Growing Up In Trengganu

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Growing Up in Trengganu #39506

If the sound of burping was to be expected at lunch-time during Ramadhan in Kuala Trengganu, it would've come from those cubicles behind the drapes in the rambunctious cafe next door to the Panggung Mat Min. The Panggung was one of our two local cinemas, officially called the Sultana, a shortlived name soon overtaken by the fame of its own doorkeeper, a man named Mat Min, whose name — in the mouths of the public — soon became the cinema proper.

The sleazy cafe by the Panggung Mak Ming (as we called him in Trengganuspeak) had a frontage on the main road on the edge of our Chinatown. Malay Film PosterIt differed from your common and garden coffee shop by dint of the pelayan ladies who ran hither and thither from table to table with coffee as black as sin and sin maybe, for afters. The word pelayan itself is relatively harmless if you look it up in a Malay dictionary, but in Trengganuspeak then, words were never what they seemed to be, and the pelayan was not just your lady server, just as a bujang woman wasn't your dainty spinster. If an orang bujang were to cross your path you'd quickly avert your eyes if you were mosque going people.

Ramadhan was of course a month of abstinence, but not behind those cafe covers. There were straight-backed chairs in the cafe sleaze, facing one another; with backs so tall that two chairs tête-á-tête, lined against the wall, formed a neat cubicle with the eating table in between and the entrance and exit in the broad gangway in the cafe centre. They were lined on opposite walls, as I remember, with the centre area of the cafe filled with round, marble topped tables, taken up by punters who felt no reason to be lying low. I imagine the cafe owner, on the eve of Ramadhan, scurrying to the dusty storeroom for the drapes to hang across the entrance to his Ramadhan tête-á-tête cubicles.

This sleaze cafe came back to me when I was watching an early instalment of Star Wars, when Hans Solo and friends ventured into the cafe at the edge of the universe, filled with shady types and blubbery people. Sleaze cafe by the Panggong Mat Min was a place like that: I don't think I saw anyone in there that I recognised or knew, they were people that sprang out of a Trengganu that I didn't know, with proclivities to make you gawp away the time of day. In Ramadhan they ate behind the drapes, in other months they sowed wild oats in this lively corner.

The Panggong Mat Min wasn't a favourite, but sometimes we'd hang there to look at the cinema posters. They showed Cathay Kris only over there, because Shaw Brothers productions were the privilege of the Capitol next door. One day, while ogling at the shapeliness of Rose Yatimah, maybe, we heard a loud shriek from the woman at cafe sleaze, then saw a man wearing a smirk for a face, hurrying away from her. "Cekor ***** dapat pitis samah!" she said, mocking a short chase that ended in a smile. It was quite a daring thing to say in the open air of Kuala Trengganu, but the pelayan were that kind of people.

Cekor was then — as now — an act of daring, the grabbing of something succulent, like meat, and pitis samah was worth fifty cents in those Trengganu days. I shall spare you the asterisks, dear reader, but I went home that day with my little head thinking of the wonders of nature.

October 20th, 2004

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