Sunday 4 February 2007

A painting incomplete

Like an unfinished painting, my life lacks the details and finishing touches that make it complete. During the last few months, I have met people who have helped to paint in the details, people who were there during certain important and historic moments; moments when I was too young to remember or moments when I have been away. And I have been away for a long time.

So they came into my life and added a dash of colour here, a stroke of detail there and now a picture is emerging. Not quite complete, but there’s something there.

“You know dear, “ said the voice at the other end of the line yesterday, “ I stood on the verandah, overlooking the padang and watched the union flag come down while the Malayan flag go up,” she said, recalling that historic moment 50 years ago. Even at 82, she could remember every glorious moment of that handover.

She was very much the socialite rubbing shoulders along the corridors of power in those days and was very active in the Malaya she grew to love and still remembers with affection. In her small room down south, she surrounds herself with documents, some very, very important and old pictures of the young emerging Malaya, tasting her first few years of independence.

“But my memories are all kelam kabut,” said this very English lady punctuating her very English English with her very Malay Malay. “Sometimes”, she added, “it comes out like bangsawan,” and we both roared out with laughter down the line, this Malay Mak Cik and this very fine English lady.

She said she didn't think her recollection would interest me, not realising that I was frantically jotting down everything she narrated; about her first meeting with Tunku at the railway station, about David Marshall accompanying the Tunku to meet Chin Peng in Baling, about Ong Yoke Lin’s order for serai to make satay for the Merdeka celebration at the UN. If she’d have me as her tenant for a week, I’d pack right now and leave my loved ones to fend for themselves.

Indeed, there were many, many people, British ex-servicemen especially, whom I met over the last few months, who said they could recall their tour of duty in Malaya, during the days before the Independence, during the emergency and the konfrantasi, as if it was yesterday.

“I remember the day it was announced and because we were away from the capital, we decided to play football against the officers, and we gave them quite a beating,” said one, adding hesitantly that they had one too many stengah's that day.

“Oh I was there and I was wearing the songkok and I stood to attention, feeling very proud indeed,” chipped in another.

“How can I forget Malaya for that was where I met my wife. She was the daughter of a planter,” said one officer who went on to write a novel about the romance between a young officer and a local beauty.

And indeed, one introduced me to his daughter, a product of the romance with a Chinese local beauty.

And yet another said he helped build a school for the Orang Asli and taught them English. He also spoke of the unfriendly forest and the even more unfriendly and hostile communists, especially the ones he came face to face with when he and his men stormed a house.

The last group of ex-servicemen I met was in Ipswich last week and some came with old photographs of their life in the jungle, one had a photograph of the baby he helped to deliver. They all came to the town hall, some with walking sticks, some in wheelchairs. For some, their widows and children came holding up pictures tracking down people who were in the same regiments or units as their husbands or fathers. But all of them came with memories of Malaya. Even the dog handler.

The dog handler started his journey from here to Germany to fetch what was known as wardogs...all 14 of them and with another handler, spent 5 weeks on the ship bound for Malaya. Needless to say, by the end of the voyage, they became very close to the dogs which were trained to sniff and kill.

At a conference I attended some months ago, a scholar showed me the scribblings of a survivor of the death railway, his jottings as the Japanese prisoner of war and many more. At a reunion of Japanese POW’s at the Imperial War Museum some years ago, I jotted down some interesting stories too and shared with them their harrowing moments.

Over the last few weeks too, I had been spending time with a very special lady. She left for Malaysia in 1958 and has been there ever since. We talked and talked from morning till night, and once continued our conversation as we walked linking arms along King Street, she in her red beret and I in my pink tudung. A strange pair to the onlookers of SW London as we walked and talked, had our coffee at Starbuck and talked some more but we had so much in common that everything else was oblivious to the pair of us

To a certain extent her life is a mirror reflection of mine. She chatted about the year she arrived soon after independence, about the sixties and seventies and about the years that I missed while being away. And I talked about Britain under Margaret Thatcher and the day she left number 10 in tears, about being at the gates of Buckingham palace when the tragic story of Diana broke, about being at those places which were bombed by the extremists, about being there to celebrate London as Olympic city and many more moments that she had missed.

