Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Goodbye Pak Cik and thanks for the memories

First I must thank Wan A (comment below) for informing me about the death of Pak Cik Bakar. Al Fatehah. Am truly sad to hear the news. The last time I visited Liverpool and the small community of old Malay sailors there, I heard about Pak Bakar and about how ill he was. I didn't have time to see him but I visited Pak Karim who was then very-very critical. Pak Karim died a week later. I also visited Pak Cik Arshad, dear, sweet Pak Cik Arshad who never failed to remember me as the person who put him on TV Malaya! Alhamdulillah, inspite of his shakes and trembles, he is fine and in good spirit.

The small number of Malay sailors, either from Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia who left their homes and families in the forties and fifties and remained in Liverpool, London or Cardiff, has dwindled. Pak Cik Hamzah, another old dear who entertained me with his wonderful accounts at sea, died alone in his small flat in Cardiff, even before I could take him back to reunite him with his family. Last Merdeka Day, for the first time, the Liverpool City Council, together with the Malaysia Singapore Association, organised an event to remember those who perished at sea during the war. Only a handful of those who survived, now in their seventies and eighties, turned up. Others were too frail.

I feel sad because these are the people who have enriched my life with their stories of adventure at sea and foreign ports, enduring harsh weather and even harsher immigration officers. I feel sad because their going means I have lost not only friends but my source of inspiration. And my selfish self is saying: I still have not got enough from them and now they are going.

The article below was written some time ago and had been published. Blabbarella, its a tad too long - but here I'd like to share a glimpse of what they have kindly shared with me:

IN THEIR ELEMENTS AT SEA
"THE Malays, wherever they are, will survive". These were some of the final words uttered to me by the first president of Kelab Melayu London, the late Pak Aman Majid. A few months after his death, I kept hearingthose words in my head when I was editing my interview with Pak Man for my BBC radio documentary.

It was our last time together. Pak Man died a month after that. He was in his late 80s. He left me a wealth of information and interesting stories about the travels and adventures of Malays like him that set me off on my own voyage of discovery to track down other surviving adventurers like him, if only to hear and document their fascinating accounts as stowaways, sailors and hitchhikers. It made our own 12-hour non-stop flight to London seem as exciting as a bus ride!

Alas, many have now died and buried with them are many undocumented experiences, stories of survival in the harsh realities of the high seas during the war when their ships were hit by torpedoes and typhoons. Many times I've heard of how they cheated death, immigration officers and ship captains in their quest for adventure on foreign shores that beckoned their restless young souls.

I had always yearned to know why they had left their home shores, and what made them stay away from it for so long.

Like many others, Pak Man - better known as Man Tokyo for his stint in the Japanese dockyards - had always wanted to see the land of the people who came to colonise them. They were also lured by wide-screen portrayals of distant lands, inspired to leave the comforts of home and family and venture into unknown and uncertain territories. Others had more personal reasons: Pak Mat Nor in Liverpool was once a worker in the Jalan Ampas studios. He left because his parents wanted to marry him off to his cousin. Another left because his father had found a new young bride, not for the fleeing son, but for himself!

Leaving was easy. Many British merchant ships docked in Singapore were just too happy to get Malay sailors into the merchant navy.

"We were hardworking and strong," said the late Pak Hamid who, in his time, was a carpenter on board. Language was no barrier wherever they were, for they lived as they had left, with their fellow Malay travellers. Even after more than 20 years, they seem to be still quite oblivious to what you or I would expect to be a problem area, but they converse still, as they had conversed the day they had boarded their ships to those countries "above the wind". If anything, they are now in their time-
ravaged selves, a curious linguistic fossil, speaking the quaint kind of Malay you only hear in old Malay movies, before P. Ramlee made that leap forward to Studio Merdeka. And as for their English, well, it's Cockney-ish with bravura, without a nod to either accepted pronunciation or grammar.

Hamid Carpenter, as he was better known, and as would have been apt for his calling, was found adrift at sea on a piece of plank off the Bay of Biscay. His ship had been torpedoed, and there was Malaya's volunteer hand in the colonial merchant navy, floating in the wash of what, in his bewildered mind, was the "Bay of Beski". As fate would have it, he was rescued by another Malay sailor aboard another merchant navy ship.

"Jumping ship" became an exciting game as the ships called at ports around the world. A whole new world opened up before their very eyes.

As put by Pak Ngah Musa, who now works at a bookshop in a mosque in Liverpool, "The world outside was heaven on earth! Maklumlah kita orang muda! (We were thenyoung!)," he said with a glint in his eyes and a strong Terengganu accent.

In fact, either by accident or design, there were few places on earth that they had not been to. They spouted place names like Times Square in New York, Moscow under the communists, the North Pole, China - welcome sights after months and months of isolation at sea.

