Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Special Mention in Iskandarian

I made a debut in Iskandarian when a brief article written by my brother about our experience living in Saudi Arabia was published in his school's annual magazine. The pre-Merdeka primary school in Alor Setar was founded by Master Mohamad bin Iskandar, the father of our beloved ex-Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir.
Sempena tahun baru 2009 yang bakal menjelang, kami doakan anda semua selamat panjang umur, murah rezeki dan sihat walafiat sepanjang tahun 2009.

Update on 1 Jan. 2009 (2.00 pm): Here are some photos which show the exterior of our Al-Kindi apartment in Diplomatic Quarter (DQ or Hayy Assafarat in Arabic). The apartment is adjacent to the central mosque (indicated by the two minarets) and the Al-Kindi plaza where my brother and sister used to cycle or skate, under the watchful eyes of Papa and Mama while sipping their latte. The apartment and the surrounding structures won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 1989. All images are taken from Archnet.
And this is how Papa waxed lyrical to the beautiful and kind-hearted Mithali blogger, Nuraina A. Samad, about those mesmerising days in DQ:
"Our two older children and I did a lot of cycling together when we were in Riyadh. But Arab drivers are even more notorious, I hear some of you say. True, but we're very fortunate to be provided a decent accommodation in the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ), which is conducive for cycling and walking ... security around the clock and the vibrant views that do not weary the eyes with sameness … boulevards flanked with kurma trees, contemporary buildings designed by world-best architects juxtapose with the arresting reproduction buildings that exude the old world charm of the Najd architecture, landscaped gardens after landscaped gardens, no Mat Rempits … oh I can just go on and on …"

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cherating Revisited

Papa visited Cherating for the first time in the late 1980s, before he met Mama, and instantly felt like a modern day Robinson Crusoe, far from the maddening bright lights and big cities. He stayed in a spartan beachfront hut, and spent most of the day sleeping on the beach and daydreaming with eyes wide opened. The beach vista and the refreshing sea breeze induced him to sleep effortlessly. The night was spent listening to reggae music at the local bars scattered around the paradoxically conservative yet hip village, and at the countless cafes sipping Nescafe or teh tarik whilst flying on the magic carpet of Pico Iyer’s spellbinding Video Night in Kathmandu. That travel book singularly made him want to experience One Night in Bangkok, and the wild, wild world on the Prospero’s Isle of Bali, and more. But let’s not digress.

Back then, Cherating was popular among the globetrotting backpackers and hippies and local couples, married, soon-to-be married or unmarried. After he met Mama, they went there again and again, without and plus the kid(s). Although Cherating is now dotted with modern hotels and boutique villas such as top of the range Villa Tab, one can sense that the place has lost the magic that prompted Club Med to open up its first holiday destination in Asia.

We arrived here from Kuala Terengganu late into the night, and had to leave for Kuala Lumpur the next morning. So it was considered obscene to be splashing money just to have a modest bed to rest our tired bones, and not using all the other facilities including a well-maintained beachfront. My family decided to stay in a budget motel in Kampung Cherating Lama that provides the basic amenities such as clean bed, attached bathroom, air-conditioning and a TV set, which remained off.

At the crack of dawn the next day, while the others were happily dozing off, Papa strolled along the beach and later had breakfast at the stall located opposite the horse stable belonging to the Penn Endurance Equestrian Club, and across the private road leading up to Villa Tab. The stall is run by Mak Cik Dah, with the help of a lady assistant who was overly decorated so early in the morning.

Mak Cik Dah is a chatterbox and a repository of all the comings and goings in Kampung Cherating. While preparing the orders from the diverse customers, she engaged in small talks which led to who, what, when and where. By listening to their conversations, one is drawn, albeit unwittingly, into their dramatic little world; who are involved in the latest road accidents, who are tying the knots, etc. Alas, no tittle-tattle on local or national politicians.

A group of small boys and girls stopped by to order their breakfast of nasi lemak, nasi dagang and nasi minyak, with their specific likes and dislikes ”Jangan boh timun”; “Hok saye, boh telo mata kebau”; “nasi dagang lauk ikang, bukang ayang”; etc etc and concluded with a collective “Sipang dulu Cik Dah. Kite nok gi pata belake”. Mak Cik Dah, noticing an unfamiliar face among the kids, asked “Ni anok sape?” and his cheeky friend tartly replied “Anak Bangla”. Makcik Dah told him off “Sedaq ngata oghang teh. Kena keja anjing kak pata baghu pade muko”.

