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.


Blogger Noni said...

and this was a Malay community she had lived in ?

12:32 PM  
Blogger anedra said...

This is becoming like a book that I can't put down. keep em coming sir. Enjoying every chapter!

12:53 PM  
Blogger AuntieYan. said...

Wah!...tak sabar dahh nak tunggu the next change...:-)

1:42 PM  
Blogger AuntyN said...

Positive things first;

Wah, wah,the blog is getting lovelier with all the picture.

You sure have good memory.

If this ever being sold as a book let me know I will be hunting the bookshop for a copy.

The saddest thing being in a Malay community is that hasad dengki rank high in it. Why can't we just say Alhamdulillah, she is getting more rezeki to feed the family and be happy with that. Rather than always to feel dengki and start malicious rumours.

2:03 PM  
Blogger thinktankgal said...

This "book" is getting better by each chapter ;)

2:09 PM  
Blogger nadya said...

i told you already right.. you should write and publish a book. this is what you should compile..chapter by chapter.

blog dah makin canggih la. dah terrer upload pictures yea..hehehe!

2:42 PM  
Blogger A Babe Of Very Little Brain said...

oh, you writing a book izzit???


ps. the real xaviera has written a couple of books, methinks.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Nazrah said...

like the pied piper of hamelin, you got me mersmerized with you story...

can't wait for the next instalment.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

:) Very nice... Your story touches me so... deeply. I'll buy anyone of your books. Just let me know when it's published. God bless you.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Nurelhuda said...

Wow you sketched pictures and sold them at 10 cts a piece..knowing how much 10cts was back then the boys must have gone without their lunch for the sketches..
I guess you learned about life from the streets ...
I have got something beautiful to share about why the world seems to be so bad and depraved ...but then again it may go over your head as well...
anyway I think it is important to try to understand , otherwise life is just too painful..

11:52 PM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

we are waiting pix of aunt su

4:01 PM  
Blogger dee3 said...

'tidak hilang melayu di dunia...'
selagi hasad dengki penuh di dada...

i believe that being a malay justifies me saying that from my personal observation.

no offence intended, k.

on a different note:
you're doing well, en. bergen

1:45 AM  
Blogger Em said...


Why dun u compile all these entries as a book...

2:48 AM  
Blogger Ku Keng said...

When will you reach the part where you broke the swing at the Jalan Club playground?

10:43 AM  
Blogger dr in the house said...

whose lipstick, they said, got redder and redder in the evening.

Notice how Malays are good in making good pognant phrases when it comes to slandering others

3:24 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Noni: The only non-Malays in the village during this time was Mek Marang who ran the grocery store, and Mydin who also ran the grocery store. A few years later Pok Mat Rojak came to the village from out of nowhere.

Anedra: Yes, ma'am. I will keem 'em coming as my memories of Aunt and how much I miss her make me want to write away.

AuntieYan: I've got them all in drafts, and will post them as we go along.

AuntyN: Thank you, ma'am.

Thinktankgal: Thank you, ma'am.

Nadya: It's easier with PC and a little complicated with Macs.

Xaviera: You've got a nice name. Hmm, this reminds me of the Deepavali commercial by Petronas where the auntie says 'Ramasamy, such a divine name...'

Nazrah: Thank you for visiting, ma'am. Come often.

Liza: I am too sure about any of these will ever be published as a book. But it's a nice thing to dream about though. Thank you, ma'am.

Dr Nurul: The boys who could afford them were sons of government servants. The books were too expensive for anak nelayan and penarik beca but they got to listen to the stories, which were free of charge. So there you go, I did my part for the society.

Kak Teh: Maybe not post it because there are stories that I need to write about her.

Dee3: Thank you, ma'am.

Em: Read it here first, ma'am. No need to buy the book, if ever this is going to end up as a book at all.

Keng Tembaga: LOL. No, I didn't break any of the buai, or the bell-swing at that padang, sir. I almost forgot about that padang. Thank you for the detail. And the houses at Jalan Pegawai were the kind of houses I'd like to re-build if I had the money.

Dr Roza: Aunt had her fair share of cruel words from women. And I had to endure quite a lot too, being labelled 'anak luar nikah' for the rest of my primary school years.

4:23 PM  

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