On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Friday, October 31, 2008

Worried Sick And All

Under a cloud, furrowed brows,Munsch eyes dimmed of light, quite forlorn and quite sad is our man Che Ali Göbör, with butterflies fluttering furiously in the bowels. Göbör is a word in the stomach, an area often troubled by serabut perut, sick in the pit and all knotted up. We did not know who he really was or why so, but Mother had a field day when we had the exam jitters or worries about something that seemed trivial to her, as she heaped one person and his attribute into one cold dish of disapproval. "Hmm, Che Ali Göbör döh, Che Ali Göbör döh!" she’d say. You are being a proper Charlie — like Che Ali — unduly worried about something that’s very trivial.

My mind was led to Che Ali Göbör the other day when I saw a situation that I thought was leading to kö’ör. Now, kö’ör is a foreboding word that has come a-tumbling down from the sky that is decidedly grey. Che Ali of the Göbör may well have said this to himself at various points in his day: "Hai, kalu dök jjadi ning, kö’ör!" "O woe is me," he seems to say, "if this one doesn’t gel."

Sometimes an older guy looks at a child’s antics and shakes his head, saying, "Kalu lekat pah ttua, kö’ör!" Oh what a disaster it would be if you grew up this way. And then, another adult bystander may fill in a short commentary on this unseemly behaviour, "Sèdèr!" If kö’ör is an expression of concern for the future, "sèdèr!" is the sound of alarm and surprise and a disapproving voice for the here and now.

"Sèdèr tu, nye buak göbör sapa ddebör dak-dak, kecuk habis perut kita!"

That’s palpitations and butterflies gathering in the tummy, all caused by that worrisome fellow.

* * *

Thank you Mekyam for the words jemba, ungga, terjöh, terpa, terkang. All words executed in haste, going forward and jumping about in a hurry. "Kalu lekat pah ttua, kö’ör!" If impatient, dök dang-dang, or dök dè-dè, as our grandmother in Besut would say. Consider this, standing sixth or seventh in the queue for the cubicle, legs crossed: that is really dök dè-dè, would it not be? Nök kecing keték- keték..., bladder bursting and all.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Deepavali

Deepavali greetings to all my Hindu friends.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Krazy Like A Kat

He walks the cat walk and talks to strangers and fisherfolk.Cheshire Cat Kucing bapök he is called, or Father Cat, which, as cats go, are derisory words, as they give him a bad name among kampong folk. He's got eyes only for the ladies, they say, and he is known to be vociferous in the freshness of the morn when half the kampong are still in bed nursing the thought of another day away from work. His language is crass and his coat’s badly in need of a brush, and is full of dirt and debris caught while rolling in the dust with another cat. It was over a female cat, or a disputed patch, he isn’t sure now as his cat-diary and memory were strewn about and got lost in the fight.

Cat-speak raised in anger is kkarak, but cat-fight is never ggöcöh but ggömö.

He has feathers in his hair from his travels in the dark beneath a house, and cobwebs still dangle from unwieldy whiskers from his visit to the gök for the morning eggs — raw, if you please — for a cat’s breakfast amid the hullabaloo all about him that sent the mother hens into a cacophony of kketök. Cat's WhiskersHis parts are thought to be therapeutic and good for the hypertensive (and those with surplus sugar in the blood), but you’ll have to dunk his whiskers, but not his beard, in a bowl of hot water for that.Kucing korèng he is sometimes called, because his face is due for a wash. Sometimes, when the moon is right, he sits and wails at nothing in particular, and hisses at the passing traffic of little boys walking home from their Qur’an class at night, and then scratches anyone who pokes a stick into his belly of fat.

His coat is grey with mackerel lines, and he likes fish heads for supper, still dripping in blood from the throwaway bin of kerepok makers. He speaks when his mouth is full, mostly expressions of abuse at other cats in the sideline who are trying to get into the act, but kucing bapök keeps saying to them, "Grrrrrrr, grrrrr", and "*@&!!+*!" and many things besides. Cats with such dark pastel marks on their fur are sometimes called kucing cicök, and they resemble tigers with their puffed-up cheeks and eyes that are reputed to see in the dark, and when he sleeps he doesn’t roar but he purrs.

