On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1. How to Be...Mmusang

Beginning a new series...Number one, How to be...Mmusang

Whilst it is not always easy to keep a cool head under a hot songkok, and to keep yours (the head that is) when everyone around you is losing theirs, people who are mmusang keep a fox under their hat and it pops out to bite the head off anyone who asks.Angry Woman, by Jules Feiffer

There's disagreement extant if a mmusang person is made or born, is it nature or is it that pair of ill-fitting bras? This is a difficult one as the very person who ought to know is loath to answer the question and is himself/herself too busily engaged with the passing trade. “What is it that makes you so mmusang Mök Nöh?” Begorrah or I'll shove this södèk up your back!

Mmusang, is a funny word as it is supposedly born in the wild, from musang, the fox. This is a strange aetiology as the foxes that I know are mostly cunning and running, but never snarly or hot-tempered. To be mmusang is to be fox-like, perhaps because in old Trengganu foxes were like that, snarling and hissing at our forefathers when they met in the rök [bush] or beneath their houses where the musang would be looking with lip-smacking desire at the gok [the hen house].

To be really mmusang you'll need a face to match, not fox-like, with incisors sticking out of the corners of the mouth and assorted feathers dangling from the chin, but just the pained look of someone who's seen an unripe mango and taken an injudicious bite. A uniform is not necessary, but a pair of underpants that's two sizes too small might produce wonderful results (but is not recommended for newly-weds wishing to sire kids).

Once so predisposed, the world's your bad oyster and the country's your grudge. Some practise their art in a shop, mewling and puking behind bales of goods; some at the counters of post offices or in the park where they bite heads off passing lads.

An old curmudgeon that I knew passed his days in the little surau near our house where he once asked for some sheets of paper after a feast to wrap some unfinished food. An innocent bystander tore half a page from the newspaper he was reading, only to get a funny old look from the curmudgeon and this hasty riposte, “What' s this good for then, to wrap my p*ick?”

That degree of mmusang needs a life-time of cultivation, but if you persist and practise, you'll soon be there, manner and words, and you too will soon be wanting to wrap your own personal goods.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seven Days After Raya

Just as the last hurrah was fading and the day as dead as the dödöl bits carried by the procession of ants on the window sill, Father would invite his masjid mates to the house for Raya Nang.

Raya Nang took place seven days after Eid-ul-Fitri that ended the Ramadhan, on a bland and quite ordinary kind of day that would start for us with the usual trip to Pök Löh's coffee shop for the roti canai, and starched school uniform, and the homework stuffed into our school satchels, and a stepping into the freshly blancoed pair of shoes kind of day. And then Father would appear on the stairs, smiling, with friends trailing behind him, the usual list of suspects that included Pök Awang Dato' Balai, Pök Lèh Kastang, Pök Hamid Pelayang Masjid (the mosque steward), Che Ali Orang, and another called simply Che Da Baik, after his good manners and nature.

On occasions such as this Father brought home a motley crowd from the mosque, and its baffling train of cognomenclature. They were each tagged by family, trade, mien, or profession (past or present), a simple enough rule to follow, except perhaps, for Che Ali Orang, whose choice of personal pronoun, i.e. 'orang' for 'myself', became part of his name. They'd sit down in our surung, the forward part of our house that commanded a view of the Tanjong market, and they'd chat about trivial matters, or banter a bit under a portrait of Dato' Mata Mata that had been hanging there in front of our house for as long as I could remember.

Raya Nang was Hari Raya plus plus, Raleigh Gentleman's Bicyclefor adults who added six days of extra fasting after the feast of the first of Shawwal that ended the puasa month. It was for Father, the last feast before moving back to the daily grind, of work at the Telegraphic Office and cycling back home for a short nap and lunch, and then back again to the teleprinter work till the yellowing light of late afternoon cast long shadows on the dusty ground of the Trengganu Bus terminus across the road. He'd come home and lean his bicycle against the pillar, a Raleigh Gentleman's with its hard Brook's saddle and Miller's dynamo that shone many a bright light on Kuala Trengganu's nooks and corners in the after hours.

Just as I was about to leave for school Mother would roll out the mengkuang mat in the inner room, and the white serving sheet. She'd lay on it a large tray of nasi ulam (rice with village herbs), and nasi dagang too, if the mood took her, with its accompanying dish of tuna in turmeric, chilli and coconut milk, and then the agar-agar and buah ulu and akok to mop up the bite of the chilli and the savoury aftertaste of the main meal.

