Sunday 30 January 2005

There goes my Sunday...

Its so quiet! Where is everybody? I think they are all having a nasi dagang hangover and too tired to blog! Anyway, it is Sunday. Still very early in the morning and my duvet beckons me. Alas, I have to go out and brave the cold. Work on a Sunday? Yes, the whole of Sunday!!!

Gone were the days when early Sunday mornings, we'd troop out to Whiteleys - have breakfast of hot croissants and Earl Grey tea. Sometimes, we'd just sit at the cafe poring over the Sunday papers, while the children go the cinema.

Then, to the park before proceeding to Nahar or the old Malaysia Hall for that delicious nasi lemak. Alas, no more of these. Perhaps its age. Perhaps its getting a bit too expensive now for breakfast at the cafes in Queensway. And perhaps, also, its the sad realisation that now, the children, all grown up, don't want to be seen with mama and daddy having breakfast at Whiteleys. Thus, Sunday is now precious in other ways.

This is what I will miss if I go out on a Sunday...

1) ironing. I love ironing - its therapeutic. Many a problems are ironed out while ironing.

2) omnibus version of Eastenders. This and ironing is usually the right combination. The problems they have at Albert Square is unbelievable. Almost every one running around the square is having an affair with someone elses' husbands or wives. And almost everyone is Dirty Den's bastard child. Gosh, the very thought of anyone sleeping with him at all..yearghhh. But then, when you look at Dennis...awwwwww!

These people need to do some ironing - but they all send their dirty laundry to Pauline. No ironing. They need to do ironing. And Pauline and Dot need to iron out their wrinkles as well.
And I will miss that call from Aberdeen...always at that crucial point in Eastenders!

3) repeat of American Idol. I am hooked! These Americans are just as suicidal as the Japanese in Takeshi's Castle! Imagine offering yourself to be eaten alive by none other than Simon Cowell on national TV!! But, some really deserve this!! Aaaah, what a laugh!

Yes, I hear you say, get a life!
So, I am out of here - nak cari sesuap nasi sampai ke malam!

Friday 28 January 2005

Malay as she is spoken by Mat Sallehs....

(.....and our children abroad)

REMEMBER the well-worn joke about the fat Mat Salleh who, while boarding a bus, overheard this comment about the beruk gemuk, a reference to himself? Later, he got his own back, of course, by saying, "Tumpang lalu, beruk gemuk nak turun".

There are, of course, many other versions. And this is mine, culled from real life. It was in the illustrious university city of Oxford, no less. We were touring the city with my brother who was then visiting, when the children needed to use the john and spend a penny. None was in sight so we decided to go to a pub, and then have tea and sandwiches as well. While waiting at the counter to make our orders, in strode a scruffy-looking man, spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose and banging on the counter persistently and rather annoyingly, to gain the attention of the waitress.

Before I could bite my tongue, out came: "Nampak macam profesor yang tak siuman", at which point my husband gave me a shut-your-mouth type of glare, which of course was too late. Meekly, I offered, "He wouldn't understand lah!" and barely had I finished the sentence when the bespectacled scruffy one sat down with my children who were enjoying their scones and asked them, "Sedap tak?"

Well, I died a thousand deaths and was just about ready for another one.

But why should we be surprised or even amazed that so many Europeans, especially the Brits, speak our language? They were, after all, traders in the Malay-speaking world long before they were our colonisers. And long after our independence, many stayed on and worked in plantations, schools and newspapers. Our gentleman in the pub, for instance, was a planter in Johor and had learnt Malay while happily working there.

Now, long before Marsden compiled the first Malay dictionary, Francis Light was already shooting off epistles in handwritten Jawi script, either to butter up the Sultan of Kedah in his ploy to take over Penang or to ask the dear Sultan of Perak to trade with the British. While to the Sultan of Kedah, he'd sign off as "hamba sehina-hina hamba" (your most humble servant), from the Sultan of Terengganu came the expression of a warm and close relationship, in a letter in which the Sultan addressed him as "kekaseh beta" (My beloved). So there, the way to a royal heart!

Undoubtedly, there is something to be gained from learning the language and culture of the people you are dealing with. To manipulate and conquer them, physically or mentally, you must know how their minds work. And this is where knowledge of language and culture ensures that half the battle is won! And of course, don't our hearts melt so easily at the sound of a foreign tongue dealing with our complicated prefixes and classifiers with perfection?

In the British Library, there is a piece of paper with scribblings in Jawi, apparently from Raffles' exercise book. And indeed it was Raffles who contributed a great deal to Marsden's first Malay dictionary. After that there had been Winstedt, Wilkinson and the likes of Edward S. King and many more offering fast track Malay courses as the demand for the Malay language began to grow. Most are outdated, offering lines like, "Ali, siapkan kereta. Mem mahu keluar"!

Centres of higher learning throughout the world are offering Malay as a modern language nowadays, while language schools offer expats and diplomats intensive courses before their stint in Malaysia, learning everything from "Apa khabar" to the culturally correct art of pointing at an object with one's thumb. And there are of course various informal fast track learn-a-sentence-a-day routes. Halal butchers and shops selling wares popular among Malaysians, such as those infuriatingly ubiquitous Queen Anne items in the Malaysian shopping list, and the dreaded porcelain flowers, all advertise their merchandise proudly in Malay. "Daging halal ada dijual di sini", says a signboard in Queensway.

