Ignorance may be a misfortune, albeit a voluntary one, but vandals are a curse on the land no matter who they are or whatever their name. By their words and by their deeds they have blotted our landscape and despoiled our land, and now on a pile of rubble they are standing triumphant on the remains of what used to be a row of fine shop houses in Kedai Payang.This is the deed of people with no care nor love for the land. They are a product of generations that they do not love, their forefathers are buried in the sand, the glory of their past work now piled on them, but they in the present care not for history nor our precious inheritance.
We shall all now hang down our heads in shame.
We have raised voices for the sake of that historic lot on this sacred earth. The centre of Kuala Terengganu with its cloistered walkways and the old Abdullah Alyunani bookshop. The cafe that served sweet roti kaya and sold satay for breakfast (perhaps the first in the land), and the Kedai Fernandez, and the Redi Photo Studio (formerly known as Kedai Yamada), and the limbless Orang Timun (the Cucumber Man) who was placed on the five-footway on Friday and Saturday morns, begging for alms, and fierce Nepalese men selling their concoctions and semi precious stones and rude coils of animal genitalia with their implicit promises of flagging men reborn – they are now all gone.
Kampung China may have been the commercial centre but Kedai Payang was the hub of town. There was the Duyung Ikhwan, a shop where our Uncle Daud sold Pfaf sewing machines in a general store owned by his friend Wang Ngah of Duyung. In the back of this row of shop houses was the famous Pasar Kedai Payang (not Pasar Payang, the name given to it by people who do not know the town ), there were watermelons heaped in piles and durians encased in thorns, and rambutan on plastic sheets and people and noise and the blaring of cars, and the shrill sound of taxi horns.
In one fell swoop they are all gone.
We should not pretend to be surprised as this is not the first time the dastardly deed is done. In the last few years they have mown down the Masjid Chendering, a heritage building much loved by Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, a gentle man who photographed with great skill his great inheritance in this land. In another swing of their beastly ball and chain they broke another Mosque in Bukit Besar, a rare heritage building that was unequalled in Darul Iman. And the broken bits and hearts and flowers and tendrils of work that witnessed the vicissitudes of our past, they left them to weep silently on the ground.
We hear that the rubble of the historic shophouses of Kedai Payang was sold to the highest bidder. It is left to them to take the broken bits as keepsakes and to wonder at the beauty of past times; they – the vandals - were too mean and cowardly even to let the local Terengganu museum keep and display them as mementoes of our barbarism.
Even as the earth was being broken by the weight of falling stones, our buried past emerged from the ground: coins and artefacts and narratives of olden times. Not surprising as on the land on which these shops were built was a thriving community of local sailors and traders who travelled to as far away as Sambas in the Nusantara, and to Senggora in the North. Our grandmother lived in a tumbledown house in the back of the shop and I remember seeing her sitting up in the dark, beneath intricate fretwork pieces and hefty pillars. The remains of that community whose past has been disturbed and unearthed with no ceremony nor respect. O the ghosts how they seek revenge!
Our children and we ourselves shall continue to curse those who did the deed, whoever they be whatever their name, and the filthy lucre in their hands.