A Lesson From A Tree

I stood by my herb bed and looked up. The moringa tree that I’ve moved there two years ago was now more than twice my height, a testament to the length of time I had neglected my garden. What used to be a row of chili, eggplants, lemon grass and various smaller herbs was now a thick mass of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’. Lemon grass leaves both dead and alive were tumbling everywhere like a wild mess of tangled hair. Amongst them were vines, which I do not recognise, climbing whatever they could grasp and pulling them down with their weight.

And of course, there was the moringa tree, towering over the whole place like a misplaced giant among dwarves. The thick and sturdy trunk stretched up into the sky to where I couldn’t reach if I wanted to fetch some of its leaves. Moringas are not hard to care for once they’ve gotten themselves securely rooted. They could withstand the lack of water when I forget to give them their drink so unlike many of the other plants that did not survive my absence, my moringas persevered.

In the past, I would trim down my trees at least once a year to allow for an easier harvest and to avoid having its roots digging in too deep so I could easily move them around. However, with my exams taking place last year and my months-long eczema breakout, my garden was slowly being transformed into a mini forest and as the number of days grow, so did the difficulty of the restoration project. And instead of taking the sensible and rational route of early intervention, I let the tides of sorrow crept onto me.

One of my biggest frustrations is how passionately I launch myself into things that I truly love and yet in the end, they somehow die away into nothingness. Some of them happen because of chances and circumstances but many, many more are lost by my own hands, either by neglect, fear, frustration or lethargy. Often times I find myself letting my own bitterness contaminate the sweet taste of pure fervor, and the satisfying scent that accompanies the exhaustion after a day’s work had soured into a musty odour of fatigue. Little by little, I lost sight of the sparkles that comes with tiny victories and saw only the mountains I have yet to climb–and I couldn’t find it within me to take another step.

However, every now and then my zeal would return and at a whim, I would pack my backpack and step back out into the blizzard with the intense wish to gain back all that I have lost. The medals in my trophy cabinet back at home assured me that I have done it before and I could do it again–but the assurance last only for a moment. Fixing a mistake is often harder than starting anew and while you may lose the height of your skills, the memories of them stay, mocking you in your face. It doesn’t take long for me to doubt everything that I do and sometimes everything that I am; because if this present me is nothing like the person I was–then who am I?

But for now, I pushed all of those thoughts from my head and I had one clear objective. This tree is too big for my herb bed and I am going to move it to a more suitable home,  some place where it would be given all the opportunity to grow and bring us the first of the much loved drumstick fruit. I sawed the tree down to a manageable height and kept the leaves for my mother. I pulled the mess of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’ for our ‘ulam’ until there is nothing on the ground but the trunk of the tree and the roots beneath. And with a rusty trowel in one hand, I thrusted it into the Earth and started digging.

As it is my habit when I work in the garden, I began talking to the plant, apologising for my neglect and telling it that I am trying to get back into the swing. I told it about how the last time I felt I couldn’t do something turned out okay in the end and although I don’t really feel it, I think it’s a sign that I need to pick myself up and move on. I thanked it for waiting for me even though I don’t deserve it. The tree never said much but it lets me talk nevertheless.

The day was not hot. The sun hid behind clouds and our mango tree provided me a lovely shade from the dimmed sun rays. Nonetheless, my lack of physical activities in the recent months had started to make itself known. Although the moisture within the soil couldn’t be more perfect (not too dry and not too wet), I started to feel tired after going past half a foot down. It didn’t help that the deeper I go, the harder it was to navigate through the root and avoid the sharp edges of the sides of the bed which was covered in tiny stones. So I grasped the trunk tightly in my arms and gave it a gentle but strong tug. It didn’t give.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. I know that, I whispered, as I continued to dig. Say what I want about my own inner conflict, I made the decision to leave my garden and I have to make amends.

But, my dearest, my sweet, could you please help me out a bit?

I paused to look up at its leaves. The little green circles danced prettily as the wind blew, breaking its perfect mosaic for but a few moments. No, I gulped and pressed on. No, the tree had done more than I had done. It too had its struggle when the ground was dry and the moths fly by. I wasn’t the only lonely one. 

Relationships go both ways, do they not? But love, would you please, please lend me a bit of a hand?

