On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Monday, January 31, 2005

Growing Up In Trengganu #391752

Bathing in Trengganu by Anuar Dan

In his shop, Pak sat beneath coils of ropes of nylon, twines of hemp and raffia, shrouding himself in vinegar that wafted in the air. He kept it in a tempayan in the back of his shop, down two steps on the storage floor. He had corrugated zinc for roofing in his backyard, and bits of wood for minor repairs, and lengths of bamboo sticks, and fish-hooks, and nails for both concrete and wood, and some sharp enough to give the pontianak a funny tingling in the shoulder. But we didn't have too many pontianaks in Trengganu then, so the demand for nails came mostly from local builders and DIY-ers, not bomohs on the look-out for ghostly high-jinks in the air. Pak sold the nails by weight, and judged them by hun, which was a measure of the depth of nails for the houses of Trengganu.

Pak wore gold teeth and a soft skull-cap called the ppiyoh lembek, and underneath it he wore a perpetual smile. He was a belt and braces man who wore the sarong pelikat, underneath which he wore his working trousers. When he was sat behind his hardware display, pickled in the wafting aroma of vinegar in the deep claypot, he rolled up his sarong maybe a foot or two to signal that he was at work; then at 5 o'clock he'd lower it again to his ankles, then he'd roll the long haji's wrap around his cap before closing the shop and cycle in the direction of the muezzin's call.

I could judge the time of day by Pak's routine in his hardware shop, or by the blaring voice of Radio Malaya that came out of a giant foghorn-shaped hardware jutting out from Bhiku's first floor window. This was public information radio that made Bhiku's customers stir their cups with a tra-la-lee, and sit up on the alert with the constant tooting of the time-signals. I can't remember any of the news items that followed, try as I may, but I remember still the lyrics of R.Azmi coming from there that opened up a young mind to the delights of a faraway place and the charms of a sassy lady. I knew she waddled like a duck, in the afternoon light, with waist so trim and fastened tight. "Itu dia, Nona Singapura...itu dia, Nona Singapura." Ah, the delightful Singapore lady!

That was the sound as Pak cycled past the punters by Bhiku's shop on his way to the house of prayer, when market traders were just letting down their hair in there over steaming cups of milky tea and trading insults or homilies while waiting for the man in the back to shout over the din, "Roti kaya!" The "roti kaya" was, and still is, a slice taken from the long white loaf called roti bata (pillow bread), then toasted over a charcoal fire, then smeared with Planta margarine and topped with the shop's own specialty of kaya, a local spread made from egg-yolk, with pandan leaf for flavouring, and then thickened and sweetened with sugar and flour.

Sometimes Pak would stop at a coffee shop if he chose to close early, but he wouldn't go to Bhiku's but to another one next-door to his that had a more conducive clientele. Bhiku's had a more diverse company of fish traders and wayfarers, and strangers freshly arrived on shore. There was a man in a stiff round cap who lived in the top floor of Bhiku's shop right behind the fog-horn shaped radio speaker. He'd been there for years and years and walked with an A3-sized flat display box that was always wrapped in a sleeve of thick material when he was out on his early morning calls. I never knew what he had, but I guessed that it contained stones like akik and zamrud and delima; agate, and emerald and ruby. He was known to us as orang Kabul, the man from a land far away.

As the light faded, and the ladies of the village were out at the community well, vans and lorries arrived in the wide space between Bhiku's and the general market, carrying vegetables and fruits, sugar canes tied up in tall bundles, bananas from the groves of smallholders and onions in baskets called jok, from China perhaps, or maybe India. Occasional traders from the ulu sometimes arrived on trishaws hailed at the jetty, with forest fruits like ngekke, salak, pulasan, perah, and sometimes those mini, yellow, soft-skinned fruit called simply buah ssakkor. Bhiku's busy waiters would then take in another pile of cups to wash, or unwrap another loaf of roti for these hungry deliverers of goods for the market of the morrow. Just in time they came for the procession of ladies with young helpers with smaller sized baskets in hand, or tall kerosene lamps — the pelita ayam — already lit to guide the way of deep basins of house-cooked food carried by lady traders for their evening food stalls that traded long after Pak's done his last solat of the day and hung his clothes that bore just a little whiff still of the back-room vinegar.

"Bathing in Trengganu" by the very talented Malaysian artist Anuar Dan; reproduced by kind permission.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Gotta Beg, Steal Or Borrow

There was a lady, advanced in years, who did errands for us. She'd be there early in the morning armed with a basket and went to the shops for this or that. Mok Mek she was called, or Tok Mek to us, as we were too young by far. One day she paused to talk to me and said, tears rolling down her cheeks, "The number of people who go to hell everyday..." then she wiped the tears in her eyes.

Tok Mek was not educated in the way that education is understood widely, but often she said things that made me wonder. One of them was waima [pron. wa-e-mer] which she said often. "Dak tahu waima nak gi ke dok," she'd say, and this waima troubled me a lot as I thought she was a female person, and this was at a time when I was beginning to take an interest in folk of that nature. Then our Qur'an teacher, who had his grounding in Arabic education, unfurled it all for us. Waime of Trengganuspeak, as it turned out, was actually daughter of the Arabic waimma, which meant 'either — or'.

The Malay language as it is spoken borrows widely from Arabic as we all know. In Kelantan this led to an interesting anomaly when a Kedahan walked into a shop and asked the man if he sold 'gula (to rhyme, in the Kedah way, with la-la-la). No, the man replied, for gula you have to go to that Mamak's shop where they cook it everyday. No, no, no came back the Kedah man, that's not what I want, I want something for my coffee. Oh, said the Kelantan shopman, it's sakar then you want, it's sakar not gula!

Now, sakar is none other than the Arabic sukkar which also gave birth to sucre and sugar, depending that is, on whether you're parlez-ing in Francais or Anglais.

But Arabic in Trengganuspeak at its demotic level comes as a surprise to me. Sometimes I hear people being described as lere, which isn't at all complimentary. "Hisy, budok tu lere sunggoh!" someone might say of a certain kid. Rest assured then he's not a suitable son-in-law material, for lere means 'unreliable' or 'lackadaisical' or 'uncaring' in a ruinous way. King Alfred who went into deep thought and burnt the cakes would have been lere in his royal way.

I thought that lere was as Trengganu as could be, until one day I asked my father who urged me to listen carefully the next time I heard the Tok Bilal's or the muezzin's, peroration just before the Imam read the sermon on a Friday in the Masjid Putih (White Mosque) of Kuala Trengganu. So I did, and the Tok Bilal said, among other things, that if you didn't pay attention to the Imam's sermon, you'd be forfeiting all the good that was intended for you in the Mosque that day. And these were the end-words he used in his Arabic phrase, faqad laghawuut. Laghawuut, said my father, had its root in lagha, in another word, lere. From its original meaning of 'invalid' or 'ineffectual' I can imagine how it would have evolved into its Trengganuspeak meaning of being useless in a lackadaisical way, for lere in its original form was the equivalent of the Malay tak boleh pakai (dak buleh paka, in Trengganuspeak), i.e. invalid, or cannot be relied upon. And a person who could not be relied upon was...lere. Likewise, if your prayer is invalid, it is dak sah, and there goes another Arabic word in both Trengganuspeak and standard Malay, sahha (sah), admissible, permissible, true. I will not stick my neck out and say that balaisah, used in both Trengganu and Kelantan for a small prayer house, is the marriage of two words, balai (hall), and sah (valid). Perhaps someone who knows will come to my aid in this.

But I shan't be pondering on this too long lest I be accused of being bedo'oh. Bedo'oh is a word of reproach when someone's gone over the limits. Jangang bedo'oh sangak O Cik Awang!" ("Don't go over the top, dear boy!") someone would say to a young man who's getting carried away. In banter, it'd be said in a different spirit, but in much the same way, "Mu ning bedo'oh lalu!" ("You're just too much!" or, "Watch it, mate!"), perhaps to someone who's turned at a joget party in a blazing red shirt, gleaming white trousers, and a butter-cup yellow tie.

Bedo'oh has evolved into its Trengganuspeak sense in a peculiar way, as in it's original Arabic it means something that's an innovation in religious practice, and therefore unacceptable. But I suppose it's a short leap from bid'ah, an innovation, to bedo'oh as unacceptable or excessive in the way that words evolve and acquire new meanings along the way.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Growing Up in Trengganu #179523a

It's not surprising how Trengganu is peopled by folk with water-drenched souls. Trengganu was wet as wet could be — there was rain, and floods, and ferries across rivers of milky tea. Then the river-mouth of the Trengganu, the river and the kuala that gave the capital its name, a long snake's body of water that stretched from the ulu where dark and deep primeval dreams lurked to haunt the shape of the polity.

The Chinese Turcoman eunuch traveller Zheng He came to Trengganu of the ulu in days when sea travel held sway. He must've created quite an impression in his finery, walking on the earth that was soon revered by Trengganu's own Chinese community, to the spirit of Ong Sam Po. He was a Muslim who later travelled to Makkah by ship but died at sea before reaching Arabian shore, but his graves are many, in various places, consecrated not for the repose of his body but in memory of his spirit and soul. Admiral Zheng He was buried as he had lived, at sea.

In Trengganu during the monsoon months, when the rain paused awhile but the wind still coming with gusto, we used to walk along the beach of Pantai Tanjung to see the debris brought in by the waves — piles and piles of twigs and branches, and driftwood aplenty. Sometimes there were dead animals, and once there was the bloated body of a poor soul. That created a buzz awhile. But mostly we went looking for a flat seed with a very tough shell the colour of ebony, called buah gomok. This was a flat throwing piece that was used in games that children played, or as a keepsake to spit on and polish and to show to friends at school.

