Balik kampong

Tonight I depart for my native homeland to celebrate Eid’ul Fitr with my wife. My wife, – sometimes its easy to forget that I have one – we have been apart for so long. This is the first time I am returning to Singapore for Hari Raya, ever since I left Singapore for my new home in the north, in what seems ages ago but in reality, it has been almost 17 years.

I have forgotten how Hari Raya is celebrated back there, but I can imagine nothing has changed. Lampu ‘lap lip’, new baju raya, new curtains, new everything — some things never change. Over here it is decidedly a small affair (for me anyways) — praying at the mosque in the morning, visiting my uncle and his family, and usually that’s it. My mom cooks lontong (delicious as always), with rendang, and other fixings. Usually the last night of Ramadhan we invite people over to recite the takbir, and have a mini-feast during the breaking of the fast. Undoubtedly the atmosphere is not the same as back in Singapore, because the Malay community is smaller, besides there is a multitude of other ethnicities here, each celebrating it the way they know how according to their tradition, with their various Eid delicacies.

Ramadhan here is not without its own politics. The mosque we most frequent, and the closest — Masjid Al-Hidayah — has always gone its own way in determining the first day to fast. They always follow the Saudi ruling, while the rest of the mosques (I believe) follow ISNA (Islamic Society of North America). So, this led me to fast one day before the rest of my family – which will mean possibly that I will celebrate Eid one day before my family. I was following ISNA, while unbeknownst to me my family was following the other way. But in it there was a blessing – it didn’t matter anyway because I will be in Singapore and I will follow Eid there (which has a fixed date). And I don’t even have to make-up any days (even though in travelling to Singapore, technically I lose a day from not fasting). Long story!

Coming from a quiet part of Canada I wonder how I will take the hustle and bustle of Singapore during Raya time. I’m sure I will be exhilirated and frustrated at the same time! The night before Raya in Geylang at my wife’s Ra Ra Bazaar TV shoot will be an interesting experience. At least at the end of the day I can retreat to the full-blast of my wife’s air-conditioned room and her big fan…

I can’t wait to experience a bit of kampong life at my wife’s Busu’s house in Malacca. It’s been over two decades since I lived in a kampong – at my grand-aunt’s place in Jalan Ampas. I loved the animals there – chickens, cats, and there was even a monkey once! What I didn’t look forward to were the snakes – sometimes I found snake eggs and baby snakes in old furniture stored underneath the stilts of her house (“bawah kolong”). But then all the kambings are gone at Busu’s house 🙁 🙁

My “Malayness” is literally a snapshot of what I left Singapore with in 1989 – me and my brother have memorized lines from P. Ramlee’s movies, and we enjoy them still. Are there no high-definition transfers of these films to DVD? But our fascination for P. Ramlee is considered ‘kental’ by our Singapore cousins (and my wife too! but I don’t care, hehe). “Ah jaga Cik Salmah jaga… ah… jaga… ah apasal tak jaga kan dah jatuh tu…” “Ini cat ke kapur? Bedak, tuan!” Both of us still reminisce about the rock bands we loved during that time – Search, Wings, Headwind… with Wings being our favourite. Whatever Malay culture that we had resided in those tapes (and VCDs). It is never easy having one identity being usurped by a newer one (out of necessity), but such is the life of a (young) immigrant.

Last year I had to console myself with celebrating Hari Raya without my wife – it broke my heart. I sang to her “Dari Jauh Ku Pohon Maaf” during my phone call that pagi Raya, which I found had the appropriate lyrics to explain our situation (with some of my edits):

“Dalam dingin subuh hatiku terusik
Kenang nasib diri di rantauan
Bergema takbir raya menitis air mata
Terbayang suasana permai desa

Rindu hati ini inginku kembali
Pada istriku yang mengembara
Tetapi aku harus mencari rezeki
Membela nasib kita bersama

Hanya ku sampaikan doa dan kiriman tulus ikhlas
Dari jauh kupohonkan ampun maaf
Jangan sedih pagi ini tak dapat kita bersama
Meraikan aidil fitri yang mulia”

I am glad that we will not have to be in that situation again. Insya’allah, we shall have our first Eid under one roof, and many more together as we grow old in the years to come.

