On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Friday, April 18, 2008

18. How to...Wak Dök

There are two schools of thought about wak dök: one school says that it is a transitive act that requires an object, whilst another says that it is just an act of neglect that is akin to lök. They are both, of course, different from lök-lik, which is a cake.

Wak dök sometimes comes as a stoic act, Matisse_Greenstripeas when a housewife carries on with her work even when she’s got a nagging ache. “Dök léh dok layang sangak,” she’ll tell her sympathising mates — one cannot pander to these aches and pains — “Kita paka wak dök je.” “I just pretend it isn’t there.” This act of wak dök is also called therapeutic neglect that sometimes works when the pain is an attention seeking one, but it can lead to dire consequences if its cause is deep-rooted. As happened to a man who walked ten days with an axe embedded in the back of his head thinking that he could just will the pain away by doing the wak dök. Wak dök is no cure for a splitting headache, especially if it involves a kapök kecik from our neighbouring Orang Barak.

Sometimes your wak dök is referred to as wak dek with a variation in pronunciation that makes it an even more abstruse act. But there is no real mystery in the etymological origin of wak dök, though its cultural aetiology may require a whole day’s work. The phrase comes from the standardspeak Buat tidak, which is our wak dök compacted in our Trengganuspeak. But to unravel it in full to someone who isn’t used to the short cuts of a kampung walk you will have to explain that its real origin is actually buat tidak tahu that is oftentimes expressed as ‘make donno’ in Malaysian Englishspeak.

You can, as many people do, wak dök simply as a self-abnegating act, unbeknownst perhaps, by the world at large. The best form of wak dök however, comes with the flag to denote the outward nature of the act: as when someone is doing his darndest to annoy you with his attention-seeking acts such as tongue-pulling, or name-calling or doing things you’ve just told him a minute ago that he ought not. Sometimes a dandy comes your way in the hope of attracting your admiring attention — a stance known as wak èk — but you retaliate with your wak dök, which is a form of retaliatory neglect. For these, wak dök je is the state of being in wak dök.

This act of studious neglect is where wak dök comes closest to lök, which is letting things be in the hope that it will burn out, or just get tired and go to bed. “Lök kat dialah,” (“let him be”) is the final resort in dealing with the aberrant act of a child or the wayward ways of an overgrown idiot after fine words have failed or where harsh measures just don’t work. For the solitary wak dök, its next of kin is ök which is a multi-faceted word that carries here the meaning of just ‘bearing it’.

The opposite of wak dök is layang which also gives birth to the Trengganuspeak noun pelayang, that is, women in tight clothes that wait at tables and do many more things besides. There was a place for such activities in a cafe just outside the Panggong Sultana in days when Mak Ming was still keeper of its gate, but as we’re here for many things but that, we shall not now layang the thought.

There’s just one thing left to say about neglect and discomfort that was once expressed by Neil Diamond in his song about the tiger at the gate that made you unable to relax or relate. There seems to be two ways you can express that in Trengganuspeak: It’s either Rima dok ccököh kat pitu gate: dök léh nök layang, dök léh wak dök or Rima dök ccököh kat pitu gate: dök léh nök layang, dök léh nök lök. Discuss.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lost and Found

Now that GUiT has gone into its third print and looking perhaps at its fourth, I hope you will excuse my self-indulgence as I put on my reminiscing hat. GUiT has brought many good things to me and pleasures that I never thought would materialise simply from writing a book. The son of my second Qur’an teacher (Che Yi) wrote in to say hello, and the son of my first one, a very interesting man, emerged from behind his locked gate as I was looking with sad eyes at a derelict, hand-crafted old Trengganu Malay house where I read my first lines from the Book. I will not hesitate to say that that was the defining moment of my visit to Kuala Terengganu (as is) after nearly a score years.

I was then accompanied by Cik Gu Wan Chik, one of my first teachers at the Sekoloh Melayu Ladang, a jovial and fit man who you probably saw in the Jejak Awang Goneng series of shorts on RTM as the man who twirled a finger at his noggin when Kak Teh asked him about me (a gesture that — according to kak Teh — meant that I was a bit soft in the head). As we were talking, Pak Ibrahim the son of my first Qur’an teacher Pak Haji Ali, emerged and took me on a guided tour of the sad and empty house. And then my Cik Gu mentioned (in front of the camera) that he (Pak Ibrahim) was a distinguished musician, so I said in my half jocular tone, “Give us a song!”