Which takes me - and you, dear reader - to Berlin on a day trip and a quick visit to Check Point Charlie. There I was pleasantly surprised to be hailed, "Ibu, mari Bu, T-shirt murah-murah!" And this coming from what, I suspect, were Turkish immigrants who had discovered a surefire way of getting to the purse strings of gullible tourists like me. Readying myself to leave with five Berlin Wall T-shirts clutched under my arm, I heard again this voice of commerce drooling away, once again, but this time in unmistakable Chinese ...

From the crumbling walls of Berlin to the dizzying heights of Eiffel Tower - different place, similiar techniques. "Mari cuba-cuba, tidak suka, tak usah bayar!" came the invitation, this time from an Arab standing behind a digital camera.

And of course we fell for that one too, and we have an A4-sized photo to prove it. Malay abroad is an expensive language.


The first time I met Arthur, I thought he was one of the janitors at the school. He is 82, with hardly any teeth to call his own and the kind of hair you'd find on Guy Fawks efigies on 5th Nov. Anyway, Arthur was one of my students. Was - because last week, he came to say goodbye. At his age, he said, its very unlikely that he'd ever visit Malaysia or use the language. He is instead brushing up on his Latin.

Its a pity really 'cos Arthur, half blind, and almost deaf, was a very good student. In a class with others half his age, he'd sit almost comatose, not writing, not reading but listening with his eyes closed.

He's got wonderful memory and often asked funny, interesting and mind-boggling questions. Once, someone asked about the translation for scream or shout: I said, menjerit or pekik. At which point, Arthur perked up and said, "Tolong pekik, saya pekak!"

On his last day, Arthur handed over not less than 10 books on Malay and several dictionaries, and before he left he said, "Oh, this is for you".

It was a piece of paper - with picture of Jesus. And the prayer - in MALAY!!!!!!
Ya - there's quite a lot like him at the corner of Sussex Gardens and Edgeware Road, with Bibles in Malay.


In a car driving to Alor Setar.
Nona: Mama, where's the racoon medicine?
Mama: What racoon medicine?
Nona: you know, the one for the mosquito bites. It says :R-a-c-u-n.
Daddy:(stiffling a laugh) Oh, in Malay C is Ch - therefore it is Racun - meaning poison. Remember, c is Ch.

Back in KL - driving along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Taufiq: Daddy, daddy - look! Pa - la- che Hotel!!!
(All heads to the right)
Daddy: Oh, that is Palace Hotel.

Back at home:
Mama: Taufiq, dah mandi?
Taufiq: Yes, I have already mandied.

Overheard at Malaysia Hall surau:
Father to five year old son: Okay Papa nak solat sunat dulu.
Son: Papa, is solat sunat only for people yang dah sunat?

Three year old girl to her cousin: Errrr, you've got taik mu'ter (tahi mata cockney style)

Okaylah kak teh nak tidork! Dah pukoi 05:17 ni!

Tuesday 25 January 2005

Of Arabs and spawn…

(...or The Joy of Text in KakTehSpeak)

A friend went to Oriental City in north London and texted me a message asking me what I wanted from there. I texted back and immediately my handphone vibrated. He called back and in between gasps of air tried to explain. Apparently I had asked him to buy “some arabs and spawn”.

Now, how did that happen? I remember correctly spelling out “buy some crabs and prawns”. A kind soul had even taught me how to use the phone dictionary as she saw me struggling with long words. Now, what she did not tell was that, the dictionary has a mind of its own - a not too clever one. Apparently, I was supposed to press another button to get the word that I want. Of course, I had assumed that I had typed 'crabs and prawn', when what apparently appeared was 'arabs and spawn'. What do I do with Arabs when all I wanted to make was crab sambal! And spawn is no good for sweet and sour dish!

Apparently, this happens with most two and four letter words. The longer the words, the less likely you are going to make such embarrassing mistakes. Try typing 'go home' for example and you will get 'in good' and that is no good. And the list is endless.

Texting is relatively new to me. Didn't know about this mode of communication until one day we were sitting in a cafe at KLCC and the children were busy communicating with their friends in London. Delighted and excited, both husband and I did the same - only, we needed help (lots of help) to locate the keys, of course.

Initially, I'd spell out the words properly, even long words, refusing to succumb to the simplified version of the texting lingo. Of course, that would take ages! I'd be squinting away at the minute keypad, making a call would be less of a hassle!

But you see, any kind of abbreviation has always been a mystery to me. Initially I thought SMS was a dirty word, DVD - a disease you'd get from practicing SMS, DVT - a new form of entertainment. So, it was no surprise that Maknenek pointed out that in my comments below, I confused VCR with VCD. Well, what do you expect from someone who used the MP3 as a form of transportation and the MPV to record interviews?...Aaaah, I give up. But, I digress.

Anyway, back to the text or SMS lingo, which I finally succumbed to. I think it is okay to use when you know when and how to use them and when not to use them. But what annoys me is when it makes its way into essays and formal emails. This, I find a bit disconcerting.

