On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Six Degrees of GUiT

We were sitting in a café in the bowels of the KLCC, Kak Teh, the pizzaman and his pal Robin and I when a lady from Uruguay came to ask me to sign her GUiT. I said to her what I say to everyone else kind enough to ask me for my signature, “The pleasure’s mine entirely!” Is GUiT read even in Uruguay? Well, no, her husband manages a resort on the Lake Kenyir, and we were sitting there in Delice de France while I was signing a stack of GUiTs for the Pizzaman to deliver. But I can, I suppose, claim that GUiT is now truly international.

We were tucking into our breakfast when Pizzaman phoned to ask where we were. He wanted me to sign a stack of books, so could he come now? Well of course, I said, the tea here’s not too bad, but not as good as the Monsoon Cuppa. And that was quite a cuppa.

What so surprises me about this GUiT event is how we are all inter-linked. My old Form Teacher came to the signing and I had time to ask “How are you, Sir!” (Sorry Dato’ Wee, I still called you Mr. Wee). Many came for a cuppa and a chat, and during the course of many conversations they somehow ended up in how we were – in one way or another – related to each other. A prosperous looking businessman from next door to the Keda Pök Löh Yunang came and said his name was How. “How Kok Kong, aren’t you?” I asked. And so he was, we were schoolmates, though he was my senior. “I used to have a deskmate in class named Kho Sheue Fei who lived in the shop at the end of the block,” I remembered. The surprise was that she was still there, and she turned up for the Monsoon Cuppa the following day. Thank you Sheue Fei! And so did Toh Swee Choo, another very young old classmate, and it was a great pleasure to sign GUiT for her while her husband photographed this happy reunion of SSSSers. I rattled off names of my other former classmates – Chee Poh Sian, Lim Chee Hian… How pulled out his handphone and minutes later, lo and behold, Chee Poh Sian came and how we reminisced over kopi tiam and roti kaya in that old coffee shop that served satay and toast to celebrate the break of Kuala Trengganu mornings, many, many years ago. “Do you remember Chua Chee Peng?” Do I remember Chua Chee Peng? Not only do I remember Chua Chee Peng, I also remember a little boy named Yeo Chong Kong who lived on the bridge in Banggol, and who returned to Batu Rakit every weekend to his family.

“How much you remember,” Poh Sian said. And yes, I also remember the day I went to your house one morning, where there were many pigeons and your grandfather, unable to understand my mumbled Malay, kept asking me, “Poh Pian? Poh Pian?” And here you are now, years later, sitting down with me and two other school pals, eating tea. Well that’s how they say it in Blighty, eating tea.

The surprise was yet to come. A day after the Monsoon Cuppa, we had a small family reunion at Dah’s house (my cousin Dah of ‘Fish on a Bicycle’ fame) when Abang Lèh, husband to cousin Yöh, Dah’s sister, confessed that he was actually the cousin of Cik Kalèh. Cik Kalèh the fabled trishawman and bon viveur of old Kuala Trengganu…I nearly had a fit. It is finally confirmed, me and Cik Kalèh are related – even if it’s just through marriage – whay hey-hey! How soon now before one of us is found to be related to Mat Sprong? Nothing surprises me no more.

And me and the Pizzaman are related too, through another marriage of my Cousin Chén’s brother (see GUiT) to his kinsfolk, and I think half of those who attended the Monsoon Cuppa went away discovering that they were somehow related to each other.

In GUiT there’s mention of another man who did magic tricks, and who could rattle off all the Chinese shop names from Jamabtang Banggol to Keda Payang in one long stream-of-consciousness way. In real life he was also named Che Awang King George (for reasons too long to tell), and he was also from the family of Dato Amar (see GUiT, ‘Man of Oob’). My brother now tells me that while walking with Che Awang in Kampung China one day, an elderly Chinese lady stopped him (Che Awang) to ask, how’s so and so in his family. Che Awang replied, “Dia baik.” (He’s well). Later, when my brother asked Che Awang who the lady was and why she was so interested in his family, Che Awang said, “Well, she’s my relative, a sort of distant auntie.”

