Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sarawak's Old Folk Stories

I am not very old. 26 years old is not the 'old folks'. But, the charm of past life always tackles my attention, my desire to know more about people in the past. And I always open my mind and my ear to any stories during 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s at Kuching. I also keep some of my past life experience in order to supply my writing in the future. I'll be old one day and at that time, my story is 'the old folk stories'.

My parent loves to tell me the old folk stories. Even I am 26, they still sit around me and tell some stories in their past.  Let me tell you some of it. And please pardon me for my broken English =)

Astana Open Day

Today, Astana, the official residence for TYT Sarawak is a piece of history. This place is used for official ceremonies and often closed to public. And no one can stand very close to the gate. Only the housekeeping workers and on-duty police can go in and out at this place. Back to late 60s, when Regatta took its place at Sungai Sarawak, the Astana's gate will open to visitors. This place was merry and happy. My mom told me there was once she went to Regatta with my uncle and my grandpa. My uncle was still a kid back then. She wore a blouse, and hold my grandpa's hand with a lot of excitement. After a hot day of Regatta, they got invited by Astana workers to come inside and enjoy good day lunch. Of course, the Astana itself, no one can enter the circle. But the whole yard was filled with happy visitors. And now, the wonderful memory of Astana Open Day is long gone.

Free Ice Cream

My grandpa, my mom and my uncle
Maal Hijrah and Maulud Nabi celebration is full of joy and friendliness. Muslim people will walk on the road, or 'berarak' with banners or 'sepanduk' and they will repeatedly chant the confession of faith in unison (zikir). Today, this two celebrations are merrier than before. But, the best part about the past was the humble people around. My mom told me, she didn't sure either Maal Hijrah or Maulud Nabi, but she still remember, how she insisted to follow my grandpa with her brother (my uncle) to Padang Merdeka and join the procession in 1967. After a long day under a hot sun, the procession meets the end. Soon they feel tired and exhausted, free ice creams come right over. My mom said that she was very happy because of free ice cream, she forgot how hot the day was.

The Expensive Sugarcane

Sugarcane was favorite at the kampung and it was the 'thirst-quench' or the 'tidbits'. My dad really loved sugarcane, he chopped it in small size and keep it close to the roof because he didn't want my grandma give it to the neighbour who loves to request free tidbits. Until one day, my dad's sugarcane supply has exhausted. My dad went to the same neighbour who loves to request free tidbits to them, because they have few big sugarcane at the backyard. However, the neighbour, never feel ashamed to request before, scolded my dad and chase him away. Angry by the incident, my dad hide at the back of the neighbour's sugarcane and cut some of it and prick the head of sugarcane into the soil. My dad said that, "I was angry, so I cut some of their sugarcane because they always request my sugarcane before. When I request politely, they scolded me badly. But I was not very evil, I pricked the sugarcane's head so it can cultivate once again." Yes it was, the sugarcane re-cultivate, and the neighbour can't stop wondering why the sugarcane is not taller like it supposed to be.

Bee Tai's Fashionista

There is a fashion shop at India Street, Kuching. The name was Bee Tai, and they still using the same name until now. Before other fashion shop appeared at Kuching, before Plaza Merdeka showed up, Bee Tai was the center of fashion for fashionista. Girls bought shoes, blouse, midi skirts and all kinds of newest style of clothes at here. My mom even begged to my grandma because she wants new skirt. And my mom loved this place for years. Until now, when she got a chance, she will stand in front of Bee Tai and said to me, "See, I used to come here when I was young. I loved to buy shirts at here. Now, the time passed really fast. Bee Tai is getting old and I wonder what will happen to Bee Tai in the future." 

The Dead Mattress

When I was a child, I have a green mattress, given by my grandma and I liked that mattress. I used it several years until we transferred into our new house and my mom decided to throw my old mattress away. I asked her before, "Why, I liked that mattress. It's comfy and cool." Then my mom said, "Just use the big one. Don't used your old mattress anymore. That's the dead mattress. Your grandma got it for free, through funeral ceremonies." At first I don't understand. Later my mom explained it to me that back then, when a family held a funeral ceremonies and prepared 'makan tahlil', they received condolences gifts from neighbours such as mattress, pillows or mats. Some of it might be used to underlay 'jenazah' (the dead person). Because they received too much of those things, they gave it to other neighbours. And that was how my grandma got that green mattress, and gave it to me. Sometimes I wonder, did the green mattress was used as the underlayer of someone's dead body?

Fiesta at Kampung Gersik

Today, Kampung Gersik is famous because of Dayang Selhah's layered cake. Sarawak layered-cake is very famous in Malaysia, among domestic and foreign tourists. FYI, Sarawak layered cake was inspired by the colourful cake from Kalimantan, and Sarawakian reinvented the recipe and make it more beautiful and complex. Back in 60s, Kampung Gersik was famous for local celebration, especially drum-beat activity or known by the Sarawak Malay as 'bergendang'. My grandpa loves the local celebration; Regatta, bergendang, Muslim's procession and so on. So, whenever he heard the news, he will go out, took a ride inside 'perahu tambang' and enjoy 'bergendang' activity. Until one night, the fiesta ended quite late and my grandpa walk alone to Pengkalan Che Omar (or Pangkalan Boyan). Bad luck, my grandpa was chased by the legend  wake-up ghost, the 'Hantu Kayong' that attack Kuching during 1970s. My grandpa was one of the victim. He was very scared, he spend hours running between the banana tree so that ghost can't hugged him from behind and finally, he saw 'perahu tambang' reached the jetty. He quickly jumped into the boat and ask the owner to send him back to Pengkalan Batu (also known as Pangkalan Sapi). It was the worse night ever.

The Hajj Moment at Che Omar

Che Omar or Cik Omar, it was the old name of Pangkalan Boyan at Kampung Boyan. Today, it is the entrance to the open air of Malay restaurants, the bling-bling place across the glorious hotels at Tebingan Kuching. Back in 1960s, it was the main place for people to send their love one, their family member who went to hajj or 'naik Haji' at Mekah. A big ship awaits the holy visitors who brought foods, kettle, pots and even a big trunk to keep the food supply because the journey period to Mekah is very long and exhausted. The pilgrims have to prepare everything during their time on the ship (my mom told me the journey took 3 months before the season of Hajj begin). Just imagine it, a big ship in the middle of Sarawak river, connected to the jetty of Che Omar and welcomed the pilgrims to come inside, and the tears of families, and the handkerchief's waving to say goodbye-knowing that the possibilities not to meet anymore is quite high. It was a melancholic moment. The sad thing was, when the pilgrim suddenly died during the voyage, people have to send him/her down into the sea. And that was the last resting place for them.

The Meaning of Cent
Tidbits were cheap in the past. As far as I can remember, when I was in primary school, junk foods cost me 10 cent for one small 'keropok', 20 cent for a little big 'keropok', 5 cent of a piece of sweet, and 30 cent for a piece of cucumber and 'petis udang'. Other than that, a bowl of porridge or 'laksa Sarawak' was 50 cent, a bowl of fried rice also 50 cent and sometimes 'nasi ayam' cost was RM1. It was quite cheap compared to today's canteen food. However, back to late 60s and early 70s, 'keropok', sweets and ice ball's cost was just few cents. My mom have 10 cent, and she got 2 packs of small 'keropok', lollipop, sweet and ice ball. Sometimes, she didn't used local coins to bought that stuff, she used Singapore 10 cents or Brunei 10 cents. During that time, Kuching was open to those currency, the shopkeeper accept that coin as long it is money until mid 70s. It was the end of Singapore and Brunei 10 cent.


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