Monday, September 26, 2011

The Classic (Malay) Pantuns

Can you recognize the classic (original) Malay pantuns? Yes, for some, not for the others. For sure I would not be able to translate this into English the way George A Fowler did.

Pandan Island lies far out at sea
its sight by Angsa Isle conceals
However broken the body may be
Kindness is always the balm that heals

In the meadow there is a spring
surely you may use it to bathe in
if many years my life doth bring
Then surely, too, we will meet again

The sun moves west in a sky so blue
soon the cattle must come home
It was so very long I looked for you
why, oh why, did I ever start to roam?

Whence comes the lowly leech?
From the paddy field to the brook
Whence comes the love's speech?
From the eyes falls to the heart's nook

Excerpt taken from the classic Malay Indonesian novel, Sitti Nurbaya, written by Marah Rusli, and translated by George A Fowler.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

National Anthem - The Australian Experience

There has been a lot of debate and discussion of late on the Malayan/Malaysian history.

Apparently a lot of agony and anguish - made-up or real, were generated during such debates, depending on which side you are on. I would not want to add on to the debate, but just would like to give the perspective of another nation, which we share some similarity and history.

When I was a kid, I was told by Mak that our national anthem was taken from the Perak anthem. Obviously we were proud of that fact and honoured, but without internet and youtube, there was no way we would know then that even the Perak anthem was taken from Terang Bulan which was taken from song from Seychelles. Apparently it happened when Sultan Abdullah of Perak was exiled by the British and he was taken by the song.

Similarly, there have been many debates on our Jalur Gemilang, previously and lately. I remember the reading a news report that when our PM (TDM) first went to the US (in the 80s?) -  during his early days as the PM, he was indeed asked as to why the Malaysian flag looked very much like their Star and Stripes. Honestly, I don't remember his answer anymore, so it can't be that memorable.

Australia went through similar predicament much earlier than us; not on the flag, but their national anthem.
The Australia's national anthem booth in 2005 in Canberra
I remember the debate in the 80s if Advance Australia Fair should be their national anthem. Obviously many thought that a more popular tune that seems to represent (fair dinkum) Australia would be Waltzing Matilda.

Even then, and especially now, I would be able to humm Waltzing Matilda and have no clue about the melody of Advance Australia Fair. Waltzing Matilda would be more Australian to a foreigner like me, and would be get my vote along with Down Under (Men at Work)!

Apparently the original Advance Australia Fair was written Peter McCormick, a Scottish-born song writer and was first performed in 1878. It was originally sung as a patriotic song and not as a national anthem.

Up to 1974, God saves the Queen was Australia's national anthem. in 1973, the Whitlam government decided that Australia needed a new national anthem to represent Australia with distinction, and started a competition. On the recommendation of the Council for the Arts, none of the new entries were felt worthy enough, so the contest ended with the suggestions for Advance Australia FairWaltzing Matilda and Song of Australia

A nationwide opinion survey was done in 1974 and Advance Australian Fair came on top.

In 1976, the Fraser government reinstated God save the Queen as the national anthem.

In the 1977 referendum on various issues.Advance Australia Fair received 43.29% of the vote, defeating the three alternatives: Waltzing Matilda (28.28%), Song of Australia (9.65%), and the existing national anthem God Save the Queen (18.78%).

Advance Australia Fair, with modified lyrics from the original, was adopted as the Australian national anthem on 19 April 1984 by a proclamation by the Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen,[8] on a recommendation by the Labor government of Bob Hawke[Wiki]

But I still love Waltzing Matilda. It is as Australian as the kangaroo and billabong!

Can we do it in the Australian way? A lot of debate and discussion were held in Australia in the 70s and 80s, and practically everybody has an opinion on this, and obviously no one agrees with everyone else, especially the politicians.

But no one accused everyone else as traitor for wanting to change the national anthem. No one demanded that ISA be used on their opponents. As far as I remember it in the 80s, it was a proper and  educated debate, though I am reasonably sure that a lot of emotions were generated during these debates.

There were many Australian royalist (if I may term them as that) who would want to keep God Save the Queen as the anthem, and I am sure as many Australian who would want to have the Australian identity in their national anthem.

Can we have a debate on what's constitute Malaysia's national anthem and national flag please? If Negaraku and Jalur Gemilang are the proper anthem and flag, then so be it, even though it may be derived from a song in Seychelles and the American flag respectively. If we want to find one that could represent Malaysia with distinction, we could do a nationwide survey or referendum and even hold competition if we could come up with better anthem or flag.

Is it too much to ask of us?


Such is the environment in Malaysia that I am a bit unsure if I should even be bothered to post this entry. Would I be labeled a traitor for even mentioning it, or would someone call me to be incarcerated into ISA, nevermind that Najib is thinking of abolishing it. I am not saying one way or another, but I am asking all of us Malaysians to look at how our Australian counterparts handled their diversities in opinions and came out unscathed, if not stronger, as a country.

There was another movement in Australia even in the 80s. The movement calls for Australia to become a republic instead of having the Queen as the constitutional monarch. Please read about it here. Again, no one calls for the citizenship of these republicans to be revoked!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Squeaky wheel gets the oil

By nature, I am a quiet guy.

Tried very much to stay off the limelight, never one to hog them.

I normally would pay my bills without batting my eyelids. At times, I would even pretend that I was expecting the sum of the bill, even though upon reflection (later), I knew I had been conned, or at the very least, cheated. So I tried very much to protect myself, noting and making mental calculation before going to the cashier to pay my bill.

