On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Monday, October 31, 2005

Season's Greetings

I wish my readers and friends, occasional visitors and fellow travellers, a Happy Diwali, and Id Mubarak!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

So Long, LongLadang!

As a blogger I've been privileged to have a handful of people who leave snippets of themselves here, a query there, a correction occasionally, and further thoughts to illuminate what I've already said or to put it in a better perspective. I welcome them all, no contribution is ever small, no comment unnoted. Many prefer to hide under an Anonymous cover; some are names that I instantly recognise and welcome: Abidin, Adzakael, Atok, Bergen, CekLong, d'Arkampo, Derumo, Honeytar, Lion3ss, Maya, Mek Jarroh, Nazrah, OOD, Pak Idrus, Penyu Mutasi, Pok Ku, Ubisetela, Wok. (If I've missed out anyone, forgive me).

And then there was LongLadang.

Long Ladang first made his appearance in my blog Comments on May 9th, 2005, and continued his delightful contributions until September 8th. I suspect that he may have made his appearance earlier, as Anonymous on April 10, 2005, and as simply Long twelve days later. In his contributions he was informed, amusing, and he always wore that toga of nostalgia that one often wears in diaspora. On June 14th he made the following comment that made me feel the gusts of the north-east winds blowing on the coast of Trengganu:
"Upon reading your blog, I closed my eyes and imagined myself on a teksi in the evenings of the days before the monsoon. With strong wind blowing the banana leaves to shreds; with the coconut trees swaying low to the ground; with the flappings of the atap nipah of the houses on Jalan Tanjung. Past Padang Malaya, Pasar Tanjung, Kelab Pantai, Surau Besar, Tanjong Che Mat Tokei, Jambang Ijau, Tanjong Kapur, Tanjung Batu 1, Tanjung Ladang, Ladang Sekolah Arab and finally to the Kubur Tok Pelam. I always enjoyed these rides when the wind is blowing strongly and as the hood of the teksi kept on flapping, flap flap flap and the tukang gohek pedalling hard to maintain balance. Do you remember Che Kaleh? Wow, I am down in memory lane."
He then added: "After Tanjung Batu 1, I would pass by Tanjung Mengabang. Ahhh... the air smells of belacang and budu. How aromatic."

And then he became a regular contributor, adding in details to the vistas that I'd drawn, giving personal impressions to the nooks and corners that I too once travelled. Though not myself from Ladang, I began to 'know' Long as a Ladang man through and through. I once wondered about a big white house in Ladang, and Long came back to give me the name of its owner, and the name of the boy I remembered living there, and where he is now. I went to my first school in Ladang and was familiar with the terrain, and this painted idyll by Long (July 28th) brought me close to tears:
"Buah-buah kerekuk, ppisang, setor, setiar, jambu golok, jambu arang, jambu air, jambu butir banyak, mminjar and terajang were indigenous to my kampung, Ladang. Come to think of it, it must be a jungle to me in my youth, to have such an array of trees; seemed to be endless in terms of its border. There used to be a bendang padi, a paya where biawaks roamed, a gambut where birds flocked, even a small stretch of rubber trees before P Jalil's house, and not to mention bushes and shrubs where we played cops and robbers, or bush trekking. Today it takes just a mere five minutes to drive through the entire Ladang. Or maybe I imagined it to be so vast an area. As they say, the mind of a child is vast and wide."
I was beginning to form a mental picture of Long, a thorough-bred Kuala Trengganu boy who went fishing on the benteng, crossed over to Seberang Takir to dig his bait, who played football in the field near the Arabic School in Ladang, then borrowed a kain ssahang from the local surau to bathe at the well. Long as a boy was of course not averse to mischief, he enjoyed the occasional tagor, the Trengganu art of stone-hurling, but all — he added — in a good cause. Long of Ladang Padang Cicor.

Following his comment on September 8th, when I was in Malaysia, I invited him to make contact so we could meet for tea. I never heard from him, and — sadly — that was the last Comment LongLadang ever made.

And then, on October 4th, a person signing in as Anonymous enetered a comment that I've reproduced in Dear Anonymous.... I've had no come-back from Anonymous, but I'm convinced now that the man he described meeting in Makkah was indeed our dear Long. I can't help thinking that his telling Anonymous about his visits to this page was his way of saying goodbye to us, so news of his passing could be passed on. I've read al-Fatihah for him and I urge you, if you can, to do the same.