“Wait,” answered Pak Ibrahim, “I must go get my violin.” So that was how we got that mournful, lilting tune that became the signature track of the Jejak.

We met many kindly people: some were old friends; many, complete strangers. Cik Gu Mat — another Cik Gu, bless them all — fed me beludas and gave me a book on the histroy of Trengganu written by the local historian Misbaha (whose son I met in a Trengganu delegation to a Tourism fair in London), and then he introduced me not only to one of the best little restaurants in Kuala Terengganu (The Singgang), but also to the lady who is still, in this age of clockwork electoral candidates and weapons of self destruction, sitting quietly in her house making the beluda with margarine, and condensed milk and stuffing self-raising Trengganu air into the bread.

There were many, many more people I met in our 3-month speaking and signing tour for GUiT. I hope I shall one day be able to incorporate them all into a book to celebrate Trengganu and Trengganuness. And I wish to thank them all again here for helping me make GUiT a success.

In my talks I often spoke of how each step we take informs on the next, or how present ones shed light on the past and vice versa, ad infinitum, in a series of interconnecting beats in life’s long sidewalk. And how again our paths interconnect with those of others, in ways that are often mundane, sometimes unexpected. In GUiT I wrote somewhat whimsically about the ‘strange object’ in the Masjid Abidin that sent incense smoke curling up to the ceiling at mid-day on Fridays, and then in Kuala Terengganu recently I met Pok Daud who gave me a thoroughly fascinating take on its origin. When I popped into the Masjid one afternoon I found that the object was no longer there, so imagine my delight when, a couple of days ago, this email came from New York:
"Dear Mr. Goneng:

"I write to you from Brooklyn, New York...but I learned of you during my travel in Borneo and western Malaysia. I came upon your book in Melaka (Mallacca, etc., similar to Terengganu or Trengganu), and read it through my travel from the south to the north, on the west coast of Malaysia. Straqnge ObjectAfter reading your book, I left from Penang and right into Trengganu! I had to! I wanted to sense the life of your home town, I wanted to feel some moment that you felt, I wanted to bring your book alive and I was happy that I did. I met some beautiful people in K.T., such as, Regen, a Tamil, who rode me on his motorcycle around the town and its environs... your book has made its way to NYC and in the hand of a friend. Oh..... the “strange object in the Mosque chamber” (p,220), is now located in Kuala Lumpur. I came upon it at the Komplex Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Conlay (Kuala Seri Utama-Hari Kraf Center), in the main building, right, dead center. I have attached a photo of the same.

"All the best!
Louis Crespo
Brooklyn, New York"

[Reproduced with thanks, by kind permission]

See also:
Ornamental Wonder

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Lore of Food

Mother cooked the simplest of Trengganu fare, ikang singgang in the belanga, and ikang kembong in the panggang, and sometimes meat on a skewer that hissed over the fire and dripped fat that rose in a pall to our atap roof.

As coastal people our bellies were lined with ikang:mashed and rolled in salt and sago flour, then boiled in the cauldron as kerepok lèkor or göndè; or kembong boiled in the claypot belanga with the addition of asam and the root turmeric, and lengkuas and whole chilli and salt, or tenggiri held in the cleft bamboo panggang stick and then cooked over a spit. Sometimes we had treats like ikang mèröh — the red sea perch — or pparang — a variety of herring — that had layers of fat in its thin belly, and cat’s whisker bones that we spat to the side. The tenggiri head cooked well in coconut milk and fish-friendly spices that were ground to bits on a large stone slab, but the large tuna — ikang aya to us, but tongkol in standardspeak — its head or flesh, was much prized as the fish of choice to accompany the nasi dagang that tasted better off a coconut leaf than from a plate. But never mention nasi dagang to an Orang Barat lest you’re spoiling for a fight, for one sees the other’s product as what came in with the cat through the flap, while the other sees no merit at all in our hard day’s work. And ‘Barat’ is Kelantan as you know from our Trengganu world map.

On special days we had ikang cooked on the spit that became the gölek after Mother had sauce poured over it — of shallots and trumeric and garlic and ginger, dancing to the heat of the chilli in coconut milk — and then it is returned to the heat for a while and then taken back to the pot to be basted in the sauce, and then back again to the heat. Sometimes we had chicken on the skewer instead of the fish, but as chicken was then a luxury meat, it was more likely that we had gulai meat from the water buffalo that had been laid off work.

