Monday, 28 November 2011

Sour and spicy

In the days before there was the North-South Expressway, a trip by car from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur would eat up time in the region of 6 hours. You have two main routes which you can choose; the first is by way of Yong Peng - Segamat - Tampin - Seremban on the Federal Route1 while the second involve turning on to Federal Route5 at Air Hitam and onwards to Batu Pahat - Muar - Melaka before rejoining the route at Tampin.

I usually prefer to take the 2nd alternative even though it means passing through more small towns and villages (i.e. a longer journey time). I like to travel this way because I can break my journey at a few places of choice where I get to taste some lovely foodstuff. Depending on the time of travel, I could either stop for makan at Batu Pahat for mouth-watering nasi beriyani, or at Muar for some delicious mee bandung.

Ever since the completion of the highway, it has been ages since we last drove on the Batu Pahat - Muar road. That meant that it has been quite a while since we last sampled the original beriyani Batu Pahat or mee bandung Muar. Over the years, we hear more recommendations from friends about good makan places in BP, Muar and even Melaka but unless we have specific reasons to make a detour, we were unable to try them out.

On our journey to KL last Friday however, we decided to take the old road, just so we can try and taste a dish that has been highly recommended by a few friends and relatives. It is a dish that both Johor and Melaka folks claim to cook better than people from other states in Malaysia, and it is called Asam Pedas. According to word-of-mouth and also TV reports, the place to get the tastiest asam pedas is at the small town of Parit Jawa in Muar.

We have never been to this place before, so our decision to check it out is purely based on trial and error. Driving from south, Parit Jawa is located a few kilometres before reaching Muar town. As we approached Parit Jawa, we spotted a signboard saying `Medan Selera Asam Pedas'. We followed the sign and later reached an area by the river that looks like the place where fishermen unload their catch from the sea. There are a few food stalls claiming to sell the famous asam pedas so we simply chose one that seems to have more customers.

The stall we patronised is called Asam Pedas Mak Ngah. I left it to my better half to pick the dishes and she chose kepala ikan jenahak, kupang (mussels) goreng cili, tauge masak lemak, telur asin and ulam sambal belacan. It was a lovely spread and the taste was not disappointing. The trick to delicious asam pedas is in using fresh fish. The three of us (wife, son and myself) wiped the plates clean. Truly worth the extra miles in making the detour and the damage was only RM48. Now that's real value for money.

A view of the spread
Jenahak fish head
Tasty fresh mussels
The fishermen's jetty at Parit Jawa

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The new Hijri year 1433

Today is the the final day in the month of Dzulhijjah in the Muslim calendar for the year 1432 Hijrah.

Dua at end of Hijri year
“In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful and Allah swt bless our teacher Muhammad and his family and companions and grant them peace. O Allah, whatever actions I have committed this past year which have not pleased You, which I may have forgotten though You do not forget, while You are forbearing with me, though fully capable of punishing me, while You called me to relent and atone even after my audaciousness before You. O Allah, I surely seek Your forgiveness for that, so forgive me! O Allah, as for my actions that have pleased You and for which recompense and forgiveness has been promised, please accept them from me. And do not dash my hopes in You, O Generous, O Most Merciful of the Merciful. And Allah, the Exalted, bless our Master Muhammad and his family and companions and grant them peace.”

Sunset this evening will mark the start of 1433H. May the Almighty grant all my Muslim friends the blessings and protection for the coming year, InsyaAllah.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Give it back

I am still on the subject of Malay proverbs, this time touching on the short phrase form known as Simpulan Bahasa. The phrase I choose today is buruk siku. There seems to be no direct or proper translation for this idiom, nor is there an equivalent English saying that I can think of.

`Buruk' can be translated to bad, decayed, foul or worn out. `Siku' is literally the elbow but can sometimes be used to refer to a sharp corner or edge. The direct translation of `bad elbow' is not correct because in Malay, the adjective normally follows the noun. However the order is reversed when the words are used as an idiom. A few other examples : keras kepala, buah hati and panjang tangan.

The meaning of buruk siku is asking a recipient to return something that was previously given. Don't ask me why the human elbow is connected to such deplorable behaviour. I've tried to research the origin of this simpulan bahasa but have not been successful so far. In fact, I have yet to find a website or book that explains the origin of Malay sayings.