The trunk did not answer.

Ah, you are just as stone hearted as I. Then so be it.

My hands are now red and a few of the cracks on my fingers which were about to heal had burst back open as they pressed on the hard edge of my trowel. The small bits of concrete jutting out from the inside of the bed are scratching me every other minute and the roots showed now signs of tapering off. My back was aching and I couldn’t find a comfortable position. I had forgotten how to whisper, or the fact that I have neighbours, and they could probably hear me having a full blown one-sided argument with a tree.

My child, the reason why I couldn’t go out was because of my eczema. Well, partly anyway. And if you don’t make way any time soon, I’m going to hurt it and that could cause another outbreak. Yes, patience, I know. I am trying to be patient but patience would not stop my hand from breaking. Do you want me to just saw your roots off?

The trunk stared me down.

Fine. Fine. Fine. You were patient, I will be patient too.

I groaned and went back in with the thinnest of patience. My hand was now shaking with a mix of exhaustion and frustration. I was covered in soil from head to toe and I no longer cared about keeping my hand safe. I stabbed the trowel into the ground again and again and again and the dirt that got into the cracks of my skin were now practically cemented with sweat and bits of blood. I was now a foot in from when I started. I placed my hand between the two main roots and tugged with all my might but I couldn’t move it even a bit. And I was starting to feel like a fool for even trying.

Please, I am trying to be better. I want to be better, I really do but it’s already so hard. Just the idea of it all seems so insurmountable. If I can’t even pull you out, my sweet, what can I do?

The trunk stayed quiet.

I was now desperate. I had done nothing today other than digging this hole and I have nothing to show for it. The sun would be setting soon and the roots showed no sign of thinning. I looked around at my garden in its horrendous state and asked myself if I have anything to show for all that I have done in my life. I just wanted to stop.

Then I paused and looked back at the tree. Something clicked at the back of my head and I eyed it tentatively.

Are you… are you trying to teach me a lesson on perseverance?

I waited for an answer which did not come. I turned to the pile of unearthed soil and back into the hole in the bed. The way I see it, I only have three choices. I could just leave the whole thing be and probably let the tree die now that I’ve upset it so much. I could push all the Earth back in but that would only get me back to where I started.

Or of course, I could keep going. I know that somehow, in the end, I would get to tip of the roots. Even if I have to use a stone as a makeshift shovel, I could theoretically get it done eventually. The tricky circumstances, the need for time and my own doubts are obstacles I need to overcome all my life, whatever the struggle. Whether the problem is restarting a garden, finishing a book draft or just pulling out a tree, I still have to face problems from within and without, and I have to learn to wait.

Okay. Well, I guess I’ll take it then.

With that I went back in, this time quietly, as I reflected on the things that I already know deep inside and even discussed about in my head but which are now being repeated to me. I thought of the many tiny knolls I succeeded to climb because I went on despite the obstacles. Silat routines, NaNoWriMo challenges, artworks, school achievements and public presentations. Even little things that I am proud to have done but never shared because they seem so insignificantly small. But I did them.

And so with the hole nearly two feet deep, I hugged the trunk of the tree, took a deep breath and gave it a sharp tug. Finally it gave way and I had in my hand another medal to add to my cabinet. I grinned at it and thought I could feel it grinning back.

Was my tree really teaching me a lesson on perseverance? You tell me.

 

Preparing Ttupak Pulok (Ketupat Daun Palas)

Throughout the last day of Ramadhan, our small kitchen was cramped with food and all of us were suddenly upgraded into ‘chefs of the day’. My little sister Aeshah baked trays of lovely cupcakes. At the other end of the kitchen, while singing at the top of her voice, Anisah helped my mother who was cooking rendang and kuah kacang, driving my mom quite mad. Even little Ali sat cross-legged on his chair, weaving kelongsong ketupat nasi for me to fill in with rice later. Usually, I would be preparing the ketupat nasi and weave most of the kelongsongs; but this Eid was special. For the first time, I made the true Terengganu ‘ttupak pulok’ instead!