Case of the Missing Kambings

My poor Busu. She has been whining for comfort with my mum recently, over long-distance phone calls about her missing kambings. Yes, those kampong goats. All 15 of them disappeared. Vamush.

The kambings usually get out of the Padang Sebang compound in an organised herd in the morning, and return faithfully in the evening. They are a very cohesive bunch, these kambings. It is a case of one for all and all for one.

This year’s Raya is purported to be a special one for them – since one or two of them will be korban-ed for the big Raya feast that the Malaysian and Singapore cousins have been planning. What bliss – since it is highway to heaven for them. I can just imagine the kambings fighting among themselves who is to be on the honour roll for this year’s Raya.

And then one fine day recently – the kambings NEVER came back. My Busu, a sprightly, jolly old lady who is the favourite among the kids must have waited and waited in the evening, and they never make their ’emmbeeekkk’ way back.

There is only one theory to this – that the kambings were stolen by a kambing robber. How sickening. There is no way ALL 15 of the kambings were hit by some truck on the roads – unless we are talking abt Tianamen Square style bulldozers here. There is also no way that the kambings are suicidal and killed themselves – becos surely one of them is in love with the female kambing belonging to Mak Temah next door, and will not want to die a virgin. And then there is the theory of them getting lost and not knowing how to get back to Busu’s house – which my mum quickly retorted with a, “Kau ingat kambing tu semua tak berbincang ke jalan mana satu nak balik?” . Cis, silly me.

So here we are, a sad Melakan family thinking we have no kambings to roast on the rotisserie for the 3rd Raya gathering in Melaka. Makan daging beli ajerlah nampaknya …sigh.


Whoever created the Mee Goreng Mamak is a God-send. I love the thing – no, let me correct that, I LURRRVVVEE the thing. Mee Goreng Mamak has an intimate relationship with me, and one such romantic moment involved a 10-year old Uja some decades ago on a very hot Ramadan month.

I remembered taking the feeder bus number 225 from Bedok Interchange at around 6-ish in the evening. I was fasting, and obviously running on an empty tank or whatever that was left of my energy on that school day. When you are a kid, you do NOT think of conserving your energy in the day so that you can get through your fast well. Instead, you play and play and play, and run and run and run, and scream and scream and scream until your throat is as dry as the savannah and your body shakes like it is a Sumatran tremor. That was how I felt when I alighted from the bus – and I was literally shaking out of hunger and was so hungry I could not even take the 5 minute walk to my block without feeling like I was floating with wings.

Now to get to my block, I have to pass a kopi tiam that has, among other things, a Mamak Stall. He sells good Mee Goreng, I would not say the best, but you know, red enough and tasty enough for me. I went to the stall, with a bit more than $2 left from my pocket money and bought a packet. My intention was of course to eat it for buka. I continued my walk home.

The moment I entered the lift, I was transported to heaven. The smell of the Mee Goreng Mamak nearly killed me and transcended my senses, and I was so hungry as whiffs and whiffs of the tasty mee entered my smelling faculties. When the lift door opened, I dashed out.

By now, it was 20 minutes to buka time. I was sitting on the floor, the mee goreng mamak in front of me and I was looking at it. Correction, I was STARING at it. Now that the packet has been opened, the aroma from the delicious mee gets stronger.My nafsu gets the better of me, and I took a fork and dip into the plate of noodle. At that point, my mum screamed – ” UJA! LAGI 20 MINIT AJE !!!” after which I retorted “NAK BUKA! NAK BUKA!” and stuffed the fork-ful of noodles into my mouth in seconds before my mum could stop me. It was heaaaveeeenn, I tell you! (God, forgive me for I have sinned. I was 10 then – disclaimer?)

