I had taken the train from Waterloo to Sevenoaks numerous times and almost always looked forward to being in a quiet corner of the coach enjoying my book or simply catching up with sleep or entertaining dreams in between hectic schedules - oblivious to the picturesque English countryside whizzing past the window. But this time it was different. The ride to the British stockbroker’s belt on that summer afternoon of 2001, held a somewhat different meaning, a certain promise. I felt like a schoolgirl straight out of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series on a kind of adventure – a mission even.
The mushroom croissant that I religiously bought from Deli France at the station before my weekly trips remained untouched. The malteasers unopened. I had not progressed a line from Patricia Cornwell’s latest book. I was that excited.
It all began with a simple letter and an accompanying cheque written out in the name of the person I was to meet.
“Three o’clock at the station car park - I think I will recognise you,” he said over the phone, his voice betrayed a middle class upbringing, polished in what must have been some of the top British public schools. In my mind’s eyes, he must be in his fifties. Not more than that.
The station car park was not unfamiliar territory as I used to catch a taxi there to my usual destination every Wednesday afternoon. This time it was a rendevous with someone I had never met before to make a quick exchange before catching the train back to London.
I had recognised him instantly and he, me. I was ready to make the exchange but he seemed to want to talk and I allowed myself to be driven to a nearby hotel – a cosy little place where, over tea, he began his story about how he acquired a piece of our history.
Peter Cox was twelve when he was summoned on an errand to a retired admiral’s house. That was in 1948. The old admiral handed over two boxes; one to go to a jumble sale and the other – to go straight to the bin.
Jutting out of the box that was meant for the bin was a yellow scroll and in the yellow scroll, a piece of paper which looked like a letter but to the twelve year old, it was written in a strange script. Cox's curiosity took the better of him and he decided to keep the scroll instead of throwing it away.
In 1954, when he was doing his apprenticeship in Oxford, he suddenly remembered the strange manuscript that remained in his possesion all these while. He decided to take it to a centre where he knew some Asians worked. But they couldn’t help him. However, his supervisor, Professor Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clarke, soon to make his name in exposing the Piltdown forgery, saw the document and instantly thought that his friend – a J Innes Miller – might just know the contents of the letter.
And indeed he did. J Innes Miller was the British Advisor in Perak from 1947 – 1948. He read the manuscript and then transcribed the document in perfect Malay.
There in my hand, on that summer afternoon of 2001, in the leafy suburb of Sevenoaks, was a letter written in 1875 to Sir Andrew Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements. It was a farewell letter from the leaders of the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities in Johore, to Sir Andrew before he left for his posting in India.
It was the same Sir Andrew Clarke who signed the Pangkor Treaty in 1874, the first to implement the new British policy of Protection in the Malay States and the founder of the Residential System.
Admittedly, its not as elaborate and beautiful as some of the Malay letters that I have seen in the posssession of The British Library, for example those letters from Raffles to our Sultans or the letters from our Sultans to the colonial masters. Nevertheless, its a piece of history - our history.
"It was hanging on my wall for a long time and my wife kept nagging me to take it down," he said.
"But I thought I must return it to where it will be appreciated," he added, taking the cheque as payment for the document.
Cox also handed over the yellow silk cloth in which the document was kept. If my memory serves me right, while doing work on old Malay letters, I was told that we do not have any in our possession. There are about six or seven at the Royal Asiatic Society. And now I was about to bring back the scroll and that piece of history back to where it belongs.