I know that you can shed tears for someone you've never met, because I have. I miss LongLadang for the special qualities that came through in his writings, and for the good person that he was. So long LongLadang, I pray that your umrah was fulfilled, and that you've found your abode in Jannah!

Links will be added in later.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Phonographic Man

There are people Gramophone with Hornyou don't remember who you can't forget.

My brother recently asked me if I remembered Cik Lah Sombong. Listening to his description of the man I began to wonder if he'd said sombong (proud), or something else. And then I remembered; and I was grateful to him.

Cik Lah was a man we used to watch from a distance but never spoke to — not because he was proud — but because he had a peculiar mien. And he also carried a funny thing about his person. Sometimes, of an afternoon at the Masjid Abidin, we'd see Cik Lah pulling out his bicycle from where he'd leant it in the shade; at other times we'd see him cycle purposefully down the road, going to a place where he felt he was needed.

Cik Lah wore the sarong pelikat, and the Malay baju, and a turban wrapped around the skull-cap on his head, and I seem to remember now that like most men of his predilection, he also wore the loose Malay trousers beneath his sarong. On his handlebar was a peculiar contraption that dangled and almost scraped the earth sometimes when he took a tight turn. It was a tube that opened in one end that bent and bloomed out gradually into a flower that had a speaking hole through it. We called it the serombong, something that smoke came through, or a contraption that you spoke into. The Bhiku coffee shop had a large serombong jutting out of its upstairs window that blared out A.Rahman and R.Azmi or any old song that the D.J. played of an afternoon through this public service radio 'horn' courtesy of the Information Department. Cik Lah's horn came from an old gramophone that he must've found hidden among cobwebs underneath an old house.

Cik Lah used the horn in rural suraus that didn't have the benefit of electrification to blast out the azan. He probably placed his lips close to the base of this metal flower and woke up sleeping babies and dozy men at appropriate times, in Wakaf Tapai or in some other far corners of the land. We did not know who appointed him to be this itinerant man with the megaphone, or how far he travelled to spread his voice; but for him it was clearly a mission.

In his Comments below, Anonymous gives us a bit more about Wan Endut the Teksi man. It is gratifying to know that someone else shares the memory of persons or events from your childhood past, and I'm indeed grateful for that addition.

Anonymous also mentions a person we knew as Encik Omar, our erudite graffiti man. I have already sketched out my memory of Encik Omar in a previous blog, Trengganu On The Mind but it contained little of who he was, or whence he came. He lived in that grand old house that I mentioned again in passing in A Regular Kind Of Guy, and I remember now that he was said to have started life as a Court Interpreter before things went wrong.

Thank you Anonymous, for your contribution.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Regular Kind Of Guy

Sitting on his saddle Wan Endut looked every bit the regular soldier, with only a shade out of the ordinary. He wore the General Giap pith helmet as he babbled incessantly about the enemy. These were mostly stray dogs of war that fed on the garbage of Kuala Trengganu, forlorn animals that barked in the darkness of night, and in the daytime, they wended their way from pillar to post, peering into overturned bins in back alleys, eyes darting here and there, always keeping one step ahead of you.

Wan Endut had bones to pick with stray dogs as he strapped his hat tight to his chin while pedalling his daily teksi, from Pasar Tanjong to Batas Baru, from Ladang Titian to Atas Banggol in the heart of the textile district of Kuala Trengganu. If, somewhere along the way, you asked him for the time of day, he'd probably point you to the clock-tower of Kedai Payang that kept the business of time-keeping on the awry, clock-faces pointing in many ways. There were things you had to get used to in Kuala Trengganu, time for one, for we had the Jam Waktu and Jam Malaya, each separated by one hour from the other, and we had cuckoo clocks that were just a tad askew; and teksis were trishaws if you had to call one in a hurry.

Wan Endut must've been demobbed at some early stage, though I didn't know when or why. He was tough as nail and strutted about like the colonel, heavy belt with gleaming buckle, sun-hat tipped at a rakish angle, looking hither and then thither. Then he'd twist his head a little to the side in a tic, some little philippic about the here and now, then another tic as his head twisted in yet another angle.

Some quiet afternoons when the passenger trade was a little slack, Wan Endut walked the streets in his heavy boots and a piece of rope for the little strays. But as the strays were always faster than a man in boots, Wan Endut was often left muttering by the side — a little tic here and a little there — about the state of his little world. Behind him was the Yen Tin Radio shop, opposite him the Surau of Haji Mat of Kerinci from across the water, just ten paces form him, maybe, a grand old building that'd been the seat of a grand family, then it became the local Catholic Church, then was transformed into a Buddhist Association, and God knows what it is today. A pretty varied little world.

