Monday, February 14, 2011

Rabiah's Hijrah

(A memoir of a Singaporean family who migrated to Malaysia in the wake of the 1964 July riots)
Scene 1 – Tanjong Pagar, 8 PM, December 2 1965
Finally, it was time to board the Senandong Malam, the night coach to Kuala Lumpur. The station master had blown the whistle for the third time and flagged down the red triangle cloth as a signal of departure. I stood behind Mak, Kak Aida, Jamal and Yat on the narrow aisle between the bare seats. Abang Hatta, my eldest brother, had stayed behind since he was already 21 and was working in the police force. I could see Mak’s tears streaking down her face as she asked him to take good care of himself. Leaving him alone in Singapore was one of the hardest decisions in Mak’s life, one that she regretted until her dying day. But events that unfolded forced her to leave the island republic where she was born and had spent the first 40 years of her life.
There were the violent race riots during the Prophet’s Birthday procession in July last year and, later in December, there was the family crisis that had smeared ‘charcoal on her face’. The villagers had prepared themselves for armed clashes and we heard the sounds of Chinese drum beats that went on for several nights from the neighboring village of Chai Chee. There were general feelings of unease even after the clamp down on conflicts and the reduced curfew hours. As if to hasten my mother's decision to migrate, something happened that made it uncomfortable for both my mother and eldest sister to continue living in the village. It required little effort on my Siddi's (paternal grandfather) part to convince her to move and start a new life in Kuala Lumpur, not far from Klang, where he worked as a senior religious official.
My vision was blurred as I pressed my face against the train window and waved good bye to my mother’s brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces (Wak Som, Wak Enah, Wak Yok, Wak Aman, Mak Munah, Wak Aeng, Pak Cik Pom, Abang Amzah, Kak Pet, Kak Imah, Tutut) and our neighbours who had sent us off.
As the dusty brown and yellow coaches snaked its way out of the station and headed north, the last nine years of my childhood in Kampung Melayu Kaki Bukit (Malay Kampung at the Foothills) flashed before me – the traditional Malay kampong house at 38 Jalan Damai which faced the ‘padang’ (field) at the back of the hill. I pictured the ‘air pancor’ (water spout) halfway up the hill, where the neighbors’ children and I scooped its gushing water to wash our sweaty faces on hot afternoons. The dirt ditch that separated our house from the orange dirt road that ran parallel to the ‘padang’, where Benggali bread vendors, Chinese ice cream sellers, Sikh cow herders and Malay movie stars passed by. That old dirt drain, whose waters had swelled one monsoon season and whose currents had swept and almost drowned me - had recently been reinforced with uniform V-shaped, concrete ducts.
The dirt bridge that led to our compound with its rough hedges of tea bushes that hugged the big dirt drain in front and the little one on the left that marked the boundary of our plot and that of our affable neighbor’s – Pak Seman ‘Benjol’ (a permanent bump on his right forehead earned him that nick name) and his wife Mak Limah who supplemented her husband’s income by selling ‘cakar ayam’ (small, rounded, caramelised sweet potato hatches) from home.
There was no drain separating our land and our neighbours’ on the right – Mak Cik Mani (short for Mahani, the stern-faced yet kind breadwinner of her family), Pak Cik Man (her reserved husband, who spent his time looking out the window with a rosary in his right hand, after his recovery from a stroke), Nek (her story-telling octogenarian mother), Pipit (her eldest daughter, nicknamed ‘sparrow’ for her love of ‘chirping’), Mamat (Mohamed, who filled his every waking hour with youthful pursuits like gasing spinning and kite slicing with such fierce intensity), Enchah (Habsah, her studious, sensible daughter who was my best pal) and Yon (Haron, her youngest son, whom my second brother loved to tease as my suitor) – only scattered, waist-high hedges of hibiscus plants and a tall guava (jambu batu) tree, which shaded the ‘amben’ (low, wide bench) where Enchah and I spent many lazy afternoons listening to Pipit’s tales of romantic escapades.
