Tuesday, 3 May 2005

A Malay Experience in Roman Exeter

I was so unprepared for Exeter in a way that Exeter was for me. Usually, I’d read available materials on the place of my destination to familiarise myself with any particular attractions the place has to offer. But this time, it was right at the last minute that I saw on the map, where Exeter really is. Image hosted by Photobucket.comAnd as you can see from the postcard, an afternoon after the three-day conference could hardly do justice to a place with plenty to offer.

The journey
The train journey was uneventful. It was packed with holiday makers heading for the seaside on the south west coast of England as it was a long weekend break. A beautiful day with promises of more sunshine over the weekend. Outside the window, whizzing past us were carpets of bright yellow rapeseed fields surrounding clusters of quaint villages and secluded farm houses with neat patchwork of greeneries. Flocks of sheep looked like balls of cotton dotting the green canvas with cattles grazing not too far away. While travelling, I am often reminded of what my husband once told me: If the cattles are sitting down, it’ll surely rain. Well, some were and some were up and about. I supposed they were still undecided about the weather. Once in a while when the tracks ran parallel to the motorway, I caught sight of a few Eddie Stobbards and was reminded of the game I used to play with the children while we drove around the countryside; that is to see who gets to chart the most Eddie Stobbard lorries along the way.

Less than an hour before reaching Exeter, a vision from a distance caught my eyes. Image hosted by Photobucket.com A large white horse, carved on the hillside. Its the Westbury Horse, the oldest of eight in the region. This 182’ high piece of art had been restored several times since the original was carved out in honour of King Alfred’s victory over the Danes in 878.

Exeter somehow reminded me of Dover, another seaside town. The fresh smell of the sea from the English Channel, the doves flying above, the hilly slopes. At the station, my friend Ida and I met up with other friends and my Professor from our University and together we made our way to the hotel, before the registration at Crossmead Conference centre.

The Crossmead Conference Centre was simply breathtaking - formerly a Victorian Merchant's house, it stands within four acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. It is considered the "jewel in the crown" of the University's venues. Sadly, Exeter University will lose this centre very soon. Image hosted by Photobucket.com
It was here that we met up with other participants who had come from as far as Malaysia, Indonesia, Germany, Hawaii and Australia. The 22nd conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Studies (UK) kickstarted with several cultural performances to whet our appetites.



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The conference
The conference had brought together experts in various fields of the Malay studies as well as PhD students who presented part of their research papers for discussion. Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Participants from the Malay manuscripts Panel
I was especially delighted to have the company of Dr Russell Jones, an expert on watermarks and the Malay and Islamic world. A former MCS officer, Dr Jones worked in Malaya in 1953 as an immigration officer and came back to study Malay at SOAS. His paper on the use of the Arabic tashdid in Malay script will definitely help me a lot in my transliteration of the syair that I am currently working on.

Another interesting hightlight of the three day conference was the paper presented by Dr Uli Kozok of Hawaii University who reported on his discovery of the oldest known Malay manuscript in southern Sumatera. Before this discovery, the oldest known Malay letters are said to be from the Sultan of Ternate, written in 1520 and now kept in Lisbon. This fourteenth century manuscript is said to belong to a clan which received the manuscript 700 years ago from the Maharaja of Dhamasraya.
I managed to do a bit of panel hopping (a change from bloghopping) and found some interesting papers being presented by other panels – such as those concerning sexuality. Interesting to see the similarities in themes between Vietnamese poems and Malay syairs. The Vietnamese Ca Dao – a genre of Vietnamese folk poetry consists a lot of poems about the fate of women. Here’s a few lines to ponder on:

When a man becomes rich, he can have 5 wives and 7 mistresses,
If a woman becomes rich, she just keeps her chastity and
Prays for her husband after his death…


Hmmm.....

It was especially nice that I got to meet some old friends as well – those from the BBC days and now they have the Dr already attached to their names, each specialising in their areas of expertise. Dr Annabel Gallop, an expert on Malay manuscripts, is the Head of the Indonesian and Malay Collection at the British Library and very much the force behind my returning to university. Dr Janet Cochrane is now research fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University. I certainly have a lot of catching up to do.

