On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Saturday, May 30, 2009

25. How to...Leböng

It is hard to say nowadays the word leböng without thinking of Yasmin the model wife of that popular singer from Duran Duran, even if in Trengganu Duran Duran isn't as big as our very own Adnang Osmang. That we are led into thinking of this duo's name is merely the result of a coincidence of sounds and nothing more than that beyond. But to the matter at hand: If I were to tell you that I was once a pop singer you will recognise immediately that I am telling porkies, for that is the basic ingredient of leböng, the wilful misplacement of your ontological predicates, as they used to say in books that looked pristine, gathering the dusts of time on shelves forlorn, unread by Yasmin LeBong or Adnang Osmang.

To leböng successfully you must be able to tell your quarry stuff that he isn’t capable of verifying himself. It is not a prudent thing for instance to tell him that you are the Blessed Bess, when you are right there in front of him looking more like Adnang Osmang than the Queeng of Englang. The second rule of leböng is that you must be able to make your listener want to believe in even the most incredible yarns that you’ve spun. An expensive suit helps, for instance, when you want to persuade someone that you deal in real estate in Pualu Duyong, but placing also a bow tie that looks vaguely like the Rajah Brooke under your chin will only make him want to think of our former minister for tourism.

People do leböng for different reasons. Some merely want to draw attention that he doesn’t get at home, while others want to draw money from your bank. A man we once knew, who was known simply as Pök Löh Böng, did it just for entertainment, a harmless enough pursuit as he and everyone knew that after all that he’d just be heading for home to help his wife in the making of belacang, a commodity for which Tanjong Ngabbang was then justifiably famous.

Psychologists are divided as to why people commit leböng outside the realm of just having fun, but the name Mat Jenèng comes to mind. Leböng shares many things with nnawök, which sometimes finds expression as bèwök (standardspeak, biawak, the forked tongue lizard) in the manner of rhyming slangs. Politicians are sometimes accused of being nnawök when they are economical with the truth, but to say that he or she is leböng is to say the same and rubbing it in.

An interesting point to note is that whilst leböng sounds like something that hits you in the face, nnawök is also sometimes expressed as pelawök which is the Trengganuspeak version of pelawak the jester of your everyday life. In other words, what he or she says may be taken in jest, but deep within may lie many a word of truth.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Story in Cakes

Cik Abah Demang, badang dia ppeloh lè'ik, dok ddalang gelak, paka lapu tepong pelita, löklik-löklik. Dia dok ddiang, takut anök-anök mari kaca kkölèh, ppala dia mmikir, “O kalulah ada akör kayu keramat buleh buak aku ba'ïk cepat.” Kadang-kadang dia rasa nyöcök ddalang hati sökma, rasa macang kena örang mari löpat tikang denge keris tamèng sari.

“O bilalah aku nök keböh ni, kerja-kerja wajik pong banyök aku dökleh wak!” dia belèbèr ssörang.

Perok dia rasa lèpèng, pah tu badang dia naik panah hangat, mula napök benda hök bukang-bukang. Ttepi telaga rumöh dia ada putri mandi. Pah tu dia napök di jalang bengkang bengkök ke rumah dia ada sörang ppuang, badang dia bulat buöh gömök, rambut serabè, kulit mèröh air nnisang.

Baru dia tahu ni bukang demang lèng, tapi demang benör. Hidong dia rasa ssumbat macang nök selsema. “Kalu dök léh jjalang habihlah nèkbak hidop,” kata Cik Abah, hidong dia makéng tupak.

Bbetolang pulök orang ppuang dia takdök derumöh, gi Kelatang rumöh mök-pök dia. Cik Abah kkenang masa dia gi di nung dulu, ada gok ttepi rumöh, ada banyök tahi iték. Petang-petang gi dok ttepi pata, dalang cahaya matahari örang tèbör pukat napök macang jjala mas.

“Kalu dème tau aku sakit ni dök payöh jjepuk, mesti balik selalu!” kata Cik Abah, ssörang diri.

Ddalang Cik Abah dok mmikir tu lalu sörang Tok Aji serebang biru gatéh basika gi semejid.

Hari döh lèwat petang; di Kelatang, jala ddalang cahaya ggarék döh mula napök macang pukat burok.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Little Lane, A Big Lady

Before our kids got their souls wrapped in Filet-o-Fish™, real fish was the mainstay of Trengganu. We fried it, grilled it, wrapped it in banana leaf and laid it in the wood fire on the shore as the good ships Rawang and Hong Ho trailed a smoke to the harbour.