The guava tree had also provided the shade for my mother’s makeshift ‘warong’ (foodstall), where Mak occasionally sold her ‘nasi sambal goreng’ (rice served with spicy mixed beans and offals), ‘nasi rawon’ (rice with beef in black sauce made from buah keluak) and ‘lontong’ (rice cubes with creamy mixed vegetables soup and sambal, serunding and bergedil). Mak Cik Mani was more steadfast in purveying her white and yellow steamed ‘putu piring’ with ‘gula melaka’ fillings. I had earned my pocket money from selling those hot piping flour cakes wrapped in banana leaves by going around the village with Enchah after school. With the 15 sen ‘duit jajan’ (sales commission), I had splurged on ‘tikam-tikam’ (a mini wheel of fortune) which got me a pink ‘cincin buah kana’ (a ring with a fake stone in the shape of an olive), pink cotton candies, ‘gula tarik’ (hard, white treacle) and ‘ais krim potong’ (blocks of wafer ice cream bars). Enchah and I were very close although we attended different schools and different levels – I was a standard three pupil at Telok Kurau West Integrated Primary School, an English medium school, while Enchah was a Secondary One student at Sekolah Menengah Still Road, a Malay medium secondary school. I remembered we were not on talking terms only once, when Mak Cik Mani had accidentally given a toxic fragrance, which upset Mak so that she hurled her red and green coconut candies to the ground just outside the kitchen for Mak Cik Mani to see.
Our kitchen, like most Malay kampong ones, was a half-cement half-wooden part of the house which was built on the ground at the back of the oil varnished brownish black wooden house on posts. Welcoming the guests in front was the red-painted, concrete stairway and a small veranda with its smoothly finished wooden bench. The kitchen was rather large, with ample space for a corner to wash fish, meat and vegetables, a small aluminium-plated charcoal stove, a steel and formica dining table and mismatched chairs, a pandanus mat and kapok mattress to lie down for afternoon siestas, an indoor bathroom with its ‘tempayan’ (porcelain water vessel) and ‘kolah’ (concrete pool to retain water from the tap), and the creepy ‘bawah kolong’ or space under the stairs. I recalled one night a few years ago when I was thirsty and Mak went down to get a glass of water while I waited at the top of the stairs that led to the main house with its larger and smaller bedrooms on the right and left. I thought I saw my second brother Jamal dashing out from the dark cell and called out his name but the figure just vanished into thin air. Since that incident, I dared not venture down to the kitchen at night.
The kitchen held both pleasant and unpleasant memories. Jamal, Yat and I could not wait to lap up Mak’s hot chicken broths, spicy fish curries or ‘asam pedas’ (hot and spicy gravy), beef ‘rendang’ or the golden, honey-combed ‘baulu suri’ (traditional Malay sponge cake) on those rare, rare occasions or just plain gruel with margarine and sugar on the usual lean days. (Abang Hatta and Kak Aida were already working in the city, so they only returned in the evenings). Once in a blue moon, when Mak returned from wedding invitations, we would get to taste ghee rice or ‘briyani’ and hard-boiled eggs that the hosts had packed for us. Special treats like ‘murtabak’ (Middle-Eastern bread with meat fillings) from Islamic Restaurant in Arab Street were few and far between, like when Wak Enah, Mak’s eldest sister, appeared through the kitchen door (which most womenfolk and children did then) along with pricy imported fruits and delicious desserts – red and green globes of juicy grapes, shiny crunchy apples and tangy oranges, moist marble cakes and wobbly green and red jellies - that Mak could not afford to buy or prepare. When Abang Hatta started work as a police constable, he bought cake remnants from the bakery on his way home that we devoured in a jiffy.
And then there were the days and nights that we dreaded - whenever Bapak took his place at the head of the table. Not only we were not supposed to help ourselves before him, but we have to be extremely careful not to ruffle his feathers. Mealtimes with Bapak were tense and sombre affairs. One evening, we were all seated and waiting at the dining table to tuck into Mak’s steaming fish ball soup when Mak said to Bapak, “Please use the ladle, not your own spoon, to scoop the soup to your plate,” Bapak suddenly flew into a rage, got up and thumped the table. “I’m the head of the family! Why do I have to use the ladle? Why can’t I use my own spoon? Are you afraid that I’ll spread my germs?” Whack! Mak raised her palm to cool her burning cheek. We just hung our head and squirmed in fear and prayed silently for his temper to cool. Bapak’s fury was unpredictable. It can be triggered by any slight from any one of us. One day, when a hot water flask that he flung at Kak Aida missed her, some of the scalding water spilled on my thighs. And the time when he bent three copper coins with a pair of pliers and twisted Jamal’s arms for failing to buy him cigarettes with those three cents, I just cringed. Whenever I heard Bapak’s footsteps on the wooden planks of the main house, my heart would sink and I would quickly leave the kitchen to escape outside.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Salam Aidilfitri 1431/2010