Anyway, she and the rest and many more have contributed so much to fill in the blanks and added their personal touches. And I will continue in my quest to meet many more people who will add more dashes of colour to this painting of mine.



Jane Sunshine said...

What a treat of a story on a dull sunday morning. Really time to publish them for the world to enjoy as well my dear.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Please publish your jottings.

I found the Malaysian Rangers' exploits against the communists in Sheih's kickdafella' link in his blog.

The accounts were very graphic and vivid. Their sacrifices must not be forgotten, too.

We need to redefine the heart and soul of Malaysia.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Here's the link -

Blabarella said...

I really enjoy hearing recollections of the time when all those who inhabited our tanah air, did their own bits, whether big or small, for Malaya. If only all Malaysians would care to look back and seriously appreciate the significance of what it is all about, to have one's own country. Then maybe we won't be squabbling about the stupid things we are now.

Blabarella said...

Umm, not only do I enjoy "hearing" these old recollections, but I enjoy "reading" them too. *knocks head on wall*

Kak Teh said...

Jane, I thought I'd get this out of the way before I sit myself down in front of the TV for American Idol and Eastenders. Publish? Where did I hear the word before?

hi&lo, I am in the process of just collecting the interviews. There's so many to choose from and I am meeting many more.
Thanks for the link. I will certainly visit it.

Ms Blabs, yes, I can spend hours just listening to them

High Power Rocketry said...

Your blog... completes me.

NorAiniJ said...

Salam Kak Teh,

History helps people create identities. We also study history so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Most importantly it reminds us that things we do now will affect the future generation.

Looking forward to read more on your jottings.

Fauziah Ismail said...

Kak Teh
Post-Independence children like myself are deprived of pre-Merdeka stories like what you've written here. What you've done is whet our appetite somewhat.
I agree with hi&lo and jane. Publish them, please.

A Mature Student said...

Kak Teh, just the other day I was reminiscing of my hometown after reading Julie's blog. At that point, I realised the many conversations I have overheard my parents and relatives talk about, ie Chin Peng, Tunku Abdul Rahman and many more. I wrote to Julie about this. I remember my dad sat in tears while watching Bapa Malaysia give his farewell speech on tv when he retired. Little things still fresh in my memory but not enough to know the full story.
Reading your blog has made me understand a bit and fill the gaps here and there of what I missed out.

~ GAB ~ said...

Since you are there having access to all those people, I'd suggest you to compile up as many stories as possible from them. And have it printed out. In a way, there must be some missing stories that not written in our history book.

Besides, their personal life journey can serve as a beautiful reading materials to be painted on Kak Teh's canvass.

wonda said...

What I missed out in life, you filled in the gaps with dabs of your writing here and there whether it be past issues or recent ones. Thank you.

Bergen said...

Sometimes I don't understand why we have to potray the white folks as bad guys, especially during Merdeka months. From the stories I've got, they are nice folks, decent people. They didn't storm the houses of the nationalists in the middle of the night to take 'em away, or kill them off as a way to silent their voice that could incite ordinary folks to the street demanding independence. We call them all sorts of names, which in my opinion, isn't quite right because they weren't reluctant to give the independece to us, if only we asked nicely. Which Tunku did.

There were young men sent to Malaya to die deep in the jungle. to die for a country called Malaya. And we call these brave men names I wouldn't want to repeat to a snake.

Did I miss something in the history lessons at school. Maybe I was too busy dreaming about cowboys.

ilene said...

KAK TEH, refreshing history lesson! I hated history lessons while in school simply because I had to memorise the dates and years. Besides, my history lessons were all on the international arena like Napolean Bonaparte, Mahatma Gandhi, Florence Nitingale, Madam Curie, Wright Brothers etc....

The only memories I have of Tuanku Abdul Rahman is his fight with Tun Mahathir and subsequently the formation of new UMNO and the old UMNO and of course, not forgetting his funeral.

My daughter however loves history whether locally or internationally and I have somehow taken a liking to it now! Thanks to her. It is also from her that I now understand Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat better.

ALICE, now you know why I didn't participate in your mock as I had never understood nor like history!

Ampun tuanku beribu ribu ampun!

