Growing Up In Trengganu

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #51732

The dah-dah-dum man peddled apam balik in the far end of the market, close to the smelly bay. The apam bailk was a thick pancake in a roundish brass tray, put to heat on a coal fire. The dah-dah-dum man sprinkled sugar, raisins and sweetcorn into the simmering goo as the sweet smell wafted over the heads of children passing through. By the dah-dah-dum man was a huge cauldron made of hefty metal, it rose about knee-level, and in it he'd pour his apam balik ingredients: flour maybe, some yellowing material, an egg or two perhaps. He'd stir it and beat it with a stiff brush specially made from lengths of thin rattan — eight or ten pieces together — folded midway in two. Just under the folded loop he'd wrap a length of twine to hold the bundle together, then he'd place his striring hand there, and he'd stir and stir and sang his merry song, dah-dah-dum, dah-dah-dum, dah-dah-dum. Mother came home one day and told us of that, and so he became, to us, the dah-dah-dum man of the Tanjong Market.

There was more to this jolly man in mother's amusing story. One day, said mother, as she was moving about the shops, the dah-dah-dum man was stirring and singing and stirring, when a billy goat took an interest in his cauldron of liquid goo. But the dah-dah-dah man continued stirring as he fixed the billy goat in his sight. When the goat finally approached to sample the raw and sweetly stuff, the dah-dah-dum man swung his hand aloft and beat it with a whack! With his stirring bundle of sticks, of course, that dripped liquid apam balik onto the Billy's hairy coat. Then back he went, unperturbed, to his stirring job of work, dah-dah-dum, dah-dah-dum, goat beater beating the apam balik mix.

Mother had an eye for comedies like that whenever she'd gad about. She walked with face covered in a long and broad headcloth, quite in the manner of the chador nowadays worn by women of Iran. She was in Makkah in her teens with her parents whom we never met, but little details of Makkah life sprang up in our daily lives. Clumsiness in our household work? We became, to her, the Orang Judah, the rough and ready labourers of the Jeddah port who must've spilled things in their daily, labouring wake. Sometimes when we grew careless with the sarong around our waist, we'd be the dhow Arabs who were ever displaying their wares. Mother's Hajj visit must've been filled traumas like that. She must've seen many things, many troublesome sights.

But mother never bought the dah-dah-dum apam balik, nor the comestibles sold by the stallholders who came out in the night. She cast no aspersions on anyone, but she wanted things to be right, by her own rigorous marks. If unsure, she wouldn't patronise a food shop, because she'd want to know if the shopowner was an observer of the solat.

I'd sometimes slip out in the night to look at the rows of lights dancing around the wicks of the oil burning lamps, in the stalls that were heaving with this presentation of Trengganu delights: cakes, and fried noodles, and specially prepared rice. There was nasi ulam, and nasi dagang, hati sukma and lompat tikam, and beronok and Cik Abas demam, puteri mandi and perut ayam, and piles of fried noodles thick and thin, and hasidah; savouries galore and sweetmeat. They came piping hot on wide, flowery trays, soon after dusk. Then, as their quantities began to diminish with the night, the lights of the kerosene lamps — the pelita ayam as they were called — were also beginning to fade, and slowly the vendors would pull away, back to the kampung, into the deep of night.

September 16th, 2004

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