Do you ever believe in miracles? I do. Let me tell you the story of the soy sauce (kicap, kichap) that bound an early settler's family, one that opened trade in early Singapore. This story covers Malacca, Johor, Sungai Buloh and Singapore. Here's the miracle story ...
When I was a child of 11, my family lived in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan. Our house was in the grounds of Maktab Perguruan Kota Bharu, Kelantan. My father taught there as a lecturer. We lived in a bungalow, made by the British administration in Malaya, which was later occupied by the Japanese officers during World War II. When we moved into our house it was haunted and had bottles of alcoholic beverages strewn on the pangkin (wooden platform) in one of the back rooms. We were told not to go near the big black bottles as they contained something HARAM (mostly whisky). The garage was messy and was also haunted. We didn't keep our car in there since it stunk of petrified corpses. The house was unoccupied for 24 years since the war ended in 1945; we moved in in 1969. The other bungalows also appeared haunted. Our nearest neighbour was Pak Cik Jamaluddin and his family. I got to know him and his family from my father. My father was fond of Pak Cik Jamaluddin and I wondered why. Pak Cik Jamaluddin was my father's uncle. I didn't know the lineage at that time back in 1969-1971 except that we were somewhat related.
Pak Cik Jamaluddin had a few kids who came over to our house for birthday parties and to play with us in the evening. I don't know how many kids he had. The ones I remember are Noni, Sabariah Faezah and Fuzi. There was a boy, but I don't recall ever seeing him. Even if I had met him I can only remember someone with curly hair. Pak Cik Jamaluddin had a lovely fair wife whom I called Mak Cik. I don't know her name but she made pretty Hari Raya cookies and stacked them in bottles that filled the shelves in one room. For me, it was a child's dream to see that many Raya cookies made ahead of the festivities.
As kids, we all went to play on the field at the side of our house, near my bedroom window, and that of my parents. We played rounders in the shade of the coconut trees and climbed trees. The flame of the forest was a beautiful tree to climb. I can remember the evening breeze and it would pick up and the air would turn from cool to cold and I would run inside to keep warm, watching the other kids from my bedroom window.
Sabariah Faezah was a thin girl, like Twiggy. She was known to me as Faezah. She told me she had two names and I wondered why. I asked my mother why she had two names. Faezah was very different from the other kids I played with. She was a happy and noisy kid, a chatterbox and a tomboy. She showed me a photo when she was younger and lived in England. That photo has since stuck in my mind. I still can remember her standing next to a house in that photo. It was that photo that inspired me to study very hard so I too could go overseas and live overseas. Faezah spoke fluently, loud and clear. I could hear her voice when she approached our house to play. Sometimes I didn't have the mood to go out and play, but when I heard her voice, I would jump up and go to the door to look for her. She would ask me to come out to play, "Mai lah, mai lah main." When my periods were heavy, I couldn't even walk properly, never mind going out to play and run with the boys. It was a turning point in my life. I was a big girl now. That was what our maid said, but I was still my small girl frame. I had to refuse Faezah's call to come out and play when I had my period. It was a rather sad moment that I was transforming. I had to stay home because of my heavy periods.
After many weeks of not going out to play, I later heard that Pak Cik Jamaluddin was to be transferred out of Kelantan. I didn't know where he went. After he and his family left the Maktab quarters, the area around his house looked deserted and unkempt. The lalang grew so tall. There was once a young Malay couple who kena tangkap basah among the tall lalang near the garage, under the big tree (that reminds me of the movie, Summer '42). It was very sad when I looked in the direction of Pak Cik Jamaluddin's house from my bedroom window. That sadness went on for a long time, each time I remembered Pak Cik Jamaluddin and his family. Sometimes I would take a walk around his empty house and came home feeling a bit happier.
