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.