Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Men's Town.

Chapter I

A fight can break out all of a sudden while you wait for Pok Mat Satay to count the money for your change. You will hear something like thud! thud! or crack! followed by a woman's voice in a shriek saying something you don't want to hear because all you want to do is run to where the commotion is to watch for free two adults exchaging punches with murder in their eyes. I used to be very afraid of the sound of jaws breaking, or chest being kicked, sending the poor guy to the floor, moaning like a cow gasping for air. But I got used to the sound, watching one fight after another that in the end I developed somekind of addiction to the sound that whenever I get into a fight, all I want to hear is the sound of the jaw breaking, and feel my knuckles smash against the bones. It's the kind of addiction that will stay forever in your system, ready to come out in the open at the slightest chance of a fist-off because all you want to hear is that sound. And you want so much to hear this sound that you don't care for a second which way a fight is going to go. In your head you hear this sound being played over and over again that you feel so excited to get into a fight as fast you can, excited to look at the guy in the eye, smiling a little because inside, you love every minute of this moment. The moment that can land you in jail, or hospital, or a funeral home. But all this don't matter because you need to hear that beautiful sound once again. I believe most boxers carry this sound inside their head all the time they are out there in the ring fighting for a title, or for fun. I believe you can train people to become boxers, but you will never train boxers to become fighters because fighters are born with this sound inside their head. That's why they are a little crazy. You need to be a little crazy in the head if you want to be fearless because you can't be fearless if you don't like to smash jaw bones with your knuckles.

In this men's town, Deramang Bogok (his real name, I'm serious), is the only guy I know who likes very much to smash bones that whenever the citizens of this colorful town going round psst psst that a fight is about to go down at a secluded spot on a beach behind sekolah China, I forget about what it is that Aunt wanted me to buy for dinner, getting all excited walking behind a group of adults heading towards the general direction of the beach not wanting to get lost in the dark, or worse missing the spot altogether that I won't be able to tell my friends about this fight tomorrow. Deramang Bogok is a mean-looking guy with a body the size of John Wayne. Unlike John Wayne whose back straight as ramrod, Deramang stoops a little just below the shoulder blades making him all the more threatening when he raises his arms up to the level just below the nose, ready for anything you have going for him. You recognize him right away, always in a tight shirt so you can see the outlines of his V-shaped body as clearly as you can read a movie poster. He's got a pair of biceps the size of professional dumbells. He cycles to this side town on his Raleigh bicycle from a kampung some place near Batu 48, or some place further up where the citizens don't know any better about finer things in life such as cream puff or pudding with fruit cocktail courtesy of S&W brand from Australia. Of course to Deramang Bogok, all this don't mean nothing because you can bet your left ear that he won't be thinking about cream puff when he's busy smashing a guy's face with his poweful knuckles courtesy of all the training he does at the pasar hauling fish baskets from a boat bobbing in the water all the way up the ramp of a jetty to the weighing station. In the evening before it's dark you can see him sitting, talking, eating kacang putih at a table where Tiger and his family run their highly profitable business.

I like a fight like this where you get to hear about it well before hand from the men sitting at a table enjoying their laksang or nasi dagang. You know it's for real when they leave in a hurry after paying for a nice plate of laksang which they don't bother to eat up to the last drop of the gravy to join the rest of the citizens in a parade to the beach because you know for sure this fight involves Deramang Bogok against a guy who doesn't know any better that this whole town was planned, designed and built with Deramang Bogok in mind. There is no need to find out who this guy is who is clearly a dumb of a dumb can be. Whoever that guy is, he must have been motivated by his stupid desire to prove to the women in kebaya and kain susun that he doesn't back out on a challenge, not even if the challenge involves Deramang Bogok.

(The fight scene you are about to read is a combination of my scant memories of the event, fight scenes from movies, personal experience, and fiction.)

Deramang Bogok takes off his shirt but I can't see his chest or biceps on account of the night being dark except for a faint ray of light from the last street lamp about a good distance from the end of the road that leads to the beach. A bet goes about but I am not bothered by this because I don't know how to work the bet or who to give the money to, or where to get the money from if the bet goes my way. I train my eyes on Deramang Bogok standing like John Wayne with a slight incline, waiting for the other guy to make a move but this fight belongs to Deramang Bogok which is only fair that he first takes a swipe at the guy with a wide swing to land a good punch on the guy's face to send him staggering sideways ready to fall to the sand anytime. But this guy is something else. He regains his balance to send an upper hook straight to Deramang Bogok's chin. I believe that one caught Deramang Bogok by surprise that he limps backwards long enough to give the guy a good opening to move in with a left and right punch, and an elbow finish precisely on the temple. I know how this can hurt you. It can blind you for a few seconds that your mind will freeze solid that you won't be able to think of anything. A fight can end right at this point if your opponent doesn't waste time to move in with a series of blows to your nose, jaws and chest. And this is exactly what the guy does to Deramang Bogok. Going after his jaw, temple, chest, ribcage and knees. He comes down like a rhino shot in the legs, slumped in the sand in a heap of carcass, breathing heavily like a cow gasping for air.

It is sad to see a local tough guy brought down by a stranger built like a Gurkha, about a head shorter than Deramang Bogok. Of course at that time no one knew that the guy and three of his friends were army officers on a recce mission to check out sleazy places considered out-of-bound for the regiments of army coming to Dungun for the big military exercise called Latihan Malindo.

Monday, February 27, 2006

It's A Men's Town.

Chapter 1

It is difficult to be afraid of hell when heaven is right in front of you, watching pretty women in tight kebaya and kain susun laughing and giggling, patting and pinching a guy drinking something he shouldn't be drinking, especially when Encik Rahim the Bilal of Mesjid Sungai Udang is calling out the Azan for 'Isya' at the top of his voice to compete with the song coming out of a jukebox so loud I couldn't make out what these women and the man are talking about other than watching them laugh silly every few seconds as if that's the only thing they know how to do since they were born.

Aunt sent me to buy dinner from Makcik Mah (not her real name) who ran a stall selling laksa, laksang, mee halus, and nasi dagang. Hers is a famous stall on account of her pretty daughter who dressed pretty like a queen. She doesn't do anything other than collect money from customers, smiling every now and then at the men who flock to the stall to flirt a little with her before disappearing into the night inside a row of wooden drinking shops right behind the stall for more serious sinning. Makcik Mah is Kelantanese but her daughter speaks like us so I don't really know what's the deal with this family who appeared out of nowhere in our kampong one day. The next thing we know, they've got a stall up and about and doing very well. The daughter later married a police inspector and they lived happily ever after. I don't know what happened to Makcik Mah. Not that I care very much.

This is my town. I don't own it but I pretty much believe that I am the youngest person to be hanging around the place this time of the night and this is more than enough to make me Mayor, at least to the eyes of my friends at school who never ventured out of the house after Maghrib because their father wouldn't like it seeing them this side of town where fights break out every other night sometimes as early as nine. All the time I was there I didn't once come across a boy my age either buying something, or wandering about to gawk at pretty women, or watching men drunk as skunk puking their monthly wage stooping by a cesspool, their body bent like a shrimp in ice-boxes.

Of course every night I will see Tiger (his real name, although I found out later that his real name is actually Sega, maybe short for Seganathan or something.) But he's older than I am. He and his big brother are there every night. I don't know his brother's real name is but everyone calls him Ya, maybe short for Zakaria which is unlikely because he's not Muslim. He's Hindu, whatever that is because I have no idea what a Hindu is having never seen anything about the religion in Dungun other than hearing about they burn their deads in a pyre so the spirit floats all the way to heaven or something. There's five of them in the family. Their grandmother, grandfather and their mother, selling kacang putih from a little past 'Asar in the evening until the place closes down for the night which is past twelve. I don't get to see the grandfather very often but I remember him well with his tall turban and handle-bar moustache, eyes red from too much cheap whisky. Sega and his brother seldom speak to me although they speak like one of us that you won't know that they are Tamil. The grandmother and grandfather speak with their usual upside down Trengganuspeak. They are doing alright selling kacang putih, staying in a rented house a few lots from our house. They survived for years selling kacang putih and you can tell from their body that they are well fed, especially the mother who is probably the biggest woman I have ever seen alive until I got to Texas where I met women big as a truck who can run you down flat as a pancake if you didn't get out of their way when you see them walking down a sidewalk.

A little after eight or there about, a guy selling Spanish Fly will put out a plastic sheet no bigger than a child's blanket left of the main entrance to the cinema. I run to be the first in the crowd before people start to huddle around him. That way I get to see his collection of pictures of men and women doing it in all kinds of positions which he will demonstrate to work up the imagination of his faithful customers so they can try his Spanish Fly pills out themselves, or come back for your money if you don't believe me. He will detail out the action with a bit of jokes here and there, stopping for a second or two to say, this is not for children, go away. And the crowd will laugh ha ha ha. I know he doesn't mean it because it's important that I am there for him to poke fun at. I am his un-paid assistant in pyjama, holding to laksang or laksa or whatever that I begin to worry if Aunt is going to be mad for being this late bringing her dinner home. It's a chance I've gotta take because in a few minutes this medicine man is going to take out from a battered bag he's got with him, pictures of men and women that I will reproduce in pencil illustrations to sell to my faithful customers at school who always look forward to know about my adventures to this side of town in graphic details.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Koboi Dungun.