Ketupat

Ttupak pulok‘, which is also known as  ‘ketupat daun palas’ in standard Malay, is a type of glutinous rice delicacy, steamed with coconut milk and wrapped in a special leaf named ‘daun palas’ before it is fried to perfection. Since it is so easy to get them in Kuala Terengganu where my parents came from, neither my mother nor my grandmothers know how to prepare them. To quote what my great grandmother told my mom when asked for the recipe, “Bakpe nok belajor sangak. Buak nyussoh je. Ppasor blambok, beli je senang.” “Why bother? You can buy loads of them from the market.”

However, living in Kuala Lumpur, we do not have the luxury of having those authentic Terengganu’s ‘ttupak pulok’ sold in markets or farmer’s markets around our place. It is not that nobody sells ketupat palas here, but the tasty, rich and firm textured Terengganu’s ‘ttupak pulok’ is none to be seen. And since we are unable to return to Terengganu for Eid due to my father’s tight schedule, my mother announced that she’ll be making her own ‘ttupak pulok’, which happens to be one of her favourite foods.

And imagine my mother’s delight a few weeks before Eid, when she caught the sight of daun palas being sold at the Pasar Tani (or the farmer’s market)!

Daun Palas

Daun Palas

“But mama, you said that you have never weaved a ‘ttupak pulok’ before,” I reminded her.

“No problem. We can always surf the internet for instructions later!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with excitement.

So we spent the afternoon in front of our computer, our oily hands fragrant with coconut milk and sticky with glutinous rice as we tried again and again for a decent wrap. We had a great time and good laughs, mom squeezed most of her rice out of the wrap while I tore almost all of my leaves into half! It seems that while weaving a ketupat nasi looks harder than it actually is, it is the total opposite for ‘ttupak pulok” at least until one masters the technique. It took us a while to get to the hang of it but it was definitely worth it. In the end, we managed to come up with a batch of handsomely wrapped ‘ttupak puloks’. To speed up the process, while my mother was busy in the kitchen, I made a few ‘monster-sized’ ‘ttupak pulok’, which earned a stern warning from my mom, “That is a monster, not a ttupak, never, ever do that again”.

My mom took the ketupat to the kitchen and fried them to perfection. And the taste? They were so delicious, they tasted exactly like the good ol’ Terengganu’s ‘ttupak pulok’ which my mother missed so much. In fact, they tasted even better than some of those that we bought in Kuala Terengganu. Even my father was so impressed with the result that he suggested that we make should make ‘ttupak pulok’ to share with our close relatives and friends who happens to miss the delicious delicacy as much as we do for the Eid.

Ttupak pulok

It’s funny and ironic when you think of how modern technology is able to preserve the traditional cooking methods and recipes despite it also influences a lot of people to leave their traditional and healthier way of cooking and eating. With the invention of instant ‘plastic ketupat’, almost all of my parent’s friends prepare their ketupats the easier way, despite the hazard it poses to their health. However without the help of the world wide web, neither my mom nor I would be able to enjoy the true Terengganu ‘ttupak pulok’ made from scratch in our own kitchen in Kuala Lumpur!

A Map of Trengganu

Uncle Awang Goneng’s latest book, A Map of Trengganu is finally out! This morning, I went out with my father to pick up the books from the country distributor and helped dad with our first batch of deliveries.

I've got my copy... Have you got yours?

Anxious to be one of the first people to read it, I quickly picked up a copy from the box as soon as we reached home. Soon, I was too engrossed with the book that when my mother called me to help her with the chores, she was shocked to hear me laughing alone. At that very moment, I was reading the part when Awang Goneng ‘took a Law degree “from the Academic Registrar’s office one night when the door was left open”.

‘A Map of Trengganu’ proved to be as beautiful and fun as its prequel ‘Growing Up In Trengganu’. Since the book had just arrived from Singapore, (as for today) there is a big chance that you may not be able to get them from the bookshops in Malaysia yet. But you can calm those restless, fluttering butterflies in your stomach by ordering them straight from ‘The Pizzaman’ (who happens to be my father 🙂 )!

You can contact him by email (akarimomar@yahoo.com) or call/SMS 019-319-9788. You can check out his blog post on the book here!. And what’s more? He can send it straight to your doorsteps (which is why he was called ‘The Pizzaman’). Do not miss the chance and get your copy NOW

Anyway, right after I’ve published this post, I’ll be going back to my room where I shall not be disturbed (nor shall I scare mum with my constant outburst) and continue reading the book 🙂

A Fire At Bukit Kecil

There was a fire in Bukit Kecil (Small Hill) in Kuala Terengganu burning down more than 19 hectares of the forest. Bernama said that the fire started at about 2pm yesterday but was extinguished at night when there was a heavy rainfall. However, the forest was reignited earlier this afternoon due to the hot and windy weather.