ABANG 04/02/05 22:57 Not too good. Cancer spread 2 lung n liver. Breathing susah, heart ok. 2moro wil decide course action. Wil advise. Lv 2 all. *****************END*********************************** ABANG 10/02/05 15:08 Kak Piah much better, maybe medication works, 20 biji 4times daily, dah boleh sembahyang duduk. Luv 2 all. *****************END********************************* AJIE 04/03/05 11:05 kak piah is being rushed to UH this mning ******************END***************************** TON: 04/03/05 15:39 Kakpiah rushed to hosp. cannot walk n breathe *****************END**************************** ABANG 04/03/05 20:13 Letih,penat, tak boleh berdiri, result all test 2moro. *****************END***************************** AJIE 05/03/05 11:16 We are rushing to hospital. Call abang now! *******************END*************************** AJIE 05/03/05 12:38 Doc says tat nothing much they could do, just a matter of time, we just need to get her to be comfortable. Her heart is weakening, lung not too good. Blood too thin to get rid of liquid in her lung. Let’s doa for her. ********************END************************ ABANG 13/03/05 20:56 Pandai buat karangan noooo…thanks for heavenly words…pls forgive her n pray that she can answer the final call in iman. Pls convey her luv to all. *******************END************************** ABANG 14/03/05 09:53 She’s slowly going into coma. Beginning to lose her senses now. Slurry speech. *******************END***************************** ABANG 14/03/05 20:11 Dah tunjuk sms kat dia, dia hangguk…mesej acknowledged. The big C is slowly affecting her major systems now. ******************END*************************** TON 15/03 14:01 Voice slurrish…tak paham apa dia ckp *******************END************************* TON 17/03/05 16:49 She tenat…doc saw. Ah…she is going…2 or 3 days time. Pray 4 her. ******************END****************************** AJIE 17/03 19:37 Doc datang kata they will not tap kak piah anymore. Her condition worsen bcoz the C cell is eating up her lung. Am so sad. *****************END****************************** TON 17/03 19:38 Prof yip baru balik dia kata it wont be long 2-3 days *****************END****************************** TON: 18:03 19:10 Kakpiah baru meninggal alfatihah *****************END****************************** AJIE: 18/03 22:12 Datin safiah jaafar telah kembali ke rahmatullah. Jenazah akan dibawa ke 14, jln AU5D/4 lembah keramat. Dekat giant taman permata. Jenazah akan disembahyangkan selepas zohor dan dikebumikan di tanah perkuburan AU4 ****************END******************************* ISKANDARSYAH 19/03/05 14:52 Alhamdulillah. Allahyarhamah dah selamat dikebumikan. It was a breezy afternoon. ****************END********************************* KAK TEH 19/03/05 07:40 Al Fatehah. Selamat kembali ke rahmatullah, Kak Piah. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas rohmu dan tempatkan Kak Piah di samping orang-orang yang beriman. Terima kasih kerana menjadi sebahagian daripada keluarga kami, isteri kepada abang dan ibu kepada Adi dan Amri dan nenek kepada Irfan. ************END*************************************
Prominent on my list of regrets - not learning to read or write Jawi. Am kicking myself senseless now as I have to struggle with an old manuscript that I am working on before completing my studies. And it is not just Jawi, but old Jawi which scribes took liberty to add or leave out any dots, just to add to the confusion, I suspect.
Anyway, I believe I know enough to be able to read the Quran and I never had any real use or need to learn Jawi until now. Mak used to read the syair or hikayats to us like modern mums read Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
My first attempt to write was of course, if I remember correctly, done with the intention to impress my dearly intended. He, of course, coming from the East Coast, writes beautiful Jawi. So, I wrote a letter to my Mak and asked him to check. He took one look and smiled. (He was then, too polite to laugh). Instead of Mak, I had written Maka… so, enough said. Nowadays, he leaves notes in Jawi outside the door to our son, telling him where he has left the house keys. Clever or what?
Now, fast forward to London years and years later, I answered a call from a friend who asked whether I’d like to earn some extra money and help her catalogue some old books in the british Library. But one requirement was that I must be able to read Jawi.
“So, I assume you do read Jawi,” she said, without actually asking for an answer.
“Ah!” I giggled a pitch higher, “do birds fly? Do fish swim?”
And with that, for my arrogance and sin, I found myself in the company of old Malay manuscripts and hikayats and newspapers, dusty and some even crumbling at the touch, at the British Library. I had the opportunity to see the early copies of Jawi Peranakan, Abdullah Munsyi’s compilation of “Sepuluh Kebodohan Orang-orang Melayu” and many more interesting titles…well, interesting only when I got to decipher them, which might have taken something like ten minutes… going, Jim Alif Ja Wau Ya Wi…Jawi. That transported me right back to the house of my old Quran teacher in Yan, as I repeated after her sing song style of spelling, all the while pointing to the script with her finely carved lidi. which was of course, yesteryear's cursor.
