Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Things Thai

When I lived in Banda Hilir, as kids we played kuku hantu, also known as kuku sambung or kuku panjang, They resembled the long nails of the Thai dancers. We picked the nails off bamboo plants that made the hedges of the mosque compound (Masjid Banda Hilir). I was a good child dancer with the kuku hantu and later on I became a Mak Yong dancer for my university (USM). I loved Mak Yong for recreation but I can't remember the dance movements now. I can remember the finger work and head shakes, they are quite similar to what Ramli performs for his Indian traditional dances. Haven't you seen Ramli?

I live approximately an hour or two from the Thai border. I have lived here for the past 30 years but I don't speak any Thai. My sister had a Thai schoolfriend named Pak Wadi Siri Mongkul (close to that). She was from the Thai Embassy in Kota Bharu in the late 1960s. I can't remember her face anymore, just her name. Her being a Thai national excited me a lot as a child. Every time my father drove our car past the Thai Embassy especially on my way home after school, I would ask him to slow down and I would look out the window to see if I could see a Thai dancer! I often wondered what Thailand was like. Kuku hantu fascinates me and they still do.

Some time at Tunku Kurshiah College (TKC) in Seremban and at other venues, I observed Thai dances and they had these kuku hantu fixed to their fingernails. When they danced, they stick up one leg and try to balance on the other leg, the head shakes and the body stiffens and the eyes roll left and right. It is quite a sight to see the Thai dances.

When I was at Sydney International House, I was talking to a few Thai girls. Our conversation was slow because neither I understood them nor they understood me. Then (Prof) Rahmatullah Khan came along and spoke Thai to them and immediately the conversation became lively. I had to back out because I didn't know any Thai. But just watching them converse in Thai and laughing was indeed amazing.

I visited Thailand for the first time with my elder sister some time in 1982/3. We went with the USM Medical School group in a bus. I wasn't married then. We had a tour guide who spoke Thai. We passed by a place that sold fried chicken on a dulang. Then we reached the beach in Songkhla. We put up for the night at Hatyai. It was a clean town with a lot of shops selling beautiful fabrics but in glass display cabinets. I never knew Thailand sells beautiful printed soft cotton fabrics, apart from Thai silk. I remember buying one fabric for myself to make my first baju kebaya labuh. It was such a thrill to own a beautifully sewn baju kebaya labuh made from Thai cotton fabric that I can still remember it today. I wore it with high heels to work. I must have charmed the men then. The sweet memory of that visit to Thailand lingers on.

I had a Thai friend named Witchai when I was doing my MSc at UC Riverside in California. I was in biochemistry while Witchai was in agriculture. I remember asking Witchai to write my name in Thai script. I might still have that piece of paper with me. I am unable to contact Witchai because I didn't take his address. He should be about age 60. He was tall and big frame that I didn't take him as a typical Thai man. I had thought he was American or European.

At Bannockburn Village at UC Riverside, I had a neighbour who was a Thai girl and we shared the same housing complex, kitchenette and toilet. She cooked daily and used only a small metal pot. I don't know how she could ever cook using only a small metal pot but she did turn out superb dinners for her friends. She made kangkong goreng and sambal belacan.

Today I sat and watch Thai TV at home after not doing so for many years. I usually sit down with my diary and scribe whatever I listened to or heard or sounds like. Today I didn't write but just sat and listened to the newsreader. I think I must have tuned in to a religious channel (Muslim). She had a black floral tudung on and spoke in the Kelantanese dialect. She read the accident statistics for the majjor Thai cities of Yala (pronounced Jala), Songkhla, Bangkok, Nathon Si Tammasat(??). The ads were distracting. They sang a song for their king, Bumipol Maharaja.

Today I watched NBT Thai TV channel. I watched a programme called Language for Future. The 2 men running the show spoke 3 languages - Kelantanese Malay, Thai and American English. The 3 participants had to speak all 3 languages or translate Thai into the other 2 languages. At the end of the programme, the main host said "We should learn to speak English as that will help us speak to the other ASEAN countries". It tickled me but I think that's true. We haven't done this 3-language programme on Malaysian TV. I think we should.


I watched Australia the movie last afternoon, on New Year's Day. It was sad. I had watched Green Eyes the  US movie of the post-Vietnam war, but this one was even more sad. Australia featured the kidnapping of Aboriginal children who were fathered by white men, and therefore had features midway between a White Australian and an Aborigine (Abo). These kids often had curly or wavy golden hair or in between. That era when such children of mixed descent or better known as half caste were snatched from their families, began in 1869 and ended in 1969, but some went on till the 1980s.

