Sunday, October 09, 2005

adlan’s first puasa

Today, Adlan fasted for the first time.

He’s six and he proudly broke his brother’s fasting record having lost to Amir in reading, writing and ‘bersunat’. The big brother had it all done at five but only fasted at seven after being in school. Amir had his circumcision at five when he innocently walked into the operation room ahead of Ayah Mi - his uncle and said yes to the doctor. Adlan was booked for circumcision last holiday when he was five but the doctor refused to do it because he cried too soon. His first day of fasting was certainly costly. At 5.30 pm when we got home, he was begging to break fast and eat, mineral water bottle in his hand. But he must have been too weak to break the seal and a ten ringgit incentive must have prodded him on. I was told he made a few ringgit more from the uncles and sisters.

Children must be the mirror that you see yourself – of you in the younger days. I must say Adlan had beaten me on his first day of fasting. On my very first, I broke the fast some thirty minutes away from the time. And I cheated in the many years later, accidentally drinking during shower or conveniently forgetting that I was fasting. We were taught early that there was neither compulsion nor sin on those who forget so we eat and claim to have forgotten the fast.

In my kampong then, in the fasting month, there was a day we term as ‘na-mat’ (penamat – end) to celebrate the impending end of fasting month. That day there were to be a feast in the masjid. That day was for ‘pot-luck’ - everyone were to bring some kueh for breaking the fast. In that good year, somebody donated a buffalo to be slaughtered. So it was to be a big feast indeed. But then the na-mat was meant only for those who fast. One must be fasting to be rightfully invited. I knew of the kueh-mueh and knew about the kenduri. To get to go, I must fast. The very first fast of my entire life.

So I did. But the challenge of fasting got worse in late afternoon. Your throat dried, your tummy twirling and the aroma of the delicacies tasted so very appetizing. Under the hot afternoon sun you could almost kill for a bite of ais-krim potong your little brother was having.

To make the story short, I failed; just half an hour before the dawn. I must have been a pitiful sight my mother let me eat so close to the time. And ayah decided to take me along anyway.

So when Adlan fasted for the first time, I saw myself and knew that I had lost to my own son.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

road to terengganu

This morning, I send off Yati and the kids plus another van-load of wedding paraphernalia and another car for Mak and Ayah to Kedah. It was to be a wedding for Yati’s niece this Friday.

Traveling, short and long distance for the kids has become quite a norm. They have after all been traveling since babies. The first two Alia and Amir were born in KL and transported to Kedah on the seventh day. Atin and Alan were born in Terengganu and enjoy the grandmother traveling from Kedah to look after them. When Yati was completing her degree in Penang, Alia stayed with Wan in Kemasek and traveled by bus to KL almost every fortnight. She was in a way growing on the road. Because of the nature of our work, we travel often. The kids took every opportunity to join us, ‘ponteng sekolah’ sometimes to be in their other ‘house’ in KL. I guess when they were younger, hotels were a house too. After all it’s better than the actual home, room service, swimming pools and dining at the coffee-house included.

My earliest memory of travel was by bus to Kelang, staying at a Singh-friend of my father. I was not even in school then and my recollection of the trip was the breakfast. They, the Singh family eat chapatti like tons of it.

Then there was the trip sending Aki and Che’ to Haj. We were packed in Ayah Su’s Volkswagen for a day long trip to KL, staying at the Asia Hotel (external shared toilet, thin striped towel and ‘orchid’ soap bar) in Chow Kit and early next morning departed to Port Kelang. The Kapal Haji, the crowd, the pilgrims and the well-wishers were a sight to behold. The flashback was of the sight of man walking up the gantry, bales on the shoulders, cargoes of wooden boxes winched up the hull, teary-eyed, sobbing people, people, people and people. And then suddenly in all the commotion there was the ship siren followed by azan from the ship-deck. The silence was stunning. The ship slowly departed and all around was sobbing. That was in 1968. Thirty years later for my umrah in 1998, the travel was by a Boeing 777 direct Saudia flight to Jeddah.

The road to Terengganu would soon be a full highway. A dream we had been kept waiting for over twenty years, two prime ministers and three ‘menteri-besar’s away. But then the opening of Karak – Kuantan section has improved the travel tremendously. It’s now 5-6 hour unlike previously ten for a slow-sleeping-often stopping driver like me. But it comes with additional cost of toll-charges and speed fine. Ah so-what!

The link to Terengganu was once a snake-beaten winding, nauseating excuse for a road. Somewhere along Karak-Bentong section was through the ‘communist-area’ the Polis Hutan’s roadblock were a familiar sight. I went through it like six-times a year every school holidays and only in my fifth-form year the engineering marvel of the day – the Karak-Bentong Highway was opened, courtesy of Malaysia-Thai Development, the construction company. Those on the old MCKK school-bus to the Piala Perdana Menteri in SMSAS in Kuantan in 1980 will recall how we chugged along the highway. We even cheered when the bus manage to overtake any poor soul for it was to be its last trip away. Pak Cik driver was given a treat by the other school bus drivers to a memorable farewell dinner and retired soon after. The bus was soon replaced by a new air-conditioned coach. And best of all that year we won the Piala Perdana Menteri.

On the long journey to KL and back, my children would normally sleep a peaceful slumber in the Carnival. When they wake-up hungry and bored there are all the R&R to stop and refresh. They would like never believe that it was once a long and a sluggisshly slow winding road to Terengganu.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

peperiksaan penilaian

Alia sat for her ‘peperiksaan penilaian’ for three days since two days ago. Today is her last and she was beaming with confidence. I hope as I told her that it was not ‘over-confidence’. I admire her independence and resolve and the effort she put in. Not only that she wanted so much to be in boarding school, like mak and ayah and almost all her uncles and unties. She had been in touch with friends who’s been there and loved the news of it. Living away from family, among friends, and growing up as an independent person. We pray and hope she make it.

In my days, that was way-way back in 74’, penilaian was held for the standard five students. Now the exam is for the standard six. For many of us then, that exam was just another day and luck played a great part in the result; at least for me. There were then, no special tuitions, no extra class, no motivational workshops, no past years question and no pressure. I guess those who made it, especially from the rural school were simply brilliant and smart. How I could be in the category I also wonder.

These days the number who obtain five A’s run in the thousands. Getting five is almost not a surprise thing anymore – not getting is the surprise. Then, the achievers were rare and celebrated and set to leave home for the best of the secondary schools in the country. Now the achievers are aplenty the boarding schools can’t take them all anymore. Some even refuse to go. After-all home is a much better place and environment to excel.

In my days going to the boarding school means leaving a water well for piped water, pail-type toilet for a flush toilet (though it hardly works), gasoline to electrical light, sleeping on floor to bed and ‘kelambu’ , and mother’s cooking for ‘nasi kawah’. It also means washing my own clothes or recycling them when apek dobi no longer accept my clothes over bad debts. It was a brave and better new world that put your mind fully on study; though I don’t really.

