Monday, 26 February 2007

History in a suitcase

Lately, I have been travelling up and down the country and there were times when I can’t even remember what day it was, which part of Britain I was in or more importantly what I was there for! So before I forget what I am going to write for this entry, I had better take my daily dose of Ginkgo Biloba and get on with it.

The problem with my memory at the moment is that I am so overloaded with information and no amount of Ginkgo or fish diet can help me now. I am trying to pack in fifty odd years of history in a memory that is in need of an upgrade. Therefore I marveled and am in awe of the people I have been meeting with over the last few weeks. They are much, much older than me, but they must have had a very rich fish diet to have retained such wonderful memory. Their minds are still fresh with memories of yesteryears. They remember dates, names of roads, buildings and people!

Take this English lady I met a fortnight ago. Who would believe that in a remote village somewhere in the south coast of Britain, there lives a fine old lady who could tell you you what transpired during the election campaigns in Malaya, what happened during the late Tun Abdul Razak’s arrival from China, or what was communicated during her tete-e-tete with the Queen during her visit to Malaysia. Who built what and when...and who said what about it!..and even in what manner it was spoken!

And all the while, I sat at her feet, with the fire crackling and burning in her fireplace to keep us warm in her not so little cottage in the village. I had taken the earliest train possible to see her and it was when night had fallen in the southern skies that I returned to London, my mind spilling with information, my battery badly in need of a recharge.

This lady, who went to Malaya in 1953 and stayed on being an active socialite and an even more active figure in the political scene, has a lot to tell. With the 50th anniversary of the independence day coming, her memory is set to active mode once again, recalling all those events leading right up to the moment when she stood on the steps of the pavilion at the padang to watch the Union Jack being lowered. And even beyond.

To help her jolt her memory is a suitcase of letters, cards and documents from past prime ministers, former politicians from both side of the bench, famous names who visited and made her acquaintance, letterheads and postmarks from prestigious addresses, black and white photographs fraying at the edges capturing moments never to be repeated. Even envelopes, those familiar brown envelopes with URUSAN SERI PADUKA BAGINDA written across it! These are lovingly kept in plastic sleeves.

When I arrived at her house, I was met with a very cheerful Selamat datang and Apa khabar. Even after giving up her Malaysian citizenship, and coming back to live in her country of origin, she never lost touch with things Malaysian. If I am brave enough to admit, she is even more clued up with developments in Malaysia now. And now she is ready to tell her story.

Once in a while, she'd ask"Do you know Zaharah...." and I didn't know.

“Here’s my life story,” she said pointing to her suitcase full of letters and documents and pictures. All we need to do now is piece them together. I now have with me four tapes and three video tapes to look through.

Two days ago, I found myself in Liverpool. Liverpool has been a huge source of information to quench my thirst in knowledge on Malay sailors. Admittedly, there’s not many left. Many died since my last visit two years ago. During my recent visit, I was informed that a few Pak Cik sailors are not well. And Pak Cik Ngah Musa is in hospital recuperating from an operation. Even if I had five minutes, I must visit Pak cik Musa.

Two years ago, when I visited Liverpool, Pak Cik Karim was already dying in hospital. I visited him and managed to record his message to his relatives in Singapore and Australia. They didn't know he was dying. And indeed he died a week later.

From the hospital, I went to see Pak Cik Arshad, dear Pak Cik Arshad who, in spite of his Parkinson’s Disease had kept me company in the Kesatuan clubhouse when I was there. later during his last few years, he lived in a nursing home. He still remembered me as the one who put him on TV. He decorated his small but comfortable room with all things from Malaysia. Two small Malaysian flags stood on his cupboard alongside photographs of his parents. Pak Cik Arshad also died sometime after that. Pak Cik Majid, whose life I also documented on TV which then reunited him with his family, also passed away after that. The same story with Pak Cik Bakar, who baked me a cake to eat during my long train journey home to London. So, I really wanted to see Pak Cik Musa.

I met Pak Cik Musa perhaps in the nineties when I did a feature about the Malay sailor settlement there. And I have written many articles about them too. Since then many people and media have approached them too. Anyway, Pak Cik Musa is relatively young compared to the rest.

He left Malaya in 1949 at the age of 18. Now he is 77 with an excellent memory of his days at sea. I expected to see a frail old man in his hospital bed. But what a wonderful surprise. He looked so well after the operation. We had only 15 minutes before closing time, but I managed to get so many precious quotes from him; about him meeting Tunku Abdul Rahman at his rally in Hyde Park during the months before the independence, about his adventures at sea after being sent off to the Korean War and many more. All these communicated in thick and strong Terengganu accent! to him, I was Jaroh! What a beautiful mind!