But that experience at the BL left me with this legacy that I have not been able to shake off. One, it triggered asthma and later hayfever, because of all the dust and two, it increased my interest in old Malay manuscripts and books, some of which are not even in the possession of our libraries or museums.
This Syair that I am working on is yet unstudied, I am proud to say. And with this knowledge, I am spurred on to painstakingly transliterate each line, with the intention to have it published.
The British Library has the only copy of this Syair and I had the pages copied and everyday, with a few pages each, I’d sit on the number seven to work or to the university and transliterate the beautiful stanzas from this early nineteenth century or late eighteenth century poet. On most days, I’d be transported to the intrigues in the Malay royal court with belles of beauty with none to match and heroes with charm and wit to die for. I’d be oblivious to the chaos and humdrum on the streets of London, until I reach my destination.
So, yesterday, armed with about 30 pages of the manuscript, and the transliteration,I marched to my professor’s room. As it was my first consultation this year, I decided to buy some almond croissants, with which we could chew and digest the syair.
I have long eaten my humble pie. I am no longer embarrassed that as a Malay, I have to study from a non-Malay. But I am proud to say, if I have to learn anything from any non_Malay, it will have to be the best…and Professor Braginsky, a Russian, is certainly one of the best in this area of Traditional Malay Literature. He is the seefoo in this area, well informed and much quoted by scholars all over the world.
My transliteration, needless to say, have lots of blanks to be filled, eventhough my other half has helped me a lot with certain words. Most times, I had to consult Wilkinson, the bible for traditional Malay literature scholars. So, over tea and croissants, I listened intently as my old Russian guru talked about ‘raja pisari’ or raja bistari, about hints to read old jawi: to look out for the alphabet Ga and not confuse it with Kaf and so on and so forth.
There are a lot of mine fields, these Jawi manuscripts, and I tripped onto one yesterday and it exploded right in my face.
“Ah, yes,” said I trying hard to sound academic. “I find it quite interesting that, given the Islamic overtones of the stanza, they do have samsu and such likes,”
“Samsu?” said Dr B, curious.
“Yes,” I offered, very confidently, almost verging on arrogance again. “See..it is sin mim sin wau…samsu..”
“Ah…,” said the wise one, ignoring my offer of the original script. “It is not samsu as in the arak, but it is Shamsu…it is not Sin but Shin….so, Shamsu dan Qamar…The sun and the moon,”
My face collapsed, and the almond croissant tasted funny. You see, being Malay, we tend to make these mistakes. Take one look and we assume, and thus, re: Pok Ku, we are an ass. For non-Malay scholars learning the classic literature, they refer to the basics! That's how they learn and that's how they know more than us.
Anyway, I have about 50 more pages to go.
Rushed out to catch the number seven just about to leave the stop outside the campus. Nothing beats being on the number seven at this time of the evening…hardly anyone. Just me and my syair sailing along Oxford Street.
menengar titah raja yang adil, keluarlah semua pandai dan jahil, riuh rendah meriam dan bedil Oh..debenhams ada sale!
As you can see, once in a while, there are distractions and I am bounced back to 21st century London and its cruel realities.
Just when did you get to be nineteen? Have you been doing things behind my back again? You know, mothers are a funny lot. I am, anyway. They can't wait for their children to grow up, and when they do, they want them to stop growing, freezeframe them at whatever age or phase of life that suits them. Like a bonsai plant.
When you were born, I was deliriously happy to have another girl so that I could dress you up in those cute frilly frocks. But like your sister, you were born, bald. So, no pretty ribbons, no colourful hairbands. And it seems that skirts and gowns and frilly things are not something you’d have in your wardrobe of tattered, faded jeans and cropped tops.
I remember Tok sending a bagful of floral skirts with frills that she made for her granddaughters. Ah, that look on your face! You could at least wore it once for me to take a photogragh to send home. Oh well, I don’t know what to buy you anymore. Two days ago, I was walking up and down Oxford Street, venturing into stores, displaying what they term clothes, but nothing that would wrap you up sufficiently against the cold. It was easier when I could get all that you need from Mothercare.
When I was your age (here we go again, I hear you groan), flares were in fashion. Yes, I heard your brother’s remarks about how that would help break my fall should I jump off a tall building! Ha! Ha! Very funny. But at least, I was all covered up. Nice floral materials much in trend for those flower power days. And hey, those bandanas that you wear? Been there and done that lah, sayang!
