Friday, 29 December 2006

A Wan off experience, Selamat Hari Raya ...................and A Happy New Year

Apart from baulu, the other unknown territory in my culinary adventures and misadventures is the rendang. I have never felt the need or the desire to slave over a hot stove to make rendang. Well, not until my experience recently with none other than the ubiquitous and extremely hilarious Wan and only Wan, our celebrity Chef.

In one of his numerous text messages to me recently he told me that he was coming to London to do a cooking demonstration at a local university. I have been to numerous occasions where Wan had food demonstrations and to me he is not just entertaining but also informative. Full of anecdotes, family history and asides which can leave you in stitches.

So during this last meeting with Wan, I was unwittingly roped in to help him with the preparation in the vast kitchen area of the university. The scene, I can assure you was not unlike that of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. For someone who prefers to work alone in the kitchen, I think I coped well with two other helpers and Wan himself shouting out the orders. I was, ehem, the kerisik chef, the kupas kulit udang chef, and the kupas bawang chef, shouting out ‘Kerisik ready chef!”, "bawang goreng ready, chef!” and feeling quite important actually.

The demonstration itself went very well. Local chefs and catering students present were very impressed with his cooking and stories that go with Malaysian cooking. He does it with taste, smell and humour. They were treated to the horrendous smell of belacan and petai, and the sweet smelling aroma of the bunga kantan. He told them of the world pharmacy which is the Malaysian jungle full of herbs that can cure any illnesses and pain.

Anyway, one of the dishes that he cooked then was the Rendang Ayam Pedas. I have tried this and it is Simply Sedap so much so that I didnt have time to snap any photos. But I will try this recipe again for this hari raya which I will have with pulut. Now, pulut is another unknown and uncharted territory. Someone please help.

Wan has given me permission to reproduce this recipe here. Give it a try!

15 shallots
3 cloves garlic
6 stalks of lemon grass, slice
½ cm fresh ginger
½ cm galangal
½ cm fresh tumeric
5 chilli burung
8 candel nuts
10 fresh red chillies
2 lime leaves

Blend the above ingredients to make a paste.

½ cup desiccated coconut for kerisik.

1 ½ kg whole chicken cut into small pieces
3 cups coconut milk
2 cups water
1 tumeric leaf – sliced thinly
salt and sugar to taste.

1. To make the kerisik, toast the desiccated coconut in the oven or fry until it is brown.
2. Grind or pound the coconut until it becomes a smooth paste.
3. Mix the chicken pieces with the ground ingredients – (not the kerisik) add coconut milk and simmer for about thirty minutes until the chicken is almost dry.
4. Reduce the heat and add the kerisik, salt and sugar.
5. Add the finely sliced tumeric leaf , give a final stir and turn off the heat.

Selamat Hari Raya
a Happy New Year!

UPDATE on Missing My Sayang Mama:
Here's the story in Bernama

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Missing my sayang mama

My daughter had to practically drag me away from the screen. “Mama, you can’t watch the plane taking off from that screen,” she said, half exasperated, half amused. The MH7 due for take off at 1805 had already registered that Gate 26 was already closed and my Taufiq had long disappeared behind the screen, past the passport and ticket checks, carrying just one rucksack. I drowned my sorrows in a plate of pasta. My husband sipped his tea in silence. He had tried to delay Taufiq going in for as long as he could, with last minute reminders and small talks.

Anyway, that moment came and went and suffice to say, the fog had lifted but there were flash floods at Terminal 3 Heathrow.

It must have been about a month ago when the organiser of the Youth Exchange Programme rang me up and asked whether any of our children would be interested. I had suggested Taufiq. He is sixteen and it would really do him good to join a group of Malay youths born and bred around the world, to take part in an exchange programme that would make him get to know his country and culture better. He was apprehensive. “I don’t know the host family, mama. I don’t know anyone,” he said. “That’s the very reason why you should go, “ I cajoled. And three weeks later, the excitement got to him while I felt apprehension setting in. “It is too late to change my mind, mama,” he said cheekily.

Yes, I must let him go, I told myself as I ironed his boxer shorts and folded them neatly in the bag. It must have been only yesterday that I was ironing his Thomas the Tank Engine undies and Batman pyjamas and now he only wears M&S boxer shorts and Calvin Klein pyjama bottom!

He has brought with him his favourite Barcelona stripes in case he has to play football there. As I ironed his black baju Melayu, I felt a lump rising in my throat. This raya, who is going to help him with the sampin? He may be 16, but every morning, I still tie his neck tie before he goes to school. And this raya, I will miss him doing the takbir in that voice that signals he is already an adult. I miss him most during subuh prayers when he does the iqamah, standing there beside his father, the imam.

I hope by sending him back in this exchange programme, I am not only letting him explore and learn more about the country and the culture that is his and ours but also to let people there know that being born and bred away from the homeland does not necessarily make one forget one’s root, culture, identity and religion.

Taufiq will be living with a host family in Rembau and till today, I still do not know who the host family is. The week long programme starts on 29th December and he will spend Hari Raya Haji with them.

It is every parent’s hopes that a child’s behaviour reflects his upbringing.
“Don’t forget to salam with everyone you meet, say thank you and be respectful of the elders,” And even as I uttered these I knew it was unnecessary for I knew he would do so. As for prayers, it was he who reminded me most of the time. “It’s nearly asar mama,” or “Let me do the dishes, maghrib is nearly over.”

It is these little things that I will miss during the next three weeks. The conversation that we have during our shopping trips, the laughter, the whispers and teasing as we watch our favourite tv programmes. All these years, the chubby toddler who used to sit with me as I typed my work, had grown up to be a friend that I can confide in.

“Yes, I will miss him too,” said the father as we were shopping for biscuits and chocolates to send home. "he is a good friend." And suddenly the dam burst right there, between the chocolate and dairy shelves at Tesco. Although, he didn’t say much, I know that the father will be missing the discussion of world events with him. Just before he left, they were discussing the developments in Somalia.

Both of us kept reminding ourselves that this programme will certainly do him good.

This year had seen him more matured beyond his years, not least because of the responsibilities he had been given at school. Being elected Deputy Head Boy, I am proud to say that I have seen changes in him. He played no small part during Remembrance Day and just recently, was in the panel interviewing candidates for Head Teacher for his school. While he tried hard to promote a positive image of Muslims in his school, the behaviour of some boys who played truant after Friday prayers, meant that the privilege of going for prayers at the mosque outside the school was withdrawn. He fought for the small group of Muslim students to be given a room for prayers and then led the prayers. I remember him preparing the sermon for his first khutbah. In his first message, he reminded his fellow Muslims the importance of tolerance and patience. I think he did quite well. In fact I think he did very well.

Since his arrival he has already met his uncles and aunts, cousins and Tok. He is having a crash course in Nogori speak from his Pak Ngah who hails from Pilah. We told him, when he goes to Rembau he must ‘sopeak proporly’. And yes, he has already gone shopping, with a generous angpow from his uncle JC and his older brother. Tomorrow he meets Malay youths from saudi and together they will travel to Rembau.

Take care sayang mama. And we have you in our doas everyday. See you next year!

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Merry Christmas!!!

The Christmas atmosphere in Oxford Street. (do excuse the poor quality!)

Thursday, 21 December 2006


It was a cold foggy morning when we started our journey to put him in his final resting place. The fog did not lift making our drive difficult and at times dangerous along the A41. We lost our way several times to a destination unfamiliar to all of us in the car but we made it there just in time as the hearse made its way into the multi-faith cemetery. It was serene and calm, with the fir trees bordering the cemetery, standing quite still as if to respect the arrival of the new resident.