And then there was Mök Téh Spréng, a woman with flab who beat her ikang panggang (grilled fish) to shreds before dumping it into her mix of vinegar and sugar and chilli. Mök Téh sat there on the lambor of her house in a little lane around the corner from Pök’s hardware store, and she scraped the flesh of green papaya into a little cane container, and as she did so, right hand wielding the metal scraper that moved back and forth on the crunchy papaya, her body bobbed up and down in a very liquid way. This was probably how she earned the nickname ‘spréng’ (spring), the device that gives bounce to a motorcar.

I was looking up the word lambor which Winstedt and Wilkinson (two stalwarts of the old-fashioned Malay dictionary) seem to have missed out. I know lambor to be the open apron of the Trengganu stilted house, where the occupants sat of an afternoon to watch the world go by. In Winstedt and Wilkinson I found another creature, another lambor, a jelly-fish, but I shall put that aside for now.

Looking up Haji Zainal Abidin Safarwan’s ‘Kamus Besar’ (UP&D) I find that lambur (also known as jambur) is the platform where the kitchen is placed in a Malay house. The kitchen is normally on a lower level from the main house, and then from there a few steps down to ground level would take the occupants to the well in the backyard where chicken and ducks roamed free. I have always been of the impression that the lambor is any open platform of a house on stilts.

Looking at Mök Téh Spréng always reminded me of a jelly-fish because of the fluid movement of her body. That’s why I find that other definition of lambor so amusing. Mök Téh sat on her lambor that looked out to the little lane, and there she opened her little röjök shop each afternoon, and that was how she made herself known to all and sundry.

Besides röjök beték Mök Téh also made röjök katéh, a cooked röjök that had parts of the foot of a cow in it. A röjök is generally a Malay salad with peanuts in it perhaps, and plenty of chilli, and vinegar most certainly, and its ingredients are mostly raw. So perhaps röjök katéh, isn’t really a röjök as its ingredients are cooked, and the cow’s foot has to remain for a long time over the fire.

I mentioned these röjöks of Mök Téh Spréng to my friend Ajidol recently, and this is what he had to say (with rivulets of tears probably streaming down his cheeks):
"Sebut pasal röjök MökTéh Spring tuu , rase telior pulök nök makang röjök betik cicang. Dulu kite rajing gi makang di atah selasör tepak diye jjual tu. Kite selalu kate," MökTéh, wi kite kuwoh masang-manih biyar mmbéng sikik, deh? Sebab kite nök nyichöh dengang kerepok keping dan iiruk kuwöh tu."
"Now that you’ve mentioned röjök Mök Téh, I am beginning to yearn for the one made from shreds of green papaya. I used to eat it on Mök Téh’s selasör where she sold it. I used to say to her, 'Oh Mök Téh, can you give me plenty of that sweet and sour sauce because I’d like to dip my kerepok in it and then drink it down later.' "

I think that’s the word I’m looking for in the context of a Trengganu house, selasör, and that’s where Mök Téh sat as we ate and sighed.

Thank you Ajidol!

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Up and Around the Pole

"The staircase as I remember it was painted green and spiralled around a pole that propped up the ceiling. In the semi darkness behind massive doors that led into the closet at the base of the stairs who knew what ghosts lurked there? We ran up the stairs more in fear than enthusiasm, and held on to the spiralling handrail until our heads emerged at the top. The handrail was always bathed in light and dust of many years' neglect, bearing perhaps the footprints of bilals past."
- 'Up To The Drum Tower', GUiT, p.213

This is the winding staircase to the sky
,Spiral Staircase of Masjid Abidin looking frail for its years, but perhaps the handrail was never as stout as I latterly imagined it to be. I remember the treads with holes that we looked through to see the progress of laggard climbers, and then we looked up to the light at the end of the pole. We were going up to the rooftop of Masjid Abidin, to see the rooftops of Kuala Trengganu in the first soft light, subdued colours unintensified by the sun, stillness unbroken by the calls of cake sellers and bell-ringers among the day-break cyclists and trishaw pullers.

Up in the drum tower of the mosque, dry and dusty and cooled by the morning breeze coming in from the sea. Dolloh the muezzin's son showed us the stout cane that he used to beat the hide in a thump-thump-tee-thump beat that preceded the muezzin's call. We looked out above the henna tree of the masjid, to the stretch of road to Kampong Kolam, and turning left, we saw the downward slope to the sea, past Padang Malaya, past the shop of Mutthiah the apong seller; our house was a dot in the yonder, and Ladang was miles away. Kuala Trengganu was such a vast place to a little boy.