I have a car - 3 year old car last Sept 11. 2011. The warranty expires on that day, eventhough my mileage is only 74,000 km (as opposed to 100,000 km, as it is on the basis of whichever one is earlier).

I sent my car for its 70,000 km service in July 2011, when I was told that the engine oil was leaking from 3 places - the valve cover, the oil pump and another location which I have forgotten. I was also told that since this is considered normal wear and tear, it is not included in the warranty of the car. Nothing major I guess, but apparently it was going to cost me over RM1,200.00 for this repair work, in a any case.

I tried to argue that it should be considered under the warranty programme, but the service advisor was adamant that it is not.

Not wanting to make a scene, I told them not to bother and would decide later what to do with it.

I had thought that once the warranty is over (in two month's time), I would send the car to my favourite mechanic (and not to the official make workshop). I was sure it would be cheaper.

And I had not bother getting it done, until I started smelling like something burning coming from the car.

By then, it is urgent to get it done.

So I decided to call the official workshop to get the details, so that I could get my favourite workshop to work on it. By then, the 3-warranty was definitely over.

Talking to the service advisor, I decided to make a fuss over the phone.

1. Being the most expensive car I had  bought in my entire life, I told him I was surprised that such model and make would have problems such as oil leaking, while my other cheaper cars would trouble free (at least no leaking). My RM26,000 Saga which I bought in 1989 did not have the oil leaking within 3 years, and it was multiple-fold cheaper than my present car.
2. The car, while it is 3 year old by Sept, has very low mileage (i.e. only 74,000 km in 3 years)
3. The car is fully maintained by the car maker itself.
4. The problem was found to exist while the car is under warranty (i.e. in July 2011), even though I decided after the warranty to send it to the official workshop.

So when I brought the car in a week's later at the maker's workshop, I was told that the repair work would now be considered under the warranty program, and hence I would not have to pay for it. I was surprised, but thankful.

It pays to make noises or create a scene, so that they would not take us for granted. On what basis did he tell me earlier that it was not under warranty and two months later, changed his tune, I am not sure.

Personally I would prefer if the conditions of a car's under warranty are clearly spelt, so that there is no misunderstanding. We have to protect our right as consumer.

In another incident, after Friday prayer last week, I decided to buy some dokong. Thinking I could get 3 kg for RM10.00, I was taken aback when I was told that the price is RM5 per kg. "What? I thought it should be 3 kg for RM10.00," I told the seller.

Without batting an eyelid, she reduced the price to RM4 per kg, so I bought a kg just to satisfy my craving for dokong while walking to the mosque earlier.

I didn't try to bargain, I was only telling her as a matter of fact.


Squeaky wheel gets the oil!

It does not pay to stay quiet, and not make a fuss in doing business in Malaysia. They would try to get out from their responsibility if they could help it. They are hoping that all Malaysian consumers are indifferent to their rights.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Di Bawah Lindungan Kaabah

The original's cover of the novel, as I remember it.
Taken from Idris Talu's blog wo permission,
with apology
It is one of Dr Hamka's darkest novel, much darker than Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijck, or any of the short stories in Di Dalam Lembah Kehidupan.

And it is the most expensive movie in Indonesia.

I read the novel when I was in primary school - heck, I read most of Dr Hamka's novels by then, so in a sense, when I was young, I lived and breath all his sad, and most melancholic of stories. Mind you, not all, were love stories, if you know what I mean. His story lines were more diverse than typical Malaysian novels, nowadays especially.

I tried looking for the novel in my library, but somehow I could not find it. It is not the thickest of Bapak Hamka's novel. In fact it is one of the thinnest, so it could be the reason I have difficulty in locating the movel. In my mind too, I believe I could finish the novel in less than one hour, and thought I should pen my thought for this entry after I had re-read the novel.

To me, while I was captured by the twist of fate of Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijck, I thought the fate of the two lovers in DBLK were worst off. While I was captivated by the described beauty of Sitti Nurbaya (by Marah Rusli, and her suffering in her forced marriage the old but rich Datuk Meringgih, I thought that Zainab suffered the most through her marriage to a man deemed more suitable than Hamid by her parents.

I am not sure why to be honest, just the way the stories was told from the two lovers' perspectives. May be because the two were too fragile in characters, that we have no choice but to drown our sorrow with them.

As I have mentioned, the novel is a bit too short for one to develop the characters and give it more depth - not unlike those of short stories, but then again it had developed to such an extend that I was aggrieved when Hamid was banished.

You should read the (love) letters between them - it is sad, and melancholy and they had basically given up on living. She had become a 'walking skeleton', someone devoid of life.

At least, that's how I remember her and the ending of her life.

I may be wrong, but without going through the novel, after 40 years, I can still imagine her agony. And I don't want to relive them, or in a sense, I even dread re-reading them!

Di Bawah Lindungan Kaabah - The Movie

Apparently, it was released in Indonesia last Lebaran and that it went to No 1 for 3 weeks. I would not have known about it had I not read the Jakarta's edition of The Straits Times. Apparently, it has been released in Singapore yesterday.

Apparently too, it is the most expensive Indonesian movie.

I guess I am not into movies nowadays and hence this escapes me.