He goes to market to snatch some meat, and then jumps onto rooftops and steals through an opening beneath the thatch into the kitchen of the village midwife. He reaches for a piece of fish-meat that has been soaking in the night in a chipped belanga of the house. And then, turning to his side and smelling of fish basted in lengkuas, he lifts his hind leg to paint a little spray on the wall, his visiting card

A long time ago a cat tried to pull a prank on a Tiger that happened to drop in for a chat. Angered tiger pulled his tail and tied it into a knot. And that, boys and girls, is how Malaysian cats have a stump for a tail and are always burying their poo in your back garden, in case Big Tiger gets a whiff their whereabouts.

Cat language is easy to learn (why, even kittens master it within a week) but human understanding of it is sparse. But all cats know that humans chirp ch-ch-ch when summoning them to eat. And whilst it’s bok! for goats and siok! for fowls and geese and ducks in Trengganuspeak, when a cat is not wanted, the aroint thee word for cats is cis!. Which takes us back to the Bard’s ‘aroint’ word that is supposedly borrowed from the vocabulary of milkmaids in Cheshire who used to say "Rynt thee" to restless cows to exorcise the witches in them and keep them pacified.

Cats are never witches but are said to be the witch’s familiar in the Western world. Our fat cat kucing bapök travels the night and braves dew drops and monsoon winds, but at bedtime he looks for the cosiest place, which in Trengganu is the para, and that is the rack in our dapor. But as the night pulls down its blanket of dark and a chilly wind brings in the ghosts, cat moves from para to where the bara was, curling and snuggling up in the abu that will soon be his bed. This is the origin, I believe, of startled housewives in the morning who believe that they’ve just seen a ghost — the hantu kucing shaped as a cat, whilst in truth it is just our kucing bapök covered in ash.

kampong village
kkarak the high-pitched mewling of argumentative cats
ggöcöh a fist fight (human)
ggömö grappling in the earth, (cats & humans)
gök a hen-house, usu. beneath the kampong house.
kketök the sound made by hens in distress or after laying an egg
kerepok fish, pounded and mixed with sago and salt, the mainstay of our Trengganu diet.
belanga a clay pot
lengkuas also known as galangal, a ginger-like rhizome used in Malay cooking
para a rack, usu. for holding the pots in the kitchen
dapor the ktichen area, or the stove
bara cinder
abu ash
hantu kucing lit. ‘cat ghost’

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Springtime in Little Lane

Opposite the lamp-post where Haji Chik the Unhinged posted his daily diatribes in little hand-written Jawi notes in front of Pök Löh’s coffee shop, was a small lane that cut a swath between a little shack and Pök’s hardware shop. The shack was a closed-door place, with shabby unpainted wooden panels exposed to heat and rain and through its roof of atap came, on cauldron days, the smoke and heat from Pök Löh’s kitchen, smoke billowing from the wood fire and the aroma of dhall stewing in salt and turmeric, and bits of meat bubbling in a sea of murky sauce.

At the signal from the chef, a minion of Pök Löh would cross the road and pirouette his way back with a huge cauldron of bubbly liquid that held dhall or meat, hands insulated from the hot pot by a wrap of long cloth that had seen better days as a coil on someone’s head. Kitchen to shop would have taken three minutes, but dodging the traffic was the art: a couple of trishaws peddling punters to the market, maybe, or a middleman from the fish trade, trundling on his heavy ‘gentleman’s’ bicycle to the afternoon session under the casuarina trees in Ladang, or the odd motor car that bore the ‘T’ of the Trengganu (and Kelantan) number plate.

Pök Löh beside his roti griddle, gave his dark look across the road, praying that his roti dip would not spill onto the road, or the many slips ‘twixt pot and lip would not take place and spray into the passing traffic the many micro-organisms that made the flavour and the deep secret of his primeval sauce that had lain in the bottom of the pot since time began, and topped up and topped up each day as the level sank to the shallow depths. I am happy to record that no such mishaps occurred in my days in Tanjong, or in the days after that.

Back then to the other side of the road, past Pök Löh’s shack, and into the long lane that led — I think — to Kampung Laut. My brother said recently that he learnt to tie the line to the fish-hook from Pök in his hardware shop, and then, for the rod, Pök would say to him, “Mung gi ambék dari pagör sekölöh Paya Bunga.”* Well, this would have been one of the routes to that.

There, some ten yards from the planks that covered the depth of drain that marked the T-junction of the lorong (lane) and Jalan Pantai (now Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin) of Pök’s and Pök Löh’s shops, was a house on low stilts that, like many kampung houses then, had its front part exposed as a verandah for occupants to sit and watch the passers-by, or as a reception area for guests who had just washed their feet and are now climbing the ladder-like stairs of the house.

