The Back of Penang

During my recent trip to Penang island, we went to Bukit Pulau to visit the Saanen Dairy Goat Farm. Balik Pulau is an agricultural town on the south-west of the island. Its main products are cloves, nutmeg and durian.

We took the windy (i.e. lots of curves and bends) coastal road, which, as I was in the back seat, made me feel pretty queasy. However, the scenery was gorgeous. Unfortunately, most of it was seen rushing by, from the window of a speeding car, with my aunt reminding her daughter to ‘Slow down’ and ‘Mind the corners’. I would like to return one day and spend more time looking round.

So, we rushed to Balik Pulau, had lunch, and then hurried to find the farm as it was near closing time. The place smelled over-poweringly of goat (as expected), but I was happy, nevertheless. The goats had either poker faces or cynical expressions. There was one big billy whom I wanted to take home with me.

There were also lots of dogs, cats and chickens. The kittens and labradors were adorable, the chickens and poodles less so.

‘Balik Pulau’ means the flipside (balik) of the island (pulau). It is separated from the commercial and administrative centre of Penang, George Town (in the north-east), by hills. The coastal road has views of the sea on one side and lush green jungle dotted by streams and waterfalls on the other. As we neared the town, we saw some beautiful old kampung houses. Once again, it was all a rush, but I still managed to get a good shot or two from the car.

Birch Road or Jalan Maharajalela?

Jalan Tun H.S. Lee now and when it used to be Hight Street. This picture is taken from Kuala Lumpur Dahulu dan Sekarang, an article on Photo Credit: Mohd Radzi Jamaludin’

I didn’t grow up in Kuala Lumpur so I don’t know the old names of the roads and streets in the capital city. By the time I moved to KL (1996), the names had all been changed.

I believe the major renaming happened in 1981 when Mahathir Mohammad was the prime minister. Wiki describes the exercise as a ‘post-independence decolonisation’ effort: the original names of the roads and streets in question were of British public figures. (I’ve been told that Jalan Madge was named after the young daughter of a British official, but I haven’t been able to confirm this. The name of this road has not been changed.)Read More »

Gadis di Kuburan by Usman Awang

Gadis di Kuburan

Nisan condong tegak bertaburan
Gadis menangis kehibaan
Tidak ada padang perjuangan
Pahlawan gugur tergelimpang

Lari gadis menyembam ke tanah
Diiringi sedu menggoncang bahu
Tenang pahlawan dipeluk bumi
Senyum terakhir tenang tersembunyi

Kenangan lama bermain di hati-
Pelukan dan kucupan kasih
Tidak ada garisan tepi-
Kata dipadu, janji dikunci.

‘Sungguhkah dinda?’ tanya pemuda
‘Benar, kanda,’ sahutnya manja
Ke jinjang pelamin setahun lagi
Hilir berbiduk ke laut hidup

Datanglah lamaran ke ayah bunda,
Penuh khidmat junjung berduli
Tapi pemuda emas sesaga
Tertolaklah lamaran, terurailah janji

Matahari bersembunyi di balik awan
Pulanglah orang membawa usungan
Air di kendi kekeringan
Terkejut gadis dari menungan

Melangkah gadis menahan denyutan
Pandangan terakhir terlempar ke nisan
Setangkai kemboja gugur perlahan
Merangkak senja menutup pandangan.

~ Usman Awang (1929 – 2001)

Not his best work but I was a sentimental teenager. Hell, I’m sentimental now.

A lit fest in KL?

A friend (a Singaporean writer) told me that she will be in Kuala Lumpur next month for the KL Lit Fest, i.e. she has been invited to participate as a speaker and/or panelist.

‘What is that?’ I asked.

She was, quite understandably, surprised that I had not heard of this event. After all, I live in Kuala Lumpur and I am supposedly part of the arts/writing community. (Hmm … well, admittedly I try to distance myself from most other Malaysian writers because, as a whole, I can’t stand their mutual masturbation, self satisfaction and inability to accept criticism of any sort. Individually, they seem sensible enough, but as a collective, say, on the Facebook Malaysian Writers group, they seem impossibly, aggravatingly petty.)

But anyway.

I googled the Kl Lit Fest and found a website that reveals that this event (organised by Perbadanan Kota Buku) will run from 11th to 13th November. This is less than a month away and yet, no venue has been fixed, no events listed.

Kota Buku’s Instagram account tells us a little more, with a poster featuring the country flags of speakers. A venue is also mentioned (Art Printing Works in Bangsar):


But, still, no names of speakers, or specific events.

I guess I’ll have to rely on my Singaporean writer friend to keep me informed.

Book Review: Mahsuri by Ooi Kok Chuen

MahsuriFirst published in The Star on 31st July, 2016

IN Mahsuri: A Legend Reborn, Ooi Kok Chuen expands on the legend of Langkawi’s famous icon who was supposed to have cursed the island during her execution for adultery. My ex-husband, whom I met in Langkawi 20 years ago, says that the curse actually involves anyone who visits Langkawi being doomed to listen to Mahsuri’s story being repeated, ad nauseum, by all and sundry. I have to agree that it really gets milked to death and would benefit from some skilful re-telling.

Preeta Samarasan, the author of Evening is the Whole Day, actually wrote a compelling version of the tale for my collection Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed, but I feel the story, like this region’s other fairytales, myths and legends, offers Malaysian writers endless scope for fresh interpretations, and its potential has not been maximised.

Such stories have usually survived generations stripped down to the barest, most basic of plots, their key players little more than cardboard figures just crying out to be fleshed out and reimagined.  Read More »