Growing Up In Trengganu

Friday, December 17, 2004

Growing Up in Trengganu #12151

Sometimes on loose end days, when adults looked pretty well-disposed towards us, we went up the spiral stairs to the loft of the Masjid Abidin, where the big drum was housed. Actually, we did not need adults' permission at all to go up there as the son of one of the muezzins was a friend of ours, and he had the freedom of the loft because he beat the drum that announced the prayer times when his father did the azan call-out.

I remember the spiral staircase well: it was metal and painted green, and clinging on its winding cork-screw hand-rail on the way up filled me with dread. We walked round and round its central pole as if on a journey to nowhere, then suddenly, before us, lay the well-lit dusty, spacious, drum chamber of the Masjid Abidin, with its elongated drum on props, lying horizontally, its hollow end facing out to the Kuala Trengganu rooftops. Our guide, Dolloh, son of the Bilal or muezzin was a street-toughned lad with a tougher nut to crack. Behind his back he was called Dolloh Ppala Besor (Dolloh with the big head), and he had a forehead that protruded out, straight jet-black hair, and a skull that had probably withstood many knocks. Like many a tough lad I knew, he was a softie when his heart-string got tugged; and he sometimes spoke wistfully to us of a love he'd left behind in Mersing on Johor's east coast.

Mersing was then the El Dorado of Trengganu fisher folk, a place they sought for gals and gold, and Dolloh was there all right, for six months he said. He'd been in many fights and had a side-kick known as Mat whom I never saw in the Masjid. I met him a few times though, in the street, and he indeed had a slight scar in one corner of his mouth, an adornment that gave him the Malay sobriquet of birat. Mat Birat reminded me of those characters in Malay movies who had the attention of the heroine for only a bit, and then spent the rest of the footage being trod upon by P. Ramlee or Ahmad Mahmud.

The mosque stood among a cluster of houses and little shops. My uncle had his house on one side of the mosque perimeter, outside a huge wall that fenced in the graves and the outhouse that was called the marja' where mosque hands adjourned to in between prayers and where the Imam often dropped in for a chat or a nap. The marja', I was told, meant a place for consultations but it always had the smell of left-over food, or the sweet scent of hair pomade that drifted in the air after someone's had a hair cut. Just outside the 'spear' railings behind the Mosque was a photo studio called Lay Sing, run by a stern man with a square jaw and a son who never wore a shirt, whom we knew as Ah Leng. When I was in upper primary at the Sultan Sulaiman School, it was from Ah Leng that I learned the rudiments of photography, from his diagnoses of my under-exposed shots, or those overlapping pictures when I forgot to wind the camera, or those dark ones taken against the light. He hired out cameras to me at, I think, just over a dollar a day, and took in the film to develop. I still have pictures taken in those days with the Lay Sing Rolleiflex — mother sitting on top of the stairs of our house, my old friend C.H.Lim who once told me in earnest while we were being trishawed to school that he once ended a prolonged blackout by singing O Jesus Loves me, and K.K.Soh, who caused much annoyance because, some days, whilst waiting for me to be ready for our early morning journey to school, my father would walk up to him to broach some of my slothful secrets.

Just before I left Kuala Trengganu I heard that my friend K.K.Soh had died in a road accident, and that one day, as Ah Leng was tending to his work in the photo studio, a man walked in and plunged a knife into his shirtless top. He died instantly in his father's shop.

The Masjid Abidin was very much the centre of my life in Kuala Trengganu not only because it was the only place Father went to after work — oftentimes with me tagging along — but also because of my uncle's proximity to it, and an auntie lived just a shouting distance away down the road. I knew the Mosque and its people very well, ate with them during the mosque feasts, listened to their adult talk in between evening prayers, and sometimes, I'd stay there to listen in to the Imams when they gave their long talks.

One day, after an afternoon prayer, while the leading preacher Imam Haji Wan Hassan was giving a discourse on some aspects of a kitab, a slightly unbalanced man sitting in the front row produced a wad of $10.00 notes which, with one mighty burst of strength, he tore to shreds. I was terrified as I feared that he'd soon run amok — which he didn't — but was equally impressed by the Imam who batted not an eye-lid. The police arrived soon afterwards to take the man away in a strait-jacket, leaving a trail of confetti money on the carpet.

Later in life, when we were all suited for adult talk, Father shared with us his observation from a life-time of mosque-going. It's a place, he said, that attracts many types: the devout, the wayward, the scrounger and the desperate.

December 17th, 2004


  • very interesting blog, you must have spent lots of time overseas, excellent transposition and beautifully crafted words. well done

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:40 AM  

  • alamak abang Teh...

    between you and Kak Teh... ur kids must have a lotttt of words... but its beautiful... if the writing talent lies in the genes, it can't possibly hop across between spouses can it?

    Yet another blog for me to start stalking and staking-out I suppose...

    By Blogger Noni, at 1:40 PM  

  • If the late K.K.Soh was your classmate,the late Yeo Sin Khim, the late Sara Paul, Tay Huay Cheng, Toh Siew Choo must have been your classmates too.

    By Anonymous mmekkolang, at 5:27 AM  

  • : )

    By Blogger R2K, at 1:12 PM  

  • I just love your language :)

    By Blogger Frankensteina, at 11:25 AM  

  • Hiya Everyone!

    I'm very grateful for your visit and your kind words. Please go to my on-going Trengganu site:

    and you will be genned up on the latest developments in my world, including news of my just-published book, Growing Up in Trengganu.


    By Blogger Awang Goneng, at 3:46 PM  

  • Oh my God..I would have love to get a copy of this book...

    Cemana nak cari kat UK???? Any suggestion????

    Thx in advance!

    By Blogger Lee Novotny, at 3:07 PM  

  • wow..alhamdulillah..sebuah bingkisan yg molek do'oh..really like anok ganu gok, but dont really know about the gud old days of ur part of terengganu...thnks a lot for the beautiful writings...
    anok ganu d perantauan :)

    By Anonymous makming, at 12:44 PM  

  • I just started reading your blog and found it good that I will definitely revisit. Keep writing!

    By Blogger Sureindran, at 4:46 AM  

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