When strays were safely snuggled in their hiding places and the rickshaw pulling business became too hot and sweaty, Wan Endut popped in at our local surau and slung his khaki outfit on to the bannister. He made a ritual of unlacing his boots, then, stripped to little more than the kain ssahang around his waist, he doused his passions at the community well with the heavy brass bucket that hung on the cantilever.

I used to watch him from a safe distance (as he was a tough man who suffered no fools gladly) as he disrobed from his kain ssahang to his army gear while still being able to tic and mutter some unhappiness of the day, about wayward kids, or the scarcity of stray dogs, or his daily business of the teksi. Then, fully clad but for his boots, he'd sit down with an old newspaper, and then began the Wan Endut ritual of wiping his toes and soles and heels with meticulous care, with all the pages of by-lines and the news stories and the sporting achievements that popped hot off the press only yesterday.

Having thus dried his feet - an old habit learnt from his jungle trekking days in the army - Wan Endut put on his heavy boots and laced them up and tic'd his tic, and then, with a little smile, walked the way that no stray dogs dared to go.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Dear Anonymous...

The following comment was made by you to my recent blog Ramadhan With Father:
[D]uring the recent umrah a mid-age man was talking of his time on the net, and participating in some. He mentioned your Kecek Kecek as a site that he likes a lot. We had just a short encounter with him as he passed away just after the umrah. We called him Pak Long, from Sedili, Johore. Do you know him?
Could you please contact me at my email address (see sidebar) as soon as possible?

Many thanks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Raja of Besut

The small town of Kampung Raja slept at the end of a road, going further still you'd have fallen into the river. It was the river Besut, probably, with coconut lined banks and bushes on the other side and broad expanses canopied in leaves, little kids picking pebbles and throwing them back into the water. My grandmother's cousin twice removed or perhaps closer than that lived on this side on the incline that ended the road, in a row of wooden shophouse that never had any shops, but he struck his trade in gold, making rings, burnishing the metal, and he worked too in silver, and polished stones into shapes and placed them on pendants and rings, and he knew the occult qualities of rubies and amethysts and emeralds. He beat metal and spun yarns as he worked, and polished stones to a glowing colour. Once he pared off the solid part from the beak of a big bird we knew only as the nilling and shaped the paruh (beak) of the nilling to sit atop a ring that gave out a dull, yellow colour.

I never found out what or who the nilling was, but that for me was part of the mystery of our grandmother's twice removed Tok Cik Li, the goldsmith of Kampung Raja.

The Kampung Raja that I remember was a quiet corner of Trengganu, with two shops in its town centre that was just around the corner from the workshop home of Tok Cik Li, one shop was run by a man we knew as Cik Bbakar, and the other, by the family of a man called Wang Semail. In front of the shop was the market that had raised slabs on which the sellers placed their ware — fish and herbs and fruit and meat. By noon-time the market dissipated into the murmurs of just a few people who were still there to exchange homilies of the day; goats moved in quickly and sat between the slabs, looking as disgruntled as they ever were, before the market people came back again after asar.

We had our grandparents in Besut, and cousins and aunties and Tok Nyang who lived in a house under the tar tree. The tar was actually the lontar, a straight-stemmed, tall tree with leaves that shaped out like fans, with fruit that settled in a dish and looked very much like jelly. Tok Nyang was frail and old from having seen too many monsoons blow, but I knew even then that she made the best jackfruit preserve in this whole world.

Kampung Raja was a long way away from us even if it was only sixty miles. We rode the bus that took nearly half the day, past the tumult of Chabang Tiga, then down a straight road through padi fields, down the incline and then finally on to the ferry of Bukit Datu. The ferry was pulled by a tug to the other side, where the road wended into deep forests and wide spaces of grass and clusters of trees; and then a solitary woman crossed the road to return to her house behind the hills. Then as the bus whirred round the bend in Sungai Tong or Chalok, we craned our necks to the right as Mother pointed out our cousin's house that perched on the slope on the roadside that also served as the local grocery.

