SRK Bukit Tunggal Revisited - 2001, Dec 20

The year 1958.

The year I began my schooling life, in Standard One, in Bukit Tunggal Primary School, about four km to the east (the direction of sunrise) of my house. My elder brother, Abang Ra was in Standard Three. I did not remember the first day my mother sent me to the school. I only believe that she did, not my father, she was more concerned about our schooling. I remembered arriving home with my mother, well dressed, from the school, on several occasions. My younger brother, Num was then about five, then a sister, Mek Maziah, born in 1957. So when my mother accompanied me to the school, they must had been left to some one, relatives perhaps, at home.

(Left) The road, not much changed since, from my home; I walked on this road for six years to and from Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Tunggal. The road passes the place called Tebauk. And (right) Dec 2001, the old gate of Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Tunggal; in 1958 viewed from here would see nothing but tall and big tembusu trees with the small yellow flowers in season. The gate now become the back gate. The scary hill Bukit Tunggal was a few meters to the right, a sharp bend at the foot of the hill which was part of the only trunk road Kuala Terengganu - Kota Bharu.

(Left) The school building, I was in in 1958, the original building preserved to date. Going into the class was via the middle stair. In 1958 through to 1963, the front of the building was an empty space, filled with white sand; but too hot to play; under the building however, it was cool, and here was our play ground during recess, had to be not very far away from the class, not yet when we were in standard one. (Right) The only other two buildings in the school (viewed towards the sun-rise from my Std 1 class), the original preserved to date. Standard 2 to 6 were in classes in these two buildings. There wasn't any tarmac, only sand or hard sandy ground.

Going to school together were Musa and Ripin, my closest neighbour. There were many other boys, upstream and downstream of the road, but they were not my playmates. It was such a sign seen in the early morning when a boy walked passing one after the other in one direction: to the school, and in the afternoon, to the opposite direction. Unlike other boys, my brother and I wore songkok to school, because whenever our hair got rather long my father would shave it. My father also got his head shaved (by friend-neighbour) from time to time. Sometimes other boys made fun of us, especially when we were newly shaved. I remembered at one time my brother put up a fight to defend me when the boys made fun of me. Somehow, not long after I started going to school, my father did not bother about that anymore. Then the school teacher kept reminding me of long hair. Getting the hair cut was in Batu Enam. There were only two barbers: Pak Ud and Awang; for a boy it cost 30 sen, but very hard to get the turn without accompanying adult (my father never accompanied); perhaps I had only two or three times a year, for sure once at the end of Ramadan for the Eid. In later years, Abang Wi became a non-pro barber at MakTeh Pah's place where he then was staying, and I got my hair cut there.

My class was in the two-classrooms-wooden block on the stilt about two meters high, and we sat down crossing the legs. There were no desks and chairs. A small end room was the Head Master's office. It didn't occur to me to imagine how the HM could stand the noise of the so many seven to eight years-old kids around him, but when I was at about his age I could understand it: that he was a dedicated teacher, a teacher whose pride was the 'marching' kids going to school, the more the bigger pride, never mind the noise, for during that time parents had yet to be motivated and driven to take their children to school. I learned later on that my father was not very keen to send my brother to school, but his friend, the folk-head had done a lot of persuasion, and my mother's strong push. When it came to my time, my mother was very delighted to take me to school. I remembered for a few days, my mother waited for me all the day, and I remembered at least one day my mother was holding my hand on our way home, on the road very close the house, near a place for very many years it was a taboo to my father, my mother and all the elder children of my mother; and in fact to all who stayed around the place.

"Fishing" cecurut was a lot of fun to spend time under the class during recess. Cecurut was actually the larvae of a giant ant (perhaps lion ant). It stayed in volcanic cones, waiting for other insects to fall into the pit and get grabbed. We fished out the larvae by tying to a piece of hair a bait (normally a smaller cecurut caught manually by combing the volcano, or borrowed from a friend) and lowered it into the pit of the cone. The bait can be seen being grabbed, and thus quickly pulled out. The larvae would be thrown to some distance away from the pit; it had to be quickly caught by hand otherwise it quickly burrowed into the sand.