I was in Australia from 1985 to 1989 and I saw some of the Abo children and families in the parks. They are distinct from the White Australians. I was aware of the child kidnapping that had occurred but it didn't occur to me at the time that the whole thing had a devastating psychological impact on both the children and the families that had lost their children. It is a relief to read last night that these kidnapped children were reunited with their families when they turned 25-30 years old. However, accounts of these grown-up half caste Abos are sad, especially about their inability to speak their respective native Abo language, and they were alien to their own customs and culture. It was really sad to read these accounts coming from the snatched half caste Abo children.

In Australia the movie, I was attracted to the names in the credit lines. I saw the names Billy Aziz and Jamil Hediger. Tonight I read the name Mark bin Aziz in a Wikipedia write-up of the movie. Ring a bell? These are Malay names! They are my people too! How did they get to be involved in the movie?

I have not Googled Gondwana Voices yet. They must be the children's voices singing in the background.

The setting in Darwin between 1939 and 1940s during WWII is good. I have heard The Northern Territory was attacked by the Japanese during WWII but I have not been to Darwin so I can't comment any further.

I enjoyed listening to the dialogue which was not so Australian sounding. Nullah (Brandon Walters) was such a great sport. He's such a hero, even my husband thought he's great. I think this movie became box office because it had Brandon, and not because it starred Australia's best actress and actor, Nicole Kidman and Jackman. However, Nullah's dialogue didn't sound Australian or Abo. He seemed to be conscious that his speech was affected and not fluent or seemed to be held back. I read that it was his first time being featured in an Australian movie. He did great anyway. I hope he will be featured in Australian movies to come. He's a great asset for the Abo people and Australia.

Sometimes I wonder whether the Abo people speak any amount of Malay words, especially if they are from around Broome and have contact with the Malay pearl divers there. I heard the words "walkabout" and "billabong" (dead river, sungai mati). But I only came across the word "outback" in the Wikipedia write-up. When I lived in Australia, billabong was sang in the song Waltzing Matilda. I often heard the words outback or bush, tucker and taa on TV. I didn't hear the words bush, tucker and taa in this movie and I'm wondering why. It would be nice to have Australian words and slang in the dialogues since this movie was about Abo life in Australia, and the 3 stars are all Australians.

King George, the grandfather of Nullah is a common feature in Malay storytelling too. He didn't appear much in this movie except for when he called out to Nullah for his safety. He was featured as a shriveled man in full Abo costume. He seems very weak and his calling to Nullah also seemed feeble which got me worried.

My father also mentioned a "King George" who was his granduncle but he was named as such since he kept his beard that resembled that of King George V. Was there a King George in Great Britain? I don't know. But King George is a likeable name in Malay storytelling and it is by no coincidence.

I had watched many Australian TV series as a child and I remember the song Tie Me Down Kangaroo Spot etc which featured the Australian flying doctors. I remember my mother once told me that the Abo blow their didgeridoo to call on people. The didgeridoo tune puts a person in a trance and the person follows every order of the Abo chanter. It was scary to learn about this magic of the Abo.

Broome is where the Malays have set up their second home in the pearl industry. The Malay men were expert pearl divers, that's what I learned from my mother and from my geography lessons.

The real aim of the Stolen Generation is multifaceted. I read a few articles about it and came to realise that the theme of ethnic cleansing is a recurrent theme anywhere where the White men settlers have set foot.

I was reading about the cameleers of central Australia and also the Afghans and their camels. I have traveled across Australia from Adelaide to Perth by train. It took 3 days to cross the Australian Desert by train with my husband, daughter and son. We almost ran out of drinking water. The desert was bare except for the thorny desert weed. There was only one stop at one small station. I liked the trip but I certainly did not like the train - it was smelling bad after a day.

When I first arrived in Sydney, I stayed at the International Students' Hostel. I was also shown the Abo homes built by the Australian government but these homes had no occupants. They were empty because the Abo families preferred to live in the outback rather than homes. I don't blame them. We have the same situation here.

I would love to visit Broome one day and see the Malay people there.

Abo music and art are great items. I have seen the didgeridoos and they are surely long. I have seen the water holes where the Abo people collect drinking water. They are very different from the Orang Asli we have here.