Saturday 1 November 2008

The Notebook

I believe in carrying a notebook, no matter how small it is. Growing up, it used to be filled with new words that I came across while reading a book or those I found in advertisements or signboards. Now, apart from the usual ‘Things to do/buy’ lists, I pen down my thoughts, intros lost in confusion and titles of books that will never see the light of day. But a notebook I do carry.

It was a terribly cold day yesterday, one that promised snow, but the snow never came. I was somewhere in Trafalgar Square and desperately needed to get to somewhere warm. And Waterstones by the corner of The Strand and Northumberland Avenue, offered a brief respite. I walked out a few pounds (sterling) lighter and my handbag a lot heavier with three books – one, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. This one book compounded my belief in the importance of the notebook.

Notebooks, no matter brief the scribbles, no matter trivial the contents or illegible the writings, offer glimpses of moments in your life, never to be thrown away or discarded for it will leave you forever. Reading it back will provoke a frown, solicit a chuckle but most likely it will open a floodgate of memories.

Over the years, I have been privileged to share glimpses of jottings in notebooks by people who never thought that one day his or her notebook would be a point of reference.

The late Datin Peggy Taylor with her chest full of history

When Datin Peggy Taylor left, she left a suitcase of history, among them notebooks in various sizes and colours, with anecdotes of her life in Malaya, her friendships with famous names, and jottings of historic moments that we can’t find in history books today. It was in the midst of helping her to type out these jottings from her notebooks that Peggy left us last March and now her voice from the past is coming back to me. It wasn’t easy transcribing Peggy’s writing; but it transported me to her past in India, the voyage on the ship to Malaya, the fun theme parties in her house and the way Tunku did the ronggeng. Afterthoughts were written in slants by the side of the page and towards her last few months, she took to leaving blank pages opposite her jottings, to fill in what she had forgotten. At times, she’d phone me up in the mornings to add in what suddenly came to her during her restless nights.

Almost two years ago, the weather just as bad, I said goodbye to another friend. I had known of his heart condition for some time since I acquired his friendship. When he went, no one knew about the notebook that he left behind. He told me about it because he wanted me to read and see if his jottings would help someone else in his condition. I told his sister about this notebook and she found it among his things that she packed to take home. It was jottings about how he felt during those early days when he was undergoing a heart transplant; his fears and apprehensions, his sorrows all neatly written down while he was in and out of hospital.

During this week alone, I had a chance to glimpse into two people’s pasts – again all written down in notebooks.

Glimpses into our past

During these few months, I have occupied myself with one story, which has now made headlines in the media. It all started with a brother of a plane crash victim who wanted to know more about the incident that happened 58 years ago. It was his initiative that led to the discovery of the plane which crashed in the jungles of Malaya on 25th August 1950. It was during our second meeting with the brother that I discovered, among the things that were sent back in a box to the parents, was a notebook. It was a blank notebook but it is now being filled in with the journey of the discovery of the plane, by his surviving brother. That will make one fine reading one day.

Yesterday, I saw one notebook with Malay pantuns, penned during the writer’s time as Prisoner of War in Changi. Admittedly, the pantuns and other verses were scribbled in pieces of papers but they were neatly transferred into this notebook, which has been kept since the end of the second world war. It must have been the pantuns and other verses that kept the writer sane during what must have been a torturous and horrendous time in prison. It never ceased to amaze me the almost flawless old Malay that the young MCS officer wrote in his notebook. I had a difficult time trying to explain one naughty verse about heaving bosoms, to his son.

That notebook from a prisoner of war brought me back to the story that I heard at a conference some years back from a scholar who showed me scribblings and jottings from one of the few Malay POW who worked on the Death Railway in Burma. Apparently, the writer scribbled on pieces of papers and hid them in pots and in the ground whenever a Japanese soldier marched by. These jottings were then transferred into notebooks once he made his escape. It was quite a riveting read.

I will continue to carry my notebook around. If anything, it will tell people how much lambchops I bought from our local butcher and what Kissinger and Tabby were up to during the day.

Kak Teh's other notetakings:
History in a suitcase
A painting incomplete
Goodbye, My dear Peggy
A weekend of sorts
Dear Diary


Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kak Teh - enjoy The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks! You wont regret it :) btw, we share a common trait, I carry a notebook all over myself.

Kak Teh said...