Anyway, why am I talking of this phrase? Because it aptly describes the extraordinary action of the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM) in revoking the Best Song award given to singer/songwriter Yuna during the 18th Anugerah Industry Music (AIM) ceremony held almost 2 weeks ago. Read the news report on Malaysian Insider here -> Yuna loses award.

It seems that RIM and their professional auditors made a blunder while tallying up the scores for the best song. Apparently, the winning song should have been Anuar Zain's Sedetik Lebih.

Maybe Sedetik Lebih is a better song than Penakut.... it doesn't matter to me because I like both songs, but it goes to show that even experienced professionals make the most basic of mistakes.

I feel sorry for Yuna because I know she is very talented. I was lucky enough to watch her perform live during an impromptu session some time last year. My friend invited me to join him and his staff for a simple company dinner at a restaurant in Subang Jaya. This restaurant has a small stage where live music is performed. My friend also invited Yuna's father who is his friend from student days. Yuna's father in turn, brought along his family but never promised if his daughter is willing to sing. The young lady was sporting enough to come on stage and entertain us with 4 songs, including her famous debut hit, Dan Sebenarnya.

Adakah perasaan benci ini sebenarnya.... cinta...
With her young fans...

Don't fret too much about the buruk siku action of RIM, young lady. With your kembang sayap efforts to popularise your music overseas, I am sure you'll go very far.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The art of saying things indirectly

I have previously written about my interest in old Malay proverbs or peribahasa Melayu in a post last year. It takes a certain skill to know when a proverb can be aptly mentioned to apply to a particular situation. Sometimes the reader or listener may not actually know the meaning of the saying but when applied to the situation of the moment, the reason becomes clear by way of inference and comparison.

I still have not yet mastered such skill... and that is why I continue to read and re-read books by literary craftsmen on the subject. I am presently re-reading the first volume of Pepatah Petitih by Pak Sako. The book, first published in 1989, is a collection of articles written by Pak Sako for a local humour magazine called Gila-Gila. In his articles, the writer deftly explained the use various perumpamaan Melayu in different situations, one such common area of use is in satire. Since Malays have this habit of not being able to deliver criticisms directly, many proverbs came into existence to cover for the situation. Sometimes, a properly placed proverb carries more sting than the direct comment. Pukul anak sindir menantu.

The publisher of the magazine, Creative Enterprise saw it fit to publish the collection of articles in book form. The compilation comes in two volumes and I have both. The repeat reading of Volume 1 is now filling up my spare time during these days of wet rainy afternoons in November.

Pak Sako's real name is Ishak Haji Muhammad. He was born in Temerloh in 1909 and passed away on 7 November 1999, just one week short of his 82nd birthday. Reading through his writings, I am tempted to give my own twists to some of the old proverbs... especially those that apply to the present situation that I'm in. I'll start with the following :

Harimau mati meninggalkan belang,
Gajah mati meninggalkan tulang,
Manusia mati meninggalkan hutang...

That last line above is my own modification. The original ending to this pepatah Melayu is : `Manusia mati meninggalkan nama.' Well, if I were to die today, I doubt that I'll be leaving behind any name worth remembering.... tapi tinggalkan hutang tu memanglah banyak. Just a few minutes ago, I received a phone call from the credit card company, reminding me of overdue payment. Oh how I wish I can be debt-free. I guess it's time for me to change my spending habits. Besar periuk, besarlah keraknya...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Leyla or Karmila?

I have just finished reading my latest book last night. It is a Malay novel titled `Lentera Cinta Albaicin', written by a local writer who's new to the literary scene.

I don't read buku cerita Melayu that much, let alone romance novels, so there must be a very particular reason why I read this book... but I'll get to that point a little later. Of the three words that make the title of this novel, I only knew the one in the middle. I had to look up what the other two meant... very humbling indeed.

Lentera is the Malay name for a lamp or lantern with an external casing of glass or glass windows. Albaicin is a district in the city of Granada, Spain. Also spelled Albaizin, this place is the old Arab-Moorish quarter of the historical city that is more well-known for the beautiful palace of Alhambra.

The novel tells the story of a young man from the small town of Mersing in Johor, who decides to travel to faraway Europe to help his friend of Arab-Morrocan descent whom he met while studying at UIA, set up an Islamic pre-school in Albaicin, Granada. He lives with his friend's family and gets to know the other relatives and also the friendly local Muslim community. But life as a Muslim in a Christian country is not without its challenges. The book tells the story of these challenges and how the young man tries his best to overcome them using the knowledge he has gained from his education and religious upbringing. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Leyla Zulaikha... but at the same time is reminded of the sweet and shy Nur Karmila from his kampung.