The Kampung Raja that we went to had sandy, beach-like sand, that gave growth to the cashew. We walked the footpaths that were beaten in the grass, and there were clusters of kemunting along the way. The sky was vast and it was quiet all around us, even in the middle of the day. And then we heard Besutspeak, its sing-song lilt was more Kelantan than Trengganu that made the Wang in the shopkeeper's name into something of a Weh. We even heard that Besut was once a province of Kelantan that was lost to Trengganu in a cockfight, but I have not been able to trace this out with certainty.

Our grandfather stood in an embroidered hat with that stern look of office, in his crisp-white, starched dress uniform of some functionary in those huge photographs hanging on the wall. When we knew him he was already in retirement, and in regular mufti, of the kain pelikat and the Malay baju with his head wrapped in the white serban of the Haji. Once or twice he pointed out to us the imposing house down the road, past Tok Nyang's rambling shack, past the tall, broad leaved tar trees. He told us that that was the istana of Tengku Indera. We walked past the house many a time and looked to see if the Tengku Indera looked out at us, because grandfather made it sound as if he was there still.

But I've since found out that Tengku Indera (who also went by the name of Tengku Long) in fact died years before, in 1936, and he was the last Raja of Besut, in the palace that was built for him in 1879 by local craftsman Long Yusoff and his band of local carpenters. That gave the origin of Kampung Raja which it is still called today. The palace, built entirely of wood, with carved panels on doors, walls and many windows, used not a single nail. It was completed in 1881, and still stands today, but in another place — in Kuala Trengganu — as a showpiece of the skills of our forefathers. It saddens me that it no longer stands where it was meant to be.

Besut came to the attention of Sultan Mansur Shah (1726-93) when pirates arrived to turn this sleepy fishing village into a riotous assembly. The Sultan sent his son Tengku Kadir to drive them out (they fled to Pulau Perhentian, we are told) and once the coast was clear, the Sultan felt that his son deserved some reward, so he made him head of the locality, and that was the first act in the naming of Kampung Raja.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tepongs of Trengganu

He who tires of akok is tired of Trengganu.

In Trengganu the akok is made in ceremony and smoke billowing from dried coconut husks that heat the brass akok mould from above and below. The mould or acuan (add a 'g' to its end if you're a Trengganuspeak purist) is a clever device made in two parts, the bottom carrying the embedded five petalled flower that is almost two-deep (inches that, is if you must know), and its flat and eared top cover, whose inner surface meets the bubbly akok ingredients as they simmer in the heat, and whose top outer surface carries the top load of burning husks. In old-fashioned kitchens, the entire contraption sits on the tuku, that is normally made from three round sized stones the size of a kid's head, washed ashore and shaped by the motions of the sea. More coconut husks burn below the mould, between the stone legs of the tuku, and mother stands watch all hour long so the akok will not just burn away.

A good akok pops out of its mould at the right temperature, glowing goldenly for all to see, with its skin so soft but not too crusty, and its body dips slightly when given the slightest pressure. In it is the yolk of duck's eggs, and sugar and flour, beaten with a beater that has a handle of brass and a coil of copper that runs round and round in a whirligig way. And the sound that this springy copper coil makes as mother beats the egg yolk and flour and sugar in a metal container is the sound of Ramadhan as Hari Raya is drawing near.

The akok is also made in special moulds that turns them out in dainty sizes, deep in the middle and thinned out in its back and front, with a thin rim running round its little boat shape. These are instant akoks that disappear in a child in three or two mouthsful, but they are a delight too, never fear.

Then there's the boat-shaped akok berlauk that has a savoury centre, of chicken or meat and salt and spice. How mother got them all in there I never knew. This akok has a slightly sweet carbohydrate taste with your first bite, but soon you're overcome by the spicy, protein flavour as you move along to its centre, which is boat-shaped if you still remember. I once had two of these akoks with a friend in our house soon as we came back from tarawih prayers, then on the third bite we spat it out with a demonstrative ptooooiii!. The akok was going ship-shape all right, but it was only so late that we noticed the slipperiness in its savoury, and thought that perhaps it'd gone a little mouldy. But akoks give you litle fright if you treat it right, why, I'm still here to tell the tale!

For the duration of the fasting month there are sweetmeat and savouries that are typically Trengganu. There's hasidah which is not so much a kuih as a paste that comes all embroidered in a tray. It has the consistency of dough laced with ghee, and is often laid out flat in a tray. The top of this hasidah is grooved out by a process called cekik that is either done with fingers or tweezers, then in the grooves is scattered crispy bits of fried shallots, to give the effect — if you study it from high above — of the formation of a crop circle. I've not been able to trace the provenance of this hasidah even if its name has a slight Middle Eastern character. It is sweet and soft (but for its crunchy shalloty bits) and has the distinct characteristic of flour basted in ghee, then thrown out into the heat of a thick brass pot, then mixed and mixed with plenty of sugar.