Kak Teh said...

r2k, nice one that!

norainij, Insyaallah. I do not c claim that i can rewrite history or even add to anything, but the stories from the people I interviewed would certainly add colour to what we already have.

x-matters, what we also need is history for the young - and i applaud what Tunku halim is doing. his version for children is interesting without insulting their intelligence.

Kak Teh said...

judy, u know, there's so many things that our fathers and mothers told us that we take for granted.I remeber, each time mym father talked abt the japanese occupation and abt the British soldiers, we silently said, here we go again!!!

gab, you said it! It will certainly add the colours to what we already know. I am certainly seriously thinking of doing this.

wonda aka alice, I enjoy meeting these people. they are so rich in their experience.

Kak Teh said...

bergen, i am sure even in cowboy films there are bad characters. But it has been in my nature to look out for the good ones, unless one bad apple comes along and quite blatantly spoil the scene. Then i stay away from that one. Life is too short to bother with negative things. dont u think?

ilene, i have always loved history and two years ago when I went back to university, i really enjoyed it..learning abt the history of malaya, history of literature in south east asia and history thru the novels that we had to do.

Anonymous said...

Loves your writing kakteh. How I wish I had known you when I was in london sept2000 till july 2002.

demonsinme said...

Madam KT:

A renewed insight this entry gives me.

On another note, there will always be villains and heroes in every race of every colors - invaders and defenders to each other.

Do not let the picture be completed as the colors that god made in this world is infinate. Make in the canvas of life for them.


If its not a burden, come by to my space, leave some thoughts to my latest entry as I am much in need of advice.


Anonymous said...

Dear Kak Teh,

So long, but I enjoyed every dot of the i's and cross of the t's.

I am missing you.


Kak Teh said...

bf, who knows. we might have sat in front of each other at malaysia hall, or mawar or passed each other in oxford street and smiled.

demonsinme, I will make my way to your blog. Insyaallah.

aia, dear ailin. you know, we think alike. I was going to say that- these stories dots my i's and cross my t's until i came up with the incomplete painting. are you looking after yourself?

Atok said...

not many are aware that the famous and globally respected British SAS Unit was actually resurrected in our own jungle during the Malaya Emergency in 1950; having disbanded soon after WWII. then, the unit was named 'Malayan Scouts'... and by 1958, thru many trials and errors, deaths and what not, the regiment has established itself as one of the world's most skillfuls.

KopiSoh said...

Like you I am far from being a completed piece of work, but the day you came into my life, you added a splash of color to it, a tiny but important splash along with other splashes that Judy, ilene, kok, and wonda added.

The Fairy said...

Salam Kak Teh. I am no more a stranger than you are to me.. but, you jottings do inspire me and have been a source of warmth for the soul. Such a welcoming contrast to what I'm required to digest daily. Thank you for reminding me that there's always something new to learn everyday, especially in one's quest to be a better person.

Zac said...

Salam Kak Teh, I too enjoy the insightful reminiscing of these adoptive sons and daughters of our great country Malaysia. Likewise, it pays to listen, but very few take notice. Until perhaps when it is too late.

Unknown said...

Hi Kak Teh,

I'm in a funny soppy mood today. Reading your beautiful account this touched me most..ha ha.

“How can I forget Malaya for that was where I met my wife. She was the daughter of a planter"

There's always a silver lining isn't it? Oh how sweet that is. It is always informative & touching too reading your entries. Cheers dear.

AuntyN said...

Kak Teh, I have always told you to publish your story. I hope you will. Don't worry, I am sure people will buy the book. I will!!.

You have so much things/stories that would be a waste if not properly chronicled. So please do us a favour, write a book Kak teh. I know what you blog is just a tip of the iceberg.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kak teh, Come to make your acquaintance. From the few bloggers that I've known, your name kak teh appears so often, I got to hop over. I am still reading the Chin Peng book, borrowed from an Estate Manager in M'sia. Did you read it? So much of his struggle, the Baling talks..etc..but wish the book could be written with more oomph!