The Alhambra Palace in Granada with a view of Albaicin in the background on the right.
Within the Alhambra compound...

It took me quite a while to finish reading this book, mainly because it is not the type of book that forms my area of reading interest. But finish it I did, and I needed to, because the author may soon be asking me of my opinion of it.

Lentera Cinta Albaicin is the debut novel from writer Mazny M.R. The author is my niece. She is the first novelist in the family. I am perhaps, the only other family member who has any literary or writing interest. I only write in blogs but my niece has already achieved her dream of having her first fiction effort out in print. Way to go, Mazny. Keep on writing...

Book title : Lentera Cinta Albaicin
Author : Mazny M.R.
Pages : 506
Genre : Novel Tarbiah Dewasa
Publisher : Galeri Ilmu Sdn Bhd

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Stories from Makkah

I didn't post anything yesterday, the eleventh of November, 2011. I initially wanted to... but then couldn't think of anything significant enough to write about. Well, a friend of ours did complete her wedding vows yesterday but the reception was earlier today. So I guess, let's forget about this eleven, eleven, eleven thingy for a while and talk about something else. I mean, really... did you do anything special on the 3x10 date last year or on triple 9 date the previous year? And what about 12.12.12 for next year? That day falls on a Wednesday.

Ok then, let's write about some real stories... or maybe I'll start with just a sampler.

The Hajj season for this year is now over. In the next few days, pilgrims would be returning from the holy land, hopefully in good health and in high spirits. Most would be very grateful for the experience despite the difficulties and challenges. Pilgrims returning from Makkah always have plenty of stories to tell... and these stories range from the sad, the tragic, the heartmoving and sometimes even the mysterious too.

Before pilgrims embark on the holy journey, they are often reminded to be on their best behaviour when they reach there. This sounds like common sense but humans being humans, reminders are definitely needed. Especially when it comes to controlling what comes out from one's mouth. People tend to say things without giving much thought to what they are saying. If improper things are said while you are in the holy land, it wouldn't be a surprise if the payback is almost immediate. `Cash on Delivery' is the term that I use... God uses his discretion to decide if you get your dividend on the spot rather than wait for the hereafter.

There are many stories that fall into this COD category. If you complain that the air temperature in Makkah or Madinah is too hot for your liking, then don't be surprised if you'll feel the heat throughout your stay there, even when you are in your air-conditioned hotel room. If you grumble that the food served by the hotel is not to your taste, then you run the risk of eating tasteless food no matter where you buy the food from. If you think that you live in a big city and proudly claim to know your way around places, then you might just get lost within Masjidil Haram mosque itself. If you complain that some pilgrims within your group are always late getting on the bus and causing delays, then just wait for the time when you get lost and couldn't find the bus to get you back to your hotel.

Does it mean that we cannot complain about poor service or bad conditions? I don't know... but what I know is, it doesn't hurt to be doing otherwise. The underlying message here is always to be kind, patient and humble, especially when you are His guest.

A few of my friends are on Hajj trips this year and I await their return... not just to listen to their interesting stories but primarily to know that they are back home, safe and healthy.

In the meantime, I'll share with you my own story from Makkah... also in the cash payback category, although this is not for having bad intentions (I hope).

The hotel where I was staying is only about a few hundred metres from the mosque. When walking to the mosque from the hotel for the daily prayers, I would pass by a shoe shop with a large window display. In the display was a pair of leather sandals that caught my eye and I thought that maybe I'd buy it on my way back. After prayers, I stopped by the shop window, looked at the sandals again but decided to defer the purchase. This went on a few more days... I stopped by the shop window every time on the way back to the hotel but never stepped inside the shop. Nak beli ke tidak? Nak beli ke tidak?

Until one day, the decision was made for me.

When I go the Masjidil Haram for the daily prayers, I would normally enter by the same gate and store my footwear in a pigeonhole-type shoerack just inside the gate. In fact, I would try to keep it in the same pigeonhole every time so that it is easy to remember. Stories of lost or stolen (or probably misplaced) footwear is so common in Makkah. I had been quite lucky in not losing mine... until one day, after Asar prayers, I note that my sandals were not in the particular place where I had stored them.