The hasidah is an adult 'thing' as we kids say, but in our hands its pure putty. I had a cousin once, a boy even smaller than me, who took to this hasidah thing and stuck it up our dining room wall. He became Mat Tepek (sticker) to us all his life, which wasn't long, I'm sad to say.

So that's another tepong of Trengganu, but as iftar's still a while away, I'll tell you of another: and that's nekbat which sounds like the Arabic ni'mat (enjoyment) pronounced by someone with a heavy cold. Nekbats are like little dollops of flavourless pastry, soaked in a syrup of the heaviest density, and is, as you may have guessed already, our dear sweet-toothed diabetic's dilemma.

These are tepongs as I have said, that are made and baked in Trengganu, to lighten the burden of our puasa. And the tepong ( = flour) is a distinctly Trengganu word, to describe our sweetmeat and savouries.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ramadhan With Father

Father never fussed about puasa, he ate what we had, but made the only concession to this special month with iced water. It came in a jug, with selasih seeds floating like frog's spawn in a pond of pink. Mother made air sirap with pandan leaf, and red food dye, and drops of vanilla essence and oodles of white sugar that she stirred and stirred till all the sugary crust melted into the water. Then, when the aroma filled the kitchen air with sweet vanilla and the perfume of the pandan, she left the concoction to cool down in the enamelled pot before pouring it out in clear glass bottles.

We sat on the floor around the low table, and Ramadhan made our bellies chilled from a surfeit of iced air sirap, and we'd make silent promises that we'd never drink again another drop of cold tummy-bloating sweet coloured water with tadpole spawn that slid merrily down our gullets with the condensed milk coloured, sickly sweet water. And the next day we sat again around the low table and broke the promise again and then again the day after. And after.

Father rose from the iftar table early to do the dusk prayer, then he'd hem and haw and put on his crisp sarong and his top of Malay baju, and he'd walk or cycle to the Masjid Abidin in Kuala Trengganu for the long Ramadhan night prayer.

Kuala Trengganu Ramadhan days were a din of sounds: the clanging of the brass bell on Bukit Putri, the cannon blasts from Bukit Besar, the throbbing drums from the surau. The murmur of sounds from the community well never ceased from sunset until the time of sahur, our first and last meal in the morning when Mother woke us up with her persistent calls as she fussed in the kitchen to heat up the left-over from our Ramadhan dinner.

Father would've already been up then, beating us by easily a solid hour. He prayed extra prayers in Ramadhan, and read the Qur'an while waiting for the time of sahur.

This year as Ramadhan starts I see Father again, and now that I'm home, I feel him even closer. We are no longer in Kuala Trengganu but Kuala Lumpur, and I opened the wardrobe and saw the sarong pelikat that Father folded and stacked up in neat piles from his days of yesteryear. I took one that had deep blue and off green stripes, and never felt closer to Father. His smell, the familiarity that was how he looked, this reminder he'd left us that we once had Father dear.

I put it on and didn't have the heart to try one of his many baju, and bravely I walked his walk to our local Mosque to do the first Ramadhan prayer.

Father's been dead four years now, but he did so without a fuss. He went to pray on a Friday when I was away in Londra not knowing that he was out on his last leg, that he had complained of being tired, but he was never tired of his prayer. So he walked out on his last day with a grandchild (my niece) in tow who was fussing over him with an umbrella. It was Friday noon-day like any other, when the Mosque was full and Father walked in the noon-day heat, and in the Mosque he started to pace the carpeted floor. A friend who saw him that day said he saw him walk down to the ablution area, then, unusually for Father, he came back and took his place in the back row.

God called him home as he was bowing to Him in prayer.

This is the Ramadhan when I so poignantly remember Father as I have only his clothes and his sarong to wear to prayer while I am here. He had kept them neatly folded in his wardrobe where he also kept his many kopiah (skullcap) that bear the signs of having been on his head in all weather, and worn out by years of prostration and prayer. I wore one to the Mosque today after I had put on his sarong but I did not have the heart to wear also one of his baju; and as this is the start of Ramadhan, I remember Ramadhans, and I remember — especially — I remember Father.