On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Makang Belang Jjalang* No. 1

If a trip is fuelled through the stomach, I have to thank many people. My cousin Azmi and his wife Na in Kuala Terengganu, and all their 3 wonderful children (Hafiz, Farhan & Aisyah) took us to feasts and snacks galore. In the mornings there was nasi dagang, and roti kaya with old-fashioned tèh susu, and lunches were an array of things in many places: nasi kerabu here and ikang singgang and belacang pounded with buöh kerining there, and then nasi benör at a town centre restaurant, and fine dining at the delightfully named De luxe Paradise later. In the afternoon Mi would say, “Let's go for some ikang celok tepong somewhere by the shore," and in spite of our protests, he took us there, and we did not regret it even a little. I made friends with many cats there, all fattened by eating ppala ikang, and Kak Teh couldn't take her eyes away from the shore. As a footnote I must add my thanks here (for the trip to the De Luxe Paradise) to Abang Lèh and cousin Yöh. I am delighted to add here too Abang Lèh's confession that he is actually the cousin of our famous teksi man Cik Kalèh (see GUiT), and of course I couldn't believe my ears. Thanks too to cousin Dah (see, 'Fish on a Bicycle', GUiT, p. 81) and Abang Muin for the sumptuous family reunion at their hacienda.

We were regalled with beluda (see, 'Beluda Hands, Singing Head', GUiT, p.75) courtesy of the wonderful Cik Gu Mat of the Persatuan Sejarah Terengganu. It was he who took us on the Beluda Trail that you probably saw on RTM1's Galeri Perdana, and we were fed beluda made by the talented Kak Pöh who also showed how beluda was made for RTM1's 'Galeri Perdana' and for Astro TV who were following yours truly. Cik Gu was (and still is) a wonderful man, he pored through GUiT and took note of the comestibles, and then he popped up at my public appearances in Kuala Terengganu and proferred me rokok arab and apék-apék and roti paung packed neatly in tupperware. Overwhelming kindness is hard to forget, and hard to get over, and I thank you Cik Gu.

I'd also like to thank Toh Puan Rosita, a fine lady of Terengganu, whose dining table heaved with many cakes of old. She brought back many tasteful memories, and she brought some delightful company too, my old classmates from Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School, and my class teacher from standard 4, Mrs Yeoh (wife of the eminent artist Mr Yeoh Jin Leng). In Kuala Terengganu my former classmate Toh Swee Choo (I hadn't seen her since the '60s) organised a reunion at another classmate's house (thank you Datin “Jöh” Khadijah) where I met Chua Chee Peng, Tan Yam Poy, Wan Fatimah Abdullah, Yusof Abdul Rahman, to name but a few — friends I hadn't seen since the day I left SSSS and Kuala Trengganu. Another person from my past, Dato Wee Cheng Huat, was also there. As Mr Wee he was my Form Teacher for 2 years at secondary school.

And then, another day at the Restoran Kuah Singgang (where I had the belacang with kerining), I was reunited with my SSS classmates Muhammad Embong (the boy from Lorong Jjamil, see 'To Each A Quarter', p. 145, GUiT), Omar Abd Rahman (who left SSSS to come back as its headmaster, and then later, as Trengganu's CEO), and Hashim Sulong, a friend from Kampong Kolam a stone's throw from the Istana (see GUiT, everywhere) who was also himself a talented artist at school. On the same day I heard on the phone a voice from the trishaw of many, many years ago, Lim Chee Hian (who, as C.H.Lim in GUiT, p. 166 supra, travelled with me and H.C.Tay to school, in Pök Mat's teksi). Another day I nearly had a heart attack when my cousin Mi said “Your old school teacher has just phoned, and he's coming to see you now.” It turned out to be my old Maths teacher, Mr Soh Kim Yew, who came all the way from Ipoh. I could still hear his voice, “I'm going to see your father!” for my unsatisfactory homework. When he arrived we hugged each other, and then he said it again, but in impeccable Trengganuspeak, “Aku nök gi jjupe pök mung!”