I must admit you are very creative. Last week, my prayers accompanied you to that interview when you carried your huge portfolio of excellent stuff. You have always been creative – those self taught animations, radio and tv interviews that you bullied your younger brother into doing. You play the drums and guitar. And remember how you pulled quite a crowd in Hyde Park when you did about 100 kick-ups with the ball, without once dropping it.
But you surprised me. I have always thought you’d be a scientist – perhaps a microbiologist. I’d be so proud of you. What gave me this idea? Well, on my weekly rounds searching for missing mugs, I’d always find some under your bed. And I looked at the curious blend of fungi like things at different stages of fermentation in those mugs and I thought: Aaaah, my daughter, the microbiologist!
I wasn’t very much into science in my school days, the only excitement I remember being the arrival of the first male teacher - our science master who taught us the subject of reproduction. Can you imagine, a bunch of giggly Convent girls?
And that of course brings us to the subject of the other, er opposite sex.. err, I mean gender.
Of late I see some strange nicks popping up on your Hotmail account. Does this explain your sudden interest in make-up? I supposed its good that you are taking an interest in your looks ... at least there’s some colour in your face. When I see some models on the catwalk nowadays, I can’t help thinking you’d do well marching straight from the bed onto the catwalk. You’re tall, skinny and all bones and that hairstyle is so the in thing on catwalks…no brush, no comb!
At your age, I too experimented with my hair. No more ponytails and plaits. I used to have the fringe too that covered my eyes cos I was so shy. But yours is more like a curtain that makes our communication even more difficult. However, I never touched colour (at your age). I remember your experiment with that. It was at night and you went against my advise. Suddenly there was a scream from the bathroom. What I saw made me laugh and cry at the same time. I do apologise. It was a horrible colour!! Even daddy chuckled.
Now I see that you are into Bo Derek plaits. What can I say?
And another thing, purple lenses do not suit you.
In those days, of course, we wore goggles. And it went well with those Dusty Springfield or Lulu look. The bigger the better. The same goes for earrings. Big round ones. But my dear, we wore both….not just a single dangling earring. Tok would have fainted seeing you with one earring, and one on your nose. I am glad you saw some sense and grew out of that one.
Well, penning all these down makes me feel quite old. It was a mixture of pride and sadness too when I saw you wearing one of my kebayas last Raya. People commented that you look just like me when I was your age. I am proud to have my two girls wearing the kebayas. People in Malaysia think the kebaya is making a comeback. For me it never went away. I was the kebaya girl in campus. I kept all those kebayas so that my girls can wear them. Sad? well, its just me lamenting my lost waisline.
You are one adventurous lass. I know that I am a pain to be with especially on trips to funfairs. I remember you commenting that a funfair would be a bore fair if I am around. No slides, no watershutes, no ferries wheels. Yes, a ride in the whirling tea-cup can also give as much excitement and what's wrong with that? My heart dropped when I saw you hanging upside down on that Aladin's carpet. Do you do these things to annoy me?
I cried buckets when you were away in Spain and now I see that you are researching materials on studies in Japan. When you received an offer from Nottingham university, I sobbed into the pillow. I imagined you surviving on maggie mee. Yes, granted, at your age I too couldn't cook. The kitchen was a no go area cos Tok Wan would rather see us studying than help in the kitchen. But your diet of nasi goreng and mayonaise and strange combinations like that worries me.
And if you are away, who'd be around to scratch your back? And Daddy won't be there to bring your bowl of cornflakes and milk to your room.
By the way, I just got you a birthday card and I hope you find those pieces with the picture of the Queen useful.
With lots of love, Mama, xxx
STOP PRESS! STOP PRESS! STOP PRESS! STOP PRESS! STOP PRESS! NONA got the bestest birthday present of all - she got accepted by the Chelsea College of Arts! All that heavy portfolio and the taxi fare that I paid is worth it!One happy MAMA!!
ON June 4, 1979, I was among those answering calls in the NST office in Light Street, Penang from British nationals anxious to know the results of the general elections back home. Mrs Thatcher had then just swept into power, ending five years of Labour rule under Callaghan.
