Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Leaving on a jetplane. See you after Raya.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yusof's Family.

We have to lay off school for a couple of days and stay in a safe place. The man who runs the store on the third floor of Pasar Chowrasta told Siva that the police is looking for three school boys in uniform who knock on beggars and drunkards to steal their money. Siva says, we'd better stay off the street for a couple of days, or maybe a week because it is too dangerous to be running around as if nothing happens. I say it's a good idea if only we can find a place so we can all stay together. I say you people can't stay at the house I'm staying because Kedah Road opens up to Transfer Road at a junction, and unless you are blind as a goat with high fever, Transfer Road faces the back end of Penang Road Police Headquarters. Yusof says we can stay with his family in Dato Keramat and from there it is safe for us to go to school as it is on the route of Bus Sri Negara. And so I packed my clothes in a bag and left the house to meet up with Siva at Penang Yellow Bus Station on Prangin Road.

Yusof lives in a house with his mom which they share with four or five other women. It's a nice house that can be crowded in the day but pretty much empty at night since the women leave the house around six in the evening to work as dance hostess but Yusof says they are actually prostitutes, including his mom. The women are nice people who ask you every five minutes whether you have eaten while they put on the make-up, painting the cheeks rosy red and lips that look like fire. Sometimes they wake you up way past midnight to eat mee goreng mamak with them and laugh at the jokes they tell about a middle-aged men who want to marry them and make them a real wife to live in a house with real kitchen and bathroom, and a bed-room with closet and dressing table. And they laugh some more looking up the ceiling to smoke on another cigarette and tell another joke to let out another burst of laughter. This will go on and on until I can't keep my eyes open anymore and the women will tell me to go to sleep and be a good boy and get good grades at school so I can be somebody and don't be like Yusof and Siva. Yusof laughs and asks, what's wrong with me? And they say, oh you will end up no where.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Penang Road.

I don't feel guilty anymore. Why should I? I've never seen pakcik Syed putting on kain pelikat or songkok to pray. I've never seen aunt Su's telekong. I don't see no prayer mat in the house. I don't see a single copy of Qur'an and I don't hear the Azan anymore to make me feel scared for walking up and down Penang Road at 7.30 in the evening the way I would feel if I were in Dungun this time of the day, listening to the sweet call of the Azan from Bilal Rashid's voice. The only time I was out of the house around this time in Dungun was when Aunt and I had to look for Tapong, our goat that hadn't come in with the rest of her charge. I asked Aunt whether Grandma would be mad that we were out of the house during Maghrib but Aunt says that's okay because she can't pray and we have got to find Tapong who could be in trouble like getting its head locked inside a Dumex tin can.
I'm walking up and down Penang Street not thinking of the Azan that is playing inside my head. I can't hear it anymore. All I hear is music blasting from the speakers placed outside a music shop. I go in to feel the cool air-cond that goes right into your nose. We don't have air-cond in Dungun. But this is Penang, kiddo. A city where you can't hear the Azan anytime of the day because heaven knows where a Masjid is. All I see is neon light that goes round and round which they've got at Pasar Chowrasta, and the sweet smell of apples, oranges and nutmeg. You don't pray in a place like this. You don't have to because you won't know when to pray since you won't hear no Azan coming in and I know for sure Bilal Rashid's voice won't reach you here in Penang when you are so far away from Tanah Lot, Dungun, Terengganu.
And I don't have to recite one Surah a day either because Grandma isn't here to check on my Tajwid. She won't rap my finger if I don't complete a full Harakat of Mat Asli, or my Kholkolah, or Tashdid. I don't have to pray. I don't have to recite the Qur'an. In fact I can forget about praying and the Qur'an all together because no one prays or recites the Qur'an on Penang Road. No one seems to mind that this is Maghrib and that the devils are out to get you if you are not in the house praying or reciting your Surah.
I'm beginning to like Penang very much. I don't hear Grandma's reciting the Qur'an, or Aunt reading a Surah in her angelic voice in between Maghrib and Isya' prayer. I miss putting on my head on Aunt's lap while she reads the Qur'an in her heavenly voice that can lull me to sleep. Sometimes I hear Grandma correcting Aunt on an Ayat that Aunt doesn't read good. I'd ask Grandma, why is it wrong to read it that way. And Grandma would say, Haven't you learnt anything? I've taught you everything but you still forget. And then I'd laugh and say, I'm just joking, Grandma. And Aunt would laugh and rub my hair hard and say, Clever boy but very naughty. And I'll sleep with the sound of the Qur'an in my ear until the next day.
Penang Road is a busy street that I can't hear the Qur'an in my ears. I'm lonely and sad but I'm a tough kid. Tough kid don't cry even though he misses Grandma and Aunt. Tough kids don't cry. They just take it in like real men.