I now understand btw, fyi, and abbreviating 'tomorrow' to '2moro', 'tonight' to '2nite' is fine, I think. At least there's some semblence of the original words, compared to the Malay texting lingo, which in my opinion is a totally different language altogether.

It took me quite a while to understand "pastu, camner?"

My first few attempts at texting were done in capital letters. This way, I could see the words properly before pressing the send button, and the receiver too could read everything loud and clear. But,no,someone adviced. CAPITAL LETTERS tantamount to screaming aloud!!!! It spells anger!

Oh no!! But having remedied that (and I now use small letters, even for names)the kind soul proceeded to show me where punctuation marks are. My messages, it seems, used to be one long breathless sentence!

Well, I have come a long way in this new world of technology. Now, excuse me, I've got to check how my arabs are doing in the pot!
ttfn fr kt (and that is NOT Kuala Terengganu!)

Sunday 23 January 2005

Mee soup and Bollywood Fantasy on a Cold Winter's Day

The temperature dipped a few degrees further and wild horses couldn’t drag me out of the house. I’d rather be watching winter from the warmth of the house then be out there and later suffer the consequences. And of course, there’s the unfinished essay – a great excuse to anyone who try to entice me out. One thousand nine hundred and twenty words already with about two thousand more to go!

A switch of the button on the i-mac and I was well on my way.

The chicken defrosted and boiled, I proceeded to make the most out of very little that I had in the fridge. Mak used to be able to conjure a feast, even without chicken. And I was sure I could do that. There’s the packets of sup tulang and plenty of dried noodles – enough for mee soup.

I knew it was going to be that kind of a day, when you just want to eat and eat and watch whatever rubbish on offer on TV. And today, I decided it was going to be Kabhi Kabhi, yet again. And I heard the children groan and sought refuge in their rooms.

But it was just the right combination – mee soup and Kabhi Kabhi and I was going to give myself this treat before the madness of Monday starts.

I must have watched Amitabh Bachchan in Kabhi Kabhi a million times. Don’t know when I became a Bollywood fan, but I remember my mother dragging me to a neighbour's house - the only one with TV - on nights when Hindi movies were screened. Of course, now you do notice that even Bollywood directors, or especially Bollywood directors can be so ‘tak logik’.

Tak logik or not, I sat with my bowl of mee soup – yet again glued to the TV. I am not quite into Amitabh Bachchan ‘cos I think his thick mop of hair looked kind of plastered to his head and his eyes and thick lips somehow made him look better in a Thunderbird set. Well, not until I had a good look at him, personally!

That was a few years ago, when Selfridges had a two week long Indian summer, with a few Bollywood stars thrown in. On the day AB was signing autographs, I joined the mile long queue of Sweeties and Preeties from Southall and Alperton just to get a glimpse of this Bollywood heartthrob.

After an hour long of waiting, we were told that Bachchan was no longer signing autographs and we had better disperse. No one moved. The woman in front of me protested that she had come all the way from Fiji and was not about to move until she met her idol.

Security finally gave in when they saw the army of forty-something women, armed with their Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham albums, about to cause a riot and they opened the door, but only for photographs.

It was sheer luck and only a plot in a Bollywood movie could have directed me to the front of the queue right in front of the star.

Camera in hand, Kabhi Kabhi in my ears, hair flowing in the wind in true slow motion Bollywood style, I pushed my way forward and in between hefty security guards and frantic fans I saw those smouldering good looks as he lifted his heavy-lidded eyes and stared straight into my camera.

Suffice to say, it had the same devastating effect that Sean Connery had on me; namely, I could not operate my camera. Thus this very badly taken one!

Worse still was the effect on my knees. I mentioned this to a friend who cruelly suggested it was merely the onset of osteoporosis and a bad case of midlife crisis.

Well, one can always dream and you can rely on Bollywood movies to do just that on a dull, cold and wet winter afternoon.

And, oh, the essay? Well, at the last count it was past two thousand words – but that was only because one of the cats had tiptoed on the keyboard.

Tuesday 18 January 2005

A Brush with Fame! (Well, .....almost!)

‘Kakak’ – Atok’s little princess, had just completed a two week-rehearsal for a stage play which will be touring UK next week. She is to play the youngest princess in The King and I. She is excited and even more so are her parents, well done! And break a leg, Kakak!

Kakak, with her sweet oval shaped face and a hint of Oriental look, is just what the organisers of the play was searching for. Last year, three Malay children were chosen for the play. Indeed, the West End production of ‘The King and I’ a few years ago had no less than five Malaysians – all playing Thais or Burmese. There was Ungku who played various roles from court official to jester, (I think), and there’s Sean Ghazi who played the Burmese prince in the same production. If I am not mistaken, they were also in Miss Saigon.

Our Oriental faces are much in demand for these kind of productions. And also, our voices. And this from experience.

My meeting with Kakak last week brought to mind Pak Man Tokyo’s (See, Goodbye Pak Cik and Thanks for the Memories) brush with stars and stardom and indeed many of his friends too were in the books of Madam Sen, a Burmese lady, who was their agent.

