Turning the wok, working the turntable

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Photo shows Paul deejaying at a recent event in Kuching.

IT is quite common to hear about an individual being known as ‘a jack of all trades’, but it is very rare to meet one who is actually ‘a master of more than one’.

The latter, I believe, aptly describes Paul Tiong – an enterprising cook by day, and a popular music DJ by night.

Many Kuchingites would know him as the guy who sells Simanggang-style of fried noodles at his shop ‘Noodle Master’ in King’s Centre.

Those in the electronica music scene, however, would recognise him as ‘DJ Paul’.

Whether turning the wok at his stall, or working the turntable, Tiong always gives his 110 per cent each and every time.

Those who are aware of his reputation know and respect what he does, in either platform.

Paul prepares an order at Noodle Master.

Sharing childhood stories

Paul, whose birth name is Tiong Chong Tau, was born in Sri Aman town (now renamed Simanggang) in 1981 to a couple, Tiong Ing Hui and Chung Kiok Ing.

The youngest of three siblings, Paul spent most of his adolescent years in Simanggang. He received primary education at SRK Chung Hua Sri Aman and later, attended SMK St Luke.

“Simanggang had nothing much going on during my childhood days. After school I would help out at my father’s noodle stall, and then, I would play outdoor games with my friends.
“I was your typical small town boy,” reminisced the 42-year-old.

The senior Tiong has always been famously known in Simanggang as the ‘Noodle King’ – the locals call his distinctively-fried noodles as simply ‘Mee Tiong’. Since he was around 10, Paul had been his father’s assistant at the family stall up until he was at his early 20s.

“Back then, Pa would fry noodles non-stop, for many hours every day. His ‘mee’ is so famous that the townsfolks would always tell visitors that if they did not have ‘Mee Tiong’ either for breakfast or lunch, then their trip to Simanggang would not be complete!

“I, for one, truly understand why ‘Mee Tiong’ is really that popular – Pa is a person who puts his heart and soul into every food that he cooks.

“I learn everything from him; how to prepare the noodles the way he does.

“Until today, at the age of 74, he still operates his business in Simanggang. I have told him to retire a few times, but I have also told him that he can always come to Kuching to visit me and my family, and cook at my shop whenever he feels like it,” said Paul.

“For now, though, it really makes me happy and proud that I can pretty much cook the noodles the way he does it.

“I think he’s relieved too, in that he has found a successor in me,” Paul smiled.

Involvement in music

Of his siblings, Paul is the only one following his father’s footsteps.

However, cooking is not the only thing that he is very good at.

“I’ve always been fascinated by music, ever since I was a young boy.

“When not helping Pa at the noodle stall, I would spend most of my time listening to music.

“As I entered into my late teens, I had the ambition of becoming a renowned DJ after discovering world’s top names such as Ferry Corsten, Tiesto, Armin van Buuren and Paul van Dyk.

“For me, the music and performances of these artistes renowned in electronic music simply mesmerised me – I wanted to become just like them,” he confessed.

Paul’s father Tiong Ing Hui (front) at his stall in Simanggang. Paul is grateful that he has inherited his father’s culinary skills.

Paul bought his first DJ set in 2005, which was a Technics SL-DZ1200 model.

“Boy, did I have fun with that! Even when I was practising alone at home, it felt like being on top of the world.”

Little did Paul know that a friend’s recommendation for him to join a DJ competition in Kuching back in 2007 would prove to be a turning point.

He placed first runner-up, but after that he began to receive many requests from the clubs in Kuching to become their resident DJ.

“It was a cool moment for me, but it also meant that I had to move to Kuching,” he recalled.

That decision did not sit well with many people, especially his father who wanted him to stay and help with the family business.

“I knew that no matter what I wanted to do, Kuching was the only place where I could develop.

“I had to move there.”

No turning back

From that moment, Paul knew there was no turning back. He must do his best to prove that his decision of leaving his hometown was not a mistake.

Things were alright for him during his early years in Kuching, having landed jobs as resident DJ at a number of clubs around the city.

“I was steadily building up my name. I got to meet new friends sharing the same passion and thanks to them, I greatly improved as a DJ. Many taught me the ropes, and I got to perform at many events other than the club jobs – some outside of Sarawak.”

