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
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.