Come January 1972, I was shipped out to Malacca with my eldest brother Sharif and my elder sister Sharifah. We boarded the train from Wakaf Bharu in Kelantan and got off in Gemas. It was a dark, cool foggy night and the street lamps had orange light that lit the space between the trees and the road. It was eerie and very frightening for me. I kept close to my brother, asking him, "Abang, kite nak pegi mane ni? Abang tau ke dekat mane rumah Mak Sarah?" My brother said he knew Malacca and how to get to our aunt's house, but we got lost before we found transport to get to her place in Banda Hilir. I had to report for school that morning as instructed by our father. I didn't know why he had shipped us on the night of the first day of school in Kelantan. Kelantan schools opened on Sunday. I was in my school uniform when I travelled by train overnight to Malacca. I was supposed to report to the headmistress of my new school, Malacca Girls' High School (MGHS) at Durian Daun on Monday morning. It was a cruel but urgent transfer or I would have missed the first day of school at MGHS. My parents came to join us in Malacca in February. We lived at Maktab Perguruan Perempuan Melayu (MPPM) - another haunted house and haunted place. Pak Cik Jamaluddin was not in Malacca. I don't know where his family went.
I later met Faezah at Tunku Kurshiah College (TKC) when I joined Form 4T in 1974. At first I thought it was the wrong person because she didn't look the same. But I kept track of her to see it she was the same Faezah I had known at Maktab in Kelantan. One day there was a grave news on campus and in the midst of it, there was this same mysterious girl. I looked at her features and listened to her voice. Yes! That's was the same girl I played with when we were much younger. I was overjoyed but she had her own group of friends. I kept to my group of friends and we drifted apart somewhat. I don't recall speaking to her at TKC. Maybe I did, but I can't recall. I took the MCE in 1975 and then left TKC in May 1976 to go to Methodist Boys' School in Penang with (Prof) Asma Ismail and (Assoc Prof) Umi Kalthom Ngah, and then went to study in California for 6 straight years. Pak Cik Jamaluddin was nowhere near and unheard of. I wondered what happened to him and his family.
My father died in Penang in March 2009. My elder sister cleared his drawer and saved all his loose-paper diary and jottings. She also saved his many pendrives. It was a good thing that my sister did not toss out anything from our father's belongings. I was in Penang 2 years after my father died. I went through some of his stuff, his pendrives and lots of papers from his drawer. Pak Cik Jamaluddin's photo was in my father's pendrive. It featured him and a group of Malaysians at his home in England. It must be in the early 1960's, about the same time Dr Ungku Omar was in England for his postgraduate studies. After going through some papers, I found a handwritten letter of gratitude and at the bottom was signed Jamaluddin Mohd Ali. I didn't know whether that was Pak Cik Jamaluddin. I decided to locate Faezah to see if that was her father. I wrote in my blog and in Facebook. Nothing positive came for a long time and I too forgot about trying to find out what was Pak Cik Jamaluddin's surname.
One day, I received an email from Dr Farid (A&E USM). He informed me that Dr Sabariah Faezah was the Head of A&E at Sungai Buloh Hospital. I found it strange that Faezah would be in medicine. When we were kids we never spoke of becoming doctors. So I was a bit surprised and almost unsure whether I had got the right person. I was given her handphone # and I SMS-ed her. True! It is the same Faezah. She's married and has kids. With that I surfed to see what she looked like. The Internet pictures showed a big lady and again, my heart sank. Maybe it is not the same Faezah whom I knew. Maybe she is a different Faezah. I was very sad again as I was unsure. I forgot about her again.
Yesterday (31 October 2012), I received a call from Dr Farid, A&E HUSM. He said there's someone who wanted to speak to me. It was Dr Sabariah Faezah! I almost fainted. Her voice was inaudible. However, she had informed me earlier that she would be coming to USM in April 2012. I had waited the entire month of April to see her, but she did not show up as communicated in our emails.
I had just returned to have lunch and received my books from the DHL courier service. I had ordered many copies of my book, in the hope to distribute them to faithful hands who would read my book. I could not meet with Faezah as I was too exhausted to get dressed and come to see her. I slumped in front of my laptop to write to my printer (in Bloomington, Indiana, USA, despite the storm Sandy) that I had received 20 copies of my book. I decided to SMS Faezah later in the evening to see if there is a chance for us to meet up and to see for myself whether she is the same Faezah whom I had met when we were much younger. We agreed to meet up in USM the following morning, her last day in USM this time around. I kept hope all night that we could meet tomorrow.