By that time, he had established his base in Kuching, and he was known as ‘DJ Paul’ among the clubbers and those in the electronica music scene.

With growth, came recognition. Paul had been invited as a judge for the prestigious ‘Sarawak Pioneer DJ Digital Battle’ two years in a row, 2011 and 2012.

By then, he had gained many followers, many of whom wanted to become his protégés.

The crowning moment, however, was when he was listed as one of the performers for the Borneo Music Festival Live 2022 – an event that featured internationally renowned DJs, and were headlined by DJ Soda from South Korea and British-born Norwegian DJ Alan Olav Walker.

One of Paul’s photos shows him performing at the Borneo Music Festival 2022 in Kuching.

“Indeed, it was a wonderful feeling to have performed at that festival,” he said.

Held at Sarawak Cultural Village, the two-day event recorded over 14,000 spectators. Such encouraging turnout won over many local DJs and producers who, initially, were sceptical about the overall production when it was first announced.

Many believed that the festival represented an impressive comeback for the electronic dance music (EDM) scene in Sarawak.

“To this day, I still cannot forget that festival because the crowd was not only supportive of my performance, but I could also see them enjoying themselves and having a good time throughout my set. I performed on both days,” said Paul.

Another decision

Paul was doing well during his first six years in Kuching, getting his DJ career on track.

He got married in 2013 and it was during this time that he felt the need to better provide for his own family.

Thus in 2014, he decided to take a break from deejaying and return to Simanggang to help his father.

He admitted that it was not exactly a pleasant homecoming.

“I was helping Pa at the stall. But the thing was whenever I wanted to prepare any order, the customers would insist on Pa doing it instead of me; if ever I did an order and the customer found out that it was not prepared by Pa, they would be disappointed.

“It was disheartening, but honestly, I understood it. Pa’s noodles are just so famous that many people are willing to make long trips just to have them.

“I respect that.”

Paul is proud to have brought the Simanggang-style fried noodles to Kuching.

Still, Paul knew that if he stayed in Simanggang, he would forever be in his father’s shadow.

“I love deejaying, but I also want to be known as a good cook on my own merits.

“I wanted to develop both, and I knew the only way to do that was in Kuching.”

So, Paul was back in Kuching again in 2019, where he set up a stall at King’s Centre, selling his father’s famous noodles.

Business was good and he opened up his own shop in 2021.

“Thank goodness, ‘Noodle Master’ is packed with customers every day – just like Pa’s stall in Simanggang.

“I’m so happy that I’m as good a noodle cook as Pa is, even though I’m in Kuching.”

Nonetheless, Paul gave all credit to his father.

“I’m blessed and honoured to have inherited my father’s skills. I’m proud to bring our Simanggang-style fried noodles to Kuching.

“You can ask Pa’s customers who come to my shop and they’d say the same thing – that my noodles taste exactly like the ones made by Pa.

“Finally I get that recognition,” he smiled.

Paul does most of the prepping in the kitchen.

Happily juggling careers

Nowadays, Paul happily juggles ‘Noodle Master’ and deejaying. His wife would sometimes help him out at the shop too.

“I have a DJ set at home, right in my living room. After closing up my shop for the day, I would go live on social media and perform from my living room.”

By now, Paul is a happy family man – he has a daughter who was born in 2014, and a son born in 2020.

Asked if he was okay should any of his children want to follow his footsteps either as cook or as a DJ, Paul said that would entirely be up to them.

“As long as they are happy. What’s important for me is that my kids are able to pursue their dreams and are doing good things.

“As long as I am around, I would always support them.”

Paul says he is always on the lookout for invites to major music festivals.

Paul also has a few ‘dreams’ that he would want to accomplish.

“As a noodle business owner, it would be great if ‘Noodle Master’ could become a franchise and expand its operations overseas, such as in China.

“On deejaying, I’m always on the lookout for invites to major music festivals like the Borneo Music Festival last year.

“Should I be blessed to be able to do both well, I could not ask for more,” he smiled.

One of Paul’s signature dishes, the Sri Aman-style ‘Satay Mee’.