Friday, September 07, 2007

First Fight In Penang.

From Sekolah Kebangsaan Laki-Laki Dungun I go to Dungun English School where they put me in Remove Class D. But you don't say Dungun English School. Every one calls it DESS. It sounds better and what could be more high class than that since every one knows only in DESS can you find the Chinese and one or two Indian students talking among themselves in English. And the Malay students too. They can speak English better than the white folks. As a matter of fact they speak very well that even the white folks don't usually understand what in the world they could be talking about. I see this at Leong Thye shop. The only store in Dungun where mems orang putih show up in a group of four or five, all in their summer dresses and straw hats to buy groceries on account of Leong Thye being the only store in Dungun who stocks up his entire shop with canned food and bottled stuff imported from England. As a matter of fact it is the only store in Dungun where you can buy red juicy apples for 5o sen. I buy these more than once just to feel like one of them white folks and I go around with the apple in my hand to show it off among the poor children who have probably never eaten an apple in their entire life. And they'd go, 'Sedak dok epal tu?' Stupid urchins, 'Sedak ahh bodoh tongong.' I can afford apples because Aunt makes a lot of money selling kain batik, songket, silverware, gold, nissang pulut and nekbat.
We have a lot of white folks in Dungun. Mostly Australians. They give orders to local folks who work in the iron mine in Bukit Besi. I don't know what they do but they look rich and well fed. At Leong Thye shop the mems orang putih would talk in singsong kinda voice calling out to their children 'Here Tommy, come here Tommy.' They live in a gated community where you can see from the opening of the wooden fence, houses bigger than the D.O's residence.
We've got a lot of white folks but we don't have enough Indians for a sepak takraw team. In fact the only Indian in Dungun who is not Muslim is the Miranda family. They live in a cluster of houses on a hill over looking Padang Astaka. I don't know what they do but they look kinda rich. And they speak a lot of English. But I don't understand a word they're saying because they don't sound like Clint Eastwood.
In Penang I see the first Sikh boy. He's got some kinda snail on top of his head that looks pretty neat and I'm wondering what this is. And so I ask him, what's that on your head, awang siput? He turns around and say, what did you just call me? I say, I just called you awang siput. All of a sudden he is all over me, wild punches coming in like rain. I jump him in the chest with random punches and now we are locked in, shoving and pushing. He got me in the rib. I got pretty pissed that I go after him like a ram in a fight over a she-goat. I got his snail and yank it hard. It comes off in a long string of hair. All of a sudden he goes limp and starts to cry.
Next day Mr Koh the discipline teacher caned me in public. That's how Siva and Yusof came over and say, 'Hang baguih larr. Hang mai dari Terangganu kan?' I'm thinking, maybe these two want a fight because of what I did to awang siput. And so I say, 'Mung nok ggochoh?'
(Words in Malay and Terangganuspeak are left untranslated on purpose.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Penang 1974

Don't ask me to list down the names of the people who used to be in the same class with me at school. I can't recall any of the names out, except for Siva and Yusof. They are different. We are in the same afternoon class. Form 1F.
I remember them well because they teach me how to steal money from beggars and drunkards on Penang Road, Burmah Road, Transfer Road, Campbell Street and Lebuh Chulia. They teach me to mark a beggar and mentally calculate how much he got on him. And they show me how to walk up to a beggar from behind, and push the poor bastard off balance. You've got a few seconds to quickly run your hands into every pocket he has to grab the money. Don't worry about the son-of-a-bitch fighting back because Siva and Yusof are right behind you to crush the bastard just in case he suddenly turns into a superhero with superhuman strength. After this you gotta run faster than the winds. When you've got enough money, Siva and Yusof will take you up to the 3rd floor of Pasar Chowrasta for a drink. Siva knows the guy who run a store there so he can buy a bottle of Anchor for three of us to share. After that we take a No 3 bus to go to school in Jelutong smelling like a cigarette factory.
Aunt Su doesn't know. Pakcik Syed doesn't know either. Aunt and Grandma are in Dungun to know what I've been up to. Around 7 in the evening when I get home from school Aunt Su is in the living room, all cleaned up and powdered down. Pakcik Syed will be home around 10, drunk as a drunk can be. He's gonna mess the kitchen looking for food. Aunt Su will be shouting at the top of her lungs and there will be a big fight between them. I will be in a room thinking why in the world did Aunt send me to Penang to live with these two vermin who, according to Grandma, are my distant relatives. How could that be? How on earth they could be related to us when Aunt Su doesn't even know an Alif from a lamp post. And I've never seen Pakcik Syed pray a single raka'at ever since I came to live here three months ago.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fire Up.

