On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Sunday, August 28, 2005

FIve O'Clock Shadows

I was in the valley of the shadows of hotels recently with a man I respect greatly, Pok Ku, eating, would you believe it, kerepok lekor. Very Mat Sprong, very KLCC. Half expecting to hear the sound of distant trumpets, strumming guitars and the soft lilt of R.Azmi coming from a steam-powered transistor radio, I looked up to see not the person of Cik Kaleh — Mat Sprong's trishaw man and his eyes and ears in Kuala Trengganu — but the hurried gait of Pak Adib, bearing the weight of many thingamanythings, and apologising for having been detained in a meeting at the Selangor Club.

Been detained at the Selangor Club? Now, that strikes a chord. When I was in town the last time but one, I was sitting there with my retired boss, who was probably the last great editor of our once famous national broadsheet newspaper, listening to him reminiscing about his cycling days to cover proceedings in the Dewan Rakyat then rushing back to look not at notes but into the recesses of his memory to write a 'story' as we called it. Then he'd regurgitate many anecdotes about old stalwarts in days when old stories were melted line by line in a cauldron of boiling lead, then recycled into fresh rows of type metal of today's stories.

Been detained at the Selangor Club? I've been detained there ever since, thinking what a quaint old world this once was, cycling to work, typing 'stories' in top copy and two 'carbons' on finger-powered typewriters, when there was the Spotted Dog and Hash House Harriers. My old boss is long dead now, but I can hear his voice still, and I still remember sitting with him at his favourite seat, looking out into the Padang and at the old Moorish ramparts that presumably kept the plebs safely on the other side.

How life unfolds and unfurls, one into another. Now we were sitting in a valley of hotels, eating kerepok lekor, soon to be joined by the delightful Honeytar, fresh probably from another ten million ringgit deal. In his last episode Mat Sprong was eating much the same thing, in the shadow of a famous Kuala Trengganu institution, Pak Awang Hitam, the kerepok lekor frier and chili dip maker extraordinaire. If I'm not mistaken, Pok Ku once said somewhere that he grew up in a house in Kuala Trengganu that was just a stone's throw (not that I'm accusing him of having thrown any) from Awang Hitam's famous kerepok lekor verandah.

I've known Pak Adib many years, and it was he who gave me the blogging itch. He once walked out on me as I was eating couscous in a restaurant in the quatrier Latin of Paris, but he promptly came back to pay the bill. Then when I took him up to the rooftop of the Institut du Monde Arabe for some baklava and mint tea, he said he was feling giddy from looking at the flying buttresses of the Notre Dame from such a height, and wanted to go back down to earth. Pak Adib is like that, a man never comfortable in the clouds, feet firmly in terra firma.

Thank you friends, for the time for tea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rack and Ruin

The road to hell is paved with good intonations.

In the neighbouring state of deer rampant and Taman Sekebun, a person is said to be jahannae, if he or she has gone wayward, but in Trengganuspeak s/he is only just rosok. Jahannae has its origin in the fire and brimstone of jahannam, and is familiar to Western readers as Gehanna, but in effect its meaning has been toned down to just the Trengganu sense of being spoilt or broke. A Kelantanese may sing or rant, "Habih kerano mu mek oh, jahannae..." to lament the fate of someone torn to bits by the sight of a comely lass, but this is their equivalent, wrapped in their semutar of hyperbole, of their Trengganu neighbour's "Rosok dah, rosok dah!" But we know of jahanang too in Trengganu, but normally of things rather than persons. "Habih jahanang basika mung, Mat!" are appropriate words of commiseration to someone whose bicycle has just been run over by a juggernaut.

But bicycles too, as cars do, go rosok. Broken down like people who're not just spoilt, but damaged. Hair tinted red, cigarette hanging from pouting lips, trousers oh so tight, eyes darting round like a regular coquette. "Rosok! Rosok, budok tu!" The boy equivalent has hair bouffant, Craven-A cigarettes in a bulge in the back-pocket, and eyes wilting from a whole night's work. Rosok.