Sometimes there came ashore long thin weeds called rumput jjulut which we took home to push out its spongy spaghetti-like core which we soaked in dye and shaped into flowers. They were sent to keep us occupied on rainy days.

Further inland were padi fields — the sawah — and paya marshlands, nearer the hills that we saw as distant shapes from the windswept shore area. The rice fields gave a different kind of shape to the people living there as lion3ss tells us in her comments below. This flatland, during the monsoon season, became waterlogged, and fish and maybe even leeches came out in its overspill. It must have been a source of joy to the young and the young at heart, but we were too far removed from there. Also inland, water opened new avenues for joy, like Penyu Mutasi's concrete jerombong tunnels (also see comments below) that were meant to drain the water on soggy days and wash the kids away, in play of course.

Near my school, the Sultan Sulaiman Primary, there was a sawah on one side of the road, and the marshy paya on the other. For some reason we ignored the padi but jumped heartily into the pond for its magic carpet quality. On the surface of this long stretch of still water were lotus leaves and varieties of exquisitely shaped water lilies; but mostly we were intrigued by the long tendrilled water plants that knitted themselves into each other's arms to form a vast spread of carpet over the water, with green and red and blue and yellow — leaves and shoots and flowers. There were bees abuzzing overhead and in between the myriad colours, and dragonflies' humming wings, sometimes punctuated by the lowing of the distant water buffalo. This mat was of the most magical quality, strong enough to take even an adult's weight as it bobbed up and down gently over the mysterious depth that lay hidden below. I knew there were leeches lurking down there as sometimes we saw them stick steadfastly to the legs of intruding cows, and sometimes we even scooped them out of the water only to have them slip through the fingers and go their slippery way, to look for cows that didn't seem to bother.

Closer to the school, in the school grounds itself in fact, at the far end of the playing field, was a vast mound of shrubbery and creepers that kept many hidden passages and tunnels that we crept into when it was sunny and a bit of mischief was the order of the day.

Those were long days and fine days, and days of little care.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Growing Up In Trengganu #179523

Landscape Kuala Trengganu by Anuar Dan

In the monsoon months of extended bleakness, the sea roared constantly. Most days were too wet for venturing out, or too dreary in the in-between periods when the sky held back the seasonal downpour. Chilly wind and maids a-scrambling when the sky burst open again, market-vendors unfurling their green paper umbrellas, on their mats of pandan leaf or on plastic sheets, soon to be surrounded by puddles.

Rain of many types fell on Kuala Trengganu, some drizzly wizzly, some poured down right in the middle of a sunny day, and occasionally, what was called the hujan hambat orang tua, the playful rain that sent elderly folk scrambling, only to pull back instantly to that place behind the clouds where rains normally hid, leaving the old folks wheezing and panting under some makeshift shelter. The monsoons brought serious rain, not the ones that sent the old folk a-scatter. It rained and rained for days on end, the sky a dirty grey, and melancholy gripped the jugular.

I used to stand by the window in the back of our house on days like that, looking out towards the open sea hardly a mile away. I could not see the sea though, for the houses and the trees, but the noise was hauntingly near, of the waves lashing and beating ashore, like some distant tigers caught in watery snares. Early mornings it was cheerier because of the masses of traders who came down to the market with their fruits and vegetables, fish and household wares. South Indian shopkeepers in the spice alley covered their sacks of coriander and dried chillies and shallots heaped out in their front boxes under thin plastic, then stretched out the tarpaulins from the front edge of their roof to attach to the roof-front of their opposite neighbour's. Spice alley was safe from the daily downpour.

I'd watch all these from our front window which looked down on a corner of the market, and saw people waiting under shop awnings for some let-up, traders hurrying past in their conical terendak hats, or under the samir, made from rattan frame covered with sheets of palm-frond that covered the men from head to heel like wide, stiff capes. The rain beat its own rhythm that roused different moods and feel, as coffee shops filled up with people detained by the weather to brood over cups of hot, sweet tea.

In the kitchen mother would make some rainy-day food, like tapioca boiled with a hint of salt, to be eaten with sugar, a dab at a time, as we watched the people hurry by. Sometimes she'd throw sweet potatoes into the wood fire, or some bananas the likes of which I don't see now. When all was quiet in the afternoon but the distant roar of the sea, and when the rain let up awhile, I'd be sent out, umbrella in hand, to Mak Nah who sold putu piring from the gap her family made in the bamboo fence of their compound to place her afternoon stall. Putu piring was tapioca-flour, filled into a bracket-shaped dish, then coloured in its centre with a sprinkling of brown coconut sugar. After that it was covered with tapioca-flour again, and compacted to take the shape of a flying saucer. The piece of art was wrapped in white linen and placed in groups of three or four in a specially made steamer, to emerge again minutes later in a head of steam that warmed the heart of the beholder. Mak Nah also made a special de luxe version called putu halba, of fenugreek, coconut sugar, and rice-flour.

The monsoon rains stopped many things: fishermen came home to shore and stayed there throughout the months, newspapers from the West Coast were kept out by floods that sank the roads, and Kuala Trengganu became what it really was, marooned like some island by the roaring sea.

The river Trengganu came down fiercer now, thwarted only momentarily at the kuala where pure-white surf mixed with gushing water the colour of milky tea. "Air hulu dah turun," mother would say when this happened, giving the signal for a long period of uncertain weather.

It's the wind that I remember most, that came down in a gusty chill as I waited for that putu. I remember, oh I remember...

"Landscape Kuala Trengganu" by the very talented Malaysian artist Anwar Dan; reproduced by kind permission.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Art of Light

Family watching man polishing a cloth.

What grabs my attention in this picture of a Trengganu family, taken probably in the 1960s, is the man standing there with the long curved stick in his hand. It reminds me of many things: the word jangok comes to mind, and certainly gerus for that is what the man is doing, bergerus.

I do not know if bergerus takes place anywhere else, but I saw a few people in Kuala Trengganu who did it. To do a gerus you need a high pressure stick like the one the man is wielding in the picture, with a polished tip made from a fair sized cowrie shell. Cowrie shellsThe shell's smooth surface is then moved over the surface of a piece of cloth — part of a man's apparel, probably the sampin — which we also call the selepang — that's wrapped around the waist in a Malay costume, or a woman's full suit, made of fine cotton cloth. What the pressure of the cowrie shell did was it polished the cloth until it shone alluringly in daylight, and made a lady even more enchanting, bedecked in the glitter of reflected light. And then she or he would be truly jangok. Winstedt says that jangak, is a harlot, or pilferer or a sneak-thief in Perak, and is the same word that means someone who's smartly dressed in Kelantan (or Trengganu), but here I part company with him. Jangok or janguk has no connection with jangak and is just a way of looking very smart.

In the picture, the flexible stick that the man moves about on the cloth laid before him is probably buttressed to a beam above his head, and as he moves it along to iron it out with the cowrie shell and its magic gleam, his family crowds around him, wondering who the lovely lady will be who will be enshrouded in the light. Cowrie shellsI do not see many people nowadays dressed in kaing ggerus (oh alright, kain bergerus if you must be posh) lest there'll be much to say by word of mouth. For even then it was a rarity; my mother used to handle the see-through kain kasa and latcuan cloth (which I hope I've spelt right), and all manner of cloth, but very rarely kaing ggerus, because ggerus was for polished people, and polished people seldom crossed our path.

The cowrie shell came ashore in many places in Kuala Trengganu, and were collected by kids for their precious quality and by adults for their precious light, but as far as I know we never, in Trengganu, used them for money as the Chinese did during the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2200 BC), or for their shamanic qualities as the Africans did who were entranced by their guiding spirits. Some though held it close for its ability to open many doors, but only when it was attached to a bunch of keys to serve as an attractive fob.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Who Flung Dung

When we moved to Kuala Lumpur, an uncle brought home a Trengganu man who'd lived in Kuala Lumpur a long time. Do you like lemam? he asked. He was merely using a simple rule that anything in Trengganuspeak that ended in 'ng' was wrong and had to be restored to the sound of proper speech. Bulang? Bulan it should be; makang? makan. And lemang, of course, lemam.

My father once told me of a neighbour, a mate of his at school, who wrote to his teacher after a day's absence. He ended the letter with, "Harap Cikgu pahang." ("Hope you'll understand.") But I can imagine what the rest of the letter would've said. He would've told the teacher that he felt feverish, or 'demang'. Now, if he'd caught a chill (preceding a fever) from walking home in the dew spray past midnight, then he'd be able to write a sentence to his teacher to give both cause and effect. "Saya demang sebab saya balik malang." I got the fever from coming home late. Malang, as you know, is a misfortune in standardspeak.

To an outsider who's come to the state and been assaulted by the speech, this is the nasal 'ng' sound of Trengganuspeak that everyone knows about. Anthony Burgess once illustrated the evocativeness of the Malay language with the phrase "orang-orang perang," feet shuffling, weapons swashbuckling, rattling words that give the meaning of, "men of war" or "warlike men". What would you make of a woman in Trengganu who says this of a child seen running to the lavatory, dropping his apparel in his track one by one? "Hisy, dak dang, dang!" It can also be said of a child who dips his hand into the budu (fish sauce) before the adults arrive to eat, or of someone who's too impatient: "Dak dang, dang!"

Dang is probably the same as heard in some north-western states, dan, to mean 'there's time'. Dak dang (tak dan) therefore means there's no time; but dang-dang means immediately, as in Dang dang dia nak, which is my translation of the mock-Shakespearean "No sooner he looked than he fell in love." Or, in blunt, no-holds-barred Trengganuspeak, "Nak selalu." "Dak dang, dang," however, still puzzles me, evocative though it is. Why dang? Perhaps there it means the ability to be patient, as I've heard people say, "Cepat sikik, dak dang, dang dah ni!" ("Hurry up, s/he can't wait now.").