Thank you Lifebloom for the initial idea to start on a series of entries about Dungun in its roaring 60s, and the early 70s before it became Dawson City after the Klondike gold-rush. Like Dawson, when the iron mine at Bukit Besi closed down, miners left Dungun in search of a new life, travelling as far south as Mersing, Johor Bahru and Singapore to work as stevedores or roustabouts. Some went to Kuantan to find work to earn a living as fishmogers or gangsters. A great many of them went to Kemaman to join the palm oil programme. They never returned. Some, however, never left town to become fishermen, or trishaw men. Some never left at all, body and soul. They became madmen, roaming around the empty streets of Dungun thinking of the days gone by when they could afford to book all night long pretty girls in kebaya and kain susun waiting for customers to flock to a row of wooden drinking shops behind Panggung Happy. This was where everything happened from seven onwards, right after En. Rahim the Bilal at Mesjid Sungai Udang called out the Azan for Maghrib. I was part of it all. Movies. Street brawls, mostly over women. Medicine men peddling Spanish Fly pills. Boozing. Juke Box. Prostitutes in clothes so bright they stood out in the dark like a street lamp. Satay. Laksang. Mee goreng. Guinness Stout. Anchor Beer.

I was here almost every night buying dinner when Aunt was too tired to cook. This was my town. Let me tell you about...

World Without Men.

Chapter IV
(A summary)

(Aunt's business acumen that I never inherited.)

You must be born with the gift to be able to convert everything into numbers. Too bad I didn't inherit this mathematical gift from Aunt but instead, and I don't know where it came from, I have this natural ability to convert everything people say into pictures. Sometimes into moving pictures. Sometimes in short television commercials so funny that I had to excuse myself to go some place quiet so I can laugh myself silly.

Aunt used to say I could be one of the leading batik artists in the country if only I put my heart into sketching, drawing, coloring, and adding final touches on the top layer of a design we had worked on for weeks. At a young age you didn't see things the way adult did. Adults are different, and especially Aunt. She had the ability to see the big picture and the big picture to her was always mathematically inclined where I had no part in it.

I was wrong of course. She tried to instil the spirit of entrepreneurship early in my life by asking me to sell coklat nissang at school. Looking back, I believe it was part of her plan to get me to be interested in mathematics, counting, adding, multiplying, dividing or whatever, so that I would come home with a report card that she could be proud of. But I was hopeless. To me numbers were images in moving pictures complete with cowboys shooting each number down either with a .45 Colt, or a Winchester rifle. Sometimes even the Red Indians joined in to shoot the numbers with arrows. And I could hear the Red Indians riding away after having successfully attacked the numbers, leaving them dying like cigarette butts in the dirt sand of a prairie.

Will you please pay attention! Aunt said while I got loss in my imagination. There are a hundred coklat nissang here. Get it? How much will you bring home if you sell these at five cent for 5 pieces? In my mind I saw coklat nissang lining up by a huge white wall ready to be shot by Mexican revolutionary soldiers, and those soldiers go around making so much noise in their poncho and sombrero hat wide as a stadium. A senorita was at a cantena drinking tequila and she was in a white cotton dress with the kind of skirt that twirled in the wind. Yes, she got flowers in her hair.

Oh, you are just hopeless!

Of course I wasn't as hopeless as you think because I brought home money although I had no idea how to work out the profit but that didn't matter because Aunt let me keep the money I made and I'd spend it to buy toys at Kedai Cik Gaduh at the junction of Jalan Sungai Penaga and Jalan Tambun. When I got home with the toys Aunt would start on me real good with me not having any sense at all how to value money that I spent it as if money could be made by dreaming away about cowboys and indians. Next day I'd sell more coklat nissang that in the end I became quite good at simple calculation like for a ringgit you could buy quite a lot of apples from kedai Leong Thye where on Saturdays Australian mems came in a flock to buy groceries in their beautiful summer dresses and hats going about calling out to their children in a singsong voice, here Tommy, come here Tommy. Those were the first English words I knew very well how to say in Australian accent but somehow it didn't sound quite the same after the dream I had of a girl with flowers in her hair who worked in a saloon that in the middle of the dream I woke up to find my pyjama all wet with something I never knew I could produce by dreaming.

One time Aunt took me with her to Golok to buy kitchen utensils people said were much much cheaper there than anywhere else on earth. We went by bus with a group of women fond of stuffing their money in their brassiere because they said it was safer there than any place in the world. I can't remember what Aunt bought but I remember very well that the shopping spree lasted all day and all she bought for me was a pair of red jeans that I had to wear it underneath my pants because she said that way we won't be taxed by the border guards. I wore the jeans like this until we were safe from the border guards, taking them off in the aisle of the bus in full view of the middle-aged women in their seats with ToTo piled up to the chin, their chubby faces looking all so rotund and delicious like coconut buns fresh out of the oven.

We got home late in the night but Aunt, in her usual fashion, was up all night to do the maths while I slept on her laps thinking of the trip which I didn't like one bit because it was no fun to go shopping with chubby middle-aged women who talked too much and had an advice for everything including how I should wear my jeans. It was a bad buy because the jeans shrunk to a size that would fit a baby monkey quite nicely for a performance in a circus.

Business is quite simple really. You buy something cheap, and sell it slightly more so you can make a profit. It's a simple concept but of course somewhere along the line you will have problems like suppliers not coming in on time with the delivery, and the transport charges suddenly go up. And traders changing their mind at the last minute. All this will cause everything you plan to go haywire and you've got to have a cool head to handle the situation. Of course all the time you've got to keep your eyes on the numbers so you won't make a loss that will leave you penniless. It's not a big problem with stuff like batik sarung, gold, kitchen utensils and other non-perishable items because you can keep this for a long time without they going rotten. But it is totally different with nekbat, nissang pulut, pulut panggang, coklat nissang and buahulu. That's why Aunt insisted on payment the next day for these whether or not you managed to sell everything. She didn't extend the credit for people she didn't know because I learnt early that people can make promises after promises to pay but in the end vanished without a trace.

You know something? I miss Aunt that tears are welling up in my eyes. Guess I am not so macho afterall when it comes to memories of Aunt whom I loved very much. She'd kill me if she knew I am going to let out this cry like a sissy. I can hear her, men don't cry, don't ever ever cry.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thank You, Diran Kesuma.

Don't know much about Hemingway other than he led a macho life. The kinda life I'd like to have one too. Read 'Farewell To Arms,' and the things people wrote about him and the background to that book. He couldn't shake off his first love, I think her name is Agnes von Kurowsky and she was a nurse and he, an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during World War I in Paris. He got wounded and that's how he met Agnes. I'd give anything for a romance like this although I don't like the idea of me being wounded and being looked after by a nurse. I looked all this up in the internet, so don't you go jump the gun and put me on the same bus as those literarily inclined folks who know so much about every writer in the world.

I gotta confess out in the open so that you'd know that what you wrote in the comment on the last entry about 'vignette-Hemingway' thing really made me feel like I've inherited the most profitable oil rig belonging to a national oil company. It made me very happy. I was so happy that I gotta look up the word 'vignette' and found out that the word doesn't pronounce the same as it is spelt. It is the kinda word, had I not look it up, that I have the tendency to pronounce the way the spelling goes, and you'd know right away that I don't know any better about this kinda thing. It's the kinda thing that only metropolitan man would know right away how to pronounce. To a cowboy like me, well you know better.

Thank you for putting me on a trail to learn as much as I can about famous writers. It made me want to surf the net, looking up for famous writers and read their works all night long. I've locked in my Favorite 'online-literature' so I can log on to this site often and soak up as much things as I can. Good thing I don't have no where to go, and I've got all day, and night, to read eventhough I got a feeling by the time I'm done, I'd probably gonna need a pair of glasses thick as magnifying glass, the kind Pok Mat Satay used to put on looking so zen and at one with the glasses that if you took it off he'd look so different you won't know between day or night.

Thank you, Diran Kesuma. You said nice things about me that I feel like pinching my nose real hard so I'd know for certain that this ain't a dream.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Abang & Sayang

Out of the blue a Chinaman next to me on a tour bus going to Grand Canyon asked why Malay wives called their husband 'Abang' when the word clearly means brother as in a guy coming from the same womb as your mother.

I don't know.

And don't ask me why Malay husbands call their wives 'sayang' because I can't call anyone by that word, not even if my missus is Elizabeth Taylor.

And so this guy who sat next to me kept asking whether the wife doesn't feel anything calling her husband 'abang' while they are at it in bed. Doesn't it sound odd, or even incentuous, to you?

I don't know, man.

Don't you have a wife?
No, sir. I don't.

Maybe that's why there's so many incest cases involving Malay families?

I don't know, man. Maybe you wanna ask somebody else because I don't know about this thing and you can bet that I won't let my future missus call me by that incentuous name if this can make you stop pestering me because this bus is so comfortable and I feel like dozing off thinking about an all-American girl with a name like Mary Lou or something, and she's a homecoming queen. Whatever that is. No, I don't reckon on being a quarterback or a linebacker because I don't understand American football and I don't think it is a good idea to put on all those pads just to run after a pigskin one yardline after another. I prefer rugby, or Australian football. It's fast. And simple.

So what do you call your mother?
I don't have one.
What about your father, what do you call him.
I don't have one either.