So I am all excited and at the same time too, I have mixed feeling. I remember all too well reading the Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas) when I was in F2, and yet disappointed with the TV series, starring one Richard Chamberlain and totally disappointed with the movie version. I think somehow one can beat the novel version of TCMC - we were all left to our imagination then and I can many stories are best left to the imagination.

I can imagine him in prison trying to chisel open the wall in order to escape, and his friendship with Abe Faria. My heart beat faster as he sneaks in into the casket of his best friend, and escaped. I can only imagine the beauty of the girl who stole his heart, whom he eventually lost out due to his vengeful bitterness at the end of the novel.

How sad, I thought.

So I am all excited and at the same time too, I have mixed feeling. I remember all too well reading the Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas) when I was in F2, and yet disappointed with the TV series, starring one Richard Chamberlain and totally disappointed with the movie version. Yes, the TV version was a better one, and I thought Richard Chamberlain did a great job as Edmond Dante, but still it lacks the emotional punch from reading a novel. I think somehow one can beat the novel version of TCMC - we were all left to our imagination then and I can many stories are best left to the imagination.

We can only imagine the beauty of the leading girls in the novels (Sitti Nurbaya, Zainab and Mercedes), I don't think the leading girls in the movies would live up to my standard (of imagination). If they are beautiful in life, I thought that the girls in the novels are a hundred time more beautiful than the actresses in the movies.

But I am told that the sets for the movie (DBLK) are lavish, if not spectacular; from the authentic Minang  roofs in the village to the water-wheels, and the uniforms worn by the train operators in 1920s Sumatra. It should be real enough to me, and I hope to see a replica of the grand mosque in those era.

This movie can only live on in that era. Anything else would make a mockery of the novel by Buya Hamka.

It looks like movie set of an epic to me, to be honest, and for that reason alone, I would love to see the movie.
1920s Minang town. Love the scene, though it looks
like a bit unreal to me.
I wish they would leave the set behind and make living museum out of it.
A real working waterwheels in a Minang setting
Zainab - of course when I was younger, I thought
the Zainab in the novel is more beautiful than this actress. Sorry,
Laudya Cynthia Bella - you are pretty but you can't live up to Sitti Nurbaya's beauty for sure.

I am prepared to be disappointed in term of character development - I have to feel their pain for me to be totally absorbed in the story line and feel the pleasure of watching this movie - any movie, for that matter; and I do know many can't lived up to my standard,  but I think the set may make it for me - just may be.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You know what we did last Merdeka day?

Ok ok, so I stole the title from the Jennifer Love Hewitt's movie.

While waiting for our esteemed guests - the Mahmoods, to arrive for a second day visit, the kids and I decided to head to Port Weld. Port Weld is not a destination that we would frequent to even when I was living in Taiping. I thought that there was little to see in this Chinese-based fishing port/town. As with many fishing ports, it is a bit untidy and smells.

I knew exactly where I would be heading on the Merdeka day.

Kota Ngah Ibrahim in Matang!

How apt it is to be visiting a historical figure at this time and age when so much debate and emotions had been conjured. I hknew of his existence for the longest time, since his name is always in the history book as far as Malaya/Malaysian history is concerned. It's Ngah Ibrahim this, Ngah Ibrahim that,  Long Jaafar this and Long Jaafar that.

But I have never been bothered - until 31 Aug 2011, that is. Well, he is not a hero in my eyes, but we had a spare of a couple of hours, so why not, right?

And I would like to know the mainstream version of history, and judge things for myself.
Partially blue sky on 31 Aug 2011, and on the second day of Syawal.
Surprisingly the Ngah Ibrahim Fort - now a museum, is open.
The house that Ngah Ibrahim built. If he can live luxuriously like this in
the 1800s, I certainly know how the Malay peasants live
in those days. I am sure this house of his is located right in the
middle of the Malay kampungs, just like the Mat Deros' mainsion.
The fort from the back/side. As I have mentioned, Taiping is
very green, and if we are lucky to get blue sky, the picture
can be stunning
The man who started the gold rush in Taiping. Eh I mean
the tin rush. This is Che Long Jaafar
Long Jaafar was descendent of the chieftain of Lubok Merbau in Kuala Kangsar, which is about 45 mins or so from Matang or Taiping, and was sent to Larut Matang district, I presumed by the Sultan, to manage the district. In 1848, he opened a tin mine in Klian Pauh and brought in the Chinese to work in his mine.

Apparently, he is a multi-millionaire and a well influenced guy. Click on his picture to read his bio in more detail than what I have written.
And the man who lost it all - Ngah Ibrahim
Upon Long Jaafar's death , his son, Ngah Ibrahim who took over as ruler of Larut. To protect his wealth, he built his house surrounded and protected by a fort, which is later known as the Ngah Ibrahim Fort. He brought in more Chinese workers to work, and they are divided into two different clan - Ghee Hin and Hai San.

And it is because of the clashes between these secret societies that led to the Pangkor Treaty and the starting of the the British colonialization in Perak and Malaya. The person who asked for their 'help' is none other than Ngah Ibrahim.

Let me say this:

1. First the job is inherited. It can be passed down to one's son. I wonder if my former job at one oil's organization can be passed down to Arif?

2. He is so rich, that he built a fort to protect it from his fellow Malayans, I would think. Who was there then? Malays mainly, with his Chinese workers. There was no British yet in his early days of administration. He is probably worse than the owner of the Mat Deros' mansion. At least, the mansion owner did not build a fort!