Try this then, for size, "Dia dok puko pitu dung-dang, dung-dang, sapa dak dang-dang nak masok ddalang." (S/he's been banging on the door, impatient to get in.").

As it's just a day after Hari Raya, let's now pause for a bit of lemang, a word ready to eat for Trengganuspeak.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Let's Share A Bit of That

Readers who come here often will know that I don't normally swear on this page, but sometimes duty calls, so please stand back. It's berayok.

I never knew where berayok came from, but in Trengganun it was widely said, by everyone almost, in anger and in jest. Berayok was normally connected with the mak (mother), so it probably was that mother of insults. Sometime last year I had this confirmation from my fellow blogger Pok Ku, and he confirmed that it was that; and now he's gone almost the whole hog and devoted an entire blog to the ccaruk (swearing) in Trengganuspeak, and very hilarious it is, I'll add.

Since then I've looked further afield into berayok and found that it is rooted in Malay that's more widely spoken, and the root word for it is ayok or ayot, which means copulate. So ber+ayok means to do it, no matter what. Having thus settled that, it also occurred to me that that's one of the few occasions when Trengganuspeak retains the standard prefix; here it's 'ber'. As I've said before in looking at the shaddah, or the sa'adu as it's better known in Trengganuspeak, Trengganu folk normally do the shaddah when shortening a word, or when indicating a verb. The ppisang fruit in Trengganu is, I suspect, buah mempisang or even pisang-pisang; and ddiri is actually berdiri, to stand up. And then we have gocoh which is when you pummel someone with your fists, but ggocoh is when your victim reciprocates, and your one-sided efforts turn into a fight. Maybe it's the Trengganuspeak phonetics that retains the 'ber' when someone does the ayok or ayot, because the shaddah doesn't normally work on a non-consonant. Perhaps.

There are other words in Trengganuspeak that keep the 'ber' intact: beralih, berakor, berambat, beranok, berasap, and they're all vowel-headed. These are words that also exist in standardspeak.

I've kept two more here to look at: beardong and beratang. Beratang is to share with a friend, say when they're buying something expensive. "Marilah kita beratang bayor," ("Let's share the cost.") someone would say, and that's that. Eating together is not beratang, but I've heard people say "Mari kita beratang jamoh." ("Let's all touch this food," i.e. eat it together.). Sometimes, when there's a fight and no one bothers to keep the pugilists apart, an elderly lady would probably come in, separate them with a tut-tut, and say to the onlookers, "Seder tu, buleh nye dok beratang tengok!" ("How could you all just watch that!"). But if 'ber' is a well-known 'to do' prefix, what then is atang? I've not found it anywhere as a word. So perhaps that's something that's lost, but if we all beratang cari (look together) maybe we'll find that lost word.

The other word I've kept is one that never fails to amuse me, and that's beradong. You go to a house, the host fusses over you, brings out some biskut jagung on a plate and the usual teh tarik. You're embarrassed and say, "Eh, tak soh beradonglah!" ("Please, don't fuss over me."). This beradong still has roots in widerspeak, and it's adun, which means to 'decorate', so, beradong in Trengganuspeak would be an act of pulling things out, trimmings and all. It could also mean to do something with ceremony, as in, "Hor, seder tu, dia buat keluor beradong dah." This is when someone pulls all the stops, and takes everything out, fine bone china, hati sokma,the lot.

Speaking of beradong I'm reminded of mmetek, because beradong is a decorative word at root. Someone who likes to mmetek is a master or mistress of the intricate art, one who likes to do intricate patterns or very fine needle-work. A mmetek person decorates her hasidoh — a sweetmeat —, with fluted patterns, and pinched out flowers on its top, scattered with bits of shallots, crisply fried. And that's beradong for you, by someone who likes to mmetek, and you'll thank the Lord for that.

But sometimes a man is described as suka mmetek with a knowing look; but please don't look at me as I don't know about that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Going By the Book

Dok bbaik, nak ccakak sikik ning.

Sit tight, I've got something to tell you. That's a sentence to dread. When your mum tells you this and you dad speaks like that, you've got a prob. But don't worry, you're mostly well-behaved, except maybe for Penyu Mutasi, whose recent behaviour has got me worried. Yesterday we heard him drink his singgang soup, serok, serok! (slurp! slurp!), not to mention his voracious appetite. But never mind, a young man's allowed to have faults.

If a person's gone to the tok guru and has read his Qur'an from front cover to back, learnt the pekoh and tauhid, and behaves like a decent girl or chap, he or she is said to be jjuruh, i.e. a decent lass or lad. Someone who's jjuruh is of sterling quality, because ladies in the village and men who gad about on the lookout will say in their hearts that he or she's got what it takes, and that's called tertib terning. I think it was Fowler who said in his second edition of his English Usage that language is rhythm, and grammar comes after that. Tertib terning is another compound word that encompasses everything that's described by the first word. Here it's tertib, which is Arabic no doubt, and it means proper decorum, good behaviour. Terning is there to afford balance, and to tell you — I think — that it's a many splendoured thing, and has many parts. So both words embrace all that, rhythm and words.

Now, when a person is tertib terning and jjuruh sokmo — well-mannered and ever prim and proper — his or her presence leads to greater schemes. Budok ni buleh buat nattu ni," is high accolade indeed, son or daughter-in-law material too at that.

But jjuruh in my own experience, has been used for the opposite effect, and for this I will have to sit with Penyu Mutasi and compare our notes. Hisy, budok ni jjuruh sunggoh; suroh buak kerja dia tembor lesap!" This is jjuruh used with sarcasm, for a skyver and a bolter. "What a decent chap he is, ask him to work and he's bolted!" Jjuruh here is decent in that respect.

To top it, Trengganuspeak once again resorts to Arabic for another loan word, pe'el. I have to spell it in its proper Arabic because the Trengganuspeak version is almost impossible to write. Pe'el here is spoken as if it rhymes with the English say, but it still retains the Arabic sense of the word, behaviour. "Tengok pe'el tu!" is an oft-spoken phrase by an exasperated Mum. "Look at the behaviour!" After that there normally follows a "kute" a little pinch, which is painful enough, but not as painful as the cubit which takes in a greater chunk of meat. Cubit is also available in standardspeak.

From there comes another Trengganuspeak word that I've always found amusing, as in this sentence: "Dia tu peranga dak jjuruh sungguh, lekak pah ttua ko'or!" Ok, his behaviour (peranga - perangai) isn't up to scratch (dak jjuruh) and there's fear that this might carry on to old age (lekak pah ttua); so ko'or is an admonition word, one that expresses concern. "Dak sah ko'or lah," you might say, "dia memang ggitu." Don't worry, he is like that. Ko'or, ha-ha, I love that.

Now once that's established, he's 'out of the book', dak masok bok. And once you're out you no longer count, you're unreliable, incapable, deregistered. Maybe you were never in to begin with. And that's sad, because in the community of Trengganuspeak everyone who's decent has to be in this metaphorical book. A little child has time to make amends of course, when s/he was small s/he was probably merely tebolah, awkward, but here I may once again be influenced by my Besut heritage as I don't hear that word used often by the mainstream townsfolk.

So the right way to carry on is Dok mmolek, dok jjuruh, jangan bedo'oh. Be good, behave, don't overdo it. And your parents will have no reason to be ko'or for that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

First Smoke the Pot

In the Philippines, I think, there's a dish called sinigang na manok. Manok does still exist in the Malay vocabulary to describe wild fowl, but there in the Philippines, manok is still chicken that roam the yard. What interests me more is sinigang, which sounds suspiciously like the Trengganu singgang which mother used to make for us, day in, day out.

Atlantic tunaLooking at the sinigang recipe which I plucked from the web, I'm more convinced now that it is indeed singgang, except that in Trengganu we never put a chicken into our earthen pot.

The Filipino sinigang contains garlic, onion, tomatoes, salt, pepper, tamarind and radish to flavour the chicken meat. In Trengganu, singgang — as mother made it — contained tamarind, asam gelugur, lengkuas, salt, and whole red chillies, and maybe a clove or two of garlic. Pride of place in the singgang was a tuna fish (ikang aya), or, preferably, its head.

The singgang was an unpretentious dish, prepared in minutes; but, when properly matured, belonged to a higher place. When serving the singgang it should be the only dish, and the rice must be of the purest white — not biryani rice or the one coloured with turmeric (nasi kunyit), because singgang must be allowed to rid the rice of its blandness with its hints of the sour and sweet. Real singgang eaters then give the flavours bobbing up and down on the palate a boost, by crushing the chillies, either into the soup, or on to the meat of the fish. No genuine Trengganu person can resist the taste of this food of the folk, so simple to make yet so precious in the mouth.

But the journey doesn't just end there. A day or two before the festival of Eid, the woman of the house would make a huge pot of singgang, with the freshest tuna fish, heads bobbing up and down, tails flipping about in the gurgling pot. Asam gelugur. Source: Rimba Ilmu.Then, covering it carefully with the lid, she'd leave it aside to mature, until the bones of the fish are soft a couple of days later when she'd rise early and put in more ingredients into the pot to transform the singgang into a coconuty accompaniment to the nasi dagang, rice that's such a ritual to make that I'll now take my leave and let the ladies get on with the work.

Before I go though, I have a few more things to add. Good singgang must be cooked in a belanga an earthen pot. If you're form Kedah in the north-east or those parts of the earth where, unfortunately, the singgang isn't known or made, the belanga may cause you to flip, as there, in your state, it's nothing more than the kuali or wok. And then, to be a real Trengganu singganger you'll have to be mindful of acts of innovation or bedo'oh [Ar. bid'ah], like putting coconut sugar into the singgang, which'll only make it sweet and sit on your plate as something ersatz.