So, GUiT it or not, we’re all family.

To all who have posted comments to my blogs below, my appreciation and thanks.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Monsoon Cuppa, 25th December

You can go back to the place where you were born, but you can never go home, wrote a sage whose words I pray will not come true as we’re planning our travel back to Kuala Terengganu by bus this Christmas holiday. The last time I travelled that way to the East Coast was aeons ago, on some mad MARA charabanc that sped through the dark night along winding roads and up and down hills, driven by a man who, I hoped and prayed, may have been suffering from all sorts of delusional conditions (being in the grand prix was one of them), but I just wanted him to be suffering also from insomnia. I just couldn’t imagine him falling asleep while doing the turns at a ton, and then us sleeping folks waking up in deep ravine on the edge of a hill.

Not that we were sleeping though. I for one was suffering from his non-stop blaring video of some demented kung-fu fighter going Whish! Whack! Zapp! and leaping into the air somewhere along the Karak highway. We were - and still are - a nation of megablasters. There wasn’t a public place then - as now - that didn’t have music blaring or the beast in the idiot box blasting out some meaningless over-loud pap. We sometimes chide ourselves for not being a nation of reflectors, thinkers and readers, but we treat silence with such dread that we must have piped music, wide-screen television and screaming and shouting everywhere.

On Christmas day, at last, GUiT is going back to its spiritual home, the Keda Pök Löh Yunang in Kedai Payang that now goes by the name of Alam Akademik. I am so happy that we are all going there for what Encik Abdul Karim (a member of the Alam Akademik family and the Pizzaman. that we all love and know) agrees shall also be known as the day of the MONSOON CUPPA. This will be a people’s launch of GUiT where we will all come in to take shelter from the rain and drink a cup of tea, and I’ll read a paragraph or two from GUiT if the mood takes me. But already the scene is set: a kindly senior man who calls hmself Pök Daud has been going around taking photographs of scenes from GUiT that are still standing in KT and he’s promised to hand me a set of prints, for which I’d like to thank him now; my friend Ku Wé has invited me to tea at his Pura Tanjung Sabtu; and a few friends have promised to rope in a few more friends for the day. So in all I expect there will be about 10 people milling about in Alam Akademik sharing memories, collecting their orders for GUiT, and drinking lukewarm tea. So this will be the MONSOON CUPPA unlike the other.

Meantime my publishers are already making preparations for their second print run of GUiT. I shall talk about that when the presses are rolling but for now I am so honoured by an initiative started by a couple of bloggers with a wonderful idea, and they have very kindly named it the GUiT Kampong Memory tag that invites people to share their own childhood memory. You must go here to read a very interesting account of growing up days, and then here, the blog that started it all.

Also thanks for those who have left comments to my postings below. In reply to one of you, yes, GUiT is available in London, from Stanford’s (The Travel Bookshop) in Long Acre, Covent Garden, and from Probsthain’s at their main shop opposite the British Museum, or from their branch at London University (in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS).

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friends and Countrymen and Women

I am on the move right now and am internetless for the most part. So, my apologies if I haven’t been replying to your comments lately. It is a truly humbling experience and something totally beyond my expectation, that a very personal view of my hometown could have struck a note with so many people. I have been with the Pizzaman (sorry A. Karim) these past days, and I have seen how his phone just wouldn't stop ringing with orders. Kakteh will tell you that pizzas aren’t actually my favourite food, but I do ow love its deliverer. And I am most grateful to you all, and thank you Zulomar for asking about the 25th Dec event, and thank you Tlady for such a wonderfully long comment! (Please see comments to GuiT News #3952 below.

I hope you will all come to the signing and meeting outside the monsoon weather in the Keda Pök Löh Yunang’s fine establishment on Christmas Day, 25 December. As I said before, it will be a very modest event, and they don’t even sell ceranang in the back of the shop, but let’s make it an eventful day.

