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.


Blogger aalborg said...

"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"

oh my god....wiping my tears from laughing silly too much!

6:15 PM  
Blogger anggerik merah said...

Some mexican woman are big like that...seen it b4..It is true description.:-))

7:08 PM  
Blogger Nurelhuda said...

omigosh...did your aunt know your nightly activities...
Big women oh yes...if they take samna or ghee happens

8:38 PM  
Blogger Ku Keng said...

Berg, how did I miss this place? No wonder you said you never break any swing at the playground. Cos you were too busy elsewhere!

9:13 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Ailin: You alright, ma'am?

Anggerik Merah: Looks like Malay women too are going to be just as big, ma'am, judging by the increasing number of extra-large womenfolk going about nowadays.

Dr Nurelhuda: I wonder myself whether Aunt knew what went on here.

Keng Tembaga: This was a few years before they closed Bukit Besi for good. I don't really remember the exact year but I reckon it was in the late 60s, or early 70s. I wonder if you ever saw Panggung Happy building before they tore it down. There was a row of wooden shops in the perimeter, not exactly a horse-shoe enclave, but more like a three-quarter triangle, starting from the right where Pak Mat satay plied his trade next to Makcik Mah (not her real name)'s stall. They occupied the outer section of a Chinese shop that sold a lot of liquor - I remember the Guiness Stout posters etc. Further inwards, there were restaurants with 'pelayan' and in between these, there was a barber shop operated by a Tamil guy, thin as a matchstick. I liked going to his barber. He's got the walls covered with pictures of naked women that he had to locked my head with his arms to prevent me from moving about that I could get a cut right through the skin.

Sorry, this is almost an entry by itself. Anyway, were you in Dungun too during this time?

9:43 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

At last I updated myself with your writing Bergen! It was worth it, is what I must say. I had been so busy and everyday there would be a voice humming in a distant part of my brain bugging me, "You STILL haven't read Bergen's blog! Not YET. Aiyooo" And I would tell the voice to shaddup becoz I was going to find a lovely day and sit with my laptop in bed, all cozied up, munching pretzels and read all of your stories. Which I did just now...all 15 of them since you put up that room for rent sign :)

Hope Aunt Su is doing well and she still bugs you abt finding yourself a nice missus. The cowboy in you is so charming, makes one forget abt your knack for getting into brawls. Am sure you are a lovely person, whether you read Hemmingway or not, and don't ever discount you writing talents Berg. You are very good. Good luck and warm regards.

10:23 PM  
Blogger demonsinme said...

I like your oprning paragraph, in summary we all love to have the "pleasures of pain"

Where is this town of yours exectly cowboy? do tell.

It strikes the interest in me.

12:47 AM  
Blogger anedra said...

and how old were u then to be attending this Spanich Fly demo AND reproducing the pics??

10:20 AM  
Blogger bergen said...

Maya: It's good to have you back, ma'am! It's been a long time. You made me feel so good that I had to knock me head off to keep me both feet on the ground so this thing that can make men forget themselves silly won't go to me head, or else I won't be able to see things from the eyes of a child growing up in a world without men. Thank you, ma'am.

DIM: The town is Dungun, sir. It ain't the same no more now that they have turned it into an academic town with UiTM, Polytechnic, Sekolah Menengah Sains, Sekolah Menengah Teknik and several other tertiary instutions that I don't know of. It's a students' town now. In the late 70s it was still a macho town when they discovered oil off the coast, and the construction for the refineries was going at 200 kph.

Anedra: LOL. Okay, I was old enough to know what was going on, but young enough to be chased away by the medicine peddlers, and the men, when I stood there watching them doing their stuff. But sometimes they gave me money to go away, which I took. And went back in for more, only to be chased away, with swearings and obscenities you wouldn't want to repeat to a snake. It was nice to move around as street urchin.

11:19 AM  
Blogger cloudchaser said...

a beautiful introduction. melancholic and humorous at the same time. just the right mix of everything.

what an interesting childhood you have - said the bid bad wolf

1:01 PM  
Anonymous tooots_loves_colors said...

such a colorful town.
ure not making it up yes?

it's too colorful to be true.

oh sucha kalerful kalerful entry!

1:48 PM  
Blogger dr in the house said...

It is difficult to be afraid of hell when heaven is right in front of you

I guess that's why people of today seemed very bold to go agaisnt Allah's command!

That was a meaningful phrase!

1:58 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Cloudchaser: Thank you, ma'am.

TLC: I really don't know what to say, ma'am.

Dr Roza: You are right, ma'am. Sometimes we are good because we don't have the opportunity to be bad. It is difficult to think of hell when money is there on the table all yours, if you approve this or that project. More often, we can't see the threats of hell because we are blinded by what we can see before our eyes.

4:25 PM  
Blogger LifeBloom said...

Hard to believe that a town which I perceived as "sleepy" is what you have described....My,my - who would have thought... certainly an eye opener....Can't wait for the next installations.

p/s : How much do you charge for those illos? ;-)

6:03 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Lifebloom: You are partly right about Dungun being a sleepy hollow when the town was deserted following the closure of the mine at Bukit Besi. At the height of Bukit Besi's golden years, the town was a happening place, very much like famous boom towns such as Dawson City, Kansas, Kertih, Paka and other places where people come flocking in bringing all kinds of business to capture a booming market initiated by the discovery of gold, iron, oil, or other natural resources.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Sayuti said...

agreed with puan DITH. a very good quote. permission to use it.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Em said...


Ur such d drawing entrepreneur at such a young age.

7:56 PM  

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