Monday, March 2, 2015

The Senandong Malam's Swansong

23:00h, 30th June 2011

I have heard and read the news about Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM, or Malayan Railways) ceasing its operations at the Tanjong Pagar Station for more than a year now. The Utusan Melayu, that journalistic relic from 1939 that my mother’s father and his colleagues had shed tears, sweat and blood for, has tried to make the incident its cause celebre. But, what can a Malay language newspaper with a rapidly declining readership and advertising revenue do in the face of the modernity juggernaut?

With that defeated mindset, I switch on the television set and surrender myself to the dispassionate coverage of that moment when crass capitalism triumphs over history, legacy and sovereignty.

The screen captures the motley crowd as it swarms the narrow platform of the railway station. Clueless youth pressed against seasoned, nostalgia junkies with their smart phone cameras on standby. It is a ‘happening’ event that any ‘cool’ dude would be wont to miss.

As the seconds ticked and the temperature rises, they work themselves into frenzy as they wait for the night's event to reach its climax. It seems more like a jubilant celebration to welcome the dawn of a new era than a sad farewell to a remnant of the link between the Johor Sultanate and its former territory.

The mob stirs as they catch a glimpse of the monarch and his men appearing from the belly of the night train that HRH has personally driven from the Woodlands station. The royal entourage humours the pulsating crowd as the Sultan and his bodyguards pose against the banner which hangs on one of the passenger coaches' shells. Video-cams, manual and digital cameras rolled, clicked and flashed to capture the historic moment.

The Ruler raises his hands for the customary do'a, prayers asking the Almighty for a safe journey (perhaps). Then he leads the royal entourage back into the waiting carriage. All aboard the Rhythm of the Night as it wakes up from its idle stupor. He takes over control of the rail car from its designated driver. The Station Master takes a seat in the front coach and feigns a weak smile, relieved of the authority to blow the whistle and flag down the departing locomotive. Instead, someone in KTM uniform rang a cast metal bell that strangely resembles that of the Sun Sun ice cream seller. The other uniformed staff members press their lips as they scan the crowd through the carriage window. The Sultan waves to the excited crowd and press the levers that set the carriage’s wheels in motion.

My heart clenches as the last Senandong Malam sighs, slithers and weeps its way out of the Cape of Fence. It seems like only yesterday when Mak and me were seated in the belly of that ‘iron serpent’ as it glided along the railway tracks and cut its way through that balmy December night.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Through the brambles of Bukit Timah

New mock-up cover presented for funding

Side profile

Unfortunately, due to brief campaign period, the total for pre-orders was slightly more than $700, before deductions for services and contributions to world literacy programme. Hence, back to fund-raising to cover printing and promotional expenses.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Marcel Wave Swept the Shore of Singapore

The Sailor and the Singapore Damsel

In her own demure way, Mak was a 'Stylanista'.
She wore her hair short and crimped ala Marcel Wave, or commonly known as finger wave. Her outdoor attire were long, loose-fitting cheong-sams similar to the Vietnamese 'ao dai'. Her clutch purses were self-made from tafetta and other shiny cloths. Her mule slippers were equally fetching.
I said, "I like your hair when it was short and wavy ... like in that old picture."
"Oh, that's the Greta Garbo style. She acted in the film Mata Hari. It was about a beautiful spy," she said.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Across the Causeway is on Pubslush!

Jan 30th UPDATE:

The total for pre-orders has exceeded the minimum of $500. It's now $680. Please support the campaign to reach its goal by Feb 14th. Thank you, NBB.

Check-out pre-orders of Across the Causeway 

     Do take a minute to visit the site and give your feedback on the cover version and subtitle preferred. Thank you. Have a wonderful week-end ahead.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Across the Causeway III

Jan 30th UPDATE:

The date and venue for the book launch is postponed to a later date. Will keep you all posted. Thank you.


Rabiah's Hijrah evolved into Across the Causeway

Dear loyal blog readers,

I apologise for the sporadic postings. I really should make up for the long absence.

