On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Monday, November 28, 2005

Friends In The Night

The Arabs have a saying that's just so beautiful: When I die you'll see among my bones the gold that your friendship gave me. In Trengganu we have an epithet that puts in words what mere kawang just cannot be: it's saing rodong, friends who stick with you in fair weather or foul.

Friends are a class apart from warih waroh who are a gaggle of relatives from near or far. You cannot choose your warih waroh as they say, but when your saing becomes very close, he or she becomes just like warih, just as when it comes to the crunch, we Trengganuians are all warih waroh belaka serema.**

Warih undoubtedly comes from the Arabic warith, meaning 'heir or inheritor' and therefore family, and waroh comes from the Malay device of putting the ding-dong quality to a word, giving it quantity as well as variety. So if warih-waroh is the Malay plural, the waroh puts into the crowd its motley nature. This is a standardspeak device of the variegated plural that's used to good effect in Trengganuspeak words such as saing rodong, but it emerges, sometimes, in a verb too, as in geletik gelenyong, which puts into this writhing movement such infinite variety.

But back to friends who are now waiting for you patiently because that's what friends are for. I had a friend in Kampung China who lived in a bird house, or so it seemed when all the pigeons flew off their perch when I dropped in to enquire. I had another who lived in Batas Baru above a shop his father kept, who always entertained us on his bed among the reserve for his dad's grocery store. Once when we were planning out a scheme in a football match he took out his pen and plotted it all on his bedsheet. That was friendship beyond the price of the laundry. I had another in Lorong Jjamil who was in the habit of wearing a very red shirt, but to whom I breathed not a word of disapproval. Well heck, if friends aren't for that, what then are they meant for?

To befriend someone is to ssaing with the shaddah emphasis in its starting syllable. This emphasis on friendship goes even beyond the grammatical, for by your friends are you judged, so woe betide if your friends are from the kaki hanyyar. Hanyyar is an unsavoury word that describes the mess when you've pulled everything randomly out of the laundry basket, or after water's been spilt randomly on the floor. A denizen of the hannyyar is not therefore someone you'd take home to see mother, or be caught with under the street-light in a conspiratorial whisper.

A friend is someone you can share your food with without his having to ggedik, and ggedik as you know, is that bothersome business of someone begging for a bit of your food even as you're doing your best to drool on it and all over. A friend is someone with whom you can gurra seloroh or indulge in ngayyor or banter, and who, in sickness, will rush out to get you a bomoh or a Panadol. A true saing is one who keeps a Panadol or two (or the heat emitting Japanese koyo at the very least) in the overlap of his atap thatch, and who when asked, says: "Ni lah, takut sakit demang malang nnari!*"

It is in his words and in the quality of Trengganu nights that is found the delightful quality, for Trengganu nights do not just wade away in the dark, but it slithers and dances (nnari) the hours away.

** warih waroh belaka serema.="We're relatives all."
*"Ni lah, takut sakit demang malang nnari!"="This is just in case someone falls ill in the middle of the night."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Egg On Tracks

Standing on an almost empty train platform in the middle of nowhere (which is near Thetford), feeling the chilly preludes to the gusts of Yule, my mind drifted to Sura Gate. It was a strange day, dark and cold and still snagged in the pale remains of an extended summer: a woman was looking at the screen and bemoaning the 4.12 that had become the 4.45. At 4.45, a veteran train-travelling man was making known to all five of us standing on the chilly platform that the signal had not been activated yet, and it had to be activated at least five minutes before the train's arrival. "There's no way the train's coming now," he announced to one and all.

And then, at 4.50, the 4.12 that became the 4.45 vanished from the screen altogether.

I was counting the ports of call in the chilly darkness before reaching home: Thetford, Ely, Cambridge...

Bukit BesiIt was very hot in Bukit Besi. "Heat of the metal, you know," someone said. And then the train wended still, between banks filled with trees, stopping at Luit, Pinang, Padang Pulut, and then somewhere, into the darkness of Bukit Tebuk the bored-out hill, and there was Kemudi still, and Kumpal, Serdang, Binjai and Che' Lijah, before we reached Nibung and then it stopped at Sura Gate the station among the shops in the Dungun town by the sea.