Pak Man and his friends were extras in the Australian film ‘A Town Like Alice’, from the novel of the same name by Neville Shute. This, of course is a wartime romance between Aussie soldier and English woman in Malaya. And Pak Man and co. were of course those horrible, cruel and heartless Japanese soldiers. You don’t need much training 'cos all they needed was Oriental faces that could pass off as Japanese and lots of grunts and fierce looks!

So, it was quite by coincident that yonks later, I found myself at the BBC studio doing the voice of Fatima (the Malay friend of the heroine) for the cassette and radio version of the story. I had to sound all coy and naive. Easy!

Pak Man was also fortunate to have starred with the delectable and suave Roger Moore in the TV series, The Saint. He had also worked with Peter Finch. There’s Pak Mahmood from Singapore, who told me that once when he missed his ship, he became an extra in one movie and earned a lot more then his friends who left him!

Indeed, Pak Man and his sailor friends have had close brushes with fame or names who later became famous. Take Pak Cik Mat Noor in Liverpool. He claimed to have danced with Cilla Black and also served young Lennon who came to his friend’s café.

Din worked in a London west end club, hanging coats belonging to a little known singer called Mick Jagger and his friends. Little did he know then how famous they were going to be!

Now – about moi’s near brush with fame. Apart from the voice that I lent to Fatima of ‘A Town Like Alice’, I have sort of ‘appeared’ in a few more, not counting recordings in lifts and aeroplanes and phone messaging serviceslah!

A few years ago, I received a call from an agent working for Pinewood Studios. And I thought, this must be it! But, luckily I didn’t chuck in my day job. I was to round up ten Malay voices! And with a promise of £600 each for the whole day, I got more than I could manage and we trooped off to the studio. The film we were doing, I told them, was ‘The Entrapment’ at which point the boys in the group shrieked with excitement at the very-very remote possibility of meeting Catherine Zeta Jones, while the Mak Ciks in the group, silently prayed, (oh God, we prayed!) that we could at least feast our eyes on the sexy beast Sean Connery!

Well, not a hint or a whiff of CZJ – and we were briefed on what to do – mainly, we were doing the pasar scene – all kinds of bargaining, shouting, laughing! Then, there’s the scene when the police rushed in the building – only male voices saying "serbu! Serbu!" The party scene was hilarious! We could laugh and scream! Then, my claim to fame – the chatter in the lift!
But you’ve got to put your ears very close to the TV to hear it!

Anyway, even without CZJ – or Connery, we were quite happy – imagine £600 each just for laughing and shouting! We all sounded quite hoarse by the end of the day – but deliriously so.

Before the long journey back to London, we waited for some friends who wanted to go to the loo first and, without Connery himself we felt we had to take pictures with his big poster in the foyer. I was posing while my friend fiddled with her camera when, my jaw dropped to the floor at the sight of the apparition entering the door. I finally found my tongue and squeeked “Sean Connery, behind you!" “Ye, ye,” she said, quite used to my pranks. At which point the Sean Connery, strode in, passed my friend with the camera, (by which time her jaw was already mopping the floor,) and proceeded to say “Hallo! Hallo!” in that sexy voice of his and shook our hands. My friend with the camera was still going gaga – and didn’t even take any pictures. Our friendship ended there and then! If not I would have pictures to paste here as proof that Sean Connery shook my hand!

Then a few years after our very close brush to fame, I was called again – this time at another studio, another movie. Our chatter and laughter must have been so good that we were very much sought after. This time – to contribute to “The Sleeping Dictionary” – set in Sarawak. So called because the British expats were then taught Malay by their sleeping companions – except that they were not sleeping, if you catch my drift (wink, wink). I wonder what the vocabs consisted of? Imagine, "Ini *&^%!. Itu "£%$%$!"

Anyway, again – we were required to do a lot of laughter – and after sometime, it became quite tiring – and it became no laughing matter anymore. But one scene that a colleague had to do, had us all rolling on the floor with tears streaming down our cheeks. One friend, a Malaysian Indian, was to be the head gardener and another gardener – also an Indian was required for that short conversation. The problem was, he was the only Indian. So, this other colleague, a Malay came to the rescue – but his Indian vocab only consists of swear words, which I don’t think would pass the censorship board. Thus the conversation consisted of a lot of Amma,amma! in various tones and intonation, complete with shaking of the head to make it sound authentic!

Oh dear! Such hard work! I had better sign off now and go and do some real work!

ps I have just come back from teaching Malay to some British expats..and that, I promise you, is no sleeping or laughing matter. Quite serious one!

Saturday 15 January 2005

Dear Bralabella

I think I owe you an explanation and I have decided to pen this open letter by way of making you understand me better. And to other readers, I have devoted this letter to one of five of my regular readers mainly because I have never once spelt her name right. And for this I owe her an apology and an explanation.

Blarabella, please do not feel offended for in KakTehSpeak, you are not alone – in fact you are among some great names that my tongue always manage to do a sommersault – these are Harrifon Sord, East Clintwood, the writer Rahman Shurdi and lately my dear friend Dato Chimmy Joo. I once introduced a friend saying he works for Shong Kong Hai Hai Bank.

Brablalela, please read on. I have tried to understand why I am the way I am inspite of being a broadcaster and the occassional MC. During these occassions I never did slip – may be I was on auto mode.

