Yesterday the past came a-calling, crowding my thoughts with events of long ago when life was uncomplicated and love was abundant. And I have En Mohd Som to thank for it.
It was his jottings in response to my piece Rumpus of the Rump (Thursday, July 24, 2008) that set the motion for my reflections of a unique lifestyle long gone.
If my memory serves me well, En Mohd Som arrived in Bukit Besi with all the right credentials; good education, young, single and quite a looker (and obviously very very eligible). It was thus no surprise that his arrival set the hearts of some young maidens of remote Bukit Besi aflutter.
[Bukit Besi was a mining town in the middle of nowhere in Terengganu, with no access road and reachable only by air and keretapi lipang, a wagon train carrying ore from the mine to the seaside town of Dungun, where they were loaded onto barges to be taken to Japanese ships anchored far out at sea].
The fact that En Mohd Som (Matsom, as my dad called him) remembers comely nurses Aminah and Mimi is further testimony of where his eyes frequently strayed.
Unfortunately enough, at eight years old, my heart was a tad too young to be smitten. Otherwise I would probably be among those paying homage to his shadow too..he he he.
He and my stepfather Zainal became fast friends. They played tennis together and he used to drop by our home on many occasions.
In a place where the orang putih (whites) reigned supreme, they were among the handful of locals who were members of that exclusive Bukit Club, with its swimming pool, billiard room, a well-stocked bar, weekly movie shows, frequent dances and parties.
We lived a life somewhat cocooned and removed from the ordinary. Our shopping was done at The Store, an establishment more at home in Tennyside than Terengganu, with its cold room of cuts and its array of British-only products.
Bapak (Father) was so fond of buying us Smarties as special treats that each time I see Smarties in the shops today, I would be reminded of my Bukit Besi days.
Thursday nights saw us at the Bukit Club, clustering in from of a big screen with the rest of the orang putih kids waiting for the movie to begin.
Since Friday was (and still is) a day of rest in Terengganu, Thursday evening was when the fun began for the expatriate crowd. Those were the heady days.
Everybody was in Bukit Besi to work, make money and gain experience . The expats came and went in quick succession. But the latter groups weren't as accomodating and eventually the arrivals trickled to a stop.
I left in 1967 to enter secondary school in Dungun, eventually moving on to a boarding school. And that was the end of my association with Bukit Besi.
The mine closed down not long after, and my parents moved on to Johore where Bapak worked in a bauxite mining company for a decade, before returning to Dungun for good.
He bought a neat little bungalow by the sea where he lived with mum until he died peacefully in his sleep in the late 1990s.
To En Mohd Som, thank you for leading the way down memory lane. It was a trip worth its weight in the best grade of iron ore!
[PS: Mum died of renal failure on May 31, 2008, hardly two months ago, in Dungun. But we kids of the Zainal & Norzaliha clan would love to meet up with you one of these days. I am reachable at email@example.com].