Kejam celik, kejam celik dah hampir setahun blog ini tidak dikemaskini. Terasa janggal juga memblog semula bila dah lama ditinggalkan. Tapi jaringan sosial seperti facebook dan twitter lebih sesuai untuk 'soundbites' daripada catatan lamunan, renungan dan perkara-perkara yang dirasakan lebih berat dan serius.

Lantas, digamit semula untuk berkongsi pengalaman dan pandangan dengan siapa jua yang sudi membaca. Sementelah dua belas bulan merupakan masa yang terlalu lama untuk berdiam diri, menjadi pemerhati dan pengguna biasa bahan-bahan multimedia di ruang siber.

Dah banyak kali air bah, dan banyak kali pantai berubah dalam setahun yang telah berlalu. Penulis-penulis blog baru muncul menggantikan mereka yang tidak lagi aktif atau yang telah pergi buat selamanya. Penulis-penulis lama pula menyerlahkan peningkatan dari segi kualiti analisis situasi sosio-ekonomi-politik semasa.

Namun, apakah yang dapat saya sumbangkan sebagai seorang pemerhati, pengguna dan pensyarah sambilan pengajian media?

Yang pasti, menjadi guru 'mercenary' atau 'soldier of fortune' di salah sebuah negara Teluk bukan opsyen yang memuaskan walaupun gajinya lumayan. Syukur alhamdulillah, setelah lebih tujuh bulan berada di tanah air, saya senang melakukan perkara-perkara yang sebelum ini tidak dapat dilakukan seperti terlibat sebagai sukarelawan untuk pertubuhan-pertubuhan bukan kerajaan atau bukan keuntungan (NGO/NPO), disamping mengajar sambilan dan membuat terjemahan untuk membayar bil-bil TNB, ASTRO, P1, dst.

Pun begitu, salah satu penemuan menarik yang ingin saya kongsikan di sini ialah teori 'Out of Sundaland' yang dikemukakan oleh ahli sains genetik Dr Stephen Oppenheimer (1999) yang menyangkal teori 'Out of Taiwan' anjuran ahli bahasa Peter Bellwood (1984, 1997).

Teori Bellwood yang juga dikenali sebagai teori China Selatan mengandaikan bahawa nenek moyang orang Melayu, Indonesia, Filipino, Hawaii, Polynesia, Madagaskar dan Maori berasal dari China Selatan, melalui Taiwan ke Nusantara dan seterusnya ke Madagaskar dan Pulau Easter kira-kira 5,000 tahun lalu.

Bagaimanapun, penyelidikan genetik mengesan migrasi penduduk yang lebih besar dari Nusantara ke arah tanah besar Asia - China Selatan, Korea, Jepun, India dan Mesopotamia - dan Filipina, Madagaskar, New Guinea, seterusnya menjajah kepulauan Polynesia, Easter, Hawaii dan New Zealand melalui titian tanah atau dengan perahu disebabkan banjir besar kira-kira 10,000 tahun lalu. Jadi tidak hairanlah jika orang asal Taiwan dan Jepun mempunyai ciri-ciri orang Melayu dan orang Champa (Kampuchea) serta Funan (Selatan Vietnam) boleh berbahasa Melayu walaupun belum pernah menjejakkan kaki di Semenanjung Tanah Melayu.

Asal-usul bahasa-bahasa Austronesia (Melayu, Tagalog, Malagasy, dll) dipercayai tumbuh dan berkembang di Sundaland, landasan benua yang meliputi Geting Kra di Utara hingga ke Garisan Wallace di Timur yang memisahkan Bali dari Lombok, Borneo dari Sulawesi, Palawan dari Mindanao dan Luzon.

Revolusi Neolitik - permulaan pertanian menggunakan batu untuk melumatkan bijiran liar - juga dikatakan bermula di sini seawal 24,000 tahun, yakni 10,000 tahun sebelum di Mesir dan Palestin.

Untuk maklumat lebih lanjut, sila baca:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kepulangan kali ini

Selamat hari raya aidilfitri, maaf zahir batin
Selamat hari lebaran, minal aidil wal faizin
Eid mubarak, eid said, kul am wanti bi khir
(Meskipun terlewat)
Pun begitu, keterasingan semakin terasa setelah 8 bulan berada di Oman, juga belum ketemu cara ringkas untuk berhubung dengan saudara-mara dan sahabat handai (tiada pusat celcom yang dibuka untuk dapatkan reload), ditambah pula hampa yang teramat sangat kali ini ...
Lantas ku pandu terus ke utara
Melewati jalan kampung dan desa
Berlatar kehijauan banjaran titiwangsa
Begitu jauh berbeda dari gurun sahara
Kuubati luka dengan senyuman anak-anak tak berdosa
Bagai sirih pulang ke gagang
Atau sekadar lawatan singkat sebelum ke perantauan?
Apakah esok lusa penentu fitrah
Atau segalanya lantaran tindakan kita jua?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Selamat Jalan, Sayang