For Alia, I hope that she had given her best. The A’s doesn’t really matter. If ever she make her way to the boarding school then Yat and I would learn how our mothers once felt seeing us away. We may soon miss her.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

of title and differing culture

A friend came back from Kalimantan, Indonesia. His conglomerate was venturing big time there. With the kind of money they invested, they would be a lord of a kind. He now rubs shoulder with the Governor, Wali Kota and Bupati.

So we joke that he would be receiving titles soon. What would it be?

But Indonesia was not land of titles. There were no titles of Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri or Tun to give away.

On the subject, he related a banter with his Indonesian partner.

“Orang Malaysia memang beruntung, muda-muda lagi sudah digelar Datuk.”

“Orang Indonesia lagi untung sebenarnya, sudah tua pun masih dipanggil Bapak aja.”

You Malaysian are fortunate, you are titled Datuk (grandfather) while you are still young.”

You Indonesian are better, even when you are old, you remain only a Bapak (father).”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

israq mi’raj and the parable of a white ant journey

In the Name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful

Glory be to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a journey from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precinct We did bless, - in order that We might show him some of Our Signs for He is the One Who Heareth and Seeth (all things)

(Translation Al Isra 17:1)
Haji Shukri was a man full of good jokes and interesting anecdotes, despite his seemingly serious nature. But that is the way it is. A man is different to a different person. One of his good story, that kind of stick to me was the story of a journey of a white ant.

There was a white ant, perhaps the tiniest of the ants in the ant’s kingdom. This particular white ant live in the house of a corporate man, let’s say somewhere in Kuala Lumpur. One fine day, he went up alone into the man’s closet, climbed up the wall, crossed the hanger rail and found himself in the coat pocket of a Zegna. That particular day, the corporate man was to go on a business trip to Europe and America.

So the ant, in the two weeks that follows, went on a Gulfstream private jet, hopped across the vast Pacific, paid stops in London, Paris and New York, experienced the biting cold winter and soon after find himself back in the closet. In the fortnight, he had seen places, people and environment beyond his comprehension. He had been on journey across the globe, seen things no other ants, white, black, or red had ever seen. If he were to tell the story of his journey to other ants, few would believe him. They were too preoccupied with their world, that any other world they had not seen, for them never exist. The tale of the strange people, places and sights would be laughed at and the poor little red ant will be the butt of jokes. He would be called a joker, a story-teller, a liar and a mad-ant. But the white ant related his story all the same. There were few who believe. They were ants of greater faculty, for they could see the possibility of the vast world.

Israq Mi’raj was a journey of a man, across the sand from the al-Haram in Mekah to al-Aqsa in Jurusalem and ascending thereon to the seven heavens and beyond it to Sidratul-Muntaha. All in the span of a night. That man was Muhammad the Prophet of Islam. That journey was the Israq Mi’raj,

When the story of the journey was first told, Muhammad was ridiculed and called all sorts of names. He was called a joker, a story-teller, a liar and a mad-man. One of the few who believe was man like Abu Bakar. For his firm belief in Muhammad he was called As-Siddiq – The Truth; for he was able to see truth way beyond the faculty of ordinary man.

Today, it was time for Israq Mi’raj again, celebrated every 27th Rejab in every Islamic calendar. It was time the story of the night journey would be told and marveled for the umpteenth time. The believers will believe it and the skeptics will be forever skeptical about it.

Israq Mi’raj is to me a time for reflection, of looking beyond the boundary of the ordinary. Trained as architect, I could not but look at the journey in comparative measure – in scale and in parables. Like the journey of the tiny white ant, Muhammad ascension to heaven would be beyond comprehension if measured in the scale of man. Muhammad was just a man, tiny and insignificant in the scale of the universe, what more if measured in the scale of the Knowledge of Allah. But he was the Prophet of Allah. By design, that journey was for him to witness the vastness of universe and the timelessness of Allah’s plan for His creation. It too was most significant for in it he accepted the command of the five daily prayers, the microcosm of the ascension to all obedient servants.

Now that we easily traveled across the globe, the journey of the white ant in the coat pocket could be believable. It was all a matter of scale and relative experience – essence of a parable. Against that relative parable of the journey of white ant, the journey and the ascension of Muhammad and the whole of Israq Mi’raj would be easily believed and comprehended.

For telling the story Tuan Haji Shukri, thank you.

Monday, June 27, 2005

the mosque in our heart

Yesterday 25th June 2005 was a remarkable day. I came face to face with a live street demonstration. At forty-something, I had managed to walk away from them all, not even in the tumultuous days of September ‘98. But yesterday was different, the demonstration was held in the middle of Kuala Terengganu banking district, and I had to be at the bank. What was remarkable was that the demonstration was done by the members of the ruling party. I thought only oppositions demonstrate. I was wrong.

The purpose of the street demonstration was, I was told, to counter one held by the opposition few days earlier. I didn’t know about that either. Maybe I was too busy with my own thing. The opposition demonstrated on allegation that the government tore down a mosque in Kampung Bujal somewhere. The pro-government demonstrated to say that they did not. Who then was telling the truth? I didn’t know that either. Both I think has been saying a half truth. Those, I mean the issue, was politics.

The subject of mosques, especially the old, neglected or broken down bring to mind the days when I was a student, going around the country, looking and documenting the remnants of once a splendid architecture. I remember a day in particular, when Adam and I, together with our architecture history lecturer Che’ Jak and his faithful little Suzuki, drove from Jalan Gurney (now Jalan Semarak) across the Banjaran Titiwangsa to Temerluh and Lancang. In Temerluh, it was a visit to a riverside village and to Lancang a small old wooden mosque. Both were similar that both were abandoned. The villagers in Temerluh had moved away to a new settlement to get away from the annual flood. The muddy mark on the wall indicated that flood level had often reached above the floor. And mind you the houses were on tall stilts. The mosque was abandoned because a new mosque had been built. The houses in the village and mosque were both built in timber. Time will see that it falls down ‘menyembah bumi’.

Che’ Jak in his usual manner said that the mosque, any mosque for that matter resides in our heart. There will always be a mosque whenever and wherever we are. It is within that ‘mosque’ in our heart that we prostrated at least five times a day, to pray. That mosque will never be old and abandoned, far will it be ever demolished. To destroy that mosque in the heart is to destroy the virtue of prayer. On the same analogy, the little wooden mosque was abandoned because it was not anymore in the heart of the people. Their heart was in the new building. So that’s where they went to pray.

The street demonstration I encountered or the one before that will never solve any problem. The difference between the two demonstrating groups was like black and white and like ‘langit dan bumi’. The one who called the ruin a mosque will always say that it was a mosque because that was what in their heart and they believe so. The other side will always say it wasn’t. It was not one to them.

One day in a freer time, I would love to revisit the old mosque in Lancang again. But that first visit was twenty one years ago. I doubt if it is still standing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

jailed for a kedah slang

Ahmad Hafizal would go down in Malaysia’s history as a significant individual. He became a celebrity of sort as the first Malaysian youth to be jailed for not attending the Khidmat Negara or National Service. It made a great headline because he was (at least to me) a very embodiment of character that the National Service sought to shape in every Malaysians school leaver. He had not attended the NS because he had to sacrifice himself, winning the rice for his extremely poor family. In fact he had even sacrificed from the opportunity of education, dropping out of school at a much earlier age to till the land, working in the paddy field, earning a pittance all in the name of his family. Was he not a hero? Larger in character than any that NS can ever help to shape.