Then a group of lithe young surfers parked their car, and ordered their breakfast to be consumed at the stall. Although they hardly look Malaysian, but they all spoke in Terengganu Malay. The one with the darkest complexion and Bob Marley hairdo wore a t-shirt that screams “Horror unleashed, Terror unmatched. The ultimate in human agony”. Mak Cik Dah asked them “Tak main ombak pagi ni?”.

After serving them, Mak Cik Dah asked her assisitant “Ah sudoh la weh. Tok ingat budok-budok hok gi pata tadi orda lauk gapo”. Her assistant with lips painted so garishly, just shook her head.

Before continuing our journey to Kuantan, my other family members had their breakfast at Mak Cik Dah’s happening stall too, whilst I was busy doing tawaf round and round the stall, like a spinning wheel.

Dreaming of Morocco

Selamat Menyambut 1-Muharam 1430H to all, from all of us.

"... sesunguhnya pada tahun baru ini aku memohon daripada engkau perlindungan daripada nafsu amarah yang sentiasa mendorong ke arah kejahatan dan melalaikan aku dengan perkara yang tidak berfaedah daripada mendekati diri kepada engkau ..."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Short Visit to Terengganu

The month of December is constantly filled with travel, lots of travel. On the second day of Raya Korban we drove to Kota Bharu. It was a Tuesday and a public holiday in Kelantan, like all the other Malay states of Perlis, Kedah and Terengganu. The traffic was surprisingly light. The damn famous White House cafe was not opened for business, and so we had our drink and snack at McD. On the top floor of McD, a few of the customers were simultaneously having their meals and surfing the internet .

The following day, we took the coastal road to Kuala Terengganu. which was almost a repeat of the trip we made last year to attend the riveting Monsoon Cuppa, and saw the late Datuk Razali Ismail there who we later found out was a neighbour of Mama’s Tok Ayah in Kuala Berang. Our first stop was Kuala Besut to enquire about the speedboat services to Pulau Perhentian but there were none at this time of the year as it was monsoon season.

Next, we stopped by the roadside stall at Rhu Sepuluh beach for a satisfying bite of the crunchy seafood fried in batter. We then checked out The Aryani Resort in Merang, and the place is secluded and really deserted. We did not see a single soul dining or sunbathing there. We spent the night in Kuala Terengganu at a brand new hotel overlooking the glittering Crystal Mosque by the Terengganu River. The iconic Burj-Al-Arab-Jumeirah-look-alike hotel is owned by a major plantation company whose Chairman is a politician from Terengganu. Our dinner at an almost full house restaurant in Jalan Hiliran, not very far from the hotel, consists of nasi minyak, rojok and laksa Terengganu.

The next day was spent mainly in the vicinity of Masjid Zainal Abidin, Istana Maziah and Bukit Puteri, which are  featured in the best seller Growing Up in Trengganu, and at the newly opened Taman Tamadun Islam (TTI). Surprise, surpise, we actually spent almost four hours wandering aimlessly around TTI. Of all the 21 iconic Islamic monuments from around the world built in the Edutainment Park on Pulau Wan Man, we decided to spend more time at the Masjidil Haram and the Taj Mahal.

My siblings opted to cycle from one mini monument to another, but we chose to ride on the tram. We overheard one elderly lady passenger telling another in local dialect: “Tepak ni best. Dok pahang bak pe oghang kutuk”. Papa noticed that the developer left a few matured trees on the small island untouched. Before we left Terengganu for Cherating, my parents made sure I had my first taste of beronok, a bright red sago pudding coated with grated coconut. I loved the small portion Mama gave me as it is so like strawberry.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Scrapblogging @ Belum Rainforest Resort

We are now in this speck of a man-made island which is surrounded by man-made Lake Temenggor with Gerik in Perak to the West and Jeli in Kelantan to the East. Pulau Banding is home to the Belum Rainforest where the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, blooms, the extinct Sumatran rhinoceros roams and large flocks of hornbills can be spotted. Papa made a brief stop for the obligatory teh tarik (and scrapblogging, needless to say) before continuing the next leg of our journey via the scenic and tollfree East-West highway to Mama’s kampong in Pasir Puteh, Kelantan to celebrate Raya and Korban with all the folks there.