Into the further reaches of the land where the kuala became the darat, Raya Nang was probably taken with greater fervour than in our house, but for us it was an austere adults only affair of thanksgiving with a tinge of sadness that another page was torn from the devotional calendar. Just as traffic on Jalan Pantai was building up and the early rays of the morning light were caught on the chrome handlebars of passing trishaws, when Mek Baldi the kapok and utensils dealer in front of our house was taking out her cylinders of fluff and enamelled utensils, the water-bowl would be passed around in our house, and then the hand towel. The visitors would rise with an Alhamdulillah!* and a burp, as Father bade them farewell at the door.

Soon Father would be pedalling to work, on his Raleigh Gentleman's bicycle. It was an ordinary working day, the seventh day mini-feast that we called Hari Raya Orang Tua, a day of celebration for the Elders.

*Praise be to God!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Selamat Hari Raya

Basmallah by Chinese calligrapher Haji Noor Deen MiGuangjianggEid Mubarak by Unknown calligrapher
Maaf Zahir Bathin. Selamat Hari Raya Eid-ul-Fitri.
Selamat Hari Lebaran Ibu-Ibu dan Bapak-Bapak Sakalian.

From the family of Kècèk-Kècèk
& Mat Spröng (nök tupang rètèk)


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Exotica In Replica

Looking at his Brave New World Terengganu after reading my blog entry Folk Who Live on the Shore, Almanar, had this to say:

We may soon see miniatures of world famous bridges along your old Tanjong, strung up end to end all the way to Pulau Wan Man.
I took that very seriously even if, in jest, I did suggest a replica of the Brooklyn with a life-sized model of Mekyam on the walkway, in her NY gear. But in these heady days of Terengganu, life does imitate art imitating life, even if we do not know what Nature meeting Heritage means. But we cannot put anything past them. Just look at that array of replicas on the river if you need to shudder.

And then I got this interesting graphic Raya greeting card from my friend Azman Ramli. Shudder now all ye who enter here:
Thank you Pak Azman, and A blessed Hari Raya to you all!

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Folk Who Live on the Shore

The coastal edge of our part of town laid flat against the sea's edge, with strong winds blowing in our face for most of the hot season and then the long blasts of the monsoon gale during the end of year, that brought in lashes of spray and the roar of the sea in turmoil. Bukit Putri stood like a paperweight over the thin green of Padang Malaya, and distant coconut trees in Tanjong Mengabang waved and curled in the blowing wind, as the market of Kedai Payang became just a blur in the pouring rain, oblivious to the flashing beacon on the hilltop that winked to ships at sea.

Sometimes our tall house swayed a little in the incoming storm, when the nipah roof over our kitchen became entangled in the swoop of the wind to let in lightning flashes from the rumbling sky. We were all at the brink, a part known to us as Ujong Tanjong, the edge of land and the beginning of the sea. On calm days, folk stopped at the coffee shed of Köhéng and then later, Wang Ndok's, on the calm edge of the lagoon that stood between us and the shore. On calm days, Che Ngöh Buloh sank his feet in the brackish mud, to make rafts of sasök split bamboo that were widely used in Tanjong as fencing material. Bamboo and mud and heaps of dark grit left by mud skippers in this playground of the ikang ddukang [belukang to posh folk from Western shores], a fish with a sharp needle standing proud on its dorsal; fish and bamboo and skippers and mud all worked together to give this part a peculiar pong that became the stenchmark of these bamboo weavers.

We had many artisans in our Tanjong, but Wang Ndok was our artist who, one calm night just after Hari Raya, stood on the stage specially built on oil barrels on the shore and surprised us all with his performance of a modern homespun melodrama. Later in life, soon after Köhéng had put all his thick tea cups and saucers into a box and into storage, Wang Ndok surprised us all again by exorcising the thespian spirit from his body and filled into the gap a penchant for tèh. He sold tèh tarik and pulut lepa and beleda set in little glasses, and kopi-oh and Milo in a steaming mix of condensed milk and sugar in his shed of corrugated iron on the shore.

This was the back-end of Tanjong Pasar, which is no more, where our kinsman Kör played marathon matches of dam [draughts] with friends and complete strangers on the low veranda of his house and stopped only when the cockerels came out to crow and the fishermen were pushing their boats out into the red glow of dawn at sea. His younger brother Mat returned from there long before I became aware of anything, and then he was out there not as a fisherman but as a man of the merchant navy. Much later in life, when he was still gadding about in the khaki shorts of his maritime life, he came to live under the front stairs of our house, a corner that he shared with uncle Retnam, lime pickle-maker extraordinaire and retired linesman from Father's Telecoms Office near Jalan Banggol.