And while those ladies are preparing the singgang, let me also tell you about the belanga, that sacred earthen pot. A new belanga has to be seasoned with desiccated coconut which you put into its belly when the heat's about right. You stir and stir the coconut until the pot begins to smoke, and its inside takes on a gloss, and then you know that there's a lifetime of good singgang awaiting you on your life's plate.

Top Photo: Atlantic Tuna; Bottom photo: Asam Gelugur, fluted and sharp.

A note on ingredients:
Asam gelugur is a sour fluted fruit of the Garcinia atroviridis. Its flesh is sliced thinly, then dried in the sun as 'asam keping', sliced asam, used as a flavouring in cooking.

Lengkuas is also known as laos or galangal. It belongs to the ginger family and is now available in western supermarkets.

Ikang aya,the tuna, is known as ikan tongkol in standardspeak.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Reaching the Parts

Hati sanubari are words that shape the heart and look into its hidden depths. Sanubari, of Persian origin, is pine-shaped, but what about hati, the heart?

In Trengganuspeak, as in standard Malay, hati is the seat of feeling or emotion, and is sometimes linked to the belly or stomach. Takdak hati perut is an expression normally used to describe someone without feelings altogether, without a stomach or a heart. But in Malay there are two hati, the romantic or poetic one which is the heart, and the physiological one, which is the liver. The Shakespearean notion of taking both to express feelings; the heart for love, and the liver for passion, has its match in the Malay description of a loved one, "jantung hatiku", my heart and liver. In Trengganuspeak, jantung merely comes handy in a triple by-pass or is dangling from a banana tree, the jantung pisang, the spadix of the banana, which, to a Malay, is heart-shaped. I do not know of any Trengganuspeak word that carries jantung to express feeling. But I could be wrong, of course.

This idea of using parts of the body to denote a condition or emotion is perhaps common to all languages, and the heart is always where the feeling is placed; but in Trengganu people have been accused of being "Takdok hati perok peda" which is a triple insult which borrows also from the chicken. Peda (hempedal in standard Malay) is the muscular digesting chamber in the chicken, the gizzard, and as to how it gets entangled in this very human insult I do not know.

One day, while playing in Padang Malaya in Kuala Trengganu while political speeches were droning on, I heard a speaker from the PMIP (Pan Malaysian Islamic Party, as was) hurl an insult at the UMNO (United Malays Nationalist Organisation, as was). PMIP was then peopled by erudite graduates of Middle Eastern universities who also had a smattering of English, so this is what he said: "UMNO is a heartless party as you can tell from its name, 'um' [rhymes with gum] is Arabic for 'stomach', and 'no,' English for without." The retort came some years later from one of the Ipoh Seenivasagam brothers, whose party, the PPP (People's Progressive Party) was later to join the Government coalition. "The PMIP," he said briefly and simple, "is a PIMP." And in this heat of the battle, it didn't escape notice that the PPP was a party that had a seat in Menglembu, which was a cow of a place. Ah, for those days of real political debate!

And then there's the brain and the head. "Ppala hottok mung!" someone would say in anger or exasperation, which can be roughly translated as "You and your damned head!" But in Trengganuspeak, even in standard Malay, nothing is left to chance, so not only are you weak in the head, but in the brain (otak) too. To insult effectively not only must you look menacing but your words must sound it too. So, even though the brain in ordinary Trengganuspeak is otok, to be insulting you must make it hottok. This is true too of standard speech, where otak becomes hottak, which almost brings up a hoick.

Going further down, I suppose I can say that feelings about the pudenda and the posterior are pretty universal, although I've never had Martians or Venusians hurl theirs at me in an insult. The use of these parts in speeches of anger or speeches of exasperation, or both, is pretty interesting. Take the male organ, for instance. Once, while in my little kid-sized kain pelikat (the male sarong, normally box patterned, and originally from India) and my little songkok in our local surau on a night when there was some celebration, an old man — the local grump — asked another person to get him a piece of paper to wrap up some food for him to take home. The man found a piece of paper which wasn't big enough for the old grump, so, angered and exasperated, he threw it back at him and said, "Nok buak ape ni, buak bukuh p*lir!" ("What shall I do with this, wrap up my thingy!"). I understood his anger but never could understand why he felt the need to have his, er, thingy, wrapped up in the previous day's news.

But in one area of the middle, Trengganuspeak makes polite what's rejected in standard use. It's the word patat or pa*t*at on the West Coast. In Trengganu, patat is the part of a sarong (for both men and women) that differs from the rest because it has a broad strip running down it. This is the part that goes to the back, for you to sit on. Patat is also used for the bottom of say, a well, or a cooking pot. So, patat periuk is the bottom of the pot. Go on then, say it — patat — it's a good word.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Murder By Dope

In Tanjung Mengabang was the grave of a man who became infamous in Trengganu folklore, and who probably died in the first half of the last century. The British did not start extending their tentacles into Trengganu until 1909, when the Bangkok Treaty was signed, and this effectively put Trengganu under British control, a fact that infuriated Sultan Zainal Abidin III who refused to accept a British Adviser, so an advisor was imposed on him by another name, an agent of the British Counsel. It was another ten years before a proper Adviser was appointed to Trengganu in the shape of one J.L.Humphreys.

I've ventured into this potted history because in A Bend In the River I spoke about Tanjung Mengabang, and it was there that a man named Pak Mat Mengamok was buried after he was shot under British orders, so that must've been after 1909 but before 1950; otherwise, memories of the incident would've been fresh in the minds of Trengganu people, but my mother, who mentioned him many times when referring to people who'd lost their cool, said she'd heard the story from her elders.

Pak Mat Mengamok (or ngammok in Trengganuspeak), as his name implies, went amok or amuck, a peculiarly Malay attribute, supposedly — says who? I do not know, maybe by those same people who ordered him shot. Form vague stories I've heard, Pak Mat lost control after hearing that his domestic life had gone awry, so he went for his keris. And the rest was a trail of bodies of unfortunate souls.

Thomas De Quincey. Gave dope to Malay Sailor.Yesterday while walking in Covent Garden in Central London, after finishing the above blog, I began to think of Pak Mat because there, near the famous piazza, is an address that constantly reminds me of my alleged identity. In 1821, when Thomas De Quincey was flat broke and desperate, he obtained lodgings in a house there and started to write the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but did not finish it there as he soon had to flee his creditors. His Confessions appeared in the London Magazine where it received much acclaim. By its publication he also brought to the attention of the wider public that the Malays were an amok prone people.

Well, De Quincey, though penurious most of his life, was an educated man who must've gleaned this from some Euro-centric ethnographic work while he was studying in Oxford, so he must've merely been repeating what he'd read. But his encounter with a Malay was real, though I have doubts about the latter's choice of headgear unless of course, he was Trengganu or Kelantan born, so he'd then be wearing the turban-like East Coast semuta.

Though a fine writer himself, De Quincey had a fixation on Wordsworth, his hoped-for father figure. For this he moved to Grasmere in the Lake District, to be near the man he regarded as the greatest poet of his time; but while Wordsworth was intoxicated on poetry, De Quincey was high on dope, a habit he acquired in London, to cure his little headache. So, there he was, in his cottage in Grasmere one fine day, with Kant spinning in his head, and longing for discourse with someone from Cambridge or Oxford, when "a Malay knocked on my door". De Quincey guessed that he must've been a sailor on his way to the nearest port about forty miles away; so the lad couldn't have been our young Khairy, an Oxbridge educated man you read about so very often nowadays.

There the Malay stood, De Quincey said, in his rustic kitchen, wearing a turban and "loose trowsers of dingy white... with sallow and bilious skin, enamelled or veneered with mahogany, by marine air."

If you're wondering, so did De Quincey: "What business a Malay could have to transact amongst English mountains, I cannot conjecture."

His servant girl, "born and bred amongst the mountains" was confounded too. Furthermore, "his attainments in English were exactly of the same extent as hers in the Malay." So she passed him on to De Quincey who did his best in savoir faire:
"And as I had neither a Malay Dictionary, nor even Adelung's Mithridates, which might have helped me to a few words, I addressed him in some lines from the Iliad; considering that, of such languages as I possessed, Greek, in point of longitude, came geographically nearest to an Oriental one."
The Malay man replied in what De Quincey thought was Malay, but he was probably saying "It's all Greek to me," in Trengganuspeak, but no matter, he soon lay on the floor for nearly an hour before finally saying goodbye.

But before seeing him off, De Quincey pressed into his hand a piece of opium which he'd divided into three parts, which he, said De Quincey, deploying the school-boy phrase, "bolt the one mouthful." Or, as we say in Trengganuspeak, "polok selalu." And then he became worried, for such a quantity could have killed three horses, so, for some days afterwards he felt anxious, but to his relief he "never heard of any Malay being found dead." I'm telling you this in case you've heard tales in your family of a seafaring relative who wandered into the Lake District in the 19th century and never came back. If so, I've solved the mystery and found for you the murderer, or at least the manslaughterer.

Now out of sight, the Malay was never out of De Quincey's mind because he was to come back to haunt him in dreams for months, taking him to Asiatic scenes, pulling him into veritable nightmares. He said:
"This incident I have digressed to mention because this Malay (partly from the picteresque exhibition he assisted to frame, partly from the anxiety I connected with his image for some days) fastened afterwards upon my dreams, and brought other Malays with him worse than himself that ran 'a-muck' at me, and led me into a world of troubles."
As a footnote to this I'll just add that De Quincey, when summoned downstairs by his young servant to examine the Malay wanderer, took stock of his "oriental tongues" and could only come up with two words, the Arabic word for barley (which he didn't state in his book, but which by the way, is sha'ir) and the Turkish for opium, madjoon.

It'll probably interest him to know that the house in Covent Garden where he part-wrote his famous book is now a...Turkish restaurant.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Treng Teng Teng...