Pak Cik Musa is adamant that he will go back to his Terengganu when he is well. He wants to book his plot in a cemetery in Losong, for that is where he wants to be when his time is up.

That fifteen minute meeting is so precious to me. Pak Cik Musa has given me so much and I hope, I will meet him again.

With this massive overloading of information, please excuse me if I disappear for awhile. I need to recharge my battery and more importantly, I have loads of interviews that I need to transcribe

More on pak cik sailors:

Tribute to an old man and his sea
Goodbye Pak cik and Thanks for the memories



Anonymous said...

kak teh, another best seller in the making. and we are all better and richer for it. we cannot thank you enough for doing the needful.

Pak Tuo said...

Salam Kak Teh dear,

Innalillah Wa'inalillah Hirajiuun and Alfatiha to the unsung heros.

We do have the silver hair programme at home Kak Teh?

I could understand the situation and feeling 101%,Kak Teh.

Some how remains me of the late Allahyarham Uncle Majid and Aunty Rokiah.


Fauziah Ismail said...

Kak Teh
I enjoy history, not from reading the history books, but from stories told to me by my elders. My late maternal grandmother was injured during the Japanese Occupation and had scars to show her grandchildren, my late father told us of his experience of fleeing into the jungle during the war, Mom said she was at the Padang in Malacca when the late Tunku declared the date for the Independence.
Thank you for documenting the country's history for the younger generation.

wonda said...

Your blog is a suitcase of stories that enrich our lives as we travel along with you in blogosphere. Don't worry, Kak Teh, take your time off. We know you are busy. We will "ban ban tan" (wait patiently).

NorAiniJ said...

Salam Kak Teh,

History helps people understand the relationship between the past and present, and knowing history makes people believe in a better future. I guess Malaysia will not be as what we all love today without the existence of Malaya, and all the early great personalities who lived through it.

Thank you Kak Teh for the documentation.

Anonymous said...

"Your blog is a suitcase of stories that enrich our lives as we travel along with you in blogosphere."

I believe Wonda has said it perfectly. O! what a journey you are bringing us on! :)

Kak Teh said...

a malaysian in riyadh, Insyaallah, pray hard for me and one day it'll be see the light of day. I fear I am just a penglipur lara who goes around collecting stories and never had time to jot them down properly. There are people who collect stories and silently document them into a book. I need to find a formula! i must!

Pak tuo, Silver hair is for non malaysians kan?

x-matters, i feel the same. i enjoy speaking to people with stories to tell. I can sit for house and listen to them. I regret not documenting the stories my father told us about the Japanese occupation. when i go back, i will document more stories about my mother's voyage to mekah.

Kak Teh said...

alice@wonda, thank you. i dont have a suitcase - just a slingbag. But i hope to build it up one day.

nj, my sentiments exactly. In today's pursuits for things technology, sometimes we tend to lose sight of those things that's equally important to us.

kenny mah, well - fasten your seat belt and get ready for the journey!hehe - it'll take a while.

silversarina said...

I used to hate history as for me it's all just about sadness and torture .However , when my kids started asking me the history of Malaysia, I started to dig for the info...

After reading this n3, I'm so proud of you kak teh, with you at the scene I'm sure the suitcase will turn into a bouquet of beautiful roses ,InsyaAllah.

Kak Elle said...

salute to your hard work hope to read the whole thing one day in a book.

Anonymous said...


Innalillah Wa'inalillah Hirajiuun and Alfatiha all those pakciks.

I still remember visiting Pakcik Arshad at the nursing home and Pakcik Mat Nor described me, "Arshad, ni Wan XXX, dia ni kawan Wan Zaharah yg kat London".

Those moments of visiting Pakcik Mat Nor and his friends at Jermyn Street especially during Merdeka Celebration are valuable experiences. I hope pakcik Mat Nor is still healthy enough to organize a big celebration in Liverpool fr coming 50th Merdeka Celebration this year.

Any chance of us to read a book on these people's experiences soon?.Lots of history are buried and we are lucky to have you to dig it out.

My Salam to AG.


Ordinary Superhero said...

Oh Kak Teh, please please share them all with the rest of us!

Kak Teh said...

loveujordan, for history of malaysia do buy Tunku Halim's History of Malaysia for Children. I highly recommend that!

kak elle, Insyaallah!

Sangkelate, Pak Cik Mat Nor is not well. So I was not able to see him. Perhaps when I go back in April, Insyaallah.