Che Ngöh and Kör and Mat and Retnam and Köhéng have long left us, and recently I heard that Wang Ndok too has been taken from this mortal coil. But bits of Tanjong are still there, flapping in the wind that is now blowing less fiercely, but still pinned to the earth, nevertheless, by the weight of Bukit Putri. A large chunk of Ujong Pasir had dropped into the sea aeons ago, and recently, when I was taken on a tour there by Cikgu Wan Chik, my school teacher from Sekoloh Ladang, I saw sad faces and derelict houses, and a society uncared for.

The Trengganu (now Terengganu) government that is flush with oil funds has no plans to improve their lot or keep them there and let them thrive where Wang Ndok once trod the boards, where Che Ngöh Buloh made his pagör sasök and Köhéng poured out cups and cups of tea. Where Mat the sailor came home to shore, where Pök kept his hardware shop, where Kör played dam till folk with goods came from the ulu.

They are even now awaiting the hour to pull down these houses and break down these folks on the shore and then move them all as far away as possible from the sea; and then let in Starbucks and megamalls and car parks and the rumble of 4WDs and tourists in their silly hats that will frighten away the ghouls that are still clinging to the ghostly roots of ancient trees.

See Also:
Jejak Awang Goneng 1 - 5, Start viewing from here.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Taste of Many Colours

Wavy edged and a coat of crystallised sugar; water, scent and colour, and pandan flavour; glistening in the month before Raya.

In GUiT [p.17], I mentioned them dropping from the sky at noon-time, when the rumble of the mosque drum pushed them off the roof where they were drying out in the sun. Beleda of red and green, transluscent opal or the pure white of bleached agar-agar.beleda keringThe beleda is food from the sea, made from agar-agar, which is sea vegetable, that came to our Trengganu market in bunches of what looked like long stalks of discoloured plastic, bunched and rolled in a page of newspaper. It had the weight of insect's wings, so we did not go out to the shops to buy more than a few tahils of agar-agar. At home the stalks were thrown into a pot of boiling water, where they melted almost immediately. We thought it was a miracle that on a very hot day in between Borneo and some of those isles where the agar-agar is said to be native, the entire agar-agar crop does not melt en masse and turn the churning sea in to a huge blob of sea-coloured beleda.

Mother made her agar-agar early in the fasting month of Ramadhan. A huge brass pot was heaved out from her store, brushed of cobwebs and cleaned with the acid of tamarind paste, and then placed over a smoky wood fire. I used to watch this manufacturing process not for what was happening to the agar-agar, but for the froth that was coming out from the unburnt end of the firewood, pushed out by the fire beneath the pot.

The agar-agar, now melting and simmering in the water, was given the food colour and a half kati of sugar, maybe, for company. There may be a blade of pandan leaf too in the pot, and then a few drops of green that reminded me of the rust that was scrubbed out of the brass when the pot was taken out from its dark corner. The resulting thick liquid was then poured into a flat, rimmed tray, and then this process of agar-agar making was repeated, another pot of liquid agar-agar so thick that a fly could walk on it (once it had cooled down I must say), but now of a different colour. And then another one, to be poured into another tray, of blue, or pure white, or the blood-red agar-agar that stood out in the tray.

Once they were set in the trays, still moist but now solid in texture, the agar-agar was cut into small pieces with a serrated cutter. We were seeing now the beginnings of our beleda kering (dried beleda), arranged in circles on large round trays, to be taken out into the noon sun to dry.

There are always plates of beleda kering on our Eid or Hari Raya. Crystals of transluscent stone of many colours, laid out besides the nasi kapit (compressed rice) and the akök and roti jala. We children always went for the agar-agar as our hors d'oeuvre, as the beleda kering with its coat of crystallised sugar gave a a nice crunchy feel in the mouth as the teeth crushed it into a pulp of sweetness and perhaps more than a whiff of the aroma of the vanilla essence and the Hari Raya of yesteryear.

Recently, back from a short trip to Malaysia, my sister packed two plastic boxes of beleda kering for me and I have been munching on them in between iftar and the tarawih prayers, and the taste took me back to days of many moons ago and many colours.

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