Several friends, people from the mosque carried the coffin from the hearse to the newly dug grave. The serenity was only broken by the sound of the bulldozer making its way to do its final task of piling in soil ensuring whatever picture we have of him remains in our minds and our hearts. When the work was done, we stood around to say our prayers and doas. Ustaz’s talkin and his last message and reminders to him, who had gone to the other side, brought more hot tears stinging our cold cheeks. We stayed rooted to the frozen ground long after ustaz made his seven steps away leaving him in his final resting place, our feet feeling numb, our hearts feeling empty, yet thankful that he no longer feel any pain.

I remember breaking the silence, saying to a friend; “It is strange that we never thought or fathom who we would bury and who would bury us.” When I met him five years ago, I never thought I would be standing there that cold autumn afternoon, watching him being lowered down into his final resting place. Apart from the people from the mosque and his close relatives, there were other friends of his who came to say goodbye. This was the first time that we all met – none of us knew who belong to which chapter in his life. But I am grateful that I belong to a phase when he was ready to share his fear and anxiety which he then turned into great hopes and expectations at the thought of one day turning that experience into something useful for others. I feel almost privileged to share with him his journal that he wrote in fine handwriting, detailing his fear and loneliness and pain, at times exasperation and despair marked by lots of question marks and exclamation marks.

We walked away, leaving him and made the journey home to London, again enveloped by thick fog all along the way. I felt emotionally drained. Wonda wrote to me to say don’t try to carry too much a burden on my shoulder. He wasnt a burden, he was a brother. Sort of.
Al Fatehah.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

She is back!

It was three weeks ago that I sat before three excited girls on the 1715 to Gatwick. They were leaving for Malaysia, with plans to pack in everything possible in the three weeks they were going to be there. They even had a crash course in pronunciation in Malay.

“Mak Ngah” said my daughter who was supposed to be the guide for the other two.

“Mak Nah,” repeated one friend. ”Mak Nyah,” said the other, practising how to address my older sister they were going to meet on arrival.

Oh, well, whatever, I thought, feeling a tinge of envy at the spirit of adventure, freedom and excitement. When I was their age, Mak took me everywhere, even to my first job as a temporary teacher at Air Hitam Secondary School, and even waited at the bus stop! Such a sheltered and boring life. So, no faraway trips that required visas and certainly no school rombongans.

They arrived home yesterday, Alhamdulillah, lugging heavy suitcases full of souvenirs and goodies and stories about the holiday that took them to Kuala Lumpur, Pangkor, Penang and Kedah. They had a lot to show – photographs, new clothes, cosmetics and toiletries (they are dirt cheap!), mosquito bites and marks left by leeches when they did jungle trekking. I sighed a sigh of relief that everything went well – no tummy ache, no accidents and most of all – no youtube visuals of them doing things that usually appear in youtubes!

Anyway, according to the card that the two friends gave my daughter, thanking her for bringing them to our beautiful and friendly Malaysia, they also thanked her for the opportunity to see her as a real Malay!

Indeed, they saw the best side of Malaysia; they enjoyed the scenery, the friendly people, the cheap but quality goods, the wonderful and delicious food and the list is endless. They had a taste of the city, dining at Crown Plaza, Hard Rock cafe, entertained by Chef Ismail himself at his restaurant Rebung, treated to a massage and being chauffered around, courtesy of a strong cable that I still maintain. They also experienced, briefly, kampung life, when they visited my sister in Bukit Pinang, the hustle bustle of Chow Kit Road and the tranquil and serene atmosphere of Masjid Negara where they stopped for prayers.

And how Malay has she become? Oh well, how about loads of kain batik sarongs, the umbrella like thingie to cover food, and....a congkak! So we played congkak while she talked about her holiday and believe me, I have not forgotten how to play!

Although I was apprehensive about letting her go, I now know that it was a good decision. Family holidays is fine, but being able to explore the country, the culture by themselves without us telling them what we want them to know, showing them what we want them to see, is quite different and has its advantages.

Sure I worried about how she was going to communicate with Mak, her grandmother. But I needn’t have. Both hugged and cried when they met and Mak, talked and talked animatedly in her pekat Kedah Malay, hands in action to convey whatever she wanted to convey to the granddaughter she had not seen for a while. Even both her friends fell in love with Mak who kept hugging them. “How did they communicate?” I asked my siblings in one of my numerous sms’es to them.

“With lots of tears and laughter” came a reply.

Communication was indeed not a problem. But I did receive this urgent sms saying, “Mama, pls call me back and speak to this person,” I did and true enough, I myself couldn’t quite understand the person I was speaking to. My daughter wanted to know where the bus they were taking, would stop and the time of arrival in Alor Star. They were then at a bus terminal in Butterworth. The guy I was talking to had a very strong Utaghra accent.

I am glad that they spent time with their relatives, met up with cousins and did what young people on holiday do, without their over-protective parents around.

BUT sending them alone to be with your siblings, without you being there to defend yourself is certainly not a very good idea. THE SIBLINGS ganged up on me and told her how I love to pinch, how I cut Kak Cik’s hair and left her in tears and how I virtually got everything I wanted because I was utterly spoilt. Well, whatever!

Next week, another sayang mama is leaving for Malaysia – to discover Malaysia and what she has to offer on his own. Taufiq is joining 20 other Malay youths born and bred overseas in a Youth Exchange programme. He will be with a host family in Rembau. I am stocking up phone cards and I suspect my siblings will have their phones permanently switched off.

Friday, 15 December 2006

An annual review of sorts

In just two weeks we will say goodbye to 2006. I know its a cliche, but time really flies and one can’t help but look at what life has offered us this past year. How much have I achieved and how much of what I dreamt of in 2005 is still a dream ? I know it is so easy to focus on just the downside and not look at the wonderful things that have made life worth living. That was what I was doing – fretting on lost opportunities, sighing on unachievable dreams. Then you realise that others have a far worst deal thrown at them.

Just look at the plight of 3 year old Syazwan Johari who has already lost one eye because of retinablastoma – a genetic condition he inherited from his mother who is already blind. He is in danger of losing the one good eye that now affords him the view of this world, of his mother, of the people around him. The ray of hope that a surgery in the US could save his eyesight was dashed recently when the family was told that his case does not merit aid from the ministry. How sad. I wish it is cases like this that is raised in our corridors of power rather than trivial issues like attacking working mums and ridiculous polygamy awards.

Dr Bubbles, who is involved in clown therapy and fund raising, has been a close friend of mine for a long, long time and I know of his tireless efforts to help children like Syazwan. It takes a lot to despair him but I know that being THAT close to the subject and yet knowing that his efforts and that of his friends from MAKNA might be too late, is taking its toll on this selfless clown. As an old member of he knew that we could support him, for we had supported him when he went to his clown workshop in US some years ago. And true to the spirit of many have pledged to help, not just financially but also physically. With members around the world and in Philladephia, where Syazwan is scheduled to be treated, we can count on their support. But what is more important now is that, Syazwan needs help to get him there. Go to DrBubbles to see how you can help.

The last few days have been quite taxing emotionally. I thank God Almighty that my childhood friend had a successful operation. And thank you for your doas and well wishes.

Last night, I sat in the train homeward bound, reading a journal that took me into the private life of someone I used to know. There were times I had to stifle a sob. I went through years of his life in that short train ride while my friend lies in a morgue in west London, awaiting burial.

