Saturday, July 31, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #37920 

In his head he carried songs from a very long time, from his hands came the fruit of recipes long forgotten. In the morning he baked roti paung, a sweet roundish bread baked to golden brown, and the beluda, which is probably best described as the local Trengganu muffin. There are people everywhere who bake sweetish buns as golden and as brown, but I have not seen a beluda since.

Pak Mat's beludas were baked in cigarette tins, if you remember what cigarette tins were like. They were roundish, about three inches in diameter, and stood as tall as the cigarette was long. It had a lid which had a catch that had to be prised open to keep the contents fresh, and once emptied of its contents, Pak Mat filled them all up with his secret recipe, scores of them, brimming with the dough that rose in the evening and now pushed well back into his wood fired oven.

I sometimes wonder about the fate of those Trengganu men and women who smoked those nefarious cigarettes that gave Pak Mat his beluda tins by the dozen.

The beluda, when pulled piping hot from the oven, had a spongy consistency and a mien that delighted a child's fancy. I ate many beludas on my way to school, and if I was lucky, there'd be some left when I returned home from school. I'd stood many hours, before school time, waiting to be served while Pak Mat sweated in his baking shed, pulling this tray out, shoving another in, and all the while giving orders to his kith and kin to wrap this up or take the money from somone who's had his or her turn.

The beluda in a cigarette tin was the stuff of childhood dream, and the art was not just in the baking, but also in the ability to make it pop out of the tin, still steaming and unbroken. Even when cold the beluda was still the bolster of dreams.

Maybe, in my recollection, I've beludad Pak Mat for too long, and made light his other talents. Pak Mat baked two varieties of bread, maybe seven, it was a long time ago, you understand. Then he also stirred a huge pot of a Trengganu gulai with bits of meat bobbing up and down in a thin, darkish sauce which was also his other feat of renown. The sauce was poured over his nasi minyak, rice cooked in a quantity of grease, gleaming and steaming in the cauldron, then made merry with grains that were coloured red and green.

Some mornings Pak Mat would rise at the crack of dawn and to the occasion, and baked beludas and buns, then, at other times when the mood took him, he stirred the gulai in his pot, and doused a little of the sauce onto portions of steaming rice portioned out on papers lined with the banana leaf, waiting to be adorned with chunks of meat and chillied condiments, then wrapped and taken hurriedly to the famished at the breakfast tables of many a home in this littoral town.

Then one fine day someone found an old gamelan in the recessess of the Palace of Kuala Trengganu, but no one to beat out the tunes from this ancient instrument. So Pak Mat pushed aside his boiling cauldron and his oven that was wafting with the smell of burning wood and the aroma of the beluda and the paung, and made merry music for a while on this ancient instrument with tunes that he must've learnt when he was young. Pak Mat, I haven't told you, was also known far and wide as Pak Mat Nobat, a royal player in the nobat ensemble of old Trengganu.

The nobat, you see, is royal music, played only on special occasions by men who beat a drum, blew on a Malay trumpet, and a few other insturments that I've now forgotten. Only a few states in peninsular Malaysia had the nobat, and Trengganu was one - and the nobat gave some quaint lamentations that have been attributed by some to mysterious sounds heard by men far out at sea. The nobat music was not written but kept in the heads of selected men.

So you can imagine our Pak Mat pulling out the beluda and the bun while, in his head, ran the wailing and the bleating of the nobat winds and its wild, ancient drums.


Growing Up In Trengganu #37920

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Map Is Not The Territory 

In Palestine, Psammetichus of Egypt stopped the Scythians' advance. The Phoenicians and Syrians in Palestine followed the Egyptian practise of circumcising their young. The Phonecians lived on the Syrian coast in a land which, together with a part that extended into Egypt, was known as Palestine. And between Persia and Phoenicia was a very large area of country; and from Phoenicia, the branch I am speaking of ran along the Mediterranean coast through Palestine-Syria to Egypt.

So said an ancient work, written more than 2000 years ago, but don't the Zionists read Herodotus' Histories?

Or perhaps they've all read the bowdlerised Zionist version with all references to Palestine airbrushed and in its place, a new name given, Eretz Israel, the land of bulldozers, exotic settlers, wall builders, and land grabbers.

Fanciful, don't you think? Not really, not in the light of what they're doing now. They're actually rewriting history and redrawing maps, and in these maps, Palestine doesn't exist. We all remember Golda Meyer of course, she declared Israel a state established in a land without people, for a people without land. Many, many Zionist leaders nowadays repeat the mantra, that Palestine doesn't exist. Didn't.

