On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Back In the Shop

When a drake files across the ocean there comes back a quack-quack, so goes a German proverb.

In KL I had little access to the internet, which was blissful in a sense, and I texted more than I spoke on the mobile phone, which was useful for contacts with home. And for a complete novice who'd never had a mobile phone there were many trying moments, like where to look for the exclamation mark when the moment called for one, and how to switch off the wretched phone's busy-body 'dictionary'function that jumped to alarming conclusions with every letter that I typed. But I spoke to many people and re-united with many friends. I'd like to thank them all for their care and warmth.

We arrived smack in the middle of the wedding season, Kak Teh and I. So we attended many kenduri and functions. Not the least of which was that of our dear family member Azril who wedded his lovely lady Kamalia when we were in town. They exchanged vows at the Shah Alam Mosque and regrouped three times, guests and family members, in Putrajaya and in Bangi the serene, and then in a place somewhere in the back of the Zoo Negara where the tiger winked at passing family members. It must have been a greeting of sorts.

I am grateful to you too for continuing to comment in my last blog even when there were no updates.

I took the express bus to Kuala Trengganu and enjoyed the trip. It was sad though that the bus no longer stopped at Mentakab and Temerloh and Kuantan nor crossed bridges over rivers that swelled during the monsoon months. Pahang is blessed with many mighty rivers, and magnificent prawns in Mentakab and the buzz of Kuantan life. Father worked at the General Post Office in Kuantan as a telegraph operator for a short time in our early school years, and we became Kuantanites for all of six months. Many things about Kuantan are etched in my mind: Datuk Keramat, Tuan Gila the white settler and a shrine-like place in the middle of town where an urn containing cold tea was daily filled up by persons unknown. Two metal cups were chained to the block of stone where sat the urn, and above it, a notice in Chinese - which I couldn't read - and in Jawi that said 'Minum teh tidak kena wang' {"Drink tea for free."). I remember this distinctly as 'wang' (money} was spelt without the alif vowel for 'ah' which was unusual; but Jawi can cope quite well with its vowels dropped. I was then registered in the lower primary class at the Sekolah Melayu Segambut, fenced by sturdy oil palm trees to greet us each morning when we walked in to do some gardening as a prelude to our daily school work.

Travelling to Trengganu was a pleasure mixed with much sadness. Much of the forestry between Karak and Kuantan have been cleared, but the scenery can be breathtaking in many ways. I slept little and was looking out of the window throughout. I was thankful that I had chosen to journey by day for, as soon as we entered Trengganu, the heart leapt with joy from seeing villages and villagers, and school-children with fresh faces boarding the bus at various stops, probably to return to their boarding schools in or near the state capital. The long stretch of coastal road from Kemaman to Kuala Trengganu was an exhilarating sight, and you'll have noticed that I keep referring to Trengganu not Terengganu, for it was Trengganu that I was returning home to, full stop.Writing Workshop at the SSSS
Lost Soul in a Happy Crowd I
With students of the Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School
In Kuala Trengganu I did mini writing workshops at two schools, the Chung Hwa Wei Sin, where I met two groups of very enthusiastic school children over two days; and at my beloved Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School where the students were no less enthusiastic and some, I am happy to note, are lovers of books. I am grateful to Mr Seah, Headmaster of the Chung Hwa and to Puan Zaiton, the Senior Assistant of the SSSS and to the teachers of both schools for being such wonderful hosts.Writing Workshop at the Chung Hwa Wei Sin
Lost Soul in A Happy Crowd II
With Students of the Chung Hwa Wei Sin
It was great to re-connect with family members in Kuala Trengganu. Abang Hasan of Almanar and Kak Mah tolerated me for two days in their beautiful seaside house in Pengkalan Maras, and my cousin Azmi and his wife Na took me on breakfast trips to Kuala Ibai (for the nasi dagang) and to places I cannot now locate on the map, and then they took me to Trengganu's famous ICT, Ikang Celup Tepong, fresh fish fried in batter, on a breezy coastal road near the airport.

One day as I was walking in Kampung China looking for old landmarks (they are all gone of course, the Sumbu ice kacang stall, the Capitol and the Sultana, and the old Chee Seek book-shop and Mök Mèk's ceranang shop in the back), I came across my old classmate Chua Chee Peng just leaving his place of work for his tea break. We sat under a big tree and sipped tea and talked and talked.

Three years ago, in happier times, Kak Teh and I flew in to Kuala Terengganu in December for the launch of GUiT. We called the event the Monsoon Cuppa, but sadly now the old venue is gone, the whole row of shop houses is now in fact a pile of broken bricks. No longer is there my schoolmate Kho Sheue Fei in the Redi photo shop, or my friend How Kok Kong next door to Pök Löh's bookshop. These are the shops that gave Kedai Payang its distinct character; and another row just across the road was demolished a long time ago, by mindless developers who think nothing of history and heritage for just a few hundred thousand bucks in their pockets. I am minded to curse them all, but they are all cursed already by a lack of heart and good taste and by greed.

I met also two other classmates Ajidol and Mat Mbong who accompanied me on a tour of the town and then to the talk at our alma mater in Kuala Ibai. Just a couple of days ago when I spoke on the phone to my friend Mat he said something that really touched my heart. "It was good to be able to tour the town with you in our carefree way," he said. "I felt like I was young again."

My trip back to Malaysia was arranged by another schoolmate at the SSSS, the wonderful lady To' Puan Rosita and her tireless son Tengku Zainal, for the launch of To' Puan's beautiful coffee table book, Kulit Manis. The book is all about Trengganu and Terengganu and her people and recipes. I salute them both for that, and to MAS for providing us the tickets.

The To' Puan invited us not once but twice to her house to taste her exquisite dishes - nasi dagang and nasi telur and many, many cakes of old Trengganu. At these joyful gatherings I met once again the lady who taught us English in Standard 4 at the Sultan Sulaiman Primary School, Mrs Diana Yeoh and her very talented artist husband Mr Yeoh Jin Leng. Mr Yeoh, a notable among Malaysian artists, also taught art at the SSSS, and he has in his collection still, many paintings of Kuala Trengganu in the fifties and sixties. I understand an exhibition is in the making for the latter part of this year and I wish them every success.Razak the Trengganu-born ArtistI met also my good friend Pokku at these functions and then again at his favourite dining room, the Selero Nogori at the Amcorp Mall where he dines frequently with his amusing and talented musician friend Cikgu Razak. There was another Razak whose wife makes probably the best Trengganu bubur lambok in Kuala Lumpur while he himself is no mean painter at the canvas. I met him through our To' Puan who made sure that I met all the Sulaimanians in her address book.

And so to all of them, Sulaimanians or not, my deepest gratitude. To Mat Som, whose abiding interest in education warms my heart and whose help came quite freely even in the knowledge that I had no means to reciprocate, and to my brother Abdul Rahim Kamil who put up a special marquee in front of Father's old Gombak house Family Breakfastto celebrate the Mawlid and for us to have a jolly breakfast in it in the morning after, and to my sister Asma who made sure that I was comforted by sweet memories of old Trengganu - hati sokma and jjala mas and akök and to all their wonderful children; and to my other family in Bangi, my wife's people, spirited eaters and joyful company. Many, many thanks. And to my friend the Pizzaman, Abdul Karim Omar and his delightful family, and to my former Tanjong neighbour Che Ali who met me on arrival at the bus terminus. God bless you all dear friends, mentioned here or no, till we meet again if the Almighty wills it so.

Labels: , , , , , ,