I found an enlightening article in Readers’ Digest which partly explains the occasional embarrassing slip. It was Reverend William Archibald Spooner who gave numerous “tinglish Errors and English terrors” during his time and thus the term “Spoonerism”.

He was the one who told off a student that he had “tasted two worms for hissing his mystery lecture”.

Reading about this genial old gentlemen, I am comforted by the fact that people like him are said to have such nimble brains that their tongues just have problems catching up with. The Greeks, explained the article, have a term for this, and it is called METHATHESIS - the act of changing words around and English of course offer fertile grounds for the likes of Spooner as it has three times more words than any other language.

I discovered this annoying impediment during my school days, and it usually happens when I am agitated or excited or tired. I remember trying to explain to my lecturer Rohana Ghani why I couldn’t hand in my assignment –and while trying to do so, managed to call her Rohani Ghana. Once, late for an assignment, I jumped into a taxi and asked the driver to take me to Jubang Saya.

Friends have hilarious times when I am around. Everynight, in our dorm, we would do the rounds of saying goodnight.

Fati: Goodnight, Mia.
Mia: Goodnight Riza.
Riza: Goodnight Tini.
Tini, Goodnight Kak Teh .
Kak Teh: Goodni tinight…..

A friend trying to be helpful recently asked me to read a book called “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” and he said, sympethetically, that that book could perhaps help me understand what is increasingly becoming embarrassing. So, off I went to a bookshop in Oxford Street, all the while memorising the title – a long one which I knew would give my tongue some trips. Lining up behind the info queue I repeated “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat “ several times and when I reached the salesgirl to ask for the book I said: Excuse me, do you have a book called “ A Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Coat Hanger?” She gave me an odd look but almost immediately knew that I need help. This time, it wasn’t my tongue – it was my brain. It was up to mischief and doing word associations – which I don’t really need at this time, okay? Thank you!

Now, this Blabralela – is another of my problems and if after this posting you stop visiting my blog – I do understand. Perhaps I am dyslexic? This , I am told is a certain kind of dyslexia.

My nearest and dearest ones have come to understand me when I tell them that “the stow has snopped” or “please low the mown”. My long suffering husband also knows that when I give directions to turn right, it means left. Once we were walking to a friend’s place and when we came to a junction, he said “Oh, turn left here.” There, we parted company. This also somewhat explains why I never passed my driving test.

Brablarela, that is not all. My most embarrasing moment was when I had to call my childminder’s husband to ask if he would kindly drive to get the children from school. The conversation went like this:

KT: Abang, saya lambat baliklah. Boleh abang ambik budak-budak di sekolah.
Abang: Oh, Abang tak ada kereta.
(At this time, my eyes were scanning a guestlist posted on a notice board and among the guests was a French lady called Gigi)
KT: Oh, Abang tak ada (eyes to the list) gigi?

It is not as if I don’t realise my slip – At this point my face felt very hot ‘cos Abang really doesn’t have teeth!!

I do this too when I am typing and speaking on the phone at the same time. The phone conversation will consist of partly the original conversation and whatever I was typing on the screen.

You know, I suddenly thought of other contributory factors. As children, we used to have secret codes so that adults wouldn't understand us. My siblings and I still do this so that our children don’t understand our conversation. It goes like this: Kak Mak Teh Meh nak mak pi mi mama nama? (Kak Teh nak pi mana?) or perhaps when I was born, the bidan slapped my head (instead of my other cheeks) and dislodged a few cells…. Oh, whatever!

So, Blarabela, this is your Tak Keh signing off. Apart from the above, I am quite harmless!

Have a dood gay!

Kak Teh

Thursday 13 January 2005

Tribute to an Old Man and his Sea

A continuation of my fascination with the older men and the sea and as TV chefs would say, "Here's one I made earlier":

OVER the years, my collection of audiotapes, videotapes, VCDs has increased somewhat alarmingly. Some are work-related. Others are mere documented observation of everyday life, like the kittens being fed or the children's first day at school.

Others are tapes of events and meetings with people with interesting stories to tell.

These tapes are now competing for space with other collection of photographs and even reel-to-reel tapes, relics from my old BBC days. These are personal archives of events that document our life abroad.

Attempting to catalogue the tapes recently, I came across one that was labelled simply "Pak Cik Hamzah". It was only quite recently that I learnt of his death at the ripe old age of 85. Pak Cik Hamzah was one of the many Malay sailors who left "Malaya" in the 50s and never returned.

I met Pak Cik Hamzah, perhaps six years ago, when I was doing a Hari Raya special for a television company. I tracked down old Malay sailors and travellers and featured them in the programme.

As a result, the feature on Pak Cik Hamzah caught the attention of relatives back home, who recognised him as the "Pak Busu" whose adventures around the world they had only heard about from their elders. They contacted me and made arrangements for me to bring him back. Along with this message they also sent some dodol and other Malay kuih.

After our return to London, we visited him in Cardiff where he lived alone. His children, I was told, visited him regularly. Otherwise, he lived in a sparse one-bedroom flat in a council estate populated only by Somali immigrants.