Five months later, unexpectedly, I found myself on British soil witnessing the beginning of the Thatcher era. And even more unexpectedly, many, many years later I was still there to see her downfall, the slow decline of the Tory party under her successor and the finale which saw the humiliating, crashing defeat of the party that was once seen to be unassailable. What followed was all-night singing and dancing on the South Bank by the jubilant New Labour party.
If someone had told me then, sitting in the old crumbling newspaper office in Penang, that I'd soon be transported to a strident, new Thatcherite Britain, that I would be covering the country under two governments and three leaders and that I'd be hearing the baying of drunken neighbours ushering in the new millennium there, I would've said “shaddup lah!”
As it turned out, there I was, December 1979, at the exit door of the plane with the cold winter air stinging me straight to the bones. I remember telling myself "three months, and no more".
An old friend of my newly-acquired husband, who met us at Heathrow airport, took one look at my inadequately attired self, gave an old fashioned Anglo-Saxon "don't say I didn't tell you kind of look" and proceeded nonchalantly to warm up the lock of his car with his lighter to thaw the joints before he was able to let us all in.
By then I was already wondering about the next flight home. And feeling foolish for my misplaced batik sarong kebaya patriotism in the cruel British weather.
Twenty odd years later, the British winter seems somewhat milder. Is it the hole in the ozone layer or have I just stopped complaining? Time too has a knack of dulling certain senses. I no longer yearn for the mamak mee goreng, which I remember waiting patiently for as the cart-pushing mamak made his rounds along Light Street. I did, however, make an attempt once to touch base with him on one of our visits home, but to no avail.
Well, life must go on, and it did. I saw my first Christmas, though disappointingly not white, four days after our arrival. My memories of Christmas had been of Uncle Dorai in his hastily put-together Father Christmas suit and of Aunty Tata's chicken curry and capati in Malaysia.
So what I experienced here was rather, well, disappointing. No curry here, no Tata, just an invitation to a Jewish friend's house to sit around the table wearing funny hats and pulling crackers containing silly jokes and even sillier presents, like a false moustache.
But it was at that table that my husband made an astonishing display of love by polishing off the dreaded Brussel sprouts from my plate to save me the embarrassment of not eating my greens in front of my new friends.
I'll never forget the look on his face as he bravely downed those horrible green things. So, what is Christmas without Aunty Tata's curry? To date, the only white Christmas that I have seen was on picture postcards and the telly, though we did have a white Hari Raya in 1995! We became a regular feature at that friend's place at Christmas until he too gave up and left for Brazil.
And then, when the children came, we began to discover the sanctity of our own high and holy days. Which was just as well, as BC (Before Children) I was just beginning to find this big crowded city a terribly lonely place. This led me to forays into odd territories, like befriending the Moonies who came a-knocking.
On warmer days, I'd get more of them in the nearby park muttering dark secrets of their Malaysian and Singaporean past into my sympathetic ear. I decided there and then that I had to have a job, if only to keep the Moonies at bay. But jobs didn't grow on trees those days, not even in the park. It was 1980, when unemployment figures had gone past the psychological one million. In fact it was fast reaching the psychotic two.
Then, from out of the ether came a job offer from the Malay Service of the BBC. It was to determine and chart my life for the next decade or two. Apart from giving me the rapport with a handful of faithful listeners such as Mohamed Sulaiman from Johore and Adik Syu from somewhere in Perak, it was also a way of letting my mother know that I was well.
Along the way too, I met many interesting people, some of whom I've been pursuing relentlessly until today. These are the Malays - merchant navymen mostly - who had left for foreign shores before the war in search of adventure and a new life. I've been chronicling their lives, recording them on audio and videotapes. These are the flesh and blood of our collective history, these dear lives and I feel an obligation to record them for posterity.
When I was small, I wanted to marry my brother. In fact, I wanted to marry all my cousin brothers, Abang Tam, Abang Mi. There was a legitimate reason for such thoughts of incestuous nature to enter a mind so young. I wanted to look after all of them, care for them in a way that they will never be hurt or be in pain.
Yesterday, I phoned up my eldest brother, now in his sixities. It was late at night in Malaysia. He was not his usual jokey self. In fact, he hasn’t been his old jokey self for sometime now. Usually, I’d chide him for running up my phonebills with his ridiculous jokes. Imagine, if I were to ask him: Abang buat apa? He'd reply: Abang dok ataih kerusi. Duhhh!