If others think that he was sent to jail for the NS, I beg to think differently. I think sent to jail for his slang.

Reading through the events leading to his prosecution, I thought he was prosecuted for his slang. Or more accurately his inability to express himself in the standard language. No!. I do not wish to question the law or the learned judge’s judgment and be prosecuted for contempt of court myself. Certainly I am not that anywhere near to be a hero. But I write about language and its peculiarity and I found something peculiar and even hilarious in the case. It was said that when asked by the judge whether he knew about NS, he answered yes. Whether he knew the consequence of absenteeing, he also said yes. When asked why he did not attend the NS he said he was ‘lazy’. For that he was sent to jail.

I did not attend the trial, but I was certain he answered the questions in Bahasa Melayu, and in Kedah slang to be exact. I knew for certain because with my other half a Kedahan, I met and knew many Kedahans and I have now a fair grip on their slang, how a word can have a different meaning if pronounced differently.

Let’s touch only on the ‘yes’ (ya, tau) and lazy (malas, segan) in Kedah slang.

In standard Bahasa, ‘tau’, or ‘tahu’ means yes. But in Kedah slang ‘tau’ can mean either ‘yes’ or ‘I have no idea’ depending how it was spoken. When Harizal answered ‘tau’ the first two questions, he had meant ‘No, I have no idea’. The court thought he said yes and proceded to the next question.

Imagine the judge asking, ‘Awat hang tak pi Khidmat Negara?’.(Why have you not attended Khidmat Negara?) and getting his response ‘segan’ for an answer. If the judge understood ‘segan’ to mean lazy, then jail was supposedly the right punishment. But ‘segan’ as many of us know can also mean ‘I can’t afford it’. He could not afford the time as he was working and he can’t afford it financially as he was earning for the family. He was just being honest under the circumstances. I could imagine a poor uneducated boy, standing in the defence dock, awed by the whole court proceeding. He would have been a meek, confused, intimidated (by the ambience) and fearful. I have been in the court once myself and found myself awed by its regality. Imagine what thought goes in the poor boy's mind then. If I had been Hafizal myself, I could have been cowed, may be even pissing in my pants. I don’t blame him for answering in short ‘tau’ and ‘segan’. He had just wanted to get it over and done with.

The rest, consequently became history.

Friday, May 13, 2005

posts, titles and evolution of terms

I read with interest a recent article in Malaysiakini – ‘Bekas imam saman Masjid Darul Ehsan Subang Jaya’. I do not wish to touch on the litigation issue. I am far from qualified to do so. I only want to touch on a small part of the article.

‘….memperkenalkan pengurusan moden… …. jawatan imam kini dikenali sebagai pengurus masjid, bilal sebagai timbalan pengurus masjid dan siak sebagai penolong pengurus masjid’

I remember writing a blog titled ‘thinking of old suraus’. In it I touched on the old suraus independence and contributions of private individuals to the religious need of the society. That was in the yesteryears. Suraus and masjids these days became a prize in middle of a tug of war between people of different ideology. The irony was that both preach on the same Islam and for the love of the same Allah. Love yet fight over it! How appropriate it was when M.Nasir put it in a song ‘Kerana cinta duniamu berperang’ (over love your world’s at war).

I accept that most of our masjids were not best managed and new approach was needed. But must we change the title of imam to manager (pengurus masjid), bilal to deputy mosque manager (timbalan pengurus masjid) and siak to assistant mosque manager (penolong pengurus masjid)? I thought imam was the term for the one who lead the prayer, bilal the one who intone the call to prayer (after Bilal bin Rabah the first man appointed by Rasulullah to call out the azan) and the siak look after the keeping of the masjid. Is not siak more appropriately called manager? But then the siak is lower in rank to the imam so he can only be an assistant. Perhaps they are now to be paid as managers in the government salary scale. That would be good for them and it has my support.

It was thought provoking that we must start anew with a new name, a new term or a new title whenever we try to improve something. When the nation gained independence, we change all our road names. When a non Muslim embraced Islam, he’s expected to take a new name with ‘bin Abdullah (so much so that to convert to Islam was popularly termed ‘masuk Melayu). When a village lad went to town, Samad became Sam, Salmah became Sally and Fatimah became Fatty for overdose of McD and KFC.

So to improve mosques management, the thousand over years old term must be changed. Have we no love for history? Can’t we keep something sacred?

Interestingly, terms now used in our daily life may have had a different meaning previously. The term ‘entrepreneur’ was once meant a person who runs pleasure business – whore house, brothels et al. Then it was used for people who organize entertainments business – music, theatre, concerts etc. Now it was meant for what we all now understand – a person who own, starts and run a business or many businesses. The term ‘khalwat’ used to mean ‘going into seclusion to seek Allah’s company and pleasure alone.’ Now it was meant as ‘going into seclusion to seek pleasure with the other (or maybe the same) sex.’

If used often and repeatedly the new terms may be acceptable. Lies when told often and repeatedly would be accepted as truth. Mussolini and Hitler believed so and played that to the hilt. They almost own the world.

Maybe in the future, when two of us set out to do a solat berjemaah, one will say, ‘Please, I’ll be the ‘makmum’.

‘You be the ‘Pengurus Masjid’

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

a trip to jakarta (part 2)

Jakarta was a city of 20 million people – that almost equal the whole of Malaysia’s population. And in the twenty odd millions Malaysians were a few millions Indonesians, - Malaysianised, ‘resident’ised, legal, illegal or otherwise.

From the tinted windscreen of the supir-driven mobil, it was easy to see the economic gap between the rich and the poor. In the air-conditioned walkways of Sogo at Plaza Indonesia, the men were well dressed and every girl looks like a model. On the street a little farther from the Central Business District, at the junctions or at railroad crossings, little kids loiter among the waiting cars, selling something, begging. This I realized was the reality of life. The rich and the poor somehow coexist in balance. Only they don’t always appear together. I saw in Indonesia something very much like in Malaysia. There were the semblance of Petaling Street, Kampung Baru and Kampung Abdullah Hukum; but in Jakarta, they don’t put up a colourful billboard to hoard reality. To do so would mean a massive investment.

An Indonesian friend told me a joke about the rich of Jakarta.

When the poor met one another they asked ‘Hari ini kita makan apa?’ (What do we eat today?)

When the middle class met one another they asked ‘Hari ini kita makan di mana?’ (Where do we eat today?)

When the rich met one another they asked ‘Hari ini kita makan siapa?’ (Who do we eat today?)

It was (I think) a ‘politically’ bad, bad joke. For us Malaysian it was a ‘bisa’ – of the ‘poisonous’ kind. Make a joke like that on the internet and it might be debated in the parliament. My blog could be threatened with some Akta Multimedia. To the Jakartan it was also a ‘bisa’ – of the ‘normal/usual/acceptable’ kind. They could laugh easily at it and at themselves. It was in their world, something they dismissed as ‘gampang aja!’

Gampang? Watch it, don’t say it to anyone around here or you might just end up with a black-eye.

