THE lunch crowd starts to swell at this eatery, famous for the dish dubbed “puppy duck”.
Operating from a house in Kampung Baru Gunung Hijau in Pusing, Perak, the fact that it does not put up a big signboard shows it needs no introduction.
In fact, an elderly villager who introduced the eatery to us was confident that we will not miss it.
“Just drive up this steep road and you will find the eatery.
“Ask people for the kow chai up eatery (puppy duck in Cantonese) if you cannot find it,” he said.
The dish, which is ginger stewed duck, is synonymous with Pusing.
While there are different versions of how the dish became popular in this predominantly Hakka community, the fact is people are making a beeline for the former little mining town to taste it.
There is another restaurant along the main road in Pusing town which is also famous for the dish.
Located about 18km from Ipoh’s city centre, the entrance to Kampung Baru Gunung Hijau is just off the main road.
The big arch at the entrance to the village is sort of a demarcation as one can actually feel the big contrast between both places.
The hustle and bustle along the main road contrasted sharply against the silence we encountered as we passed the arch.
Like most new villages, Kampung Baru Gunung Hijau is an ageing community.
“Many young people left for big cities to make a living, some as far as Singapore and the UK,” said Hew Sau Chan, 70, of the exodus that started some 30 years ago.
Hew and his 70-year-old wife are staying in the village with their teenage grandson while their four children are staying and working in Singapore.
“We have adjusted to the quiet lifestyle in the village and have accepted the fact that the children need to settle down elsewhere for a living,” he told StarMetro during a visit to the village recently.
The village and Pusing town were once a bustling place until the collapse of the tin mining industry in the early 1980s.
Today, there are two landmarks left in the village; its Chinese primary school, SJKC Gunung Hijau and the more than 100-year-old temple, Tam Sin Miu (Tam Sin Temple).
According to villagers, the founder of Sunway Group Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah whose hometown is in Pusing, had contributed a lot to the school.
The school’s current enrolment is about 500. Hew who is the temple’s committee chairman, said there were also people who made it big in business and they made it a point to contribute to the temple.
He and his wife spend a lot of time in the temple.
The villagers, who are mostly senior citizens, are also very attached to the temple.
“The temple is always a hive of activity a few days before a festival.
“The villagers come together to make the preparations,” he said.
Like many villagers, Hew hopes that there will be economic activities that could generate business and jobs nearby so that the young people have the option to stay.
“Life outside (the village) is not easy,” said Hew who keeps himself in touch with the outside world via newspapers.
“The newspapers are food for my soul,” he quipped.
On the trend of people going for cultural tourism as visits to small towns are increasingly popular, Hew feels that this can be a feasible business provided there are investors who are willing to come in.
“We do see some foreign tourists here at times but not many,” he added.
A stroll along the main road in Pusing and a closer look at the colonial-inspired architecture of the old buildings show an interesting bygone era.
Villagers like Hew certainly have many stories to share with people who take an interest in the place.
In fact, Hew said he could remember vividly a crossfire in the nearby jungle almost 68 years ago.
“I heard an exchange of gunshots,” he said but could not tell what the incident was.
“It was a turbulent era then and some villagers were still living in the jungle.
“We ate mostly tapioca. Rice was rare and expensive and was only bought on special occasions like Chinese New Year or birthdays,” he added.
Hew recalled growing up hearing many stories from elderly villagers on life during the Japanese occupation.
He and his seven siblings had also survived the Emergency (1948-1960) where they stayed behind barbed wires and the villagers' movements were highly restricted.
“When we reflect on the hard life we encountered in the past, we treasure what we have nowadays,” he said.
Visibly proud of his predominantly Hakka village and Pusing, Hew said some non-Chinese residents there also speak the Hakka dialect.
The community has indeed come a long way.