Since last Hari Raya Puasa, I've been busy rewriting and meeting illustrators, designers and printers to turn the scattered entries into a published memoir.

There were several revisions. Many characters were eliminated. Some scenes were sacrificed. The focus is on how the child makes sense of her reality and identity ... her father's absence, her mother's resilience, their disparate origins, their stark differences, the rapid social, economic and political changes that shaped her environment.

This is an independent publishing project. 

It's the first part of a two part series on a child/girlhood in Singapore and Malaysia in the '60s and '70s.   

Pre-orders are welcomed. Only when there are sufficient orders to make 'printing-on-demand' economically viable, will you be requested to make payments.

Or if there are Angel Investors, Compassionate Crowdfunders or Nostalgia Junkies looking to support a creative work on the theme of a truly United Nusantara Nations, please do contact me.    
At any rate, a launch is scheduled for February 14, 2015.

Venue: Malaysian National Library, Jalan Tun Razak.

Time: 3-5PM


* Very brief speeches 

* '60s tunes by Young and Senior Artists
* Readings of passages 
* Selfies/Wefies at Photo Booth

Dress Code: '60s Retro

See you all there!

Bet’s wonder years were less than ordinary. Growing up in the turbulent ‘60s was like living on a proverbial minefield. Even before Bet was born, Bapak had been jailed for being a Radical. Mak was a Realist who found no job too small, and did whatever it took to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. 

Mak and Bapak and all the other adults in her neighbourhood were too preoccupied with the big Merger, the Confrontation, the Riots, the Curfews and the Separation. All Bet could think of was the terrible haircut she was stuck with after her trip to the Barber’s, which made her face look rounder; and those hideous marks on her legs from climbing all those trees around her compound; and that horrible school uniform which made her self-conscious.

Bet had to learn early that the world did not owe her a living. She had to be beyond just resourceful to survive. She had to be tough and grow up quicker than the other girls and boys. 

One day, Mak dropped the Bomb on the Big Move. They had to leave their homeland for good.

Genre: Coming-of-age in the Mid '60s

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Getting to Know the Soul of the Nation

The language is the soul of the nation

Sekolah Menengah Aminuddin Baki
was named after the champion of Malay education 

I felt like a poseur
When we had to use Jenny’s rich relatives’ address
A posh, two-storey residence
With a well-tended lawn
And wrought iron fence
On a street which sounded clever
Up on the rolling hill with the clean, fresh air
On the other side of the thoroughfare

Jenny was a distant neighbour from Singapore
Who moved to KL at the end of ‘64
Indeed, her relatives were kind
To allow us to use their home address
To keep in touch with the Singaporeans
And correspond with the Department of Education 

In mid February ‘66
Ma waved three brown window envelopes in our faces
Which Mal opened gently
While Yat and I waited breathlessly
Finally, news about our school placements
From the Selangor Education Department

Mal was to enrol at once
For his secondary two class
At Sekolah Menengah Aminuddin Baki in Kampung Pandan
A distinguished Malay school, we were told
While Yat was to commence
Her secondary education
At the Ampang Road Secondary Girls School
Notorious for its wayward students, it was soon revealed   
And I was accepted into Primary Four F
At Gurney Road Primary School (1)
That seemed like a promotion from 3H
At my previous school

Mal had to leave early before seven
To take two buses to Kampong Pandan
And since my school session was also in the morning
I had to be up before sun rise and start walking
Lucky Yat had the afternoon session
So a little after noon
Ma would walk her to the narrow, wooden bridge
To see her cross the shallow river with strong currents
That carried the assorted rubbish discarded
Behind the maladorous Keramat market

Making new friends in school
And the neighbourhood
Was awkward when you’re the new student
With the strange accent
From an island that had just been ejected
Out of the Federation 