I trembled with laughter.

I'd like to keep KL for another time, but as it's food I'm talking about, I must thank my wife's people in Bangi (Lilah & Wan, Ajie & Nisah, Prof & Kak Chik, and Mak of course) for food aplenty — always — on their tables, and for our many trips to stalls, cafes and food centres; and also to my sister Wan Asma for being unstinting at the dining table, and for troubling to make me beleda and puding kkuöh as Cik used to make it, with agar-agar and with its milky sauce, and for the stirring hasidöh and the jjala mas that she packed for me to take back to Londra. To my nieces Kak Chik and Kak Long, and Cik Mun and my nephew Cik Mang, thanks for the many trips to Nasi Dagang Ulik Mayang, and to the Mamaks, and to various other food centres.

And thanks too to my brother Mil (Wan Abdul Rahim Kamil, GUiT, p.11) and wife Norlia for the food and the broadband whenever I called.

*Eating on the trot.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

GUiT Trail on TV

Awang Goneng will be following the GUiT trail on Galeri Perdana, RTM1 starting Monday 28th January. It will be shown in 4 parts, on 4 consecutive nights. We did the trail over two hot days in Kuala Terengganu, looking for the beluda, meeting old friends and making new ones, and going back to old places that I once knew. The response I had from people we met was tremendous and I'd like to thank every one of them here, including Tuan Haji Yacob Al-Yunani, the last surviving child of Abdullah Al-Yunani of the Pok Loh Yunang book shop. I shall be listing out my thanks later, once we're safely 'home', Insha Allah. In the meantime I hope you will be able to be with us every night, at 8.30pm, till Thursday, on the GUiT trail. The programme was made and directed by Zaharah Othman who also calls herself Kak Teh, a name that sounds vaguely familiar to me. We've probably met before.

See Kak Teh's report HERE.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Home Is The Sailor

I have learnt, with great sorrow, of the death of Ayah Ngah Musa, the last Trengganu sailor on British shores from those merchant navy days when our young men left home for a life at sea. They inevitably ended up in Liverpool, the hub of British merchant shipping in those days, and many drifted onwards to London and Wales.

Ayah Ngah Musa, who was in his 79th year, had been ailing for some time, with cancer and diabetes, but always actively supported us whenever we called in his hometown, especially in the Toxteth area of his haunt, during filmings and other events organized there for us by the Malay Sailors Association. The last time I saw him was last August, when he waved at me as he was going into the Toxteth mosque for Asar prayers. We were then about to leave Liverpool, so we could exchange only a few words with him before he went. Earlier in the day he sang for us the song of his beloved school in Paloh, Kuala Trengganu, trawled from many, many years of memory in the back of his mind.

Ayah Ngah was one of two sailor form Trengganu that we knew, the other was Ayah Da Salim, who was a relative of mine. Ayah Da died in his native Trengganu some years ago when he decided to uproot himself from his East London life to go home and start a new life. He told my brother in Terengganu that he never planned to go to sea but one day he joined a long queue for what he thought was local work in Singapore and found himself enlisted into the merchant navy.

Like our Ayah Da, Ayah Ngah left Trengganu at a very early age, for Singapore, and then to sea on a long journey that took him away from home for more that half a century. Ayah Ngah Musa will now be returned to his native Terengganu (as it is is now) for his funeral, as he had instructed, on Monday, 21 January, Insha Allah.

He leaves behind his wife and three children. May Allah rest his soul in peace.

GUiT News
GUiT is now into its second printing, copies have been shipped and should be in the bookshops now. We have been told by the distributors that the first consignment of 1500 books to their warehouse have all been taken and they are now ordering more to re-stock. Thanks to all of you who have written in to ask why there’s been a GUiT famine in the shops last week. The reason is we were temporarily out of print, and the printers have just completed the new print order. All the printer’s hantus and typos in the 1st printing are – I hope – gone from this second printing, and should provide for a more comfortable reading for those of you who are more meticulous about detail.

