September 20, 2009
Today is Hari Raya in Malaysia
Beautiful kerosene lamps made from recycled aluminium tins. An effort of creative youths.(photo by Steve Ling of Sibu)
Bamboo canon - well preserved traditional bamboo art. (Photo by Steve Ling of Sibu)
I live in Malaysia where Islam is the dominant religion. More than half of its population are Muslims. And I grew up at the periphery of a Malay Kampong called Kampong Nyabor in Sibu. In fact my grandfather bought the piece of land from a Malay friend. Abang Koh was truly an Abang (older brother) to my father.
Each Ramadan would make us and our neigbhours very expectant and excited. We had wonderful aromas of curries and masak lemak floating around us. Every few days we would be given some of the food by our gracious Kak (who was never married). We also had some special food sent to our house by Abang Koh's cousin whom we called Aunty. And in return my parents would reciprocate in the Foochow style of reciprocating with aerated water and Sunkists for their celebration. I remember going over to their houses when they made their dodol in their compound and I would stare into the pot as the fire roared away.
Kak had an adopted daughter who was slightly younger than I and she would make the ketupats with her older relatives. Being young and very self conscious I would just watch them make but never dare to ask them to teach me. I was just happy sitting on the wooden stair case and "just watch" until my mother would call me home or my sister would come to pull me towards home. I was a child who loved to "cross home" meaning to go visit the neighbours. I just liked to observe everything around me but it was deemed rather negatively. I suppose many heads were shaking behind my back and I was construed to be a bit of a wild child to many.
This is a display kuali in a Shah Alam Hotel. I love the huge kuali which is similar to Kak's kuali. Such a scene is no longer a commonaly in Sibu today. Every one would have electrical home appliances and dodol is perhaps no longer made in this way!!
Kampong houses then were never locked! If a Malay house was locked up all the neighbours would panic thinking the worst had happened. I still remember Kak one day calling out to her neighbour (Sharifah) that she was going to the market and could she look after her house? She then left without even closing the front door! Absolute security.
Two or three houses came between our house and their houses. In these houses lived Iban families and a few Hokkien families. I remember these houses belonged to Abang Koh who had rented to them for peanuts. Like 30 dollars a room? In those days many families lived in one rented room per family and shared a common kitchen. Stoves were separatly made and tables placed in the kitchen. And each family would have their small kitchen cabinet or wooden food safe(for their bowls and and food). Each of these food safes would have ceramic bowls for the legs.
It was thus so easy for families to see what others had for their meals. Gossips naturally abound. But as neigbhours I remember we more or less respected each other and kept our distances. I remember the grief (and lots of wailing)involved when a member passed away or an errant husband ran away.
However the Malay families were lovely and every evening I would love to see the ladies and the young girls all dressed in white walking slowly and graceful towards the mosque at the end of the road. They were like pilgrims making their holy journey in the growing dusk.
There was a lot of sharing amongst the families in those days when the telephone and electricity supply was not public utilities yet! Furthermore most of the families depended on a concrete tank of water into which the gutters would regurgitate rainwater. I would always remember how we children bathed using the rainwater in our house. It was always so cold. Some mosquito larvae would be wriggling inside the water too. We enjoyed our baths on hot days because the sun was strong enough to heat up the water. And every now and then my mum would use a metal brush to clean the cement walls inside. Tiles of course were unheard of in those days. Later when we had piped water we were happy with the clean water. Piped water was like a miracle to the women of our area!
Even receiving the water bill was a moment of delight. The matriarchs would gather along the road side and compare their bills. And they would talk about how to reduce their bills of $1.60!!
These were the goodies we enjoyed when visiting our close friends:
Locally made aerated water still available in Sarawak and Brunei. For this photo I had to buy the two drinks from a special shop in Sg. Liang (Brunei)
But what I liked most in those days were the oil lamps which were specially made by the Malay youths and their fathers. Every family would compete with each other to see how many lamps they could make to line up the road or the ubiquitous raised wooden path to their homes. Some who had the means already had the fairy lights. Some even had fixed light bulbs!
So Raya meant that we could see the whole kampong lit up beautifully and we would cycle to as far as we could (were allowed) to see the beautiful lights. These are treasured memories. My mates were Onn Suut and Amnah who lived next door to each other in Kampong Baru. Abang Ibrahim and Zailani were friendly and cheerful friends. Dora and Halimah were best of friends with me. Then we also has Hapipah who lived fairly near me. We would form quite a formidable bicycle patrol!!
Each Raya in Sibu would always remind my friends and I of our classmate the late Rashid as he passed away suddenly when we were in Form Five. We were completely dumbfounded when someone our age was taken away without explanation. the late Rashid would always be our leader for Raya visiting from Form One until he passed away. Later in life whenever we met up in Sibu we would always express our sadness when we thought of him.
I have learned to make ketupat from a friend very recently and my knobbly fingers are no longer as nimble as a child's ....
To all my Muslim friends Selamat Aidil Fitri.....and thanks for the memories.....