A young man named 'Abidin has been sending me very kind emails, and appears to have one leg in Trengganu and another, elsewhere. In his last mail he said I shall now follow you and spell it 'Trengganu'.

I've been quite schizophrenic about that for sometime now, referring to the state as both Trengganu and Terengganu. For my Growing Up series I stick adamantly to Trengganu, as that's the place I write about there; here I've been veering both ways, hither and thither. But it's settled now: thank you 'Abidin, from now on Trengganu it shall be. As I've led, so I shall follow.

In doing so I feel justified. It's Putrajaya not Puterajaya; Tan Sri, not Tan Seri, so why should Trengganu be Terengganu? Why can't the tr sound exist in Malay without benefit of an intervening vowel? So from now on, 'Abidin and I at least, will remain unmoved in our Tower of Babil...

Babil= Stubborn; argumentative. Babe (pron. bah-bay) [Tr.], ditto.

A Bend In The River

There's a tune that haunted me, and haunts me still. It's called Tudung Periuk. A few years ago, when I was attempting to do a short documentary on Malay manuscripts in the British Library, which is a repository of batik and beauty and a wonderful storehouse of knowledge about the glory of Malay manuscripts — and that's just Annabel Gallop, its curator for Southeast Asia. I wanted to put the spirit of tudung periuk into the start of my proposed documentary, for its haunting tune, its invocation of longing and times past. So I got Zai to hum it for me, was very happy with it, then put his hum in a box. But alas, for some reasons I've now forgotten, the documentary was never completed, and humming Zai's still in the box and all the shots still in the can. In the meantime, my friend Zai gave up his designing job and Kathak dancing and went away to a better place, to somewhere near Kuala Trengganu where he now teaches fine art and sings songs older than Tudung Periuk to the accompaniment of the accordion, and the violin and the gambus.

Once, while discussing Malay songs with a friend, I observed that they seem to revolve around familiar longings — for a loved one, for Mum or Dad or both, or for one's place of birth. Tudung Periuk is probably in another category of songs altogether, being in the realm of the totally ridiculous: the lid of a cooking pot. Why did the lid of a cooking pot arouse so much longing? I don't know, but the lilt of it, the melancholy of it, is superb; little wonder then that the character in the song is asking for a piece of rag (kain buruk) to wipe his tears.

I am reminded of the tudung periuk this morning when a thought flashed in my mind, the word mengabang. What is mengabang? No dictionary of Malay that I have contains the word, and Winstedt, who is normally very good at things like that, is completely silent. But in Kuala Trengganu there are at least two mengabang, one between the kampungs of Ladang and Tanjung, called Tanjung Mengabang, and another some miles away, called Mengabang Teliput. So, what is mengabang or, for that matter, what's teliput? On the latter, Winstedt is not altogether silent, because he has bunga telipok which is lotus (Nelumbium nelumbo) or blue water lily (Nymphaea stellata), so my guess is mengabang is probably a body of water that has those delights. I think in Tanjung Mengabang there's a river that bends there still, very slowly. So is it then a bend in the river?

And in the manner of things that lead to another, Tanjung Mengabang reminds me of a man we called Pak Loh, a tough, wizened old soul who used to visit our house to tell us tales and sing us songs. Tudung Periuk was one of them.

But my longing is transformed into admiration when I read Penyu Mutasi's comment about his breakfast, which seems to me, overly scrumptious: two half-boiled eggs with honey and two bread rolls, all washed down with volkskaffee! Now, how would you react to that in Trengganuspeak? You'd probably want to say, seder! which is an expression used in admiration or surprise, or both. "Seder tu, habis dia bahang!" ("Oh, my goodness, s/he's guzzled all that!")

We had a Trengganu boy staying with us when my father's work took him to Kuala Lumpur many years ago. When he, the lad, came home late one night, Father asked if he'd eaten, and his reply was, "Kita dah bahang rojok tadi." ("I've already attacked a rojak."), which gave cause for some merriment in our family. Bahang is of course Trengganuspeak for the baham of standard Malay. It means to eat voraciously, and, in Trengganu, as with most other words of voracity, it also has sexual connotations which I shall not venture into. And you've probably also noticed our lad's use of the plural pronoun kita which is the form sometimes used in Trengganu as a polite "I", instead of the also polite ambe(as used by Penyu Mutasi below), or the more formal saya. As in English, kita (we) can also be used in Trengganuspeak in a patronising way, as in "Guane kita hari ni?" (How are we today?"), but no Trengganu bomoh worth his egg would ever think to say that, I'd say.

There are two other expressions that come to mind when talking of seder, but both are expressions of reproach. One is tebeng which has an element of schadenfreude in it, and the other's percong. Say a young lad climbs a tree and then falls from it, uninjured. His mother, who'd been telling him not to do it, would say, "Ha, tebeng gok lagi!" ("Go on then, go and do it again!"). Tebeng is an adamant word, conveying stubbornness, persistence, the wanting to do something against the odds or in the face of objections. Then there's percong which conveys an obtrusiveness, of something that you have done but shouldn't, and stubbornness too. In the above example, the mother could've said to the child, "Percong tu!" which has the sense of "Why the hell did you do that?"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Egg On A Stick

A kampung isn't complete without Dali's Geopoliticus Child.the man who ccuri ayang. He's the resident chicken thief. The chicken is central to kampung life. Cockerels wake the faithful at dawn, make the hens lay the eggs, and fight pitched battles in inter-village cock-fights where the kampung itself is lost or won. A little province of Trengganu is said to have been won this way when one ruler beat the cockerel of a neighbouring state. And so the saying in Trengganu, why settle for a debt mountain when you can acquire a busut (ant-hill)? It may be apocryphal, but that is how Besut was got. Many Malay proverbs are centred around gambling and losing, for example, Biar alah sabung, asal menang sorak (Never mind the quality, feel the width), not altogether good advice, but perhaps it is meant to be ironic. And there's a minefield of irony in Malay words.

But back to the hen that laid the eggs that played a central role in kampung life. Recently a blogger-mate from Blighty who's married into Trengganu told me of an experience he had at a wedding. Now who comes first at a Malay wedding, the groom or the bride? The answer is neither; it's the egg, on a stick. If you've been to a Malay wedding you'll know about this, because you'd have been given a hard-boiled egg, coloured bright red, that's pierced through its base by a long thin stick that comes out through the apex wearing some hand-made flowers or leaves. There's symbolism here, presumably, and the only one I can think of is fertility, the one that always comes to mind when the egg pops up. This Blighty Blogger, having done his bit of wondering, parked his egg in a place on its stick to go for a jaunt, then came back only to see the shell remains. "Siapa makan telur saya?" ("Who ate my egg?") he asked, and raised a raucous laugh and a nudge from his Trengganu wife.

Now there's no doubt that eggs have special qualities, for ill or good. Swallow a raw egg on a Thursday morning, an old Malay book on tibb advises an impotent man, and do it again on the Friday morning after that, and then again on the following Saturday morn. On Sunday, I suppose, he's expected to lie back and think of cakes, probably the apam which, besides being a kuih or cake, is also a lascivious word. Here then is a motherlode, of the association between the Malay kuih and the proverbial fruitcake, but we'll leave that for now, at that.

So in a kampung the egg is food for folk, decorates a stick, and is paraphernalia for magic. When summoned to attend to a sick person, a bomoh or shaman will ask for an egg which he (or she, there are lady bomohs too) rolls onto the ailing parts. The egg is then ceremoniously cracked before the assembled relatives, and out pops from the shell, a rusty nail, or some bits of glass, or snarled up hair from some distant ill-wisher's head. Here in an eggshell, says the bomoh, are the causes of your discomfort, all extracted by a process called aleng, with the egg of your everyday chick.

Old people will tell you of even older people who spoke of sand, gravel and lime being mixed with the binding power of the egg-white. Indeed some old mosques in Trengganu were reputedly built with glue of many hundred litres of egg-white mixed into the mortar, and the buckets of yolk despatched to the ladies' quarter to turn into akok, the boat-shaped one for a quick mouthful, or the magnum-sized flower-shaped one for a gang of hungry builders.

Trengganu folk eat their eggs hard-boiled or arong, — runny, — with pepper and a dash of kicap. In the morning, bleary eyed after his visit to the reban — the hen-house — he'd make a bee-line to the man at the griddle who'd make him a roti telor with his home-laid egg, and griddle man would charge him an extra 5 sen for that. There's egg for healing or egg for building or egg for food in Trengganu, but no cosmogonic egg that tells the history of the universe. But for some weird reason, the egg is also capable of speaking not of creation but quite the reverse. If you accidentally smash your Mum's china or break the dinner plate, you'd probably hear her reproach you twice for effect: "Ah, doh ttellor doh, doh ttellor doh!" It's difficult to explain here how the egg has come to that, as ttelor here is a verb, and all she's telling you is that you've laid an egg.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Looking for That Persian Word

In Trengganu anything that's nameless or forgotten is nnattang. Where're you off to then?, you'll ask a passer-by. "Nak gi kkeda, beli nnattang tu sikik." (I'm off to the shops to buy that thingummybob."). Nnattang derives from binatang, the animal or beast of standard Malay, but going back to Trengganuspeak, it is often invoked when someone's raised his animus. "Dok buak ape tu?" you may ask of someone with steam puffing out of his ears and looking not altogether nice. "Tu lah," the reply may be, "dok cari nnattang jjaddoh tu." Now there's real anger about this beastie beast that's the object of the search, and then there's jjaddoh which comes from over the seas. It's from the Persian zadah meaning child of. In Iran you have names like Qutbzadeh, meaning, no doubt, Child of Qutb; but in Trengganu there's harang jjaddoh, a juxtapositioning of two foreign words always spoken in tones that's harsh. Harang, as you may have guessed, is Trengganuspeak for the Arabic haram, which means, in this context, forbidden, illicit, so, with jjadoh, they describe someone who's bound to be lonely on Father's Day, a b*sta*d.