After the goodbyes at lunchtime, we headed off to the Exeter Quay, Image hosted by Photobucket.com with its old buildings and warehouses dating back to Charles 11. Pubs, cafes and antique shops lined the cobbled road along the canal. It was here that much damage was inflicted on my wallet as I succumbed to several collections of old plates and and a tea set.
According to the leaflets that was given to us at the hotel, Exeter Quay was once an international port thriving through mainly in export of woolen cloth, but by 13th century sea craft could no longer reach Exeter by river, so a canal was constructed around 1563. This canal linked the city to the estuary again and the port trade began to prosper once more.

Then, of course you cant miss the Exeter Roman & Medieval City Wall. It runs around the the city centre. And huffing and puffing up a path leading up the wall I was afforded a bird’s eyeview of Exeter. The walls were built by the Roman legions in the 2nd century and work continued through the Dark Ages. It is really interesting to see how history is preserved in other countries. Even some old buildings right in the modern city centre blended in well with the new buildings.

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The cathedral and Mol’s Coffee House

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Part of the ancient Roman wall

With feet aching and hands weighed down by last minute shopping at the Quayside, we decided to have just a look at the cathedral before heading off to catch the 1700 to London. But as fate would have it, one of the participants at the conference, PhD student Rushdan who lives right in the middle of the city centre, invited us to have tea. If you must know, we have not had rice for three whole days. Even if he had not pointed out to us his house, my nose would have led us there, following the smell of ayam masak lemak and crispy fried fish. Rushdan’s wife had prepared a feast for later that night inviting other Malaysian students there. We were offered an alas perut which we (in true Malay style)politely refused, once , twice, but readily accepted after the third offer. Suffice to say, it was a very Malay experience that we had in the ancient Roman city of Exeter.

31 comments:

SC said...

Cantiknyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...

atenah said...

mmmmmm regrets, regrets, 6 yrs in UK and I didnt go to Exeter. Back then, i was more interested to travel to *exotic* America, not knowing that i will be here for 4 yrs. only Allah knows what lies ahead.
as usual great writing, you will definitely win the best Malaysian blogger this year, but can you qualify for it as you are in UK?

AuntyN said...

Hmmm, Kak Teh the saying on the fate of women tu memang something to poder about ek? Really nice place, and memang lah kalau dah hidung Melayu tu mesti boleh bau ayam masak lemak dari jauh mana pun no?

iJun said...

wow kak teh.. your work has brought you to so many interesting places.. *jealous*

Kak Teh said...

sc: thanks
atenah: in my 25 years here, baruy menjijak kaki di Exeter. Shd've brught the children there when they were small and could learn abt the romans. Best malaysia blogger?Ish!!
auntyN: you can never deceive hidung melayu, walaupun hidung tu dah lama merantau!
iJun: but you go to lots of places too, what!!!

Sunflora said...

Kakteh I agree with AuntyN that poem about the fate of women is really something else. Thanks for the lovely entry, I am regreting not going to Exeter, perhaps next time when we visit or if we return, who knows, Insyallah. Kesiannyer tak makan nasi 3 hari! Nasib tak pengsan!

Nadia said...

kakteh...as usual your writing :)..kang tenggelam dlm compliments pulak k teh kang hehehehe ooo kak teh in southeastern studies ye? hmm mcm menarik jugak....

MakNenek said...

interesting!!!! lain kali bawak i ye! ;)

bibliobibuli said...

Felt all nostalgic to see the pictures of Exeter. The conference sounded fascinating - would love to know more about the old Malay manuscripts too.

Glad you had a lovely time.

Blah! said...

Your writings are REALLY good kak teh. So were the pics u took, but I wish that you could somehow put them up on an online album or something.

Kak Teh said...

sunflora, satu hari memang tak cukup - kena long weekend sebab banyak nak discover!
nadia: kak teh buat traditional malay literature!
maknenek: pass - nanti mai ikut!
bibiobibuli: i will definitely go back and yes, will certainly write abt the manuscripts as I have seen and researched many when I did a documentary years ago.
yan: insyaallah kak teh akan masukkan dalam album online.

born-again drama queen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
born-again drama queen said...

kak teh, nak itut leh taaaakkk?

pembacha said...