My second meeting with Pak Cik Hamzah was duly recorded on video. I watched this video recently and saw him eagerly tearing open the package of goodies. He gave a toothless grin when told that some relatives still remembered him and wanted him to go home.

"I do want to go back before I die," he says, looking straight into the lens. He had already packed three big suitcases and asked me whether that was enough.

He was eager to go back and see the Malaya that he heard had prospered; that now boasts of the tallest building in the world. And I had failed him. Sadly, before any arrangements could be made for him to fly back, I was told that his children had persuaded him to abandon the idea.

After that I lost track of him, only to learn of his demise a few months later. But Pak Cik Hamzah, like other old sailors such as Hamid Carpenter, Pak Man Tokyo who died years before him, lives on in my archives.

It has become a joke among my friends that I go chasing after old men. I am not the slightest bit annoyed for I am a strong believer that once these old dears go, their rich experiences go with them and we are left a lot poorer for not being able to share them.

Pak Cik Hamzah had told me of his life as a young rascal back in Malacca. Although he came from a well-to-do family, he yearned for adventure. He once sailed across to Indonesia in darkness to sell rubber illegally.

For all his autumn years, there was still a mischievous look about him. His quest for adventure took him further when he decided to sail with the merchant navy. Without any money, he pawned his father's land title and set off on a voyage that took him around the world.

He had been to China, Russia and even to the North Pole. He recalled being woken up one morning and told to jump into the sea as his ship was under attack. It was a bitterly cold experience that he was not likely to forget. At the age of 80, his memory was still good.

Accompanying us on this visit was a young law student, also from Malacca. It was interesting watching the two in conversation, each from a different era in time.

He enquired about the padi field and an asam tree that remained fresh in his memory. I watched his face crumple in disappointment when told the place had been developed now, with lots of hotels. He asked about a local shop, which had long gone even before the birth of the would-be lawyer, and again he found it hard to believe that a shopping complex had replaced it.

Cardiff is not an unfamiliar ground for Malayans or Malaysians. Even before Pak Cik Hamzah's arrival, there were Malay sailors residing there.

One even owned hostels for the seamen. Now, Malaysian students are abundant in the seaside town, pursuing their studies at Welsh universities. Proudly, he told us how he'd gone to a nearby hotel upon hearing news that a new batch of Malaysian students had arrived.

"Eh, kau orang dari Malaya?" he would enquire before proceeding to tell them his adventures. Nothing would please him more than to be surrounded by these lads, young enough to be his grandsons. He'd tell them again and again how he survived the storms at sea.

I asked why he never returned. Pak Cik Hamzah had maintained contact with his sisters for a while until he got married to a German. He sent back a wedding photograph but he got word that the family had objected to the union to the extent of accusing him of not being a Muslim anymore, especially when they heard that he had assumed the name of Hamzah (his father's name)or Hemze as the locals called him.

He was very proud of Malaya. He had heard of the tallest building in the world being built and proudly told his neighbours so. The day we visited him, he called out to friends to tell them his niece and nephew had come to see him.

Pak Cik Hamzah never lost his fluency in Malay. In fact, I was almost knocked off my chair when he asked, "Anak kau berapa ekor?" And he reserved some of the most delicious expletives for his then estranged wife.

We took him to the seafront of Cardiff and his tired old eyes took in the vastness of the sea that had once brought him such pleasure and excitement. He was already quite frail. He struggled on with the aid of his walking stick as the cold sea breeze caressed his wrinkled face. This was his playing field, but for many of his friends, it was their burial ground.

Pak Cik Hamzah's life was indeed enriched in a way that no university education could. Personally, being able to share just a fragment of his adventure was a valuable education and a humbling experience for me. Like Pak Man Tokyo, Pak Mid Carpenter and many others, he has taken his memories with him but somewhere on the shelves of my disorganised life, they had kindly allowed me into their world, if only for a while.

And for this, I am thankful.

Tuesday 11 January 2005

Goodbye Pak Cik and thanks for the memories

First I must thank Wan A (comment below) for informing me about the death of Pak Cik Bakar. Al Fatehah. Am truly sad to hear the news. The last time I visited Liverpool and the small community of old Malay sailors there, I heard about Pak Bakar and about how ill he was. I didn't have time to see him but I visited Pak Karim who was then very-very critical. Pak Karim died a week later. I also visited Pak Cik Arshad, dear, sweet Pak Cik Arshad who never failed to remember me as the person who put him on TV Malaya! Alhamdulillah, inspite of his shakes and trembles, he is fine and in good spirit.

The small number of Malay sailors, either from Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia who left their homes and families in the forties and fifties and remained in Liverpool, London or Cardiff, has dwindled. Pak Cik Hamzah, another old dear who entertained me with his wonderful accounts at sea, died alone in his small flat in Cardiff, even before I could take him back to reunite him with his family. Last Merdeka Day, for the first time, the Liverpool City Council, together with the Malaysia Singapore Association, organised an event to remember those who perished at sea during the war. Only a handful of those who survived, now in their seventies and eighties, turned up. Others were too frail.

I feel sad because these are the people who have enriched my life with their stories of adventure at sea and foreign ports, enduring harsh weather and even harsher immigration officers. I feel sad because their going means I have lost not only friends but my source of inspiration. And my selfish self is saying: I still have not got enough from them and now they are going.