"Zionists and Jews throughout the world use propaganda maps that instill spatial socialization along with claims to rightful ownership of the entire Eretz Yisrael where Palestinians and Palestine are presented as illegitimate or incidental. These maps are props that pretend to present the objective reality but are actually a form of brainwashing," so said Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University.

What a wonderful phrase it is, spatial socialisation; it pulls the wool right over cartographic representation, and then whoosh, historic Palestinian towns become mere patches in Israeli districts. This is really the end of history and the triumph of cartography. Never mind Herodotus who must've misheard the name Palestine all those years ago, in his travels.

If you have been following the antics of Zionism you'll not be too surprised by this. You've probably marvelled at Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial which denied the existence of Palestine the land as well as its people. You've probably received pamphlets declaring that Palestine is Jordan. Well, Jordan is Palestine, and so is that part of the land where Palestine supposedly didn't exist. Many people are fooled by this, including Barbara Tuchmann, who praised From Time Immemorial to the skies.

Maybe we should all now do as I do, journeying and re-reading Herodotus.

But if you prefer something more modern, something more spatuial in its socialization, read Oren Yiftachel here and here.


The Map Is Not The Territory

Friday, July 23, 2004

Rubaiyat On A Ship 

Many years ago I met a woman in Rottingdean, in the coastal town of Brighton in England whose grandfather worked on a fabulously bound copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that went down with the Titanic on that fateful voyage from Southampton on April 10, 1912.

This particular Rubaiyat was special: it was studded with over 1000 rubies and emerlads, and had a gold peacock design on its cover. The woman's grandfather did the special binding for the Rubaiyat when he was employed by the London bookbinders Sangorski and Sutcliffe; it was later auctioned for £405, a great deal of money then.The Titanic

I remember driving down to Brighton all those years ago on an overcast day to meet this woman who told me fascinating stories about her grandfather. They came back to me when, while thumbing through the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf's book, Samarkand, the Rubaiyat popped up again. Maalouf is one of my favourite writers, and in this book he spins a fascinating tale around the history of the manuscript of this particular Rubaiyat which started in Samarkand in 1072. As is his forte, Maalouf weaves fact and fiction masterfully.

Reading him again this time I felt a certain eeriness because somehow I felt that I had a link to the subject through this journey that I had made to Brighton. There was no doubt that this particular Rubaiyat manuscript was bound by that London firm, and that the woman's grandfather was the master craftsman who cut the leather, embedded the rubies and emeralds into the book, put the peacock on the cover, and stitched the pages together into one beautiful binding. Only one thing was uncertain: did the manuscript actually leave shore on the Titanic that fateful day?

Some believe that it never did because no one made any claims against the ship's insurers for its loss after the Titanic sank. But I'd like to believe that it did because many of the quatrains in the Rubaiyat are so very poignantly and dolefully appropriate to the fate of this unfortunate ship.

When I asked the woman about this, she said why of course she had no doubts about that. It was a tragic and a sad thing, and it was the peacock.

"Peacocks do bring bad luck," she said.


Rubaiyat On A Ship

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Death On The Road 

After the funeral last week, I've just heard that another dear friend, B, has died in Londra. That's two deaths that have touched me since I took to the road. Today I spoke on the 'phone to D, B's brother who flew in to Londra from South America for the funeral; he  asked me if I'd like to keep part of the massive collection of books that B had amassed in his lifetime. "My brother was a great customer of Amazon.com," D said. I was choked with grief and joy.
I have known B and D for a long time. Just over a decade ago I was one of the few mourners on a cold morning in a Jewish cemetery in North Londra to bury their mother, who'd died at a ripe age. I didn't think it odd that I was there, with the Muslim skull-cap on my head, taking the spade from the yarmulke-wearing Rabbi when it was my turn to drop some earth into the grave.
B, D and their mother had all been very kind to me during my early days in Londra. They were Jews whose forefathers had crossed over from Belgium to escape Nazi prosecution, but to me they were all English people who'd treated me very well when I was a student. They had few family members even then; most, I presume, must have perished during those dark times in Europe. Now D is all alone, with no family members left in England.
In his life B read many books, loved cricket, and was an avid fan of the opera and English theatre. Some famous stars were at his funeral where they played some of his favourite songs and excerpts from his favourite radio programmes. 
D said at the funeral that I was the only brother he had left in England, and that I find deeply touching


