Eighteenth December '79 was the departure date from Changi Airport to London and a few days before that saw a whirl of activities, which now comes back to me as a montage of events in no particular order. There were visits to get to know newly acquired relatives in Terengganu, where I was instantly bestowed the title of Mek Jarroh, introduced to keropok lekor which I had an instant dislike for and brought back bales of batiks in all forms and sizes as proof of acceptance into the Wan family.
There’s also the trip to my home town in Alor Setar to introduce my husband to relatives who couldn’t make it to the do in KL. If I was confused by the names of relatives and friends I met in Kuala Terengganu, my husband was just as puzzled – there’s Pak Teh Man, Pak Teh Ei, Tok Su Pa, Pak Long Ei, Mak Teh Tah, Tok Cik Mat, Tok Cik Mei, Ngah Nab, Mak Njang..and not to mention the hundreds of cousins with names that defy logic.
I remember the look on his face when the whole clan came to say goodbye at the MARA bus terminal. He didn’t realise until then that he’d married into half the population of Kedah.
At that bus station, it wasn’t just goodbye to my aunt, uncles and cousins. It was also a sad farewell to Mee Sup Omar Bom, the smell of which still haunts my nostril, especially on this cold winter evening. Apart from Mee Rebus Abu, which had by then moved to Jalan Teluk Wan Jah, Mee Sup Omar (or Omark) Bom was high on the list of things that would make me plan a quick escape from cold dreary London.
The then new bus terminal was the home of Mee Sup Omark Bom, nestled amongst new shop lots not far from the droning sound of revving buses going to Kubang Pasu, Langgar, and Pumpong. It was at this bus terminal too we’d meet Ngah Chan who was a bus conductor. I was always very impressed with Ngah and his pouch of coins which he jingled as he walked up and down the aisle, collecting his fares. He’d give us a miss, with a wink of his left eye. As children, we looked forward to trips to Ngah’s house in Suka Menanti. It was like an adventure. Where the bus left us at Pantai Johor, we’d have to walk a short distance to wait for a perahu, which would take us on the swollen river with its teh susu like water, across to the other side where Ngah Nab would be waiting for us. Sometimes, we’d have the privilege to go on Tok Jam’s rakit, shrieking with excitement as Tok expertly pushed the raft with a long pole along the river bank. Sometimes, she’d do so with one hand trying to secure her sarong around her bony chest.
During the last few days in Alor Setar, I tried to take in the old St Nicholas Convent where I had spent a lot of my formative years being disciplined by nuns from Ireland and the majestic looking Sultan Abdul Hamid College where I had my first formal introduction to boys after a strict regime at SNC. Needless to say, it still holds a lot of happy memories. I remember the cycle on minibikes with ‘the gang’, our pony tails in matching ribbons, flying in the air as we zoomed past SAHC boys cycling in the opposite direction.
A trip to Pekan Rabu was mandatory, of course. Tok Su used to be the chairman of Pekan Rabu, a much respected figure in those days. Near Pekan Rabu was Cathay cinema where Pak would take us in two trishaws for a treat every month when he received his pay packet. Along the sidewalks were Gurkhas selling their wares; lots of trinkets and precious stones.
Anyway, leaving the house that Pak built for the last time, I took with me a piece of his old blanket, which had an aroma unmistakeably Pak – a blend of sweet Curve Cut tobacco and Tokohoon plasters that he used on his aching back.
I was not prepared for London as London was quite unprepared for me. My husband said there was no point buying thick winter clothes from the likes of Globe Silk Store or Kamdar, as usually they were two seasons behind. As my only knowledge of London was only from visuals on TV and from his letters when he was here earlier, who was I to argue. But I insisted on bringing one thing, which I thought was compulsory for all long distance travellers. I had seen many times on TV, British maams carrying them when they boarded planes or go on voyages. I had seen Chah leaving for Australia, carrying one. So, I had to get one – a vanity case that I was to carry on my maiden flight to London. Apart from that, I only had a whole suitcase of kebayas, photo albums and of course all our letters ito each other in blue air mail envelopes, that document the beginning of our journey together to this place that we now called home.
Kak Teh's other journeys
Down Memory Lane