The article below was written some time ago and had been published. Blabbarella, its a tad too long - but here I'd like to share a glimpse of what they have kindly shared with me:

"THE Malays, wherever they are, will survive". These were some of the final words uttered to me by the first president of Kelab Melayu London, the late Pak Aman Majid. A few months after his death, I kept hearingthose words in my head when I was editing my interview with Pak Man for my BBC radio documentary.

It was our last time together. Pak Man died a month after that. He was in his late 80s. He left me a wealth of information and interesting stories about the travels and adventures of Malays like him that set me off on my own voyage of discovery to track down other surviving adventurers like him, if only to hear and document their fascinating accounts as stowaways, sailors and hitchhikers. It made our own 12-hour non-stop flight to London seem as exciting as a bus ride!

Alas, many have now died and buried with them are many undocumented experiences, stories of survival in the harsh realities of the high seas during the war when their ships were hit by torpedoes and typhoons. Many times I've heard of how they cheated death, immigration officers and ship captains in their quest for adventure on foreign shores that beckoned their restless young souls.

I had always yearned to know why they had left their home shores, and what made them stay away from it for so long.

Like many others, Pak Man - better known as Man Tokyo for his stint in the Japanese dockyards - had always wanted to see the land of the people who came to colonise them. They were also lured by wide-screen portrayals of distant lands, inspired to leave the comforts of home and family and venture into unknown and uncertain territories. Others had more personal reasons: Pak Mat Nor in Liverpool was once a worker in the Jalan Ampas studios. He left because his parents wanted to marry him off to his cousin. Another left because his father had found a new young bride, not for the fleeing son, but for himself!

Leaving was easy. Many British merchant ships docked in Singapore were just too happy to get Malay sailors into the merchant navy.

"We were hardworking and strong," said the late Pak Hamid who, in his time, was a carpenter on board. Language was no barrier wherever they were, for they lived as they had left, with their fellow Malay travellers. Even after more than 20 years, they seem to be still quite oblivious to what you or I would expect to be a problem area, but they converse still, as they had conversed the day they had boarded their ships to those countries "above the wind". If anything, they are now in their time-
ravaged selves, a curious linguistic fossil, speaking the quaint kind of Malay you only hear in old Malay movies, before P. Ramlee made that leap forward to Studio Merdeka. And as for their English, well, it's Cockney-ish with bravura, without a nod to either accepted pronunciation or grammar.

Hamid Carpenter, as he was better known, and as would have been apt for his calling, was found adrift at sea on a piece of plank off the Bay of Biscay. His ship had been torpedoed, and there was Malaya's volunteer hand in the colonial merchant navy, floating in the wash of what, in his bewildered mind, was the "Bay of Beski". As fate would have it, he was rescued by another Malay sailor aboard another merchant navy ship.

"Jumping ship" became an exciting game as the ships called at ports around the world. A whole new world opened up before their very eyes.

As put by Pak Ngah Musa, who now works at a bookshop in a mosque in Liverpool, "The world outside was heaven on earth! Maklumlah kita orang muda! (We were thenyoung!)," he said with a glint in his eyes and a strong Terengganu accent.

In fact, either by accident or design, there were few places on earth that they had not been to. They spouted place names like Times Square in New York, Moscow under the communists, the North Pole, China - welcome sights after months and months of isolation at sea.

Recounting events at sea became a favourite pastime as the ex-sailors gather at meeting places such as 100 Cricketfield Road in East London, or better known as Kelab Melayu, or for those in Liverpool, at Kesatuan Anak-anak Melayu Malaysia/Singapura in Jermyn Street, Toxteth.

In Cardiff, Wales, Pak Hamzah, now in his mid-80s, seeks out Malaysian students to introduce himself and get updated on developments in his home country.

Malaysian students in Liverpool who frequented the house in Jermyn Street listened in awe as Pak Mat Nor told them how he was once swept off deck by a strong wave, and by a stroke of luck, swept back in. I met him in 1996. The scene was quite touching as I watched them in their ripe old age, being surrounded by young students who looked up to them as grandfathers. Except for Pak Mat Nor, who has strong family ties, others neglected by their own flesh and blood yearn the company and respect that only the likes of us can offer.

It was here that I met Pak Arshad from Johor, then in his early 70s, who, in between bouts of attacks of Parkinson's disease entertained me with his song:

Setahun tiga pekan,
Tanah air kutinggalkan,
Menumpang di kapal dagang,
Menuju ke tanah England.

(A year and three weeks
I left my homeland
A passenger on a merchant ship
Sailing towards England.)

It was here too that I met Pak Bakar, who made me a cake complete with icing for my train journey back to London. Every night Pak Bakar left before eleven as he was then under very strict curfew for 'something' he had done.

Yes, alas, a few have been on the wrong side of the law. Pak Yahya Bahari, for example. Looking at him in the dock at the Old Bailey, Quran in hand and a songkok perched on his head, I cried silently. He could have been anyone's father. As he was led away to begin a seven-year jail term for indecent behaviour, he looked up at me in the Press gallery and instantly showed recognition of another Malay face in a sea of strangers.