I shall be signing books at the MPH Mid Valley on Sunday 20th January from 3.00 pm. I hope to see you there!

"A beautiful book, very well written and with its vignettes of life it tells so much about the Malays - far more than one can get from academic studies."
— Frederick Lees,
author, Fool's Gold; The Arthuriad; The Rape of Rye; etc.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

GUiT on the River

The Menteri Besar of Terengganu hosted an event that I think was unique in our green and fair land, and I am saying this as a completely non-political person. Last week we had a marvellous event in a building that must’ve cost quite a few bob on the river, and I thought it would be attended by at most 50 people who have crumbs of beluda still on their sampin and relishing still their nekbat of sweet memory. I was wrong of course, as ever: there were 300 people in the hall, and after my long, boring speech (during which I had to pause twice to come to terms with a strong surge of emotion that was welling up in my breast) they came and waved 300 copies of GUiT at me for my thumbprint. And I am pleased to say that they also waved their copies of GUiT at the Menteri Besar who very graciously gave them his signature.

At the gathering I met again the man from the Persatuan Sejarah Terengganu (Terengganu Historical Society) who proferred me rokok arab and stuff at the launch of GuiT at the Keda Pök Löh Yunang. At this gathering on the river he appeared again with home-made beluda and much, much more. Thank you Cik Gu Mat, God bless you!

I say it was a unique event in Malaysia because not a few people stood up and reminded the MB that heritage is precious, and that what we call our warisan should not be destroyed but preserved. And I put in my voice too and said that development must not be only for the tourists but must also be for the people, and that we should raise not only shop houses but also communities in the Kuala Terengganu of now. I would like to thank Terengganu’s Menteri Besar YAB Dato Seri Idris Jusoh for hosting the event, and for keeping the dialogue going in such an admirable way. This is also the man who opens the door to his office to one and all every Wednesday to hear their grievances – and I hope they will learn much from listening to each other. And I say let’s all work together now regardless of party or colour and make Kuala Terengganu (and indeed Terengganu) a better place, especially for its people. Once the tourists have flown and the winds no longer blowing in the sails of those celebratory barges on the river, Kuala Terengganu is returned to its ordinary people who accumulate the garbage and dig the detritus of this all too disposable society. The tourists can look after themselves in their faraway haciendas of love and their altars to swift travel, but we have to plan wisely: let wisdom — not money — rule.

Since coming back I have re-connected with so many wonderful people: I met many former schoolmates, trembled again before two former class teachers (one, my English teacher, is now practicing law in KT; another, my maths teacher, travelled all the way from Ipoh to give me a hug and then expressed again those dreaded words, “Aku nök gi jjupe ayöh mung!” ("I'm going to see your father!", re my unsatisfactory maths homework), and I was told that Cik Gu Wan Chik is still there in wind-blown Tanjong and that P.Jalil is still among us (but no longer blowing), and that Mök Mèk of the Chee Sek ceranang shop is now still living, with her granddaughter in Kuala Lumpur (and if you must know, she’s 102).

In Six Degrees of GUiT I said how we are all inter-related. I have been re-connected with many more people. I had a very dear friend in Kampong Kolam, Sara Paul, who sadly passed on nearly three decades now. Now her niece in Penang has written in to say:
“I have just finished reading your book and its now in
my mother's hands and she wanted me to say hello to
you. Mum is Mary Emmanuel nee Paul whose family lived
along Jalan Kedai Hilir. I am told you went to school
with my aunty Sara.

“I so enjoyed the book and so is my sister Monica who
is still savouring each page ( i bought her a copy for
Christmas) We had no idea you were in KL for the book
signing or the Paul sisters (Elizabeth, Mary, Rose and
Ann) would have definitely dragged us to KLCC to meet
you. At any rate, we enjoyed the review which appeared
in the NST (which is incidentally, where I work ..
small world, eh?)

