Growing Up In Trengganu

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #50742

Delonix regia. Flame of the Forest. Source:floridata.comIn front of our house stood a Flamboyant tree, also known as the Flame of the Forest. It was a barren tree that never flamed for us, but goats loved to feast on its bipinnate leaves. One day men came with tools and spades and dug a deep, wide trench just a few feet form the tree, so we braced ourselves for a suprise.

I looked down from our window to see men working hard, nailing together planks to line its sides, and then another wall of planks within, with a gap of some six inches in between. When the cement mixer arrived, they laid a hard floor on the trench bed, then poured molten concrete into the gaps between wood and wood. When it set all around, the planks were stripped, and the trench was a wide, open tank, an impermeable layer of concrete in its bottom and on the sides. They came back and covered the top again in thick cement, leaving two square openings in that, covered by two heavy slabs that lifted by two stout metal rings.

The lorries arrived again and men laid underground pipes to another site four or five yards from the vault, just by the main road, and back to back with the fish market. There, a narrow concrete structure soon rose, some sixteen feet long. In it were cubicles, covered by wooden doors. And behind these doors were holes in the ground, with footpads for the squatting position, and an overhead tank with a chain that pulled and flushed the detritus along the pipes that were now laid in the ground, to the innards of the concrete tank by the tree that never flamed for us.

Delonix regia. Flame of the Forest. Source:floridata.comA good day for folks with loose bowels, but a very bad day for us. Our house now overlooked a septic tank, and the fish market had an additional whiff, all wrapped in tarffic noise. About a mile from us, towards the roundabout which later housed an erstaz greenback turtle, they'd already built another jamban, — the toilet — of a more period build; mostly corrugated iron sheets, I think, standing there, squat by the roadside, and they painted it a ghastly green. Folk soon began to call the locality by its jamban. They called the place Jamban Hijau, Place of the Green Convenience. We were slightly more fortunate, our place name remained intact, noise and nose notwithstanding.

So there it stood, our public jamban, mute, I'd rather not say, because oftentimes there came from within, a loud report. And it became a public monument, a privy and private place, unkempt and uncared for by the fisherfolk, by all the passers by who were caught short, and by users of the fish market. I shall not venture into its interior for fear you're still enjoying a snack.

That then was a stinking gesture by the Town Council for visitors to our parts. It wasn't for the folks of the neighbourhood, of course, for we had our own private places which I shall not talk about just now as you may still be munching a repast. But suffice it to say that for most of us it was an outhouse, normally placed in the back of the premises. Ours was a large, tall, family house built on hefty wooden stilts, probably twenty of them, standing some ten feet apart. We had to walk between them, with torch in hand if the call of nature came after dark, to go to the back for some business. For a small child it was a terrifying walk, then a quick dash back again after that, to the upstairs comfort of the house, relieved that there was no chance meeting with ghouls or ghosts that lurked behind each pillar and post.

Ghosts, as you know, lived in the depths of darkness, and had their own special scents to counteract the stench of the outhouse. But better the latter than roses in the dark, was our uppermost thought, as we ran, and ran back to the house. But once upstairs, as the clock struck one, there came a swishing, swishing noise, and an overwhelming aroma that made us giggle in the dark. It was the unmistakable hour of the night soil man.

Delonix regia. Flame of the Forest. Source:floridata.comThe night soil man wore a pith helmet, and carried a little tank in the back of his bicycle, into which he'd empty the slops. And the slops came in the bucket that lay beneath the hole in the floor of the outhouse. Poor, little night soil man as he went swish, swish, with his brush of coconut leaf spines, pouring water into the bucket to make it clean for users who would fill it up again for another time.

The night soil man, with a little torch in his helmet, then moved again as mysteriously as he came, sometimes muttering a little something to himself, decrying the residents of the house for inconsiderate use. And he left, and he muttered, and we'd be pinching our noses.

September 14th, 2004

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