Saturday, February 8, 2014

Am I A Writer?

My first favourite pastime is reading.  During my primary school days, I used to write or rather draft letters for my father whenever he wants to send one to my maternal grandmother in Dungun, Terengganu.  This frequent tasks sharpen my skills in writing or rather my ability to ideas into written words.  Most of the time,  I fantasise stories in my head. And I pretend afterwards that I have created karya (creative or artistic works).

My first karya was an ulasan lagu (comments on songs) aired over radio. It was during my secondary school days.  There was no electricity yet in my kampung at that time hence there was no television too then.  At nights our only window to the outside world was the radio.

There was a radio programme called Ilham Cipta (lit. Ideas/inspiration and Creativity) aired once-a-week around 9.30 pm. Basically the programme airs commentaries submitted by listeners on a Malay song selected beforehand by the programme producer.

To cut a long story short, I crafted my ulasan on the song as announced by the announcer (DJ as a term was unheard of then) and sent it by post. The ulasan is actually a narration or explanation of the song's lyrics not on its music.  As luck has it, my ulasan was aired.  No word can best described my feeling at that time.  Come Friday, a few friends complimented me after the customary Friday prayers at my kampung mosque for my 'success!'.  That adds to my elated feeling, knowing that my name was heard by the thousands...

A few weeks later I received a cheque for RM20.00 - quite a big sum for a poor secondary schoolboy then.  Another ulasan from me was also aired a few weeks later but my third submission did not make it. The second cheque was the last.  Was I a writer?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Musim Hujan (Rainy Season a. k. a. the Monsoon)

My little village is located on the Terengganu river bank about 20km from the South China Sea.  Being in the tropics we do not experience the four seasons.  There is no summer nor winter.  But we do experience some semblance of different 'seasons' in a year. The dry season with the usual dryness and hot and dusty days usually starts in March and ends in June when there is usually thunderstorms and lightnings.  The 'winter' begins in late September and ends by end of February.  The 'winter' is actually only a rainy season. But mind you, rain during this season is very heavy. It is normal to have heavy rain non-stop for a week on ends.

Nowadays, the seasons have changed. The rain that comes during our winter comes only for a few weeks at the most. This year the heavy rain arrives only the last week of December.  And like in the past few years the season will end by January.  During my childhood, the seasons lasts for at least four months,

While we dread the perceived difficulties associated with the Monsoon season in the form of floods and the wet clothes, I enjoyed the rain and the floods.  When the river swells and inundates its banks, my friends and I start building rafts made up of banana tree trunks tied up together. And we spend the days rafting in the flooded fields.  We were ever willing to help free any stricken fishing nets or fetching whatever the villagers asked us to. It was not the task that we enjoy but they give us the reason to play rafts in the flood-water.

Our main fear during the flood was if there was a crocodile in the water although we haven't seen one during my whole chidlhood years. The others are occasional snakes that come across our way looking for drier place to go and the myriads of insects that congregate on tree trunks. Strange-looking insects occupy every square inch of any tree trunk above the flod-water level.

In a few times that we do not play rafting, we cycle along the flooded village roads.  By the time we go home we were so hungry that the ubi rebus - boiled tapioca - tastes so good.  The ubi rebus is taken with hot tea or coffee. Sometimes mother scolds us for spending too much time in the flood water.

No one died in our village due to drowning in the floods. The Monsoon seasons were enjoyable time during my childhood days. Whenever rain starts dropping we went out and basked in it contrary to my chidlren nowadays who quickly dash into our home when it starts raining.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Television Part II

My father bought the small Setron television set from a Chinese-owned electrical and electronic equipment shop in town. He bought it in cash.  At that time owning a radio or tv sets needs a license called lesen radio or lesen tv.  Radio-license costs RM12.00 per year while tv licenses costs RM24.00 per year. Anyone owning both a radio and a tv have to pay only RM24.00.

Human nature is such that one always tries to avoid paying tax in whatever form. My father too was no exception. He didn't pay the tv license.   People in my kampong took various measures whenever the Information Department van came around to check. Some took out the radio batteries from the slots. Others hid the  radio or - later - tv sets in the bush behind their houses to avoid detection.

We were very unfortunate when one day the Information Department officer came to our house and asked for the tv license of which we could not produce. We were worried but my father did not show any kind of such look on his face.  Finally he had to appear in court to answer the charge of having a tv set without a license.  He showed the court the 'receipt' for the purchase of the tv set as 'issued' by the electrical and electronic equipment shop.  By 'co-incidence' the date of purchase as written in the receipt was just two days before the day the Information Department conducted the check.  My father told to presiding judge that he bought the tv only on trial at that time and the shop-owner promised to accept the tv set back after three days if there was no good reception.  The judge bought my father's story and he was spared the fine.  I was and am not sure if the judge agreed with my father's explanation or was just out of his sympathy with a poor kampong folk.  I didn't know my father has the potential of becoming a lawyer hahahah!