So, as things happen and words go — in Trengganu especially — harang jjadoh is shortened to jjaddoh, as in benda jjaddoh (that damned thing); budak jjaddoh (that damned chid more often than that b-----d child), or, as in the expression, "Jjaddoh sungguh bodak tu, tembor lesap dah."("That damned child, he's disappeared completely!")

What got me to this convolution is lion3ss's enquiry about something that "looks like cotton candy but harder and usually in the shape of a stick." Now, that's a nnattang that I don't know about. Yesterday I mentioned gulale in passing and am glad that lion3ss remembers it. For a moment I thought it was one of those koochie-koochie words that adults pass off as baby-speak, because gulale sounds just like that. But Winstedt has gulali, of Javanese origin, which is "a syrupy confection"; and Haji Zainal Abidin Safarwan, a man of sterling quality who was once on the staff of Berita Harian, says in his Kamus Besar that it is "manisan yang dibuat daripada air gula yang kental" (a confection made from congealed syrup). So that's candy-floss.

But a hardened cotton-candy that's shaped like a stick? I seem to recall something that's made of thin sugar-sticks stuck together, each of a different colour, then twisted into a rod. If that's the one, then it's a nnattang because it's one of those things you just pointed at, as in "Mitok hak tu se?" ("Can I have one of that, please!"). The question mark at the end of the Malay sentence does not make it into a probe, but merely upturns the intonation as to make it into a request, rather than a command. For that is how Malay — Trengganuspeak — works, for there isn't in Malay or Trengganuspeak the equivalent of the English please as such, but the intonation makes the mood — and in this case, the elevated terminal makes it polite.

Bustaman (Pok Ku) has brought back something I've forgotten about: the man with the brassy mace. This was the man (like Ba of the roti kerah, from the sub-continent) who sold air bandung. Everybody knows what air bandung is, except perhaps, people from there, i.e. Bandung, in Indonesia. It's a syrupy, milky, pinky, drinky drink that's drunk on a hot day with cubes of ice. In Trengganu, the air bandung man came on a bicycle, and the drink, he stored it in a specially made tank in the back of his bike. The tank, made of Trengganu brass in the furnace of Wan Mamat or some such in Tanjong, was divided into three compartments: the central one, the biggest, stored the drink with the floating ice cubes, a smaller chamber to its left, maybe, where he stored water to rinse his cups, and another compartment of the same size as this on the opposite side, where he stored his mace.

This mace was as fascinating to a thirsty child as the colour of the drink. It was made of a brass or copper cylinder about a foot long, with a little aperture in one end about the size of a five sen coin, maybe smaller. Then, at the other end of this hollow stick was attached a bigger cylinder, about 4-inch diameter, and maybe as tall, and at the other end of this was attached a funnel of conical shape, with a hole in its apex. So the hollow stick is attacked to the hollow cylinder that has a funnel on the other side. If you can imagine an isosceles triangle, attached to a square at its base which has a long hollow cylinder attached on its other side, you've got it about right. Now, when a drink is required, the man man dips this mace into the central chamber of his tank, pushing the air bandung into his mace through the aperture in the apex of his cone-end of the stick. Then he'd place his thumb over the aperture on the other end — the stick end — to hold the drink in the chamber of the mace until he's ready to release the contents into a glass, simply by removing his thumb from the top of the hollow stick and letting the gushing air push the drink out. I don't know what scientific principle is involved in this magic mace, where displacement and replacement of air are involved, if it sounds Archimedean, I never saw the Bandung man run naked in the street shouting "Eureka!" or something close to that.

Cokelat ra must've been my family's Besut origin again, as Kelantanese and (Besutains) are prone to say that. Pok Ku is right about cokelat angin and about ra being a connotative word. If a lady hears a man say in Trengganuspeak, "Dok jjauh sikik Mek, aku dah naik ra ni!" she'd be wise to move a yard.

And I'm pleased that roti keras or roti kerah is still remembered and is in fact, this very minute, alive. Roti bata was bread stuck together in a loaf that looked like terraced houses. Real aficionados in those days cycled staright to the bakery in Ladang after their dawn prayer to take home a roti bata, piping hot. And there was another bata bakery in Pulau Kambing then, which was highly regarded, and more famous. I remember being told once of a regular joker in a religious instruction class, who, when asked by the ustaz, "What do angels eat?" replied immediately, "Roti Pulau Kambing." And that's high accolade indeed.

Thanks everyone, for all that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Time for Magic

A conversation can sometimes be spun around the word duduk, shortened to dok
Deramang sees his friend Jusoh coming down the road. [Translation below]

Deramang: Hor guane mung le ning, mung duduk duane?

Jusoh: Dok ssitu lah lagi, dah nak gi duane?

Deramang: Anak mung Mbong tu guane gamok? Dia dok duane?

Deramang: Ada dok ccokoh ssitu lah lagi, denge aku.

Jusoh: Dia dok buak ape le ning?

Deramang: Dok ggitu lah, dah nak buat guane, dok dak jjuruh haroh ggitulah, macang dulu. Mung guane?

Jusoh: Dok ggitulah jugok, nde poteng, nde poteng, tak dak satu ha.

Deramang: Dah orang ppuang mung guane?

Jusoh: Dok ggitulah lagi, nak wak guane?

Deramang: Dah dok berobak denge sape?

Jusoh: Dok berobaklah sikik-sikik, kadang-kadang baik, kadang-kadang dak.

Deramang: Dak leh dok lok ggitu, nati nnarak susoh.

Jusoh: Ada jugok dok ciuk-ciuk sikik. Ni nak gi upor pulok denge tok bomo hak dudok ddarak tu.

Deramang: Ha, moleklah tu. Aku kena gi dah ni, Mbong dok tunggu tu ttepi pata.

Dudok, dok, it's a many-edged word. I probably have to explain two things for those of you uninitiated in shamanic ways: ciuk and upor. Ciuk is blow, and involves the japi (jampi) and serapoh (serapah), mantra-like invocations that have roots in analysis. A good japi traces the ailment to its deepest aetiology: Hai, Jing tanoh aku tau asalmu, Asal mu dari api panah ddo'oh, Tok mung hatu jembalang....and so on. This Jing tanoh is of course the Djinn that lives in the earth, coming up to possess the weak in ways that only they know how.

What's more interesting is upor. Upor involves the shamanic device of a branch, snapped from a tree with leaves still intact. The shaman rids the patient of the illness by beating him/her with the branch while muttering arcane words, passed down from generation to generation. When all is said and done, there follows the pelepah (pelepas), the release or closing ceremony, when the shaman puts an end to the healing...and asks for his dosh.

A Cautionary note: Shamans, Pawangs, Bomohs, Tok Bbagehs (you may find one here) are adept practitioners with many years of work. Please do not be tempted to practise any of the above at home or on your office mates.
* * * * * *

Translation of the Deramang-Jusoh dialogue:
Deramang: How are you these days, where do you live now?

Jusoh: I’m still there, where else can I go?

Deramang: How’s your son Mbong? Where does he live?

Deramang: He’s still there, with me.

Jusoh: What does he do nowadays?

Deramang: He’s still the same, whattudu, he’s still going about his way, as before. How are you?

Jusoh: I’m still the same, gadding about here and there, aimlessly.

Deramang: How’s your little lady?

Jusoh: She’s the same, whattudu?

Deramang: So who’s treating her now?

Jusoh: We do bits here and there, sometimes she’s well, sometimes not.

Deramang: You can’t just let her be like that, the ailment might get worse.

Jusoh: We do try a bit of the traditional. Now we’re going to try the upor with that shaman in the sticks.

Deraman: Ha, that’s good. I have to go now, Mbong’s waiting on the shore.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Stick in the Cup

The roti keras was finger like, and hard as a rock. Does anyone make the roti keras anymore? It was known to us as the roti ba, ba meaning brother, and Trengganuspeak for bhai, which is Hindi for Bro.

A big bai roamed the villages with a big round basket on his head, resting on a coil of cloth. It was an art, the art of ba. In the basket he had kaya, a spread made form eggs and flour and sugar, he had paung, and he had cakes and roti bata. Paung was, I believe, from the Chinese pau, and roti bata, well, bata was probably Trengganuspeak for bantal, the pillow you dreamt on. But mostly we looked for the roti keras, the hard finger bread, which we bit off at both ends. Then, the remaining stem was soaked in the drink, and served as the straw. Slurppppp! That was how we drank hot Milo, then we munched on the soggy stick.

There were also Huntley & Palmers, and Reading, and Marie. These were biscuits that came from abroad. Many years later I discovered that Reading had a peculiar pronunciation, and Marie — sweet Marie — was the most undunkable of all. It just melted in the cup.

There were local biscuits too; the biskut jagung being the most famous, made — I think — by a company called Thye Hong. The biskut jagung was supposedly made from corn, though which part I never knew. It was crispy and golden, and dunked better than Marie did. There were also assorted others, some were square, others, round. Some round ones had a coating of sugar on one side, red or green or yellow. Others just had sugar sprinkled on top. But of the local biskuts, there was one that's most memorable, a little blob of a biskut, with a spot of coloured icing sugar on top. It was called the biskut ccotek. Ccotek referred to the blob of sugar; and as ccokoh describes a person sitting prominently in a place, ccotek is how some little things stick out.