Who are you, where do you come from? Are you alien? Everyone has a mother and a father. Everyone has a family.

Suddenly I felt so alone in the middle of Grand Canyon.

Long Way From Damansara Perdana, Mate!

The Book.

(The woman on the proposed cover of the book is Titiek Puspa, an Indonesian singer famous in the 60s and thru' the 70s. She was in Dungun for a concert with Ernie Djohan.)

World Without Men

Chapter II
(A summary)

(The bicycle politics.)

Every father in the village had a bicycle. As a son you could claim that the bicycle was yours when he wasn't home. You could ride it all day since your dad would only be home from work at a mine in Bukit Besi close to seven in the evening. Your mother wont bother with what you did with the bicycle, as long as you didn't bring it home with a flat tyre or the rim twisted into an '8'. It was nice to have a father who owned a bicycle. Unfortunately Grandma, Aunt and Cousin didn't own a bicycle, or knew how to ride one. That made me the only boy in the village without a bicycle. It was important that I had one too if I wanted to be included in their plan like going for a ride all the way north to Rantau Abang, or down the Nibong Bawah way to steal durian, or made a long stop at the jetty there to play on a tugboat, diving from the starboard into the water so deep no one had ever touched the bottom of. Not even Awang (not his real name), the bravest boy in the village on account he was the eldest among us, and a little too clever in the head he never got past primary school that he quit school to become a fishing boat skipper one day, and a religious person the next day. Last time I heard he tried to join an oil company to work on a rig but changed his mind when there were so many rules to follow that in the end, decided to start prospecting for oil in his backyard and start his own company so he could work the rules for his own pleasure. He's like that.

Coming home from school, walking in the hot sun dragging my bag to destroy it to bits by the time I got home just to prove my point to Aunt that I needed a bicycle, or else I was going to keep dragging the bag until the underside gone completely torn that the books would shred to pieces. And to prove another point, I didn't want to eat lunch because who needed lunch when a bicycle could change the world into a better place to enable me to ride it as far as I wanted.

By the time it was 'Asar, I was almost famished. But I needed to hold out on this one because I needed to prove a point. Through all this Aunt went about her ways as if she couldn't give a fish if I died of hunger. Grandma kept saying, please eat a little or your stomach will go bad on you later tonight. And I kept saying, bicycle! bicycle! bicycle!

Way past 'Asar and I knew Pok Mang, the guy who assembled the bicycle at the only bicycle shop in Dungun would leave for home. By this time, there was very little chance that Aunt would give in. Even if she did, it wouldn't mean anything because the shop would be closed and the Chinaman would surely ask you to come back tomorrow even if you wanted to buy ten bicycles cash, money on the table all bundled up into a neat roll held together by a rubberband.

Close to Maghrib hunger started to set in. People can do strange things when they are hungry that they won't stop to think what is going to happen if they do something stupid like gather enough stones to throw at the house, taking aim not to hit the glass windows. I started to pelt the house with the stones, making such a racket that Aunt kept saying in her sarcastic way, police come take this boy running amok over a bicycle. Grandma came out to say, will you please stop already, it's close to Maghrib. Cousin couldn't be bothered because she had Barbara Cartland books to read in her bed.

When this didn't work, I gathered bigger stones and started pelting the house turning that evening into a war between me against the house over a bicycle. Aunt was at the telaga, laughing as if this was all a comedy. I wanted to cry over the whole thing because apparently it wasn't working. It was a hopeless situation because I felt I wasn't man enough to make Aunt to come to a decision in my favor. In the end I gave up and let Aunt bathe me up like a wounded warrior who didn't manage to kill even a rat on the battlefield. She scrubbed me good from head to toe. I got my eyes shut tight because if you had been me, you'd know how embarassing it was to lose again and again to Aunt that you had to stand there like a small banana tree to be washed by her. She was behind you, scrubbing your back, all the time trying hard not to laugh because she didn't want to hurt you any more than what you had to endure.

That night I slept in the living room because I couldn't sleep with Aunt on the same bed feeling so guilty for doing something stupid and not get anything good out of it. But hungry people get angry and they do stupid things. Late into the night Aunt came over to wake me up and led me to her bed.

In the morning I got my bicycle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Making Of A Metropolitan Man.

There's always a shortcut to everything and I've got it all figured out that in order for me to be a metropolitan man true and true I need to do only two things. Maybe three.

First, I gotta go out more.

Second option, I gotta read more.

Or third one, I gotta eat more.

Chances are the third option won't get me anywhere to being a true blue metropolitan man. Instead it could get me into serious trouble with weight. For simplicity, I've decided to go out more. Of course I'm gonna need quite a bit of venture capital to carry this out because going out in the city means there are expenses you can't help but commit right from the moment you step into the shower. You need good, expensive soap, or shower gel so you can smell all so nice like a perfume counter at a supermarket. You need good clothes. Nice shirt, and pants. Matching shoes with good socks that don't collapse on you when you pull up your leg to sit cross-legged like a guy born to sit like this in front of a king. And you need expensive perfume because city people can tell if you are wearing cheap perfume. They've got the kinda nose that can enable them to tell if you are putting on the wrong perfume for the wrong occasion. And you need a nice, flashy car. The kind that can make women run about in circle as if in a trance begging you to take them for a ride so they can snap a picture on their cellphone to show their friends what a rich dude they've got for a partner.

You also need to work up on the accent, and the things you may have to talk about, like the latest play, or the latest book, or the latest restaurant, the latest drink, the latest dance, or the hot babes that just came to town from out of nowhere. You've gotta keep up with the latest things, because that's what being a metropolitan man is all about. It's about keeping up. Nevermind how you keep up, just close your eyes and toe the line or else they are going to say bad things about you behind your back, or send text messages among them, or picture message of you in the kinda clothes they consider yuck!

And you've gotta know how to dance. This is no place to show off how good you are dancing the Zapin, twirling around like a Dervish drunk on love. You've gotta know how to do the kinda dance people do in the city which is a half-jump and a twist, shaking your head a little as if one of your neck bones is coming off if you don't keep this up for hours on end. And you've got to talk about intelligent things. I don't know, maybe about the price of nangka or buah mata kucing. Or you can sound really intelligent if you talk about golf. I need to read up more about golf.

Wait the minute. I started off to go out more and now I need to read more? This is like combining option one and two to make it option three. I don't want to read. I am not good at grasping things people write about in a book. Half way through a sentence I am gonna get so confused that I usually end up saying to myself over and over, where am I? where am I? Sometimes I slap myself real hard and say, who am I? who am I? Books can do that to me.

I am going to have to stick to option one. That means I've got to get me an expensive, nice looking laptop so I can go sit at one of those fashionable coffee joints, typing something to make me look as if I'm working out a multi-million dollar deal that can change the financial landscape of the country at the click of a button on the damned laptop.

On second thought, I need to re-think again because it ain't easy trying to be a metropolitan man when you are a cowboy.

Good To See You, Ma'am.

Rules are meant to be broken, and today I broke it down to pieces that I am finding it hard to put all the pieces back together again to re-construct the very rules that I never imagined I would take so lightly as I did today. Rules are rules so what if they are broken to a million pieces? Just create another one, or two. Or twenty for the fun of it. And then break it one by one the way you shoot a line of cans with a fun-fair gun.

You may remember that long time ago I wrote an entry about how you should stay safe on or off the street, in or out of your workplace, or kitchen. I warned you about meeting strangers in places hidden from public view, and the stern reminder I wrote about never never ever ever get into a car with a stranger alone.

I met a total stranger today. Well not exactly a stranger because we've 'met' often in here in the blogging world. And we aren't exactly strangers in the true sense of the word, neither are we friends in the real sense either, because we only know each other through things we write about in the entries. So it is quite difficult to define this in a conventional terms of meeting someone in real life, in three dimensional world, in full color, non-digital format.

Maybe I shouldn't be bothered with the technical side of the experience, afterall the meeting was between two humans, not machines with wires and bulbs going about as if it's christmas.

It was nice. Lovely. I enjoyed it tremendously. Too bad it was such a short meeting, but long enough to finish off a regular pizza, and half bottle of Coke that almost got me drunk with carbonated bubbles. I hope my friends enjoyed it too. I hope they had a good time with me, and not felt intimidated by the way I acted which can be a bit loud. Sorry if I did, it's the behavior I picked up from those Americans out of Texas, working with them for so long on rigs all over the world.

I wish you a pleasant stay in the city. Stay safe.

Thank you for willing to meet up with me. It means something to me, it really does.

Monday, February 20, 2006

World Without Men

Chapter VII
(A summary)

(Men are like that and there is nothing you can do about it.)

Some women won't know until it's too late to do anything except to demand a divorce, walking out of a marriage with a broken heart. She will never ever again trust in something as fragile as love because she knows women have no control over the destiny of a marriage when all it takes is for a man to be interested in someone new which in this case the prettiest woman in the village who happened to be Aunt. Unfortunately, when Captain Kamarudin (not his real name) was head over heel with Aunt, he had no idea that Aunt, according to Grandma, very nearly brought the sky down when she found out her ex-husband planned to take another missus because he was a man, and a man didn't need a reason to marry another other than because he felt like it. Men are like that and there is nothing you can do about it.

But I am not like that, Grandma.
Oh yes you will, when you are in your 40s.