Recounting events at sea became a favourite pastime as the ex-sailors gather at meeting places such as 100 Cricketfield Road in East London, or better known as Kelab Melayu, or for those in Liverpool, at Kesatuan Anak-anak Melayu Malaysia/Singapura in Jermyn Street, Toxteth.

In Cardiff, Wales, Pak Hamzah, now in his mid-80s, seeks out Malaysian students to introduce himself and get updated on developments in his home country.

Malaysian students in Liverpool who frequented the house in Jermyn Street listened in awe as Pak Mat Nor told them how he was once swept off deck by a strong wave, and by a stroke of luck, swept back in. I met him in 1996. The scene was quite touching as I watched them in their ripe old age, being surrounded by young students who looked up to them as grandfathers. Except for Pak Mat Nor, who has strong family ties, others neglected by their own flesh and blood yearn the company and respect that only the likes of us can offer.

It was here that I met Pak Arshad from Johor, then in his early 70s, who, in between bouts of attacks of Parkinson's disease entertained me with his song:

Setahun tiga pekan,
Tanah air kutinggalkan,
Menumpang di kapal dagang,
Menuju ke tanah England.

(A year and three weeks
I left my homeland
A passenger on a merchant ship
Sailing towards England.)


It was here too that I met Pak Bakar, who made me a cake complete with icing for my train journey back to London. Every night Pak Bakar left before eleven as he was then under very strict curfew for 'something' he had done.

Yes, alas, a few have been on the wrong side of the law. Pak Yahya Bahari, for example. Looking at him in the dock at the Old Bailey, Quran in hand and a songkok perched on his head, I cried silently. He could have been anyone's father. As he was led away to begin a seven-year jail term for indecent behaviour, he looked up at me in the Press gallery and instantly showed recognition of another Malay face in a sea of strangers.

I visited him in prison only twice but from his letters I learnt a lot about his adventures when he started cycling around the world in 1959. And his hundreds and hundreds of files of letters and pictures that he kept along the journey reveal his own journey within himself. In fact, what spurred him on his old bike was a description of the Malay race in an encyclopaedia - "a complacent and lazy race". He wanted to prove them wrong. Alas, now facts feature as much as fantasy in his ever-increasing files, which he still carries around with him.

But many made good, such as the late Datuk Mohamed Aris from Johor who became the Mayor of Winsford. Then there's Pak Mat Abu who worked as a Tube driver with the London Underground. Pak Man Tokyo made a name for himself as an extra working along Peter Finch in the movie A Town Like Alice and also with the famous Roger Moore, as a drunk in The Saint.

"We were in the books of casting agent Madam Sen from Myanmar who recruited extras. Because of my looks, I landed a part as a Japanese soldier in A Town Like Alice," explained Pak Man.

In their twilight years, many were tracked down by their relatives and invited home, if only for a holiday. But for some, such as Pak Hamzah and Pak Majid, they were presumed dead until RTM featured them in a Hari Raya special.

Once in a while, I watch old videos of my meetings with them and listen to their interviews. But what I remember most poignantly is standing in front of a war memorial built by the Mersey River in Liverpool.

Across the panels were inscribed names of Malay sailors who had died at sea during the war. Oblivious to the song Oh Ferry, Cross The Mersey drifting from a tourist boat, I wondered about the stories that went down with the sailors. But now as they lay buried in the sea they loved so much, we will never know.

18 comments:

Sang Kelate said...

Kak Z,

Again, many thanks. Their stories are really touching ones. I guess it is time for me and family to visit them in Liverpool. Is Pakcik Yahya Bahari still in Old Bailey? I would love to visit him one day when I am in London. I did call someone in Liverpool last weekeend to ask abt Pakcik Mat Nor. He is now in M'sia visiting one of his children who is sick.

Those pakciks are in fact the treasures where we can learn a lot from them. I do remember how 'bersemangat' Pakcik Mat Nor giving us a short speech during a 'Maulid' event last 2 years at my place. Like yourself, I also feel that they are not only friends but also . my source of inspiration. The last time I visited the MSA house at Jermyn Street, Pakcik Mat Nor showed me around and the renovation was going on. If I am not mistaken, he told me that house was bought for only a couple of hundreds pound.

Love to talk more about this with u on this. Catch u later via email or phone.

SK

Bustaman said...

There is a novel somewhere with these stories. I also remember meeting an old Terengganu "kelasi" who lived in New York.

Ms.B said...

A BIG thank you, Kak Teh, for posting this. I envy you, for having had the opportunity to get to know these sages of the seas. Were they literate whilst at sea? Perhaps they kept journals which could further enrich us with their experiences. I am always intrigued with sailors. Young or old, they have an unusual but evident nexus with the oceans. Most sailors I have had the chance of encountering have always struck me as resolute peoples with a cutting calmness about them. What made them that way, I wonder. The volatility of the oceans perhaps .. or the determination to survive and succeed despite being so far away from home .. it's fascinating.