I visited him in prison only twice but from his letters I learnt a lot about his adventures when he started cycling around the world in 1959. And his hundreds and hundreds of files of letters and pictures that he kept along the journey reveal his own journey within himself. In fact, what spurred him on his old bike was a description of the Malay race in an encyclopaedia - "a complacent and lazy race". He wanted to prove them wrong. Alas, now facts feature as much as fantasy in his ever-increasing files, which he still carries around with him.

But many made good, such as the late Datuk Mohamed Aris from Johor who became the Mayor of Winsford. Then there's Pak Mat Abu who worked as a Tube driver with the London Underground. Pak Man Tokyo made a name for himself as an extra working along Peter Finch in the movie A Town Like Alice and also with the famous Roger Moore, as a drunk in The Saint.

"We were in the books of casting agent Madam Sen from Myanmar who recruited extras. Because of my looks, I landed a part as a Japanese soldier in A Town Like Alice," explained Pak Man.

In their twilight years, many were tracked down by their relatives and invited home, if only for a holiday. But for some, such as Pak Hamzah and Pak Majid, they were presumed dead until RTM featured them in a Hari Raya special.

Once in a while, I watch old videos of my meetings with them and listen to their interviews. But what I remember most poignantly is standing in front of a war memorial built by the Mersey River in Liverpool.

Across the panels were inscribed names of Malay sailors who had died at sea during the war. Oblivious to the song Oh Ferry, Cross The Mersey drifting from a tourist boat, I wondered about the stories that went down with the sailors. But now as they lay buried in the sea they loved so much, we will never know.

Sunday 9 January 2005

Back to school.....

The last few days have been really hectic. Ask anyone who has started school again, and they will tell the same story. Not that I have to wash and ‘kapur’ my shoes or sharpen my pencils- but I had to gather my thoughts (again!) and psyche myself up for the term and the year ahead. I think last year, I did very well, considering that I had not been a student for the past what…30 years? I remember sitting on the steps of the uni, biting my fingernails, not unlike my first day at primary one. The only difference was that, I haven’t got with me the tupperware tumbler with ice tea, wrapped up with tea towel, held together with a rubber band. Mak used to remind me to bring this.

Anyway, a year had passed and what a challenging year that was. I had classmates who were as young as my children but were very, very nice – never once asked my age and always included me in their activities. One professor is even younger than me. And needless to say, I felt so young again – a new lease of life.

This second and final year is a bit of a drag but a challenge nevertheless. I have older classmates and thus wiser and much more experienced and very well read and well informed in their area of studies. And apart from that I am left very much on my own to prepare for my dissertation. The last few days, I have reacquainted myself with Syair Dang Sirat, an old unpublished syair that I found at the British Library. And believe me, I sleep, talk and dream in old Malay Syaer! Last year I did Hikayat Indraputra and Syaer Bidasari. Go to Hkt Indraputra for the finest art of flirting and get two boxes of tissue before Reading the plight of Bidasari!

And yes, I have had to learn the Jawi text all over again. Learning Jawi is one thing, but learning old Jawi scripts is quite different - for me at least. But I am plodding along.

I can’t explain my fascination with these old Malay texts. When I told friends that I am going back to uni, the reaction was a mixture of encouragement, envy and downright insults, such as : “Are you maaaaaad???” Well, there were times when I thought I was. But I have had the most enriching year as I had spent a lot of my waking hours in the library – looking up old manuscripts and hikayats. I’d be quite happy with a sleeping bag and a flask of coffee between shelves H-J, cos these are where some old Malay books are kept. My uni is one of the oldest centre for Malay studies outside the Malay region and indeed it has some of the most respected authorities on the subject – and they are not even Malay. The year has also been most fruitful as I had attended some conferences in Leiden and Paris where I met more great minds on the subject that I am working on.

I believe being away for so long has made me go reverse in motion, if that is possible. I look back and I realised that most of the things that I have dabbled in involved going back to my roots, to the Malayness of my being. I have tracked down old Malay sailors who ventured out to sea in the forties to document their expeience at sea, I have documented old Malay letters that our Sultans wrote to Raffles and Light and from them to our Sultans and now I am devouring old Malay manuscripts as if there’s no tomorrow.

I feel so priviledged to be able to see (and even handle) original manuscripts such as the one written by Sultan Ahmad of Terengganu to Baron Van der Capellan, written in 1824 and now kept in a museum in Berlin. This is considered one of the most beautiful Malay manuscripts, with its fine decorations and even finer language. There are other letters, funny and interesting ones in reply to Raffles’ requests for help to drive the Dutch out of Batavia.

These replies reflect how diplomatic our rulers were even then. Rather than give an outright rejection, some of the most original excuses were conjured. One request for food was met with something along the lines: Ayam, kambing dan lembu semuanya terkena penyakit”. So, there!

Francis Light once wrote to a Perak Sultan, asking Perak to be an ally of the British. But Perak was already then an ally of the Dutch, known to be quite possesive and ruthless when dealing with straying partners. Thus this reply from Perak: Kami bagaikan perempuan yang cantik, tapi sudah ada suami yang sangat cemburu!”

Oh, I can tell these stories until the cows come home – and it is now 06:28 and I need to get ready to go to school. More later.