Captain Kamarudin must have been in his 40s when he appeared at the house one day with Uncle, to look at the gold bracelets, rings and necklaces that Aunt had in her collection for sale together with batik sarung which the captain didn't seem to be interested at all because according to him he was single. Aunt said maybe you should get a few for your mother, or sisters as these are the best range from Indonesia and she could give him a good price. He said maybe next time, when he finally found someone to buy these for but as it is right now, he is single and will remain single because being a soldier made it doubly difficult to find the right girl for a missus. Aunt kept asking how about this, how about that, how about this one, what about this one, I can give you a good price.

I brought out coffee in a big pot reserved for special guests and the captain said, good coffee this is, is he your son? Aunt said, yes. He said,good boy, very clever. I am forever the last ten in my class and he said I'm clever? This soldier didn't know anything. Of course he didn't have to know anything about me because he obviously didn't want to know about anything other than to find out about Aunt if she was interested to re-marry to start a new life as someone's missus on account of she being a widow for too long. Of course the captain didn't know any better that Aunt didn't believe in marriage anymore having been treated like a useless piece of charcoal when her ex-husband decided that she wasn't good enough despite being a stunning beauty with her Middle-Eastern features, sharp nose, eyes forever lined with a liner, fair complexion and hair black as night. Years later when I told Aunt that if ever I would marry, my missus should be as pretty as Elizabeth Taylor to which Aunt said, you will find someone as pretty as her alright but when you touch forty you will start to find faults with her to look for someone less pretty to marry. Mark my word, men are like that and there is nothing you can do about it.

Of course Aunt didn't end up a missus to Captain Kamarudin because she knew right from the start that the captain was married, probably with a dozen children. I asked Grandma if news had a way of getting to Aunt that all it took was just one look for her to know that the captain was a married man. Aunt laughed like she had never laughed before, saying in between her laughter, one day you will know that women have a way of knowing this thing and there is nothing you can do about it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

World Without Men

Chapter III
(A summary)

(A burly sergeant who wanted to touch Aunt when she signed the papers for the release of Tapong, our goats that had went missing with her two kids.)

I walked towards the end of Jalan Tanah Lot nombor dua up to the Resthouse, and turned to enter Jalan Tanah Lot nombor tiga at the Customs quarters, all the time calling out the names of the stupid goats that should have been home in the pen by now but instead those stupid goats had decided to stray and could get themselves into trouble like getting their ears folded and tied with rubberband by the boys in the village who liked to do that to our goats just for the fun of it because they knew I was too little to put up a fight. Aunt went the other way, towards Jalan Lembah heading down Jalan Sungai Udang to see if they had strayed over to that side, but Aunt and I knew they seldom did because people in that section of the village were not too fond of pokok nangka the leaves of which was the staple food for our missing goats. Aunt and I met at the junction of Jalan Tanah Lot nombor empat and Jalan Lembah to look at each other and not say a word because obviously our goats had gone missing and we didn't know where to look for them this late in the evening now that En.Rahim the bilal had just turned on the microphone to call the Azan for Maghrib.

Let's go home, maybe they'll come home later tonight.
Do you think so?
What if they didn't?
Let's give it another try, maybe they went down the other side towards Stor JKR to look for food.
But it's past Maghrib.
Just follow me, and shut up!

We walked towards Sekolah Kebangsaan Laki-Laki Dungun where Aunt used to run the canteen. I held on to Aunt's selandang panjang to walk alongside her to hide from the sight of an old graveyard between the school and the officers quarters of Balai Polis Dungun. The sky was dark with rain and I don't remember Aunt walking around the village in her kain ssahang this far from our house this late in the evening that I thought the world was coming to an end now that Aunt didn't care about her appearance. Just then we heard what sounded like a group of goats coming from inside the balai polis.

Did you heard that?
Sounds like Tapong and her kids.

There was no doubt about it that it was Tapong and her two kids, calling out for help because she's being held in the pound by the police for straying. The pound was about a few yards from the fence but it was dark to see anything so I called out the name and got an answer in a choir, goats singing a sad song as if they were going to be shot first light tomorrow by a firing squad.

Come with me.
Shut up, will you?
We are not going into the balai polis, are we?

Malam-malam mana boleh buat keluar kambing, datang pagi esok jumpa sarjen.
(What about food, they might go hungry tonight and the two kids might kembung perut and cry all night.)
Jangan risau kita ada bagi dia makan (ha ha ha)

Just then a guy burly as leatherback turtle walked in from behind us to ask what business was it that brought us to the station past dinner time.

Tak ada encik, cik puan ni nak ambik kambing dia yang kita tangkap petang tadi.
Ooh, kambing tu awak punya. Tulah lain kali jaga kambing baik-baik, jangan tahu bela, sekarang dah kena tangkap.

We need to get our goats now.
Mana boleh, ni dah malam.
But we have to.
Panggil ayah dia datang esok.
Balik dulu, cik puan, pagi esok suruh ayah dia datang bayar kompoun.
Can we pay tonight, I can go home get the money.
Mana boleh malam-malam ni, puan, besoklah.
But we need to get the goats out from that pound, the two kids are too younng to be left in there.
(Long silence)
Nanti ambik buku tulis nama.

The sergeant came with a big book to sit at a counter where I was standing with Aunt. He looked up at Aunt as if he had never seen a woman in his entire life except his mother which made Aunt uneasy that she raised her selandang to cover her face just below the nose. It took a long time for the sergeant to write down simple things like name and address but in the end he told us to come back the next day because Aunt didn't have the Kad Pengenalan, or the money to pay the fine. Aunt said can we take the goats out first and come back tomorrow to pay for everything. The sergeant said it's impossible.

Tandatangan sini, puan.

Just then, when Aunt was looking for the dotted lines to sign her name, the sergeant tried to grab her hand and I will never know for sure if he did that because Aunt took a bit of time to find the space to put down her signature, or because he, like the rest of the men I discovered later, was merely looking for an excuse to touch Aunt whereas he could have pointed to her the space for the signature. That way he didn't have to touch Aunt's hand and I didn't have to come back again and again to the balai polis to pay the compounds until Aunt decided enough was enough with this goat business but until that time, I had to face the burly sergeant and answered his question after question about Aunt every time I had to be at the balai polis to release our goats from the pound.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

World Without Men

Chapter V

(Male population in Dungun saw an increase of 400%, probably more, thanks to the military training exercise - Latihan Malindo.)

As a child in primary school I wasn't smart enough to know how to convert numbers into percentage but I reckon 400% is close enough to being accurate because it does indicate a sizeable increase in the number of male population in Dungun at that time (early 1970s). As an adult in Damansara Perdana I have not gotten any smarter to know how to convert numbers into percentage but I reckon 400% makes it look as if I have worked out the maths using my own formula to arrive at this analysis.

A few years after they closed the iron mine at Bukit Besi the number of male population in Dungun trickled down to a few madmen roaming the streets mumbling something incoherent that you need to be somekind of a speech therapist to figure out the syntax, and the meaning. I was too young to take advantage of the situation because clearly this is the case of limited supply to meet the demand of young, unmarried women looking for a suitable man to marry. There were simply not enough men for the women population and the situation could have gone this way until Dungun became another lost city of Amazon, an all-women city with me being the only man. I swear I could live with this but it didn't happen the way I had imagined because you should know by now that things have a way of giving you surprises at the last minute. And the surprise came down from the sky, soldiers dropped from airplanes in parachutes to take part in the military exercise called, I think, Latihan Malindo. For the drinking shops behind Panggung Wayang Happy, where waitresses in tight kebaya and kain susun waited for customers with a put on smile, this was a blessing because most of these shops were on the verge of closing down for good. One of them did and regretted. The owner gone mad to his final days. Poor fellow.

The military exercise, I think, involved several countries because I remember receiving canned foods from Australian and New Zealand soldiers or the Anzacs. There were a lot of Askar Melayu DiRaja. They set up camp at a padang behind our house and that was the closest we could get to the soldiers in their natural setting that I wanted to be one so I could live in a Land Rover writing something in Morse Code with a headphone over my head looking important as if the country is under attack and I was the only person who knew about what was going to happen. It was a bad arrangement for the women folks in the village because the communal telaga was a few hundred yards from the position where the soldiers had pitched their tents. Our family had no problem with this arrangement because by this time Aunt had built the indoor bathroom so we could all do our telaga business without sacrificing our modesty although modesty, at my age, was a complicated concept because I was more comfortable taking my bath stark naked instead of trying to wrap my modesty with Aunt's kain ssahang which was way too big for a boy not even bersunat.

It was the best of time for the boys in Dungun. But it was probably the worst moment for the ex-miners out of job trying to make a decent living as fishermen or rickshaw men. The presence of the men in dashing uniform in large groups in a small town like Dungun must have hurt the pride of the men who used to control the sleazy side of town where they could afford to pay for the most expensive drinks on the house, and book the prettiest waitress for their pleasure the whole night. Although this area was considered out-of-bound by the military police I saw every night, soldiers drunk as skunk being retrieved by the MPs back to their camp, and they put up fierce fights that made me learnt a thing or two about street brawl from these nightly experiences where I overstayed the time I was allowed by Aunt to come home immediately after I bought dinner. By this time there were four or five medicine men plying their trade in front of the cinema, selling Spanish Fly pills. For effect they arranged on the plastic sheet that they lay on the roadside pictures of naked women. I would wait until close to nine for the medicine men to bring out more interesting pictures of men and women in positions that you don't have to imagine. I framed these pictures in my mind to reproduce them in pencil illustrations that I sold to my school mates at 10 sen apiece.

