Thursday, 23 July 2009

Finger lickin' delicious

Headnote : My reference to a particular animal in this post is not intended to offend any persons or that animal.

Talking about the UK in the previous post brought back some memories of life as a student in a far away land. We sure did a lot of dumb things back then but hey, it's all part of the learning process. You can call us naive or, to use a current Malay word, poyo.

In the 1980s, a lot of Malaysian students were sent to the UK for further studies because it was still relatively cheap. The monetary exchange rate was less than half of today's rate. The students who scored good results in the MCE/SPM exams were offered scholarships. Year after year, hundreds of wide-eyed boys and girls, most of whom never set foot outside Malaysia, were packed off onto airplanes to land at Heathrow Airport in London.

We were barely 17-years old at the time and almost every one of us had to face the culture shock. We were about to enter adulthood in an unfamiliar country with nobody to guide us except ourselves. We had to learn how to manage our money, cook our own meals, pay bills, make new friends, take care of our health, suppress the feeling of homesickness while at the same time, not forget the main objective of being there, and that is to study. For Muslim students, even eating can become a problem. At some of the towns, getting halal meat was not easy. We were also warned to read the ingredients label of most basic foodstuff such bread and biscuits. I hadn't known what lard was until I lived in the UK.

Most coped with the situation fair enough but there were a few who get swept away by the currents of change. Hanyut is the Malay term for it.

While living away from parents has its difficulties, the freedom from supervision and control is very exciting. It is the time for adventure and opportunities. No adult to tell us not to do this or not to do that. It is the time to rebel, if that happens to be your fancy. For the boys, keeping long hair is the `in' thing. Sporting short and neatly-trimmed hair is simply not cool. From the photos of overseas students that I now see in local newspapers during Hari Raya time, the situation is still the same I guess.

With the absence of parental control, the behavioural standard of us boys vary a great deal. The very pious amongst us are strict and reserved. They also do the good deed of reminding friends and fellow countrymen to obey the rules and not go astray. Then there's the middle-of-the-road guys who take things easy. There were also, of course, the other extreme of guys with the couldn't-care-less attitude.

Perhaps to illustrate the varying degrees, I use the example of food. The pious group will always ensure that the food they eat is 100% halal. Meat products like chicken or beef must come from animals slaughtered according to Muslim rites. Some of the guys in the easy-going group have no qualms about eating non-halal chicken, beef or mutton. The don't-care-about-it guys never bother to read the labels for the doubtful ingredients although they will avoid eating pork or the other porcine products.

You may observe that the not-too-good Malay men can be caught committing all the sins you care to name except one. They would steal, drink liquor, gamble away their money and sleep around... but even the worst-behaved among them would stop short of eating pork, at least not knowingly. Such is the cultural taboo since very young.

But once in a while, there comes along certain individuals who break convention. And this now leads me to the story that I want to tell...

My second year of A-levels was spent at the small town of Wrexham in North Wales. There were around 40 Malaysian students at the time, quite a sizeable number. There were no halal meat shops in Wrexham and we had to buy our chicken, beef and mutton from the largest nearby city, Liverpool which was more than an hour's train ride away. Because of this distance, we cannot be eating meat as often as we like.

When I first arrived at Wrexham in the autumn of 1980, there was a shortage of available accommodation. For the first few months, I had to share a small flat with 6 other Malaysian students. Our flat is located next door to a Chinese Takeaway shop. For those unfamiliar, the Chinese Takeaway is a food outlet that can be found almost anywhere in Britian, even in small towns. It sells a variety of Chinese dishes listed in a numbered menu displayed at the front of the shop. You place your order at the counter, wait for a few minutes while your order is being cooked and then packed for you to take home. If you have a copy of the menu at home, you can also call the shop and simply quote the number on the menu if you find the name of the dish difficult to pronounce. You then walk in, say 20 minutes later, to pick up the package. Very convenient.

Being next door to such an outlet meant that it was convenient for us too. Sometimes we were lazy to cook and the takeaway food was cheap. So we simply ordered. Our dish of choice was egg fried rice. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking... halal ke? Did I not mention something about naivety in the early part of this post? I did check with the cook that the fried rice contained only eggs and no meat and that only vegetable oil was used. Lame excuse, I know... but that's the way it was.

From a simple egg fried rice dish, some of my housemates later progressed to ordering dishes with chicken or beef. Then they got bolder by ordering weird-sounding dishes as long as it does not contain pork.

