Wednesday, 9 March 2005

Down Memory Lane

ON June 4, 1979, I was among those answering calls in the NST office in Light Street, Penang from British nationals anxious to know the results of the general elections back home. Mrs Thatcher had then just swept into power, ending five years of Labour rule under Callaghan.

Five months later, unexpectedly, I found myself on British soil witnessing the beginning of the Thatcher era. And even more unexpectedly, many, many years later I was still there to see her downfall, the slow decline of the Tory party under her successor and the finale which saw the humiliating, crashing defeat of the party that was once seen to be unassailable. What followed was all-night singing and dancing on the South Bank by the jubilant New Labour party.

If someone had told me then, sitting in the old crumbling newspaper office in Penang, that I'd soon be transported to a strident, new Thatcherite Britain, that I would be covering the country under two governments and three leaders and that I'd be hearing the baying of drunken neighbours ushering in the new millennium there, I would've said “shaddup lah!”

As it turned out, there I was, December 1979, at the exit door of the plane with the cold winter air stinging me straight to the bones. I remember telling myself "three months, and no more".

An old friend of my newly-acquired husband, who met us at Heathrow airport, took one look at my inadequately attired self, gave an old fashioned Anglo-Saxon "don't say I didn't tell you kind of look" and proceeded nonchalantly to warm up the lock of his car with his lighter to thaw the joints before he was able to let us all in.

By then I was already wondering about the next flight home. And feeling foolish for my misplaced batik sarong kebaya patriotism in the cruel British weather.

Twenty odd years later, the British winter seems somewhat milder. Is it the hole in the ozone layer or have I just stopped complaining? Time too has a knack of dulling certain senses. I no longer yearn for the mamak mee goreng, which I remember waiting patiently for as the cart-pushing mamak made his rounds along Light Street. I did, however, make an attempt once to touch base with him on one of our visits home, but to no avail.

Well, life must go on, and it did. I saw my first Christmas, though disappointingly not white, four days after our arrival. My memories of Christmas had been of Uncle Dorai in his hastily put-together Father Christmas suit and of Aunty Tata's chicken curry and capati in Malaysia.

So what I experienced here was rather, well, disappointing. No curry here, no Tata, just an invitation to a Jewish friend's house to sit around the table wearing funny hats and pulling crackers containing silly jokes and even sillier presents, like a false moustache.

But it was at that table that my husband made an astonishing display of love by polishing off the dreaded Brussel sprouts from my plate to save me the embarrassment of not eating my greens in front of my new friends.

I'll never forget the look on his face as he bravely downed those horrible green things. So, what is Christmas without Aunty Tata's curry? To date, the only white Christmas that I have seen was on picture postcards and the telly, though we did have a white Hari Raya in 1995! We became a regular feature at that friend's place at Christmas until he too gave up and left for Brazil.

And then, when the children came, we began to discover the sanctity of our own high and holy days. Which was just as well, as BC (Before Children) I was just beginning to find this big crowded city a terribly lonely place. This led me to forays into odd territories, like befriending the Moonies who came a-knocking.

On warmer days, I'd get more of them in the nearby park muttering dark secrets of their Malaysian and Singaporean past into my sympathetic ear. I decided there and then that I had to have a job, if only to keep the Moonies at bay. But jobs didn't grow on trees those days, not even in the park. It was 1980, when unemployment figures had gone past the psychological one million. In fact it was fast reaching the psychotic two.

Then, from out of the ether came a job offer from the Malay Service of the BBC. It was to determine and chart my life for the next decade or two. Apart from giving me the rapport with a handful of faithful listeners such as Mohamed Sulaiman from Johore and Adik Syu from somewhere in Perak, it was also a way of letting my mother know that I was well.

Along the way too, I met many interesting people, some of whom I've been pursuing relentlessly until today. These are the Malays - merchant navymen mostly - who had left for foreign shores before the war in search of adventure and a new life. I've been chronicling their lives, recording them on audio and videotapes. These are the flesh and blood of our collective history, these dear lives and I feel an obligation to record them for posterity.