All of a sudden the area behind Panggung Wayang Happy became alive again and I was there nightly which coincided with Aunt being too tired to prepare dinner after a day of peddling the collection of batik sarung from house to house. Suddenly there was a healthy demand for high-range, more expensive batik sarung from women that Aunt had to keep up with it by investing more money into the business because clearly the military exercise had helped the economy of Dungun to a level never seen before, and Aunt was quick to take advantage of this windfall. She also became quite noticeable being one of the key players in the business. I didn't have any idea how famous she was until a group of soldiers came to the house to buy batik sarung for their missus. They came frequently to the house, each time a different group and they always have something for me like canned pineapple jam, biscuits and stuff that I brought to school the next day to show friends that I now have a male figure, and he's a soldier, to take care of me should any of them wanted to get into a fight with me. I was famous too on account of being a direct link to the soldiers who came to the house that I could touch their boots, or put on a hat before handing it back to them.

Behind this seemingly happy moments, I found out one night that Aunt once again, was the victim of a slander that had spread all the way to Kampung Sungai Udang, Sungai Buaya and all the way to Kampung Nibung Bawah. Once again the boys in my school began teasing me about living in a house of sin where soldiers came every night to pay us money so they could have a go at Aunt whose lipstick, they said, got redder and redder in the evening.

Next chapter: A Captain who wanted to marry Aunt.

World Without Men

Chapter VII

'It helps if you are as beautiful as Saira Banu.'

In February the rain came on and off in brief and mild showers mostly in the evening as if it was the most appropriate time of the day to say good-bye to the waves for what a nice monsoon it had been, and to please come again around November or December to blow away another roof, or fell another coconut tree down to the ground so the village boys could have fun playing on its trunk, rocking it in unison so it bobbed like a boat in a storm that you had to hold on tight, wrapping your arms and legs around the trunk as if riding double in a horizontal position on a horse at full gallop. It's a lot of fun that will leave your thighs bruised red, the skin scratched close to the flesh. By this time it was getting darker but you didn't want to go home because the rain was coming on. You hoped that it would come down in one big heavy shower so you could start over because the racket was starting to receive the attention of the sisters one of whom you wanted to marry, have children with and live happily ever after. You wanted to play into the night but your friends were leaving one after another because they didn't want their mother to keep calling out for them as if in Padang Masyar, or their father coming after them with a pelepah nyior.

They left you alone to play all you wanted with the coconut tree the size of the Gun Of Navarone, but a toy that big meant nothing to you without a friend to share it with, or the sisters to watch you walked up and down the trunk, balancing yourself like a dashing pirate raiding a ship full of gold, fried chicken, and beautiful women in white cotton dresses with the skirts that twirled in the wind. There was no gold or fried chicken, or beautiful women in white cotton dresses with that kind of skirts. There were women, berkemban by the telaga talking among themselves in a chatter that sounded like chicken feeding themselves silly on corn seeds.

When you got home feeling hungry that you could eat a couldron of rice with a chunk of fish Aunt said you had to go buy yourself dinner because she was too tired from peddling the latest collection of batik sarung all day from one house to the next that her legs are swollen and you saw her face damp with sweat that her eyeliner was melting into a river of thin black smear. She gave you one ringgit and then changed her mind to give you five so you could get satay for her, and Grandma and Cousin, and you said to yourself that simply meant you can't hang around the cinema to listen to the medicine men selling Spanish Fly pills, and to look at pictures of naked women that he had arranged nicely for the viewing pleasure of the men who circled around him gawking at the pictures probably thinking of a girl in tight kebaya and kain susun looking pretty with the face powdered thick waiting for the customers at a row of drinking shops behind the cinema where the music coming on from a jukebox could leave you deaf for a week.

Pok Mat satay, his glasses thick as magnifying glass, fanning the satay looked at me with a look that got me thinking if he knew I was there as his customer and not a street urchin trying to steal one of his raw satay so I could eat it off the stick like a hungry caveman. Awak ni bukan cucu Tokku? Yes. Nak beli berapa? Five.

Mok mung ada rumah?

Aunt said Pok Mat must have gone senile to give us so much satay for five ringgit and wondered if he made a profit at all that night.

World Without Men.

Chapter IX
(A summary)

'The men who made nasty jokes about Aunt being a widow.'

There are secrets that I will carry to the grave without Aunt will ever know like what happened at one of the stalls in the market where three men made nasty remarks about her pulut panggang.

I was at Makcik Teh's (not her real name) stall to collect the payment for the delivery of pulut panggang I had made the day before. Looking back the world in the 70s was such a safe place for a kid my age to go around collecting money from the stalls that Aunt didn't have to hire a security company with a name like Safe Collect or Berani Mati to accompany me on my daily round. On a good day I'd have as much as hundred and fifty in my trousers, mostly in dollar notes with strong smell of fish, crumpled like starched shirt that hasn't been ironed. With this much money in the pocket I made a quick stop at kedai Cik Gaduh to look a the toys they've got in the glass showcase, making a quick note of the price so I could come back the next day with the exact amount because that way I didn't have to take out all the money out of my trousers in front of this clean looking Chinaman so he could have a good look at how much I got that he may charge me different for the toy that cost much less. Aunt said never show how much money you got that people may charge you different. Pretend as if you have just enough because who knows if you are lucky he might take a pity on you that he may give in to your persistent bargain. Years later when we went shopping for batik sarung in Penang she didn't pretend as if she hadn't got much money but instead looked the part of a rich widow with money to burn that she could buy the whole store including the owner if she wanted to. Of course this is for another Chapter, a different story.

I waited for Makcik Teh to count the money, checking with me the exact amount I had written in a note-book. She ordered forty sticks to be delivered the next day and I wrote this down under her name.

Mokteh, pulut panggang sapa ni?
Ni, hok mok budok nilah.
Mok dia hok comel macang Sara Banu?
Ha ha ha.

Sedap lain macam ni, dia buat macammana?
Janda buat memanglah sedap.
Molek ni, berminyak macam baru buat tadi.
Moleklah sebab kepit celah kangkang.

Next thing I remember I was crying, my head held down by one of the men because I was like a mad goat going after the men, my arms swinging in a helpless arc trying to reach them with a weak punch that wouldn't hurt a cat. I cried all I wanted. All around people were watching this boy suddenly gone mad in the middle of a morning when the market was busy with people going about their business, the medicine men selling minyak ikan linang as if it could cure the world of all its evils stopped to look at the commotion that annoyed him.

I heard Makcik Teh said, what's wrong with this boy all of a sudden gone insane?

You can't depend on another woman to come to the defence of a widow who had been made fun of by men with such dirty tongue that today, while writing this, if ever I come across those men again I swear to throw the law out the window and go after those men in a mad fury with a knife to rip their tongue out of the casing and slice it to a hundred pieces.

I got home, holding back the tears so Aunt won't know what happened but she started on me for being late and that there was little time left to prepare for school and that I may have to skip school for the day. Of course she didn't know that I didn't stop to look at the toys at kedai Cik Gaduh because no way I could be there with my tears kept coming non-stop that I had to run, to the beach to go sit among the huge rocks so I could cry and cry until there was no more tears left that I don't have to cry ever again. Ever.

The world can be a cruel place for single mothers but it's not the world that widows like Aunt had to deal with because the world has got nothing to do with it. It's the men who made it hard for single mothers like Aunt to live normal as would a married woman with a husband to take care of her, or to fight for her when someone makes fun of her, or looks at her strange that it can make her uncomfortable. Aunt used to say being beautiful is a curse but being a widow is a bigger curse.

There is no way for me to know for sure if Aunt ever knew what happened that day but I have the feeling she did because a few weeks later one of her customers who had a stall in the market came by the house to talk to her in a whisper, all the time glancing at me when I wasn't looking. Maybe she did afterall, and maybe this is no secret but one thing for sure she didn't know it from me. Maybe she did because one night she came to my room to hug me from behind and I could feel her warm tears on my back.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Room For Rent.

No I am not going to rent out Aunt Su's room. Besides I don't think I will ever get used to the idea of sharing this apartment with anyone now that I've got the kitchen customised to fit my working style, and no way I will ever ever get used to the idea of someone sharing my collection of knives, and everything else in this kitchen.

Aunt Su hasn't left but already I'm feeling all empty inside, unlike when she was in Penang, and I made the trip driving all the way to Penang to see her, my heart full of anticipation to watch her face radiant with the glow bright as the morning sun when I brought out a crate of Pepsi, biscuits, fruits, minyak angin, batik sarung, socks, and nice shawls with nice lace works.

How different it has been. Since staying together she doesn't seem all that happy with things I buy for her, except maybe when I take her out for our weekly trip to Tesco to buy groceries. She'd talk and talk about everything she sees, laughing and giggling like a little girl on her first trip to Barbie Land or something.