Papa remembers when he first travelled on the East-West highway in the early 1980s, during his A-Levels break and after his family has just moved to Kedah from Kelantan in 1981, the highway was closed to public between dusk to dawn, for safety reason. But now the highway has unrestricted access, and other attractions for the road users. For a brief history on Banding and the Temenggor Basin, please read here, here and here.

To all who celebrate Aidil Adha, Selamat Menyambut Aidil Adha 1429H dan Selamat Berkorban, from all of us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cameron Highlands - Now and Then

The opening line of Joget Malaysia “Dato Panglima pergi membajak, Ke Tanah Rata senja pulangnya” echoed in Papa’s head as the sight of the ubiquitous sellers plying their agricultural produce by the roadside stalls became more commonplace as we approached the principal town in the cool hilly resort of Cameron Highlands.

And immediately after we passed the main thoroughfare in the town centre, we were greeted by the unforgettable sight of an imposing pre-WWII colonial building perched on the hill overlooking the vibrant town centre. It was once a British Military Hospital, providing services largely for the British Army personnel, but now converted to a primary Convent school for the local kids. The exquisite building, at times enveloped in misty vapour, does not look out of place, even in the cobbled streets of Chester or Sandringham.

We were here in Tanah Rata last weekend to bridge silaturahim with the families of Pak Ngah’s girlfriend who are the early residents of Kampung Taman Sedia. Kampung Taman Sedia aptly got its name when a group of pioneering settlers discovered that all the essential herbal plants like serai, kunyit, lengkuas, pandan, etc. were already planted when they first arrived here during the period of The Malayan Emergency (i.e. war against communism) in the late 1940s. Were these herbs planted by the Orang Bunian?

Pak Ngah is Mama’s younger and only brother. Our entourage includes Tok Ayah and Mama’s siblings and brother-in-laws from Kelantan and uncles and aunties who are living in Kuala Lumpur. Mama’s relatives in Kuala Berang could not attend the majlis menghantar tanda, a ceremony to mark the engagement of Pak Ngah and his girlfriend whom he has known for many years. We brought with us several trays of hantaran (gifts), including the
engagement ring for the bride-to-be.

After the doa selamat, the spokesman for the bride-to-be asked our delegates our purpose in coming here, as a formality. Pak Teh, our spokesman, peppered his reply with flowery words like tanda ikatan, kumbang and bunga di Taman Sedia. After our indirect expression of interest through the usage of metaphors was understood, the tray containing the ring, as a marker of engagement, was presented. The families of the bride-to-be happily accepted it, and Pak Ngah’s girlfriend is now officially his tunang (fiancĂ©e). The representatives of the two families then discussed the preferred date for the wedding and the terms for the bride settlement and exchange, highlighting specific requirement such as hantaran serba satu. Alas, no pantun-memantun were exchanged. Papa had this little pantun in mind to wrap up the ceremony, but decided to keep it to himself:

Dato Panglima pergi membajak, Ke Tanah Rata senja pulangnya, Alhamdulillah kedua keluarga telah sepakat, Semoga ikatan silaturahim kekal selama-lamanya.

When it was time to menyarung cincin, Mama, Mak Teh, Cik Yin and Mak Su were visibly teary. This role of placing the ring on the hand of the bride-to-be is normally performed by the groom’s mother, but Tok Ma has left us to rest in eternal peace in August 2007. Wan Cu, Tok Ayah’s younger sister, did the honour. After it was over, the mother of the bride-to-be congratulated her eldest daughter “Tahniah Kak Long” and they were in tears too, but of immense joy.

A sumptuous lunch was then served. Later that afternoon, we took the 2km narrow and precipitous road to the Sungei Palas Boh Tea Estate, and were duly rewarded with breathtaking vista of rolling hills carpeted with manicured tea bushes. Visitors can enjoy fine views of the undulating valleys while sipping tea and nibbling assorted cakes and snacks at the spanking new tea centre. Before returning to Kubang Pasu, we stopped by at Wan Long's and Tok Long's cottage in Tapah.

Cameron Highlands is special in many ways. Thirteen years ago, Mama and Papa spent their perfect, albeit slightly delayed, honeymoon here. They only had each other then, as there were no blogs and adorable kids clamouring for their attention. And this time, with an enlarged group of five, no prizes for guessing who is the centre of attention. And right here in Cameron Highlands, I had my first taste of the dainty strawberries and could finish the full cup sekali hadap.