And before I go, I have something to report. I’ve met so many fine people these past few days, and I’ve met Pok Ku and Pak Adib, two bloggers I have thanked especially in GuiT. But today, at a wedding, I met a classmate I’ve not seen for more than 30 years, and I met Trengganu's singer (and now painter) Adnang Osmang, whay-hey-hey!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GUiT News #3,952

Since touchdown on this sacred soil life has been one big whirl for GUiT, Kak Teh and me: GUiT was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival last week, we’ve been to two weddings (with 2 more in the pipeline), and a modest get-together is planned in Kuala Terengganu.

But let me first tell you about the pizza delivery man. Pizza delivery man was uneasy about the sluggish way GUiT was being handled by the bookshops here, especially in Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur, so he contacted me to ask for the source of supply, stocked his main bookshop in Kuala Terengganu, and then, in Kuala Lumpur, he passed word around by SMS and email that he’d deliver GUiT to any address within the capital free of charge. He even sent one to Penang (courier charges extra) as a birthday present for someone. When I met Karim a few days ago he said he’d already delivered some 50 books, and he had 4 more orders even as we were talking. But why? I asked, surely Sami Vellu charges and petrol costs would eat up most of his profits? “Yes, I make a little,” he said, “but I do enjoy seeing the look on their faces when they receive the book. And many wanted me to stay so they could regale me with more tales of Awang Goneng and Trengganu!”

So a round of applause please to Karim Omar, the man who sold GUiT like hot, home-delivered pizzas.

And Kak Teh too has been doing her bit: so if you see MPH bookstores now well-stocked with GUiT, you’ll have to thank her and her persuasive ways.

Let me just go back to Karim and his pizza delivery style because earlier, I mentioned his main bookshop in Kuala Terengganu. In Singapore I said that GUiT’s spiritual home is the Abdullah Al Yunani bookshop, and I’d be happy to see a fisherman or a farmer launch my book there as GUiT is actually a book by and for the common people. Well, as happens, Karim is married into the Al-Yunani family, and the Abdullah al Yunani is the Keda Pök Löh Yunang that I’ve been telling you about here and everywhere. So we’ve both sat down and planned something there — God-willing, GUiT will be launched at the Keda Pök Löh Yunang in Kuala Terengganu (Trengganu as was) on Christmas Day, this 25th December 2007. It will be a very modest event with a cup of tea probably to cheer everyone up, and a book-signing and reading (maybe) for afters. I suggested to Karim that we’ll start the day by reading a little prayer for almarhum Pök Löh but no, he counter-suggested, we’ll read a little prayer for everyone mentioned in GUiT who’re now no longer with us; and I think it’s a capital idea. So, if you’re footloose and fancy free, and at a loose end on top of that on Christmas Day, please do call at the Alam Akademik book shop in Kedai Payang in Kuala Terengganu and be with us. You may not want to buy the book, but please do come for a cup of tea, and as it’s seasonal, we’ll call it the MONSOON CUPPA, a people’s festival of book and banter. But please watch this space for up-to-date news.

For me personally, GUiT has come alive in more ways than two. GUiT’s launch in Singapore was its official birth, and then the books are now in the shops without further hiccups. What’s more amazing is that I met a person who told me that his friend is the daughter of ‘my cousin Dah’ (rf. GUiT, ‘Fish On A Bicylce’), and another wrote to me to say that Pak Minggu mentioned in GUiT a propos Panggong Capitol was a friend’s father, and when I was doing a book signing in London someone prompted me to talk about Tuan Haji Salleh (Misbaha), Trengganu’s famous amateur historian. I did, and then the prompter came back: “That’s his son standing there behind you!” And as one thing leads to another, I find that I’m related to Karim Omar, the pizza delivery man, by links matrimonial.

I can tell you many more stories like that but you have things to do, and the flood water’s rising in Terengganu, and the kettle’s on the boil.

Thanks are also due to my re-discovered seafaring friend Jaflam for arranging tea time at the coffee shop in Kinokuniya last Sunday. You may want to read about it and see the photos at Elviza’s. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who attended, and to young Luqman Zain, my newly found young friend who, I hope, will grow up lawyering like her charming mother, or, at the very least, take up pen and paper and turn himself into a great writer.

I am humbled by the unexpected success of GUiT, and my sincere thanks to you all!

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