Now, his voice is subdued when he speaks and I imagine him sitting in the darkened room of the hospital, holding his wife’s hand. And I was told by my other siblings, he has cried like never before. The one who was so strong for us all, now needs our shoulders to cry on.
My sister-in-law is no longer in pain. The doctor’s advise is just to make her comfortable. The big C got to her in a big way. It is Abang who is now in pain. And it is in moments like this that I want to care for him. But I am so far away. I can’t even talk to him without crying. I can’t offer him wise words to console him during these darkest hours. I can’t even exchange banters which would of course seem inappropriate. All I can offer is my silent prayers.
This is my Abang, who would usually make things seem so funny and trivial. The one who drew moustaches and beard on our faces because we didn’t wake up for sahur. The one who ran away from home and caused Mak so much anxiety. The one who went and stayed with fishermen and went out to sea with them because he wanted to capture the beauty of the sea on canvas. The one who would still tickle us breathless, even now, when we are all already in the autumn of our lives. Mak, on seeing her already quite old children chasing after each other in the house, would aways shake her head and say," Bila laa hampa ni nak besark?"
But Abang made Mak and Pak proud. Inspite of his poor qualification, he was the first to venture overseas. I remember when I needed money to replace a friend's headband that I had lost, he sent me £1...and at that time it was eleven ringgit which could buy me ten headbands. He'd come to London for a conference, and yet spend his free time cooking for me.
Cooking is his passion. Trips back to Alor Star is never the same without him. He'd wake up early, after which, no one else can sleep 'cos he'd make sure we were all up. His tactics, till this day, would be a drip of salt water...drip, drip, drip, into our mouth until we wake up!
He'd go to the Pasar Besar in Alor Star and buy fresh fish to grill. He'd make air asam to go with it. And then cook sayur keladi.
All the while, sis-in-law would be chiding him, nagging him as all wives do and he'd keep a straight face pretending not to listen, which would of course drive her mad.
A month ago, when sis-in-law knew her time was up, she told my other siblings. "Abang tu orang baik".
I hope she told him as well.
And Abang, I can't marry you. I know you still think of me as your little sister and in case you have not noticed, I married someone else. I can't take away your pain, but I can still care for you.
Malaysia’s accomplished songwriter, Zuriani, is having one of her songs, sung in the Eurovision Song Contest in the UK level on 5th March. It’ll be live on BBC!!! Her song “Flashback” will be sung by Gina G. So, please, please, please vote for Flashback and let’s put Zuriani’s song forward to the International level. A Malaysian first certainly!
You can sample the song and read about it on this link.
Just recently, she co-wrote, One Friend for American blues artiste Keb’Mo’ which appeared in his Grammy Award-winning album Keep It Simple, which won Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 47th Grammy Awards. I have had the pleasure of meeting Zuriani during her visits to London. Oooh, if only I can write songs like her. She zooms here and there, Norway, London, Malaysia, LA and God knows where else and churns out songs for singers such as Siti Nurhaliza, Ziana Zain, Ella, Sugar Babes and now Gina G. Gina G is of course Australian pop sensation who represented Britian in the 1996 contest with 'Ooh Aah, Just a Little Bit”.
Zuriani is currently with Big Life Music in London, and is married to American Arthur Zonneveld and is blessed with daughter Jasmine.
So, on Saturday 5th March, UK time 17:45 – 1845, the show “Making Your Mind Up “ will be aired live on BBC One. The winner will be decided by a public vote vaa phone, text message and and on the Making Your Mind Up website. Results will be announced at 2020. HERE'S HOW TO VOTE • Phone lines will open at 18:35 on Sat 5th March • Voting will close at 19:30 Sat 5th March • The online vote will appear here from 18:35-19:00 on Sat 5th March. GINA G 'Flashback' Call: 0901 198 8003 Text: SONG 3 to 83199
Last year, Zuriani went back to Malaysia for Ani's Concert for Palestine, where she sang with Raihan. Will be updating this entry. For now....must go and sing for my supper too. In the meantime...don't forget, we vote for Zuriani, okay? Please click the link below for an interview with Zuriani for Rantauan.com. The interview was done by Iskandaria and Elva Hadi This is the link to Ani's interview on Rantauan TV
Does a barber trust someone else to cut his hair? Does a surgeon allow anyone else to operate on him? Well, some one has got to do the job. And yesterday I allowed myself to be interviewed by someone else.