At the moment I don't think it is a good idea to mention about Mykad, Southern Thailand or that long lost relative of hers because I think she is past over this issue. All that's in her mind right now is to meet up as many people her age as possible so she can feel comfortable. I want her to be happy, and if this means a world to her then I will do everything I can to make it happen. I'm only sorry for taking her out of the institution in the first place without thinking, or stop for a moment to see that it isn't easy to change the lifestyle of someone who had been conditioned to live under stricte schedules and routines of an institution like the old folks' home. This is the core of the problem. It's not that she doesn't like me. It's the sense of independence that she isn't comfortable with. It's new to her and she doesn't know how to deal with it. She feels loss.

I can work out a schedule right down to toilet time, but I don't think this is a good idea. I wouldn't want to live in a place like that because this is not a rig where there are rules for everything including smoko zones. I work hard to make this place we can call home. I'm through putting up in places that I can't have a permanent address, or a fixed line phone with your own registered number. It feels good. It makes you feel you belong to something. You feel you've got both feet on the ground, and not floating on some offshore rig out in some ocean where a real postman can't reach you.

Whatever it is, Aunt Su, I am happy for you. And I hope you will be happy because all I want is for you to be happy, with or without me. But just in case you feel lonely at night thinking of me, please remember that I will always think of you because I don't have anyone. And I am never too far away from you.

Thank you, Aunt Su. Thank you for giving me the chance to make you happy.

Good nite.

I'll Be Right Here If You Need Me.

No I am not in a hurry to leave for somewhere I don't want to go. I'll be right here if you need me. All you have to do is give me a call. It's only twenty minutes from Damansara Perdana and twenty minutes is pretty fast to get here now that I am familiar with the areas around PJ. The most important thing is, do you really like the place? Does everything look alright to you? Do you like the room?

This place is Holiday Inn compared with the one you used to say in Penang, Aunt Su. Don't worry about how much, I've got it all figured out. Of course she doesn't have to know that I am going to go see some people tomorrow to make arrangement for the money to be transferred to her name in case I go down in my sleep or something. That way she will always have something to eat and a place to stay to keep her going.

Being all alone at the apartment isn't all that bad. I've got until July to wait before my life will take a new twist going to school for the first time again hoping to make something good out of this. This is better since I don't have to worry about Aunt Su because she will be taken care of, and most importantly she will have a lot of friends to chat with about anything that she otherwise wouldn't talk about with me.

These past few days we've got a lot of rain. Aunt Su and I enjoy watching the black clouds climbing over the hills to envelope our apartment before they swoop down towards the valley, spraying the living room with small droplets before they got bigger and bigger, turning into raindrops to pounce on the glass doors. We sit for hours sipping coffee, cup after cup, watching the rain in silence as the sky above us swirl and churn as if the world is coming to an end beginning right here at Damansara Perdana.

She needs a new pair of comfortable shoes to wear around the place so her feet won't get cold that the dull pain can go up to her knees if there's no one there to apply minyak afiat at night. She said she doesn't need them because the one I bought her are still good but I said those are not meant for you to wear in the house. Besides those are patent leather. You don't wear patent leather shoes in the house, unless you are queen of England.

Aunt Su doesn't have much to pack. All her clothes are in two suitcases that we brought from Dungun. There's a few stacks of nice dresses in the closet which she doesn't want to pack together with the rest of her clothes because she said those are too trendy. But I said those are nice clothes that I got for you. Forget it, I am not going to argue with you. I shouldn't.

Isn't it nice if you can be just like the lady in the picture, looking so peaceful and happy as if this is as heaven as heaven gets.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Maybe This Plan Is Too Big For Us.

Under communist rule you give up your freedom for food. That's not a bad deal if you don't have a choice, or especially if you plan to live under the regime for a long time since you can't go anywhere because you are not a nuclear scientist or an important person who can work up the crowd with fiery speeches to start a revolution.

Aunt Su is willing to give up the comfort of home, food, security and privacy for freedom. It may not be the same freedom as being able to vote or say what you want against the government but it is, I believe, the same same principle of freedom that men and women have died for in countries where it is illegal for you to even mention the word freedom in your dream.

I won't lie to you. I am sad that it has to come to this, but at the same time I am glad that Aunt Su can be so candid about it that I need to make an arragement to fulfil her wish as soon as possible. It is hard for a woman her age to be all alone with me all day and night in an apartment, without a friend to talk with being so used to having a lot of friends at the old folks' home she used to stay. She hasn't got used to the idea of independence, like making simple decision what time should she have breakfast ,or take a nap. Years of living under strict schedule at the institution has conditioned her entire self into a creature of habit I believe will take at least five years to break. Yesterday I did a simple maths. In a day, she speaks hardly more than a hundred words. This is not good at all and I have to give in to her wish. This life is not for her. It isn't for me either but at least I've got something to look forward to in a day like people to meet, or ghost stories to write. Or clean the house for the fourth time.

Last night we talked about this and I felt like being a child again, putting my head on her lap to feel her breathing the way I did with Grandma when I got frightened with something I wasn't sure of like what would happen to me in school tomorrow because I had gotten into a fight with someone and I just knew his brother or father would be there tomorrow to slap me. I sat there looking at her, listening to her every word. Laughing with her when there was a need for me to laugh to keep her going so she won't feel as if she is making me feel useless.

We've got several appointments with a few old folks' homes in PJ. There's one that I believe she will like at SS3, Petaling Jaya. It's not too far away from this place and I can always go visit her until my visit is a nuisance to her. We'll see which way this thing is going.

I have a feeling being too close to each other is not good for us because we have never been this close before. No, I don't count the time I stayed with her and Pakcik Syed. That was different. We are not a real family in the true sense of the word. We are more like friends.

As it is I am not sure what I will do with my life. Maybe I have to give up the idea of going back to school to study law. Maybe I should take up the job with Aramco and start living out the only life I've known. A cowboy.

You Will Never Know

I have stopped counting
the moments I imagined I'd run into you.
In it
I imagined both of us suddenly finding each other
in a busy mall in the suburb
Shoppers all around us not knowing for a moment
that you and I, long time ago
had promised to love each other to the last day.
I imagined
on a busy sidewalk
you walking towards me
we meet eye to eye
and the world around us
doesn't exist
except maybe for the street lights
and the faint sound of traffic
somewhere in the background.

You will never know
how I dream hard of the day to meet you again
to start over.

To start over.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My First PC.

This is like driving a new car. I've decided to get me a PC now that I am into this blog writing, at least until I get myself a day time job that pays the bills. Trying to get used to this takes a bit of practice, especially with the system since this is quite different from Macs. I don't have a problem with Macs, except it doesn't communicate very well with my blogger friends, whom I presume are ardent PC users. Let's try if this works. Just in case I can't get used to the system, my faithful Macs is still right here with me. No way I am going to let it go.

The keyboard feels different. And the mouse feels very very different. Like all new things, I will get used to this whole thing in no time.

Until I get used to this, the next entry may have to wait at least until tonight.

Lembu Punya Susu, Sapi Punya Nama.

The Malays are so friendly that they don't mind one bit if their language is abused by a non-native speaker who had picked up a few words of the language to come up with a peribahasa like the title of this entry. In fact the Malays are willing to go the extra mile to officially recognize this peribahasa to mean what it supposed to mean, disregarding the grammar because being such a friendly bunch, they are willing to overlook this fact for the sake of originality. Or creativity. So I had better not be so annoyed with 'infotainment' because I'm sure Zainuddin Maidin used the same line of thinking to come up with this 'infortainment' catch-line for RTM.

Which makes me wonder why do we need Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka in the first place if all they do is come up with Kamus Dewan year in and year out. The way I see it, I can write in Bahasa Melayu whichever way I please because who knows, in the process, I may come up with something so grammatically outrageous that it may be considered original and creative by whoever is responsible to overlook this state of sorry affair. Same thing with Jawi.

If you subscribed to Utusan Melayu before they closed it down in January this year, you would have noticed that some of the spellings are totally outrageous and that they did not conform at all with the the principles of spelling a word in Jawi the way you and I were taught. I don't know who was responsible for this but whoever it was, the guy must have worked out the whole new system by himself without consulting anyone because he was probably a department by himself that he had a free-hand to do whatever he wanted with Jawi. And they wondered why Jawi is so unpopular and blame the young generation for, tidak mengenal warisan dan maruah bangsa untuk mentarbatkan pusaka nenek moyang kerana terlalu ghairah dengan budaya asing seperti Black Metal. Fuyoo.

Rais Yatim made a statement in Penang that something will be done to bring Jawi back to life from dead. It's easier to keep something barely alive from dying than to put back the life into something that's dead as a doornail. Oh yes, Jawi may return but in the form of a zombie. If this how Jawi is, don't be surprised if more people decide to stay away from it. I don't blame them because somehow they fail to project Jawi as contemporary, modern and progressive. Let me tell you this, the articles that they ran in Utusan Melayu were trash. It is always about writers in their late 50s or 60s writing about their youth in Singapore as young upstart journalists caught in the wave of merdeka. Or about kampong life. About how different it is between then and now. About kuih muih that the young generation will never get to taste, as if the young generation care about it all that much now that they've got cheesecake that tastes better than ubi kayu cicoh kelapa. It is always about the good old days, never about where are we headed tomorrow. It is always about foreign culture being worse than budaya kita. I hated each and every article in there but out of sympathy, I subsribed to the paper and never failed to buy it every Saturday (sometimes it never came). Afterall it's only RM1.00.