Kama, its a spill over from the Buku 555 days, isnt it?
I find that keeping a notebook is better than an online journal, you see all the mistakes, the first draft, spelling errors and everything that reflect you at that moment in time. With the digital notebook, everything is a bit final.

D said...

kak teh, I too have a notebook (is it a sign of good habit I see?). But dear me, hope it won't ever fall in your hands as you'd see it filled with doodles (or artwork? HaHA!!),and rubbish.

Kak Teh said...

D, you should see mine! There are some additions and subtractions of money received and paid out, recipes alongside phone numbers, interviews and entah apa lagi! But that sort of reflects my choc-a-bloc life and personality.

mamasita said...

KT..I will try to keep a notebook and carry it around dilligently.I must try!Want to emulate you!A great habit that is so beneficial.I use to think it was so cumbersome.
My sister always carry a notebook around.I once peeked into it.Makdatok!She wrote semua her expenditures;berapa she spent..ada straight,ada ditulis senget,ada kat on the rgt hand and left hand fact everywhere.Only she sendiri yang faham!haha
Very nice posting as usual Kak Teh..always very refreshing!

tireless mom said...

Dear Kak Teh

I used to carry a notebook during my university days. It is a good habit. However it stopped when I had my children simply because my kids love to "mengemas" my handbag and transposed their creative ideas into the notebook. I should start again, especially bila memory dah getting very unreliable. I am sure your notebooks have created a history of their own.

Pi Bani said...

Eh Kak Teh, zaman sekolah dulu I carry the buku 555 with me to jot down the wrongdoings of the girls who break school rules... :)

Too bad I never kept any of them. It'd be nice to ungkit balik who did what, when and where...

Anonymous said...

Komen Pak Malim, kucing ray yg alim.

Saya takde notebook, kata Pak Malim sambil memegang penumbuk. Errr, minta satu dari Kak Teh, boleh tak? kata kucing ray yg takde otak.

Kak Teh said...

Mamasita, ooops sorry, Datin Mamasita, yes, its always good to have one. Bukan apa, as time goes by, we need to remind ourselves of certain things. Kalau tidak lupa.

tireless mom, Oh my children dont mengemas my bag anymore. They used to, searching for chocolates. A diary is as good a notebook, I guess, but nowadays, everything is electronic or digital. Some things are missing from that.

Kak Teh said...

Pi Bani,waaaah, you can actually blackmail some of them. "Remember I found you behind the bicycle shed? " and, "what was it you wrote on the wall about the headmaster?" Hahaha!

Ish, apalah Pak Malim, notebook pun tak ada, kata kak teh sambil urut dada. Belilah satu, pujuk kak teh sambil baling batu.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

I wonder where Pi Bani got all her sense of humour? In person she must be a terror.

Kak Teh said...

Hi&Lo, you wouldnt want Pi Bani as your head prefect, that's all that I know.

Anonymous said...


love this entry. read it twice.


note to self:

1) transfer all those scribbles on post-its, used-envelopes and back of receipts into notebooks - pronto!

2) don't get carried away doing graphologic analysis of different scripts while doing it - DON'T!

p.s. gosh, my word verification is trying to tell me something! it's "scream"...

Kak Teh said...

mekyam, I agree and after all that, transfer them into a blog. Its high time that we read yours and am sure you have wonderful jottings to share with us.

kay_leeda said...

Kak Teh,

Nowadays, my scribblings are all over the place, paper napkins, Touch N Go receipts, every where. Really must get back to the old habit. Those days punye lah cantik tulisan. Now, gosh, even I can't make out what I have written.

Pi Bani said...

Laa... patutlah tersedak semalam. Ada orang mengata I rupanya!

Hi&lo... I may be a terror, but not a terrorist la. :)

Btw Kak Teh, all the prefects then were given a buku 555 each for the purpose I mentioned. Nowadays my note book is to jot down all my contacts with my PLHIVs - not buku 555 la, tak muat!

D.N.A.S said...

Kak Teh,
I carry the electronic as well as conventional notebook for work purposes. I usually write whenever I can't find WiFi area.

A few months back I had a meeting in IBM and later went to One Utama to meet some friends. While waiting for them to arrive, I updated the minutes of meeting I've taken earlier. There was a 40 ++ guy kept staring at me while I wrote. He looked curious.