3. I am sure his fellow 'citizens' are poor but lazy Malay buggers, who prefer to idle their time away and not work in a mine, eking a living. Malays are known for that and perhaps would prefer to enjoy themselves at a pub and discotheque. Otherwise they would be underneath some trees, and would disturb some Malay lass passing by.

4. And to protect his wealth, he called in the Brit and the whole country was then ruled by the colonials. Is he a hero or what?
Dan jangan lah kau Jebat bermaharaja-lela di sini. Eh salah
century la, Dato Maharaja Lela wasn't even born yet then. Pity him,
to be honest, even his own race has disgraced him!
I pity Datok Maharaja Lela. I am sure he is a rich man too as he derived his income from tax collection, and is a high ranking office in the Sultan's court. But he did the right thing and started the war against colonialism by murdering the man below.

I wonder what's his role in the getting the Brit in in the first place. Was he opposed to it? Was he in favour, but later on realized that he had sold his own soul and country? I am not sure but I am sure I need to read more history book.
All because of this Mat Salleh
And because of the treaty in 1874, we practically handed over this
country to the British. So the Union Jack would be flying
in the tropics
So it is death to Dato Maharaja Lela, and Sultan Abdullah
was exiled to Seychelles. You don't know where Seychelles is? YOu know
the 'she sells sea shell on the sea-shore. That is where Seychelles is!
While Ngah Ibrahim still sleeps comfortably in his room in this
comfy bed
And still have an office to collaborate with the colonials
While many were lucky enough to still be living, if they are not sentenced
to death, even if it only in this small cell at a penitentiary.
Only the elites get to go to school
or ride a bicycle - otherwise you walk.
As I was reading the plaques and the information boards inside the museum, I was left wondering. The rich and powerful feudal leaders of then Malaya would invite the foreign Chinese workers to work in the tin mine. What's the difference between those feudal leaders then with the current breed of politicians who would bring in foreigners from the world over, on the pretext that Malaysians did not want to work the menial jobs, and then give them IC and citizenship?

Our current leaders are only following what our fore-fathers did - they are great teachers. This time around, they brought in the Indonesians and Bangladeshis, and start giving them IC.

I wonder too if the peasant and poor Malays then were so choosy - like the Malays today, that they refused to work in the muddy estuaries to look for tin, so much so that you had to import foreigners from outside?

I am not questioning my fellow Chinese citizens' right as at 2011. History has been made, and there is little we can change what transpired between the local leaders prior to Merdeka day in 1957. We have to live with each other and make the best of it. We have to live as Malaysian now.

But as a citizen, I am compelled to question the 2.4 million illegals currently in the country and in no time, they would be accorded citizenship.

History never repeats - so says Split Enz, a popular NZ group quite popular in 80s Australia. It is a beautiful song.

They are certainly wrong.

Those who fails to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, that's a more credible saying attributed to Winston Churchill/George Santayana.

Inilah Melayu - Melayu yang jual negara dia sendiri. Tidak perlu kepada pertolongan penjajah dalam hal ini. Even then, especially now. We are the expert in this area.

I felt so ashamed, as I left Kota Ngah Ibrahim, and trotted off to Port Weld with a heavy sigh.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Didalam Lembah Kehidupan

I read this book when I was in primary school. Many times over, I must admit and it never fails to set me thinking about life during those days.

At the very least.

And most likely I would read it 'dengan mata berkaca.' Don't get me wrong, I don't think I cried. Haha, I would not like to admit it, I guess, but I would admit that tears did fall down my cheek on many of the short stories written by the late Hamka.

Or at least, I would sigh (a very heavy sigh) at the sad ending of each and every one of the stories.

Last Ramadhan, while on my extended Raya leaves, with nothing much to do other than answering emails and making phone calls, I decided to go through the book all over again; story by story, and page by page, line by line, word by word.

And I ended up again, after 40 years, with tears falling down my cheek.

And very depressed! In a very good way.

Actually I felt sad but relieved after reading them - after all these years.

Aah, Prof Hamka, he is a (master) story teller, and he certainly knew how to prick our conscience. 

Actually, you are talking about short stories here, about 12 altogether and being short stories, he didn't much time to develop the character and build up the story line. Sometimes, it may seems a bit superficial, but actually it is not. It is a fast-paced story line - it can only be expected as you would need to tell stories that span a generation or two and finished it in less than 10 pages.

Who am I to question the master of the 'Malay' story teller, anyway?

Anak Tinggal, Anak Dapat, Anak yang Hilang - even by the title you would know it would be a tearjerker. Bonda Kandung and Isteri Yang Tua would take you to sacrifice of the weaker sex. In fact, most if all would have women element in the story and the hard lives they led during those times.

Honestly, at times, I would question the wisdom and the reasoning of the characters in the story. At times, it seems illogical. But that's the beauty of them all. I guess we are reading stories of nearly a century ago, and I can't imagine lives during those era, other than what I can read from Hamka's novel (and those of other prominent Minang author like Marah Rusli et al).

Call it fate, call it a twist of fate, call it anything in fact, but while it may seems unreal today, it was too real in the last century. And we can only be thankful for the life we are leading, irrespective of the shortcomings - perceived or real, and I am sure I had many.

I believe this short story is one book that should be in every home and library and should be read by every youngster and internet-era kids in this country. Then one would know the struggle of our fore-fathers in the previous century.

I had thought that I had seen all, and that at this age, at times, my conscience is numb. It really would take a lot for tear to fall, but it didn't take long whenever I read Hamka's novel.

