Long before Trengganu became Terengganu
and when the idea of a coastal city was just a mote in the eye of some aspiring bureaucrats, there was the old Majlis Bandaran (Bandarang to us) – the Town Council - in an old building somewhere near Kampung Hangus and the road that led to Pök Ku's
Paya Tok Bèr and Pök Awang Hitam's famous fried kerepok lèkör
dipped in his special home-brewed chilli.
Next door to the Bandarang was a bicycle repair shop run by a genial man named Mr Chua, and in the compound, on most days, ran his less than genial son Chua Chee Peng. I knew Chee Peng very well as he was my classmate, and even in his young primary school days he must have been a weight lifter, or a lifter of weights, as he had a muscle-rippling body that my father used to call 'sando', a word borrowed, I later discovered, from the Victorian muscleman, Eugen Sandow
I left Trengganu when Father rose up the Telecoms ladder to Kuala Lumpur, in the blustering sixties (the monsoon winds were very strong then), but Chee Peng (we sometimes called him Chin Peng), disappeared from view when we became adults and bade farewell to Mr Wee Biau Leng and the Sultan Sulaiman Primary School. Well, we thought we were adults then until we saw Wang Ndok in his topi and dog-terrifying ways and Cik Kalèh in his smart clothes and dazzling watch and the transistor radio dangling from his handlebar, doing things that we kids couldn't do. We realised then that the journey to adulthood was a long, long road.
In the bustle of exams and the removal vans that took us to Kuala Lumpur, I had forgotten about my friend Chee Peng. He was, in primary school, a tough guy, but what drove most other kids away from him became a matter of curiosity to me. He was, actually, an amiable guy with a winsome smile, and I found out earlier than most other folk that what came across as his tough guy stance was just the projection of his persona. Whenever I cycled past his house and bicycle shop next door to our Bandarang I'd always shout across the road, “Chee Peng!”. Chua senior would look up and throw back a smile, or, the young Chee Peng would sometimes emerge from the shades to shout back, "Hulaimee!"
In class Chee Peng was a bag of mischief and tough guy promises and he wasn't averse to chasing a kid or two around the block as a bit of fun during the interval. Just over a year ago, when I went back to KT after more than fifteen years, some of my old classmates were kind enough to hold a gathering at the house of our classmate Jöh (who is now Tok Puan Khadijah), and as I sat there in absolute delight and marvelling at all the years that had passed since we carried our High School English Grammar (a hefty tome, I tell you, and it gave me instant nausea) to school, the lady Toh Swee Choo pulled me aside to ask, "Do you remember him?"
And of course it was Chua Chee Peng, that tough guy in the schoolyard; and he was still beaming that unmistakable smile. We shook hands and hugged, and all I could think to say to him was, "Ini dulu samseng ni!" ("This man was a ruffian!"), which wasn't a very nice thing to say to someone you'd not seen for years, and he could've hit me quite hard as his body was still rippling with sandow muscles. But Chee Peng held on to my hand and laughed and laughed.
I was looking through things that I brought back then from Trengganu (sorry, Terengganu) this morning, and a heavy thump hit me in the chest area. For there, in my bag, was this rumpled note:
It was the note stuck on an envelope that Chee Peng gave me as a farewell. And if I didn't thank you properly for the memento you handed me when we said goodbye, thank you once again dear friend, this is indeed a treasure!
So back to Terengganu, that self-proclaimed haven on the coast, how fares the City now? Well, the roof of a gleaming new stadium has just crashed to the ground, and a beautiful old mosque has just been flattened by the powers that be. And why am I haunted by the ghost of Annabel Lee whenever I think of this Kingdom by the Sea?
"But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
"For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea."
To read the whole of this beautiful poem by Edgar Allan Poe, go HERE
. For Annabel Lee, read Terengganu.
Labels: Chua Chee Peng, Eugen Sandow, Majlis Bandaran Kuala Trengganu, Toh Swee Choo, Tok Puan Khadijah