Death On The Road

Friday, July 16, 2004

Drawing A Ship To Scale 

I met my Mah Meri friend again, a sage, spinner and a man who knows which side his bread is buttered on. The Mah Meri are an aboriginal people who live nowadays in the kampung just like the Malays. They carve and they crave and what they crave for mostly is money, I think, just like the Malays do. So they carve what appear to me to be a collection of eclectic things - bits of Chinese influence here, bits of atavism there, and bits and bobs everywhere.
When I met him my friend told me that there was a carving there that was actually copied from the work of the Jah Hut people. Why did they do it? 
"Oh, we were paid to do that," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "They paid us a deposit but never returned for the finished work." 
Then he turned to a fierce looking Tiger spirit, chained, but with a ball in its mouth. He told me that the ball was the thing: if you found such a ball from the spirit of the tiger you'd be amply rewarded with health, wealth and everything else that the Mah Meri people craved for besides money. I'm putting this in my own words, of course. 
"Has anyone found it?" I asked him earnestly. 
"Oh, it's only a story," he replied, looking at me as if I was completely mad.
The Mah Meri - people of the jungle - is a misnomer, he said. The thing I admire most about my friend is his practicality; pragmatism even. "Why accept it then if you're not people of the jungle?" 
"Well," he replied, "they gave it to us, what to do?" 
I'd heard this before, earlier in the day when he was describing a carving he'd made which he named, let's say X, which name was changed by someone else with greater power, to another, let's say, Y. Why accept Y when it's X? "Well, he gave it that, so that's it then."
Then he looked at me straight in the eye. "I wanted to sue him," he said, and I swear to you he did. "But I didn't because he was going to die anyway."  I think I saw, on his face, the shadow of a smile.
And oh, if they weren't the Mah Meri, what were (are) they? 
"We are the orang bersisek, people with the scale," replied my friend.
How so?
Many, many years ago - aeons ago I suspect - his people had a running battle with the lanuns (pirates), which ended in a truce which has lasted till today. But while hostilities were raging, a member of the tribe looked out to sea and said, "Oh, look, here comes the pirates. I can see their sail out there."
Other members of the tribe looked out to sea but saw no ship. And then they looked at him and found the answer. 
"You're telling us fibs," they told him. "It's not the sail of the pirates' ship you're seeing, but the scale of a fish in your eye."

And that was how they became known as the orang bersisek. And as for the truce, his people have foretold that it will end when the Rawang rivers once again become one.

I shall have to take a closer look at the Rawang before telling you if the truce will hold.

Drawing A Ship To Scale

Monday, July 12, 2004

On the Road Again 

When the grandson of our neighbour in Londra died, so tragically young, they played his favourite song, Willie Nelson's On the Road Again at his funeral.

Now, on the road again, I've been to a funeral, made friends with several cats, and have eaten more than my fair share of road nosh which as all travellers know, is so sad for the waist. Sometimes I chance upon an internet cafe, like today, sometimes none at all. Today in the internet caff I am bewildered by the booms of those video-gaming young people and the constant blast of loud music. I get mail from people who ask where I am.

Well, I am where I am. Sometimes travelling is better than arriving, sometimes you don't know where it is that you wish to arrive at. Like Hamzah Fansuri, that sage of Baros in old Sumatra, I may find what I'm looking for right there at home. But who knows, the old hippie goes east to look for himself, and then he goes back West to find a myriad disciples. An old German proverb: When a drake flies across the ocean there comes back a quack-quack.

I'm off to the land where the bong tree grows, but the world doesn't look any different from a different place. The Wall is castigated by all but one judge at the International Court in the Hague, but Kerry the candidate in the US of A regrets that very much. Because walling out Palestinians and depriving them of a decent life is legitimate part of self-defence. For the Israelis. What legitimate rights to self-defence do Palestinians have? The late Edward Said was castigated and his job threatened for throwing the symbolic stone in his native Palestine...

I move daily, take in the sun, see people in all manner of folly and fun. I shall delve into that later.

Meantime, God bless all you good people.


On the Road Again

Monday, July 05, 2004

Well, Well, Well... 

This is a story of the Iraqi oil wells.

Who's been enriched by this war on Saddam Hussein? The Iraqi people or the coalition of the just? (Just what?). Democracy or the United States?

A quick look at the figures tells us that it's business acumen holding the day. How much was allocated for the rebuilding of Iraq? Last October Congress approved $18.4 billion. How much have they spent on Iraq thye bastion of coalition-led democracy? Two percent.

Now,let's look at some other figures. There's $20 billion in a special development fund originating from Iraq's oil sales. How much has been earmarked for spending? Almost all.