It was at the final barrier on the sea-front that finally stopped the train if it was carrying iron ore, and from there its wagons emptied glittery contents of hard Trengganu rock into ships, to be taken to God knows where, and transformed into objects of mystery.

Sura Gate plopped itself among the noises of ordinary people, between the small Dungun shops that you saw if you turned left or right at the main road (it depended on your direction of travel) soon as you saw the cashew trees. There were shops there that served the bustle of people who came up from the sea, or they were villagers that Kuala Dungun served before it took its afternoon siesta that lasted into the following day. I could hear Sura Gate like the egg-shells that we cracked as we waited for the train to arrive to drag us up to Bukit Besi.

Mother was a great believer in hard-boiled eggs that she carried in a knotted handkerchief whenever we had the need to travel. "Eat these eggs to give power to your knees," she'd say. And so from very young I learnt of lembek lutut the syndrome of the buckling knees that became the dread of Trengganu travellers. Even today the taste of a hard-boiled is to me the taste of travel...Sura Gate, Padang Pulut, the Bukit Tebuk on the hill.

Before the Japanese bore the tunnel in the hill the journey took longer, and to save time, the ore was dumped onto boats at Che Lijah, to be taken out to sea. Yes, it was a Japanese geologist Kuhara-San who discovered tin in a place called Cemuak in Ulu Dungun in 1916, but it wasn't until 1929 that a mining lease was formally granted to the Nippon Mining Company (NMC), successor to the Kuhara company that had already started mining there two years before.

The trains started to arrive at Che Lijah in 1930, and then six years later, under Japanese supervision, local labourers dug with their hand-held implements into the hill that soon became Bukit Tebuk. The journey to the bottom was shortened and Che Lijah became just another stop en route to a new off-loading place called Nibong, before the trains moved even further later to Sura Gate and the sea.

The journey upwards to Bukit Besi, once the train had arrived, was interminable. Every station was a stop, and at every stop people milled about, some got off with great relief, nursing headaches contained by Japanese koyo plasters stuck steadfastly to their temples. New passengers got on heaving baskets and heavy sacks, accompanied by the incessant murmur that they carried along with their travel.

We had a cousin working in Bukit Besi for a company that had become known as the Eastern Mining and Metal Company (EMMCO). We stayed in a house that was part of a line of many others that housed workers for the company. I would have been dazed by then by the weight of travel and so I remember little of Bukit Besi beyond the strange colour of its earth and the bits and pieces of rock everywhere that bore metallic specks of iron ore.

I heard the sound of a distant train and the awakening signal in the winter chill. A funny place to be dreaming of the smell of boiled eggs and to remember the light at the end of a hole in the hill. It was slower and warmer, on a hill made of iron; but right now it's brass monkeys as they say over here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Growing Up In Trengganu #193,427

The light of the present has limited reach when you open the door slightly to the darkened backroom of the past. I can remember Sekolah Ladang, but only a few of my school firends' names remain intact. There must've been at least thirty pupils in that class when one day the teacher — Cik Gu Wan Chik — asked if kucing was 'cat' or 'cup' in the English language. He was an enquirer in that instance, not in his role as pedagogue. I think I told him it was 'cup', and he left it at that, satisfied.

In the few times that I returned to Kuala Trengganu after we'd left it, I remember seeing Cik Gu Wan Chik emerging from his beach house on his Norton motorbike. I remember him smiling at me, and I hoped to God that he'd forgiven me for having misled him into leaving his cups out to catch the mice. I don't remember what he taught, or the things he wrote on the board, or any stories that he could've told to keep us quiet.