Kak Teh said...

atok, thanks for that interesting piece of info. I heard abt it as well..

firehorse, indeed. This is a totally new dimension and if we were to use it positively and creatively, we can enrich each other's lives. so, keep on splashing yr colours to me!

chip, thank you for yr kind words and it is so encouraging to read this. am sure I can learn a lot from you too.

zac, indeed, it pays to listen. Sadly, these days many of us shut ourselves out by plugging in earphones to listen to music and songs, when there' s so much more out there.

Kak Teh said...

ruby, you are back!!! yes, they have such wonderful stories. I met one other couple last week and they are well into their eighties...still together after their meeting in malaya.

auntyN, insyaallah, insyaallah. Pray that i have the patience and the determination.

julie, when i got home, i will certainly get one. thanks for the visit.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Historians interpret unfolding events with cold hard facts on cause and effect. We need to hear the voices that echo through the passages as well to discover the human spirit.

As Norainji aptly puts it, "History helps people to create identity," our common past, present and shared destiny should blur our prejudices and enrich our keinsanan.

Behind the movers and shakers of society are the unsung heroes. They who seek no fame or fortune but are there to make a significant difference.

I enjoy your blog so much cos every comment of the visitors add the little details to the big picture of your tapestry.

Kak Teh said...

edel, kalau kak teh tulis, will you promise to hold my hand? and also a kick up the *&&%^^%!! when I run out of steam?
hi&lo, if you have a blog and I dont know abt better watch out!
yes, I love the contributions and comments that i get here. There are many more entries, such as the year mak went to mekah, wartime memories with the veterans as well as wartime memories with Pak, that attracted so many interesting comments and people are kind enough to share what they heard and knew as well.
Niw, hi&lo, i will search you high and low to see if you have a blog. I think you have many interesting stories to tell as well.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

I should have told you I don't have my own blog. With much regrets, I made you search high and low for it.

Had been a hospice volunteer. Realise how precious and brief life is. Like what you had said focussing on the good and walk away from ugly scenes.

However life is such there are people who take advantage of kindness.

I don't brood over it tho still suffering the consequences.

Your blog renews my faith in humankindness.

If only I have your email address, I can share with you the travails cos am also working in the press.

Kak Teh said...

hi&lo, am here -


Anonymous said...

Kak Teh,

Just the other day my son Abang and I had a chat about history. I told him of what I had learnt in my History class those days - more of the International History like Ilene does, the Roman empire, Ottoman empire, Richard the Lionhearted, Mussolini, Napoleon, the Romanovs, the WW1 and WW2 etc while he said he is learning about our local history.

We really lacked of local history books - I am more at ease to tell him more of all the historical figures and events due to vast reading sources available but unfortunately - I can't say the same for our local sources.

Kak Teh - am looking forward to your sailor stories adorning the shelves of Local History in Kinokuniya !

ilene said...

Just to let you know that tomorrow RTM 1 will be airing an interview with Tuanku Abdul Rahman which was recorded way in 1985 but was never shown. You can bet that I'm gonna be glued to the tube to catch up on what I've been missing!

Anonymous said...

Salam perkenalan untuk Kak Teh...

Dah lama dah saya duk ikut blog Kak Teh ni, tapi cuma hari ni saja berkesempatan mencatatkan satu dua butir ayat.

Untuk pengetahuan Kak Teh, masa kat Malaysia lagi saya suka baca laporan2 di dada akhbar yang dihantar oleh Kak Teh... masa tu tak tau lagi yang Kak Teh dah ada blog, dan sekarang blog ni dah jadi salah satu blog kegemaran saya.

I like the way of your writing and it really inspire me to write like you... For a young journalist like me, bila baca hasil nukilan kak Teh, makes me wants to write more creative and lots of ideas like you.

Again cerita mengenai Hang Tuah which is Taufiq and this latest piece memang menarik sekali untuk dibaca..... Rasa rugi tak dapat baca blog kak teh yang lama-lama and now I am trying to read one by one since the blog started.

I have recommended a few friends to check-it out your blog and others too... Kami dapati blog Kak Teh mempunyai kepelbagaian yang menarik minat untuk terus membaca, the reports sometime kelakar... ceria dan yang penting berinfomasi.

Hope have a chance to meet you in person.... Insyallah

I also enjoyed reading Laporan dari London every sunday, you know where kalau bukan Berita Minggu.

