On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Head Noises and Ferry Tales

A Map of Trengganu will be out in April. Here's a sneak preview from one of the places on the map, where a prehistoric monster ruled the water:

Everything stopped at Bukit Datu: lorries, cars and motorcyclists and pedestrians, bicycles and the red and yellow buses of Kuala Trengganu. Suddenly the head-banging noises of the snarling engine, whining and roaring at every gear-change, the desultory talk of people trying to get over the maddening whirr, and then everything came to a standstill.
Everyone got off the bus, now on brakes and tilting dangerously with the incline towards the river. Travellers had sounds in their heads that defined their journey, children slept as soon as the bus pulled out of the terminal, but even in their sleep they heard the roar and the chatter and when the monster ground to a halt, the silence became even louder.

I have walked many unsteady times down to the water's edge, head emptying of discordant noises and bleary eyed after the sleep when the road meandered through padi fields and the bus drove past country houses on stilts, huddling close to each other. People, there were always people moving about, around and in the middle of nowhere: women with baskets on their heads, men scything grass in open fields, children and their mothers with timba for bailing water from the wells. They were crossing the road and walking towards the trees beyond the padi fields to their homes among the hills and the belukar. When the bus moved it whisked you into somnolence's revolving door, coming in and out between sleep and wakefulness, taking you into dark places and bringing you back into broad daylight. And then the noises of your dreams became intermingled with voices raised in conversation, the grind of metal, the fumes of diesel.

Bukit Datu was the farewell to Kuala Trengganu, even if there was Kuala Trengganu still on the other side of the river. Disorientation took its grip very quickly when you woke up in the bus and saw that everything was standing still and there were birds flying as birds do when there's a body of water, sometimes a cawing sound, a kite maybe, high in the air, and cutting across the flow was the river ferry.

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