It must have been about five years ago that I cultivated his friendship. He used to sit alone enjoying his meal in the canteen of the old Malaysia Hall in Bryanston Square and I chatted him up. I am quite notorious that way. I tend to be drawn to people with interesting stories. And I tend to have a way of drawing out those interesting stories from them. My newfound friend said he designed restaurants. Restaurants with concept. Interesting, I thought. And later, during our subsequent meetings over coffee or teh tarik, he would confide to me that he had had heart transplant. This man sitting opposite me had a woman’s heart beating in him. Now, the story was getting more interesting. And he confided in me that he jotted down his fears, his apprehensions before and after the transplant. He said, one day, we should sit down and write this book together so that it would benefit those with heart problems. By this time, the conversation got really interesting. And we met up here and there. Sms’ed this and that. But what he didn’t tell me was he had been ill with liver cancer and was in hospital these last few months. He left us last week.

His sister is here to arrange for the burial and to pack his things. I told her about the journal. I am borrowing it for a while. My friend, I didn’t know your fear, your loneliness and your longing for your homeland that is Malaysia. I didn’t know you were scared and had no one around you. And I am so sorry for failing you. We had tahlil for him last night. Al Fatehah.

This failure to do something before he went reminded me of my failure to bring Pak Cik Hamzah home. Pak Cik wanted to go home to see his homeland after more than 50 years away, he had packed his bags – he asked whether three suitcases were enough and I had said yes, as we stood in his bare flat in Cardiff. Again, Pak Cik Hamzah left and I got to know about it quite late. What kind of a friend am I????

ButI shouldn't lament further, because I have friends such as Dr Bubbles working tirelessly, another friend like this helping another friend with a very serious disease. And as I type this entry of mine, lamenting things I had not done, yming DrBubbles with updates on Syazwan, another kind soul sent both of us an email with a very encouraging news. Yes, there are wonderful and kind friends around. Alhamdulillah!

Monday, 11 December 2006

This autumn of our lives

Shoppers choosing their goods must have thought that there was a bunch of silly kids in the changing room nearby. There were shrieks and screams and laughter. Well, the truth is, there were four of us mak and tok budaks trying on clothes. What brought on the squeals of laughter was what L had chosen from the racks. A pair of trousers that reminded us of our goo goo ga aga days – the flower power days with flares that could break a fall from the highest building.

L actually bought it for something to sleep in and I bet her dreams were full of psychedelic colours as well.

When we are together, L, M, A and I, it doesn’t need to take much to make us burst into laughter. And it has always been like that since we were in primary school. We go back a long way together. And we are now in what I choose to use, the autumn stage in our lives.

We met in primary one. I was the tearful one as Mak had left me at the classroom door. A came to hold my hand and sat with me. From that day onwards, A has been the strong one for us, for all of us. We were separated during most of the primary school years when Pak was posted to Yan, but we met up again, this time as rivals as I went to the St. Nicholas Covent – an arch rival of Sultanah Asma School. But we met up and renewed our friendships, a stronger one, until this day.

We eyed the same boys from SAHC, we danced at the same parties, but we married different men from different chapters of our lives. But we kept in touch, even when fate decided that I make London my home. I’d receive sms’es from them holidaying together in Bali, or in Australia or even when they are doing a pocho pocho somewhere.

We meet up everytime I am home and spend days and nights with each other, being sixteen all over again. With news of my homecoming, A would start contacting others. Husbands dread my homecoming as they usually have to find their own dinners. But almost always, they’d indugle us and join us for dinner and certainly at the karaoke lounge till quite late. The last time we finished off our day with a 3 am roti bakar and coffee in One Utama. Even Mak understands that when I go out with them, it will be the next day before she sees me again.

I remember once, L had picked me up, called up M at work. She had to make some excuses to leave. A phoned in sick. We all met up at KLCC, giggling like naughty kids playing truant. We bought some new clothes for dinner, did our prayers at KLCC and proceeded to have tea and then dinner and then, yes...we had fun. We’d start a conversation at tea, continue the chat in the carpark, holler over songs from yesteryears as we drive along the highway to nowhere and even enjoy getting lost as it means having more time to be with each other.

Last year, after L bought that outrageous pair of trousers, we went to do some shopping for my umrah. The three of them bought me a pair of very comfortable sandles. I promised them that I would step into the sacred city of Mecca in that pair of sandles. And I did. And I said jokingly, that, with each step that I take, I’d mention, one step for L, one step for M, one step for A and one step for me. And we burst into laughter again in that shoe shop in Midvalley as we did the steps together. But really, no matter what path our journey takes us, we have always been instep with each other.

Last week, I received an email from A. That was quite unusual because A doesn’t do emails. anything that has to be said, she sms’ed or she’d post them in our personal website. But the email brought grim news. M is to be operated tomorrow. She has the dreaded C that has taken two of our close friends already. Even when I phoned A, the strong one, the one who said, we have to be strong for each other, her voice cracked under the strain. I had to compose myself before I could phone M. But it was no good. We just sobbed.

Alhamdulillah, they have caught it at a very early stage. And Insyaallah, M will be ok. She must be, because, we have to do that steps again, together. Even in the autumn of our lives.

12th Dec. 2006 London
couldn't sleep. so - went online and found A - another lost soul. We chatted abt this and that and about M, who was then already on the operating table. It was a three hr op. Then A got ready to go to the hospital.
10am - Fadz - another childhood friend and one of the 'Special Angels' sms'ed to say M already out. A couldnt sms cos she forgot her glasses. Fadz was on the way there with several other childhood friends.
10.30 am- M sms'ed from hospital bed to say she is well. Alhamdulillah.
1500 - L sent picture message of the whole gang surrounding M in her hospital bed. I just burst into tears. These are some of my dearest friends from primary school. Love you all.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Thank you for another year

The letter was dated some time between Dec. ‘78 and Jan. '79. Postmarked London. And that must be one of the hundreds of letters that I received from the same address that I must have read hundreds of times. And today I took out the old dusty bag containing the letters and read them again but that particular one is the most significant because it has in writing what transpired over the phone in December 78.

It is also significant because it ended weeks of agony and tears in the bathroom. It confirmed that the conversation across the ocean wasn’t an imagination. And more importantly, he had not changed his mind or gone cold feet. He did ask me to marry him. The reason for the delay in the arrival of THE letter was Britain was going through what has now gone down in history as The Winter of Discontent. Rubbish were left rotting and not collected, hospital services were disrupted and so was the postal services – my life line in the absence of the now can’t-live-without sms, ym and emails.

Danny Boy had walked up the creaky steps of the old office in Light Street, Penang, with that cheeky smile on his face. He had in his hands lots of letters and documents which he had collected from the post office, and I could see that one bulky one in the all too familiar light blue envelope was meant for me. But he took his time, enjoying the look of anxiety on my face and intent on prolonging my misery, went round the office distributing the letters, leaving mine to the last.

When I did get my hands on it, I left the intro of my story for the day hanging in mid sentence, in the old Remington and locked myself up in the bathroom to digest the contents of the letter. I read it again several times during lunch under the big tree in front of Ho Peng (or fashionably known as Cafe de Paris), with Olivia Newton John belting out Hopelessly Devoted To You from the old jukebox, and again during a trishaw ride to the bus stand with the sound of Junglee blaring from the old transistor of the trishaw puller. True love is never meant to be straightforward and as for me, it was one merry-go-round.

That phone call and that letter brought our relationship a step nearer, though not any steps easier. For one, Mak couldn’t pronounce his name. And two of many others, He didn’t want an elaborate hoohaa of a wedding, preferring a simple ceremony at the mosque while my side of the family was already on page four of the guest lists (negotiations with TV3 must have been in the pipeline) .