This of course meant that I had to buy a new pair... and so that day, I walked barefooted from the mosque to the shoe shop and finally bought the pair of new sandals which I had been eyeing the previous few days. Now, let's ponder this : if I had not been indecisive in purchasing that leather sandals, or no footwear in that shop window had taken my interest, would fate still determine that I lose my existing pair?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

For the love of our parents

Around this time last year, I wrote about the Aidil Adha celebrations and the process of qurbani (sacrifice of livestock) at the mosque near my parents' home. In that post, I mentioned that the noblest aspect of sacrifice is expecting nothing in return. Today, that particular phrase is reminding me of the effort of one particular person, at this present time... and I thought it would be good to write about it, just so there is something for me to remember by, some time in the future.

My family and I are spending this year's Hari Raya Korban at my sister-in-law's place in Selangor. This particular sis-in-law is my wife's eldest sibling. Kak Long Salmah, a retired schoolteacher, is now 67-years old and lives with another sister at Seri Kembangan. Since early this year, both of them have taken on the task of taking care of their ailing and bedridden father. For those of you who have the experience of caring for an elderly person, you will know that it is not something easy. In this case, it is doubly difficult because my father-in-law is someone whose level of patience is towards the lower end of the scale. And to comply with the rule of inverse proportionality, if the one being taken care of is short on `kesabaran', then the one doing the caring needs to have tons of it. Otherwise, the situation would become explosive and ultimately untenable.

Kak Long is not in a healthy condition herself. Many years ago when in her late-forties, she suffered breast cancer. Through a lengthy and arduous treatment of chemotherapy and surgery, she survived. After the death of her husband, she raised her only daughter single-handedly. Being the eldest child in a very large family, Kak Long had been looking out for her 12 younger brothers and sisters all her life. According to my wife, Kak Long was the one who helped buy clothes and shoes for the younger ones during hari raya. A schoolteacher's pay is not lavish but when it comes to family, she was never stingy.

This is not the first time Kak Long is looking after a sick parent. In 1997, she and my wife took on the duty of caring for their mother who was suffering from stroke. My mother-in-law was due for an operation to replace her heart pacemaker when the stroke happened. She became paralysed on one-half of her body and was no longer able to speak properly. Because of this condition, she declined to have the pacemaker replaced, accepting whatever fate that the Almighty has written. Looking after her became a full-time job which Kak Long and my wife shared equally. I was only a bit player in the whole show, helping out here and there when required... to put it simply, there are just things that only daughters are able to do to help their mothers.

My mother-in-law departed in September 1998. Kak Long completed her service as a teacher and retired to live in Kuala Lumpur. My father-in-law re-married and stayed with his new wife.

In December last year, my stepmother-in-law passed away. One of the immediate issues that surfaced from this event was : who is going to take care of my bedridden father-in-law? As an interim move, one of my brother-in-laws offered to take in the old man. But this could not go on for long because my brother-in-law's wife is already looking after her own sick mother. Attending to two elderly persons in the same house is too stressful a task for one person to handle. Something had to be done to resolve this problem.

Ultimately it was Kak Long and another sister who offered to be caretakers. Although it is my father-in-law's wish to have his sons look after him, it ends up with the eldest and youngest daughters doing the job. Despite her own failing health situation, Kak Long has taken on a heavy responsibility at the expense of her own personal comfort. She has now done the honourable duty of the selfless daughter who has taken care of both her mother and her father. That indeed, is a clear example of sacrifice.

For Kak Long, this year's Aidil Adha was spent in a hospital ward. She was admitted last week and diagnosed with fluid in her lungs. Pulmonary edema.... that's the medical term.

I have been visiting Kak Long at Putrajaya Hospital for the past few days. My prayers to Allah swt for the recovery of Salmah Bt Hj Md Amin and bless her for all the good deeds she has done for our family.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The seat of the first Johor Sultanate

When I was a young boy doing the daily commute by bus from our house in Singapore to school in Johor Bahru,  I would walk past a small unimpressive signpost located underneath the flyover just outside the Immigration and Customs checkpoint. The signboard is a short description of how the city of JB got its name. Originally called Tanjung Puteri (if I recall correctly, spelled as Petrie on the signboard), the then small town was renamed Johor Bahru by Sultan Abu Bakar in 1866.