"Keburukan orang yang telah meninggal itu terkubur bersama jasadnya, dan segala kebaikan tergambar kembali diangan-angan orang yang hidup, tak sebuah juga yang dapat dilupakan."

- Isteri yang Tua

Had I not read this book during my innocence days, I would think that life in the olden days was only about death. Life, in this book, was not about living, for every story would contain death, many times over!

"Sebab itu harus lah diingat oleh dua orang yang bertemu, bahawa pertemuan itu mempunyai warna perak, yang terbentang disebelah Timur dipagi hari. Dan perpisahan adalah berwarna merah, terbentang disebelah barat di senjakala. Warna perak diwaktu fajar, adalah lambang pertemuan yang indah. Warna merah disenjakala adalah lambang perpisahan yang gundah, warna air mata daripada darah!"

- Anak yang Hilang

The stories in Didalam Lembah Kehidupan
1. Pasar Malam
2. Encik Uteh
3. Penjual Ais Lilin
4. Anak Tinggal
5. Bonda Kandung
6. Gadis Basanai
7. Isteri Yang Tua
8. Anak Yang Hilang
9. Malam Sekaten (Bulan Sabit dan Kayu Palang)
10. Anak Dapat
11. Cinta dan Darah
12. Disuruh Meminta Ampun 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raya doloe-doelo (1970s) - Kepala Kuih

I remember Rayas in the 70s very well, for I was a school-going kid by then, and hence I could really enjoy them, and more importantly, remember them to be writing them here.

I am of course talking about Raya in Aulong Taiping.

With Taiping as our home (again), there was no reasons for us to have to travel to meet up with our grandparents. Most likely we met up everyday, and definitely we were able to join in in the preparation for the auspicious day itself, and not only during the Raya itself.

In 70s Taiping, bicycle will be our mode of transportation for us kids. With bapak then still owning the old Morris Minor, and with so many of us (perhaps 11 or so), it would not fit in anymore at one go. We were then old enough to be celebrating Raya on our own with our friends.

I would remember visiting friend's house in Aulong, namely Zaki's and Zulkaperi's. For some reasons, I remember better visiting Zul's house, which fronted the laterite road in Aulong. His was a wooden house with big compound. I am sure we would have done the visiting as a group.

I do remember too visiting some houses in Aulong, and to be honest, I don't really know them (too) well, or perhaps only the parents would know each other. But during those times, it was not an issue. We were in celebratory mood, and there was no such thing as Assalamualaikum Kids then.

There was no such derogatory term then, and every kids were welcomed with open arms.

Duit Raya was perhaps on our mind. Let's not talk about seringgit or dua ringgit and especially sepuluh ringgit; it was unheard of at that time.

It was more like sekupang, or dua kupang, or if we were lucky, we might get lima kupang.

Man, were we rich then!

But perhaps our hearts and minds were much cleaner and purer then, so not a word of ingratitude would leave our mouths. No comparison between houses too. We were there to celebrate raya, we ate the kuih and drank the cordial drinks, and anything else would be a bonus. They made our day.

But then there was this culture, quite rampant then, especially amongst the well-to-do. Of course the table would be filled to the brink with cookies (beyond the ketupat and lemang, obviously)

TYpical kek raya in the 70s - not unlike this one, is meant for your eyes only.
Don't bother asking the host to cut a piece for you. (Taken from the internet
without permission, with apology)
But the head of the table - amidst all the cookies, you would find this wonderful and beautiful-looking cake with all kinds of icing and decorations. It is unlike cakes in the new millennium - then most were elaborately and richly decorated.

And typically untouched!

You can eat anything on the table - the hosts would be more than happy if you could finish everything on offer, but they would not offer you the cake!

Apparently it was just for decoration, and show-off, if I am allowed to say that here; and for us kids then, we can all be terkebil-kebil lah watching the high-sugar content cake, wishing the host would offer us some.  At that point, we didn't see anything else; we can only see the cake with longing eyes. To know exactly how we felt then, you must know the economic conditions of the 70s (as compared to the present) and the fact that there was close to nil bakery shops. Cakes were not a norm then; not at Hari Raya especially.

There was definitely no Secret Recipe then - not that we could afford to buy if there was one, anyway.

You can of course have a bite of the cake, if you are willing to put a ringgit bill on the table, and the host then would be happy to cut you a piece!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Raya doloe-doelo (The Eighties)

Raya in 1983 - the boys
Raya in the 80s are typically celebrated alone in my lecture hall at Monash.

Don't get me wrong; we would hold Solat Raya most likely at the Sport Centre as the praying room at the Religious centre would be too small to hold all of us at one go, even if we were to borrow the next door room from the Buddhist Society.

Yes, each major religion is accorded their own room with the Chapel at the centre of it, obviously. You are talking about Australia here and not Malaysia, so Islam and other religion had to play second or third fiddle. And after the solat, we would disperse to attend lab/lectures at our respective departments.

No kuih raya, or lemang on the 1st of Syawal. In fact, no one of my friends would even know of the existence of Raya in my department - well, sort of. It is business as usual for me.

But this entry is not about raya at Monash. I am too lazy to scan the old pictures from my album, so I would write an entry with ready-made scanned pictures.

Honestly, I am the last person who should be writing about this as I was not around, but being someone who like to write, I am sure bapak would have written me letters about raya celebration at home.