One evening, I got home from class just in time to see my roomate finish eating his takeaway dinner sitting in the living room in front of the TV. He had finished munching on some meat on a thin bone and was tastily licking the juices off his fingers. The following is what I recall of my conversation with him... it was in Malay and I'm not putting up the English translation because the impact would be lost. We'll identify this friend of mine as `F'.

Me : Engkau makan apa tu?

F : BBQ spare ribs. First time aku order dari kedai sebelah.

Me (looking puzzled) : Engkau tahu tak spare ribs tu daging apa?

F (slightly surprised) : Eh... bukan daging lembu ke?

Me : Engkau tak tanya?

F : Kalau bukan lembu, daging apa?

Me : Babi.

F : Eh... tak lah!

At this point, another housemate by the name of Gabriel, an Iban from Sarawak, walked into the room.

Me : Kalau kau tak caya, kau tanya Gabe.

F : Gabe, BBQ spare ribs daging apa?

Gabe : Wei... itu daging babi la brader.

A short moment of silence.

F : Nak buat macamana... dah termakan.

Me : So, apa rasanya BBQ spare ribs yang kau makan tu?

F (grinning) : Heheheh.... sedaaaap!

Adeh, hampeh betul kawan aku seorang ni.

24 comments:

Chahya said...

Hmm...what F said might be true,...tapi we are required to practice abstinence from this meat, so I never really know how it really taste..so tak fairlah nak kata tak sedap. But from the way F ate, tally le dgn apa dia cakap tu hehehe..

I remember during my college years in PPP ITM, for my mini research assignment, I wrote on this abstinence from various religious persectives, and medical/health perspectives, and generally from the natural habitat of the animal.
Caught lots of attention during presentation hehehe..

Naivete - hope we're all forgiven for this.
"...dan Dialah yang Maha Pengampun lagi Maha Mengasihani" (Yunus:107)
"Dan janganlah kamu membuat kerosakan di muka bumi, sesudah (Allah) memperbaikinya dan berdoalah kepadaNya dengan rasa takut (tidak akan diterima) dan harapan (akan dikabulkan). Sesungguhnya rahmat Allah amat dekat kepada orang-orang yang berbuat baik." (Al-A'raaf: 56)

Hope F tak terus menyambung makan tu lagi le.

D said...

HAHAHA!!! Please let me relate a similar incident a friend who was living in a Scottish residential school. For breakfast, he obediently accepted the breakfast dish of Toad-in-a-hole, and was gobbling through it half-way when he realised he was having sausages in batter. errr...what do you do half-way? Of course, he licked the plate clean!! :)

lizaimen's blog said...

Salams, found your story to be really amusing and I can relate to this story...being away from home at 17 is definitely tough. I was in San Antonio in the early eighties with no Malays in sight...to shy and afraid to venture out on my own and tak mau susahkan foster family so I ate whatever they ate. Only consolation is that they were Mormons so they don't drink or smoke and out of respect they didn't eat pork throughout the time I stayed with them...tapi yang lain tu bantai ajelah...those were the jahiliyah days...but when I went back to the US later in the eighties and stayed for 13 years, thank god there were a lot more halal stores and restaurants ..tapi there were times yang 'Bismillah, Allahuakhbar' aje...May Allah forgive us for our indiscretions...

VersedAnggerik said...

muahahaha....

at least tu happen masa muda2 dulu.

I was travelling in Bali a few years ago when a friend ordered fried rice at an eatery. The rice was fried with bacons strips in it. She carefully picked the bacons strips, put them aside, and proceeded to eat the rice!

When asked, "boleh ke wat camtu?'
Dia jawab, "aku makan nasi nya je, daging babi tu aku taruk tepi!"

Boleh?

afah said...

..salam, oldstock..
..you don't have to go far...some youth in kl does not show much restrain either when it comes to food..

Ki Moira said...

ever had termakan pepperoni experience? hehe

Oldstock said...

Chahya,

Wow, you did research on this subject? Must have been quite challenging.

I parted company with my friend when I went to uni. Our paths did cross again unexpectedly once in JB a long time ago. But now lost touch again. I'm not sure if he remembers this episode as vividly as I do.

Oldstock said...

D, hehehe... you friend must have really liked the taste of that toad-in-the-hole. No point stopping half way :-)

Oldstock said...