Monday, May 02, 2005

making cakes

Last night, our two girls were busy in the kitchen. Yati was teaching them how to make cake. Later Atin and Alia proudly offered their first cake to me. It’s a little too sweet for a cake but I kept my mouth shut. No adverse comments on their first effort. There were no comments from the normally sarcastic brothers too; they were already asleep in front of the TV.

The word cake brings two things to my mind. The cake making in the days when I was younger and the famed Mary Antoinette’s ‘Qu'ils mangent de la brioche’ / ‘Well, let them eat cake’ statement. I’d be dealing on the former but let’s touch on Mary’s first.

For those clueless on history, Mary Antoinette was the Austria born queen of King Louis XVI. She was married to the future king at the age of 14. Life in the palace since such tender age certainly had blinded her from the reality of the world and the turmoil of the French populace.

In 1789, French populace had begun a revolution against the King. They had little or nothing to eat while the royals and nobles were having a ball of their time. A ‘ball’ both literally and figuratively speaking. Watch movies like Three Musketeers or Tale of Two Cities and you’ll see the recreated opulence of the time. Then was also the high season for arts and architecture – just looking at the Palace of Versailles. Mary was the earliest of a woman’s (lib)erator. She was the source of French support for American Independence in 1776 to 1789 so much so that France was said to bankrupt for financing America’s war. Perhaps the lady of The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to America was Mary. That economic disaster led to longer queue for food. When told that the long queue was due to shortage of bread for the people, she remarked the famous ‘Well, let them eat cakes’ remark. That quote was plastered all over Paris the next day. It agitated the people so much they revolted and Mary Antoinette lost her head at the guillotine. At least that was how the history was written.

Now for the history of cake making as I know it.

For Alia and Atin, to make a cake, you pop open a box of ready-mix flour, pour into a basin, add water, stir a little and place in the oven. Check the temperature setting and after a while, ting!, and hey presto, a cake is done.

It wasn’t that simple then.

Che’, our grandmother baked ‘baulu’ (Malay cake) a few times in a year – mostly on the the two Hari Rayas and Chinese New Years. Chinese New Year baulu was meant for Ah Kuang, Aki’s bus conductor, Ah Juat, Mek Kiat or the other Chinese in the village as ‘balasan’ (return gift) for ‘kuih bakul’ (mooncake). The baulu making at any time was for us an event.

The process for baulu making began with collecting ‘sabut’ and ‘tempurung’ (coconut husk and shell) in addition to ‘arang’ (charcoal). These are for the cinder. The cake process in itself began with sieving the flour. Those days flour came in ‘guni gandum’ - big white cloth sacks with a lot of impurities. It starts with beating the eggs. Only egg-white was used. The yolk would be for some other delicacies especially ‘Tok Aji Serban’ or ‘serawa’. The beating was a favourite thing for us. It was a joy hearing the sound of the ‘kepok’ in the batter and watching it ‘naik’. Because the ‘kepok’ must be done in a single direction, Che’ kept a watchful eye over us lest the ‘kepok’ circle goes haywire. Then the flour was added to the egg to complete the dough. When the dough is done, Che’ will carefully pour them into the ‘sarang’ (mould) made of brass. It was time to bake the baulu. To ensure consistent golden crust to the baulu, the brass mould is placed on the ‘tungku’ and heated both from above and below. The cover of the mould was shaped in such a way that cinder could be placed on top. Baking was an important part of the process. Che’ just seem to know the exact time to place the cinder or to extinguish the fire. Anytime sooner would make the baulus uncooked and anytime later would make it ‘hangus’. We kids would pray that it was hangus because the baulus then would be for us. Waiting for ‘kuih hangus’ (burnt cakes) seems to be a universal phenomena. I saw that on some advertisement, on Hollywood movies and whenever Yati baked something. The love for ‘kuih hangus’ must be a universal human experience.

Of cakes and breads, I think it’s interesting to note the difference of terminology between a Terengganuan and Kedahan. We Terengganuan call bread, ‘roti’ and biscuits, ‘biskut’. Kedahan call both bread and biscuit - ‘roti’. My kids would always laugh at their Kedah grandmother whenever she serves them biscuits but call out to them to eat the ‘roti’.

Mary Antoinette must have meant something else when she told the French to eat ‘cakes’. French must then be extremely humorless. They could have laughed at her mistakes but then they had preferred her head.

Friday, April 22, 2005

a trip to Jakarta (part 1)

Last week, I made a trip to Jakarta. One, to look for business opportunity and two, to attend a wedding. It was my second trip. The first made in 97 (or was it 98?) to study the Padepokan Pencak Silat Indonesia, after which Gerbang Persilatan Terengganu was modeled on. As I passed by the Padepokan, while visiting the Taman Mini Indonesia, I saw that the center was still alive for what it was. Back home in Terengganu, the Gerbang Persilatan is no longer the home for Pesilat Terengganu. Soon after its completion, it went into ownership turmoil and sadly as a result failed to be what it was meant to be originally. But then, Gerbang Persilatan was built with Government’s money unlike the Padepokan that was built by three generous individual as a gift to the nation. I would not comment more on that. This is not what this blog is for.

The time of the trip coincided with some important events. The Ambalat Block - Sulawesi Sea incident, the ‘Ganyang Malaysia’ demonstration (2 Mac 2005) and the continuing seismic activity of Gunung Talang (beginning 12 April 2005). Jakarta too was about to host the Asia Africa Summit (22-23 April). Against the background, military present were felt. Armed personnel were obvious on the roadsides. Cars into hotels and shopping complexes were searched and entry into buildings was through metal detector. The Indonesian host when asked about the incident diplomatically answered, ‘Apa bikin ribut, Pak. Kita kan serumpun.’ (Why the noise. Are we not of the same race?). Our driver when asked about the demonstration laughingly explained. ‘Di sini bisa aja Pak - pokoknya dibayar’ (It’s normal here, as long as they are paid). Against the background I chose not to walk on the street - something I love to do when visiting foreign places. Instead I rented a chauffeured car. Even then we were constantly reminded. ‘Jangan guna telefon di simpang Pak, nanti dirampok.’ (Don’t use hand-phone at the junction Sir. We might get robbed)

Because we are ‘serumpun’ – of the same race, we share the same language. Despite so, the meaning of words may differ to a hilarious consequence.

As we were leaving the immigration checkpoint, queuing for custom x-ray, a security officer called out, ‘Mas, lorong sini.’ (Mas, this lane please) Almost everyone of MAS flight from Kuala Lumpur went to a single lane. Then someone laugh. The call was not for Malaysia Airline passengers but for everyone. ‘Mas’ was their way of saying Mister or Sir. They might also call you ‘Bapak’ (father) or Ibu (mother) for the ladies.

I had a good laugh on my second day in Jakarta. I had the night before booked for a car. In the morning I went to the concierge asking for it. ‘Pak, saya menunggu kereta.’ (Mister, I’m waiting for a car). He gave me an ‘are you crazy?’ look. Sensing something amiss, I quickly added, ‘Never mind, please put me to Pak Jaya.’- the man who made the arrangement for me.