Alamak, budak-budak assalamualaikum dah datang!
Bukit Kerajaan 1983 - the road leading to our house, and the kids enjoying
themselves. I am reasonably sure they are only posing for this picture ;-)
In the 80s, Kuala Kangsar was our home, and by this time, we lived in the government quarters at Bukit Kerajaan, next to the Kuala Kangsar OCPD's house and the Malay College principal's house. We were in esteemed companies.

There was this one year (1981) that we Perakians celebrated Raya a day earlier than the rest of the country. The then Sultan Perak, Sultan Idris Shah decided to declare Hari Raya a day earlier (Aug 2) than the rest of the country; I believe after the Keeper of the Royal Seal had declared Aug 3, 1981 to be the Raya day for Malaysia.

It was a bewildering time for us. And living in the royal town itself would cause a great dilemma on whether to follow the Sultan, or the rest of the country. To make matter worse for us, Bukit Kerajaan is just a stone's throw away from the palace (which is located in Bukit Chandan).

That year, he (the Sultan) decided to follow the falak calculation, and because "ketupat dan rendang dah masak, alamat basilah kalau esok tak raya." Apparently people had been expecting the next day (Aug 2) to be Raya day - so they decided to start cooking Raya dishes, only to be told by the Keeper otherwise. It seems that the other excuse would be that he (the Sultan) refused to let his subjects fasting on the 1st of Syawal!

But bapak would not have any of these; the rationalization seems illogical to him, so the family - perhaps the only family in this royal town to be fasting, in solidarity with the rest in the nation. Yes, we were visited by many guests, and they were all treated as if it was Raya day, but were politely informed that the family is still fasting.

The boys enjoying themselves during Raya 83
I am not sure where Bapak and the kids had their solat raya - perhaps he performed the takbir and solat at home.

Apparently we were even visited by our cousin's family from Bagan Serai on the very first day. Wak, Mak Ngah, AbgNet and the rest of the family visited Bukit Kerajaan, and I guess they would have been surprised by the non-celebration at the Hariris. However, obviously, they were served raya dishes ( I guess whatever that was available, though I am not sure if it include ketupat, lemang and rendang or not.) Obviously they perhaps would be too embarrassed to eat in front of fasting persons, but bapak would not have anything with it. He would encouraged them to eat and eat and act as if he was celebrating one himself.

At least that what I was told by AbgNet when he read this entry.

These pictures above were taken in 1983, with the kids celebrating Raya day in Bukit Kerajaan in Kuala Kangsar. It was odd to say the least; for I don't think I would like to experience this in the new millennium. It made mockery of a religious festival, although to be honest, thirty years on, we have not really come to any close to settling the argument - one way or another.
The picture is bad, and this turned out to be our second last
Raya in Kuala Kangsar and the second last raya with bapak. There was another
raya in 1984 in KK, before moving back to Taiping.
Bersongket and bersampin and an attempt to
tie teh sampin ala P Ramlee. You should watch how
P Ramlee did it in Madu Tiga - to tie the sampin that
is (and not to marry three wives) LOL
He made it too easy!!
Our first Raya in Taiping and without bapak (bapak died a week
or so before this Raya Haji. I had the privilege then to take
this picture as I had taken an extended leave of absence from
my classes due to bapak's demise. This is Aug or early Sept 1984 ,
or 10 Zulhijjah to be precise.
Could this be Raya day with the patriarch Tok Adam? He is all dressed up.
Can you confirm AbgNet please? He passed away in 1986, so this could be sometime
in the 80s too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Raya doloe-doelo (1967)

Arif has uploaded the 2011 Raya pix at FB, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So that's a 64K-word entry (with his 64 pix), much longer than what I could ever managed; I guess I would be able to delay my entry on Raya 2011.

But an entry in the NST last Sunday attracted me as it has pictures of Malaysian celebrating raya in the days gone by. So I thought I should try and do  our own personal raya entryt from the sixties to the 80s.

This is definitely Raya in
Assam Kumbang. No songket then for us
but my sampin was knotted ala P Ramlee!
This could be 1968 or 69.
When we were kids, we lived in Batu Gajah and  later on moved to Lenggong, but I think we had never failed to return to Taiping for Raya. I think most of the time, we would be staying over at our nenek's house in Assam Kumbang (read Beautiful Houses of My Soul). 

I think most of us looked forward to celebrating raya at our maternal grandparent's (as opposed to our paternal's) as there were more kids there. My uncles and aunty were not much older than us and we knew they would be playing all kind of fire works d came Malam Tujuh Likur, so it would be a pleasure to just sit and watch the fun. And perhaps joined in some of the fun.

I remember the ones that come with the parachute. They would target the coconut trees and when it exploded at the top, the parachute would open up and fall back with a small figurine.

No, no coconut  would drop because of the explosion. The explosive is not strong enough!

I am not too sure if duit raya was a culture yet then. May be it was, but definitely we didn't get the green packet then. We would get raw cash - pure and simple and most likely in coins, and we knew exactly what we would be getting, the very moment the right hand of the giver started moving towards ours!
After the solat Raya, we would be in our best dress, ready to go
a-visiting. This is still at Nenek's house in Assam Kumbang
most likely in 1967 with our Aunty. MCKam, MSu and Ksham
must have gotten their hair cut at the same saloon.
Raya in Taiping was not only about the Hariris. It is actually about the Adams as depicted here by the family of PC Zain, Mak's younger brother taken on Raya day. I am not sure if he lives nearby or if all of us were cramped up at Tok Adam's house. I have no recollection at all.
The young family of PC Zain bin Adam 
in Assam Kumbang
During this year (1967), the Raya morning we would be in Taiping, and from Taiping, we would then moved on to Kuala Kangsar to visit our paternal grandfather. Taiping and Kuala Kangsar then was not that far away, but we need to climb the hilly Bukit Berapit and as the road was single lane, we might have taken more than an hour to reach the destination. May be it is more like one and half hour.