“My mum remembers your late father with great warmth as
he used to offer salams to my grandfather daily en
route to the mosque. And to bring this story to a full
circle, Mum tells me that my late father actually
replaced your dad as the Telegraph Master in Kuala
Trengganu ;-)

“Although it has been close to 25 years since we left
Trengganu (Dad was transferred to Penang in 1983) we
have standing orders for nasi dagang, keropok lekor
and roti paung (from Kg China - Capitol Electric)
whenever anyone from there is heading our way.

“Thank you so much for bringing all our childhood
memories alive and capturing them so vividly. Rest
assured that your book is fast becoming a must-have
for many of my cousins who also used to call Kuala
Trengganu home.”

Thank you Marina Emmnuel, you will excuse me now while I go wipe a tear.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Take A Book

That a book can change the world is an interesting idea. It doesn’t matter if the world is a small one that sits beneath our hat, for does a world exist outside of ourselves? I certainly think so, but of equal importance is the world of our perception that looms large in our minds, that hinterland in our heads.

In Trengganu we have a saying, Dök masuk bok, of an idea or a person that is insignificant as to be trivial or ridiculous. Takdök ddalang bok is another for something that is outlandish or unthinkable. In both it is the book that is the common denominator, that gives recognition or gravitas to the idea. I’ve heard my mother, an illiterate person, pooh-pooh many ideas by proclaiming their ridiculousness. Takdök ddalang bok she would say to someone who suggests that we spread belacan like butter, on bread. “It is not found in the books.” And then of an inconsequential or göng* person, "Dia dök masok bok!" His name’s not worth listing in a book.

Central to this is the sanctity of books even in the minds of ordinary people. Even in minds out of the ordinary, say in a prelude to war, it is recorded in the Malay Annals, the Sejarah Melayu, that prior to going into battle, the warriors were read chapters from the Hikayat Hamzah to put them in good spirit. This is not the only instance surely in our common history of a book being read to raise the spirit.

I am mulling these thoughts because I'm a great fan of bibliotherapy, a movement that is gaining strength in Europe. Books can be therapeutic, which is why we should all pay heed to that children’s programme that was once popular on British Television that went by this cryptic name, “Why Don’t You…?” The full length of that title that was sung in the introductory part of the programme was, of course, Why Don’t You Switch Off the Television Set and Do Something Less Boring Instead?

Well, tell your kids: why don’t you?

And what brings this thought is a dear friend who phoned us one evening to say that she was feeling down in the dumps so she took her copy of GUiT and read and read it, and it gave her a tremendous boost. Well I never; in this instance, it was I — not her — who was uplifted. If, in a small way, I’ve contributed to this idea of bibliotherapy, I’m glad. And thank you, Jane, I appreciate your thought.

In Bibliotherapy books are introduced to ‘lost’ children to help them discover themselves. The child reader who lacks self-confidence, or who cannot find a place comfortable enough in this adult world sometimes identifies herself with a character in the book she reads. Children who read find themselves, and a place for themselves in this wild world. A simple idea, but it has worked for many people. Prisoners in jail find a purpose in life through reading, through studying and identifying themselves with characters in a play, a short story, or a novel.

On my return to our family house in Kuala Terengganu recently I was saddened to find that some of the books that I’d read in my childhood are now mere shells, their contents eaten by the anai-anai, the white ant. Rows of Father’s old kitabs too had gone into the anai-anai bellies, and I dread to think but must say that those old books must have been satisfying and therapeutic for those anai-anai too, but I just wish that they don’t have to destroy in order to build.

But if uneaten, where do dead books go? I borrow Zafón’s idea, from ‘The Shadow of the Wind’,** to the cemetery of forgotten books, of course. What a therapeutic book Zafón’s has been for me. I am a suburban traveller, a lover of train rides, and I found it extremely soothing and comforting to read about the couple on their train journey to the ghostly house. Never mind their destination, but the journey in itself was worth it.

And a very happy and therapeutic new year to you all!

For another take on bibliotherapy, go here.

* Gong= a stupid show off.
** Shadow of the Wind ("La sombra del viento") by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

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