You may wonder what got me started on this one. It's the poster in the restaurant that I saw for a product called 'Kopi Jantan.' It has pictures of two elderly men in kopiah and selendang merah Arab drinking the coffee from a cup. Judging by the look of the men in the poster, they are way too old for Aunt Su. They must be at least in their late 70's or early 80's. I believe the guy who designed this poster wanted to say that this product of theirs has a long history and therefore it's good. I don't know about you, but I believe advertising is about image and so I believe this poster would work better to attract the younger generation to try this Kopi Jantan if only the guy who designed this poster put young, healthy people drinking the product on the poster instead of this two elderly guys who look as if they are going to die tomorrow. This is the problem with us. We want so much to say that the older generation is better that we overlook the reality of getting through the young generation because we can't shake off this concept, siapa makan garam dulu.

This attitude isn't going to change and this attitude will bring us down. It will bring Bahasa Melayu, Jawi or everything associated with the Malays down the gutter. Wait and see.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Easiest Language.

Of all the languages in the world Bahasa Melayu is the easiest to pick up. Anyone with a quarter of a brain can easily pick up enough phrases in less than an hour to start work waiting tables at a 24-hour nasi kandar shop.

This is good for those Tamil boys brought to Malaysia by a consortium of Persatuan Restoran India Muslim to start work as soon as they are picked up from the airport, brought in a van to the shop, change into their day uniform, and with a pen and a notepad in hand, start going around asking, 'apa makan, apa minum?'

Bahasa Melayu doesn't put too much emphasis, unlike other languages like Arabic, Mandarin, French or Swahili, on mahraj. Or grammar. Or sequence or whatsoever. In fact once you know a few words all you have to do is juggle them around to invent your own brand of Malay. And the Malays, being such a nice people that they are, will find you very entertaining. They may make fun of your Malay but you know they mean well.

Mahraj, if you know a thing or two about tajwid, is the phonetic sound of the letters and any Qur'an teacher will tell you that you have to correctly pronounce each and every nuances in the mahraj the closest you can to a native Arabic speaker. Otherwise you won't be able to read the Qur'an accurately and when this happnens you will get the meaning all upside down. The most difficult letters, usually, are Sod, Dhot, Tho, Zho. Oh well maybe Ghrain. Okay, 'Ain.

For those of you who have visited Pok Ku's blog before ending by mistake here, you would have guessed by now that this entry is inspired by his brilliant observation of the way our DJs pronounce certain words as if it is fashionable to make Malay words to sound 'stylo'. So you've got Serdang as Ser Dank. Fuyoo. Of course you've got Kelang as Clang, or Clung, Or Klu Klux Klan. Or how about Kuala Lumpur as koola loompr. Triple fuyooo.

The problem is mahraj.

French. Mandarin, or for that matter English are languages that place great emphasis on mahraj. Otherwise you'll end up with various brands of the language such as Manglish, or Pidgin.You don't get too many varieties of French, or Mandarin other than geographic differences.

In Mecca you will be amazed at how people from different places in the world read Al-Fatihah the same way. Thanks to mahraj.

In Malaysia, we can't even standardised the correct pronunciation of basic words like Kuala Lumpur, Klang or Serdang. You'd better learn how to say Koola Loompr from today because who knows one fine day when you say 'Take me to Kuala Lumpur, please' and the taxi driver will look you in the eye and say 'You are not from around here, are you?'

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I'd put on the clown suit right now, right at this very minute, if that will make Aunt Su laugh again. She doesn't feel like going out for dinner so what choice do I have but to fix something so both of us won't go hungry in the middle of the night because I can sense that this is going to be a long night. Who'd think a simple thing like a mix up in a laundry could lead to this. But I am dealing with an elderly who has never felt independent for a long time and suddenly when she finally had the chance to feel independent something as clumsy as a laundry mix-up has to happened to make her feel miserable, blaming herself as if my shirts are a present from King of Jordan.

I have said 'It's alright' like four million times and I can't say it again unless I want my jaw to break into a million pieces. At the moment I am pretty confused how to deal with the shirts that got damaged in the machine. I have folded and put them out of her sight but I don't quite know what to do with the batik sarung because they are hers and those have to go to her cupboard. I don't want to put these away because she might ask for them but the thing is, the sarung may remind her of the mix-up and this will get her into the whole new cycle of blaming herself again. I have handled quite a few major emergency situations that had prevented major petroleum disasters but this business with batik sarung and laundry machine to me is bigger than a major petroleum fire. And it's so domestic in nature that there is no written manual you can refer to in order to have an idea how to deal with the situation.

To cheer her up a little I've got asam pedas, ikan tenggiri goreng, and Hailam style mixed vegetables. Nothing much but it's the best I can do with what's left in the fridge since we have ran out quite a bit of provision for something more appropriate like bubur asyura or something. I promise to take her to Tesco tomorrow for groceries so she can walk around a bit to keep her legs strong. And how can I thank the good people who thought out the name Tesco because this word, like magic, brought sparkles to her eyes that she started listing out things we should buy. Please don't have the impression that I am paid by Tesco to write about it here. Tesco is right behind our apartment and we can see it from here, together with the huge signs of Burger King and McDonald. Wait the minute, Burger King has got a new Greek Lamb burger and what has gotten into me? I haven't tried it. Have you? Again, I am not paid by Burger King to write about this.

She is her usual self again, watching the news on tv, all the time asking me for comments. I don't feel like talking but I am not taking any chances with her and so I had better say something incoherent so that she'll start on me with the phrase that's music to my ears, hang ni meghapu. Apa dia? Ikan kerapu, maksu nak makan ikan kerapu nanti besok cek pi tangkap dalam sungai. Ikan kerapu bukan ikan sungai lah. Laa, ya ka, cek mati-mati dok ingat ikan kerapu hidup dalam akuarium.

Hang ni mengapu.

(I love you, Aunt Su.)

No Woman No Cry.

Something as routine as laundry can go very wrong all because I took for granted that Aunt Su would know to first soak the four pieces of new batik sarung to run off the dye before mixing them together with the rest of the clothes in the machine. She didn't know, or maybe she forgot. I've said it's alright, but she's in the room all by herself crying like a little child.

I don't like this. I've seen it happened and I am scared. An elderly can feel so depressed that she may feel useless for days. In some extreme cases they may even try to hurt themselves as if a mistake can be easily corrected by self-inflicted injury. I need a plan.

First - I need to let Aunt Su cry all she want, but I need to limit this to ten minutes maximum. Anything longer than that can be dangerous.

Second - I need to go in there to tell her in a jovial manner that it's alright because this will give us a chance to go to Jalan Masjid India to look for a couple of new clothes, and we can always go to Insaf Restaurant for briyani when we are hungry.

Third - I need to stay with her for the rest of the evening, keeping her company to let this laundry issue off her mind. Maybe I need to take her out for a drive to FRIM. I heard it's a nice place but I wonder if it's open for a visit this late in the day.

Fourth - I need to secure all the doors, especially the one leading to the balcony. I've got to make sure these are locked and keep the keys under my pillow.

Fifth - I had better sleep light to detect any sound from Aunt Su's room. I am going to ask her to keep the door open. I must remove the chairs from her room so she won't use it to jam the door.

Sixth - Tawakal.

It's Not Good To Hate Somebody.

Most likely I will never know what it feels like to have a father since no way I can convince Aunt Su to remarry just so I can experience the joy of having a male I may consider a father around the house for a change. Maybe I will never get used to the idea of sharing the house with a man because Aunt raised me with the idea that we don't need a man in the house because we are doing alright without a man to do the things man normally do around the house like fix a floor-board, or re-wire something, or sit in front of tv all day ordering people about to get his drink or a newspaper acting grumpy and irritable. Thinking about this, I come to the conclusion in my own uneducated fashion that I don't need a father afterall. It was a nice thought nonetheless that I played in my mind driving from the pizza parlor in Taman Tun back to our little place in this big wide world in Damansara Perdana.

A caregiver will tell you that men are grumpier and more irritable than women. I don't have the answer for this but generally this is true. I am not aware of any scientific research on this but you can do the math yourself to see if what I am saying is any good to arrive at the final analysis.

Maybe it's me or maybe it's them, but generally, men I used to take care of don't like me very much. Aunt Su used to say it's because they were jealous to see me getting all the attention from the women at the old folks' home whenever I came for a visit. I'd tell Aunt Su how nice it would be if only I get the same attention from young, pretty, available women whenever I go about my business looking for the most likely candidate for a missus. The reason all those women gave me all the attention was because I usually have something for them like biscuits, fruits, or minyak angin, sometimes fizzy drinks. I was their Santa Claus, minus the belly and the beard, and the red suit, and the black boots.

There was a gentleman in that institution who really hated me that I was at my wits' end trying to figure out why. Aunt Su said maybe because I reminded him of someone he used to hate in his younger days. I figured it was more than this.

One windy afternoon Aunt Su and I were enjoying our lunch at a picnic table under the angsana tree. He came in from the building walking towards us, his eyes fixed on me that I felt a little uncomfortable but continued talking to Aunt Su, dabbing the drips around her mouth. He got to us near enough for me to see the wrinkles around his eyes. As if possessed by some demons, he raised his walking stick to point it straight to my face and mumbled something like 'syaitan! syaitan! syaitan!' It must have scared Aunt Su that she trembled and fumbled with the fried chicken. Good thing this gentleman was an elderly person. Had he been my age or younger I'd love to lunge at him and tear his jaws apart for behaving like that in front of Aunt Su. He stood there in the sun for a couple of minutes, mumbling something in what sounded like the combination of Gaelic and Swahili, when two orderlies appeared to lead him into the building.