If nenek was more well known for her dodol, then at Tok Bab's, we would be looking for the dried agar-agar. His was crunchy - dry on the outside (with the sugar precipitating out) and juicy on the inside.
And here we are in Kuala Kangsar - Talang to be precise on the
very same day the picture above (in Taiping) was taken. You can see
by the shirts and dresses we were wearing. Tok Bab is standing
with Pah and Mak and MCMiah in the background.
What do we look forward in Talang? PC Mat was a slightly older uncle and he was the only one, so it was not as much fun as it was in Taiping. But we look forward to the many magazines that Tok Bab would subscribe, so our time would be spent on reading I guess. (I remember our fav then - Kulop Kecil, Kulop Besar. Don't laugh - the title was innocent enough then, and it is a wonderful adventure cartoon series.)

But then again, on Raya day, even that would take a back seat too, as we would be going to the neighbouring houses for Raya, and a next door house has a peculiar door. The door was not vertical on the wall, but is laid horizontally on the floor!

I think the house is still intact, but I am not sure about the door.

And typically too my uncles and aunties from Kuala Lumpur would be back in KK. Pak Long and family - eldest son of Tok Bab would normally stay at his father-in-law house in KK and typically too Mak Cak and PC Wan would be around.

So after Talang, we would be visiting Pak Gam's house, also in KK - say about 5 mins from Talang, on this side of the polo field.

More rounds of duit raya, I guess.
I am still dressed in my cowboy suit that Raya and the rest of the clan
including Mcak and PC Wan and a rare pic of Bapak on the
right with his (fav) son! See how poorly dressed bapak is compared
to his children. I guess kids come first for him.
I guess back then we knew nothing more than to enjoy the day. We have no commitment and no responsibility, so life was easy enough. We have no idea on how difficult it was to cook the cookies that we all enjoyed so much - then there was no kuih tunjuk.

We knew Raya was about visiting, and Raya was about families. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Raya '11 - Romancing the Ekspres Rakyat

I am not sure about you, but train travel spells romance for me.

Don't get me wrong; I am not talking about the Orient Express, nor was I talking about love and meeting anyone of the opposite sex on a train, though at one time or so in my life, I was hoping that Sheena Easton would be singing the Morning Train for me! ;-) Mind you, the maharajah taking the train in (Colonial) India would not come into the picture either.

Our trains are less spectacular than that in Europe - and perhaps India, but they are ours anyway.

And unlike driving, or taking the bus, train ride is not just a mode of transportation. It is a way of life of the days gone by. Way back to the year when James Watt designed the steam engine that would allow rail travel in Britain.
No, this is not the steam engine James Watt built
though it surely looks like one, hahaha. This is
a diesel engine still plying the peninsular for KTM. Honestly it should be
in the museum already, but amazingly it is still doing the job
Long before roads were available for travel in Malaya, we have had the Taiping-Port Weld track. That was way back in 1885 - that's more than a century later. And the schoolchildren in remote part of Kelantan would take the train to go to school even today, and to make it more interesting, this was way before train/LRT became a way of life for people in the Klang Valley.

Typicaly, train ride would cross the country side and the view can be spectacular, especially if the train needs to climb a mountain (as in Bukit Berapit in Taiping) as there would be tunnels and it would ply the route on the edge of cliff, and ravine and you would be clinging onto your dear life.

In Europe, the view of a train crossing the arch bridge can be majestic. It is beautiful.

Our bridges are not as spectacular unfortunately. They are typically made of steel instead, but still it can be good view if you can catch them crossing the Perak River.
This is of course not Sg Perak, It is one of the smaller river in the
Kinta Basin. I believe we crossed over the Perak River at dusk.
My only dream now is to ply the Vancouver-Calgary trip and cross the Rockies in a train. I was told the Chicago-Seattle train ride is equally spectacular.

One can buy a car; heck you can even buy a plane, but I have never heard anyone buying a train for one's private use.

So it was on this premise that I decided to take the train back home for Hari Raya. I thought I should try to relive the 70s again with our yearly train ride to and from Taiping. It was the romance of the 70s that lured me to this trip, and out of the blue, took a long and extended office break.

With the help of my new BlackBerry, of course!
This is the driver of the Ekspres Rakyat, South bound to
Singapore, departing on time at 1430 hours from KL
In some ways it was just like old time. The train was one hour late - as usual. KTM simply could never get this right, after all these years. To be honest, their Indonesian counterpart, despite the lack of modern facilities, run their train with clock-work precision.

Or at least for the 10 times or so train-rides I have taken to and from Jakarta to the various parts of Java.

M Nasir wrote of the same thing way back in the early 80s; that the Ekspres Rakyat was already late.

Sorry, I digress.