Recently, in my Growing Up In Trengganu, when I mentioned Huntley & Palmers, a kind soul wrote in from Singapura to share with me her memories of this company. She too remembered it well, the tins and the biscuits. My Mum kept a Huntley & Palmers tin for storing her sewing things, and another — a round one — for her bits and bobs. I don't know if yours did that too, but if she did, go search for it now and give it a closer look. Does it have a scene of happy people in the countryside, picknicking or doing things alfresco? If it does, take an even closer look, in the grass beneath those branches. You'd probably see legs waving in the air, of a very happy couple. It has now come to light that a disgruntled worker in the factory once got so cheesed off with either Mr Huntley or Mr Palmer, or the both of them, and painted in the raunchy scene among the happy people. Maybe that's why your Mum stopped buying Huntley & Palmers biscuits.
Huntley&Palmers picnic with the nuaghty bits.
Then there were other things too that kids indulged in, one was cokelat ra. Now, cokelat isn't what you deem it to be, it isn't necessarily made from cocoa. In Trengganu, anything sweet and hard and wrapped in old news or transparent paper is cokelat. So there was cokelat nnisang, a sweet made from coconut sugar, wrapped in bits of newspaper which had to be peeled off before popping the sweet into the mouth. I swallowed most of the previous week's headlines in my day. Then, of course there was the cokelat ra. Now, ra is a difficult word to spell, because it is like an onomatopoeia, but, instead of describing the sound that gives the word, it describes the sensation of the sweet in the mouth. The ‘ah’ sound in ra is nasal as the sensation is felt mostly in the nose. Yes, you've got the idea, it's the minty sweet, the one with the polar bear walking on polar ice.

Talking of ice, there was a man, a slim Indian guy, who went around town with the most delicious water ice in a tub. This sorbet was pure white in colour, which he scooped out with a tea spoon into a cone, and it was the bestest treat of all on a very hot day. All other ices paled before this one, but still, they were sought. There was an ice company near my house that made long water ice on a stick, sometimes topped with red beans. There were other companies too, mostly, I think, in Pulau Kambing. All these ices on sticks were put into an insulated box that was placed in the back of a bike. The vendor, always wearing a topi, the pith helmet, wandered around town and outside schools just as we dispersed at noontime on a hot day. And then, just to make us grow up right, there was gambling too on a round disc with numbers and a pointer on the back of this box. You paid your price, you twirled the disc, and got your ice, or two or three, according to what the pointer dictated.

Tikam, it was called, and, needless to say, no matter how many big numbers you set your eyes on, it was always one that prevailed.

Picture: Huntley&Palmers biscuit tin with the naughty details, work of a disgruntled employee. Source:This Moment.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A Word In the Head

When the first in my 'Growing Up in Trengganu' series started on October 29, 2003, in another place, it sat uncomfortably among other things that I wrote about. So for a while I'd been meaning to find it a proper home, another place. But time flew by without anything realised, as I also started to gather Trengganu words for an unknown purpose.

Growing Up In Trengganu continued apace, and indeed became a pleasing aspect of my blogging life — speaking that is, for myself. Now there's enough to fill up a little book, and someone even offered to publish the lot, panau and warts, but I'll have to think about that.
Atbara market, Sudan. Just like the old Pasar Tanjong, K.Trengganu.PicCredit:
But my life in Trengganu was very brief, having left it when I was still in shorts; but memories etched there have been the most lasting, and, if anything, enriched my life. Sitting on the deck one night, many years ago, on a rickety passenger boat on Lake Nasser a.k.a.the Aswan Dam, in Egypt, we were looking up to the starry sky, a group of us — assorted wanderers from many parts of the globe, Egyptian fellahin, young backpackers, an Egyptian lad and his travelling mate who looked at me and said, "You're a Muslim, I love you very much," then offered me some bread and molasses. Then a New York doctor among us, named R. Binder, pointed to the sky and said, "Look, the Big Dipper,it always points to the north star." And there it was, the Plough (or Big Dipper, as Americans call it), with the outer edge of its bucket pointing to Polaris — bright as a jewel — the north star.

I had just travelled through all the North Africa countries then, and was proceeding towards Wadi Halfa, in Sudan, to catch a train to the little village of Atbara. I was still very green, and the world, especially then, seemed a strange place. I was longing for my northern star quite a lot; it was a strange sensation to feel as I'd left Trengganu many years already then, but travelling took you back to strange places. And as I sat there on the boat that rolled gently in the calm night, I was thinking of Pasar Tanjong, Kedai Payang, and the Cherong Lanjut and Kuala Ibai of my schooldays, and of putri mandi and nekbat, and Mok Noh's rokok Arab. Trengganu was calling me again, so I went home, and went back to the town and saw it still intact. Soon after that my mother died, and was buried under a tree in an old cemetery in Ladang, not far from the penyu (turtle) roundabout.

Trengganu has a strange hold on people, even those who were not born there but stayed there only briefly are smitten by the bug. I had a very good schoolfriend in Trengganu who was known widely as Axxxx Gong; and he was from Perak but spoke the Trengganuspeak like our own anak beranok (family).

So it is here then, the first Growing Up in Trengganu, home at last. And here I must say a word of thanks, to everybody actually, but to Pok Ku especially, whose Trengganu blog is always an exhilirating read. It was this that actually called the removal van and persuaded me to move my memories of Trengganu to this place, to break free my other page for things of another type. If there's one blog I'd have this twinned to, it'd most certainly be Pok Ku's because here I feel I'm playing a complementary role to that salutary effort.

And by some fortuitous circumstance, in his latest comment below, Pok Ku mentioned the Mansor Press which also came back to me when I started writing my latest Growing Up blog last week.

Dok bbaik, gi mmolek!

Photo: The market in Atbara, Sudan, just like the old Tanjong market in Kuala Trengganu.

Growing Up in Trengganu #12152

There was bench under the henna tree in the north-eastern corner of the Zain al 'Abidin Mosque. Here one could sit all day and watch cars zooming past, or pedestrians going by, or throw a glance at folk who lived in the cluster of houses in the area known as Istana Kecil, the Small Palace. Down the road leading north, to the harbour front, in his zinc-roofed shed, Pak Dir poured his secret-recipe sauce over strands of mee and tofu pieces, and bits of cow's lung and pieces of squid of his scrumptious rojak. The wind blowing in from the sea hit the Post Office and the ceremonial Istana Maziah, while nymphets or the spirits that remained of the Tuan Puteri — the legendary Princess — hovered in the vicinity of the hill fort of Bukit Putri with its guiding light for ships coming to shore and fisherfolk coming home.

On a busy day maybe ten cars would fly past the Mosque in an hour, and maybe a score more cyclists going hither and thither, stirring the dust a little and breaking the quiet. The Saudara Store across the road held a small stock of books, mostly in the Jawi script, maybe kitabs on ahkam or the Taj al-Mulk, or loose-leaved books on Tibb. When the store's owner, Ustaz Haji Su packed his stock to move to Ladang of the turtled roundabout to delve in a different and more lucrative trade in songket, Saudara Store became the Mansor Press, while the Lay Sing Photo Studio continued undaunted, from as long as I could remember, taking the brunt of the daily blast of the azan from the minarets above.

Folk didn't stay long on the bench under the henna tree, prefering the more relaxed and cooler ambience of the back of the Mosque, with its long grass mat stretched out on the marble floor against the wall, under the low windows that ran from this side of to mosque to that; to chat or to take in the sweeping view through the stepped entrances on both sides. This was the very last row of the saf, the straight line of people doing the solat, but the Mosque filled-up to this brim only on Fridays; on ordinary days the last row of the line-up stopped deep inside, and this back row which looked out to the passing traffic and roads, the houses and shops, was used as a resting place for congregants in between prayers to mutter a quiet zikr or to indulge in chat.

One morning, as we were walking home from the Mosque in the early morning light, a cyclist friend dismounted and joined us as we were turning into Kampung Hangus, which, by its name, indicated that it was a part of town that must've been destroyed by fire that had died out so long ago that even memories of it had died out. Now Kampung Hangus had a cluster of rickety structures in the middle of sturdier houses, the Trengganu gedung houses of brick and mortar, and the old wood and atap dwellings on stilts. There was one of these facing the road, which seemed to be tenanted by ladies in figure-hugging clothes, and men who always seemed to be rushing out. We knew this as the house of Mek Bxxx, and Mek Bxxx was a woman you wouldn't want to ask about though you saw her often in the market, in her flowery sarong kebaya and her comely gait. By the stairs that led up to her house was a knee-high earthen jar from which visitors would scoop water to wash their feet, as was the custom before entering a kampung house. As we walked past this dwelling place in the rising sun, paying scant attention to the few ladies who were lounging in the curtained doorway, our cyclist friend, a lad who was ahead of us in years, started to mutter something in Qur'anic Arabic, then shouted out its Malay translation which probably went — in Trengganuspeak of course — something like "Those who play the bujang will end up in a hot place!"

Now, bujang was a Trengganu word that went beyond its ordinary meaning in standard speak. A bujang person was unmarried, but in Trengganu it took a further twist because the unmarried one was always a lady of the demi-monde.I remember asking him if the Trengganuspeak translation was what it actually said in Arabic. "No,I just want to scare them a bit," our cycling mate said.

Some weeks later, when I met our cycling friend again, he had a story, he said, of the water jar of Mek Bxxx on a dark night. The jar was, he said, was also used by the ladies to ablute themselves after work, and all those to-ing and fro-ing of a dark night in Kampung Hangus had irked a pious man in the neighbourhood. So one day, he went to his grocery shop, bought a kati of dried chillies, and pounded and pounded them all to bits. Then, creeping out on a dark night, he poured the lot into the water jar at the foot of Mek Bxxx's house.

And the screams that came from there, he said with a sly smile, must've been reminiscent of that night in the blurry mists when the kampung really was hangus

Somehow I felt that the bicycling story-teller was telling us a fib as, a few days after that, I saw Mek Bxxx once again, gadding about in the market, sarong kebaya neatly pressed and her gait semingly intact, unaffected by the hot-tempered douche.

