Monday, February 6, 2012

My 'Cina Dungun' Story..

Almost half a century ago (45 years to be exact, in 1967), I acquired non-Malay friends for the first time in my life, upon entering secondary school in Dungun, Terengganu.

Born and raised in the one-time mining enclave of Bukit Besi some 22 miles to the interior of Dungun, my childhood had previously revolved around just Malay kids.

It wasn't by design, far from it; the opportunity just wasn't there. Bukit Besi's population was overwhelmingly Malay and almost all kids from the community, myself included, went to the national-type school i.e. sekolah melayu.  

Of non-Malay families there were only a handful, probably no more than 20 households, and their children attended the English primary school adjoining ours.

As for me, an elder brother and a younger sister also attended the aforesaid sekolah melayu; we later joined Remove Class for one full year of English studies before entering Form One.

My subsequent three siblings, however, had a headstart in the English language since they were enrolled in sekolah omputih from the very beginning.

Having non-Malay friends opened my eyes to new, interesting possibilities. Suddenly I was surrounded by pimply boys and giggly girls who taught me to swear colourful words in dialects alien to my Melayu tongue.

I got to celebrate festivals other than the Muslim Raya. I learned to light up firecrackers, appreciate dragon dance, develop a taste for yee sang, throw oranges at Chap Goh Meh and, best of all, collect angpows from friends' parents during Chinese New Year.

I was living the life of a small-town girl surrounded by Chinese and Indian friends with nothing more than friendship in their heart, to complement the Malay kids who formed my coterie of kawan.

It's true what they say about life back then; we were less concerned about the colour of our skin and the language we spoke at our dining table. We embraced friendship like it was the most natural thing in the world.  

It was from those Chinese girls that I discovered the mellifluous voice of Taiwanese songstress, Teresa Teng. Thus began my love story with Chinese music, one that has endured to this day.

Teresa Teng was THE voice of the era. Almost every song she sang climbed the charts and I would be the beneficiary of sheaf upon sheaf of lyrics, written in Pinyin of course, courtesy of those Chinese classmates of mine.

They knew how much I loved to sing and how handicapped I felt for not knowing Mandarin. So they made time for me, transcribing the lyrics and coaching me to properly pronounce them.


I can still recall the very first Chinese song that I was taught, a melancholic number called Nan Wang De Chu Lian Qing Ren (Unforgettable First Love).

Today there are some 30 Chinese songs old and new (mostly Mandarin and Cantonese, with a few Hokkien) in my repertoire, and I have not stopped learning.

I don't need to understand Mandarin to love Chinese melodies and appreciate Chinese culture, one of the most ancient in the world.

Neither do I need to understand Mandarin to rest my freezing derriere on the stone slabs of the awesome Great Wall of China in the depths of winter, just so I could appreciate with my own eyes the incomparable beauty of this land.

Reading of today's politics already divided along racial lines, I feel sad and defeated. How I yearn for yesterday, when life was filled less with hatred and more with understanding and compassion...


Anonymous said...

hehehe, great! I can sing in Arabic but have no audience for it, maybe should belt it out along Edgeware Road here and catch myself a fancy Arab or two.. the men, not the horse.

_deli said...

Salam Kak Puteri,
Back in 1971 I was in std 1; went to school in ACS Seremban - Anglo Chinese but by then syllabus dah diMelayukan. Riding on bus home to Labu, we sat together; the three of us - a Malay, a Chinese and an Indian. Scenario sebegitu dah susah nak jumpa sekarang. Sad.

koolmokcikZ said...

did we get 'here' by chance or by design?

Wan Sharif said...

Lepas dengor lagu French Latino kita tengok mana mari lagu Tionghua dalam repertoire Puteri .. Soh lah wahi nnyanyi.. Ninot kata sedak ka'loh... heavenly if I am not mistaken ;))

Kama At-Tarawis said...

anon - ... and eat kebabs for the rest of your life? hehehe... ome home and get a local; ikan patin masak tempoyak is a better option..

deli - what we used to hv back then dah tinggal memori. budak2 sekarang dah jadi insular..

cookM - judging by all the political maneuverings, it's defnitely by design..

Kama At-Tarawis said...

yohwang - doh nokwak guaner.. hehehe.. nok join karaoke skali skala? maghila..

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Hey I was never pimply...gua hemsem..hahaha..Agreed those were happy carefree days!

ninotaziz said...

I still see this scenario of camaraderie, luckily because my daughters' friends are always welcomed in my house - ordered to drop by more like it by yours truly.

Another way, apart from songs, to appreciate each other's culture is by learning their legends and folklore, many taboos and adat. Then we see how similar we are, and appreciate our differences that make us unique.

Anonymous said...


Sebenarnya masyarakat marhaen - melayu, cina dan india - ok dah. Yang tak ok pembesar politik kita.

Melayu, cina dan india memang boleh bergaul cantik. tak ada masalah apa pun. mesra. ramah. Cuma bila cina sesama cina dan india sesama india depa mula jadi lain dan pandang semacam kat melayu.

CT Tanjung Perak

Unknown said...

I'm reading your excellent "...Dungun Story" in San Francisco, California. You just echo what I went through from a Chinese boy's perspective growing up in Penang. I had a great Melayu roommate while in high school. Oh, I missed those days.

Anonymous said...

i was nearly fall in love to my chinese classmate when i was in form 6 ..back in 1976......we were very close, nowadays the closeness dah tak ada..last time we eat together, we sudies together with indian n chinese friends...i dont know where he is now...he was handsome guy..ha ha...

Kama At-Tarawis said...

tommy - am sure you must hv been one hell of a hensem fella back then, judging by the bululess legs in bermuda & sandals that you posted on fb no so long ago..muahhaha..

ninot & CT - there's hope for all of us yet, i would like so believe...

unknown & anon -it's these kind of comments that truly make my day. psstt anon, i dated a chinese guy meself for a brief while when i started out as a journalist.. didnt work out though.. he was a priest in the making..LOL

Anonymous said...

Well, I dont really know that many locals or what is ikan patin.. but I know tempoyak,this is the result of having parents who are of mixed parentage themselves, and leaving me to fend for myself abroad.. but I seem to turn out all right I think, never smoked, never drank, never been a druggie and still never found a bloke good or great enough... hmm.Looks like im eating kebabs for a long time now. :-)

Kama At-Tarawis said...

anon - you seem to be doing fine.. hehehe.. ikan patin is one of those overrated fish la, IMHO. then again i am not a 'fish' person. my taste is towards lamb and mutton. when we were in UK some years back, we had lots of kebab for our meals. i hv always liked kebab anyway..