Growing Up In Trengganu

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #50976

To move onward to Besut after the bustle of Kuala Trengganu the bus had to go down the slope and struggle up the ramp onto the ferry at Bukit Datu. It was a hairy experience, but too late to turn back now, there were scores of other vehicles big and small in the tailback, waiting to pour into the dip for a ride across the swell.

The ferry was a raft built of blocks of wood that took the weight of four or six vehicles, assorted pedestrians and people cycling into the green yonder. It was pulled by a tug across the Trengganu river in one of its most meancing phases, to the bank across, from where our journey would continue. Ferries crossed many rivers in Trengganu then, in Dungun there was a ferry point, and in Kemaman there was one at a place called Geliga. An express bus once slipped its brakes on the deep incline to the ferry over there and dove into the river. I remember that early evening in Kuala Trengganu when our poor cousin from Seberang Takir came back quite dead and sodden with many other unfortunate souls, all laid out in the back of a lorry.

The road to Besut was heat and dust over a long stretch that wound and dipped through dense jungle. In the monsoon months, seen through the condensation in the window, the view became smudgy watercolour, smearings of green against the brooding sky, and the continual swish-swish-swish of the windscreen wipers. Kampung Raja in Besut wasn't sixty miles from Kuala Trengganu, but it seemed a very long way.Pressure Lanterns

We were taken there during school holidays to meet cousins and uncles, aunties and more cousins twice removed, and Toks galore. Toks were older people — grandfather and grandmother, and grand uncles, and anyone else dressed in sarong pelikat, and the Malay baju and the walking stick of senior years. Kampung Raja was dark in the night and long in the the days, but always, always there was a gaggle of people.

My grandfather had a sprawling house in Kampung Raja — village of the ruler — opposite a Malay school. It was as big a house as a child could imagine, with capacity to accommodate a few coachloads of people if the occasion called. But sometimes occasion didn't, and it'd be quieter then, with ladies rustling up things in the back of the house, and my grandfather sitting at his table by the window, poring over some dog-eared kitabs. He kept spotted doves and puffed on cigarettes made from sun-dried leaves filled with strands of tobacco, then rolled into the thin shape of a knitting needle. Kampung Raja was quiet — unsettlingly so — even in the day. There'd be the occasional rumble of a motor car over some distance, or some murmur of conversation from passers by; then the birds, bored by this life of captivity, would lament it so: kur-kur! kur-kur! came their woeful tale. The Malays call them the tekukur.

In the daytime when my cousins were distracted by their own things, I'd walk the ground and stuff myself on jambu or water apple, or star fruit that hung from scrawny trees. Or sometimes I'd walk barefooted across the soft sand in front of the house to the spreading cashew trees — known here as pokok ketereh — by the roadside. The cashews were useless to a growing child, its funny fruit inedible, and its shoots plucked by adults and served at the dining table as an ulam to be eaten with hot sambal or dipped in budu, the dark fish sauce of Trengganu.

At night, when the lampu pam came out, we sat under its bright light to dinner on white sheets spread out across the floor, then the pressure lanterns would hiss the night away, its light fading steadily as time went by. The lampu pam lit many homes and many roadside stalls, with their fabric mantles glowing brightly and miraculously under pressure and kerosene power.

Late into the night when the pressure was dropping and the light turning yellow, we'd gather around Ayah Ngah, my father's brother, and urge him to tell us a story. No, he'd say, he had to go, then he'd relent and tell us a wonderful tale spun out there on the fly, the epic journey of Pak Wé. Pak Wé was an unlikely sarong wearing — batik, of course — baju clad and ketayap topped Trengganu hero, a man who beat the odds and repelled enemies by the power of breaking wind, especially the kentut singgang, Ayah Ngah would say, the force of wind power and Trengganu cookery that turned back many mortals.

When even Pak Wé became tired and the lamp mantle grew even dimmer, Ayah Ngah would rise and pump the lamp again with renewed pressure. Brightness came back to the room, and we knew it was time for sleep and Pak Wé to go.

October 10th, 2004


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