"Parok!" cries another. And parok is beyond the pale is extreme damage.

Yet it all started so innocently, as an act of songor maybe, and songor, bless its heart, is a mirthful word. It's just hovering there in jest but not quite over the top, just a wee bit rude, perhaps. A cheeky chappie lad.

Then he becomes haru biru and she becomes dak jjuruh or worse, dak jjuruh aroh as it is sometimes said. As aroh is a direction word, it aggravates the movement of the jjuruh which is jurus in standardspeak for 'straight' or 'moving in one clear direction'. Dak jjuruh aroh is the path of the wayward, which is much like the haru biru chap, a jumbled up mess of this or that, a person so lacking in focus and so game for anything that's bound to shock.

But an elderly person watching all this still can still keep his facility to understate: "Dia ni karu sikik." To be Karu is to be a mixed-up, unpredictable git; and sikik is a diminutive word. But to be karu sikik is to be just a little mean, bad or sad, it's a phrase with alarm bells and the red flag, used more in sorrow than anger, accompanied probably by a sad movement of the head, from side to side.

Lere is surely at the root of it, a word that is sometimes heightened to laghor to denote carelessnes or disregard, normally of things religious. A laghor heads in the opposite direction when the call to prayer is made from the mosque. It may start as casual neglect that soon becomes a habit, and then the person is no longer lere or laghor but something weightier than that: dancing at the club, gambling in the den, leering at girls at the bus stop; the true marks of a laghor gone to town, been through the passing-out parade. People would point and say, "Hisy, dia tu waballaghor sunggoh!"

Waballaghor is Arabic sounding, heavy like lead, judgmental to the hilt. It is lere gone bad, laghor with a College certificate; and is no son-in-law material, and is very, very sad.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Deliberate Acts

In most contexts, ccari pasa can be taken to mean 'spoiling for a fight', but it goes even deeper, to the cause. When, in Fong Wang, Long Ladang went around tugging at the pony tails of girls, he was doing precisely that, following Newton's Law. The following day Mek Jarroh's brother was waiting for him at the gate, and thumped him one in the way that sometimes an unpredictable reaction follows your deliberate act. "Boo-hoo!" Long Ladang went crying to his Mum. And this is what she said to him: "Tu lah, mung dok ccari pasa, aku kata dah! See? You asked for it. I told you so!

Mak Long Ladang would've gone on, seeing as he was persistently cryin' and rubbin' his noggin', "Aku dok ccakak bbobek dah kat mung. Padang muka!" I've been prattling on about this to you, she's saying. And 'Padang muka' isn't a level playing field, it's rubbing salt into the wound. Serves you right, she's saying, in a motherly way.

If you were born in Trengganu you would've grown up to these nagging words. Which brings me back to Fong Wang. It wasn't, as you may have thought, the Chinese shop, but the first year of our secondary education. After which came Fong Tu, Fong Tri, ang so ong…

Kids will continue, with their own things which neither rhyme nor reason can tell you why. When they're not ccari pasa they’re bbuak dak pasa-pasa, and that's rebelling without a cause. They'd tear pages out of books or pull the hair of an elder, and if you ask them why, they'll simply say, "Because." In the world of kids, because is a good enough answer, beyond which is the realm of tautology.

But adults have an answer to this of course, "Tebeng gak! Gi lah buak lagi!" This is inviting irony, and kids don't understand irony, it's not theirs to reason why, theirs is just to do and cry. I've been having problems with tebeng because it's a word that urges, yet deep at heart it's a restraining word. "On your head be it!" maybe. Go on, do it, but watch your head. Tebeng has the idea of going out of your way to do something that will bring about a calamity. If Bbuak dak ppasa-pasa is rebelling without a cause, dak pasa-pasa lacks rhyme or reason. "Laak, ba'ape yang mung gi buat ddia dak ppasa-pasa tu?" is a question asked by people who've themselves been through it all yet still feel compelled to ask, why, oh why did you do all that? As if they don't already know the answer.