In this apron of the house in the lane of no name was a woman who could not have risen easily from where she sat. She was called — out of her hearing distance — Mök Téh Spréng, and you may have guessed that spréng is Trengganuspeak for ‘spring’, the coil and cushion that takes motion and translates it into a continuously bobbing up and down beat. Mök Téh sat there, flesh and person, most afternoons, and worked halves of green papaya with her scraper that produced thin strands of papaya thread. The big woman Mök Téh, flabby arms and heavywight, sitting on an isle of flesh, moving and scraping and bobbing up and down before a pile of papaya shreds. It made many grown up men drool and weep.

Mök Téh’s was the house of Tanjong’s famous röjök beték, green papaya in a vinegary sauce of fish and chilli, and salt and sugar added to taste. It was eaten with fingers, but not quite, for beside her was a glass jar of kerepok, fish crackers dried in the Trengganu sun and fried till they curled – to scoop out the papaya and the fish pounded into the sauce that was at once sweet and hot, in the bowl served in the home-front shop. Mök Téh was a woman of constant movement and few words. She sat there and scraped and looked at the passing trade, and then she’d stir the sauce so the chilli would rise with an extra kick. For that and for fifteen sen and a bit more for the kerepok, grown men sighed and young boys wept.

* "You go and take it from the (bamboo) hedge of the Paya Bunga School."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Farewell to Mök Mèk

I received an email from my friend Ms Lilian See in Penang on 30th September 2008 with Raya greetings and the following sad news for the day:
“I would also like to inform you that, Mök Mèk has just peacefully left us about 2 hours ago. She will be buried side-by-side with my grand father Chee Saik in Trengganu this Friday.”
Those of you who have read GUiT will know Mök Mèk from “Kitabs and the Pahang Mail” [GUiT, p. 73 at p. 74]. She was the famous ceranang* lady in the back of that other famous bookshop in Kuala Trengganu, the Chee Seek book store. This was deep in Kampung China, near my friend Chee Poh Sian’s house, and not far from that inroad into Lorong Jjamil (Lorong Haji Jamil) with its cluster of ais kacang shops, the most famous of which was run by a man with the strange name of Sumbu.

Mök Mèk‘s ceranang and kerepok shop was a haven for the connoisseurs, hidden as it was behind a stack of books in the depth of the shop, and insulated from the din beyond the door.

Memory plays many tricks when one looks back too far. I think, in GUiT, I got our Mök Mèk — who lived her non-ceranang years with her grand-daughter in Kuala Lumpur, mixed up with with another, also a Mök Mèk, who ran the canteen at the Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School. I gave the husband of the latter to the former and I'd like to express my apologies to their respective families now. The Mök Mèk in the Sultan Sulaiman School was the one whose husband was a necromancer and who came to our kampong to buy kerepok lèkor for the school canteen frier from our Wang Mamak. Mök Mèk ceranang’s husband, as her grand-daughter Ms See points out above, was Mr Chee Saik (Seek?) who ran the bookstore where Father bought his Fleetway Comics that brought into our house the sound of machine guns rattling and cries of “Donner und blitzen!” (“Thunder and lightning!”) from German soldiers hiding behind the almari.

From God we come, to Him we return. Mök Mèk was 106 years old.

Going back now to the other Mök Mèk, the one who ran the canteen in our school, reminds me of our school ustaz**, Ustaz Mahmud Salim, a portly man with a wonderful, and sometimes weird, sense of humour. Coming to class one day, he told us that he’d just ordered a plate of Mee Goreng from Mök Mèk who had it deliverd to him on a tray to the staff room. Hidden beneath the plate were a few coins, probably amounting to thirty cents, that Mök Mèk had inadvertently left on the tray. He took this as a good omen and kept them as his wife had just given birth to a baby boy. That, he said, gave him the name for his new-born child, Abdul Razak, Servant of God, the Giver.

Ustaz Mahmud Salim later repaid Mök Mèk the money.

* A Trengganu salad of blanched kangkong,sliced hard-boiled egg, and tofu; eaten with a peanut sauce laced with chilli while the mind wanders towards breezy thoughts on Chendering shore.

**Religious Education teacher.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chainlink to Pök’s Family

Where are the wooden slats now Pökof Pök’s shop that were dismantled with a clatter and then re-assembled as the shadows lengthened long after the intense light of noonday. Pök’s was next door to the coffee shop of Wang Wook, a man who sold rice and sugar and salt by the picul in days when he was rival to his kinsman Wang Deramang, who sold much the same stuff in another shop next door to Bhiku’s café. Then, in his later years he turned it into a coffee shop. This was when Wang Deramang was no longer the trader next door also to the house of a man with a long bushy handlebar whom father called Staling, after the Russian dictator, and I thought, as I came across pictures of Stalin in old newspapers, the resemblance was uncanny.