There were two other concrete single storey blocks for higher standards. I could not remember the HM's name at the time, but as I got bigger and getting more 'at home' with the school, I remembered one HM by the name CheGu Tengku Muda, a tall, slender, fair skin, in his 40s and move about cautiously. He stayed in the quarter, very near the gate. In later years, every morning then, I arrived very early every day at the school, I woke him up by shouting from outside the house, for the keys of the classrooms. He would throw me the whole bunch of the keys, through the windows, and I opened every classroom in the school. By the time I finished opening all the classrooms, he was already in his office where I returned the keys. I never knew who locked all the classrooms in the evening. He left the school before I finished my Standard Six in 1963. My leaving cert was signed by another teacher, CheGu Salleh, but he was not the HM. In 1963, when I was in Std Six, the school had its first non-teacher staff: a gardener; and thus ended my fun of openning the classrooms in the early morning.

The night lights during my twelve years in Trg: the very raw kerosene lamp (left picture) for normal night life. They were home-made (very easy) and we had quite a few. Kerosene was 10 sen per lemonade bottle; we consumed about two bottles per week. I read my books, did my homeworks, "studied" for my tests, searched for my lost "toys", and frolicked with my brother before sleep using this lamp. My mother did her works, and my father prepared for his works at night, also under this lamp. We went to bed early, and rose before the sun rose. We always had one manufactured kerosene lamp (middle picture), the one used as watch-light, my mother or my father never forget to light-up to ensure that their children did not sleep in total darkness, especially during wee-hours. It had a chimney which enhanced the brightness and prevented the flame from getting blown off by the wind. And we were able to afford one coleman kerosene lamp (right picture) which cost about 35 RM for occasional use such as feast, raya's eve, and visiting relatives. It took about a bottle of kerosene for four hrs lighting. The bulb (kambu) was made from a special fabric, very brittle and gave a fluorescence-like light. It gave a characteristic sound of the fuel being pump-sprayed via the bulb. When my father lighted-up this lamp we were very happy because it lighted up the whole house; we normally stayed with the light, we fall asleep as the light dimmed down as the kerosene was consumed. When there was any accasion around, such as wedding, or feast, the host normally borrowed this kind of lamps from neighbours to flood the compound and the works areas with light, and the children were very much attracted to the night-light. The brightest nights around the neighbourhood was the Raya eve and night. We were burning the 'damar raya': six-feet high stack of discarded coconut shells which we collected throughout ramadan. Two or three 'damar raya' per house; and it was torch-fire light every where for the whole night through to the morning of the Eid.
And the game my brother and I played in the dim light of the kerosene lamp waiting to get sleepy: joining the dots, owning the squares on the fourth completion join; "B" for my brother (aBang) and "A" for me (Adik). Electricity came to our place in post-70's, when I had already left the place to hostels in distant schools, beginning in Sulatan Sulaiman School in Kuala Ibai (1964), then Padang Midin (1965), and eventually SAS Kuala Lumpur (1967) which were all lit up by electricity by the time I arrived there.

I could not remember my teacher's name in Standard One, but there was one CheGu Wahab, a short and fat, closing 50, who one day distributed two pieces of cards to each pupil, which turned out to be the cards on which we paste stamps. When all the squares were pasted with stamps, the teacher would take it to the Post Office Saving Bank to open a saving account for us. I never filled the card, and I never had any account until I went to Secondary school, in 1964.

I was born a left-hander. In Std One, when we started learning to write, I wrote with left hand. My teacher did not liked it. The teacher kept hitting my hand for that with a wooden ruler, because he insisted every one should write with right hand. So in the end I write with right hand, but at home I am a left-hander. To date I am a bihandric: heavy jobs like DIY with left hand, lighter jobs like writing, cooking, with right hand. Precision jobs like fixing screws and scissoring, blind jobs like searching for a hidden end, by both hands. In games (for fun) I am a left-footer, but light game like badminton, I can play with both hands with equally bad performance. Naturally my left fingers are bigger; the ring I wear on my right finger could not fit in left finger. My left foot seems more tight in the shoes of the same size; or didn't they make shoes the same size in pair? My younger brother was also a born left-hander. During his first writing lesson, his teacher did not pay too much attention on which hand he used to write, so he is a full-time left-hander.

