On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Minyök Pök Ali

This is the minyök that Pök Ali Yunang (Ali Zhang bin Idris) concocted in his shop, in a row of shophouses that is now demolished. The minyök was a popular remedy for aches, wind and the general under the weather conditions that visited folk in daily life. I obtained a bottle recently in Kuala Lumpur and am happy to report that the Pök Ali family are still making it for the market.

To read more about Pök Ali and how the Chinese Muslims arrived in Kuala Trengganu, read my earlier blog Snapshots of the Past and Hui Hui and Other People

The short stretch of road where Pök Ali kept his shop was known as Jalan Kampung Daik where now stands the Kuala Trengganu Fire Brigade and there is also a little musolla that we in our family referred to as "surau orang pasör", prayer house of the market people. Across the road from the Fire Brigade were Ah Chen, our family tailor [see Growing Up In Trengganu #197,325], and, just before the little bridge (known as the geretök) if you're coming from the White Mosque, was our shop of delights, the Keda BBunga (the flowered shop) where a Chinese man whom Mother called Awang sold oranges and lychees, Chinese pears and apples from colder climes. He also had glass jars of fruits, preserved in China, and they came in garish colours. And there was also something dried and squashed that had the feel of leather, and covered in white dust. We called it buöh ssemök which we took home and soaked in water for a few hours to bring it back to life. I later discovered that it was actually dried Japanese kaki fruit, or what we sometimes called pisang kaki in Malay.

I am grateful to alManar for giving us a wonderful account of life in this corner of town in the 1940s [see, Comments. to my blog Time for a Tower, below].

Geretök Note:
Whilst geretök is the accepted Trengganuspeak word for bridge, ttiang is the word used in everyday language. For instance, my mother used to refer to that spot where the Keda Bbunga stood as atah ttiang, meaning "on the bridge". Ttiang is no doubt from the standardspeak titian, a word that conjures a picture of someone balancing himself/herself on a dead tree trunk laid across a rivulet. Put a bundle of goods wrapped in a batik sarong on the head of a woman balancing herself on the ttiang, and you'll understand what mishap bored children prayed for on a dull day in the villlage. The bridge over the water in Jalan Kampung Daik was no mean bridge, but it was still tttiang for Trengganu folk. There was, I think, another ttiang in Banggol, known widely as Ttiang Banggol, and you can't fault them for that.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Time for a Tower

They put up a clock tower in the sixties, during the reign of Sultan Ismail and the Menteri Besar was Ibrahim Fikri. And then they pulled it down again in later years, and broke the parts and filed the clockwork and its faces and hands under 'F' for Favre Leuba.

The clock tower wasn't of much use as a time-keeper as it showed a confusing array of times: one for the market people and another for the folk in Kedai Pök Löh Yunang and Mr Fernandez, who was himself a watch dealer. For the people in Kampung China it would have been three, while in Kampung Daik we were all hurrying out of Keda Bbunga as it was already nearly half past the hour of four.

In Ramadhan we relied not on the clock and its jumbled-up time, but on the bell - the Genta - on Bukit Puteri.

There's little that we knew of it, nor how much it cost, or if it was out-sourced to a private agent or chosen from a catalogue of towers and clocks by a civil servant sitting in the Pejabak Jang Besör. But it appeared one day in a spot cleared and levelled, at the intersection of Jalan Kedai Payang, Jalan Kampung Datuk and Jalan Kampung Daik that led to the white mosque with the drum in the loft amid tall towers.

People looking back from here now are sometimes confused between the Jang Besör (Jam Besar, the Big Clock) and the Pejabak Jang Besör (Pejabat Jam Besar, the Office With the Big Clock). The latter was a wooden construction of government offices, standing on stilts on loose sand in which nested the ant lion or our dear little Cik Ru. The office stood on the spot roughly in the back of the present day stadium in Jalan Paya Bunga. The Jang Besör was our clock tower, a latter day introduction, that sat in the commercial district - the clackety clack and the general hubub of the Kedai Payang market, and the more genteel atmosphere among the bookshelves of Pök Löh Yunang and the ticking hours in Fernandez shop and the glamour of the Redi Photo Studio in downtown Kuala Trengganu.