And another big issue – I love babies, he loves cats. I wanted ten children, he wanted none.

All these pre-nup negotiations were conducted via airmails which took ages to arrive but the man himself turned up unannounced at my rented accommodation in Green Garden. And the rest is history. On the 9th of December 1979, there was a compromise of sorts. No big hoohaa, just a handful from the office – even Kak Adib who suspected that there was something between us, was not invited. Fati (of the now famed Cinta and AF) was there as she was instrumental in making me go out on that first date with him. Her words which rang clear to this day were: ‘You change you mind, you jaga!’, she said threateningly as I was getting ready in our dorm waiting for him to fetch me.

We bersandinged on two cushions in Abang’s front room in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar. No big buffalos died for our kenduri. After two weeks of visiting relatives, we said goodbye at Changi airport and flew into cold, gloomy London.

Its a good way to start married life, if you ask me. No relatives to poke their noses where it is not wanted and no mother’s house to run back to when you have a tiff. Any misunderstandings or harsh words, I took myself to the bathroom and the kitchen and scrubbed them clean. And love and honeymoon in a cold climate is most recommended. Never ask for promises. I never did. And I treat every extra year that we are together as a bonus from HIM.

Living in each other’s letters is one thing, but living with each other is another, no matter how hot your words of undying love was in those blue single lined letter pads. Adjustments had to be made, compromises to be sorted out. But isn’t that what marriage is all about? We didn’t have ten children, but not for lack of trying, of course. We have four now. Alhamdulillah. But I lost three more after that. He changed his mind about children and wanted more. I couldn’t, so we have six cats instead. Four children and six cats in 27 years. Alhamdulillah.

And guess what? Mak can now pronounce his name.


Last night, he wanted to take me to Iceland, but it was freezing cold. So, we took a cab to Beirut, instead. We had a lovely walk, the cold night air was quite refreshing and that was enough to whet our appetite for the mixed kebab we had bought from Beirut in Shepherd's Bush.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Jerai dengan seribu kenangan

Pix by Eddie Putera
Kenangan by Kak Teh

I used to stand right smack in the middle of Jalan Tuanku Mahmud facing the Jerai, and seriously convinced myself that Yan was easily the centre of the universe, the hub of activities and the envy of people near and far.

You’d excuse me for having such thoughts. I must have been about six, standing in my floral gown made to order from Yan’s bespoke tailor, Ah Gek, right in the middle of Jalan Tuanku Mahmud. There was no fear of being run down by Pak Piee’s old Morris Minor or Pak Mat’s Chevrolet. They never did more than 30 mph, if I remember correctly. The only reckless road users were perhaps those days’ equivalent to today’s Mat Rempits. But they had old rackety bicycles and only one or two had really noisy motorbikes.

Okay, back to why I thought Yan was the centre of the universe. The majestic Jerai was the all imposing feature of Yan – protectively embrassing the small sleepy town. Just at her feet (from where I was standing) was the District Officer’s residence, a stately home partly hidden by tall , well trimmed hedges. I used to wonder, what he did, what they have in a house that big. Would he allow us to watch TV in one of his big beautiful rooms for I am sure a DO would have a TV, unlike us who had to go and watch the once a month Malay movie in some stranger’s house, half a mile away.

To the right was the Langkasuka Primary school. With a name like that, I was sure it had some significance and on top of that, we had a celebrity ustaz – Haji Ismail Hashim, the several time national and international champion of Quran Reading Competitions. I am sure that he single handedly put Yan on the map.

To my left, and need I say anymore was Ah Gek’s boutique and it was from a small space next to her kitchen smelling of garlic, that she produced replicas of fashion as worn by Audrey Hepburn and many other Hollywood stars you see in the well thumbed Movie News stacked in her room.

I was sure that Ah Gek had a magic full length mirror in which I saw my chubby self transformed in one of her creations. Alas, it was a different picture in our mirror at home.

Anyway, as a centre of excellence, Yan provided several accommodations to young trainee teachers, fresh from teacher training colleges, their hair still dripping with brylcream, setting the hearts of Yan’s damselles a flutter. During the walks to school, enjoying the cool breeze from the Jerai still hidden behind the early morning mist, I used to see them cycling to their schools. Some walked. And some went on mortobikes that roared. These were the Mat Rempits of our time – some of them were threatened by village folks whose sleep were much deprived by their roaring engines in the nights.

After school these young temporary teachers would lounge lazily on the verandah in their Pagoda singlets and kain pelikats, some marking exercise books, many eyeing the town beauties. Sometimes, they took delight in hooting and tooting the town’s drag queens sashaying to town. Jerai just stood and watched – amused.

Further afield was Kampong Acheh – which to me was the nearest ‘other’ country that I had been. Just a few steps from Mak Aishah guru quran’s house, you enter a foreign territory where the language was totally alien and the politics was just something else. But I understood their chants, the time they marched with effigies of Sukarno which they burnt in our small square near the smelly wet market. That was my first exposure to politics. You don’t like something, you make effigies and burn them to shouts of ‘Ganyang so and so’. And the apolitical Jerai just watched – a neutral observer of a political skirmish.

Jerai looked down on to Yan’s small town – its hectic activity mainly contributed by medicine men from foreign shores Again, it had an international aura.

But sometimes, Jerai disappointed me. Admittedly the small town lacked entertainment and the locals were left very much to their own devices to amuse themselves. One old resident of Yan was a mute – her hair almost always in disarray, and she drooled as she tried to communicate, asking for loose change or even friendship. Many offered food, but most hooted her and even threw stones at her. She was my name sake. I can picture Teh Bisu now running here and there dodging the stones - and Jerai just looked on, unimpressed, still uninvolved.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Klasik Nasional menggamit memoriku

Whoever it was who created the jingle for RTM1 Klasik Nasional has my everlasting gratitude. Klasik Nasional. Segalanya di sini. Menggamit memori” So it goes. Since my discovery of the channel, it has been nothing else but live entertainment from that channel. It makes me feel so close to home, listening to the news in Malay, lagu-lagu permintaan and even those annoying tete-e-tete advertisements now make me chuckle.

One morning I was frying plantain, the one I bought at Portobello market as it was going cheap at five in the evening. Nothing beats hot pisang goreng cicah gula for breakfast. The aroma permeating the whole kitchen, with the dulcet tones of the DJ presenting the request programme ‘Dari Hati ke Hati’ in the background was the closest I have ever felt to home. If not for the cold air seeping in through the kitchen door, if not for the golden yellowing leaves I saw through the mistying glass window, softly falling on to the ground on that autumn morning, I would have thought I was at home.

Taufiq had kindly brought the speaker from the PC as near as the cables would go to the kitchen. And from that moment on, the kitchen was my own little world as news and songs from Klasik Nasional kept beckoning, so to speak, my memory.

From the news of the Bilik Berita (whereI once did my internship), I heard about the death of one of Malaysia’s oldest statesmen, Tan Sri Khir Johari, and I remembered Pak’s words everytime we listened to news about the then education minister from the small transistor that Mak lovingly placed on the old fridge, “Tu adik beradik kita tu...sebelah Pak.” But I never asked how was it that a man so high up there could be our adik beradik.

One day, I was listening to the news again when I heard a news item that a Datuk Seri Azizan Ariffin has been made RMAF Chief. What? Could it possibly be Jan, an old friend from those years of bell botts and flower power and mini bikes with high handles? Jan is indeed an old friend, a brother of my dearest friend from Primary One. That brief announcement brought back memories of outings to Pantai Merdeka with the family, midnight walks with the moonlight bathing the shimmering sea in search of crabs and chit chats and story telling about ghosts right till the early hours of the morning. And, of course, a little crush if I am allowed to admit now, of a young school girl who looked up adoringly to the smart and handsome would be officer and a gentleman. The last time we met was last year, as he treated his sister and I to lunch of nasi padang in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Congratulations Jan, er Datuk Seri.