On the fourth day, he obtained the tv license.   Actually my father went to the shop and asked the owner to issue him a new receipt after the check.  For the record, the radio and tv license were later on abolished.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sungai (the River)

Our kampung is located near the Terengganu river. There are two towns on the opposite "ends" of the river, Kuala Berang is upstream and Kuala Terengganu, the state capital is on its estuary. I wish to claim that my kampung lies half-way between the two towns!

In my last posting, I talk about mandi. We clean ourselves using the community well. Other than that, my life was attached to the river. Schools were one-session back then and tuition classes were unheard at that time. After school, I had to attend quranic reciting "classes" first at a "guru quran"'s house not far from my house.

As soon as the session ends, my friends (cousins included) head for the river. In the beginning, I didn't know how to swim so my roaming territory was limited to the edges of the riverbank where, during low-tide, the water were about waist-deep. There were no swimming lessons too at that time.

I started learning to swim by holding "nyior komeng" - matured coconuts that has little content inside - to my chest and paddling my two legs. When there was no "nyior komeng" around, I tied our sarong to our waist and use its bottom to tie it into a knot between our knees. Then we beat the water, an act that pushed enough air into the sarong. Once there was enough air within the sarung, hey presto we were afloat and we could just float like swans (we were in seating position) by paddling our hands or we could swim (in horizontal position) by using our hands now as our back was really afloat by then.

Later on, I was able to swim...and we play "to" (read "toll" with silent "ls") in the water. We spents hours in the water and in the evening just before sunset, I could be assured of a few pinches or ear-twisting treatment courtesy of my mother. We could not find excuses because our eyes were red from being too long in the water.

During the monsoon season, we couldn't be in the river as it was too dangerous to play in the swollen and raging flood water. We still play in the flood water in flooded padi-fields by making rafts from banana trunks. two or three banana trunks were attached together and we went rafting around the inundated fields all day long - the monsoon season coincides with the long school holidays.

One incident I cannot forget was how I almost got drowned in the river. It happened one afternoon at a pangkalan near my future (now) wife's house. At that time, I still could not swim so I played in the shallow part near the bank. All of a sudden, I was pushed by small waves caused by a passing passenger boat into the deeper part...I was gulping waters and tried to jump by pushing my feet off the river bed. I was thinking I would die by then because no one was aware of my predicament with the shouting and merry-making. As sudden as the waves that pushed me outwards, my body was suddenly pushed back to the shallow water with my nose just above water. I felt weak and slowly made my way onto the bank, took may sarong and walked home. My throat was in pain from the water that got into my mouth and my efforts of spitting it out.

We - my friends and I - were in the water just like duck and fish. Unfortunately, nowadays, I dare not take a dip into the river as the water is no longer pristine. I am now become afraid of crocodiles - strange that we never gave thought to their presence during our younger days despite a few sightings of them back then - and the murky waters due to sand-mining operations.

My children were born in Kuala Lumpur and even though there are swimming pools and lessons none of them can swim.


Electricity came to our little kampong only in 1978 the year I was in Lower Six at a premier secondary school in Kuala Terengganu.  Before that year, our kampong folk uses pelita, small kerosene-fired lamp for lighting purposes.  And radio, other than torchlights, was the only electrical gadget we use.  Our kampong folk knew the existence of television before 1978.  There were two shops in our kampong that have a television set each. The sets were powered by portable generators run on petrol.  And we had to go to the shops for our movies etc.

In 1976, my father bought a small television set, a Japanese brand called Setron. It was powered by 14V car battery.  Charging the battery costs one Ringgit and it lasts for a week.  Our house was the first 'private' house in our kampong that has a tv set.  With the tv set our daily life changes somewhat. Nights were no longer quiet and idyll.  We have visitors almost every night and the last of them usually left our house well after midnight.

There were two shows that made our small kampong house full to the brim. First the series called Combat starring Vic Morrow and Rick Jason. It was shown on Wednesdays at 7 pm.  That was our dinner and prayer time.  About half-an-hour before the series started, we have about 20-25 people congregating in our living room waiting for the series to be shown.  Imagine having a crowd in your house at that 'private' times.  My step-mother had the tough tasks of cleaning the house after the guests left.  Many kampong folk at that time still do not wear slippers or shoes and the floor of our living room usually full of dirts, dried cow-dung and rubbish after the show.

The second time in a week that our house was full of guests were on Friday nights when there were cerita Melayu (Malay movies) on tv.  While on Wednesday evenings the crowd were most boys the Friday night crowds comprise mostly women, families and children.

Imagine your house having about 70 people seating and watching tv in the living room.  It was a bit fun initially having people around but later it took some toll on our life and privacy.