In the mean time, going to school was not my only thing to do as I was growing. Actually, life was more fun at home than at school. I remember helping my father in the padi field at a very early age: preparing the bed for semai (menabur), collecting the semai (cabut semai), transporting to the field (baruh), planting (cedung), fertilizing, harvesting (ngetam), and transpoting the gemal to home, and it was all a lot of fun, in every which way I could. And helping my mother getting beras from the padi: first, foot-stepping (irik) to get the padi off the bunch, sun dried (jemur), pounding (tumbuk) in wooden 'grinder' (lesung padi) with long wooden pestle (three people could do in a batch - needed a synchronous movement), and tampi and ayak (using a badan) which was always done by my mother. When monsoon brings rain, I helped my father in the padi field around the home, obviously after school. My own 'business' when the field were full of water was to catch the fish, the 'haruan' and 'keli' by way of 'taut' (earth worm bait for keli, and small frogs for haruan) which we set in the evening, near sun-set, and harvest in the very early morning; and 'puyu' by way of rod and line (using grass-hopper, cricket, or dragon-fly as baits - well, collecting these baits was another chapter of the fun book). I was very close with my elder brother in this 'business'. We share almost everything, including the pact of cookies. Perhaps I smell very bad in season like this. The river near by was also my 'business' ground; catching shrimps by way of 'eye-snatching'. A bait of small piece of dried fish was pierced by a lidi (coconut leaf bone) and laid a few inches in the water on the bed. Shrimps would come to eat the bait. They eat very politely, in manners, and in time, sufficient time for us to catch its poking eye (tanjul) using a device made by forming an eye-let (about shrimp eye size) made from a banana bark fibre, wound around the tip of another lidi; or for bigger prawns by spearing with a tiruk (made from a bicycle wheel spoke, with one shrpened end, and an elastic bow on the another end - from rubber bands or bicycle tube strap). With adult cooperation, we harvested more shrimps using temerang, made by tying a bunch of leaves branches (chengal - last longer, or senduduk) (temerang gantung) which were laid in the water margin at several places along the river bank; or tied-bunches of twigs (temerang lambak) which many of them together were placed at a certain part of the place. From time to time, normally, once a day, the shrimps which 'lived' in the temerang were harvested using a bakul made by weaving bamboo straps. Adult cooperation was needed because firstly the job was rather risky, and the bakul was costly (real money needed - even though it cost only less than a ringgit), but the harvest were luxurious, sometimes it was as good as for the whole family dinner for the day.

The climax of the monsoon season was when the flood come. The rain water, the river water, and the water in the field, all become one phase around us; we live practically in water. There were moments when there was water every where as far as one can see. On some moments dangers were around. Miraculously, I never have incidents of flood disaster, neither do I remember to any of my family or relatives. In about middle of the year, the padi ripe; the fields appeared yellow, and new fun began. Helping the harvest is one thing, the adults many cooperative efforts are another, in harvesting, then making delicasies like 'laksa', 'emping', etc with the newly harvested rice. We had our own itinerary in the after-hervest field; running in the straw-filled field was very confortable because we would not get hurt when we fall. Then the kite season which we fly in the field and some good kites can be left overnight ('tambang'). Catching 'pipit' using a cage-trap decoy (denak), or by sticky rubber (made from 'getah pulai') (siding), or knot-string-trap (rachit) was another fun. We used simple catapult with stone or bertam fruit bullet for bigger birds around the home. It was more fun some times when we pool the efforts to dry a wet field ('menimba') for all kind of fish, big and small. On returning home, we were covered by mud, just like the fish we were carrying. It left traces around the ear for many days, unreachable to wash off even after many dips in the river. One afternoon day my brother and I were setting up a 'tuar' trap (a little sister of bubu, a cony shape trap made by special weaving of a half-way multiple-splitted bamboo stem) at a barn in the field near Pagar Keh. We got a lot (perhaps from a school) of keli. While we were harvesting, we heard a barking dog coming towards us, and it actually barking at us and chasing us. We ran, with the fish still in the trap, as fast as we could towards home, and we were safe. We told this to my father who during this time was carpentering the Pak Omar's house, just in front of my house.

