Over the weekend we had to go to Penang or Pulau Pinang as mum’s cousin got married. Big, burly, noisy and finally married at 40 years old, Abg A‘s wedding was something I was asked to attend because mum couldn’t do it herself. She was still unable to walk, although discharged from the hospital ( by appeal ) last Friday.
( Arwah ) Tok was a staff of S/IA Penang branch back in the 1950s. According to mum, when she was in school, Tok was given a promotion offer which would require him to relocate from his Bayan Lepas home in Penang to either Shah Alam, or the country down south. Tok decided to move to the country down south and packed his whole family for this relocation. Mum went on to school there, where she met my bapak, whose father ( Arwah Yayi ) also relocated from Semarang, Central Java to seek greener pasture on the island down south. In other words, Penang lass met Java boy on a sunny island, married and what do they know, they raised a toilet seat philosopher who blogs on wordpress.😛
Anyway, as I have written before, mum made the effort when I was young to take me to Penang as often as she could to ‘ kenai sedara’ she would say. I hated those trips honestly speaking. Long and boring train rides only to see relatives whose ( very thick ) dialect I could not understand and them talking too fast was an issue to me too. The vocabulary lasted as long as the visit. Tok Teh, Tok Su .. everything male or female was ‘tok‘. And depa and pi and mai and hang and ohhhh.. whatever they said were alien to me. I grew up in my paternal household so Javanese terms and sayings ruled the household and my tongue then. Loghat Uthara and relatives who don’t look like me ( they are mostly very fair and had almost slit eyes while I am sawo matang ) further made be feel out of place.
I have never quite acknowledged Penang to be my ‘kampung’. Neither have I acknowledged Java to be one, although factually speaking, I do have kampungs in both of these places. My ‘kampung’ as I know it, has always been Kaki Bukit/Jalan Eunos near the ‘tangki air’ and those were in the country down south.
Of late, since moving here, I found myself naturally gravitating towards Penang and actually do look forward to see my relatives there. As a kid, I never bothered. But now, I see them as a link to who my grandparents were before I was born, how they grew up and raised my mother and her siblings and also stories of them from the yesteryears. Not that my Penang dialect got any better, but they make efforts to speak standard BM and English whenever I am around now. Talking to them… it’s like my own discovery channel.
This year alone I had gone back ( notice I use the term ‘gone back’ and not just gone? ) to Penang 3 times. One for a conference at USM, where we made the effort to visit and also stayed with Tok Su, my late grandmother’s brother. The second one for the wedding of my 2nd cousin whom I didn’t even know exist till that day at the wedding… and the last one was last weekend.
Through the years, Penang has changed. Gone were the days when Komtar was the tallest building. Now skyscrappers rule the island, making it uncannily and eerily looking like the country down south where I hailed from. If the saying ‘Pinang Di Belah Dua‘ linguistically refers to a compatible couple, for me, of late- the term refers to the social dichotomy that is Penang now. One part of Penang is hell bent in urbanising, building as many high rise apartments and shopping malls as possible— while one part of it still in wanting to hold on to the old Penang charm that I used to see (but never appreciated) in my childhood.
With my newly discovered enthusiasm to reconnect with the Penang blood in me, I have since learnt to eat Nasi Kandaq ( only at LINE CLEAR ! ) peppered my lingo with their tongue twisters and have been making considerable efforts to keep in contact with family members there either via emails or sms. Small baby steps but that will do for now.
Next month, the husband will have a month long semester break.. Guess where I suggested to him for our vacation?
Penang mai laaahhh !