One day a man turned up in a starched uniform to stick bits of sticking plaster to our chest. We had to place half a coconut shell over it as we bathed at the well that night, to keep it dry and intact. Then the next day the plaster was lifted off our chest, and we were sorted out into 2 groups. The lucky ones, and there weren't many, were asked to move away from the crowd, while the rest were called out from the alphabetical list. My name was near the bottom, so I had time to tremble and look at the goings on that produced the ouch! and tears. Shielded behind an empty tin of Huntley & Palmers turned on its side, a nurse was sterilising a needle in an open flame, and then, when this was quite ready (when it cooled down, I suppose and hope) the syringe was filled with some demon killing fluid and the needle jabbed on to our puny shoulders, on the left hand side. I remember being close to tears as the sharp pain lingered even as I walked away from the starched man and his nurse and her needle and the upturned Huntley & Palmers. There were boys sniffing quietly on the side, and other boys jeering at the 'softies' now emerged among us. I bear a little bump on my left side even today from that BCG jab. We were told that BCG was anti-TB, and that TB was very bad.

The Sekolah Ladang then had atap roof and stood on low stilts over a sandy earth. In the sand lived little creatures named Cik Ru that had no discernible role in life. On those days when with Ru my heart was laden, I crawled beneath the school house to fish them out and tethered them to long strands of hair, a delicate operation that was helped by my state of extreme youth and my general lack of purpose in life. The Cik Ru then stayed in a matchbox until we grew tired of their antics, or the lack of it. At home on some warm nights we caught green beetles that tapped continuously on a matchbox with their sturdy little heads. It was nature's morse code that held the secret of the universe.

The only person I remember from Ladang, though I can't remember if he was at our school, was named Pak Ang. How a boy just slightly older than us became a 'Pak' I never knew, but he was bigger than most of us, and was a human rempeyek for being (in our eyes) fishy, nutty and oily, and a cracker to boot. I feared him for what I thought he could have done, but I never saw him bully or beat any boy, it was just his intimidating presence that kept us all in check.

Father sent me to Sekolah Ladang early because he was a friend of Cik Gu Mat Jeng (Zain), and he thought I was better off at school than at home. Because I was a passenger rather than a fully enrolled member of the class, I enjoyed certain privileges, like turning up at school long after the others had done the lining up and tended to the plot that we were encouraged to keep. I remember walking to school one fresh bright morning after mother had combed my hair and given me all of fifteen cents; I walked to Tanjung Jamban Hijau, then cut across the kampung to walk past the house of P. Jalil to walk daintily on a piece of plank laid across a brook that had a cluster of bamboo trees on its side. The noise that came from the trees and birds were invigorating, and it perked me up to hear the sound of people going about their daily work. It is a memory of Kuala Trengganu that is still bright in my mind, and it even carries dragonflies buzzing in the light over my head.
Father The Morse Code Man
"..-. .- - .... . .-."

In Kuala Trengganu we had a variety of people to keep our days alive: there was Cik Bagus who did odd jobs in the pasar but declined to do hard work because, he said, it would damage his urat kentut, (his fart channel). There was Cik Mat Lembek, the market man who wielded a stout staff to prop himself because his legs were weakened by some childhood disease — a man whom God, in His mercy, kept in full voice mode. And then Pak We came looking like a man who'd just been lifted off a horse, legs kept permanently apart. A rolled up piece of cloth, like a petrified snake, was permanently coiled around his head; he came to our house to grind spices on a stone slab, and he was, by self-acclaim, widely travelled in his youth. One day, in a distemper, he interrogated my brother about what "Hang nak pi mana?" meant in Kedahspeak. I couldn't tell what got him into the mood or why he was eager to know from my brother who was then in no hurry to go anyplace.

We lived in a tall spacious house built in the 1920s by workmen brought down by grandfather from Besut. Next door to us was a surau named after a luminary called Tok Sheikh, who came, I believe, from Patani, along with many other distinguished luminaries who gave us names for our streets and places. A daily stream of people dropped by our house: friends and relatives, trades-people and wayfarers, itinerant scholars and kitab peddlers. They sometimes stayed the night and gave us a fascinating glimpse of life on the outside: the Tok Guru from Besut, distant relatives from Patani, a clairvoyant bomoh from Kota Baru named Pak Acu, and two Pathan friends of father who brought bales of parachute material in their car that was then, in Trengganu, a novelty cloth. They sold this brightly coloured material the next day in the market, and most ended up as shirts or blouses that put the glow into our Trengganu life.