What I enjoyed most while listening to Klasik Nasional is the request programmes. It is a real treat to be able to listen to old songs from those black and white movies, such as Jalak Lenteng, Bawang Putih Bawang Merah and those P. Ramlee classics. It was while frying the plantain that I heard a request for Hancur Badan Kandung Tanah by Tan Sri P Ramlee and Puan Sri Saloma...gosh, how times have changed. I then imagine Pak looking up dreamily from his newspapers, puffing his pipe, his feet tapping slowly in rythm to the music. Mak, sitting with her sewing by the window, would stop in mid stitch, a smile playing on her lips. What I really need now is Kebun Pak Awang and then I could really run riot with my memories!

Anyway, talk about menggamit memori! My last entry here, inspired by the anonymous Abang Malaya, had certainly provoked and jolted some old memories. Thanks, Abang Malaya.

One song from Klasik Nasional recently really brought back some very old memories hurtling back and you must be wondering what this song that you are hearing, Pegang Tali by S. Ahmad and Rohani S is all about.

I only used to see S. Ahmad, the veteran singer of the 60’s and 70’s, in entertainment magazines and I remember him in white suits and platform shoes with that slick hairstyle so popular in those days. Then some time in the nineties, he appeared in London and he came into our lives and became the older brother for most of us Malays in London. He made the best ever mee goreng, he told the best ever jokes and stories of days gone by in the entertainment industry and he was one of the best ever brother who was not a brother that I have ever had. He loved my children, he adored Taufiq who was then perhaps only a few years old. Three days past without seeing Taufiq, he’d ring me up and ask us to drive over to where he was working and to bring Taufiq along. Upon seeing Taufiq he’d give him the biggest hug and playfully bite and pinch his chubby cheeks.

And he had a wonderful voice. We used to meet up at Ezani’s place and he’d warm our winter nights with his wonderful rendition of Widuri as Ezani played on the organ.

Then as suddenly as he had appeared in our lives, he left. I remember the summer he went back to Malaysia never to return. He died and never fulfilled his promise to us that he would be back. To Abang Mat, Al fatehah and thank you for the wonderful times you had given us. And thank you Klasik Nasional for jolting my memory.


Monday, 20 November 2006

Balada untuk Abang Malaya...Dari Jalan Riong ke London

Wahai pembaca Kak Teh berseloka,
membuka cerita pada pagi hari buta,
menyahut Abang Malaya empunya cerita,
bertanyakan khabar Kak Teh sekeluarga.

Muncul Abang Malaya mengusik jiwa,
terkenang kembali waktu remaja,
Di Jalan Riong Kak Teh bekerja,
sebelum ke London ingat 3 tahun saja.

Gurindam Abang Malaya membuka kisah,
selagi tak tahu nama hati gelisah,
Kak Teh berseloka supaya tak resah,
sehingga dapat tahu namamu yang sah.

Gurindam Abang Malaya mengusik kalbu,
ke Jalan Riong fikiran ku melulu,
semasa wartawan remaja dari ITM dulu,
nak panggung kepalapun rasa malu.

Jalan Riong menyimpan seribu kenangan,
tempat bertemu kekasih pujaan,
ramai lagi teman dan rakan,
sehingga hari ini masih berkawan.

Dua puluh enam tahun di perantauan,
pulang selalu jenguk ibu dan taulan,
ke Jalan Riong mencari kawan
rasa terubat hati yang rawan.

Abang Malaya duduk di mana,
kerja di NST atau BH sana?
kalau dah pencen sekarang bagaimana
datanglah ke London makan angin bersama.

Dulu memang Kak Teh dikatakan ayu,
bersarung kebaya kita selalu,
sekarang pinggang tak ada hati ku sayu,
makan banyak semuanya lalu.

Yang mana satu Abang Malaya,
Kak Teh dok ingat jangan tak percaya,
banyak juga teman abang2 jejaka,
semuanya hemsem dan kacak belaka.

Berselang bulan, musim dan tahun,
bertambah usia, uban di ubun,
yang dulu ramping dah jadi tembun,
Botak dan boroi jejaka dah jadi rabun.

Kami masih dalam ingatan Abang,
terima kasih diucapkan datang bersembang,
dalam dunia siber kita bergebang,
bila agaknya nak jumpa berdepang-depang (this is the Trenganu influence!)

Sudahlah di sini, Kak Teh bermadah,
berseloka sakan di pagi nan indah,
ku mohon diri untuk menyiapkan juadah,
sebelum bekerja yang tak sudah-sudah.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Of being Brued and Jeffooied etc

Before I could sufficiently recover from being Rockybrued, I was Jeffooied (to borrow a phrase from Sharon Bakar) left, right and centre during the past few days causing an unprecedented surge in the graphs never seen before in my webstat. I have had a busy week but late one night, I sat before my pc mesmerised by the increasing number of people online. I can asssure you, the experience was not unlike watching the washing machine in action. It was... , er, mesmerising, as I stared at the number of guests online in MY blog, going from 24 to 36 to 44 and 55! I even checked to see whether I was in the right blog and not one belonging to Mak Andeh or BTB or someone equally famous. But no, it is Choc-a-Blog and my tired eyes were not playing tricks.

I then had the presence of mind to check webstat. On 14th November, there were about 1,300 visitors lurking in my archives, all being redirected from Jeff To what do I owe this honour? I clicked on all his links and finally found one that says, Lat’s story – and that was where the visitors were coming from. The next morning, before I could even wash my face, there were already 60 visitors and the figure went well over 2,000 by the end of the day. Phew! talk about the 15 minute of fame...I had two whole days and I just couldn’t cope with it. I am now quite relieved to see the normal five or at the most seven, (half of which must be my siblings) pottering around in my archives.

So, what have I been up to these past few days? Quite a lot I must say. I sacrificed my Eastenders omnibus edition and X-Factor to join thousands of people at Westminster for Remembrance Sunday. It was a very emotional affair, especially watching old war veterans in their wheelchairs, with their walking sticks, marching past the cenotaph with its millions of red poppy flowers making a stark contrast to the dull and grey autumn morning. Then there were the war widows, walking proudly in memory of their husbands who never returned. I saw one old war veteran, with medals on his beret, flashing an old sepia photograph from his wartime days to anyone who cared to look, and telling wartime stories to anyone who cared to listen.

The last time I attended Remembrance Sunday was in 1995 at the Royal Albert Hall when it was the 50th anniversary of the Second World War. I attended the ceremony then for the same reason I attended the ceremony this year. Each year, a Malay ex British army veteran joins in the march. In 1995, Pak Mat Abu, now 66, was given the honour to carry the Malaysian flag as the British government honoured the Commonwealth countries for their contribution during the Second World War.

Lest we forget

Last Sunday, I caught up with Pak Mat Abu again after the parade and spotted him wearing his newly acquired medal – the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, given to those, especially in the British army and the police force, who served during the emergency.

Pak Mat was 15 when he signed up with the British Royal Artillery and served in several units in Singapore before they closed down the base. He didn’t see any action but was involved in digging trenches during the emergency.