Now that I am an adult, this Mee Goreng Mamak is still tops on my list. It is addictive. Everytime I am abroad, this is the first thing I will buy to satisfy my craving. My cousins know it well.

I married a fellow Mee Goreng Mamak fan too. Ajun, having been away for more than 16 years would wallop plates of these whenever he returns to SG. He has tried asking my mother in law to replicate it in Canada, but he said it has not been successful.

So one day, I bought a plate of Mee Goreng Mamak just so that I can sit and stand in front of the stall to see how they actually made it. I had various discourses (no kidding, it was almost a scholarly debate on what goes INTO the Mee Goreng Mamak) with friends and finally figured it out. So here is my first Mee Goreng Mamak, just so I can cook it in Canada and make myself and my husband happy! Eh they say a happy couple is NOT a hungry couple ok.

The verdict of this homemade Mee Goreng Mamak has been good. It tastes the same, and it looks the same! I am so proud of this dish. You will be assured that’s the first thing I will make when I move. And yes Sherin, I will make it for you too!

Footnote (what else can this be but a footnote right? When it is written at the foot of the article ;): There is only ONE, and I do mean ONE place where the best ever Mamak Sup Kambing is sold. Go to Nazrah’s for the full rundown. Ignore her comments about me, which are all true. Muahahah…

Make it quiet

I saw an episode of Oprah today where Winona Judd said something so profound, I wanted to hug her. “The world is too loud,” she said, referring to how she was so distracted by life that she did not have time to focus on herself and listen to her inner voices.

I sometimes feel like that. Sometimes I feel my life is like an F1 race track, and me, being the girl who still gets excited by the mere sound of the revving engines, savour the loud sounds and passing images of spectators on the stands or the side gates (depending on which circuit you are watching it from). Don’t you ever wonder how it is like to sit snugly in that tight seat at 300km/h ? You literally see the world zoom pass you! How thrilling!

It is this thrill, however, that I need to tone down. My life has been way too fast, so fast that I feel priviledged yet tested. When Winona (ok now we are going by first names) said that, it struck a strong chord in me. Sometimes I think there are way too many people I have in my life. There are many moments I literally feel like I need a breather to do just that – breathe. But I love the company of people, and I get more energetic when I am with a big crowd.

So when I was in Canada last year for 6 months, spending our first marital life together, I discovered another level to me that I never knew existed. You see, in Canada where rivers divide highways and mountains form authoritative props to landscapes, life is faaarrr and waaayyyy quieter. I didnt have many friends there, being a newbie, and so my days were mostly spent reading, writing and at the library. And oh, did I mention reading too? I must have.

Now the few friends that I have were not the kinds that I have in SG or KL. My Canadian friends’ conversations were always bordering on the spiritual and were somewhat strangely deeper. I hardly have chats about make-up, facials and hair colour. No gossips, no whining. Life is so smooth and content.In the beginning, I sorely miss my more happening life in SG and KL, but the social environment (plus the rivers and the highways) quietened me down.

When I return to SG in June, one of the first chats I had here was with a childhood friend who complained about a certain person in her life. I remembered feeling so violated that I literally felt like some rock guitarist just burst into my bedroom at 5 am in the morning and played the lousiest,loudest most annoying riff ever into my ear. I remember wanting to ask her to stop talking, cos the gossiping literally felt like noise. What was that, I asked myself. Was I attuning myself to an inner side that yearns a quiet existence rather than be too mindful of how people treat other people?

I remember telling DH about it. I was not sure what was the outcome of our short discussion of what was happening to me, but I am very sure of what happened later. As I settled into SG more, my world became louder. The social life slowly paces itself into the usual rhythm.

I have lost that peace. It has evaporated. What a bummer. Now that it is Ramadan, I am rather determined to grab it back.I can’t just dust off the life I have created here so I must learn how to manage the noise, so it is not too loud and make me distracted.

I love people, so what it comes with it – I still love the sounds of life. I just wish it is not so deafening.