They tell you that you're gonna get used to it after you've seen it for the first time; bodies burnt to the bones and eye sockets dangling like ping pong ball attached to a cord. But you'll never get used to it. The images keep coming back in your dream to leave you in cold sweat. You're not going back to sleep because you know you're gonna see the same thing all over again. And hear the last few sounds of a man holding on to life with everything he got. You'll never get used to it.
Petroleum fire isn't a pretty sight especially when you've got men burning and writhing in pain, skin wrinkling into black flakes and the flesh raw as sushi. And you thought you've seen all there is to see in a fire. After all you make good money putting it out working with a team of hard-drinking men with big tattoos in their arms. One will never have seen enough of fire. There will always be the kind of fire that doesn't behave like a fire should, or the kind of wind that makes a sudden turn to the left to stoke a new set of fire as if the whole thing is some kind of a stage performance with the audience sitting in their best evening dress ready to give their approving applause at another row of farm houses burnt to the ground, leaving the occupants choking and weeping at life heaped into ashes.
It's a different kinda fire altogether. Unlike petroleum fire where the only people who should be concerned about it is the production people, or the big boss in expensive suit talking on the phone in a room full of expensive paintings. You make good money in petroleum fire. You use expensive equipment and charge a hefty fee calculated by the hour. You can't do that with forest fire. You see houses, farm equipment, live stocks and dreams go up in smoke. You see people who look through you with emptiness in their eyes that you'd think they were dead people. You see different things. Things you'll never get used to because they're gonna make you feel empty as if a big giant bird has taken away your heart to leave you all hollow inside. And helpless. And thinking why all this had to happen. What could they have done to deserve something like this. They are farmers with simple needs. Jovial people who sing and dance over simple things. But the music has died. And the laughter has gone. All you hear is long, loud wail of life gone forever.
They say you'll get used to it. No, I don't think so.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Greek Lesson.

You can be Malay, Chinese, Indian or others but you can be a Greek in a minute. Just like that. I reckon it's the same thing with being a Malaysian. You can be Chinese, Indian or others but you can be a Malaysian in a minute. Just like that.
It is not a difficult concept to understand. The creation of Bangsa Malaysia is a simple thing. First you gotta understand that to be a Malaysian, you gotta be a Malay. You can't be a Malaysian if you are Chinese or Indian or Others. That would be Chinesean, or Indianisian or Otherisian. This isn't the case. We're talking about Malaysia and I'm sure you are smart enough to see that the word Malay takes up 75% of the word Malaysia. So if you are not a Malay but wish to become a Malaysian, you gotta work hard to become a Malay. And that simply means;
1. You gotta take up a Malay name.
2. You gotta speak the language 75% of the time.
3. You gotta behave like a Malay.
4. You may not think like a Malay because that's your right but you'd better think like one when someone says something bad about you and the race.
5. You may not want to be a Muslim, that's all right but you may have to dress like a Malay.
That's why the Chinese in my kampong have no problems with being a Malaysian. They're as Malays as the Malays themselves. They speak like one, act like one, dress like one and even swear like one. Of course they're not Muslim but you won't know the difference when you hear them speak in Terengganu dialect.
So it's a simple thing this Bangsa Malaysia thing that people have just started to talk as if it's a new religion. I agree that in order to be a Malaysian, we need to be one race. The creation of one race is a simple thing. It's a pretty straightforward thing. Just like being Greek. But to be a Greek you gotta do what the Greek do and I don't think I can. Of course I can if I try hard enough but I like being in Malaysia more than anywhere else.
Good to be home.