Further down the road, down towards the back of the market was our family member named Kör, horn-rimmed glasses and sarong pelikat worn in an unkempt way of the man of the pantai. Kör was a club-footed man who spent long hours playing draughts (dang as we called it) and lived in his white T-shirt that would’ve come, like tea, from China. It probably had the brand name and the logo of the Pagoda. They called him Kör Tönjèng for obvious reasons, tönjèng being Trengganuspeak for club-foot, though to us he was always Pök Kör. Something makes me think that when he was off his draughts board he was a carpenter with a stained roll of thread wetted in some black dye that he used to mark a line in wood before sawing, and a gimlet that I think we called putör rèla.

A kindly soul with a name too complicated for me to lay down here recently sent me an old family photograph that had in it Pök and Wang Mamak (Wan Muhammad) who kept a photo studio above Pök’s shop where we went to one Hari Raya to have our photo taken by a cardboard looking corinthian pillar. I have, until recently, forgotten about Wang Mamak, but I did and do remember his assistant Sulong who hid under a blanket and projected his photographic lens and bellow towards us when we were told not to blink an eye.

You can read about Pök in GUiT at page 33, under “Nails, Ropes and Old Vinegar”; and Sulong is found on page on page 50, under “Snaps and Studios”. I asked about Pök of my benefactor, and he said that Pök was connected to another Wang Mamak whom we knew as Ayöh Wang [see GUiT, p.35 “Breath of Mettle”], the man who wheezed and whiffed from asthma and made brassware and kerepok lèkör, the Trengganu fish mushed in sago flour, rolled into long ropes and thrown to the boil that Stewart Wavell, in his book “The Naga King’s Daughter”, mistook for sea-creatures. Wang Mamak and Father were luminaries of our local prayer house (surau), he being the chairman of the re-building committee, and Father the treasurer. When they got the appeal leaflets printed in Jawi at the Mansor Press, a little printing shop by the Masjid Abidin, the typesetter laid the letter lam (‘l’) at the start of Wang Mamak’s father’s name (Awang) instead of an alif (ah), so he became to us Wan Muhammad bin Luang, chairman, kerepok and brass maker.

When I re-visited Tanjong last December to January, I looked up Wang Saléng (Wan Salim), Wang Mamak’s son, and was astonished to find, on the wall in front of his house, the graffito “Mamat Sprong”. I choked briefly for my Trengganu Private Dick character Mat Sprong, who, at this moment, is in the ulu somewhere looking for the Sang Kelembai. He may well be part of the Pök family.

You’ve probably seen the photographer Wang Mamak Wan Muhammadremembered through his portrait of another of our GUiT people, Pök Mang, or to give his full name, Raden Lockman bin Raden Saleh. In GUiT, Pök Mang practised his dots and dashes with Father in the front of our house one night, when it went dee-dee-dee-dit— dah-dah [GUiT, p.110, at p.113].

And of Sulong, well, reported my correspondent (well, since you ask, he calls himself Chorkedaggarik Chorkedaggarik, which is a mouthful if Trengganu):
“ was told by my auntie..among our family members SULONG known as Sulong Janggut (Allahyarham)..after he left Kg. Tanjung he joined FELDA Jerangau..and operated a small motorcycle workshop...”
Well, I didn’t know that Wang Mamak was the son of another well-known personality of Trengganu, Dato’ Perba, until WangRohing wrote this on my page: “Actually Wan Mohamed Dato' Perba's shop was atop Pök's shop across the road. His partner in the business was Sulong.”. And then came another note, from Wan Ahmad Farid:
“This is news to me. I don't know that the late Wan Mohamed Dato' Perba, my uncle was a photogapher. I counterchecked this with Haji Wan Embong Ismail my 87 year old uncle by marriage and he confirmed that Wan Mohamed was actually running a small photo shop atop Pok's shop. The late Pok was my grand uncle, being the younger brother of my paternal grandmother, Che Wok binti Khatib Salleh. Che' Wok was married to Dato' Perba, my grandfather.
Thanks, Chorkedaggarik Chorkedaggarik, for the photo, and thanks, all of you, for the memory.

Photos: Top: Pök Che Amat; Bottom: Wan Muhammad Dato' Perba.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,