OSH, pray that I have the strength and determination to see this through, brother!

tokasid said...

Salam to kak te and all.

Thank you kak teh for interviewing and documenting the pre-merdeka and post merdeka episodes that are not written in the official Malaysian history.We hope with time your documentation can be shared with us and other Malaysians( by publishing it).

Unknown said...

Hi Kak Teh,

This is marvellous work. Even reading these snippets today, it is already inspiring. I pray for the best outcome, insy, in your research and documenting all the interesting happy events, harships, struggles, sacrifices, intrigues, the whole works, as to how our country was made to what it is today.

You will have a happy journey Kak Teh and we will too, when you share it with us. Looking forward but gosh! in the meantime, what will we do when we miss your entries??? Sob sob!

Lydia Teh said...

Kak Teh,you've got to get cracking on your book, dear. Mesti. Sounds so promising and you've got all this research material at your finger tips. There's got to be a time when you stop researching and start writing. Now?

Kak Teh said...

tokasid, I dont think my collection will change history but i think it will add a bit of colour. And God willing, I will continue to do it.

ruby, this seems to be my preoccupation for the last few years. and I just dont seem to have enough time to sit down and document them all. Oh, I cant be away for too long - am a blog addict!

lydia , yes, yes, i hear you, o wise one! give me some strength and a kick up the you know where! and teach me how to discipline myself. or better still - we meet as planned lah!

Anonymous said...

Dear Kak Teh,

Pak Cik Musa kata dia nak dikebumikan di Losong. Abg AG mesti kenal pasai satu kampung. Waris abg AG ke?

Kak Teh said...

pok mang, bukan waris dia. Kak tehkenal Pak Musa masa dok interview kelasi2 melayu sejak tahun sembilan puluhan lagi.

BaitiBadarudin said...

I think this will be a bestseller when properly packaged and marketed.
Will it be an ethnographic study or a popular account of 'Kisah Kelasi Melayu Berkelana'?
I couldn't wait to get my hands on it!

Anonymous said...

like u said..everybody needs a rest from this blogging world..hope to see u feeling rejuvenated after ur rest...take care kak teh.. will be waiting eargrly for ur return :0)

Theta said...

Documenting and transcribing several third-party memoirs at the same time sounds pain-staking! Yet, with such sheer passion, the end results will surely outweigh the number of gruelling hours you've put into the work.
Hope you'll enjoy your much-needed respite! Until then, I will be poring over your archive for interesting reads and humbling experiences.

Shue said...

I love reading about those malay sailors! u're working on pieces abt them right? or better still, a book perhaps? good luck!

Anonymous said...

Seatbelt telah dipasangkan, Kak Teh. Now waiting for the vroooommmm!!!!!

P.S. I've got first dibs on designing your book cover, ya?

Kak Teh said...

queenby, a popular account is more up my street, i think. hahaha, i have all the words, its a matter of rearranging them in proper sentences!

simah, rest, yes, i need a rest! and you too...give yourself a break!

theta, i've fallen asleep several times while transcribing - such a tedious task!

Kak Teh said...

kenny maaaaaaa....what gear are u in! not too fast laaa.

shue, i've written bits and pieces about them already. Look at the archives. so, really, i need to tell myself, enough is enough and do a proper job. thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

I am a student in Liverpool and also a silent reader of your blog. I think I have already met you during your last visit to Liverpool, last week. I went to Broad Green hospital yesterday to visit pak cik Ngah Musa. He has been transfered to Ward G as his condition a lot better now. Alhamdulillah.Boleh keluar Friday or Monday nih kot...Insya-Allah...

HCI said...

Kak Teh,

Sometime being preoccupied and just talking from remote memory is sign of Dementia. So be thankful of our working memory that is so very cluttered with things that you can still make into coherent fragments.

Write the book. The trick is stay away from blog writing. I think writing in blog instead of finishing your book is a reflection of being intolerant to delayed gratification.....and talking from experience...

nadya.s said...

i love it kak teh.. this kinda story. beautifully composed by you.

my warmest regards to all the atuk and nenek if u happen to meet them again.

Lydia Teh said...

KT, my grey hairs not sufficient (yet) to make me Wise One, haha. Yes, we'll definitely meet in March. Don't forget to email/call me nearer the date.

D.N.A.S said...

Kak Teh,
I think I've read about the English Lady you mentioned here. It was published in one of the local newspaper some time last year, but the article was so short. Now I'm so glad to hear you're going to write this book.

~ GAB ~ said...