Trengganu adults are well-equipped to meet this contingency. There's percong and there's sengeleng and there're words to describe the prelude to this unwelcome activity, the most common being nnette. A nnette person hovers around until the time is opportune; and then…

Percong is, without doubt, asking for it. "Percong nye gi tu…" is an after the event phrase of disbelief, mock or real. Percong is a deliberate act, a going out of your way word, of looking for trouble. It has to be said to formula; it'll not work if pronounced in a flat, lackadaisical way. Percong ends in a high note, with an outpouring of revulsion or disbelief. Tebeng is on a different musical scale.

If percong expresses culpability, sengeleng is almost neutral. The former is a mischievous, looking for trouble word, but sengeleng is a deliberate act that imports voluntas. It can be used in the percong sense if it's stretched out, and lifted at the end. If not, in a flat, ordinary way, it's just an extra effort.

"Ni dak sengaja ke mung sengeleng buak?" Did this just happen or did you plan it?

And it takes an adult to answer that. Because only because isn't enough.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ghosts In Their Posts

Go on, write about the old magic of Trengganu, wrote Mr Chung Chee Min, a teacher from my former school (not in KT). He himself had been charmed by it when he ventured out to Kuala Trengganu with his classmate after his sixth from exams in the sixties. He saw darkness, and then, from afar, ghostly lights:
"My classmate Amlir had warned me about those East Coast people who indulged charms and magic more avidly than the West Coasters. And their charms were many times worse those in the West Coast, he said. I guess my ignorance of such matters at that time saved me from indulging in too much worrying about it. But Amlir had evidently worked himself up well before the trip with dark fears, real or imagined. That evening as we were walking back to the govt rest house after our dinner in KT (I cannot remember where the rest house was but I think it was outside KT town, maybe to the south) we passed a kampong of sorts. Free of the glare of the town lights I noticed that the sky was filled with stars, a sort of celestial display that I, a city slicker from KL, had never witnessed before. Mesmerized, I gazed skyward to drink in the scene as I walked, meandering left and right. The sight of me walking as if in a trance caused Amlir to freak out thinking I had been truly hit by some Trengganuan charm, slipped doubtless into the food I had partaken earlier. He gave me a severe reprimand for frightening him, saying that I was never ever to gaze at stars again."
Spiritual things are very difficult to grapple with not least because you can't see what you're thinking about. Sometimes you tend to see too much, in your head. But in the years that I was in Kuala Trengganu (or on those occasions when I was with my grandparents in Besut) I never saw any ghosts nor had to seek the permission of one when treading an unfamiliar path. I remember though the salutation that people used to give when about to fell a massive tree in the forest, or when entering a path untrod: "Assalamu alaikum! Anak cucu nak lalu!" Peace be on you, please allow your kith and kin to pass! Why do we claim kinship with ghosts?

I remember though ghosts that stalked in quiet places. A teacher once said, perhaps in jest, that it was inadvisable to stop your car in the stillness of Jalan Wireless (now Jalan Pusara) in the middle of the night as the chances of your car not moving again was very great. This, if anything, showed up Trengganu's car-mechanics, and their quality of work. And then, as I've said in another blog, Trengganu ghosts were more of the hilarious type (the ghost who stretched his legs wide at the gate of Istana Maziah at midnight), or the sulking spirit princess of Bukit Putri who went away when promises to her were not kept.

But then there's magic, just as there're ghosts. Ghosts are in distant places, on uninhabited isles, like Pulau Kapas where — I was told — two teachers from our school walked in circles for hours, disoriented by the spell of malign spirits. This was part of the hazard of venturing out, especially if you were young, to lose sight of your direction and your selves and be transported to a virtual place. Susuk dihantu, to be hidden by ghosts, was an alarming plight — children going missing and then found in the branches of trees, oblivious to the precariousness of their being and happily eating noodles. And of course the noodles turned out to be worms served up by you know who or what.