In one season, we were catching fighting fish. We would go to any marshy land for that, and it was as far as Gong Kijang, known for its black water marsh (black fighting fish were very fierce!), via Pak Katak. I nearly had a mishap one day, when we got down into the water and stepped on a quick-mud (sendung), half of my leg was in the sucking mud; it would have taken my life if a friend had not shouted to me to get out from that. We were also hunting for the chicks of mynah birds (burung gembala), usually on top of dead coconut trees, and tempua and its nests, usually on banboo trees, as far as Banggol Limau, from Bukit Tunggal. In these 'business' I was just a companion to my brother and his friends, for I was still small to climb.

During fruit seasons, we would go collecting fallen fruits, rambutans, pauh, and mangosteen, very early in the morning, before sun-rise. The owners did not mind children collecting them, and we were very honest, I never took any fruits on the tree belonging to persons who did not give permission. There was one giant 'tengir' tree (a species of manggo, green fruit when young, black-purple when ripe, but taste one thousand times more sour, and the sap very itchy to the skin) down the road from the mosque to Tebauk. The tree was so big, nobody care or dare to climb, even its owner, and the tree was surrounded by a lot of nibong with a very sharp thorns. When the fruits ripe, it fall, and during this time, it was like a festival under the tree. A lot of people were waiting and rushing to get one. It was more of the fun of scrambling, not the exotic taste of the fruit.

In between harvesting, padi or sweet potatoes prior to padi planting, my father built houses. It was not always around my home. It was as far as Gemuruh, to the north, or along Tanjung Gelam to Mengabang Telipot to Batu Rakit, and the inland between them. On such an 'outstation' job, my father would go on weekly basis, returned home on Thu evening from Sunday journey. During his absence, we would stay among ourselves. When he returned home from such a distant job, he would bring home goodies given by his clients, a lot of fish from the beach, so lot that my mother had to either dry them, or salt-preserve them. They both were very valuable during monsoon when there would be no fresh fish in the market because nobody went to the sea; or a lot of fruits from the inlands. On one occasion he brought along a lot of durian fruits, so lot that we could not take them raw, so my mother made them into lempok, and neighbours came to help. I even made toy from it: shaved the thorny skin, tied a rope at its stalk, and pulled as though it was a pet. And I made many 'pets' out of them. When the skin open up, then only we ate them.

There was only one occasion, may be when I was in Standard Two or Three, throughout my six years in the school, we had to line up on both sides of the road in front of the school, apparently to wave flags to the passing royal motorcade. The road was the only trunk road linking Kuala Terengganu, through ferry at Losong to Kota Bharu in Kelantan where the Royalty would be taking a plane to perhaps Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Terengganu had not yet have an airport. I was very upset during the lining up, in the heat of a late morning, because when the paper flags were distributed, in repeating turn: Terengganu flag, no flag, Malaya Flag, no flag, and so on, I was at the no flag turn, and the teachers asked the no flag pupil to wave their hands. In later years, with the building of Manir Bridge and Buluh Gading bridge and the new detoured trunk road, the road in front of the school was no longer very busy.

I was always very hungry during my early school days, because either I did not take sufficient breakfast, or there was always insufficient breakfast to take, or perhaps because I was very active outside the class. And I was supplied with insufficient pocket money too because my family never lived without insufficiency. I never could take more than ten sen a day to school, even up to my Std Six, including for buying stationaries. In Std One, we used slate board to write on with a slate pencil, not books. Only in later Std the books were used, perhaps by 1960 the slate was no longer used even for Std One.