The Pejabak Jang Besör was shaded by casuarina trees and looked out in one direction to the vast expanse of an old cemetery with its rows and rows of round stones plucked out from the sea and half buried as grave markers in this sandy soil. One side was the Sekölöh Paya Bunga and the house of Tuan Haji (later Datuk) Salleh bin Awang (Misbaha) the historian of Trengganu, and then, looking towards Tanjong, there was the Istana Kolam of Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah, the birthplace of the Trengganu gamelan and its joget that became known as the Joget Gamelan Trengganu.

These shadows from the past are probably dancing still to the ethereal, flashing timbres of the gamelan (as Robert Godet, Debussy's friend, once described it) on this piece of hallowed ground that is now filled with sounds of quotidian life and the buzz of its high rise people.

People are gathered in this picture on the day, perhaps, when the clock was launched, and it is hard to imagine it all now. This was before the fire station, yet to be built on the vast space where the people are standing (and Mat Sprong is among them if you look carefully). Avert your eyes to the left and you'll find them raised to the rooftops of the row of fine shophouses, now demolished. And I find it hard to believe that the clock tower started life in a space so vast when all I can remember is the clock on a little traffic isle, circumambulated by mini-lorries and trishaws and bicycles; people we watched as we sat at the coffee shop in the corner, eating breakfast of toasted roti bata and satay.

Photo Credit: Thank you

Read Also:
Light Over Trengganu.
Long March of the Cik Ru
Wind Over Troubled Water
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
Fruits and Needles

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Man Who Came In From the Sea

From Sulawesi he came to us; he was probably caught in a mighty storm while out fishing at sea, and blown to Trengganu shore.

On land he married a local lady and fathered at least one child. He called himself Bachok, a common name among Bugis men. In Lembing Awang Pulang ke Dayang (Awang's spear returns to Dayang), a tragic tale of disappointment and love lost among the the Bugis (Sulawesi) community in Parit Raja, Muar, in the second half of the 18th century, a man called Awang came home from his travels to marry his love Dayang, but found her on the eve of her marriage, to another guy called Bachok.

Awang turned up at the wedding and stabbed Bachok with a spear that was given to him by the Raja of Bugis. In the throes of death Bachok in turn pierced his best man with it, and the latter passed it on to another, and that person to another and so on until the spear found 99 victims. The last to receive the spear in his body was Dayang's father, who died valiantly while protecting his daughter, and who resisted the spear's demonic will to be passed on to another. And so ended this killing orgy.
In our story in Kuala Trengganu, Bachok appeared from the sea and then married a local girl, and became a part of our community. In life he probably thought often of his native land when he looked out from Tanjong to the South China Sea, but he never once returned to it. According to my brother who went to school with his son, towards the end of his life Bachok expressed a desire to visit his village in Sulawesi once more, but he died soon after and was buried in Kuala Trengganu.

He lived close to the shore and often walked past our house on his way to the pasar (the Tanjong market). His attire was the trademark of our brawn brigade, men whose work deployed and developed their muscles. He wore khaki shorts, and wrapped a sarong over it that hung like a skirt above his knees. Then a cummerbund of another sarong around the waist, and a head-wrap that we in the East Coast knew as the semutar. He was shirtless on hot days, and wore a T-shirt in cool weather.

One day he stopped in front of our house with a sharp golokin his waistband. "Stand back!" he warned everybody, as he scaled a tall coconut tree right to the top, as effortlessly as if the trunk was lying horizontal. And then from the top would come down coconut leaves, the spear-like shoot, the soft heart of the palm, and coconuts began to bounce at the foot of the tree.

With his legs wrapped to the trunk, Bachok would chop off a section of the tree, and then he'd moved down and lop off another, and so on in his descent until he reached the ground and the coconut tree was no more. He'd put the golok back to his waist-band as he moved about to put all the bits and pieces of the former tree into a pile.

And that's what Bachok did for us, he was the feller of our ailing coconut tree.

Photo courtesy of Ajidoel.

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