And then, I remember the first time I went to Langkawi (before it became the haunt of urban dwellers intoxicated in their own spirits) I was going out for a walk at dusk, and was warned not to accept the hospitality of strangers, especially if their feet hovered some few inches above the earth. Langkawi was a spooky isle, with burnt rice and barren earth, cursed for generations by a woman wronged. And there were islands that silhouetted into a pregnant handmaiden, lying supine in the waterways.

Meanwhile, in Kuala Trengganu, the goal-keeper jumped at a football only to find another slipping into goal. And attackers finding defenders crowding around the posts, some of them phantom figures, no doubt. This was when the crowd at the sidelines livened up by accusative cries of "Bomoh! bomoh!" And the bomoh was the man with the sarong wrapped over his trousers, a band of cloth wrapped around his head, hovering furtively behind the net. Bomohs cast a goodly kind of magic in those days, making champions of a mediocre eleven, and hurling balls that suddenly vanished from the rival goalkeeper's sight. Trengganu slipped in the national league when bomohs were decommissioned from behind the goalposts.

It's a funny thing this ghostly world, it's like the germ across the river and the elephant before your eyes.* Soon as I arrived at the school in Selangor where Mr Chung was a pupil and where he now taught, I was told by my classmates not to look up to a classroom just above the bicycle park on a moonless night, for in the window up there many had seen an expressionless, headless ghost. The classroom was reputedly the torture chamber of Japanese soldiers when they used the school as their base.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Best Detective Agency In Trengganu VII

Previous episodes: I, II,III, IV, V, VI

In the last episode, to clear his head, Trengganu super sleuth Mat Sprong went for a walk in the bucolic air of Jalan Batas Baru, where he met an old friend in the shape of a cycling lass, coming from the other end of the road. Mah Bibi was a woman of the world who said little but knew much. When she heard Mat's inablity to find any leads in the case of Song's missing Mbong, she immediately told Mat to keep his ears pricked. What could she have meant by that? Was Mat anywhere near to finding his man? Now read on to find out...

Bila matahari keluor ngitta dari balik Awang Hitang, air napok kkelik molek atah kaki lima sebab baru hujang. Bandar Kuala Teganung rasa macang hidup balik; burong mura hak dudok nnyanying dari jauh pong napok jinok. Bila dah panah balik sikik, serema napok molek, udara Kuala Teganung segor macang atah bukit, orang-orang serema jadi galok, budok-budok keluor cerida mmaing air ddalang lekok.

Awang Hitang dok tengoh goreng kerepok ttepi gere, badang dia besor bulak, ppala botok, paka kaing pelekak kilah sapa atah lutut. Amba dok ngaddap dia, ddepang kuali, belakang dia matahari napok keluor condong dari lauk. Ambe dok ttedoh ddalang bayang dia sambe tengok kerepok ddesir ddalang minyok. Hari napok ceroh lagi bila matahari keluor balik, tapi ppala ambe dok jo'ong semejak kena pepoh denge hulu cok bbawoh rumoh Song, ddalang gelak, bukang pasa bicuk — bicuk dah suruk dah — tapi pasa otok dok serabuk.

Kerepok goreng Awang Hitang masyhur ddalang bandor sebak lada dia ada benda hak budok-budok pangge "kick", timbo dari rasa manih-manih ccapo pedah. Awang Hitang potong serong kerepok lekor tu pendek-pendek lebihkurang lima inci, sebelong dia masuk putong-putong tu ddalang minyok panah dia belah lorong ddalang perok kerepok tu tepak orang buboh lada bila kerepok tu masak. Ambe rasa hari ning ambe nak makang kerepok denge lada banyok-banyok biar naik pedah sapa atah ppala biar otok jjadi cerah balik.