Hi lizaimen,

Those days, it was quite difficult to get halal food in the US as well. Nowadays, our students who get sent to Eastern European countries (Russia, Poland etc.) face the same problem too. So it's not surprising that some of them use the same process like what you said, i.e. baca bismillah and then ngap saje..

Mudah-mudahan Allah swt mengampuni keterlanjuran kita.

Thanks for dropping by.

Oldstock said...

Verse, I'm sure those bacon strips look tasty to your friend, heheheh.

Oldstock said...

Salam Pak Afah,

Yes, I know what you mean about some of our kids eating out in KL. Just hope my own sons are not like that.

Oldstock said...

Moira,

You asking me about my experience or you're telling us about yours? ;-)

I take it was not beef pepperoni la tu, heheheh.

mamasita said...

I am very far from being pious but if I termakan something not within Muslim rules, I will feel very remorsed and guilty for days!! hehe

Andrea Wh@tever said...

Salam Oldstock,

I remember a "termakan" incident a couple of months back when I went with a client on a Corporate Roadshow to Jakarta.

We were at the hotel and the client ordered Indonesian Fried Rice.

You would have thought that it's halal, right?

The client happily ate the dish. Half-way through, the chef came round to our table and asked if we were enjoying our meal. My client said: This is excellent. I must get the recipe from you for my wife.

It being a 5-star hotel and all, the chef was most obliging and promised to email the recipe over.

Imagine the client's horror on receiving the recipe a few days later in KL. It went like: Saute 20g of bbq pork slices........*gulp*

Patricia said...

You know, you've hit it on the head: I, too, have wondered at how all the other 'wrongs' are happily indulged in, but the very thought of pork makes everyone shiver. But, you've not given me an answer here :(

I agree that it must be very hard to find the right food when you're abroad - for muslims, that is. I guess, in the final analysis, one just has to be practical.

Me? I'm an eatabusanythingus - no taboos whatsoever :)

Oldstock said...

mamasita,

Kalau termakan tu kira tak sengaja... masa kami time student dulu, some of my friends main kira belasah je..

At one time, I was in Japan doing a course and we stayed at a training centre that included participants for other countries including the Middle East. Kami budak2 Melayu saja yg tak makan ayam atau daging. Pak Arab selamba je makan... diaorang kata halal, just say bismillah before you eat.

Oldstock said...

Andrea,

I've only been to Jakarta once but have been warned about the food, especially at top class hotels, just like the incident you mentioned.

Oldstock said...

Pat,

I would like to give you the answer you seek but it may need a few paragraphs of explanation (from my own point of view, that is). But I don't think the explanation would be interesting, heheheh.

So, you eat anything huh? I'm not quite a food adventurer like I'd like to be, although I claim to eat anything (as long halal). The standard phrase in Malay being - boleh makan apa saja, tolak kayu dengan batu. Even that phrase is not 100% applicable now, as some people have pointed out... because we can eat still ubi kayu and drink air batu :-)

Madam Markonah said...

HAd a similar experience to VA's. A friend ordered caesar salad only to find strips of bacon in it. Selamba je dia kutip bacon tu letak tepi and proceeded to finish the salad.

Me? Ternganga je tengok... didn't know how to respond hehhe...

bangkai said...

Bro

You were at Wrexham around about he time I was in London. Went to Wrexham once and I wonder if our paths crossed.

In any case, I've got some friends who were at Wrexham at about the same time - so we probably have some common friends.

My friends at Wrexham? They were the guys from MRSM Seremban.

Oldstock said...

madam,

I thought it would have been second-nature for you to come up with a cynical remark, heheheh :-)

Oldstock said...

MatB,

Someone did inform me that you're ex-MRSM Seremban and I'm sure we have common friends. It is very likely that our paths may have crossed too.

Panjang umur we'll meet up in real-life and exchange stories. Insyaallah.

Queen Of The House said...

Ya Allah, I really cringe now thinking of the 'ter-makan' and makan episodes of those zaman jahilliyah days. Remorse pun ada jugak. I pray my kids will never have to be in the same position.

Oldstock said...

Queen,

Kalau dah termakan, nak buat macamana. Mudah-mudahan dosa-dosa kita diampuni yg Maha Esa.

You studied overseas too?

You may note that in the previous comment by Bangkai that he and I have mutual friends. I remember that it was you who mentioned that he's x-Seremban.