Thing went smoothly until late afternoon. As we were passing a railway track, Yati asked, ‘Keretapi tu ke mana Pak?’ (What’s the train destination?).

Oh, kereta tu ke Bandung’ (Oh, the car is to Bandung) said the driver.

Kereta?’ (Car?) I asked.

Maaf Pak. Di sini, ini dipanggil mobil. Kereta itu kereta-api.’ (Sorry sir, this (the car) is called ‘mobil’ here, kereta (car) is the train)

I laughed. No wonder the concierge was looking wierdly at me.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

the malay college (part 2)

MCKK, its environment, its teachers and students, to a great extent, made me and many others what we are today. For a Malay ‘kampung boy’ from Sekolah Kebangsaan Kemasek, (where?) I may not be writing this in English if not for a painful punch in the stomach by the ‘mad’ Mr. Terrence Ng and maybe not an architect if not for ‘Mr Lee Sai Soo’. I was so bad with my Quran reading that I opt out of Pendidikan Ugama Islam and took up Art instead. In Form 5, as the President of Art Club, and one of the few science class ‘artists’ (who took art in exam) I had the privilege and the key to the Art Room; a great place for getaway and sleeping. Funny how fate intertwined – shaping up your future. It was ‘art’ (and some essay writings too) that gave me the chance to walk-up the stage receiving awards on Speech Days, almost without fail; despite my academic hopelessness elsewhere; something a particular teacher noticed.

Only recently when I delivered a career talk on architecture, a girl stood up to ask. ‘Sir, how do you yourself get to be an architect?’ That fateful day I decided to be an architect kind of flashes by. I said, ‘Well, let me tell you the story.’ It was the story of Mr Lee Sai Soo.

If Mr. Lee was the reason for my career, Mrs. Lee was instrumental in my learning of the meaning ‘long arm of M-Chop – the Law. She reported to M-Chop our headmaster of some missing Terengganu boys, near one Raya holidays, and M-Chop personally gave us his best hand once the holiday's over.

Business exposure too began for me in MCKK. (I would count selling ice cream during primary school too.) In 1979, Che’gu Ghazali started a cooperative movement. I was an active founding member and its secretary the next year. Running the coop means having to go out to town to buy stocks (plus a quick detour to …….. for coke and chicken-chop). It was a post that interestingly gave me privilege to go out to town almost every day on the pretext of buying stocks for coop. It too was an excuse that saved me from DC (Detention Class – MCKK’s own brand of detention without trial) or maybe even the cane when caught by Sab the head-boy out in Kuala one day. Che’gu Ghazali’s belated signature on the ‘town-leave’ form saved my butt.

School co-op sells only exercise books and stationeries. It was boring and brings little money. 1980 was the 75th anniversary. We grabbed the opportunity to print T-shirts and souvenirs and made a handsome profit of over RM3000 that year. The Cooperative ‘posts’ gave us some ‘air’ of importance. I remember some of us feeling so important that they (it was Shah and Hamdan I think), in smart but ‘borrowed’ blue blazers, took a MAS flight from Ipoh to Subang ‘representing MCKK’ to make a deal on souvenir printing. Of course it was not on the coop expense.

One may wonder how rarely teachers were mentioned in my memories of MCKK. But that was the way of the school and we were free to run things our own way. Teachers were there on the sideline; as advisors, guiding but seldom interfering. It was the wisdom in the education system that allows character development, independence and making mistakes. It was the wisdom that has no parallel in local education and sadly missed with the introduction of AUKU (University College Act) and its gross misinterpretation in the education system. Funny that AUKU introduction was attributed to some extent to an MCKK ‘terrorist’ – Saudara Anwar and Co. and the students’ riots of the 70’s.

About teachers.

To think that the fierce Malayness of the MCKK students was attributed to its teachers was a half truth. Yes, there were Malay teachers with a very thick ‘semangat Melayu’ but there were equally many non Malays, Indians, Chinese, Singh, Mat Salleh and one or two very ‘anti-Melayu’ teachers that at least one we nick-named ‘Komunis’. Remember we were then in the early decade of National Economic Policy (NEP) and its affirmative action. Special treatment for Malays were not truly endeared us to other Malaysian. But then even as boys, we don’t go crying to our parents for the insults, ridicules and even the punch on the stomach. We don’t even go to anyone even when we fought one another. Our junior-senior rivalry sometimes meant taking a personal fight in the Squash Court but hey, that’s our business.

Looking back, I think (at least for myself) that those ‘challenges’ made us tougher and more aware of ourselves. The teachers, the ‘komunis’ included must have meant well in their own peculiar ways. Truly that was ‘wisdom’ teaching so very early in life. I would not think twice of sending my own son to MCKK given the chance for I know he will learn as I once had.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

of brand, branding and selling

Yesterday, Pak Lah went on front page of the major dailies. I found it worth noting ‘yesterday’ for unlike Dr M, he wasn’t on front page often. ‘Go sell Malaysia’ he said. ‘We are an unknown brand.’ At least that’s my unqualified summary of his speech.

Cheekily, I hope that the wakil rakyat if not the rakyat will listen. Politicians too. With Pak Lah as the boss wakil rakyat and politician numero uno, they have little reason not to. They have been ‘branding’ too long but not selling. I mean selling Malaysia, contracts excluded.

We have been too long in our habit of branding people. Here in Terengganu (and I am sure elsewhere too) we especially the Malays brand people in either green or blue, ‘orang kita’ or ‘orang dia’. Then there was the branding of worse kind, ‘Mung kape! (kafir) – (You Infidel)’ and of late a much more sophisticated ‘ugly Malay’.

Perhaps if care to look at all the beauty and good qualities in the ‘goods’ around us then there’s plenty to sell. Let’s take from Pak Lah and be done with ‘branding’. Let’s go selling.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

the malay college

I went to MCKK at the age of twelve, spent the best part of my growing years until the age of eighteen and even after many years of having left it behind, felt like I have never been away from it; The Prep School, the Big Tree, Hargraeves Hall, Big School, M-Chop and Mutalib’s Highway. How can I ever forget ‘Fiat Sapientia Virtus’ – Let Manliness Come Through Wisdom’ – it’s motto. Last January 2, this year 2005, MCKK was a hundred years old. The celebration however was set on March 26. I would be there again InsyaAllah, to be among all those that had been there once upon a time, a boy among boys, proud of growing up in its ancient compound, walked out of its gate a man, older but not necessarily or maybe not even wiser.

MCKK began for me on a day when my excited father took me on his ‘basikal norton’ to tell the great news to my grandfather. For many-many years later, Aki would proudly tell everyone of the grandson who went to the ‘great school of the royals and leaders’; introduction that often had me squirming with embarrassment. I was amused with the special attention I was getting; all the preparation - the shopping for white baju melayu, white school uniform and white pillow cases and bed sheets and white ‘kelambu’. I was too young to understand that it would soon become my new home far away from home and much more. And I would be spending my first Hari Raya Puasa away from the family. An experience I would not want to repeat and one that cost me a ‘hands-on’ experience with M-Chop but that is for later. Now, I think I must have been very lucky. With only a 4A and a B in the Penilaian, I must have made it on the rural quotas, having later found out that almost all others went in with 5A’s. My sister went to Tun Fatimah two years earlier and I was kind of continuing with the boarding school tradition which almost all the fourteen of us siblings dutifully followed. I was too young to understand its significance and despite my seemingly studious nature, I was lazy to boot and spent more time scribbling away.