One day, instead of the tap-tap-tapping of the green beetled matchbox in the front surung of our house came a dee-dee-dit, dah-dah that went on into the night. Father was a telegraph operator at the Post Office, and telegraphy in those days was conveyed by the Morse Code. That night a friend of Father's named Lockman was preparing to sit for his radio ham examination, and he needed Father to brush up his dots and dashes. Dee-dee-dit, dah-dah, dee-dit.

Even after Father retired and returned briefly to Kuala Trengganu, he never stopped being hospitable to friends in need. Before he left for Kuala Lumpur, Retnam worked as an odd job man at the Kuala Trengganu Telegraph Office (which was opposite the then C.E.B. and the Bangunan Pejabat Ugama), but when Retnam retired at the same time as Father he had no place to go, so he came and lived in the confines of our house. I remember Retnam having long chats about his Telegraphic life with a former colleague named Pak Mat, who also came to our house. Retnam was a quiet, skinny man, with lanky South Indian legs. He pottered silently in our little compound, waiting for his mood to come, and when the mood finally came, he made lime pickle that was out of this earth.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Journey Upstream

Assembly in Padang Kacung, Kuala Brang, 1928

I am grateful to the Surau Ladang site for this glimpse into the past. This photo is captioned Perang Padang Kacung, (the battle of Padang Kacung in Kuala Brang), 1928.

On the 3rd and 4th May, 1928, Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah visited Kuala Brang to pacify his restless subjects. The state government — at the behest of the British — was imposing something that intruded into their way of life: revenue collection and licensing laws for forest gatherers and farmers. Also involved in this unseemly row between subject and state was a member of the Royal House, Tengku Nik Maimunah of Telemong (Tengku Nik Haji), who objected to her land being taxed.

About 3000 people turned up to meet the Sultan. The mood was ugly, but the people were not displeased with their ruler as angered by the antics of his British adviser. When their leader Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong was subsequently held at the Istana Maziah, not one of those who knew him inside or outside the Istana was willing to take him under their care prior to his deportation to Singapore, and then to Makkah, forever, away from the mischief that the British thought that he was capable of fomenting. Those who kept him captive knew and respected him as a pious man, an honest trader, and a formidable religious scholar. Finally, for want of a better place, he was detained in the Kadhi's Court that was, at that time, in the grounds of the palace.

Just two weeks after the Sultan's visit to the Ulu, trouble erupted, in an attack on a Forest Guard and a police constable on 20th April, and then another the following day, when a group of rebels marched towards the police station in Telemong. They were led by a man named Lebai Abdul Rahman (nom de guerre, Tok Janggut). The police panicked and started shooting at the approaching crowd, eleven died, including Tok Janggut. This incident rocked Trengganu, and is still remembered as the Perang Ulu, the battle upstream.

Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong's place in the history of Trengganu's battle against its colonial masters was assured. Tok Limbong gave strength to many others too, outside the state, who were fighting similar battles. He was independent minded and a resourceful leader, and he'd received instruction at the feet of another formidable leader-scholar of Trengganu, Syed Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad al-Idrus, aka Tok Ku Paloh. When the two anti-colonials Dato' Bahaman and Mat Kilau were pursued from Pahang, they sought shelter in Trengganu, and there they received moral support from Tok Ku Paloh who urged them to continue in their fight for what was right. They went back and fought hard in Kuala Tembeling, and managed to capture the fort of Jeram Ampai in June 1894.

This is the mantle that Tok Limbong wore.

I cannot identify anyone in the picture, though I don't think that the man with the headgear and standing erect (right)was the Sultan. I see the looks on their faces and feel the mood of the moment. It was a time of great tension and serious business.