Nice... very nice. I am always looking for stories of our old Malaysian people who live away from the country. It makes me almost see what would I be if I decided to stay abroad for good those days.

You've done something very meaningful there Kak Teh. Keep it up.

edelweiss said...

Kak Teh dear,

Good job! we hope u will put everything in order and publish.
it will be a great book.


Pak Tuo said...

Salam Kak Teh, also remains me of my mentor memoirs 'Warkah dari Europa' by Pak Samad.

A standing ovation to the unsung Heros Kak Teh.


Anonymous said...

The book warkah from europa is by the other Pak Samad, kan? Not Nuraina's Papa, right?

KakNi said...

Kak Teh,
Selalu kalau baca entry Kak Teh mesti tak tahu nak komen apa, yang nyata nya tulisan kak teh memang berkesan dan menyentuh hati.

Kak Teh said...

salam liverpudlian, thank you for that good piece of news. Pak cik looked so well and alert that I knew he was going to go through. My lasttrip to Liverpull was so full of good memories. Meeting with the students and being part of the event. Your hospitality and kindness - makan macam nak pecah perut! Thank you! Thank you to Wan Rosidi and family for taking us to see Pak Cik , to sya and family, sharidah and all the george harissons, mcCartneys and lennons! It made me feel young again , watching all of you so full of energy and fun! See you all again in April!

has, stay away from blog writing??? what? what? I need my ventolin!! You are so right...God , give me strength.

nadya, Insyaallah - hope to meetthem.

Kak Teh said...

lydia, you got discipline grey hairs but lots of discipline! Yap, we meet...cant wait to meet menny kah as well!

dnas, i dont know whether we are talking abt the same one sebab she has not been in the media for some time. she has been out of the country since 1992 but her name has been mentioned here and there, I think. Perhaps u are right. will check. aaah, am not writing THAT book. someone else is.

Gab, thanks. You know, I have been documenting this for so long and I think Lydia and Has are right.

Kak Teh said...

edel edel, tolong pimpin tangan kak teh naaaa...

Pak tuo - Warkah dari Eropah is by Pak Samad - Pak samad Said. He was with us when he was doing the book.

a malaysian in riyadh, you are right!
...and psssst, if you want to see a very young kak teh, flick thru the pages of the warkah...!

ahni, terima kasih banyak-banyakkkkk!

edelweiss said...

Kak Teh oh Kak Teh dengar lah sini
jangan lah terasa gusar di hati
semangatmu yang kental itu aku pasti
tapi insyallah edel akan sentiasa perhati
dirimu kak teh sentiasa di hati
tanpa kami disana, engkau masih tegak berdiri
dengan pena dan helai lembar engkau meniti
mendengar, menulis dengan teliti
engkau penyambung antara sejarah dulu dan kini

jikalau dirimu perlukan pimpinan
seorang sahabat, adik ataupun kenalan
sms atau pun email engkau layangkan
walau jauh, takkan lenyap di ingatan
insyallah, sedaya upaya berikan harapan

usaha mu itu tinggi nilainya
kehulu ke hilir dengan semangat kental didada
penghubung, penyambung, itulah dia
tahniah kekanda, semoga anda dirahmatiNYA.

ManaL said...

Err...i feel like doing classic pantun in accordance with old sailors and good deeds:

Pisang emas dibawa belayar,
masak sebiji di atas peti,
hutang emas boleh dibayar,
hutang budi dibawa mati.

Kak teh, i miss those big carribean (and some spanish, african) big bananas la. Good for banana split and roasted banana with chocolates.

Kak Teh said...

edel oh edel, terima kasih banyak-banyak,
baca selokamu kak teh tersebak,
cerita ini kak teh tak boleh elak,
ditunggu-tunggu banyak pihak.

one pak cik sailor sang to me:
setahun dua pekan,
tanah air ku tinggalkan
menumpang dikapal dagang,
menuju ke negeri england.

ubisetela said...

I wonder which Losong Pakcik Musa came from. I've heard of stories of my kampungfolk 'gi belayor' (went sailing) but I never know their names.

Kak Teh said...

ubi, if you have any contacts can you let me know? I'd love to get to know and hear from those left behind too.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Manal quoted pantun klasik very meaningful and touched me.

"Hutang emas boleh dibayar,
Hutang budi dibawa mati."

Those were the days life was so much tougher. So people were more appreciative.

But with good times rolling, people take things for granted. It's grab all they can.

Kak Teh said...

hi&lo, alas it is true. is there anything we can do about it? I was wondering where you are...lama tak nampak.

Snafoo said...