When I was very hungry during the recess, and I had not a single sen in the pocket, I still went to the canteen in the crowd of the buzzing kids, looked at the cookies, but said no words when the canteen helper asked me what I wanted to buy. I kept on eying and staying close to the food in the middle of others who came and went one after another. The helper I was always attracted to was TokSu Che Bah, bulky in her 60s, and the canteen contractor was Che Nong, rather slender, closing her 60. [Che Nong had a son, in late 1960, he became a non-trained teacher, CheGu Latif, staying in Batu Enam, who was intoduced to me by Abang Wi in May 1968 to postal-guide him in SPM exam we were taking that year, passing which would qualify him as a pro-teacher. He never replied the first few letter containing geog notes I posted to him] After several times, the former started to notice and knew me and my strange behaviour, and understood very well my 'agony', so, behind Che Nong she passed me the cookies the amount other kids bought, sufficient to get my mind off the food. I was addicted to the generosity of the helper, and I was like her grandson, getting her treat almost every day, never not in a smile, for quite sometimes, until one day my brother, looking from a distance, noticed it, and reported to my mother. It however did not anger my mother, or at least my mother did not get angry with me, although I was ready for my mother's anger. I came to understand her feeling at that moment, though not as deep, only when I myself had many kids to feed. My mother, who actually knew, but not close, the helper, only asked me to stop it because she said it was a bad behaviour. And, feeling guilty to my mother, I stopped it, but I remembered TokSu Che Bah and I will remember her deep in my heart and in my soul as long as I could for her sincerity in risking her honesty to her employer in order to feed me when I was very hungry.

When I grew up many, many years later, perhaps in my early 20s, I used to ask my mother if she still remember TokSu Che Bah. She said she did, and sadly she had passed away, and my mother said that actually she was my father's distant relative. I did not know whether my mother could read my mind or not in asking about TokSu Che Bah, but at that moment because of my intense feeling in remembering her, I thought of doing something crazy like going to search her grave and pray for her at the grave. I believed my mother read my mind at that time, because she would remember the story, her son's episode, as much as I do, and one thing I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that my mother read my mind more than I did, at least up to the end of my bachelor life, even more than she did on my other brothers and sisters; even though I was the one who spent the least with her, I knew I was the one closest at her heart. It was circumstantially confirmed at the end of her life.

In my later Stds I took along some foods to school, including any left over from the previous night dinner. Sometimes my mother deliberately cooked very early in the morning; the rice compressed in 'upeh pinang' together with a half of a fried fish, and 'teh o' in a tomato ketchup bottle which she asked from the eating shop. We could not afford to buy the sauce itself, or we never had the kind of cooking to take with it. The bottle was very convenient because it had a metal screwed-cap, reuseable, the exact bottle that we see today. The school compound was very large, it even had some bushes. Closing the Std, I had managed to get on with myself, alone or with friends. During recess, my routine included searching fruits, especially cashew, in the nearby wild lands, outside the school coumpound, or berry type fruits like 'kemunting' or even the 'senduduk' in the bushes at the far end of the school compound, and that was before or after a stampede footballing in the school sandy fields. My elder brother left the school when I was in Std Five, but then my younger brother was taking over my place.

In one Std, perhaps Std Two, I was very scared to go to school, I cried and refused to go to the school. I told my mother why: it was a bigger boy who always harrased me whenever I passed by his class. One day my mother took me to the school and told my teacher why I did not want to go to school. The teacher, CheGu Md Zain (Besar) took a stern action against the naughty boy. He dragged the boy, put into a cupboard and pretending to lock until the boy screamed in frenzy saying he would not disturb me again. Since then I was left in peace to my last day in the school. I had no chance of knowing the boy in detail years later and I did not remember crossing with him again in my life, except on one occasion, when I was about eleven or twelve or so I saw a boy, in his sarung and shaggy off-white t-shirt passing hastily along the road in front of my house whose face rang the bell of the incident, but I was not hundred percent sure.