They appear to have outdone even Scrooge on the even of Christmas, and the Turkeys are the Iraqis this time. Of the Congress approved $18.4 billion, they've spent $366 million. On what? Well, er, mostly on administration. Themselves, that is.

Also they've got an explanation for this. Security problems prevented development at greater speed. All monies to be spent will only be spent when projects are completed. And this takes time. What a considerate coalition lot they have been.

Now look at the other side. Same practice with Iraq's oil-generated funds? No, they're spent it all, locked it all in projects, and sweet Fanny Adams to projects for the alleviation of Iraqi unemployment. And now they're gone, but not forgotten.

No wonder the Iraqis are critical. "They came here and spent a lot of our money and very little of theirs." Over the past two months alone, just before bolting, they spent $6 billion of Iraqi money.

Full story in the Washington Post.


Well, Well, Well...

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Tell the Truth, and Let It Lie 

Is this a world of hard facts, bumps and all, or is it a hologram?

As I'm travelling now the world is becoming less of a reality in the way that I'm used to: I don't watch the telly, read the papers, nor listen to the radio. Though I miss them all, especially the last two. All I hear is the vox populi, screeching and chattering wherever I turn my head. "Hello," everyone seems to say, "five minutes more." That's conversation via the ubiquitous mobile telephone, and always a waiting spouse, partner, driver at the other end, taking instruction some five minutes before the caller arrives by whatever mode of public transport that s/he's in right now.

I heard a person telephoning for transport soon as the plane landed. I don't own a mobile phone here or anywhere, so I must be green with mobile phone envy.

But the world without the news media buzzing around you like the bad news hornets appears much the same to me. I received news of the Iraq handover two days after everyone else, but it didn't matter one jot. Maybe it did to the Iraqis who're now er, free. But today, just as I logged on to the internet to check my mail, I saw the news headline that the militants have killed another, an American soldier. Ah well, on their heads be it, the lot of them. Everyone. All.

But remember the rhetorical slogan of the seventies: what if they called a war and no one came? Now, what if they made all those beheading videos with their cocky stance and their cowering hostages, what if they poured out all those news and no one came to see and hear? That wouldn't do, would it?

All those militants — whoever they are — would be upset, wouldn't they, if they don't have anyone to influence and address. And all those newsmakers, will they be upset too if there's no one to bamboozle? It'll be the end of their hologram wouldn't it? End of history as me.

And where will they go to? Well, some will just go back to their day jobs, maybe in Fort Bragg, home of the US army's Fourth PsyOps. During the Kosovo War in 1999, some of them worked in the newsroom of CNN in Atlanta. And as for those in the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence (love that name), they'll still be churning all the news that's false, I bet. But you'll all be helping them not to kid us the less you listen and hear.

Mind how you go now, and read only all that's fit. Or you won't be.


Tell the Truth, and Let It Lie

Friday, July 02, 2004

Howdy , Old Friends 

I was two days into my travels before discovering that the Coalition stalwarts had scammed. Away went Kimmit, Bremmer et al, under cover of darkness and freedom. There still: myriad contractors, Israeli operatives, almost all the available US diplomatic personnel, and person or persons unknown.

And back came old Saddam as trophy for the new boy ruler Iyad their man our man.

I wouldn't have known all this had the friend not turned on the TV to his default station, CNN, last Monday, much to my annoyance. There were two Iraqi men giving a press conference, one saying this, the other saying another thing. "Ah well, they must be preparing for the handover beginning of the month," I said.
Saddam's Letter. How you?
"My travelling man," said friend, "they've already handed it back to them."

Just imagine that, ex CIA, ex MI6 man Allawi's declaration of independence two days easrly, and Iraqi Independence by premature ejaculation. Iraq in a state of a state, with threats of military rule, return of capital punishment, and Saddam saying damn, damn, damn to the lot of them. All these trappings of a police state I could've done better myself he may well be thinking from where he now stands.

And what did Bush say from Turkey just before handing it all to their man of choice? "If only all these Mussulman could be stuffed like Turkey." Well, folks, didn't I say so days ago? [See below] Turkey's now the model caliphate while the Israelis go on to snuggle up with the hustlers of Kurdistan.

It's all becoming oh so deliciously farcical, I tell you. Brits going adrift into the waters of Iran, Bush declared mad by one Congressman analyst, and Blair leading the whole Eastern European contingent in new Europe versus the old.

Perhaps we shouldn't forget that letter from the arch madman himself, Saddam. "I'm well folks, how're you?"

Yes indeedee, how're you everyone?


Howdy , Old Friends

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