Kak Teh,

This is my 1st comment here. Love your blog. I am a "Kak Teh's Choc-a-Blog" blog junkie now :)

My wife mentioned something about there are Pakcik Sailors in Cardiff as well and not just in Liverpool. Can you verify this? Any stories about them if indeed they are around?

Kak Teh said...

snafoo, there were indeed. Pls click on th eother stories thati linked there. I have written about Pak Cik Hamzah in Cardiff.

ubisetela said...

kak Teh,
I called my Mak just now and she said our neighbour's bro is a sailor called Pok Ngoh (Pak Ngah) and his name is Ngah bin Musa (I'm not sure if he is Pakcik Musa). He came home for visits a few times and on his returns he mentioned about his wish to be buried in our kg.
Pok Ngoh still have two brothers in KT.

Kak Teh said...

ubi, yes, yes, itis pak cik ngah musa!!! I went to visit him in hospital last saturday!! and he was looking well. he will be going home soon for a holiday! tell me more!!!

ubisetela said...

I don't know much, let me know what you want to know, ok.. I'll ask my parents. PokNgoh knows my dad.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Like "snafu", I am also a choc-a-blog junkie. Been keeping quiet but still coming in as many times as time allows.

Just reading comments here makes my day. Often the word verification did not appear for me to post comments.

I also snooping on Ruby Ahmad and Wonda.

You and your family have a pleasant trip to our motherland.

ubisetela said...

*reread your post*

ah.. you already mentioned his full name in the post. I missed it!

Kak Teh said...

ubi, I have replied in ym. Thanks.

hi&lo, i know there's some problems with the word verification. I tried to leave a comment at wonda's - nothing happened.

Anonymous said...

reading through your blog and comments really touch me so much...down to memory lane...the unsung heroes and all the memories of past malaysia...i wish you all the best on your efforts to document the other voices of unfolded history. gambate kak teh!

Kak Teh said...

mjihua, thank you for kind words and for visiting my blog. I really enjoy doing this. I shd have taken history at uni! thank you.

meandbaby said...

Dear Kak Teh,

Pls email me,would like to enquire something about accomodation in London. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I remembered my trip to Liverpool and meeting all these retired sailors at the Malay club. They are so proud of their merchant navy days.

I think the Malay-ness in London isn't what it was, especially when the Malaysia Hall no longer at Bryanston Sq. So much student movement thingy happened at the Great Hall.

Now, the new Bayswater replacement has got to create history, for the generations to come.

Maybe Kak Teh now can do something about the Malays making their mark in London, especially with the new focal point.

Kak Teh said...

meandbaby - yes, i have done so.

bigdogdotcom, yes they do have interesting stories to tell.
abt malaysia hall - not much i can do there- am not a part of thatestablishment - cuma pergi makan, tumpang surau and attend the thursday gathering with ustaz. yes, certainly not like before.

Anonymous said...

I brought my daughter to the new Malaysia Hall last Easter. Its so NOT like the Malaysia Hall in the Bryanston Sq.

The poor part of East London was home to me for a few good years (on my own - I can stand living with other people anymore, at that point of time!), much different from my home earlier on Geordieland @ Tyneside.

Bryanston Sq. was my refuge when I seek Malayness in me (being too far from home), when the Sembahyang Jumaat and makan nasi, down below. Another Malayness escapism is the bright orange MARA House, behind the Whiteleys, Bayswater.

I remember first setting foot at Bryanston Sq., in 1974. Then in 1983 & 1984. Then when I reached the shores of England for my education, in 1988. My brother's graduation in 1994. My point of referrence in London had always been, 46 Bryanston Sq, W1.

I and Missus simply cannot make our 10 year darling daughter understand what 46 Bryanston Sq. meant to us. To her, its another hostel, in another city.

Malaysia Hall in Bryanston Sq. has a soul. It had a very colourful history of Malaysian student life, for many many years. My uncle spent a good part of his free time at that address in the 50s. So did my father in the late 60s and cousins in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Our family history is etched somewhere within the Old Malaysia Hall.

I sincerely hope people like Kak Teh and other Malaysians who reside in London can develop a new history for the New Malaysia Hall.

One day, 10 years from now (if I can afford it), I want my daughter to have her own fond memories and history in the Bayswater Malaysia Hall.

Then I shall treasure her sweet memories, as well :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kak Teh, very good write up, FYI, Aruah Pakcik Arshad (Liverpool) is my immediate uncle. I only get a chance to visit him in Feb 2002. I'd love to know more about your encounter with him, and maybe share some of his stories. Wassalam.