MCKK was to me so much more sophisticated than any environment I had previously known. There, beginning with the regal but squeaky floor boarded Prep School, I had learnt to live among boys of the same age; experienced living in a world of electrical light, took shower by piped water and do that ‘big’ thing in a ‘flush’ toilet. It was to me a whole ‘brave new world’. I am not exaggerating but the world I left behind was still a world of ‘air telaga’, ‘lampu gasolin’ and ‘jambang cuah’ (water drawn from well, gasoline lamp and bengal toilet).

MCKK was modernity in every sense.

MCKK too was a cradle for everything ‘Malay’ness. Baju Melayu with sarong and songkok every night, full baju melayu with ‘sampin’ on Friday and ‘BRU’ nights, and baju melayu with the maroon blazer over for those occasions I represented ‘Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar’ in debating.

Yet it too was a cradle for personal independence, or brotherly interdependence depending on which way you look at it. A brotherly spirit translated into a special lasting kinship of the old school tie as old boys. Those five years of learning everything or nothing (also depending on which way you look at it) made us leaders in our own way; vocal, bold and confidence to the point of snobbishness. We became the prominent sore thumb in the emerging boarding schools citizenry not so much for the way we carry ourselves but just by being a ‘budak koleq’. If even we were snubbed, we were what we were. We put our heart and soul in everything we do. We cried when we lost and we belittle others when winning. From the fringe of the playing fields or the halls whenever we won, we stood proudly to sing our school anthem against the jeering from the losers. And then came our turn to turn on our brand of the jeers. For the arch rival from Ipoh, the STARians we have the sweet ‘Twinkle, twinkle little Star….’ For standard fare, it’s ‘Bung Wak, Bung Wek wek, Bung Kak Bung Kek kek. Who are we? Malay College. Hoah!’

It too was (at least in my time) a fertile ground for Islamic Revivalism. For this MCKK had his own hero, one no other than ‘Saudara’ Anwar Ibrahim. BRU I had mentioned earlier stood for Badan Revolusi Ugama, an Islamic student movement founded in MCKK by Anwar. The late Allahyarham Ustaz Rahman, personally and endearingly told me once that even when he was in Form Six, Anwar was sought after by the Special Branch for giving ‘talks’ in local suraus and printing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Badan Revolusi Ugama’. Revolusi Ugama? That brother sure knew how to be in trouble.

Problem was, there were little to separate heroes from trouble makers. In the long history of MCKK, the heroes or the ‘terror’ as they were known were as popular as the ‘terrorist’ on the other side. Then in the seventies MCKK had plenty of both; kings and sultans, ministers (at least one with the distinction of being convicted for murder of political opponent), civil and corporate leaders; their name abound. On the other side were the ‘terrorists’ like (then jailed) Anwar and (then on exile) Hishamuddin Rais. be continued.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

on the bicycle again

A few days ago, my youngest son Adlan, pestered me to take off the extra wheel from his bicycle. At six, he was still riding with two side tyres; earning ridicules from his brother and sisters. At the same age, they were all cycling and swimming like duck to water. I didn’t believe him as he was normally afraid of roughing out but he persisted. Because I don’t have any tools, I took the bicycle to the shop. As soon as the side wheels were taken off, he took to the bicycle and zoomed away. Now, he was beginning to surprise me. Swimming lessons, next.

Adlan and his bicycle remind me of my own cycling lessons a great many years ago. Then there were only three types of bicycles. The ‘basikal norton’ or ‘basikal tua’ some would call, ‘basikal laki’ and ‘basikal pu’ang’. ‘Basikal laki’ (the male bicycle) was called so as it has a ‘batang’. [Batang, bar in English has a different connotation in Malay language]. The ‘batang’ of a bicycle has endeared itself to elderly Malay men. Ask them (discreetly) and they might tell you what it means.

A gender for bicycle was for those days of grace, elegance and strictly 'baju kurong'. Ladies’ pants, was yet to make its entrance. Then, ladies don’t ride ‘kekeng’ on a bicycle. So the top bar was removed and they have two lower bars for ladies bicycle instead. The adventurous girl who rode ‘basikal laki’ anyway was regarded as ‘macang jatang’ (tomboy) and any boy who ride a ‘basikal pu'ang’ would be sneered as ‘pondang’ (sissy).

Most of us learn to ride a bicycle on a ‘basikal norton’. The name ‘norton’ I guess was after the famous huge motorcycle long before we ever heard of Harley Davidson. Because it was huge, we have to ride ‘celah batang’ – between the bars. That requires a great balancing act and quick jumping off should the bicycle veered away. We all learnt the science of center of gravity pretty early. Once we master the balance, it was time to ride on the saddle. Because it was so high up, a sudden stop means landing hard, groin on the ‘batang’. ‘Aduh’!

Those years, the only brand of bicycle I recall was a ‘Raleigh’. Walk into a bicycle shop these days and bicycles were so varied its’ like a shampoo display. There are bicycles now for toddlers up to the big boys. Brands from local made to America to Italy to China. There are still some lady-like bicycles but even my daughters don’t take a second look at them. The choice was between ‘road-bike’, ‘mountain bike’ or ‘BMX’. Call it gender equality but Atin must get what Amir had. The big boys’ bicycles price mind you, can get you a secondhand Kancil. Then there were the gadgets, jerseys, helmets, sun-glass etcetera. If golfers wear Tiger Wood’s attire and use his endorsed golf clubs, the big boy cyclist competed on the latest of Team T-Mobile. Cyclists look to ‘Tour de France’ as golfers look to PGA for style.

Cycling reminded me of the story of Malaya’s early entrepreneur – Boon Siew, who started with a bicycle shop and ended with an empire of Honda agency. It reminded me too of Ah Kiang, the bicycle shop men in my village. In his standard attire of singlet and khaki shorts (they call it Bermudas these days) he was there making a living mostly by ‘tapung tiub’ for thirty cents or changing the ‘sumbu’ for ten. We would not change the tyre until it really ‘pancat’. I can still picture him, sitting on a wooden stool, pumping the leaking tube with air, dipping it in the trough, a 'tin minyak gas’ cut in half; of oily blackish soapy water, checking for bubbles, once found he set to sand with a ‘kikir’, applied the stinking glue and pasted a piece of cut tube over. He would turn to you and say, ‘Bocor sikek je. Mung tunggu kejak ah. Biar kering betul dulu. Baru buleh pang anging.’ He could have like the present days mechanics simply ‘tukar baru’ but he didn’t. He knew that we are all poor as he was not much better. Once in a while, when the fish catch was good would he be able to sell some bicycles. But he was always there to keep our bicycles moving, even on a Friday when a shout to him upstairs on his shop would see him coming down. ‘Mung sokmo’ he would say, ‘kacau aku nok tido je’. He was and will always be to me a picture of honesty. I wonder if he is still there, I wonder if it is still thirty cents to ‘tapung tiub’ of the bicycle.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

‘the free extra’

As someone who spent twenty years outside Terengganu, my homecoming was in itself a journey of self-discovery. Suddenly, my classrooms were everywhere. ‘Pasar Maghrib’ included.