For rest of the news, read below :

TERENGGANU, 7 Feb (Bernama)– Lebih 19 hektar kawasan hutan di Bukit Kecil di sini musnah dalam kebakaran yang bermula petang semalam, bagaimanapun keadaan kebakaran kini terkawal dengan beberapa kawasan masih mengalami kebakaran kecil.

Penolong Penguasa Bomba Kuala Terengganu Mohd Khairul Anuar berkata Isnin, lebih 100 anggota dan pegawai bomba termasuk pelatih dari Akademi Bomba Wakaf Tapai dan Bomba Sukarela Kuala Nerus Manir bertungkus lumus 24 jam untuk mengawal kebakaran itu.

Katanya kebakaran bermula kira-kira 2 petang semalam dan hujan lebat tengah malam telah membantu memadamkannya, bagaimanapun kebakaran itu merebak semula tengah hari ini akibat keadaan berangin dan cuaca panas.

Setakat pukul 4 petang ini, anggota bomba masih lagi menjalankan operasi pengawalan api dan beberapa kawasan di hutan itu masih mengalami kebakaran kecil.

“Sebaik menerima panggilan kecemasan, kita telah menghantar jentera dan anggota bomba untuk mengawal kebakaran daripada merebak ke kawasan kediaman dan beberapa bangunan milik kerajaan yang terletak berhampiran kawasan kejadian,” katanya kepada Bernama.

Antaranya bangunan Jabatan Pelajaran Negeri Kuala Terengganu, Jabatan Kimia, Radio Televisyen Malaysia Bukit Pak Apil dan Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Chong Hwa Wei Sin.

Mohd Khairul berkata bomba masih menyiasat punca sebenar kejadian kebakaran hutan tersebut.

BERNAMA

An evening at Pantai Rhu Sepuloh… With Uncle Nisar!

We took a trip to Kuala Terengganu on 24th of December, 2010 together with Uncle Nisar. That was his first trip to the east coast of West Malaysia and we were very excited to take him around our hometown.

On the evening of the 26th of December, we went to Pantai Rhu Sepuloh (Rhu Sepuloh Beach – near Bari). According to Uncle Fauzan who is my father’s good friend, there is a special place at the beach where we can buy fresh fishes and other seafood along the beach.

Walking along the sandy beach

After buying some fresh fishes and some tasty big prawns, dad drove us to a stall selling delicious ‘ikang celuk ttepung’ served with ‘air lada’ for tea. Of course they do have other food in their menu but the ‘ikang celuk ttepung’ is probably their most popular dish since their fishes were freshly caught. We also had some prawns, squids and fried noodle. The seafood were so fresh and tasty and not like the ones that we usually buy from the markets. After that we each had a refreshing glass of coconut drink.

Enjoying our ikang celuk ttepung

After tea, we took a walk along the beautiful sandy beach. We found a shipwreck and mum suggested that it may be Captain Jack Sparrow’s ship, ‘The Black Pearl’. Uncle Nisar told us that Captain Jack Sparrow was so popular in the USA that people would dress up as the captain to the cinema to watch the movie!

Is this all that is left of The Black Pearl?

Then we came to an area where the fishermen dock their boats. We met a fisherman who showed us some fish traps. I still could not figure out how the trap works; I really hope that Uncle Azahar can help me 😉

We went to see the fishing boats

Examining a fish trap

Finally we walked back to the car and started our journey back home.

Bedil Hunting

I came back to Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday after a two weeks Eid holidays in Kuala Terengganu. I had a wonderful holiday, doing lots of interesting and even ‘adventurous’ activities; among which were ‘Bedil Huntings‘.

On the 5th day of Syawal, my father drove my mum, sisters (Aeshah and Anisah) and brother (Ahmad Ali) to Bukit Pak Apil. All of us were provided with a camera each to try and snap the best bedil photos.