Bila Awang Hitang dok ssaja dok tunggu kerepok garing sikik, ambe ambek seputong hak dia beri takdi, ambe siyek dua di lorong tepak dia beloh. Satu bahagiang ambe letak sebelah kiri ddalang pinggang. "Ni Song ni Awang," ambe kata.

Lepah tu amba ambek hak sebeloh lagi, ambe letok sebelah kanang. "Ni Mbong,'Wang," ambe kata. Awang Hitang tengok sapa dak kkelik, barangkali herang sebak selama ni dia dok ggoreng dia dak pernoh jjupa orang beri nama ke kerepok panah-panah.

"Nilah masaaloh ambe sekarang,'Wang, ada dua belah pehok. Sorang ada ssining, sorang takdak."

Awang Hitang dak kata apa. Bila kerepok bbunying ddeser dia ambek badang. Denge tangang sebelah lagi dia kuis kerepok keluor dari minyok denge sodek, masuk ddalang badang. Bila dia dok buboh lagi kerepok metoh, cer! cer! ddalang minyok, ambe akat Mbong dari pinggang, teruh cicoh ddalang cili meroh nyalla hak Awang Hitang baru buak. Masok ddalang mulok rasa sedak macang dak arah nak sebok, macang dok ttepi pata hari panah ddering, bbawah pohong jambu golok sambil anging ttiup bu! bu! dari lauk. Lepah tu dengor pulok bbunyi gendang rodak sayu sayu ddalang ppala bila rasa ikang kembong, lemok minyok, manis gula dok bbadi denge pedah cili meroh-meroh ddalang mulok.

Abih ambe makang kerepok hak nama Mbong. Ambe tengok balek ke pinggang ddepang ambe: sorang ada, sorang dah takdok.

Tengah ambe dok rasa nekmak kerepok belada Awang Hitang dengan iringang lagu rodak tu ddengor pulok R. Azmi nnyanyi lagu "Hitang Manih", mula-mula kohor, lepah tu making kuak. Bila ambe ppaling baru sedor lagu tu mari dari teksi Cik Kaleh baru sapa dok bbawoh pohong kerekuk. Gigi mah dia kkilak, seluor dia said ccokeng macang baru keluar dari bbawoh lembek. Di Teganung ni susoh nak lawang Cik Kaleh kalu di bahagiang pakaiang molek. Radio dia pulok dia mmaing kuak ddo'oh.

"Mak aku dok cari mung ngatte, rupa nye mung dok bahang kerepok!" Cak Kaleh dak dang dang nak ccakak. Sebak suara dia bbunying bbolok, ambe dapak teka dah dia tentu ada berita baik.

Malang tu ambe jatoh ddebok bbawoh rumah Song ddalang gelak, bila ambe sedor balik Song dok tengoh suloh denge lapu picik, ppala ambe teratok atah tong Cik We, Ismail, Cik We, Mail...dok mmusing ddalang ppale ambe dua-tiga hari, pegi-balik, pegi-balik. Nama penoh dia ambe dak napok sebak gelak, tapi yang ambe napok tu ttulih denge cat merah, "Mail". Yang Song dok sipang tong besor Cik We bbawoh rumoh dia tu pasa apa pulok? Satu hari bila ambe tengoh jjalang nak gi Ppadang Malaya baru amba dapak jawak bila tengok banyok lori ddepang rumoh gedong dok ngaddap Pata Telok.

"Mung betol Mak," Cik Kaleh kata, dua-tiga kali baru boleh ambe dapat takap. Ambe tunjok ke radio suroh dia pasang kohor sikik.

Bila radio bereti baru dengor balik bunyi kerepok ddesir ddalang kuali Awang Hitang, suara Cik Kaleh making kuak: "Aku kata dah dulu Mak, Song tu ada pelek sikik, ning baru kita dapat jawak. Aku bayor seria kat kawang aku ssitu baru dapak dia cari kertah ning ddalang fail tahong lepah."