Dear I,
I'm taking a day off today, in memory of Sayang, N's teen cat who was put to sleep at about 1:20am after the xrays showed that she was paralysed due to a spinal cord injury.
I had a pleasant day yesterday and day before - ferry cruise to Liberty and Ellis islands, caught up with Mak P at Macy's on 34th St, slept over her place, then shopped for grocery and cooked dinner for N since she was fasting.
After dessert, she decided to show me Sayang, who spent most of her time in N's bedroom; naturally, she was afraid of me and hid under the dining table, jumped on the other two window ledges before she jumped on the ledge of the opened window, out into the airwell and three storeys down to the landing in the basement.
We went down and found her dragging her hind legs and unable to stand, took her to the emergency vet at downtown Brooklyn and cried our eyes out while waiting for the xray results and told of the options - a surgery that would cost USD5-6k but will not guarantee recovery or put her down and end her misery.
I know this is the umpteenth time I witnessed a kitty pass away - from Brownie to Elsa to Whitey to Patch but this is the first time I saw a cat being 'put down' and finally understood the meaning.
One minute she was responding to N's touch - narrowing her eyes, turning her cheeks and raising her chin - and the next minute her head was down, her soul had flown, her body stiff, wrapped in her favourite red blanket and taken away by the nurse to be cremated and buried.
N found her as a stray when she was about two months old in June 2008 - an exotic French breed with velvety dark grey coat and yellow eyes.
She hardly mewed or whimpered, even after the tragic fall, throughout the bumpy 15 minutes taxi ride downtown and the heartbreaking final moments - such a loyal and stoic character, such a short and cloistered life.
Salam, Sayang, hope you are happier now than you were before!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Whole Foods & More!

Dear I,
Yesterday, Y and I started our day at mid-day, so we didn't get to cover much of NYC's attractions.
Plus, I'm trying to apply for a job here so I spent some time surfing for vacancies.
I'm getting used to the subway rides and crowds - both the underbelly of the boroughs as well as the well-heeled Madison and Park Avs people.
We walked along Madison, Fifth and Park Avs to the Trump Tower, the Apple Center and Columbus Circle in the evening. Trump Tower was strangely deserted, unlike the Apple Center where you can see people of every age group and skin colour congregate. The focal points at Columbus Circle are the fountain and Whole Foods - you know how crazy I am about advocating organic food and stuff! Finally, I got to taste the no-bacon clam chowder and the in-season cherries are really yummy and succulent. You will surely fall in love with the store too, I bet.
InsyaAllah, later today I'll take advantage of the free entrance at MOMA from 4-8PM and catch a free concert at Central Park.
Sorry about the pixs - will post latest this weekend, salam.
Update: Joined the Friday eve crowd at the Target-sponsored free entry into MOMA and scrutinised Ensor's work, then off to Times Sq with Y, S, M & A to have dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant and watched Kathrine Heigel in The Ugly Truth.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Bite of Big Apple

Dear I,
Today I followed Y to her office in midtown Manhattan - E 56th St on Lex Av to be precise. The subway ride from Brooklyn to the city was worse than the LRT or komuter in the Klang Valley - most Malaysians would have complained about the dirt and stench long ago. In any case, I was able to appreciate and absorb the sights and sounds far better this time around than the last time when I had to either push you in your stroller or hug Y close to my heart in her carry-on.
In fact, I managed to get acquainted with most of the main buildings, shops and cafes from 56th to 59th St along Lex Ave within several hours, inspite of the intermittent summer showers and thunder storms. Citibank around the corner, Chrysler Building in the distance, Bloomingdale's like a siren luring compulsive shoppers via it window displays straight to its revolving doors; Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret, Oxford Cafe, Fusia - you'll find yourself drowned in a sea of consumer bliss.
In the evening, we went to Webster's Hall to watch V, or her glam stage name Zee Avi, perform the opening act with numbers from her new CD. I must admit that I felt very proud that this diminutive Sarawakian gal could wow the giant New Yorkers with her sensous guitar moves and lilting voice.
I hope to go to Bryant or Central Park tomorrow if it doesn't rain. There's something about being here NYC that made me blog again. Sure, I had planned on doing so many things - like learning indigo dying and other traditional crafts - when I arrived in Nizwa late January but only managed to get to know the locals in my neighborhood and the places that I visited such as Sohar and Sur.
Will post pixs soon, til then u take care!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are you going to San Francisco? (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)