Today, on Thursday, 1 November 2012, I made a prayer that I would get to meet a long lost friend, Faezah. I brought along 3 copies of my book (Research on the Early Malay Doctors) for distribution at my workplace. I placed them in my rattan basket (bakul rotan) since I no longer carry a backpack. I stopped by the library to deposit a copy of my book there and gave them my card after the staff requested my contact address. I then headed to the Dean's office to deposit a copy but Prof Aziz Baba was away; he had gone back to his kampung in Malacca and would only be back on Sunday. I left a copy in the hands of a girl who knows a lot about my book from Penerbit USM and news of the book and its contents. I was very surprised that she would take so much interest in my writing but it made me happy to know that people like to read what I write. That is what I call active self-paced learning (by reading what you like). I then quickly headed down to A&E. Since I have not been to A&E for a long time, I forgot where the entrance door to that dept was. My husband Affandi showed me which doors to pass through and we got to the A&E dept just in time to catch Dr Farid. Dr Farid recognised me and I asked him, "Mane saudara saya?" He smiled and asked around his staff and replied she's gone. Oh! No! I missed her again. Actually, Faezah had gone upstairs to the exam venue, not off to the airport. Dr Farid walked us up to the second floor, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. As we turned to walk into the corridor, Dr Farid said to me, "There's Dr Sabariah Faezah." I didn't recognise her at first. He must be joking I thought. In the meantime, a lady ahead of us turned round and greeted us. She was Dr Sabariah Faezah, the same Faezah I had been looking for all these years (41 years to be exact). You wouldn't believe it! Faezah and I hugged each other. She was bigger and taller than me. I was very happy to see her again. The effort to meet up was worth it. I still have tears as I write you this post. It is a happy feeling indeed to be able to meet up with a dear friend. Now my tears have rolled down my cheeks and my eyes are all wet. Alhamdulillah, my wish to meet with her has been answered today. Allahu Akbar.
Faezah and I sat at BPSP (I don't know what the long name is) lobby, HUSM while waiting to enter the exam vetting venue. I asked her how we are related. She said we are related through HABHAL, the soy sauce. I asked her how. She said Haji Ahmad (Haji Ahmad bin Haji Abdul Latiff or HABHAL) was Pak Cik Jamaluddin's uncle. I informed her that HABHAL married Amnah, my father's aunt. And that is how we are related. She asked to update my post at my blog. So that is the link between my family and her family, through the humble HABHAL soy sauce which her granduncle made. Isn't that lovely? It is a miracle that 2 close families can remain bound for so long just via that extraordinary soy sauce. Don't you think so? It feels really great to finally find this missing link in both our family trees and family history. Faezah may have more on the HABHAL story so you can ask her.
Please serve HABHAL soy sauce (that's my father's request). I hope you will like this story and take the unassuming kicap seriously. I still don't know if HABHAL is connected to the reconstruction of Masjid Sultan in Singapore. I don't know if Faezah still has her father's photos of early Singapore. I didn't ask her. It will be a great gem to our medical history if she can find more information about HABHAL soy sauce industry and update us on its beginning and development. She may have early pictures of Geylang, before it became Eunos. I don't know but I believe there is still much history to be unearthed by HABHAL's people.
I showed her my book and asked if she wanted a copy. She asked me to sign it as she was called to enter the exam venue. Dr Farid offered me his ink pen and I quickly signed my book for Faezah. I handed back Dr Farid's pen and requested him to hand the book to Faezah. It was a beautiful feeling to give my book to her. I will always remember our chanced meeting today. Thank you Dr Farid for helping me to meet with Faezah. Thank you everyone for helping in one way or another. Silaturrahim is not to be missed or broken.
Link to Eunos and Geylang