I returned after being away for twenty long years since the tender age of twelve. Against such background, Kuala Terengganu was to me a strange place. To my other half, a Kedahan, the environment was even more alien.

Within the quiet environment, I found more time for reading, for attending the ‘baca kitab’ sessions or talks after the prayers, and to join in quiet ‘lepak’ at the ‘lambor’ of ‘surau’ waiting for isya’ when the speaker fails to turn-up. I took up cycling too, but that’s years later and another story.

As strange as it may be, this was a lovely place to be, the sky is always blue (even when KL was shrouded in haze), the air fresh, the beach captivatingly beautiful and best of all the people are very friendly. They are your friends after just a single encounter, even without you knowing their name. That friendship means raising your hand greeting the guy at the other end of ‘Kedai Payang’; waving at the driver in the next car, calling each other ‘boh’ (for boss), a ‘salam’ and shake-hand all around. That friendship means consistently free lunch when eating out, that you soon join in the race to 'belanja' or to pay first. And that friendship means an extra fish or two at the market; extra scoop of ‘beras siam’ (siam rice) at Pasar Payang; extra packet of ‘nasi dagang’ and extra ‘tulang’ over the half kilo of meat you bought. Those are ‘free extras’.

That ‘free extra’ I later discovered was more than just a friendly gift. It underlines a deep understanding of religious principle of purity in wealth, of right and wrong and of things ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘haram’ (forbidden). Principles so deeply ingrained in their life that it became a culture. Principle based on the doctrine oft repeated in the Quran; ‘Perfect thee, thy weight and measure’ (sempurnakanlah timbangan dan takaran). Something we all had taken for granted and even dismissed as petty.

These days of profit orientation, shareholders return and growth percentage, we took to all means to better the margin. Even if that mean denying the rights of others, trampling on the environment and forgoing all sense of human decency. How else can we explain why on the day a major conglomerate announced a profit of billions, it too front-paged a major dismissal plan of their workers, once their very source of existense. Call it retrenchment, VSS or whatever, it is still as good as taking away their dignity. How, automated, computer generated bills must be paid without fail even if the week supply of food rot in the fridge after a black-out and murky water in the pipes stink to high heaven. We have all lost the virtue of others above self.

But here, in the small market hall, there are people who still care. People who still worry that their weight and measures were reduced somehow and the money earned blemished to a point it is ‘haram’, and they want no part of them. Let it be to them that they give more, the more to made up the shortage and as a ‘sedekah’ – gift of ‘ikhlas’ and from the heart.

That was truly the lesson and challenge of the ‘free extra’.

Pasar Maghrib is located at Jalan Pasir Panjang close to Maktab Perguruan Pasir Panjang. It was called so as it operated late afternoon and well pass the sunset, time for Maghrib prayer; something extraordinary in Kuala Terengganu as other markets are usually closed at five. It was a group of shanty huts until its redevelopment in 2001. Despite being renamed ‘Pasar Bukit Besar’ it remain to the locals as Pasar Maghrib.

Friday, March 04, 2005

‘pil samo’

Malaysian health care has certainly come a long way.

Every time I took my kids to their favorite doctor, I shudder at the thought of having to pay a considerable amount of RM for medicine and consultations. But it had to be at their favorite doctor because the clinic is beautiful, complete with a play area and the lady doctor was always generous with ‘lollypops’. While the consultation has not improved much from the standard, ‘Adik, apa sakit?’ (What’s wrong with you?), the medications were now aplenty. It certainly was a far improvement from the day of ‘pil samo’.

When I was a kid, there was only a government’s ‘Pusat Kesihatan Kecil’ in my kampong. The ‘doctor’ was a ‘H.A’ and he was so assimilated in the community that the clinic is virtually open 24 hours a day. Best of all we don’t have to pay. Everything, from consultations to medicines were free.

The medicines available then were limited. If I recall correctly, there were only ‘pil samo’, ‘ubat biru’ and ‘air-ding’. Plastic medicine bottles were unheard of. To visit the clinic, one must always bring a clean bottle or two. Bottles can mean ‘botol kicap’, ‘botol air lamned’ or ‘botol tomato’. The latter preferred because of its clear glass and come with a reuseable cap. But ‘tomato’ was a luxury and you can find few of them bottles. If you have to bring ‘botol kicap’, don’t worry because the clinic will provide you with the ‘gabus’ (cork).

‘Air-ding’ (iodine) was the brownish orange liquid used to clean cuts, as well as a cure for it. Getting cuts were frequent occurrence because most of us kids were using ‘selipar jepun’. The only shoes we have were the white school shoes; it must be kept clean and white so using them for playing was out of question. ‘Selipar jepun’ are also not good for running so we played ‘kaki ayam’ (bare footed) thus, the frequent cuts on the sole. If the cuts were dirty, the attendants will first clean them with spirit methyl. It was ‘pedih’ like hell. Because it was so dreadful, rather than visit the clinic, many of us kids would just put in the ‘serbuk kawe’ (grounded coffee) on the cuts, wrap them with ‘kain buruk’ (old cloth) and played on. Amazingly it does work wonder. In a sense, iodine was significant in a Malay boy’s journey to manhood. Ask them about their great adventure of ‘bersunat’ (circumcision) and you will know what I mean.

‘Ubat biru’ (literal translation - blue medicine) was an ultramarine blue liquid used for ‘kudis’ – all kind of skin diseases then common.

The panacea of all ills then must have been the ‘pil samo’.

‘Pil samo’ as the name implies were tablets pink in color. I remember them being the only medicine prescribed be it for fever, headache, toothache, flu, whatever. If adults were given pills, we kids were given ‘obat air’ of the same ‘pil samo’ but grounded in water. So shake well before use. Amazingly the same ‘pil samo’ were grounded into paste for ‘ubat gatal’ (skin disease medication). I knew this because I was always a curious kid, and the attendants don’t mind me peeking into their ‘laboratory’.

The ‘laboratory’ – if you can call it such, was hardly one we are now familiar with. The basic they had were probably the ‘stone and mortar’ for grinding the pills into everything else; the pots for boiling utensils, needles, syringes, knives, scissors etc; a stainless steel container for sterilised utensils and a fridge for keeping some special medicines, mostly those applied by injection. It scares the wit off you, when the H.A opened the fridge and said ‘Ning kena cocok ning’ (I need to give you an injection).

Despite the rudimentary facilities and dependency on ‘pil samo’ we survived. There were no ‘lactose intolerance’, ‘obesity’, high cholesterol or diabetes. Most of us survived the environment to now be the ‘forty-somethings’.

Sometimes I wonder aloud, if the advancement in health care and medicinal technology came because of the new diseases or was it the other way. Maybe, just maybe, we should take a good re-visit to the days of ‘botol kicap’ ‘air-ding’, ‘ubat biru’ and ‘pil samo’.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

of ihram and equality

In Mina, within the cramped fire-proof tents, we felt the meaning of equality of men. There, as in the whole of ‘Tanah Haram’, some small deeds gain immediate retributions. Wrong-doing too. You got paid in cash they say.