For, like them, I too am a fellow traveller.

24 comments:

SC said...

kakteh, dya remember any Uncle Salehuddin fr Msia Hall?

Kak Teh said...

spasti: When was he there? I only started frequenting MHall in very late 80's. Do you know what he did?

d'arkampo said...

okay, this is episode 6 of the Star Wars' trilogy.

Long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.

4 BC to be exact.

atiza said...

I still remember the white Hari Raya in 1995 that you've mentioned. Me and H were nearly blown away by gale force wind. We went to beraya at our friend's house.

Yasmin's Mummy said...

My DH loves brussel sprouts. Kak Teh, how come we never crossed paths in London? Kak Teh berkampung kat mana?

Lollies said...

I never had white raya..manchester punya snow a bit pathetic, I must say.

ANyway kak Teh..I have activated balik my blogspot...

lilac said...

I remembered celebrating white raya in 1995 too, was in Staffordshire then. Me & my flatmate even dressed up in baju kurung and posed for photos on a cold snowy night.

MakNenek said...

tambah lagi kak teh! tak puas baca nih! :) i think i visited this site more often than BBC's!

SC said...

Well, his my kindred spirit Jija' dad. He was there for a long time, but I think he came back mid 80's. He was with Student Affairs I think.Just wondering. I should run along now..ta!

Kak Teh said...

kampo: yes - it seems even longer than that.
atiza: u were here? I was filming hari raya for RTm and got very good visuals of students in baju melayu..in the snow - bagi ucapan.
yasmin's mum: entah mungkin bertemu tapi tak kenal - kak teh in west london
lollies: thanks - its earlier on my poor old eyes. Macam orang pasang lampu gitu bile ke blog baru u.
lilac: yes - how can anyone forget a whiteraya when we never experienced a white christmas.
maknenek - thanks - will tambah.
spasti: hmm don't know lah. see u around.

shidah said...

kak teh:
I lurve green!!! Yes I can eat brussel sprout - in fact one of me favourite. tak silap,we have celebrated 2 kali white raya in newcastle masa 93-96, ops lupa lak kita, kak teh kat london..... kita dok kat utara sikit, snow lagi banyak...... rumah my hubby kat leytonstone, snow pagi, tengahari dah gone......

Captain Barbell said...

so vivid :)

atenah said...

i love brussel's sprout with gravy, and yorkshire pudding!! alamax lamanya tak makan. entah2 pernah cross paths kita yek

Sunflora said...

Kak Teh, this story is actually revealing your age! I swear those days when I saw you at Malaysian Hall or at the airport you looked 35!!

atenah said...

you shld write a book abt those sailors

Kak Teh said...

shidah & atenah, i have familiarozed myself with other greens but no thank you to Brussel sprouts.
paul: thanks - I appreciate that one word from u.
Sunflora: but i am still 35, whaaaaat?
atenah: Insyaallah - on the way. Will you buy one? With autograpgh, of course! hehe - perasan sendiri!

atenah said...

of coz i will buy & take a picture with you, frame it up and tell everybody that this writer is my blog friend

Kak Teh said...

okay - kena siap awai-awai nak pebetui muka! kita boleh posing!

MakNenek said...

kak teh, awat tak makan sayur nuuuuhh

Kak Teh said...

aiyo maknenek, will blog abt that one later!

Kak Teh said...

just testing again - cos blogspot comment is not working!!!

Mutiara said...

Kak Teh, when I first went to London in 1976, there was only flurries, so we drove up to Scotland to see 'real snow'. Real snow,we did see by being naive to drive in heavy snow at night.

Kak Teh said...

mutiara, these last few weeks, the weather has been chaotic - in fact I have never seen days of snow.

Maria Gladden said...

Are there other forums/blogs that are more specific for this topic? I have not found one.