I wish I was there in London right now - I'd go a-knocking on your front door and get you to bring me to meet these precious Malay relics of the seas (and I mean that in the fondest way). :)

Kak Teh said...

SK, Pak cik yahaya is out and you can find him at the Malay Club - cricketfield Road.

Pok Ku, there's many novels in my mind waiting for an intro. This blogging is supposed to lead me to something more creative - alas pi mai pi mai dok tang tu jugak!

Blaberella (have i got the spelling right this time?) i have more stories on them which one day might just materialise into something else - perhaps my PhD? heh - Insyaallah!
ps. i saw yr cats!! ours (all six) only answer to my hubby's voice. Geram betul!

MakNenek said...

Go kak teh go! I pray that you will eventually do your phD and put all these amazing stories you have in a book! There are a gem! I feel sad for these pakciks who may have lost contacts with their family back home tho. It must have been a lonely job, albeit the experiences of meeting all kinds of people and sailing the world.

zaireen said...

This is good Kak Teh..Keep this coming, better still - write a book/novel/biography and let me know!

Anak Dagang said...

Salam Perkenalan. Interesting story about older Malays 'standard bapa atau datuk nenek kita'who made it in the UK Kak Teh. They have their own touchy story, the tales of survivals and struggles that made them called UK as their home. I hope there's a way you can work / figure something out such as a TV documentary for the knowledge & guidance of our Malaysian community & future generations...while there's still times to see them .. greetings.

Kak Teh said...

zaireen, thanks for yr comments. If you can stomach it - there's one more coming.

Anak Dagang, thanks for dropping by - jauh nampaknya perjalanan? Sama-samalah kita berdagang, ya? Yes, I had written and made one radio docu when i was with BBC and also several short features for TV. Insyallah will compile more.

Ms.B said...

Kak Teh, you're SO like me lah. So undecisive when it comes to our blog themes!! I'm like that with clothes. Are you too? :)

But this scribe one suits your choc-a-blog, lah!

Oh, and at last count, you still haven't spelled my name right. Hehehe!

Awang Goneng said...

Now here's a tag to further mystery, intrigue...and crime. When Jack the Ripper, that notorious Victorian East End serial murderer took his first victim, the police rounded up the usual suspects. And one of them was a Malay sailor living in a hostel there. But I swear, I have an alibi...

Anak Dagang said...

Haa Kak Teh,
Bersama-samalah kita berdagang. Ha'ah KT, nipun baru berhijrah memulakan hidup baru ke tempat yang baru .A good & proud accomplishment there 4 compiling the things about Malays with BBC KT. You got that catchy way of writings just like Pok Ku and I'll keep looking 4 more fr. KT. Have a good day .

Om

Atok said...

Kak Teh,
I shall be in Liverpool next weekend for my princess' opening nite: 22Jan (Press Nite: 24th), and might pay a visit to Jermyn Street. I've met a couple of them a while ago.

Another pakcik is pakcik Majid who lives in Milton Keynes. He has a quite well known artist/painter son backhome in Msia (from his first marriage to an english); couldnt remember his name. We met often.

Kak Teh said...

Terima kasih semua kerana sudi menjenguk!
Blaberella, am a chocoholic and a dyslexic too! What a combination!

Anak Dagang, thank you for nice words.

Maknenek - yes, pls prod me along!

Atok, yes, I know Pak Cik Majid - when I interviewed him, his relatives recognised him and invited him home after more than 50 years??? He was welcomed at the airport by the press cos I alerted them! hehe! and yes, his ex wife - Mak cik Jean to the students!

Kak Teh said...

Oh yes, Awang Goneng, don't worry! I know where you were!

Berisman said...

Awang Goneng was having coffee with me at Le Deux Maggot cafe in Latin Qtrs at that time.Yes, he had an alibi-me who was then learning how to lay bricks at Sheffield University.

Btw,was it true that Jack The Ripper was from Sheffield?

madwifemaya said...

My father Isa was one of the founding fathers of the 'Clubhouse' at 100 Cricketfield Road, London. I remember one story where when they arrived in New York they debated whether to disembark and make New York their home or wait till London. Most according to my dad decided that they would leave the ship in England. Growing up we went to the clubhouse often and while the men would talk politics, we, the kids would play together. My father eventually took us to live in Malaysia but when he returned here the clubhouse (as he called it) was the first place he went. According to a reliable source, much has changed but I have many fond memories of the place.

Kak Teh said...

madwifemaya, THank you so much for visiting and leaving me this comment. I would really like to get in touch with you. Can you leave me your email or email me at zwan_uk@yahoo.co.uk
Thank you.

syahreez said...

Hi you don't have to post this up on your blog for i only have inquiries about liverpool and your stories about old malay seafarers. I am planning on some business opportunities there and wouldn't mind getting them involved and creating some sort of income for them and their families. This here is my email address please get back to me with a some contact information of yourself and we can continue from there. hope to hear from you soon. Syahreez@gmail.com.