In the tents, space was such a premium that the mattresses were laid overlapping one another. One can only sleep if he can stand sleeping close to his snoring neighbor. So close that a complaining pilgrim described it in his Perak slang as ‘bernapeh dalam telinge teman' (breathing in my ear)’ But everyone was tired and everyone was snoring. So what difference does it make?
With more than three hundred pilgrims sharing the same tent, it was impossible to know everyone. So when the wives come calling, checking on the husbands, asking for the spare ‘ihram’ or whatever, they better know not the name or title but their husband’s mattress number.

A lady’s voice was heard from outside the tent. ‘Boleh panggil Haji Nawi?’ (Can you call Haji Nawi?). Instantly and almost in unison came the response, ‘nombor berapa? (what‘s the number?’)
Reduced to numbers certainly made us all equal.

Oh, about the spare ihram?

For the uninitiated, ihram is a garment of two pieces of white cloth without any sewing that every male hajis must wear while in ihram. You don’t get it? Well, the ritual of Haj, requires a male pilgrim, to wear only that two pieces of cloth. Absolutely nothing else! Not even the underwear. That two pieces of cloth is call the ihram. Ihram too is the term describing the state of restrictions that all pilgrims must observe as a condition for Haj. Restricted among others are acts of hunting, killing, fighting, arguing, sex, shaving or putting on perfumes. In ihram, all the pilgrims from kings to paupers are equal. As soon as he donned the garb, made a ‘niat’, and set out to Arafah for ‘wukuf’ he is required to remain in the same garb until he completed his first stoning at Jamaratul Aqabah and cut or shave his hair. Women? Their ihram (before you start imagining ‘bukan-bukan’) is the regular prayer garment not like the men. Because the ihram is normally made of towel, it made a good blanket as well.

As soon as the pilgrims arrived in Mina from Arafah, most went straight to stoning, cut their hair and change from the ihram to normal wear. But, discarding the garb then does not free the pilgrim from another restriction that is abstaining from sex or any conducts leading to it. In short, man and his wife are still restricted from being together. That is until they returned to Mekah and performed the ‘tawaf’ and ‘saie’ when all the restrictions are lifted and you are officially a Haji.

At night, in the tent, Mina was rather cold. Blankets provided by ‘muassasah’ were rather worn out. So the ladies seek for their husbands’ ihram as alternative. So when the first of the ladies peek into the tent asking for her husband’s ihram, some guys were quick to pass a remark. ‘Tak dapat Haji Din, dapat kain ihram Haji Din pun jadilah’ (Can’t get Haji Din, it’s good enough to just have his ihram). Others laughed.

Soon, it gets hilarious as one wife after another came asking for her husband’s ihram and almost no one was exempted. Retributions were certainly swift.

The story was based on real event. The names of the characters were changed to protect the identity and privacy of the real person – Editor.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

naik haji (part one) ‘the leap of faith’

Until I had performed my Haj, I was fearful that thing I write or muse on its ritual may cause me to face some form of retribution when I am there. Even those who had been there were very secretive about their personal experience. Ask too much and they will hush you into silence. ‘Awang kena gi dinung baru Awang buleh rase.’ (‘You must be there to experience it.’) Such was the mystery associated with the fifth and final testimony of Islam. After all the Baitullah is the House of Allah and the mystical stories, some chilling, were abound.

My earliest memory of pilgrimage was about an ‘orang lurus’ (a simpleton) who went to Mekah by jumping down a coconut tree.

Once upon a time, there was a village simpleton. Let us call him Si Betul. He attended a ‘pondok’ (religious school) somewhere in Besut. Because he was so trusting, so straight a character likened to ‘betul bendul’ (straight as a door frame), he was often the subject of ridicule even by the ustazs. One day, the subject was about ‘faith’. The ustaz stressed that those with absolute faith is capable of achieving anything just by a wish; nothing is impossible. Maybe because it was the Haj season, Si Betul became excited. So he asked, ‘Ustaz. Doh kalu kita yaking, kita rase nok gi Mekah, kita sapa Mekahlah?’ (Teacher. So if we have faith and we feel like going to Mekah, we can get there?) He kept repeating the question until the teacher became fed-up. ‘Ho lah! (Yes, of course)’ the ustaz said. ‘Mung naik pokok nyor, kejang mata, baca Bismillah, pah tu terejung. Sapa lah Mekah. (You go up a coconut tree, close your eyes, read Bismillah, then jump. You’ll get to Mekah.’) The next day Si Betul went missing. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. He was almost forgotten. About four months passed. Now was the time for the ‘kapal haji’ (pilgrim ship) to return with pilgrims from Mekah. As was customary, the ustaz and most of the ‘pondok’ students were at Port Kelang to greet the arriving Hajis. Those ‘kapal haji’ days, a pilgrim was sent and greeted by at least a busload of well wishers. There, on the deck of the ship was Si ‘Haji’ Betul, in ‘jubah’ and ‘serban’ grinning from ear to ear.
Indeed, he had taken the leap of faith.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

of riches and hardship

A friend of mine who happened to be 'filthy' rich, (Din) related this story. He was walking out of a heart specialist clinic when his 'not so friendly' friend (Man) saw him and the following jest took place.

M: Mari m’ane Ding? (Where from Din?)
D: Klenek. Mari wak ce-kak sikek. (Clinic. Just some check-up)
M: Ce-kak? Napok sehak je. Kena ce- kak gok? (Check-up? You look fine.
Still have to check?)
D: Nok wak guane (What to do)
M: [sarcastically] Susoh jadi orang kaye ning! (It’s hard to be rich eh?)
D: Mung kaye ke Mang? (Are you rich Man?)
M: Dok. (No)
D: Aku kaye dok susoh pong. Mung dok kaye mung tahu mane susoh kaye?
(I’m rich but I dont feel any hardship. You’re not rich, how do you know it’s hard to be one?)

Friday, February 18, 2005

back again

The problem with having too much time at hand equal that of having too much to do. At least for me.
Whenever I am in either, I procrastinate. Meaning- I laze. waiting for some 'heavenly' inspiration or for the eleventh hour be pressing. I know at the back of my head that soon, very-very soon I must do something about it or else.....
Its not that I am lazy, (Bukannya malas) but I am reluctant (tapi culas). Just to keep me wary, I repeat in my mind my favourite 'peribahasa' - ' Kerja tertangguh tak menjadi, kerja teragak tak tertahan. Translated to roughly mean ' A work delayed is never done, a work without commitment is never sustained.'
The Haj trip was a solid two months of bliss; of practically total detach from work, business, commitment and even family to a certain extent. It was a time solely devoted to rituals of 'ibadah' and eating and sleeping in between with the latter two much more outstanding. What a 'holiday' it was.
And like after all other holidays, it is hard to get back to work. It is hard to go back to blogging. It is harder to go back to cycling.
And before I can go back on the road, cycling, my bicycle need a thorough cleaning and greasing.
So am I.
I'll do it tomorrow.......