On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Long Way From the Shore

While walking in West London this morning something astonishing appeared in my footstep. I recognised it at once as the buöh gömök of Old Trengganu, as we used to collect from the shore of Ujong Tanjong among the debris brought down by the waters from upstream, and then washed ashore by the waves at the kuala.

I don't know how this buöh gömök came to West London, but looking at it closely I saw that an eyelet had been embedded into it to take a string or lanyard. In fact, if you look closely at the photo you'll see there a bit of string still, so I suspect that this seed has been swung around, served as a pendant, or has knocked many times against another in the manner of ye old British conkers. It may have been brought here by someone from the West Indies, or it could have dropped from the pocket of a passing East Coast Malaysian (Pak Zawi?), or someone who's been to a US department store.

The buöh gömök is what's called buöh beluru in Kelantan (as I was told by Pak Zawi), and in Trengganu I suspect that mighty gömök trees grew along the riverbanks, upstream in the ulu where nobody but woodcutters and the Sang Kelambai ventured to go. If you see woodcutters in the wild, do, by all means, say hello, but if an elderly woman crosses your path in the woods, never give her the time of day, as she may be the Sang Kelembai whose glare will petrify you. And there you shall be, under the gömök tree, immobilised and unrescued, for ever more.

This gömök seed is a native of the old world tropics that embrace parts of India, the Philippine islands and the Nusantara, as well as some parts of China. Botanically it is known as Entada phaseoloides, and it has cousins and brothers in Africa (where it is known as E. rheedei) and in the New World (E. gigas). The gigas variety is hard and shiny brown just like our gömök but is also intriguingly heart-shaped. The entada comes in seed pods, much like our petai (Parkia speciosa ), and the Entada gigas holds the record for having the world's longest pod, some stretching to six feet in length.

Entada seeds must be among the world's most resilient. The heart-shaped gigas, coming adrift from South America, are carried by the currents to shores as far away as Norway. The phaseoloides visited us in Tanjong after being knocked about in the spiralling waters in the monsoon months, and in the United States, phaseoloides and rheedi seeds are sold in department stores, for use as anchoring base for dry flower arrangements, and as playthings for young minds uncorrupted by computer games and the telly. In Trengganu we picked these seeds from the shore, we spat on them and polished them and filled them with lead, and we used them as our kör.

The kernel of the gömök is used for medicine in many cultures, and the African variety, the rheedei, is also known as the Dream Seed for the hallucinogenic inducing properties of its kernel. In Tanjong we used to bore a hole on the side of the E. phaseoloides with a gimlet (ggörèk) and we'd leave the seed out overnight for ants to feed on and probably get high to the eyeballs on the kernel. The empty shell is then filled with heavy metal, long before heavy metal became the anthem of the sozzled.

Kernel Note: Please don't try anything suggested in the last paragraph at home as the results may scare you more than the petrifying stare of Sang Kelembai.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who Moved the Clock?

Click on photo to enlarge
There's one Fiat chug-a-lug, two Morris Minors, a Volvo 122s (I think) and trishaws several. This is how the clock tower roundabout looked on a busy day - and it's five past eleven on the Kampung Daik side, but the time has fallen on the face that looks to the coffee shop that sold breakfast of toasts and satay. And there's a lone motorcyclist riding perhaps a Honda or Yamaha.

The clock tower has been moved to this new location to make way for the brave new Pasar kedai Payang that you can see behind the tree.

This photo was taken after the one we've seen below [Time for a Tower]. This was probably Kedai Payang in the sixties, with that tree that is sheltering all those cars that belonged probably to civil servants and teachers. And what's most amazing for me is this is my first glimpse, after a long time, of that row of old Kedai Payang shop houses - demolished long before the one across the road - that had the Duyung Ikhwan general trader, a batik and a kitab shop and a few more that I cannot now recall.

But who or what was STOPA?

I think the hanging frames on the end of the building showed that there was once there a hoarding, or they were probably preparing to put one up there now, to hide the STOPA forever behind some exhortations for us to drink more Tonic Cap Gajah, or to buy Dunlopillo for a good night's rest, or even to Go Superwell, Go Supershell.

I don't remember what the Chinese shop at the end of the row sold, can anyone read the Chinese characters on the signboard?

Photo Credit: Cik Qaleh, for whom a big thank you.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Looking Back to the Sea

Now that the hot months are here, let's feel once again the rustling of winds in the coconut leaves and on the green waxed-paper umbrellas and on our skin as we walk to the beach to hear the roar of the mighty waves.

The monsoon's not as fierce as we used to know, but this photograph above was taken by my friend Ajidul in the blustery months of last year. There's not a boat in sight in the water, not a soul on the shore's golden sands. We were all curled up in bed, or on the veranda, sipping hot kopi-oh with boiled tapioca dipped in sugar or shreds of fresh coconut sprinkled with salt. That's salt that came in sacks woven from leaves by some dainty hands in Thailand, or Siam as we still called it, and brought in by the big boat under the charge of our neighbour Wang Mang. He brought in rice too, and roof tiles from Senggora, and some blonde seaweeds that must have got entangled in the nets of Thai fishermen, and when it came to us we soaked it in water and bathed it in vinegar mixed with chilli and sugar, and we called it kerabu sèrè. Kerabu sèrè was fine if you had a penchant for such things, but for us kids, we simply scopped out the sauce with the curl of the fried kerepok (fish crackers) and felt the sour and the hot and the sweet at the first crack of the cracker in our mouth, and we left the stringy, rubbery sèrè for the delectation of the adults.

Monsoon months came fast and furious, and debris and weeds and logs were swept down to our shore on the milky water from the ulu, and our pantai dropped in bits into the gushing surf, a mixture of the down-flowing river from our inland and the incoming waves from the churning sea. Hujung Tanjong was in danger of disappearing, and the huts along the shore looked very frail.

But soon the hot months will be here again, and the sea that looked intent on swallowing us will calm down as the fishermen hang their sarong wraps and move out once again to the sea.

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