Picking Up the Pong

In Trengganu sometimes the world turned upside down, inside out, front to back. Sometimes a friend would say, "Gi teki kangma sikna kkeda yangpa." It would have taken you some time, if not aback, but soon you latched on to the mode and say ok, and off you went for a nasi hapor (nasi hampar) or nasi dagang. It was quite simple really to crack the code, that was Trengganuspeak backwards. "Gi kita makang nasi Kkeda Payang," ("Let's go eat rice in Kedai Payang.") that's what the friend said. This was a popular way of speaking in code, but the code would've been cracked quite easily by someone in the vicinity who cared to bang dengor. Bang dengor was pricking up one's ear to listen very close.

There was also something akin to the Cockney rhyming slang in Trengganu. Cockney rhyming slang works on a very simple principle, that what you intend to say rhymes with what you're saying. So, Barnet Fair, hair. Trouble and strife, wife. In Trengganu sometimes a person was looked at disapprovingly, perhaps with a shake of the head if not the sucking of air through the teeth. "Dia ni Di Muhammad." Di Muhammad (pron. Muhamma') had both description in it, and a moral tone, because what you echoed back in your head on hearing that was, "Orang jjudi dak selama'." ("A gambler is always trouble prone.") So the man was a gambler, tut-tut. Now, in our family there was another, which was used to indicate that someone (usually a little child) had done the dirty on his or her nappy. It sounded very arcane, for the phrase was "Long, lek long." But a knowledge of Trengganu lore would've easily solved that. This was based on a very old, cryptic children's rhyme, which went:
Long lek long,
Buah labu buah le'ik,
Jamoh j**o Sulong,
Berasa ta*ik
Now, this had a whole host of knowledge there: childish prank, unhygienic behaviour, Sulong's loose bowel, and local vegetable-fruit. And of course, expletives sanitised. For a long time I was puzzled by the buah le'ik, but I'm more than convinced now that it was a nonce word. There must've been some bad food in Trengganu in those days when those rhymes evolved, or at least, poor storage, because I'm reminded of another, much recited by children at play, which also had an unsanitary end. It went:
Pik Pong,
Motoka Haji Salleh,
Ketut belepong,
Ta*hik nelleh
Now, as in most nursery rhymes, throughout the world, there's humour there, a slight misfortune maybe, but also social commentary. Haji Salleh, I have it on good authority, was Haji Salleh Sekateh, a tall, lean man who wrote copiously on the history of Trengganu. He had the pen name of Misbaha, which was an acronym created from the Jawi initials of his full name, Muhammad Salleh bin Haji Awang. And it was a clever one too at that, because 'misbah' in Arabic, means 'lamp' or 'light'. And sekateh, the name given to him by Trengganu folk, is synonymous with lonjong, i.e. a tall person. Kateh, I suspect, came from the long legs of the belalang, the grasshopper.

To be fair to the late Haji Salleh, Allah yarham, his role was just in the pembayang maksud, as is commonly the case in the Malay pantun form, where the first two lines have no connection with the last two, except as an hors d'oeuvres. Haji Salleh was one of the early car owners in Kuala Trengganu, and he must've used his horn sometimes to disperse those Trengganu goats sleeping on the road; so, another example of the onomatopoeic word, pik pong. To sidetrack, there were goats and goats in Trengganu; and the ones with the strongest B.O., or most hamis were the kambing nerok.

And Penyu Mutasi, below, is quite right. The Mang wi' de goldeng gung is indeed James Bong.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Gong With The Wind

There was a man in Trengganu named Cik Mat Dok-Dek because he was a fluent Tamil speaker. There was another called Pak Mat Bbiang, well, that's a hard one. Bbiang, it turned out, came from Pebean (that's how it was spelt), and meant, I think, excise. There was a notice board on the harbour near the customs warehouse in Kuala Trengganu, opposite the Post Office, near Pok Deh's rojak stall. On it was the legend: Kastam dan Pebean.

Well, there was also Cik Ali Pailat ('a' as in 'bake') because he was a pilot, a ship's pilot. But at school we used the 'Pilot' (pron. 'pee' and 'lot' which rhymes with 'belut') fountain pen, and this was of course the potipeng. Those things made our world go round.

Notisebar was the man who served you notices, and you didn't want to know him. His notices came from the Court. And I'm grateful to Pok Ku for helping to jog my memory on that. The rest were easier to guess — Cik Mat Terapik, Cik Jusoh Sobia, Pak Mbong Pos Masta, and Sulong Jang. You may have problems with the last one if you're not truly Trengganu bred and born, because this man repaired watches — and that's jang for you. Er, did I say bred and born? Is it not the other way round? I don't think so, because being a Trengganuer started from the inside, when you were sitting quietly in the dark, deep in amniotic fluid, and then you were bong.

Those were days when Gong With The Wing was no Clark Gable epic but a storm over Gong Kapas. And have you heard of the "Meng wi' de goldeng gung?" He, I'm afraid, was born not in Trengganu, but elsewhere, which explains his demeanour, which was berserk. Being a Trengganuer meant an inner calm, unmoved by the elements or outside influences. In my first blog here I spoke about the Trengganu house unfinished, just the bare essentials made, and then life went on for quite a long time. But Trengganuers were competitive too when the mood took them, and in this they played the bbadi dang. Bbadi dang is a hard one to place, and it had the element of competition in it.

Somewhere close to us was a bicycle shop run by a man called Jing, and opposite him was another, run by a man called Luga. Luga was quite ominous as it meant 'lapor belepeng', and if you were that, you starved; so he must've been quite hard up, but not in my estimation. I'm not sure if his counterpart was Jing because he was one, i.e. Djinn, or if it was Trengganuspeak for his Chinese name. When the unfortunate Luga died, he was succeeded by his formidable wife, who became known as Mek. All Chinese women of a certain age in Trengganu were Mek, but if older than that, Mok Mek.

The Chinese business people were all taukehs, that was how we respected their business acumen; and there was only one Malay Towkay I knew, and he was Cik Mat Tokeh, and if I remember it right, he dealt in scrap.

We also had a national class singer, and he was Adnang Osmang.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Laying It For The Mat

A Kelantanese told me tales of words and gave an amusing anecdote about the kelosong. A kelosong is a banana leaf shaped into a cone, then filled with rice — normally nasi dagang — and the accompanying dish or lauk — normally, tuna fish cooked in coconut — then, when all is piled in and snug, the open top of the cone is folded down to keep the contents under wraps, and pinned down to the cone's side with a short, sharpened spine of the coconut leaf.

Tenong, unenamelled.Kelosong, said the Kelantanese, was derived from the French croissant, because — she claimed — the kelosong was crescent-shaped. Give a little twist of the Kelantan tongue, and the croissant became the kelosong.

Now, I have a more interesting story told me by a Trengganu man I used to know many years back. He was a funny man, a magician, and a regular guy whose brain was inverted, because the way he saw many things was quite different from ours. He was known to us as Cik Awang, not Goneng, but another sobriquet word.

The kelosong, he said, started when an Englishman, a Mat Salleh went out to buy some nasi. Now, in Trengganu, the nasi to take away was either laid out on a banana leaf that was laid out flat — known as hampar, or wrapped into a kelosong. The nasi hampar was for a hungry person on the trot, laid out so he’d be able to lay the banana leaf plate on his left palm, and eat the food with the other hand. But the Mat salleh was not in a rush but wanted to take his food home, so, on seeing the food laid out like that in the hampar form, said, "Close on!"

Tenong, unenamelled.And that, my friend said, was the origin of the conical kelosong.

There are many ways you can take your take-away food in Trengganu. In olden days you had it wrapped in upeh, which is the dried part of a palm tree. This was a sturdy wrap that took the food over long distance — to the padi fields, maybe, or even to sea for the fisher-folk who caught fish for the kerepok. Then, with the dawning of the metal age, food could be carried in many tiers, in what was called the tenong or the tiffin carrier. The tenong, for some reason, was enameled yellow, and was much favoured by office workers. Then, later still, in the age of enlightenment, rice and its accompanying dish was laid out on a thin plastic sheet laid out on yesterday’s newspaper, preferably the New Straits Times. And here’s my claim to fame.

I did film reviews once — and very badly at that — under my other pseudonym, at a time when a very famous person was being detained under some funny Act, for an act he allegedly did, which was funnier than the empowering Act. “Oh, I used to read your reviews,” he told me after his release, many years later, “because my daily read was my daily wrap, arranged by a kindly guard.”

And that, folks, was how I had my fifteen minutes.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Ssaneh Solved?

The mystery of ssaneh may have unravelled, thanks to Mrs Kura-Kura. Here's what she wrote:
"Ssanneh if I remember correctly is a very sweet kueh or cookie which melts in the mouth."

It may have been, but does anyone still make it? Perhaps it's like suji, an Indian sweetmeat that's orangey and sticky and oily, and sweet. Suji was, I think, available in some shops in Kuala Terengganu, as were other sticky sweets like kkoleh, and hasidoh.

And thanks too to lion3ss for her contribution in the 'C' list. One day I shall look at all of them and incorporate into the corpus. Cik Ru and the ssaneh are detaining me elsewhere.

And we have a note from Atok, who wears a Sherlock Holmes hat. Cik Wang is found in Terengganu by the hundreds, and I'm just one of them. And so, as lion3ss says, it's Pak Ke (or Ker, as Pok Ku pointed out), the nodding lizard. I grew up, like Besutians (and maybe Atokians too) thinking they're Pok Kor. Fits them too, as, looking at them, I'm convinced their real name is Abu Bakar, or Pak Kor, to be polite. So Kor or Ker, or Ke, I'm glad they're still gadding about.

See Comments, below.