Holiday was not something we were looking forward, because the fun we could have after school did not require extra school break. Nonetheless, the school first term break during this period of calender fall on the Eid, so I quickly concluded that the first break was for the Eid. Then the second break was almost immediately after school sports day, and finally the third break, as I observed was due to pupil were preparing for the next standard.

And the fun I would never miss to have every time my father took me to visit my mother's relatives in Mengabang Panjang or Mengabang Telung: The frolics on the beach in the late afternoon. First with the rich lives on the water margin under the friendly soft wave; the shells and creatures in the shells, and the creatures underneath the surface in the water margin. Then helping the fishermen pushing the boat to the beach and see their catches. The bristling murmer of sea-breeze through the leave of ru and coconut trees, the smell of salty sea water, and the 'green' fish were very fresh to take to my river- and land-based home life. When monsoon come in late of the year, the life on the beach were almost deserted. Even the creature in the shells buried themselves under the ground. They are replaced by the thunderous waves, trumpeting wind, under the dark sky painted with rainy clouds. Missing from these pictures were hundreds of people, inland fishermen and fisherwomen pulling the 'pukat tarik' on the beach, during bilis fishing. The bilis schools were so near the beach that it could be netted by labours called impromptu. Also missing were the scene of the 'pukat tangkul' team, fishing at a short distance from the beach. On normal visiting days I would stayed on the beach watching these phenomena I was not thinking that they would cease in not to distant future, in fact in my life time. The beach was always with the smell of salty sea water, and the fish and the fish produces.

The rich life on the beach. I used to spent hours and hours 'sorting' the kinds of living things; sometimes played 'hide and seek' with them at the water margin, in the wet sand, and in the sand in the shallow salty water;

Musa (centre) and one of his sons (on his right) at my home in Sg Merab on Aug 24, 2002, while on some matters in KL, knowing that I had an occasion the week before, forced himself to drop by. We never stopped being neighbours, however, this time at heart.

In Std Three my teacher was CheGu Md Zain, we nicked him CheGu Md Zain Kecil for he was smaller then the other CheGu Md Zain who in turn was nicked CheGu Md Zain Besar. He taught us Reading and Writing, and I remembered he allowed me to write in script although writing in script would be taught only from Std Four. In Std Four we would be taught many more new lessons, and pen would be allowed. When I came to Std Four, I found that all my scripts were actually wrong.

At about Std Three, my close mate, Musa's family moved to MakDa Ud's original place, Banggol Katong. It did not get my attention very much at that time since I was only a little boy. The land on the river bank and the house was sold to PekTam Mezah. For sometimes, the baby chengal, the trees we used to learn to climb were there. They never got big enough for use as timber. The land was cleared several years later by the new owner who rented it out for use as timber jetty. I never saw Musa again for many tens of years. When I got bigger, I knew that he had many paternal relatives living around my home. I came to know that when he himself was big enough, he came to his birth place very often while visiting his relatives. But I never come across him, until I was about forty. I met him when he came to my house, incidently on his normal visit. While reflecting our past frolics, it acknowleged me that after leaving Pengkalan Arang, Musa did not continue his schooling. His reading and writing was whatever he got for the two or three years in the late 50's, plus whatever he learned by himself. Nonetheless, he made himself. Now a grandfather he needs only to overseer from home the broiler barns he owned, and worked by his sons and sons-in-laws.

At about this period of time, about in 60's, I had another little sister. Her registered name was Zabedah, but later we changed to a home-name Aini, because she was so pretty, dolly adorable, fairest among us, and loved by every one who met her; we thought the new name was more suitable. We all remembered she had a round face, soft curly and very black hair, bright eyes. Unfortunately she was given a very short life with us. She left us after about three years, in 1963, when she herself had a little sister, aged about 6 months, my brother named her Rubaiah. When Aini left us, she had already walked, and talk in a little girl 'dielect' we all understood. When my first baby was born in 1978, and when I had her potraited to make a passport, it digged deep into my memory, that my daughter inherited part of my long gone little sister.

Edition dated: 2003 March.