Cik Kaleh buat keluor salinang kertah resit, tulisang biru kertah kabang dah kelabu tapi masih napok:

"Kelesong bt. Hj Mat Ming. Kg Jambu Bongkok, Beserah, Pahang. 3 tong kkakah rumoh."

Atah ppala resit tu, bbawoh tulisang Cina ada tulisang cetak warna hitang llegang:
"Pahang Mail
East Coast Lorry Transport."
Bila ambe tengok muka Cik Kaleh dok senyung molek, amba terus kata, "Leh, esok kita bangung awa, kita gi ddarak!"

Friday, August 05, 2005

Growing Up In Trengganu #183,479

A man in white lived in the row of shop houses in a dusty street in Kampung Dalam Bata. He was probably tall as every adult was when you were at a young age, and he wore baggy trousers that narrowed into tight bands at the ankles, and a shirt with front and back flaps that dropped almost to his knees. And he smiled as he said how are you and chatted a little with Father about this and that before he stooped to look you in the eye.

Dr Qureshi was a reassuring figure and a homoeopathic practitioner long before anyone could spell the word in Trengganu. He gave not jabs into your arm or bum but produced medicine that looked and tasted very much like little pellets of sugar; and they couldn't be touched by your little fingers nor gulped down with steaming tea. I don't know if they did me much good then but even now I still think of Dr Qureshi whenever I take the occasional dose of the nux vom or the high potency pulsatilla. And then later came another man on the homoeopathic path to our little town of Kuala Trengganu, called Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy. Though he stuck to the principle of fighting like with like, he chose not to do it from a little shop in a quiet street, but through fiery speeches as he peddled his politics from a rostrum in the middle of Padang Malaya.

There were also men in white at the General Hospital who gave you tablets marked M&B, but they were probably not doctors at all but people on a different pedestal whom we called our Dressa in Trengganuspeak, a loan word from the English 'dresser'. The Dressa was a useful man to know in those days because they kept you in good supply of M&B, which served as an alternative where homoeopathy was a little slow, on things like ulcers that wept and kept a good following of the bluebottle fly. I remember mother once pounding the tablets in her stone mortar and pestle and sprinkling the powder into an open sore. We were M&Bers long before we became aficionados of the pink Vinac and Aspro.

There was a private practice too that catered to the sick in Kuala Trengganu, run by a man called Dr Sunder Raj who lived in a big house on the beach and had a thriving clinic in Kampung China. I probably met the man once or twice when he prodded my chest with his stethoscope, but mostly we saw those anonymous doctors or our local competent Dressers who ran our local hospital and prodded our tongues for free.

We had alternative ways too when we ailed, besides homoeopathy. Pak Haji Ali was a handsome elderly man with grey moustache and a dignified manner, who kept a cool head under his turban wrap and a little cloth bag of roots and herbs and a thick stick that he rubbed and rubbed on a slab of stone that held a little water in its dipped centre. When the water turned deep brown from the stain of wood he'd pour it into a cup that he held close to his mumbling lips that invoked the names of the Most Beneficent and Merciful. Not surprisingly, Pak Ali also taught the Qur'an from the verandah of his tall house that had a huge kolah or open water tank at the bottom of his stairs. He was a teacher and a consummate practitioner, and was the kindest man that I knew.

There were bone-setters and itinerarnt medicine sellers, with snakes and magic and loud megaphones to attract the daily punter. There was a man who came and went and came back again when the weather was right and bellowed his name into the megaphone on the sideline as the market was in full sway. "Come, come, come to Abdul Rahman Siam," he would say, so he was probably a Thai national, who pulled out teeth by the roadside just by a slight tug of his thumb and index finger. Any man with the slightest wobble, or a sturdy but aching molar, or who was probably tired of the old gnasher would make a bee-line to him as the circle of spectators around him grew. Abdul Rahman took a wad of cotton wool, dabbed it in his magic fluid that was deep and dark in the bottle, and "Cough!" he'd say as he gripped your ailing tooth, then out it came, root and all, and you didn't even flinch an eye. Another tooth thrown into the pile that he'd placed before him on a mat, molars of many edentates from here to the Thai border. There was Tabib Ahmad Turki and Wak Malaya, and a man who did rude things with a short stick he kept waving at the punters. There were Indian men too with their performing children in tow, patent medicine and magic tricks, joining this roll call of street theatre.