So, what was it like to have the microphone shoved into your face?
If truth be told, I’d rather be the one holding the microphone, the one behind the camera, the one calling the shots, but sometimes you do find yourself on the other side of the counter.
My fear of this role reversal has something to do with what happened some years ago. A colleague was doing a programme on food, glorious food around the world for the BBC World Service. I don’t know how I ended up as the expert for Malay food. Thus I rambled on about this and that and said I do make a wicked meal of mee goreng. To which he drooled: Oooh, will you marry me? And my quick retort: Then you know what you have to do, don’t you???
We both laughed, he understood my message and I waved him out of my office with a warning: Edit out the last bit!
It was during lunch time, at the BBC canteen, while I was tackling the greasy fish and chips when I heard the proposal, loud and clear through the radio in the canteen.
Needless to say, fish went cold as all eyes were on me.
Once, I was back doing the rounds and I did no less than seven interviews; radio, tv and newspapers. I didn’t hear any feedbacks on the ones that went out on Radio Brunei or SBC but I did get some on the one Zainal Din Zainal did with me. Let me rephrase that, Zainal did the interview while I laughed throughout the live broadcast.
Not a good publicity for someone trying to sell the Malay Service of the BBC. But if you know Zainal Din, you’d be having stitches and rolling on the floor as well. Actually, I was trying to find my way to the studios of Selamat Pagi Malaysia, when Zainal hijacked me into his studio. And out of habit, I took off my earrings to put on the headphone. The interview started and ended with those earrings on him..and I tell you, he looked a sight! But Hajjah Wan Cik Daud saved my reputation and did a proper interview on Selamat Pagi Malaysia.
The one hour phone-in programme with Azizah Majid of RTM Penang was quite hilarious as well. It went something like this: AM: Apa yang membawa Kak Teh balik ke Penang ni? KT: Mmm, bagi saya, orang pertama yang saya cari di Penang ialah mamak mee goreng. Dia selalu surung kereta surung dia pukoi 12 tengah hari dan park depan Ho Peng. Lepaih tu, pukoi 5 pulak. Kali ni balik, tak jumpa dia pulak.
That spurred on several callers to jam the line.
Caller 1: Laaaa, mamak tu, awat tak kenai. La ni dia stesen belakang Hong Kong Shanghai bank tu! Caller 2: Ish, buat apa nak makan mee mamak. Mai Kak Jah nak ajark nak buat macam mana.
Sound engineer in studio: Ish, apa Kak Teh tak habark Kak Teh suka mamak. Saya pun mamak.
With live interview, things can either go drastically wrong or you can let the adrenalin flow and enjoy it.
A friend and I did a cookery programme for Channel 4. We were supposed to make Laksa Johore with ingredients that’s only available here in London and I think we did pretty well. I keep getting calls from all over the world, people who saw me cooking and just couldn’t believe their eyes “Who are you trying to kid?You don’t cook. Your kitchens are in Malaysia Hall, Nahar and Mawar!” Very cruel friends I have.
Because this programme was shown world wide, I suddenly became a celebrity chef…well, to some. I was at a foodfair in Birmingham, where Chef Wan was also attending.
Just as I entered the huge hall, two American chefs rushed to me, calling “Chef Wan, Chef Wan!” At first I ignored them and then realised that my nametag says I am a Wan, and proceeded to show them to where the right Wan was demonstrating his skills.
“No, Chef Wan! We saw you on TV, making laksa….” Oh, me God or Ma Grandma as Pok Ku is wont to say. I have put Laksa Johore on the world culinary map now!
I wonder if barbers are fussy about how their colleagues cut their hair. Don’t let colleagues with grudges do it.
Anyway, when I do do give interviews, I can’t help but look out for certain basic things – basic do’s and don’ts. “Errr, do you want to check level first? What about the background noise? Don’t you want to test the white balance? Whaaaat? You don’t need cut aways????”
Aaah, yesterday, I was more relaxed, answering questions in the kitchen. But I do hope she edits out the last sentence too.