If you can identify anyone in the photo, please write in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Yesterday, Today

On this day, seventy-six years ago, Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong or Tok Limbong, died in Makkah, fifteen months after he'd been exiled form his native Trengganu by the colonial powers. He was a 'turbulent priest' to the British just embarked on their interventionist designs in the northern Malay States; but to the local populace he was a hero, one of the celebrated scholar-saints of Trengganu. In his early days, Haji Abdul Rahman sat at the feet of another, Syed Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad al-Idrus, better known as Tok Ku Paluh.

He rose form obscurity, appearing at the madsarah of The Tok Ku not formally as a student, but as a worker, doing odd jobs, taking only casual interest in the studies. According to some accounts, he'd turn up daily to do his work, then he'd sit to listen in to the lectures from the back row. At the end of the day he'd slip his notes between the palm leaf atap roof of the madrasah, then he'd walk to the river for his journey home to Beladau. They were even then intrigued by his strange behaviour, prompting some of his fellow students to hide behind the bushes to figure out how he travelled across when there were no boats available. They saw him sitting on the bank, and then at a second glance he was already on the other side, walking away from the river.
Maala cemetery in Makkah, prior to demolition.
Ma'alla cemetery in Makkah, prior to demolition by Saudi authorities. Tok Limbong was buried here, near the grave of the Prophet's wife, Siti Khadijah.

He took the mantle from Tok Ku Paluh and became, in his own right, a man of deep religious learning. But even then he took a career course that was unusual: he was both a man of learning and a man of work. He conducted trade in his perahu besar, plying the coastal waters. He practised agriculture and even ran a 'factory' to make wooden clogs — terompah — which became his daily footwear. Tok Limbong clogged his way in the streets of Kuala Trengganu, in his loose Chinese trousers and Malay baju, and on his head, the the conical terendak made from dried leaves of the palm tree. In the files of the the National Archives at Kew in London, I found this report on Tok Limbong sent in to the Colonial Office by Humphreys, the first British 'adviser' to Trengganu:
"Haji Drahman is a small, dark, ascetic-looking Malay of about sixty-years. He has a great reputation for sanctity and good works, and great influences — secular as well as religious — among the people of the middle Trengganu river. Unlike most Trengganu 'saints' he is extremely charitable and does not use his influence for his personal profit; he devotes himself to religious teaching, agriculture, and devotional exercises." — Report of the British Adviser, Trengganu, 24 November, 1922.
In his teaching life Haji Abdul Rahman took many students, many from the Royal House of Trengganu. He was a man of thought and a man of action, so, not surprisingly, when the people in the Ulu rebelled against the British imposition of licences and revenue-collection for harvesting the wealth of the forests and tilling the soil, they sought his counsel. He took to the task diligently, even applying for a pleader's licence to argue their case successfully in the lower and higher courts.

The unrest continued until 21st May 1928 when the police shot at a mob moving towards them in Telemong, resulting in fatalities. The leader of this rebellion was none other than Tok Limbung, thought the authorities, though during the time of the incident he was on a business trip in Beserah in Pahang. On hearing this accusation, Tok Limbong presented himself immediately at the Istana Maziah where he met Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah. He was detained there pending a deportation order.

He was taken to Singapore in the first instance to be detained by the Straits Settlements authorities, and then, on 19th August 1928, he was shipped to Makkah to live a life of exile. There he continued to teach at the Great Mosque in the Holy City, living in poverty in a room rented from a charity (waqf). The monthly allowances promised him by the government of Trengganu never arrived; just days before he died the landlord's agents were knocking on his door for their rent money.

Tok Limbong died on 16 November 1929, in the city where he grew up under the care of his uncle Tun Muhammad Zain, a descendant of the Tuns of Kuala Brang. According to the Trengganu historian Datuk Haji Salleh Awang (Misbaha), he was buried in a cemetery there, close to the grave of the Prophet's wife Khadijah.

See previous blog: Time Then and Now.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Before Your Very Eyes

Ood would if she could, but Anonymous was in full flow. (See, Comments, below.). And thank you to Atok for his words from The Land of Lightning in the Garden (Negeri Kilak Ddalang Tamang?). We're familiar with some of them, kenaleng, se'eh, so-oh, cakduh and tebolah but as for the rest, I'm not so sure.