But even in its strait-laced ways, orthodox medicine had its adventurers too. My grandmother in Besut had her regular doctor in Kota Baru, but for a while she was looked after by a Dr Alija, who came to her from a distant shore. For the first time, perhaps, we had a medical doctor from Sarajevo when it was still in Yugoslavia, who became a native of Trengganu.

One morning some years ago I stood looking at the sunlight radiating from the backs of people going to work on the Lateiner bridge, and I was thinking of Dr Alija. This was the famous bridge on the river Nilgacka on which a car sped one morning in 1914 carrying the mortally wounded Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. I had come to see Sarajevo, the home city of my grandmother's doctor, but he was not there in his native soil. He had been laid to rest in the Shaikh Ibrahim in the earth of Trengganu.

One day in the 1970s in Kuala Brang Dr Alija caught a bus that was headed for Kuala Trengganu, not knowing that his journey was already nearing its end. Halfway through the journey he fell asleep, and was taken to another place. He was a good man who practised his skills in exile, and breathed his last, a traveller on a bus.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Going To The Birds

The root of pudendum is the Latin verb pudere, to be ashamed of , which makes it remarkably similar to the standardspeak kemaluan, which is rooted in malu, shame. There is a story extant, of an expatriate principal of a College who, after a scandalous performance by his side in the playing field — rugby, I suppose, in those days — you know, they were booing at the visitors and heckling them and all that, rose in the following day's College assembly to say, "Besarlah kemaluan saya..."

Now, he may have been boasting, which I doubt, as Englishmen generally prefer to understate; but he was demonstrating, albeit unintentionally, the danger in learning a new language: overdoing the grammar and ignoring the idiomatic. I have, since hearing this hilarious anecdote from my Malay teacher at school (thank you Cikgu Sajari bin Sujak), been trying to trace the playing field of its source, and invariably I've been led to Perak. Some old teachers say it was the Sultan Idris Training College (SITC), and one even named the Principal in question as O.T.Dussek. Some even took it further to the old Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, and pointed fingers at Anthony Burgess (who was then known as Mr Wilson), but I doubt this very much as, firstly, he was no principal of any College, and secondly because I met him once on a rainy day in Londra, and I'll say that he couldn't have been the man who struck that mirthful note.

In Trengganuspeak of course we have averted our eyes, and have made that which is below and makes us pudere soar to a great height. So burung in Trengganuspeak is both pudendum and bird. "Napok burung" is the clarion call of both the bird-watcher and the Peeping Tom, and the child who makes an exhibition of himself is admonished by his Mum, "Dak mmalu napok burung!" Sometimes the bird is specified by name, and the two favourites are burung pipit (the sparrow) or burung punai (the dove). Winstedt adds intriguingly that burung-burung is "the cock of a gun".

I believe, but I could be wrong here, that the burung by itself, is unisex, but not when it's genus specific.

For the female member (of the species that is) Trengganuspeakers resort to the cake. Apang (standardspeak apam, flat, steamed rice-flour) or bepang, which is either sweet rice or the glutinous pulut are both laid out flat, so there is consistency here in the topology of the sweetmeat. It is never for instance, ssagong (sweetened flakes of coconut) or kkoleh, which is mucilaginous starch of indeterminate shape. But here Trengganuspeak pays scant regard to the people of both bird and cake, the khansar as they are referred to in religious text-books, our hermaphrodite. They are sometimes referred to, for want of a better word, by a combination of honorifics, Cik Awang Cik Mek. Which brings me to another curiosity, as I once heard the female pudendum being referred to as Cik Bik by some scatological lads.