording reads: “History has proven that rubber was once the main source of national income. Rubber is still an asset that prospers the country.

“Once upon a time, Panglima Rentap from Betong was a major producer of rubber in the land of hornbills. Betong and rubber are synonymous by name — rubber is good luck.

“For that reason, the rubber tree was chosen as a symbol of Betong’s grandeur.”

Talking about prosperity and development, Betong was set to thrive as a vital education hub when it was elevated into a full-fledged division in 2002. Indeed, there are a few educational institutions including vocational schools in Betong town.

If one cares to look, right opposite the new Betong township, on a hilltop, is a structure dubbed the ‘mini Putrajaya’ —  a gigantic and majestic building which houses both State and federal departments.

It is the Sarawak State Government Office Complex, which consists of offices for 10 departments namely the Betong Division Resident Office, Land and Survey Department, Public Works Department (JKR), Agricultural Department, Community Welfare Department, Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), Sarawak Syariah Judiciary Department, Sarawak Islam Department, State Treasury Department, and Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB).

The State Government Office Complex in Betong.

Many may not yet know of the existence of this beautiful government office complex. This is to say, the characteristics of a division or even a district should be properly documented and uploaded on the Internet, not only for the knowledge of local Sarawakians, but also as a pull factor for tourists, so that the next time when we google ‘Betong’, the first search result that pops up is about Betong of Sarawak and not Betong of Thailand.

Without rain, D’Drift Team fights the heat with prawn noodles

Unlike yesterday, today was scorching hot.

The D’Drift Team took off from Betong at about 9am, and headed to Jakar to sample its famous prawn noodles for lunch. We waited for an hour before our meals were served.

Oh, this is not the beginning of a bad review. Just read on.

To be honest, we did not feel the frustration for having to wait so long for our food because we were all not that hungry, after having a proper breakfast.

But once our dishes were served, our stomachs began craving to be satiated.

“Stir-fried and simmered” noodle soup (‘cha chu mee’) with prawns and “Stir-fried and simmered” noodle soup (‘cha chu mee’) with fish, fried noodles with prawns, and fermented mustard vegetable and rice noodles (‘zao cai hong ngan’) with fish, were the four dishes recommended by the owner.

Jakar’s famous fish and prawn noodles.

The taste exceeded our expectations.

The ‘tapah’ fish and prawns were tasty and fresh, while the noodles were cooked with just the right amount of seasoning. They were simply appetising.

When we later approached the owner of the 25-year-old restaurant, Wong Lim Siong, 58, he said each serving of the prawn noodles has to be cooked for at least 20 minutes for it to be this tasty.

“There is no secret recipe,” he said before adding: “Cooking with a good intention will serve you great dishes.”

Wong also revealed that his restaurant was not as popular when it had just opened compared to today.  It took him years to perfect his recipe.

He believed that Peking Restaurant was one of the first in Jakar to serve prawn noodles before its popularity spread to several districts of Sarawak.

Wong speaking to customers at his restaurant.

After the scrumptious meal, the team continued north to Sibu. Tomorrow, we will be trying out some of the all-time favourite breakfast dishes at Blacksmith Road. Can’t wait! — DayakDaily

Related articles:

Travelogue, Day 1 – Anaconda hunt in Engkilili

Travelogue, Day 3 – Let Sibu Street Art be world-renowned like Penang’s

Travelogue, Day 4 – Found in Tatau: Any guesses on what these trees are called?

Travelogue, Day 5 – Checking up on wild boar Robin, and testing Jendela’s WiFi Hotspot in rural areas

Travelogue Day 6 – Four-hour intense ‘bull ride’ to Lusong Laku

Travelogue, Day 7 – Traditional Sarawak-Japanese cuisine fusion: Wiggling sago worms on sushi