Take care and hope Allah sentiasa beri pelbagai lagi ideas menarik untuk Kak Teh terus menulis.

Nani - New York

Anonymous said...

Yes, Kak Teh
As Nani said, we are all very lucky to have people like you and fellow bloggers regaling us with your moveable feasts (but still your heavenly children are the luckiest).

Kak Teh said...

MA, i think what Tunku Halim is doing shd be interesting. There shd be more books for teenagers that doesn't insult their intelligence.

Ilene, if only i am there. I hope i can get a copy from RTM.

dik edel, okay - am off to do my work before you *&^%$ my %$^&*&%!

Kak Teh said...

Nani, terima kasih banyak kerana kata-kata yang sungguh menggalakkan. Alhamdulillah kak teh boleh berkongsi pengalaman dengan semua. It is also very therapeutic for me to write. It also puts things in perspective.
Nani, the nani from New York?

a malaysian in riyadh,
I think a blog from a malaysian in Riyadh shd be very interesting. I would love to readabout how you cope, yr experience, etc. Do you have a blog? If not u must!

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Every comment in your blog is a breath of fresh air.

Remembering what we were makes us humble and appreciate what we have become.

Had met 'rags to riches' businessmen.

Those who never forget their humble beginnings are the ones who use their wealth to help the less fortunate.

Most of them will tell with pride their proudest moments were during their struggle to overcome great odds.

We always assume happiness is when we have arrived.

KakNi said...

Wahhh banyak nya cerita Kak Teh - priceless

Kak Teh said...

Hi&lo, yes, in my job, I do meet all kinds of people too and it can be such a humbling experience. I remember doing stories abt children with sufferings, and that never failed to make me appreciative of the lot that I have.
ahni, tu laaa, lama tak mai pasai apa.

Anonymous said...

Yes Kak Teh, Nani the Nani from New York, we shared the same column with difference destination.
Enjoyed reading all your reports!

Typhoon Sue said...

A beautiful piece. Nuff said.

Kak Teh said...

Nani!!! welcome! welcome and so we meet here! and how abt blogging abt life in new york?

Typhoon sue, thanks.

Anonymous said...

That is what I am thinking about... Coz it is really fun ya! I also read our dearest friend Ms Salim blog and guess what? you two are fantastic man! Tengah cari semangat la ni.... tunggu la... I love writting and sometime all inside my head macam duk habaq saja yang depa semua nak keluaq dari kepala otak I ni.
Thanks again for encouraging me.

Salam to MR WAH... Dulu masa kat agency selalu down load MR WAH reports.

Hope to meet you guys in person....


Kak Teh said...

nani, go for it! This is one way you can document yr stay there...(but sometimes ada conflict of interest jugak ni...esp for us, kan?)

Anonymous said...

Yessssss! Kak Teh.. Nanti telebih garam, banyak pulak kena makan cili... By the way it is our life... betoi tak.
Me and you tak ukir nama atas kain putih khas kan?

Give me sometime, will start-it, thanks again for the semangat.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kak Teh
Yes, a lot of people have taken to blogs like duck to water. Tempting, tempting, tempting to have a blog of my own but just not ready to yield to temptation yet. Must focus on other things right now, but one fine day when I start blogging I will cover cutting edge stuff on accounting and finance and life in Riyadh and reminisce about the 10 years plus I spent in the UK and 2 years plus in Sydney. As a prelude, just want to share with your enlightened readers a glimpse of my summer holidays in Europe in the mid 80s. I just checked-in in one of the youth hostels in Paris and an Eastern European attempted to break the ice with a one-liner while placing his right hand on his tummy "I'm hungry. You?" Naively, I answered "No. I'm still full" Oh silly me, he wasn't asking me to have lunch with him, as he continued "I'm Hungry. Capital Budapest". After I correctly answered his question, he proudly took off his blue denim jacket to show me it is Made in Malaysia. How's that for a starter? aMiR

Kak Teh said...

nani, cant wait for you to start.

a malaysian in riyadh, it is anecdotes like this that makes a story interesting. Am sure you have more and let me know when you starta blog!