No sooner than we dipped in the water than we're in the deep. I was greatly amused and feared for Anonymous who ran off from a sight just too horrific to behold. We knew the Kereta Penerangang well though, it came to our kampung and showed films and then someone spoke between the reels. I can't remember what he spoke about but I remember the films well, especially the one about a man called Abu who single-handedly thwarted a terrorist plot in Kuala Lumpur. We called this Information Department car ( a Land Rover) kereta Cik We because it was driven by a man named Encik Ismail.

Well, there's more —

Remember when you were caught short, and you were jumping up and down whilst waiting to dive into the John? Ketik-ketik you were. Ketik-ketik is that uncontrollable belly-bursting, bladder bloating urge to micturate or defecate. Kiccik was when you'd sprung a leak, if you couldn't ok. Ok is also a handy word to offer someone who's in a hurry to be hitched, "O, ok gok sikik!" But you know you can't ok, for love or money.

A curious lad wrote me to ask about the details of ppuing which, as I said, meant 'the backside in a state of exposure, either through inadvertence or design'. A lot of this happened by design on the beaches, in the Kuala. Men with their sarongs unfurled and draped over their heads, and there they were, ppuing for all to see.

Those were deliberate acts, but there were other deliberate acts that earned greater opprobrium, more than if you messed up the pantai. Take nyenyeh. Nyenyeh is the deliberate act of offering yourself where you shouldn't be, or where you're not welcome or wanted. It goes well with ttina garek, and that, if you don't already know, is a forward lassie, a hussy even, who places herself in the company of rowdy males. Sometimes she suffers for that, by mistreatment or by harsh words from the lads. Tell that to her mum, and this is what she'll probably say, "Yang mung gi nyenyeh tu buak ape?" ("'Tis you who were gagging for it, gal!").

But nyenyeh isn't just a female word, men and boys are guilty of it too, but on these occasions nyenyeh comes with the backside, nyenyeh jub*r. A boy is humiliated, gets bullied by bigger boys: "Yang mung gi nyenyeh jub*r to ba'ape?" There's nothing untoward happening there, you understand, just an everyday, universal tendency of the indelicate to link anything they dislike with parts of the body or functions thereof.

These are words that go with sengeleng, tebeng (sometimes), and percong. These are deliberate acts done in spite of yourself, that often reap grief or shame. Old peple who see the first signs of trouble when such unnecessary steps are taken will first urge caution, and then maybe another. If these are ignored, they'd just lok you so. The Beatles once sang about that, Let it be, let it be... (tr. Lok je lah.)

Now, there's lek-lek. If something is so obviously fraught, or the troubles are right there before your eyes, they are lek-lek, right before you, but unnoticed, perhaps you've chosen to do so. "Napok lek-lek tu, tapi gi jugok!" You saw what was coming yet you still chose to go!" A Tebenggoklagi! situation, as we saw. It's a useful word too to describe a situation where an object is there before the searcher's eyes, but he doesn't see. "Tu, ddepang mung lek-lek, boler sungguh mung!" "There it is before your eyes, you must be blind!"

But I'm sorry Bergen, I don't know. I don't know what jekboh is even if it were sitting lek-lek, before me. Does anyone know?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Sound of Bang

A fruit dangling and swaying slightly in the gentle wind is nnoneng, exposing your bum to all and sundry, either by choice or by your sarong unfurling in your sleep is ppuing, and of course, the male pudendum, dangling forlornly in a state of detumescence is koteng-koteng. Two out of those three words that I've picked randomly from the air tend towards the prurient. Is Trengganu society so inclined? Perhaps it's just the direction of my mind.

I was prompted to do that by Adam Jacot de Boinod, who has compiled a long list of words from all over the world that titillate and fascinate. Take ngabanmarneyawoyhwattgahganjginjenj for instance, it's a long, useful word from the aboriginal language Mayali. It means 'I cooked the wrong meat again'. Drats!