It was an hour late for my train; I knew I would not be able to enjoy the tunnel at Bukit Berapit.
I am not sure where this is and what this is, but somewhere in Perak,
I guess. Hahaha.
Beyond that, of course trains are all air-conditioned now, and one need not have to fight for one's seat no more. There is no more fans dangling from the ceiling providing much needed respite for the weary passengers. There was not any need for that. I miss those coaches.

I miss the feel of wind in your hair as one sneak a peek over the open windows, and being able to see the coaches through the open windows as the train snakes across the countryside. It is a long and winding track down the length of the Malay peninsular. I long to see the food vendors on the track converging on our coach and melodiously announcing their food for sale. "Nasik lemak, mee goreng, karipap" would be a typical sales pitch and it was pleasing to the ears of hungry passengers.

There was no need for the buffet coaches and the meals were freshly cooked and they were all home made.

They have killed romance out of rail travel. It was a bit sterile for my liking.

But I guess life moves on and waited for no one. Especially sentimental guys like me. This is one guy trapped in time, and he was hoping that everything else would too.

Still, despite the shortcomings, I thought it was a relaxing journey. I need not worry about the traffic, I need not worry about Kancils hogging the right lane, driven like they are the Ferraris.

The views from the enclosed windows are not views that I have seen umpteenth of times while driving up and down the highway. May be I did not get to enjoy them that much, while I was concentrating on the wheels, but I have seen them all. While I would not say it was getting boring, but it could be getting stale. The train, on the other hands, tends to snake its way through the backyard of the country, so you get to see views seldom seen. You see people chatting, people waving to us on the train, sometimes as if they had only seen the train for the first time in their lives - even as their backyards faced the railway tracks.

With the completion of the North South highway in the late 80s, one could now travel the length of the country - from Thailand to Singapore, without seeing anything! They only had the destination in mind, so they missed out on the adventure along the way. 
Cooking up a storm, but I know I am safe in the train. It may rain cats and dogs,
but I need not worry about them. Alhamdulillah.
Now, the trains would let you see everything and laid bare to you everything this country has to offer. You would see the peninsular the way it is supposed to be seen. 

To be precise, the way it is. There was no pretension. There was no prop up for the tourists. It is an honest view of the way we were, and the way we are.

The blues, the reds and the greens going against the dark grey clouds
I remember the old days when the train would stop at practically all stations. Behrang, Malim Nawar, Tapah Road, Kota Baharu (in Perak, mind you), Chemor, Enggor, and Kalumpang are some of the stations that had become extinct in the face of modernization of the train and the advent of the express train.  Some are so small that you would not call them a train station - a 'halt' would be more appropriate. 

And yet the train stops by to pick up, at times, a singular passenger!

All onboard and ready to depart
As kids then with no sense of time, we would be happy to stop at any station. It was an eye opener for us, seeing things and lives beyond our hometown. 

To cherish on what we have, and to be in awe of what we don't.

A relaxing time for the KTM staff on the other side of the track. This is Batu
Gajah (new) station.
The train stopped by at Batu Gajah station, but it is a nondescript steel structure with no soul. I saw the old Batu Gajah station as it pulled away from the new station - it was abandoned and soon it would be in ruins. My heart sank; Batu Gajah is always special for me. It is also an old town, not unlike Taiping, and it is a town we grew up in.

I love this country side view, not unlike of Taiping. Big raintrees and green
padangs would dot the town. I'd like to believe that this is Batu Gajah. May be.
Unfortunately the pix was cut in the middle by the pole
As we started late from KL - late arrival of train from South, we were informed that breaking of fast would be at 1927 hours in the vicinity of Sg Siput. Originally the train is supposed to arrive in Taiping right at breaking of fast time, so luckily I had brought a bottle of mineral water and Kitkat, just in case and it turned out to be my saviour.

Kuala Kangsar station at dusk. I had many stares for having my
big camera and taking pictures of all and sundry. "Abang, abang ambik
gambar apa?" a teenager once asked of me. "Gambar nostalgia, dik," I replied,
truthfully. "Abang is on a nostalgic trip."
We arrived in Kuala Kangsar station at 1945 hours - I was hoping to see the old KK station, but just like Taiping counterpart, it is now a construction site. As day had turned into night, I could not recognize the KK town and its surrounding. The train supposedly traveled near my grandfather's house in Talang, but I have no clue when it did that during the trip.

So as the darkness of the night started to engulf the peninsular, we missed out on the Bukit Berapit tunnels. I tried to, but could not make head or tail of the near pitch black of the night and tunnels. 

I had lost the ultimate experience of the peninsular rail travel. You would know that the train would be approaching a tunnel as they would have switched on the yellowish menthol bulb dangling from the ceiling and soon after the day would turn pitch black save for the dim yellow light.

It was an exhilarating feeling and it is stuff romance is made of.

I arrived in Taiping at 2030 hours and had my proper meal of mee rebus at the train station. No Aya, the mee rebus here was mediocre at best. Good enough to fill up my empty stomach, but not good enough for second helping on another occasion.

Then only it occurred to me that this is no longer the 70s. Time had stood still for me, but time waited for no one.

With a heavy sigh, I made my way out, and started walking towards Sri Kota.
Taiping at last. I decided to have my meal first before proceeding home and
by that time (about 2115 hour),  there was no more cab left. I thought, "Am
I going to do what bapak did 27 years ago (12 Aug 1984) and walk home?"
Bapak did it because he thought the cab fare, at RM2.50, was a ripped off.
As I was walking towards SriKota, near the TNB station, I saw a cab
and paid him RM8 to take me home.