The signboard is of course, no longer there, since the construction of the new CIQ complex. In those days, it crossed my mind that if there is a place called Johor Bahru, then there must be another place somewhere called Johor Lama. Indeed there is... and upon studying a bit of history in school, I learned that the remains Johor Lama, considered as the first capital of the Johor state, can be found on the eastern bank of Sungai Johor within the district of Kota Tinggi. It has taken me more than 30 years since that classroom history lesson to make my first visit to the place.

The brief history of Kota Johor Lama written here

I wasn't particularly good at history while in school. I somehow find it difficult to memorize dates, so when history and geography became elective subjects as we entered Form 4 of secondary school, I naturally chose geography.

Anyway, following my maiden drive on the Senai-Desaru Expressway which I posted about last week, I took the chance to make a trip to Teluk Sengat and Johor Lama. The place now is easily accessible by car since authorities paved and upgraded the track that connects to the KT-Desaru trunk road. Previously, the land route to Teluk Sengat meant driving on earth tracks through palm oil estates. Not too long ago, the primary form of transport used by the villagers was boats.

According to historical notes, the village known as Johor Lama was established by Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II in 1540 (hmmm... that's 471 years ago). Sultan Alaudin was the son of Sultan Mahmud Shah, the last sultan of Melaka. When Sultan Mahmud was ousted by the Portuguese in 1511, he escaped to Muar and then to a few other places, where he assembled troops to try re-capture Melaka (which he did not succeed). Depending on your point of view, it can be said that the last king of Melaka became the first king of Johor, although I note that most historians would place Alaudin Riayat Shah as the first sultan. This first sultan's real name is Raja Ali. The official name of Alaudin Riayat Shah the Second was taken when he ascended the throne. The first ARS was the second ARS's grandfather who ruled Melaka up to 1488, before the Portuguese invasion. Confusing, no? That's why I didn't do too well in history.

Mahmud Shah the last sultan, was also linked to the legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang. He was the king who really wanted to marry the mysterious beauty living somewhere up a mountain to the extent of agreeing to most of the practically-impossible pre-conditions set by the princess. This story is an extremely colourful legend... and as legends go, there is no way that it can be verified. Perhaps, that's the way it is meant to be.

On the other hand, if we are to go down further in the succession line of Johor kings, we will come to another sultan with similar name whose history is probably the next most well-known and no less colourful. Sultan Mahmud Shah II was the grandson of Alaudin Riayat Shah II, and therefore the great-grandson of the last sultan of Melaka. He was also the last king of Johor to have direct lineage to the royal Melaka bloodline, having no offspring of his own. Mahmud Shah the Second was said to have ruled his kingdom with a cruel hand. When Dang Anum, the pregnant wife of his trusted admiral Laksamana Bentan, ate a slice of jackfruit from the king's garden without his permission, Sultan Mahmud Shah became very furious. Dang Anum tried to appeal to the sultan by saying that her craving for the jackfruit was because of the baby in her belly. The king became even angrier and ordered Dang Anum's womb be cut open. Legend has it that they found the baby with a piece of the jackfruit in his mouth. I know it's stretching the imagination a bit... but hey, legends wouldn't be colourful without some form of exaggeration.

Laksamana Bentan, who was away at sea fighting off pirates, returned to find that his wife and unborn child had been killed by the king. The admiral swore to avenge the deaths and plotted to murder the sultan. He did so, one afternoon while the king was on his way back after Friday prayers. Laksamana Bentan was then killed by the sultan's guards. This incident led to another name being given to the king : Sultan Mahmud Mangkat Dijulang.

The graves of both Sultan Mahmud Shah and Laksamana Bentan can still be found in Kota Tinggi. The sultan's mausoleum is located at Kg Makam on the eastern bank of Sungai Johor. A few kilometres upstream on the same side of the river at Kg Kelantan is where we can find Bentan's final resting place.

Ok then... enough of history. Back to the present.

The village of Johor Lama is also known as Johor Kampung to the locals. The old fort (or `kota' in Malay) was located on a hill next to the river. There aren't any stone walls that remain today but for some earth mounds that do indicate some form of protective structure. If the present overgrown trees are cleared, I can imagine the fort having a commanding view of the Johor rivermouth.

Entrance to the Johor Lama historical site

View of Sungai Johor

The museum building

The area is now under the maintenance of the Muzeums Department and there is a muzeum there. Unfortunately I arrived late and the muzeum was aready closed. But if you wish to take a peek of what's inside, then have a look at their website here -> Muzium Kota Johor Lama.