M, Y
Assalamualaikum...I miss you guys so much. At the same time M, Y...I'm glad you're over there, far away from the craziness I go thru here. Y, had no idea Central Park was so big...
Anyways, I really hope to go there soonest, needless to say. It's been a pretty strange week here. All the good people are leaving...I'm quite distraught. Yasmin Ahmad passed away on Saturday night. I really really need to see you soon. I played an MTV concert thing and an hour later, she passed at Damansara Specialist. She passed because of stroke after she fainted on Thursday and was hospitalised. Allah Maha menyayangi and life moves so fast...
You don't know how happy I am to know that your days are long in NYC and you're with each other and God knows more people around you there who are different from the ones here. Believe me it's the one reason among very few others that give me hope, the fact that you guys are there together now and probably happy as can be...
The other day, I saw an auntie get robbed by rempits in broad daylight, right behind the traffic light right in front of our house! I reached for my steering lock, but I hesitated for three seconds and that was enough for them to get away. Poor lady...she was fine though. Everything seems to remind me of my family, and just how short life is. I find myself caring about good people much I can't take it...and hating bad people even more.
I immediately called R too, just to make sure she was ok and to check on her and tell her to be extra careful. And I talked to the dobi ladies...they've kena too. This is ridiculous...everyone here walks around in paranoia and hatred. It seems too much...and we can see it in MJ and Yasmin, good people are just being allowed to leave...
Don't worry though guys, my job isn't a problem at all. Everything material is secure. I'm just in awe of how screwed up the world can be.
The day after the car mugging, I saw a couple trying to commit suicide, holding hands on the roof of a five-story building near Jaya One. In their work clothes...crazy.... There was a crowd...I had a friend working there who was watching and called me. This was after work on my way back home as well. The bomba sprayed water and they fell backwards, and the police caught them from behind. They got sued for that. It was because work was too much or something. Laillahailallah we
I'm really sorry to bum you guys out but this is just what has been happening around here in this really doesn't even feel like mine anymore, and as each day goes by I'm being called somewhere else.
The cats are getting naughtier, but they keep me grounded. The band is really busy and it's the perfect distraction and weapon against all the madness so that is nice as well. Most everything is paid for and in check. The house is clean. My health is getting better, I'm losing my belly rolls =) and my eczema is under control with a few treatments at Assunta (kesian all those sick people) and um, I've had to pull my milk tooth out. Friends are life is a non-priority but that only makes sense cos of all the madness that goes on.
So I'm just so happy and thank God and my lucky stars that my family is far away, somewhere, anywhere, away from here on behalf of me. Like my dreams are being lived through you guys...really! M please make the best of your time there and please have the time of your life! I will eventually go...where I belong. Eventually... =>
Take care guys and update your Facebooks me back and write me often.
Love, salam
Dear I,
Wish u were here.
I'm still getting over from the jet lag and Y and I are recovering from the ravages of San Francisco. The weather there was COLD and MISTY after about 4pm. Different parts of the city have their own personality - Union Square, Buena Park, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf - and the valleys beyond the Golden Gate Bridge are all sunshine and vineyards. It's nice to be rich but awful to be poor, homeless and cracked-up here in the USA. The Union brims over with homeless and cracked-up characters - broke and broken by the system and society. Buena Park is an enclave of sanity and hope with a watery shrine for Martin Luther King Jr. Golden Gate Park is a cool and verdant sanctuary for arts and culture and scientific discoveries - the upper crust celebrates Ethiopian native healers and King Tut's exhibits at de Young museum and the environmentalists dedicate themselves to the projects at the Academy of Sciences. You can also find conservationists at the Acquarium by the Bay among the throngs of tourists gawking at the sea lions hanging out at Pier 39. Wanted to sample SF clam chowder but it was served with bacon. Had chilli instead but didn't taste half as good as at Wendy's in Jaya One and the nachos were thick, hard and soggy!
The first night we went on the cable car ride with Putri was a pleasant encounter with Salvador Dali's work at the galleries at Pier One. The next day, we went to MOMA and learned to distinguish between the Modernists, Expressionists and the Fauvists. Y, S and Putri risked Tut's wrath while I had an organic meal at De Young's cafe. Castro and Haight-Ashbury are overrated - we witnessed a middle-aged 'orang gumbira' at Castro desperate on hitting, figuratively and literally, on younger targets that he knocked into their car bumper and got taken away in a police van by not one or two but SIX police officers from the SFPD - kesian. Haight-Ashbury seems more like a graveyard for countercultural revolution with new age stores and psychedelic murals miserably trying to relive the hippier days of the 1960s. The presence of Morrocan eateries and Chinese salons didn't help at all.
Anyways, cheer up and hope I have lifted your spirits somewhat.
Take care n love u loads!
(NYC - 22.7.2009 to 20.8.2009)