When I looked up, he asked,
'Are you an author?'
I quickly denied, tapi berasa sangat bangga lah masa tu.... hehehe.

But when I think about it, maybe I could've said yes(white lies, sekali sekala). Who knows... maybe he's an agent or an editor or a publisher, kan?

Bergen said...

Writers do the thing you do, the note book thing. I think I'm gonna get me one to the same thing you do. Maybe this way I can write as well as you and Awang Goneng.

Kak Teh said...

Key, On paper napkins and receipts tu dah memang satu tabiat.
I envy those people who wrote their notebooks so neatly and yet full of stories to tell. I have lots of arrows to show me where I have left off etc.

Laaa Pi Bani terasa kata kak teh sambil sembelih angsa! Pi Bani guna buku tiga lima untuk tulis reort budak nakal, macam Hi and Lo kut, kata kak teh menggigil takut.

Kak Teh said...

DNAS, yes, you shd have said that. Manalah tau dia offer contract! Well, there's something about people who write and do something with their books that shows that their mind is working, active. I despair when I sit in the bus/train trying to read or write and I see youngsters up to some pranks or just sit idle. Such a waste of precious time.

Bergen, you have a style of writing that is so Bergen. Enough said.

Madam Tai Tai Again said...

Hi Kak Teh,

My scribbling days in a notebook seems to be over now sejak dah tak bekerja ni. When I was working I used to diligently carry a notebook whenever I'd go for customer or internal meetings.

Sekarang ni dah lama tak pegang pen. If pegang pun it is only for trifle seconds jotting down my grocery list on a piece of recycled paper (usually on the back of the school's newletters).

Now I know why my handwriting is going for bad to worst! It is due to the lack of practice. :)

Kak Teh said...

Madam TT, I still scribble for that is one of my job requirements. Tapi sometimes, I cant even read my scribblings. People are impressed at the speed, but I suffer as I try to decipher them at home. Our writing skills - those lovingly taght in schools, suffer because of the computer.

wahaza extra said...

Kak Teh, similar with notebook and forgotten slowly by young IT-savvy nowadays is letter, a written by hand letters. Everyone turning into email - sms and skype or FB; somehow when reading this I straight away thinking about my collection of letter written by one of my sister when I was in college and its bring all the memories hows my parent raising us and what happen to other siblings and how she kept advicing me to study hard and mum and dad are ok; also we will bank in the money soon in two weeks time...hahah - treasures of our life;

Kak Teh said...

wahaza extra, those handwritten letters are precious. Keep them. Emails are something else.
I still have loads of handwritten letters : both to me from someone and from that someone to me, documenting our relationship. So, so precious.

Berisman said...

Kak Teh,
My wife and me read The Notebook.She cried while reading it.Later I bought Message in The Bottle and both of us wen to see its movie~how romantic after a few decades of being married;-)

My postings on notebook can be read here at

Pak Adib

Kak Teh said...

Pak Adib, thanks for sharing the experience. I am still reading it and I am sure it is very sad.

I will now go and read your writing on that.

zaitgha said...

kak Teh,
my 2nd time reading this posting, my dad when he was alive, wrote daily on exercise book almost abt everything he did ...i only found out abt his exercise books after his passing last year...i know there are a few boxes under his bed...i must find time to read them one day...i was told he even jotted down the fight that he and i had a few times and who apologized first....
thanks for reminding me about the exercise books ....

Kak Teh said...

zaitgha, those exercise books are very precious. They are legacy from your father and now reading them again, you will be able to see your father in a different light.
How i wish my father had written something for me to read.

You are very lucky. Do share with us certain things that you think you can share - in your blog. and thanks for telling me this.

Anonymous said...

My notebook as private as I would like to think of it has become a common property now with squiggly little handwritings of my kids. Whatever that is mine is never mine alone for it will soon be found and eventually shared by all. It's funny to discover tulisan renik "I have new ben 10 toy today" or "mama adik kena diri atas kerusi in class tadi" scribbled in between my notes. Instances like this put that much needed smile on your face.

The kids have their own notebooks Kak Teh, but somehow they always prefer to write on mine.

Kak Teh said...

wiz, those scribblings are also precious. I still have a paper napkin where my eldest, when he was small, wrote his first word. He spelt his name - in big letters as HOIZ.

When taking the children out - on journeys or to restaurants, I always make sure they have something to write or draw. That usually kept them quiet.