As people who dabble in words do know, a language expresses more than thought, it's culture writ and spoke. It shapes perception even. Some natives in some faraway ocean, I'm told, couldn't see the big ships of the imperial powers when they came ashore, which was just as well, as they didn't have a word to describe anything so big. Some cultures do not count beyond nine, some find even three hard to grasp.

What's one to do when the sun's setting, and the game doesn't seem to be nearing the end, and the people are just waiting for an excuse to bolt, and the muezzin is just clearing his throat to bang? Why, do the buah ggarek of course. That is the last big kick, the day's finale, the farewell thud! But where, oh where, did the Malays get that word bang? Bang is the sound of the muezzin making his call.

But back to de Boinod.

His favourite language, he says, is Malay, because Malay has words like kontal-kontil which means "the swinging of long earrings or the swishing of a dress as one walks". He loves that, he says, because "we don't have the ability in English to express physical actions and movements in that way." I dunno, sashaying isn't bad...

In Indonesian there's neko-neko, 'one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse'. Our grandfather used the term tangan berok (monkey hands) for a very intrusive person who ruined things by their touch; our father used momok perosok (standardspeak, perosak) for much the same, but his Momok came from a comic strip that sold a toothpaste, the enamel eating bacteria being the momok (ghoul) that ruined everything. But mother had much the most interesting turn of phrase, especially this one that described one who stumbled as he moved along, tripping on pots, mat and cat: latang, kedok balik pucong. It always made me laugh.

The Germans have schadenfreude which is the envy of the world, and gemütlichkeit which shows warmth and comfort, but is difficult to translate to capture everything that it conjures up; and now, to my delight, and as De Boinod points out, they have another, scheissenbedauern which is 'the disappointment one feels when something turns out not nearly as bad as one had hoped'. Well, isn't that kelak-kelak in Trengganuspeak? And I remember hortebenggoklagi! with a schaden that must have brought something close to freude, that was used on most occasions when a child had come to grief. "Don't do it!", "Don't do it!" but you did, so you fell, or you dropped with a plop, or you just simply got the fright of your life. Hortebenggoklagi! was all the adult could say, looking at you in delight. And my, how emphatically it was said: Hortebenggoklagi! was an adult's I-told-you-so delight.

I rather marvel at the Japanese yugen, which describes an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words. In Trengganuspeak I can only think of gelibuk a feeling in the pit of the tummy on discovering that there's much too much activity on this earth for just one lifetime. But wheneverr I think of that, I also think of ngellerbong a word (or is it a phrase?)that came to our school from Seberang Takir, through the mouth of a lad who took extreme delight in things that turned out right, and ngellerbong was what he said.

So ngellerbong then, a word to describe the joy of crossing the river from Seberang Takir to see that things are just hunky-dory for you on the other side.

"The Meaning of Tingo", by Adam Jacot de Boinod is a book and a blog. de Boinod quotes are from his interview with the Daily Mail, 8 Nov, 2005.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Growing Up In Trengganu #179,592

On the morning of Hari Raya we wore hats and folded our sampin tight around our waists in case it dropped when we stood to pray. We took what little we got from Father and hoped there'd be more along the way. This came normally in the shape of coins — normally ten sen, rarely twenty — wrapped in tubes of rolled up newspaper, broken open by men who stood before a pleading crowd, giving them out piece by piece to everyone, or showering them all on everybody. Coin showering was a favourite activity of our local benefactors during Hari Raya, but we never got more than a few.

On Hari Raya the genta clanged and the cannon roared, and the sound of the geduk came booming down from the tower. Even teksi pedallers wore their best clothes, but we hastened on foot through Kampung Dalam Bata, out in the long road through Paya Tok Ber, then a right turn into Kampung Hangus, joining the throng already moving towards the Semejid Putih. The towers had voices coming down from them, Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! We knew them to be Bilal Said's or Bilal Deraman's, they were friends of Father, and fathers of friends we had at school.

