Next-gen reluctance spells end for family coffee shop, ancient guano harvest tradition (Travelogue Day 2)

Tie, preparing the sought after noodles in the open kitchen at Big Bowl, Bintulu on March 12, 2024.

By D’Drift Team

MIRI, March 12: “My children don’t want to inherit, so it’ll probably end with my generation.”

This is a sad but true statement that the D’Drift Team has been hearing all day throughout our journey from Bintulu town to Niah Caves today.


The Big Bowl, a famous Foochow eatery in Bintulu highly recommended by locals, is facing a succession crisis because not one child of the second generation is willing to take over the business.

Tie Kiong Hock, the owner and head chef of the coffee shop that sells mouthwatering fish and prawn noodles, is now 61-years-old and only a few years away from retirement.

His wife, Thian Li Na, 53, said due to have no successor, Tie has decided to continue running the coffee shop for several more years.

“(We have) no choice because nobody is taking over (the business). Our children are all educated and none of them want to do this kind of work because it’s very tiring.

“For now, I’m training up my nephew, my little sister’s son. He has no intention to further his studies, so maybe he can take over one day,” she told DayakDaily this morning.

One of Big Bowl’s specialty dishes, their fish noodles made with grouper fish.

Explaining why The Big Bowl begins operation as early as 4am, Thian said it is to cater to the bus drivers bringing workers to Samalaju Industrial Park who would usually stop by for takeaways.

Other foods they serve are curry mee, pork leg noodles, tomato kueh teow, kampua, and steamed buns.

Later in the evening, after a fruitful tour to and back from the Niah Cave Trail, the team encountered two Penan brothers, Sineh and Adeng Lengadang, who are licensed guano harvesters with over 40 years of experience.

They face the same fate as their children will not be continuing this unique tradition as they prefer working in towns such as in Bintulu and Miri after completing their studies.

“If there’s no one to carry on, so be it. It is what it is,” replied 56-year-old Adeng, the elder brother, with a tinge of regret when asked what would become of it if the next generation refuses to continue the tradition.

Adeng (left) and Senih (right) sharing their experience after collecting guano in Niah Cave.

Adeng and Senih had attempted to involve their children in the guano-collecting experience, but unfortunately, the endeavour did not capture their interest.

“To them, this is back-breaking work. They are too quick to give up,” said Senih, with an air of disappointment.

Both brothers have been in the guano harvesting business ever since they left school; a trade which was passed down from their forefathers to their fathers, and later succeeded by them.

Commonly, guano is sold to interested buyers at a price ranging from RM30 to RM50 per kg, and sometimes the brothers would keep a portion of it for personal use.

The bird and bat droppings can be used as fertilisers for vegetables, durian or even oil palms. — DayakDaily