Although he came to London in 1971 with the intention of joining up again, he resigned from the British army and went on to work with London Transport, first as a guard and later as a tube driver on the Bakerloo Line. He later drove the number 52 bus. I have known Pak Mat for a long time and he has been a source of information in my search for stories about the old Malay sailors.(here, here and here)

A few days ago, I attended another ceremony at the Guildhall in east London– a ceremony steeped in tradition dating from 1237. I was there again to witness another friend being given the Freedom of the City of London. What an honour and it came just a day before his birthday too! The first Malaysian to be given the Honorary Freedom of the City was our first Prime Minister, Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra AlHaj in 1968. The second who was nominated and made Freeman of the city was the present sultan of Selangor. And now the third is someone who had done a lot to contribute to the fashion industry, making women feel beautiful in his creation, inspiring not only films, books but also songs, not to mention others who want to be in his choos, er shoes, following his footsteps. I have been to almost all ceremonies where he was given awards and recognitions, like the OBE, the honorary doctorate at a university and it never failed to make my eyes water. Such a beautiful, kind and humble person and I feel truly honoured to be his friend and to be able to share most of his important moments with him and his family.

Just a little something abt the Freedom of the City. In the olden days, recipients of this title were allowed to drive their flock of sheep across the London Bridge and they could go on a drinking spree and behave in a disorderly manner without fear of being arrested.

I have just come back from a meeting with blogger arena and what a wonderful meeting it was. Like the war veterans, I suddenly feel old.

So, yes, it has been an exhausting week, but I think I still have enough energy for Dirty Dancing this weekend!

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Our doas for a quick recovery

We have always jokingly said that he will be alright because he has a doctor with him all the time. She takes care of him night and day. During trips abroad, the group of journalists covering him always had a tough time catching up with him. Sometimes he prefered to walk if one event was close to the next, and who are we to say differently, so we walked. When we arrived, he was fit and ready to start while we huffed and puffed, still searching for our note books.

Once in Budapest, it was a five day official visit and the schedule was packed and we groaned. At a press conference, at the end of a very long day, he took one look at us who looked like we had just covered wartorn Iraq and said, “Aren’t you all tired following me around?” and a very brave Datuk Khalid Mohamed of Utusan said, “Kalau perdana menteri tak penat mana kita boleh penat!”.

Then there was this time in Paris. We had earlier met him in London then rushed to Paris and waited outside the Palais de l’Elysée for a whole hour in the freezing cold while he had talks with Jacque Chirac. Our toes couldn’t feel anything anymore because of the cold and by the time we caught hold of him at his hotel, our jaws were still at different stages of defrosting and none of us could say anything. So he said, “You could have waited for me in Norwich!” which we did of course because he went on to inspect the Lotus factory .

I remember one occassion. He had just flown in from Argentina and there were rumours that he had fallen off a horse. There was already a crowd outside the place he was staying near Hyde Park Gate. I got to him late but he waited for me where we had a one to one interview and I think that was the best ever I had had with him since my first one to one with him in Vienna (which was a complete disaster!) He sat there looking suitably pink and healthy for a man his age. I sat there and silently cursed all the other journalists who had left me to face this great man alone. So I said, “ It looks like you can never leave the country. Everytime you do people start rumours about your health and the stock market plunged,”

He gave the most hearty laugh and I was told later that that opening, with his laughter and apparent good health restored confidence again in the market. It also restored my confidence in myself. Yonks ago when I had to interview him for the BBC, I was a naive, young broadcaster who was assigned to cover his two week long conference in Vienna. I was supplied a tape recorder that I was unfamiliar with and I found myself face to face with a man who was not only suffering from a slight cold but also showing signs of roti canai withdrawal symptoms. His two word answers and stern, frosty look was worst than that cold outside Palais de l’Elysée. My interview went out muffled, the tone was low. But he looked after us. Two weeks away from home is the maximum for us. By then we would have finished our supply of rendangs and maggi mee and would have been in various stages of wilting due to lack of Malaysian food. But he was our saviour. The last few days we found an Indonesian restaurant that had on offer sambal tumis udang petai! The great man booked the restaurant that night for all of us and we stuffed our face shamelessly.

Now, I hear he is unwell after suffering from a mild heart attack. He still has his loving and devoted doctor wife by his side but clearly Doc, it is a sign for you to slow down too. Our doas are with you. Have a quick recovery.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

The Raya that was

The precious few pieces of ketupat that I had at a friend’s house is now no more than a fond memory that lingers torturously during my waking hours. I have conquered the fear of making jam tarts, the success of which is evident in the empty airtight container that I bought just for that purpose. Now, with renewed confidence, I feel brave enough to try making pulut for ketupat and for that I may need to go for meditation for a whole forty-four days and emerge when the moon is full and the air is serene. Such is the effect of that ketupat that my life will never be the same again.

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I had a raya with a difference this year and I say so with a certain pride. Afterall, I made jam tarts and biskut almond London when throughout my 26 years of marriage I had never ever attempted such feat. I surfed the internet and found several recipes for biskut almond london and copied two – one on each side of an envelope which had earlier delivered a hari raya card from Malaysia. What a mistake! With such a rush of adrenalin, I soon got confused as to which recipe I was following – the one on the front of the envelope or the one on the back? But as it was Ramadan, my patience was in tact and as if on cue, I heard my Mak’s reassuring voice in the background: Kita yang buat dia – apa kita buat jadi lah!” Such wise words in such desperate moments.

It was also a raya with a difference for on the last night of Ramadan, we all gathered in our front room and did the takbir together. Tell me, how would a mother feel, hearing for the first time the voice of your just adolescent son, doing the takbir? His voice, at times breaking, at times nervous, alternated with that of his father, whose voice was still coarse as a result of a month long cold and cough. This mother felt very proud indeed and for the solat raya, which we had at Mawar, he did a repeat performance and sounded more confident.

It was raya with a difference because there was about fifty percent less tension in the morning as we all rushed for the bathroom. I had ironed everyone’s clothes, found the buttons and the pins and the keronsang and left my Jubbah till the last minute to hem it in. Which was another big mistake of course, because I couldn’t find any thread nor needle. My youngest found one of those things that you iron in and was supposed to stick and stay in place. Big mistake again because the hem came undone as we were about to go harirayaing. So in the front room of a friend’s house, daughter number one sat demurely, needle and thread in hand and hemmed in my hem. Ehem, ehem.

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We are not much of a house hopper during hari raya so we stayed on at this friend’s place until there was only standing room. It was nice to see the younger ones – my children’s generation – getting together in their hari raya fineries. I had bought the girls new kebayas and sarungs but year afteryear, theyinsisted on wearing my old kebayas that had seen better days.Rehana wore my kerawanged kebaya top that I wore during my graduation at ITM in 1978, with batik panjang lipat which once belonged to her Cik Su. Nona wore Kak’s green kota baru which was handed down to me, then to rehana and then to her. With that she wore a matching kain ketat that I had made when my waist was as slim as my wrist. Those were the days. Yes, the children – now all grown ups and some still in university and some working – had all grown up together in this land they now called home. Watching them in that living room, we the parents suddenly feel so old.

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It is raya with a difference too as I discovered . And my days and nights are suddenly filled with lagu permintaan raya from Klasik National, kenangan menggamit memori, says the jingle. Thank you RTM 1 for making me feel so at home away from home. I heard Datuk DJ Dave with his Maafkanlaaaah, maafkan laah...and Datin Rafeah Buang with her lagu hari raya and was transported back home to my Mak’s kitchen where I knew the clans were gathering.