We arrived at the site rather early and since the view from the top of the hill was breathtaking, I spend the time snapping beautiful photos of it. After a while a ‘bedil’ contractor staff arrived accompanied by a policeman. Since ‘bedil’ is explosive, a policeman is needed to escort the contractor and to supervise the operation of ‘bedil’ shooting.

The contractor staff walking up to the site with a policeman escorting him.

The kind policeman told us about the safety procedures during ‘bedil’ shootings and then directed us to the safe site (just in case the ‘bedil’ did not shoot high up in the air as it was supposed to be; but instead explodes on the ground). He also told us that if that happens the flying debris from the explosion could reach as far as 100m away. There were a few unfortunate accidents in the ‘bedil’ shooting history in Kuala Terengganu. So we went to the ‘safe site’ and waited there excitedly.

The contractor staff walking up to the 'bedil shooting base'.

A few minutes to Maghrib, all of us were busy focusing our cameras towards the blue sky, trying to guess the right location of the ‘bedil’. We were really excited. Then, there was a thunderous ‘explosion’ as the bedil shot up to the sky. It was an amazing sight of a beautiful fiery light shooting up in the dusk sky. I managed to snap a photo of it and so did Aeshah.

The beautiful fiery light shot up in the dusk sky

The fire shot up so high up and went directly above our heads as it exploded into a huge firework display like a gigantic colourful umbrella stretching above us, with an amazing display of colourul lights ‘raining’ down as it faded and vanished into the darkening sky. I was too amazed by its size and beauty and was taken by surprise that I forgot to click on the shutter release. So I missed the shot of the climax! It was just like a dream; it all happened as fast as it ended and left us glaring into the sky speechlessly.

Although I missed the shot of the climax, I managed to get this: the smoky remain

We went back to the Bukit Pak Apil for the next two days until the 7th day of Eid which mark the last bedil shooting of this Shawal. On the second day, the only shot I managed to get was a cloud of smoke after the fireworks display ended and on the last day, I managed to snap a photo of the fireworks before it fully expanded. Anyway, during those ‘bedil’ huntings my dad and my little brother managed to snap beautiful photos of blooming fireworks at its peak.

It was an exciting and adventurous experience for all of us. It was something that when the accuracy of the location and timing is vitally important. Just a split seconds makes the whole difference; we may ended up missing the action and snapping photos of fading smoke in the darkening sky instead of an amazing colourful display of lights in the evening sky!

It was a nice experience to go bedil hunting and I hope that we could go back up there again next year to hunt for more bedil photos.

Awang Goneng Is In Town!

GUiT-manyToday, I met Uncle Awang Goneng at the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). Awang Goneng (a.k.a. Wan A. Hulaimi) grew up in Terengganu but later on moved to London, a place so far away from his homeland. His beautiful book ‘Growing Up In Trengganu’ (originated from his blog –http://kecek-kecek.blogspot.com) was written to share with everyone about the life in Terengganu in the 60’s.

I attended ‘The Writing Mind’ workshop where Uncle Awang Goneng taught us some tips on writing. One of them which sticks in my mind was to increase your vocabulary skills – or in other words, never be afraid of using a dictionary. It reminds me of Prof. Muhammad Al-Mahdi’s ‘favourite assignment’. He would tell my AG - workshopclassmates and I to make a list of 20 hard words and remember all 60 words, it’s spelling and definitions. To make sure we memorised each of them, we shall have to take a test at the end of the week.

Uncle Awang Goneng also taught us  to read aloud what we have written after finishing a piece of work. It helps us to correct unnoticeable small mistakes. This Jalan Kedai Payangwas also taught by Prof. Muhammad and since then, I made a huge improvement in my writing class.

But Uncle Awang Goneng was really sad to hear about the unacceptable act of the government to demolish a more than a century old shophouses row in our hometown, Kuala Terengganu. Such historic building should be kept and preserved such as those in

Aiman with AG

Penang and Malacca. But we were even shocked to know that Uncle Awang Goneng’s house in Terengganu was going to be demolished

too. I guess one day, Terengganu would be the only state in Malaysia to lose all of it’s history and heritage clue to the cruel act of the state government.

Before leaving, I took the opportunity to ask Awang Goneng to autograph in my diary. Thank you Uncle Awang Goneng (Uncle Wan).