Thinking about it now, I think it was fun too having a tv set - however small - in your living room, and people crowding in your home at least twice-a-week.  Men chatted, women gossiped, boys flirted in my living room hahahaha

Sunday, December 25, 2011


No, that's not an English word. It is not even a Standard Malay word. Skodeng was a Terengganu word but it becomes one due to its popular usage. Tembor means to break out from an area. It also means just running away. During our schooldays, tembor refers to an illegal act of leaving the class, school compound or hostel without permission. I was an extremely good boy during my schooldays. Never had any brush up with any rules or regulations. I was a very obedient hostellite too. Air Tenang Jangan Disangka Tiada Buaya - do not underestimate a calm water as harmless - and I did once sneak out of our hostel at night on the suggestion of my friends M and ZG. We were all good hostellites.

Our hostel was located near the seashore and the school fence did not last long. it got rusted and fell down not long after it was erected. We quietly treading near the perimeter fence and then when the coast was clear jumped out onto the concrete wave-breaker near the beach. We walked on the wave-breaker towards the Istana which was next to our school compound. It was not really dark as the moon was high in the sky.

After about five minutes we reached the Istana wall. M climbed up first followed by ZG. I was last and had the difficulty of going over the high wall. As soon as we were in fact into the Istana compound, M climbed up a coconut tree and brought down a few coconuts. ZG took out a knife that he brought along and de-husk them. We had coconut drink that night in the Istana compound even if it was only at the periphery. After finishing a few coconuts, we climbed out of the Istana compound and slowly walked back to our hostel. We quietly sneaked back into our respective dormitories and went to sleep. There was no ill-intention in doing that but the feeling of an accomplished 'conquest' gives us the satisfaction from tembor. We feel we taste success in the form of breaking out of our hostel unnoticed and breaking into the Istana compound also unnoticed. I am not sure what would have happened if we were caught doing that! Our faces would have appeared in the next day's newspapers and obviously the canes of our school and our fathers would land on our buttocks. Tembor hostel yes but I never tembor kelas during my schooldays! Did you?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dating? 1970s-style

People fall in love everyday. Youngsters date; matured persons date too. Married people also do not like to be left out. Arranging a date is a breeze nowadays, what with the cellphones and social media. How did people in 1970s go for a date? It takes days to arrange for a date. It takes longer if the only available medium of communication is the postal service.

I didn't date during my schooldays. In fact I was a very shy 'boy'. My palms sweat whenever a girl - beautiful or otherwise - comes near. That doesn't mean I have no one asking for a date, mind you. And one can arrange a date and send a proxy instead when the time comes. There is no shortage of people willing to be a proxy for such an assignment.

Our English teacher, a Ms P***** one day asks each of us to write a letter to an unknown 'friend' in another school. She asks us to write to 'Dear Friend,...' and specifically instructed us to introduce ourselves to the yet-to-be-known friend. She collected the letters in the next English class and put them in a big envelop. The envelop was addressed to a class in SMAA, Kuantan, Pahang. My palms have yet to sweat at that time.

After ten days, Ms. P brings along a big envelop to the class, opens it and starts distributing the replies. I get a reply from a Ms. *** who mentions in her reply that she is from Pulau Duyung but lives in Kuantan and studying at SMAA. Ms P asks us to reply to our new-found friends. I duly did. More replies came.

To cut the long story short, Ms. *** asks me to wait for her at the Kuala Terengganu bus station on a certain day and time during the next school holiday as she plans to visit her grandma in Pulau Duyung. She describes in the letter her shape and size, hair-style and the colour and type of dress including the pants she would be wearing. She also provides a plan that says she would, after disembarking from the bus, walk to the nearest terminal column and wait for me there. The password was also given. It is very tough to meet in those days since we have no way of communicating while on our way.

My heart stops a moment. My palms start to sweat. Two classmates observe my apprehensiveness and ask what 's wrong. Again, to cut the long story short, both of them agree to be my proxy. MFA and ZH were very happy and look forward to the date so arranged. I provided them all the agreed details including the password.

When school reopens after the mid-year break, both MFA and ZH told me they were upset for not being able to meet up with the date. They waited the whole day at the bus station and till the last bus from Kuantan on that day. No one fitting the description provided in the letters disembark from the many buses from Kuantan. It was a letdown to both my proxies.

The girl err the friend I mean writes back later apologising profusely for having to abort the trip back to Kuala Terengganu due some unavoidable reasons. I stop corresponding with her soon after; not out of frustration over the missed date but due to my shyness. Furthermore, Ms. P no longer asks about the progress of our friendship. So there is no reason to proceed.

I pity my proxies but deep inside I consider at that time I was saved from some difficult situation. No Women No Cry, as the title of a Boney M song says. That's dating 1970s-style with proxies....