It was the smallness of the communtiy in Kuala Trengganu that made it a hi you there, how are you little place. But even then we found most people we found there on Hari Raya to be complete strangers, albeit well-dressed ones, in Trengganu songket when the songket was still very affordable. There were all those men in robes flowing, so many women in prayer shawls moving in a dazzle of white in the women's side by which I entered the Mosque on Fridays and normal days. There was Pak Ku Haji Ambak with his serban besar bakul (turban the size of a basket) as my late elder brother so succintly put it, and there were hajis who wore stiff, square igals on their heads to keep their headcloths from blowing astray.

Hari Raya was a special day, and woe betide anyone on that day who went to sea. Shops were closed but people were milling about everywhere, and there was something hanging in the air. This was the day after the night when I knew melancholy from watching the last drops of the kerosene giving life to the last flickers of dancing light around the wick of our home made pelita, after all the children had gone home with the lights doused form their tanglongs, and the shops were all closed and quiet from row to row, with not a flicker left of life that gave so much hope and joy barely an hour ago except for the occasional movement of rats that slid below the shops to nibble on their commodities while the shopkeepers were away.

Father had a brother living next door to the mosque, in a large wooden house that's now been packed up and half rebuilt elsewhere in the government's recent effort to 'clean-up' Kuala Trengganu. This uncle was a much-travelled man who probably took us on our first ride in a luxury car. After the Raya prayers we all gathered in his house and sat in the deep sofa as I looked up to his hanging bookshelf that housed a two-volume set of the Winstedt Malay Dictionary. I used to look through it to travel through words that became delights by the definitions of an outsider. From my uncle's window I could look out to reminders of mortality and of people basking in the joy of a holy day. Closest to the house was a burial ground that had many tall and quaintly shaped grave markers, and next door to it was a house called the marja' which by name meant the place for consultations (presumably with the Imam), but which I knew was used by the mosque stalwarts for sleeping, dining and for meetings with the mosque barber. The marja' had a quaint smell, of the sap of the papaya tree in its backyard, of trimmed hair, and of the sleep of people after a heavy meal.

Hari Raya was one day that took the weight off us of the ennui of living in a town that was on the verge of a rough, open sea. Everything looked different on that day for a child: the shops were closed but there were faces of joy, the adults were still tall but they stooped for you to hand out a nickel, and food and cakes were aplenty. The town was awash, it seemed with akok, and buah ulu, and nasi kapit, and slices of fruit cake made by someone called Big Sister.

We slipped out when the adults were feeling dozy and looked for fresh avenues in an old town after it came alight on the morning of Hari Raya. This was after we'd visited all the toks and the cousins and the uncles and aunties who lived in Seberang Takir. With nothing better to do, with pockets jangling with a little bit of silver, we normally headed for the Capitol to see Minggu the doorkeeper man dressed in his Hari Raya baju made in the same pattern as his kain pelikat below. I think even Pak Mat in the lower, bug-ridden classes wore a songkok for this day. Next door, at the Sultana, Mat Ming put on his special self on this special day - but still aloof to children and grumpy to the core. He was no relation of the then screen star Mat Aming, but for reason of his prominence this cinema was more Panggung Mak Ming to us than Panggung Sultana. This was before the word pawagam was invented by P. Ramlee.

There was little chance of our getting tickets for any of the shows on that day. For one thing, the doorkeeper men who were amenable to our approaches on other days became more recalcitrant on Hari Raya. For another, the cinema owners, for reasons of personal satisfaction, made the ticket booths accessible only through little holes cut through a broad mash of steel. Queueing was a practice little known in the Kuala Trengganu of my day, so bidders for tickets who piled themselves in one huge heap in front of the wire mesh were in real danger of losing arms or legs, or of having their glass eyes crushed and balls mangled in the melee.

The sad thing about Hari Raya was that it came and went all in a day. And the sadder thing about it was the way it dropped us again with a plop into the middle of everyday reality. Father had a way with Hari Raya based on the state of his economy: he'd buy us only shoes that we could wear again daily to school, so our shoes were mostly white Bata, and the same too applied to the colour of our shirts, so in parts we were in our Hari Raya outfit through most of the year.

But for that we were thankful, for Hari Raya, more than for other days, is always better by the presence of Ma and Pa.

Selamat Hari Raya to you all!