Growing Up In Trengganu

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Growing Up in Trengganu #43275

Our cousin Dah was one day knocked sideways by a Tok Peraih travelling at speed from Kedai Payang to a place in Ladang.

Kedai Payang — if you know Trengganu — is almost in the town centre, and Ladang some fifteen minutes away, maybe faster, seeing as how the Tok Peraih flew. Tok Peraihs were sinewy men often found under a conical terendak hat, and they rode Home are the fishermen, home from the sea. Payang fishing boats moored in Kampung Batin, Kuala Trengganu. The town of KT faintly visible in the background. Source:Dr Mat bin Zakaria, with thanks.sturdy bikes with a rack in the back on which was placed a rectangular cane basket filled with the latest fruits of the sea. We'd all skated or slipped in the fishmarkets of Kuala Trengganu, but cousin Dah was the only family member I knew who'd had the fish market come crashing on her.

The peraihs were middlemen who waited all day in the coffee shops then sprang to life in late afternoon when the payang boats came back to shore. They were tough cookies and hard bargainers, and wore baggy khaki shorts with draped over batik sarongs, rolled up to the knee, with the seams pulled up and tucked into the wiastband. On cooler days they'd discard the terendak and wrap their heads in a band of long material quite in the way of the Kelantanese semutar. By five o'clock, at peraih speed, the fish would be in the Ladang market opposite my old Malay school — the kembong, and selar kuning, and ikan keras ekor, ikan jebong and the occasional ttuke, probably cousin to the skate or pari — the sea smell wafting to the roundabout later made famous by the Trengganu turtle.

As it happened, cousin Dah was crossing the road when the Tok Peraih came at breakneck speed on his way to an important customer. She fell to the road in shock, but was otherwise unhurt, and her pride smelt of fish that day. The Tok Peraih merely shook his head in disbelief and continued on his urgent journey, while his one free hand pressed even more agitatedly on the rubber bulb of his handle-bar horn that went phat-phat! all the way.

Late afternoon was peraih time in the streets of coastal Kuala Trengganu, when these fish couriers pedalled fast and furious to their customer-retailers in Ladang, Pasir Panjang or Chabang Tiga, that bustling market at the intersection of roads that took us to deeper parts of Trengganu.

This occasion of cousin Dah and the middleman was one that I savoured with much hilarity — only after discovering that she was physically unscathed, of course — because the peraihs were busy and sturdy men who were only visible at speed, and there wasn't one that I knew. You only saw them dismounted among the market stallholders, and that was after their business was done, as they walked about with their sarong skirts lifted like stage curtains half-drawn when the show was nearly over. And then they'd disperse and disappear till the butt end of the following business day, with their bicycle horns going phat-phat! phat-phat! warning people like Dah of their pace of travel.

Home are the fishermen, home from the sea.I remember Ladang not only because Dah came to grief with a basket of fish near there on that fateful day. At peraih speed, it was a good few minutes still from Ladang that she met the flying wheel: Payang fishing boats moored in Kampung Batin, Kuala Trengganu. The town of KT faintly visible in the background. Source:Dr Mat bin Zakaria, with thanks.">a place near the bend known to us as Tanjong Mengabang, in a landscape of coastal shacks and smart houses, and coconut trees all the way to the sea. Tanjong Mengabang had a peculiar hum about it, and a funny breeze that blew in a certain chill.

When Mother told me stories of Trengganu past, she often spoke of Pak Mat Mengamok, who one day went berserk after some matrimonial crisis and went on a killing spree. Pak Mat was buried there she said, among the coconut trees of Tanjung Mengabang, and funnily enough, it was near the house of another Pak Mat, a telecoms linesman in his daytime job, who was often at our house during weekends for some bits of carpentry. My father was a telephone operator at the Kuala Trengganu exchange in those days, and Pak Mat was the man who put those copper lines on poles that went for as long as you could see; so they shared a certain camaraderie.

It was near Pak Mat's house that cousin Dah had her piscatorial day, but it wasn't something that he remembered clearly. Just over three years ago, when I saw my father for the last time, we were chatting in the front of the house in Kuala Lumpur when a car drove into the driveway and out from the passenger side came a rheumy eyed man so full of smile. This was Pak Mat of years ago, who used to perch on poles among the copper wires, but now he was walking very slowly.

They had a lot to talk about as they'd not seen each other for many years. Then Pak Mat asked about a certain person, my father's friend, who used to be his boss at the Telephone Exchange in Kuala Trengganu. He'd come to Kuala Lumpur with a purpose, he said, because many years ago, the boss gave him 15 ringgit too much in his pay packet, and now he wanted to hand it back before he returned to his Maker.

Like our cousin Dah I had Tanjong Mengabang and the Tok Peraihs come hurtling back to me that day; but most of all, I was close to tears by Pak Mat's honesty.

October 31st, 2004

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