Kak Teh,
when the malay experts meet, do they speak in Malay?

d'arkampo said...

Nak pegi..errr..

Nak pegi..hmm...

Nak pi toilet!
Nak pi toilet!!

he he

SC said...

wah, kakteh, is it the common protocol to decline 3 times before accepting invitation to dine? i didn't know the host is supposed to jemput makan more than two times.hmm..

Jade said...

ala.. tak per lah.. tak payah susah..
eh.. tak susah la.. jemput lah..
eh, tak per lahh..
ishh.. mari la...
he he he... ok la.. ok la..

ekeke...

CikNi said...

memang jeles la ngan kak teh ni.. ee geram ar

anedra said...

question. that hantu-like thing in white? that was for....?

ondeonde said...

kak teh,
I simply marvelled at your wrting, this is beautiful (writing and pics wise). Bestnyaaaa...

Kak Teh said...

nef, if you itut, i can assure u , u'll churna real good yarn abt Exeter!
pembacha: when they peresent their papers, it is usually in English, but when mingling around, yes, they do speak Malay and very good malay too. I really marvell too when they speak Arabic...
po: pi lah toilet dulu!
Sc and LadyJade, begitulah protocolnya...Mula-mula, "tak payah lah, kacau-kacau saja!" Then, "ish, kenyang dahhh...baru makan tadi!"
Then, third time," okaylah, if u insist.nanti kecik harti pulak tuan rumah, kan...sambil meluru ke dapur!
cikni...jangan jeles, datanglah!
anedra: ish tu seniman jalanan lah! Indonesian living in New York.
Ondeondeh: thanks for the sweet words.

zer said...

seronotttnye... Ya Allah! dapatla aku peluang melawat tempat ni. Kak Teh, just incase u need penchachai angkat beg or susun files tapi beranak tiga, I'm anytime available

MobileMom said...

Alaaa bestnyaaaaa...Ni kalau tunjuk hubby sure terpinga pinga mamat tu. "Kampung" dia dulu tu nothing compare to where you have been.

So beautiful.

shidah said...

kak teh, i stayed in exeter for a full one year before Newcastle. if you have more time you should go slightly below exeter, places like Quay, Torquay. Tell you, these places are breathtaking! in exeter, i like their 'mini busses' that go through town.bayar 25p from the uni. masa tahun 1992-93 only these busses and pedestrian are allowed in the city main road. la ni tak tahu le....

Kak Teh said...

zer: jom...leave yr contact number! thanks for dropping by!
mobilemom: memang best - so datang lah melawat!
shidah: kak teh tak ada masa nak jalan-jalan sebab conference tu tiga hari. ada sepetang saja di exeter. lain kali bolehlah jalan2.
Yes, Torquay memang cantik

Susan Abraham said...

Your entries are so profound, Kak Teh. Or rather, your stories.

Atok said...

Cows sitting here and there, means: scattered shower lah Kak Teh.

A few years ago, we went to visit my father-in-law's friend who lived in London. So, he made a well advance call to his dear friend. The friend said, 'Dtg dinner kat sinilah'. He replied, 'Tak pa lah, takyah susah2'. So we all went with empty tummy hoping for a great meal. When we arrived, the friend said, 'Orang sini, kalau kata tak nak, kita tak buat lah'.

Hahhaha... we had to stop at a restaurant on the way back home afterthat.

atiza said...

..nak pegi exeter..
..nak pegi exeter..

i should've gone there for vacation or something during my study days..dang!

budakkampong said...

banyak nya tempat kak teh melawat...

About Blogreader said...

Did I hear "Roman"?? Thanks, what a nice read.

Kak Teh said...

Susan, thanks for yr always kind words.
atok: hah! i supposed our weather forecast people consulted the cows, ha? And true..kalau nak makan, cakaplah nak makan, kan?
atiza: i am sure ada peluang lagi.
budakampong: tu lah yang seronok tu...all paid for pulak tu!
blogreader...yeah romans ...right up yr street!