Yes, the clans, minus a few, went back to Mak’s place that Pak built. Like I said, Mak insisted on going back first. And I understand her reason. She wanted to be there in her own house, and be the first to welcome her children as there arrive one by one. No one can deny her that pleasure even though her heart broke when she discovered that the roof in the kitchen leaked like a sieve. According to sister number three, pots and pans were more useful to contain the water from the heavy rain, than for cooking. But Mak was in her elements, I was told, sometimes forgetting that she was fasting, offering to make drinks for those who fasted, and even asking everyone to go out for lunch – during the last few days of Ramadan. It doesn’t matter Mak, you have done enough in your life – what is a few days when your memory took leave. Allah understands. And Pak understands that you didn’t even think about visiting his grave. You didn’t forget – it is just that your brain cells are acting a bit funny. Pak understands.

It was raya with a difference because I didn’t cry on the first day of raya. I didn’t even cry when i spoke to mak on the phone even though our conversation was like one badly written script. She answered what I didnt ask and asked what I couldn't answer. But I did cry when I received some raya photos from home.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Memories of Pak this Ramadan

Everyone is talking about it. In fact some blogs, they have links to it. I have seen it, minus the sound because there is something wrong with my speaker. But even without the sound and the conversation, the message came loud and clear through the actions - and I had to stop watching it as my vision was getting a bit blurred for the tears that came trickling fast. Yes, living with an ageing person is not the easiest thing to do. The one person who used to be strong and dependable, is suddenly a child that you need to look after with tantrums and behaviour that test your patience and iman. This is certainly not a new topic here nor in other blogs.

[Iklan raya by Petronas]

The thought provoking conscience pricking video clip certainly brought back memories of life with my own father the last few years before he left us. Pak was an easy going person who gave in to the demands of his children. We were thoroughly spoilt. He would do the chores that Mak assigned us while he signalled that we leave the kitchen and go back to our books. He checked our grammar and tenses in our letters to him when we were away and saw to it that our favourite food remained on the table during our home coming. But to our young minds – that was never enough because Pak never took us to the cinema nor to the parks. But he waited up for us when we went to late night parties, and waited with us when we watched horror movies at night. He came into our rooms regularly to check that our blankets didn’t slip away onto to the burning mosquito coil. He told and retold to us stories of what he did during the Japanese occupation. All that he did.

Pak’s geniality slowly began to ebb. I was away during my adult years but coming home during the breaks, I noticed his impatience, his quiet anger that was unexplained. Sitting around the table during the meals was never easy. We never touched the food until he did. That was the rule. We didn’t talk unnecessarily. He never scattered his food like the father in the video clip, but he made unnecessary noise that was a bit irritating. For someone who reminded us time and time again never to talk with our mouth full and to eat quietly, this was a bit unnerving. Mak would sit quietly pushing her food on her plate.

Sometimes, he would sit in his favourite chair near the pillar facing the roadside. Pak never left the house because of the injuries he had during an accident. So that chair facing the door was his window to the outside world. He’d beckon the mamak mee goreng, the budak kueh from there. Even the peminta sedekah who came a knocking would come in and share his food.

He’d sit there and entertain his own thoughts. What he thought about appeared in a conversation, which to us, was with no one in particular. We knew Pak was losing it. But we didn’t admit it.

He took to sleeping in the single bedroom upstairs, where he stored everything – fruits that had gone rotten, rambutans that had gone black. In his pockets were our birth certificates that went into pieces at a touch, and many other bits and pieces that must have been there for years. In his books near his bedside, to our delight, were some crisp notes. It was while he was in this room entertaining his thoughts that we saw the great change in him. If we were washing up and if there was any noise at all, he’d appear at the top of the stairs and bellow at us. He thought we were angry with him. Any exaggerated actions, noise were translated as anger directed towards him. We never replied back, we never showed our anger but we were sad because sometimes we didn’t recognise this father who used to be so loving. We didn’t understand that old age for him was taking a different course.

But if anything, I am thankful that it was only those little things that made him different and we still remember him fondly as the one who told jokes about the Japanese, the one who made up children’s stories and songs and the one who let us off the hook when Mak showed her claws.

For we were fortunate he didn’t go wandering around the neighbourhood without a stitch on his body, like an old uncle of ours. Unlike another uncle who didn’t recognise his children, Pak on his death bed was still discussing the course I was taking at college.

This Ramadan, like other Ramadans, I remember Pak. When I watch the way my husband wake the children up for Sahur, I see my Pak in him. How he would repeatedly and patiently wake them up, just like Pak woke us up. And yes, the last Ramadan with Pak, he could still organise the Itik golek, the way he liked it. Our rayas are never without the itik golek the way he liked it.

Let us look after our parents for, among other things, we never know how we would be when we get to that age.

PS I watched this iklan raya clip again with the sound on at work and I just couldn't stop my tears. "Aku ingin Pulang", says the song in the background. And I remember my Mak as she flew home yesterday to her own home in Alor Star.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Of buah ulu (bahulu) and such likes

Why Mak insisted on keeping the geese I never understood. They were noisy, they left their droppings everywhere in the back yard and worst of all, they were vicious! I was sitting on the doorsteps, minding my own business when out of nowhere, one of these creatures made a beeline with its outstretched long neck and aimed for my tushy!!! It was painful!

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Picture from

But I guess, geese have their functions.They make a hell of a noise should intruders enter the compound in the middle of the night. And come raya time, their eggs were most sought after.

So, whose job was it to go searching for their eggs? Being shoved into the geese pen was not unlike being thrown into a hungry tiger’s cage. I had to keep looking back in case the attack came from the back while I wasn’t looking. After collecting the precious eggs, just like Jack in the Beanstalk story, I scrambled back into the house, hopefully with my tushy intact!

With the prized eggs, Mak made kueh buah ulu. And what a preparation it was to make buah ulu! (or is it bahulu? baulu?) Mak fried the flour first and then in one big tub we took turns to whisk the eggs and sugar. And before the days of blenders and magimix, it took the entire household to whisk the mixture before it was ready. I was told that some people would use the 'penyapu lidi' for that purpose. A clean one, of course. Then, be ready for the tearful bit of the cooking process. The mixture was poured into the moulds – some simple small, round or oval ones, some big gold fish ones – before putting in a big pot on a charcoal stove, preferably outside. The lid was filled with hot sand or burning coconut husks. That’s the conventional oven! Neighbours all around you would know that you have embarked on the buah ulu making mission, with the smoke going sky high.

Mak in her present condition, is always forgetful. But a few days ago, I received an SMS from my sis in law telling me that Mak suddenly said – “Kueh raya kat Kak Teh tak hantark lagi?” Hmm, that's another tearful bit.

Well, tell her anything, tell her a lie that I do have kueh rayas but never tell her that Kak Teh is making her own kueh raya because, even in her present state of mind, she will never believe that.

With just a few days to go, and not one buah ulu in sight, I suddenly thought of making some kueh raya. In my 26 years away, I have never attempted any. Kueh rayas came from Pasar Seni – mainly jam tarts and biskut suji. The rest I can live without. Now with the customs at Heathrow getting fussier with foods from our part of the world, I have resorted to ordering from friends, looking up recipes on the internet and I even consulted Mak Andeh, who like me did her baking only in Domestic Science classes yonks ago.

This week will be a real test – if i manage to make some jam tarts or biskut badam London – that will be my achievement this century.

To those of you still whipping out delights from your oven, “Bila makan tu, ingatlah Kak Teh di London!”
err anyone can put me out of my misery - buah ulu, baulu, bahulu?

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

One Iftar, one Ramadan

I never forget a face.

The young girl who came out of the surau and gave me a cheerful salam looked so familiar that for a while I was somewhat distracted from performing my asar prayers. She had that sweet and engaging smile. But something was missing from that smile, something that could be the clue that I needed to pinpoint her identity.