I met the person in-charge to enquire if it was safe for Aunt Su to be in the same building with that elderly gentleman. He assured me that he'd personally see to it that everything would be alright and that I had nothing to worry about. When someone gives you that kind of assurance you had better not trust him because I know 100% that he is not the resident supervisor and he leaves for home after five. I took Aunt Su to the hotel with me for the rest of the weekend.

I don't plan to write a long entry on this story but sadly, the elderly gentleman died and the secrets why he hated me is buried forever in a grave somewhere in Penang.

Mertabat vs Murtabak.

The Malays love the word 'mertabat' that they use it often enough until you don't have any idea what it really means. Like Pavlov dogs, each time the word is mentioned I automatically associate it with murtabak making me all hungry inside that I leave a majlis mesra kenal to look for a good murtabak from an honest-to-goodness mamak restaurant in Taman Tun. You should try this murtabak and forget about this complicated concept of mertabat because there is nothing left to mertabat when Utusan Melayu, the last mertabat of the Jawi bastion, went down the dumpster for want of reading and buying audience. And now this grandmaster of a silat that I have very little knowledge of is talking about mertabat which I think is a lot of bull and me being a little emotional over this mertabat issue, overshoot my speech in expressing what a load of empty talks all this mertabat business is. It doesn't please the grandmaster very much that he gives me a look that leaves me thinking, I had better say something that can get this grandmaster really annoyed so he is angry enough to take a shot at me with one of his so-called buah serang to see if it is any good against Lian. All I have to do now is wait for the right moment. And the right moment comes down like a blessing from the sky.

I got my chance when the grandmaster touched on 'mertabatkan' Ugama. You haven't met me but I can be quite kurang ajar when I want to and so I played the part of a kurang ajar dude by cutting short his long-winded speech with, kalau awak kata nak mertabatkan ugama kenapa masa orang taruk babi dalam sosej dan bagi ikan patin makan perut babi tak ada satu pun persatuan silat yang berani hantar bantahan secara resmi mengenai hal ini. Aku rasa tak usalah cakap pasal mertabat kalau tak berani bertindak atau tak tahu pun macammana nak bertindak kerana asyik bercakap macam ahli politik. When you've said something like this in front of a grandmaster with four of his best students sitting around him, you know you are in deep trouble. But I needed to say the truth because I have had it up to my nose with all this hypocrasy and big talks. His students were ready to jump on me but maybe out of respect for the grandmaster they sat there like monkeys. I had no business to stay on another minute and so I stood a convenient distance from the table just in case any of those four monkeys decided to be a hero in front of his grandmaster. Memang betul kata Pok...., awak memang kurang ajar. Yes, that's why I am not interested to learn your silat because your silat is full of tari menari macam pondan.

That got them really angry.
Ha ha.

Movers And Shakers.

If you leave things to those who believe there's a proper, non-violent way of doing things, chances are nothing will ever get done. So far those who consider themselves well-read, intellectual, non-violent, peace-loving souls have not done anything except put in writing mostly in blogs, instead of letters to editors, their stance which, if you read carefully, is an attempt to show how sane and level-headed they are. Unlike the rest of the folks who take the protest to the street and get something moving like waking up the countries that re-published the cartoon under the disguise of freedom of expression to realise how much anger the cartoons have generated.

Do you honestly believe that Denmark will take the anger of the Muslim seriously if the protest is done in the form of a letter of complaint to the embassies or a couple of well-mannered letters to editors? It has to take something like a large-scale street protest for the message to be loud and clear. It has to be action-oriented. It takes courage, and guts. Unfortunately those who consider themselves 'intellectual' like to define this courage as stupid, irrational, a bad image for Islam. It depends on which side of the fence you look at the issue. If you are on the street, it is clear that those who are at home writing their opinion as if this is an intellectual issue are just cowards hiding behind something they unanimously agreed among themselves as the-right-thing-to-do. Of course it is, because you don't get hurt, you don't sweat, and it is more comfortable to be at home like a coward rather than being on the street with their less intellectual brothers and sisters who don't have much to say about this issue except to let the world see the anger.

One good thing about the intellectuals is, there are not too many of them. Allah don't make them too many or else nothing will ever get moving. During the early periods of Islam there were more action-oriented men and women than word-oriented cowards. That's why Islam spread fast and wide. You can't trust those who sit at home feeling level-headed and intellectual, man. If you trust them, nothing will ever get moving, or done. Oh well, leave them alone, they'd probably faint at the sight of a dead fly. Maybe they don't even have the courage to hurt a fly because they are so peace-loving, man. Like Ghandi. Or Buddha.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What's That Playin' On The Radio...

At a pizza parlor, across a table from ours, an elderly gentleman is having a dinner treat sitting in between a couple in their thirty something or thereabout. The children, obviously his grandchildren, are having fun among themselves talking about something that I can't make out which set me thinking what a lovely family this is, and wouldn't it be nice if only I had the same thing going for Aunt Su and I, especially on a night like this when we have ran out of things to say to each other that we decided to drive around Taman Tun to look for a nice place to have dinner.

The elderly gentleman is about the same age as Aunt Su, maybe slightly older. I've got the feeling he knows what is going on in here. He knows that there's someone special in this pizza parlour that he'd like to sit with, eating a slice of pizza taking extra precautions so the dentures won't fall off in the middle of a conversation while he puts on a cool dispostion the way James Bond would do in a situation like this. He'll probably talk about what a dashing young man he used to be during the great era of rock n' roll, the time that got everyone wrigglin' and bumpin' like electric salt and pepper shakers. But all he can do for now is steal a glance or two at Aunt Su who is completely at sea as to what is going on in this nice pizza parlor that she keeps asking me to cut a slice of pizza into neat, bite-size squares. I hope the elderly gentleman doesn't have the impression that I am Aunt Su's personal bodyguard or something that he won't make a move to get her intention thinking I'd go over to his table to knock him senseless.

There goes another glance, but Aunt Su is too busy trying to jab a piece of pizza with a fork that she'd make a perfect picture of a native trying to catch a fish swimming in the river with a spear. This goes on for a couple of minutes that in the end I figure it is best that I change seat so as to give the elderly gentleman a clear view of Aunt Su so this little game in a pizza parlor can hit off like a good romance movie. It doesn't work because Aunt Su, of all the nights I've known her, keeps looking into her plate as if the bite-size pizzas were tadpoles and that she has to make sure that they don't jump out of the plate. There goes another glance, and Aunt Su has to look at me to ask if I'm still hungry. I am usually a very very patient person but on this night, right at this very minute, I feel like grabbing Aunt Su's face and direct it in the line of vision of the elderly gentleman so that their eyes will meet and the band can at least play something like 'What's that playin' on the radio...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Buah Pukul Mersing.

Most martial arts are self-defence oriented in that you train hard to defend yourself against blows from your opponent which may rain on you in the form of punches, kicks, elbows, head butts or knee jabs. This may sound a reasonable thing to do but any street fighter will tell you that it is impossible to predict an attack especially when you know that your opponent means business and he is not walking out on this fight until you are seriously hurt.

If you go by the concept of self-defence, it simply means you have to study at least five martials in order to familiarize yourself with the form of attacks of each martial art so that you will be able to prepare yourself to handle the situation the best you can. This is foolish. You may be able to familiarize yourself very well with each martial art but there is no way of knowing for sure that your opponent will attack you with one of the attacking movements that you have drilled like crazy in a classroom situation. There are hundreds of ways to attack a person. The question is will you be able to know all of these and then train to handle each and every one of them?

Welcome to Seni Silat Lian, the concept of fighting that originated from Kwangtung and various parts in China. It was brought to Malaysia via Johor by an Arab-Chinese trader by the name of Syed Abdul Rahman Al-Yunani during the early 19th Century. The art has various names. Among the elders familiar with this art they may have studied it under the name Buah Pukul Mersing, Gayang Lima, Buah Pukul, Lian Yunan, or simply Silat Lian. The latest versions currently popular are Lian Padukan, and Gerak Lian which is very popular in Kuantan especially in Tanjung Lumpur and Sungai Ular. The art has gone through various adaptations making it a very interesting discipline to train simply because it is not self-defence oriented but rather, offence-oriented. Now you understand why the Chinese are aggresive and most of the time they get things done their way.

This art has a concept call 'rebut timba' which simply means in a brawl you cannot afford to be honorable, or honest. You should go into a fight with only one thing in mind and that is to win. Winning in this art is defined as your opponent is flat on the ground, completely broken and unable to muster a counter-attack for at least two years. It's a dangerous art which is why most of the exponents are people from a section of society you don't deal with very often.

The art is gaining popularity among the youngsters, and adults who have trained in various forms of martial arts, including Aikido. I must tell you before-hand that Silat Lian is 'buah pukul' which simply means you 'pukul' and therefore there is no locks, or grabs like that of other silat like Gayung, Cekak (Hanafi or Malaysia), Lincah, Kuntau, Sendeng, Lintau, and many others. A new centre will be opened next week in Wangsa Maju. This is the third centre in the Klang Valley where you can train in this art, if you are interested, that is.