We had akök if there was call for a dessert, like on the night when we concluded our reading of the Book, or on festive days when one or more desserts preceded the main dish, and then we had some for encores afterwards. During the durian season we had lempok (durian cake) in a huge enamelled pot that hung from a stiff wire that reached down from our roof. We had hard-boiled eggs sometimes, rolled up in beef, cooked, and then sliced like your Swiss Roll with the yellow eye looking at us from a circle of white that was insulated by a skin of cooked meat. I was never sure if this was a dish in itself, or a starter or something to take off our Trengganu taste just before we left the table afterwards. It was something Mother learnt from the lady who married our cousin Chén, and our cousin Chén brought her to us from the land where Cleopatra in her barge went down the river: asp, baklava and grapes.

Food was to be approached with caution as a surfeit could give you an attack of the sè’èh, and to feel sè’èh was to be round and bloated. Or worse, you could be gripped by the sekök, and that’s when you’ve filled yourself right up to your neck. Large fish heads were to be eaten with relish, but small ones were especially avoided by the child as they could make you benök, i.e. impermeable to knowledge. Mother also avoided certain types of fish: we never saw a keli (catfish) in our childhood life, nor the kkacang which was a no-no and which still is, to me, a mysterious fish; though I have it on the authority of Winstedt that it is a barracuda, of the Sphyraena species.

And then we had leaves put into the pot with sweet potato (ubi setèla), and coconut milk, with turmeric perhaps, and sea salt that came weeping in woven bags on our big boats. The slight bitterness of the leaves and the strange mushiness of the ubi turned it into an adult food, much like the jering beans that were never brought into our house, or the yu (shark) that I sometimes saw men carry into the market.

And when you have eaten one side of the fish — be it panggang or gölèk — you do not turn it over once you’ve seen its bony ribs, for the turning action that you will carry with you will cause a calamity in a boat.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Contented Wi' Little And Cantie Wi' Mair

The Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 -1796) wrote Contented Wi' Little And Cantie Wi' Mair in 1794:

Contented Wi' Little And Cantie Wi' Mair

Contented wi' little, and cantie wi' mair,
Whene'er I forgather wi' Sorrow and Care,
I gie them a skelp as they're creeping alang,
Wi' a cog o' gude swats and an auld Scottish sang.
Chorus: Contented wi' little, &c.

I whiles claw the elbow o' troublesome thought;
But Man is a soger, and Life is a faught;
My mirth and gude humour are coin in my pouch,
And my Freedom's my Lairdship nae monarch dare touch.
Contented wi' little, &c.

A townmond o' trouble, should that be may fa',
A night o' gude fellowship sowthers it a':
When at the blythe end o' our journey at last,
Wha the deil ever thinks o' the road he has past?
Contented wi' little, &c.

Blind Chance, let her snapper and stoyte on her way;
Be't to me, be't frae me, e'en let the jade gae:
Come Ease, or come Travail, come Pleasure or Pain,
My warst word is: "Welcome, and welcome again!"
Contented wi' little, &c.

Here's my (free) translation of that poem by Cik Bbakör (Robert Burns) in the language of our Trengganuspeak:

Dapak Sikik Cuko’ ah, Dapat Banyök Mujo ddö’öh...

Dapak sikik cuko’ ah, dapak banyök mujo ddö’öh,
Bila aku jjupe hari sedih atau hari hök nök geröh,
Aku nggelik bila napök dia jjalang kèdèk-kèdèk,
Denge tèh tarik segelah aku pong nnyanying mmölèk.
Dapak sikik cuko’ ah, dll.

Aku sigong gi habih pikirang hök dok nök nnyusöh;
Orang llaki suka nnawang, hidop ning tepak ggöcöh;
Galök, dök mmusang, itulah möda aku ddalang köcèk,
Aku bèbah gi mana-mana, takdök orang buléh kösèk.
Dapak sikik cuko’ ah, dll.

Kalu setahong nök nnyusöh, ggitulah gamök-öh,
Dapak kawang saing rödöng rasanya imboh-döh:
Bila hati lege dang suka sebab jjalang jauh döh,
Wak apa nök tèngök kalu jalang tu banyök lecöh?
Dapak sikik cuko’ ah, dll.

Nasib tu biarlah dok jjalang ssorang diri ikut dia;
Mari ssining, gi dinung ke, kita dök léh nök kata:
Mari senang kita lege, susöh bukang kite nök mitök,
Döh nök wak guane: "Aku terima, kena ök lah jugök!"
Dapak sikik cuko’ ah, dll.