I am grateful to my friend Ajidol for taking a peek behind the doors that hid the spiralling stairs, and I am thankful that he had with him his camera that day. This is the green spiralling staircase as I remember it, give or take a few details that got lost in the years. This is memory going up in a whirl.

Thank you Ajidol. Long may your shutter-finger be snap happy!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Theory of Strings

Someone sneaking into the kitchen to return with some paraffin from an oil lamp, someone punching a hole in the bottom of a pok susu*, someone cutting a piece of string.

The string was soaked in paraffin. This was tali guni, from the same material as the hessian sack, pulled dripping wet from the fluid, then knotted in one end and threaded from inside the can into the hole until it emerged outside the tin like a tadpole's tail, attached to a cylindrical head with its mouth opened wide.

“Woooooo,” it went when someone ran the index finger and thumb along the string, quite the most frightful noise on a quiet afternoon. “Wooo-woo-wook!” A wolf caught in a bear trap, a dog yelping out loud as to prick the ears of Wang Ndok, our local one-man voluntary dog catching squad.

String and tins (tèng, as we called them) were useful items. Sometimes, connected together with a length of metal clothes line, we spoke through the can as a friend held his to the ear at the other end. It was a complete waste of time as our voice was loud enough even without the tin-can contraption, but man had the urge to communicate as some wag had said, and Alexander Graham Bell notwithstanding, it was another ten years before the landline telephone became a regular item in our house.

In the meantime, tin-cans and strings were stuff of our daily life, raised as we were, on condensed milk. And Father used to regale us with tales of Che Mat Deli, a man who ate pisang (pisè, I suppose, in his native tongue) with condensed milk in the Besut where Father grew up. Che Mat would've hurled those banana-skins into the rök (bush) I have no doubt, but what did he do with those empty cans? Did he, like Abdul Wahid the drinks vendor outside our gate, fill them up with takeaway tèh or köpi-o to be carried away on strings, like steaming thuribles in rain or sun?

We had tali guni the jute string and tali kerecut that came from sedge. This one stood in a big bundle, looped and ready to be pulled out by the shopkeeper to keep the folds intact in his newspaper-wrapped sugar packets, or coriander seeds bought by the cupak, or shallots that came out of the hessian sacks into newspaper cones that were kept secure by the sedge. This straw-coloured string of long grass (all right, sedge isn't actually a grass) was quite useless for us kids and was rejected even by our goats.

Then came the latter day ersatz thing that was spun together from some petro-chemical stuff that pushed aside all our sedge strings and the jute.We had the rubber band even before that, but even the rubber band wasn't as decisive in the routing out of our old strings as this hideous tali pelastik. That was the beginning of our slide, when Nana Yusof and Alla Puchai our spice vendors began to roll out this garish plastic coloured non bio-degradable twine from a little ball that rolled about before him as the sun was setting on our tali guni and the tali kerecut from pseudo-grass.

Have you ever wondered how long is a piece of string and how long will the rubber-band stretch? Well, not long is the string in the face of those balled-up coloured plastic; but do soak a rubber band in some keresone and you'll be surprised with the result.

*Condensed milk can. The brands in the market were Milkmaid (Cap Junjung), Torch (Cap Api), Dutch Baby, and Coins (Cap Pitis).

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Kamaruddin Maidin

We were in our primary school when Kamaruddin Maidin wowed the country with his triple jumping skills. It was something that one could not just brush aside as a bit of news in the newspaper. Kuala Trengganu was a small town with fishing boats and snail-powered trishaws, and the smell of kerepok and belacan in the air on a breezy day. But that our own son was going to Rome to represent Malaysia in the 1960 Olympics was something out of the ordinary. He made us all proud that day.

Kamaruddin Maidin, our Kamarudéng Maidéng, Kamaruddin Maidinson of an equally famous father, the flamboyant Trengganu court pleader Maidin Loyar, died at the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Kuala Terengganu , aged 66, last Sunday April 19th.

We all spoke of Kamaruddin Maidin when he went to Rome for Trengganu, we read about him in the Asia Magazine and the national newspaper, and then we knew that we had lost him to the outside world. In Trengganu, anyone from outside were orang luar, outsiders, and our Kamaruddin had gone from the confines of the playing field of our Sultan Sulaiman School to the world beyond our borders. But we were proud that he had made the name Kuala Trengganu known to those folk in Kuala Lumpur, if not the world.

Kamaruddin was a handsome lad, the heart-throb of the senior wing of our Sultan Sulaiman School. He had hair that reminded us of a famous singer, and boy he made us famous as a nasi dagang-fed local lad who went to Rome to compete for the world title.

Rest in peace, Kamarudéng, you did us all proud at the Sultang Slemang Skol. Alfatihah.

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