I forgot about her briefly as I rushed to the refectory for iftar but as I was queuing for my date, I was greeted by the same familiar smile. And from that moment and before the call for maghrib, I wrecked my brain trying to put the face to a name. Usually I am very good with names. I have a knack for recognising voices, faces and mannerisms. This one mysterious smile defied me and I needed to find a way to ask her without being so obvious.

I remember the time when I was queuing up for my registration at the university, and was drawing imaginary motifs with my foot when I noticed a pair of fine slender legs firmly planted in a pair of shoes most students can’t afford to buy. I followed those legs right up to her face and almost immediately, I was able to place the famous face, which usually graced the gossip columns of tabloids and Hello magazine on account of being the estranged wife of a certain party leader and then gf of a certain dashing film star. But I had to be sure. The only way to do it was to start a conversation.

Feigning ignorance, I asked her whether we were in the right queue. She had a very posh accent and that nearly confirmed my suspicion. She said, “Yes, if you are a returning student, we are in the right queue.” I proceeded to introduce myself and she said, “I’m Jem*m*” and I continued looking as blur as sotong, as some would say, discussing the courses we were taking, in spite of the fact that the people at the registration desk were nudging each other, passing notes and eyeing her from top to bottom.

I could try that trick again with this mysterious girl but I had to act fast and direct. So I said, “You look familiar,” to which she replied with a question,”Are you from Malaysia, because my mother is from Malaysia.” Now, that offer of information was all I needed. But I continued and said “I am so and so” to which she replied, I am F”.

It could have been the effect of fasting, and it could have been the date, but I looked straight into her eyes and said, “No, you are not F, you are S,” The sweet smile still lingered at the corner of her mouth as she insisted that she was F. I stood my grounds and insisted that she was S. My children would have strangled me with their bare hands if they were around to witness such display of audacity. Finally her face fell and she said, “Alright, I am S”.

And with that we performed our maghrib, during which I thanked God that I had at last found her. I had known this sweet young girl since she was 12. We had both changed. I was of course very much older. She had grown to be a very beautiful young lady. We had both donned the hijab since we last saw each other.
She wouldn't have guessed I'd be back at university. She only knew me as a hack hounding for news of her whereabouts. And I would never have guessed that she'd come to my uni to do another degree. She didnt need it, or so I thought.
S was catapulted to fame because she was a gifted child who was accepted by Oxford Uni at an age when most children were still giggly and silly. She didn’t invite publicity but the press, including me, were at her doorsteps all the time. I spent a day with the unusually gifted family and came home and appreciated my children even more because at 12 they still had their childhood. S on the other hand didn’t have any friends except for children older than her that she tutored in Maths or those she played tennis with. She didn’t know any pop stars or pop groups and didnt play with pokemon. Even at uni, she couldn’t really adjust with life at campus, she couldn’t go to students gig or do’s like the rest of the students who were older than her. She was chaperoned everywhere.

Anyway, during her uni years, we left her alone at the request of the university but as if meticulously planned, after her final papers she disappeared and hit the headlines again. We were back on her doorsteps searching for answers for her disappearance. I even wrote her several emails to no avail. She only replied to the Daily Mail exposing a family drama no one suspected before. She explained her reasons for leaving in a manner so uncharacteristic of an obedient and faithful child. But the year she stayed away, she rediscovered her childhood, she discovered friends and she found love.

I remember my meeting with S that fateful day in Ramadan two years ago, as I broke my fast at the uni again today. It was a very matured and confident S who I met on the way to the surau that day. One who had chosen to go back and reclaim her childhood. It was that confident smile that threw me off my tracks.

You see, I never forget a face.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

The crying has stopped. For now.

For now, she has something to look forward to. For now, she will busy herself with packing, unpacking and repacking her small bag, rearranging her neatly ironed clothes before the promised flight home.The crying and the sulking have stopped. For now.

These last few years have not been easy – not for Mak and not for those looking after her. But my siblings, my sisters and brothers in law soldiered on, sometimes with excuses but sometimes with necessary white lies. And most of the time, by pretending not to hear.

That Mak has been whining and fretting to go home to her house that Pak built for her, has been the topic of our phone conversations, ym’s and sms’es. I had never heard Kak Cik sounding so exasperated the last time I spoke to her. Mak had tried everything; crying, sulking and even refusing to eat as a protest. She feels unsettled, a nomad, even in the homes of her own children who dote on her day and night.
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That Mak can no longer be on her own is something we had all decided a long time ago; since she fell in the bath room, since she put a burning mosquito coil under her bed, since we caught her trying to tie her plants together in the garden, since a chest of drawers fell on her when she pulled it to get up from the floor. And more importantly, since she was diagnosed with the big C. And lately, Nisa informed me, she would eat, sleep and wake up thinking she is still fasting. Her forgetfulness is worrying.

We got her a maid but the maid ate earlier than Mak, slept earlier than Mak and woke up later then Mak. So, we packed her off home. We have decided that we cannot trust anyone outside the family to look after her.

Mak wants to be with her chickens, ducks and geese – she has forgotten that they are no longer there. She wants to water her orchids and plants and the melur garden that Tok left her. Kak Cik, in her effort to make Mak feel at home away from home, had taken some of her orchid plants and planted them in the gardens of every house in Kajang and Bangi that she lives in, so that she can see a bit of her garden wherever she goes. But that is still not enough. Her strongest argument remains: Pak never wanted me to leave the house that he built for me. With this, they had to pretend not to hear.
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Listening to all these, I am left with this feeling of helplessness so much so that in conversations that I usually have with myself in the kitchen, while preparing for berbuka, I argued the possibility of just leaving everything and everyone here and spend the time with her, the last few years of her life, and make her happy in that house that Pak built for her. If I have tons of money in the bank and not have to run around earning a living and worry about bills and children’s schooling, yes I’d do that. With a PC and an internet connection in that part of the world, I can still earn a living. But while having a supportive husband who will not say no to such a noble intention, what about being absent during the most important year in my son’s schooling? And even if I can stand the pangs of separation from my loved ones here, can I cope with looking after an ageing Mak who has lost most of her faculties?

I remember spending time with her in her hospital room. I just looked on like a bystander, as everyone fussed over her, Even young Eena knew how to cope while I looked on. As an excuse, I filmed her on my video camera, only to let my emotions go in the privacy of my own home when I watched it again, and again and again.

There was this time, I took her to the toilet. I had to turn away as she undressed. My Mak has become a child who needs looking after. So, I shouldn’t really be looking away, but I did. And during the night, when I slept with her, this child, rolled off the bed and fell. My siblings looked after her for years and she never fell off her bed, and that one night I slept with her, she fell and hurt her head. And I could only cradle her in my lap, as she had cradled me when I small. And look at the time I was left on my own to change her nappies. I am quite hopeless.

Mak sleeps a lot these days, I was told. Which is good as she has less time thinking about the house that Pak built for her. I remember looking at her while she slept, and at times I was tempted to put my finger near her nostrils to check her breathing, like I used to when I was small. I was so scared that she might just stop breathing if I took my finger away. I am still scared.

Yes, for now, Mak is happy and looking forward to that journey home. Everyone will be back celebrating raya in the house that Pak built for Mak. The front of the house will be filled with cars again, the house will be filled with laughter and the front room, with assortments of sleeping bags and suitcases. The kitchen will be full of activities. Mak will be looking forward to see the new table we bought her last year. And she will be looking forward to visit Pak and Tok again.
So, the crying has stopped. For now.