Although I was born in this house, I grew up mostly in Singapore, so I cannot exactly call myself a Pontian lad. Nonetheless, I do have fond memories of this place. When grandfather was still alive, the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri would be spent at his house without fail. I can still remember the effort my father took in getting the whole family back to the kampung for Hari Raya. First was the hassle of clearing customs and immigration at the causeway. Then the rush and crush of taking the South Johore bus from the old Jalan Ah Fook bus station. The journey seemed to take ages and the old road was twisting and turning like a serpent's back.
My late grandfather's name was Hj. Mohd Rashid Bin Hj. Taib. According to my mom, he was also known as Hj. Rashid Banjar among the Pontian folks, a reference to his ethnic origin. He lived to a very old age, way past 100 years old I was told. But of course, there was no way we could verify his exact age at the time he passed away since birth records were non-existent back then.
According to an inscription on the front step, this old house was completed in July 1952. During the years, there has been the necessary repairs and paint jobs, but the original structure and style of the raised Malay kampung house remains intact. After the passing of my grandparents, the house has been occupied and maintained by my uncle.
While the senior folks were discussing family matters, I took the opportunity to take a leisurely drive around Pontian town.
Pontian is located on the west coast of Johor state about 60km from Johor Bahru. A murky river called Sungai Pontian Kecil cuts the town in half. The wooden houses on stilts by the river's edge are still there from as long as I can remember. Some things never change, I guess.
Pontian also used to be known as a `cowboy town', the term applied to small towns that grew along a single main street. In Pontian, this particular road is called Jalan Bakek. It starts at the junction of the main road to JB and ends at a crossroad at the edge of the town limit. This same road extends northwards to Batu Pahat district and is called Jalan Alsagoff, where my grandfather's house is.
The Alsagoff name is easily understood but the `Bakek' part takes a bit of explanation. What does it mean? A search at Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka's online dictionary yielded nothing. It seems that the word does not exist (or at least, not in the official Malay language). But I have heard the word spoken many times by my late grandmother and my mom when they conversed in the Banjar dialect, and it means `market'. And it makes sense, because the old Pontian wet market was indeed located on this main road. Anyway, that's my take on it, just a simple observation, no in-depth research. Any alternative explanation is most welcome.
While on this subject matter of road names, Pontian has a Jalan UMNO, a street name I have not come across at any other town in Johor, or for that matter in Malaysia. The name is due to the location of the dominant Malay ruling party district headquarters, an elegant old timber building built pre-independence. It has now been renovated in line with the times but, as with my grandfather's house, the original form was retained.
Pontian is of course, no longer a cowboy town. The town has expanded seawards with the reclamation of a new development area known as Pontian Commercial Centre. The old T-junction of the main road to JB is now a busy intersection, with the new arm leading into the commercial centre. The area is still in the process of development with new blocks of commercial space coming up every year.
While taking a walk along the reclaimed seafront, I spied a branch of Aliff Restaurant, the quintessential 24-hours mamak eating place. The main restaurant in JB is a favourite hangout of mine because of the clean premises, wide screen TV and free wi-fi access. I stopped by the place to have a drink and `mee hoon sup', a preferred dish when I'm feeling under the weather. I must say the noodle soup at their JB restaurant tastes better.
I recently read in an online forum that there is a good restaurant on the way to Kukup. Maybe I'll try to find it on my next trip back to the old kampung...