We were swamped by new words
That flew above our heads
We had to train our ears to spot the differences
In the choices of words, meanings and pronunciations
So we learned to hold our tongues
To avoid embarrassing moments
But never tired of privately making fun
Of the words used for different body parts
Countless hours were spent
Imitating the way “they” –
The landlord, neighbours, teachers and schoolmates -
Spoke with such finesse
Which made "us" feel like savages
Such great pains to properly phrase their sentences
Or even questions -
“Dah berkelamin?” (Are you married?)
Asked with a shy smile
Unlike the straightforward Singapore style –
“Dah kahwin ke belum?” (Married or not?)
Gradually we learned to substitute cultured words
Such as the refined “suami” (husband) for the crude “laki”
The polite “orang rumah” (lady of the house) for the coarse “bini” (wife)
And the proper “lelaki” (male) for the vulgar “jantan”
And that was how we learned to dive into the soul of the nation             

Sunday, September 14, 2014

There is no patron saint of literary spree

To commemorate Roald Dahl's Day, Bet fancied herself as Matilda
Photo taken from AMightyGirl
It wasn’t til February
When we got our placements in schools
In the period in-between
We unpacked the boxes of story books
Prizes we won from doing well in final exams
Or tomes tossed aside by wealthier cousins  
They were all eager to leave the confines of their prison
And share their content
Adventures to faraway lands and ancient kingdoms
A handy escape from our humdrum existence

I flipped the pages of the glossy, hard-cover, full-colour book
That I had won for being third in class at Teluk Kurau West
A Sword in the Stone recounted the trials and tribulations
Of young Arthur who was destined to be the King of old England
With the help of Merlin the Magician
He freed Excalibur from a hideous stone
And led the Knights of the Round Table

From Camelot to Sherwood Forest
I snooped into the exploits of Robin Hood
And his band of Merry Men
Who robbed the Sheriff of Nottingham
And hurled his gold to the peasants

Farewell to Medieval England
Off to a life as a cast away on a tropical island
Marking the long, lonely days
With my chums Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday

Another shipwreck, another tropical isle
To marvel at how the Swiss Family Robinson built their tree house
In their frocks and breeches
And used their rifles and explosives to fight the natives

From the West Indies to Wonderland
Sitting by the riverbank
With Alice and the Principles of Logical Calculus
Walking away from that "horrible place"
Trailing a talking white rabbit
Wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch
Falling deep into his rabbit hole
To open a tiny door leading to a race
Where a small snail beat the other animals
Odd characters like the Duchess and her Cheshire Cat
The March Hare at the Mad Hatter’s tea party
The Queen of Hearts and her game of croquet
And the Knave of Hearts accused of stealing the tarts

I had to escape the wrath of the Red Queen
To follow Philaes Fogg on his bet with his friends
In Around the World in Eighty Days
Along with Passepartout, his French valet
And Aoda whom he saved from the funeral pyre

Back to Victorian London
I tried to outwit Dr Watson
In the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes          
And solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper
Who disappeared in the foggy winter
Along with the split personality
Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

On to the Arabian Gulf
I boarded the dhow with Sinbad
To the banks of the Euphrates
And witness the splendour of old Baghdad

Onto the magic carpet with Aladdin
Transported to a secret cave with treasure chests
Overflowing with rubies, sapphires and emeralds

And held my breath as Sheherazade kept her head
By captivating the Sultan with her enchanting tales
Of A Thousand and One Nights
My voyage took me to the land of the Minangkabaus
I shed silent tears for Siti Noerbaya
Who was married against her will to the cruel Datuk Maringgeh
My lips uttered every word in the letters written by Syamsul Bahri
To his lady love in Tenggelamnya Kapal Van de Wyck

My mind trekked the steps taken by the ill-fated protagonist
Who sought his fortune in Merantau ke Deli 
From Deli to Padang and Bukit Tinggi
Where myths of princesses who turned into fish with golden scales
Flourished in famous Sumatran folktales
Which Mak had collected from her days at the highlands