Posts Tagged ‘Kampung memories’

tanjomg pagar railway station designMural at Tanjong Pagar Station

The motif, and the mural of people planting rice are details from the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in Singapore. The station was completed in 1932, and for a long time it was the main transportation for people travelling between Singapore and Malaysia.

My father and I were frequent passengers on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route, thus the station held lots of memories for me.

The building ceased operating as a train station in 2011, and was gazetted as a national monument.

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Royston Tan directing actress J.Rosmini in his film which was inspired by the sounds of his childhood.

Sound is a one of our most powerful senses. A small tinkle, a laugh can bring forth memories, associations and expectations.

Recently, Singapore’s filmmaker Royston Tan was in California to talk about his films and his career. One of the projects that he was involved in was 7 letters, an anthology of short films by Singaporean fimmakers. He shared with the audience his film in the anthology titled “Bunga Sayang”.

“Bunga Sayang” means “Flower of Love, or Flower of the Heart” in Malay. It refers to the title of a song that has a central role in the film.

Royston explained that the film was inspired by the sounds of his childhood.

One of them was the sounds of the traditional Chinese opera. The opera was often staged in a public area where everyone could come and see. (It was also a part of my childhood. Like most children, I was drawn to it when it was staged in my neighborhood. For me, what was most fascinating were the shiny, colorful costumes, especially those with the long, flowing sleeves.)

Another inspiration for the film was the sounds of a song.

The main protagonist in Royston’s film is a young boy, around 10 or so. A normal day, after school, brought a small crisis. The tap in his flat suddenly stopped when he was taking a shower.

The boy called his mother, who was away working, who then instructed him to go to his neighbour’s house and to request if he could finish his bath there. The neighbor, an older Malay woman, couldn’t speak English, and the boy spoke broken Malay, but somehow they communicated.

After the shower, he found himself drawn to the kitchen where the woman was preparing food, while her radio filled the flat with the song “Bunga Sayang”. The sounds and notes of that song formed a strong memory of that day for him. And soon a friendship developed between the two of them.

“Bunga Sayang” is a heartfelt film because, I believe, it was made from the heart. Watching it made me think of the sounds of my childhood. And what comes to my mind, without hesitation, is the sound of fish frying in my childhood home.

Our big extended family was run by my grandmother and grandaunt. They would start cooking around 10 or 11 am in the morning. I would often hang around in the kitchen, being in their company, or enjoying doing some coloring.

One dish that was often served in our home was deep-fried chunks of tongkol fish, which is a type of tuna fish. Oil was heated in the kuali, a deep frying pan. And when the first chunk of fish hit the hot oil, it created a pristine sizzle and hiss. So clear that one could visualize the hiss rising up, winding up, from the pan.

That sound, together with the fragrance of the turmeric spice coating the fish, leads me back to my young days, in our sunny, warm kitchen in the tropics.

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childhood treats

Good memories, good taste – never out of style.

One of the best simple pleasures of life is to come across a treat from one’s childhood.

That was how I felt when I came across these little icing biscuits in a shop in Johor, Malaysia.

When I was growing up, we would walk to the neighborhood provision shop to get them. They were displayed in big clear jars, with a few other different types of biscuits. You can buy, like, 20 cents worth of biscuits. The shopkeeper would scoop about a handful and wrapped them in a piece of newspaper.

(My aunt remembers that when she was a child, you could get quite a good-sized serving for just 10 cents.)

Certainly, the colorful icing was a big attraction for kids. And also the combination of the icing and the slightly creamy taste of the base was enjoyable. Often, we would unwrap the newspaper package and start eating as we were walking on our way home.

Time doesn’t stand still. Back to the present, when I bought some from the shop in Johor, they were wrapped in a more sophisticated manner, in a clear plastic sleeve and tied on top with a bright string. But the best thing was that, after so many years down the road, the taste was still the same. I kept popping them into my mouth and savored the cool, sweet effect as the icing melts – great fun.

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hari raya food

Encik Aziz displaying his cooked ketupat in a manner that reminds me of my childhood kampung home.

Shopping for Eid, or Hari Raya as it is known in Malay, is in full swing in Geylang Serai, the Malay district in Singapore. In the last few days of Ramadan, the stores and bazaar offer almost everything in preparation for the celebrations.

As I wander around, I take in the colors. I see things new and things traditional. Festive food sold includes ketupat, rice dumplings eaten with meat dishes and a variety of sauces.

It takes a lot of work to prepare the ketupat from scratch – the way my grandmother and grandaunt did. We all helped, too, with the various tasks.

It starts with buying stalks of young coconut leaves. The leaves are woven into pouches using age-old techniques. The pouches are then partly filled with rice, and sealed. The final stage, the cooking, requires boiling the ketupat for at least four hours till the rice expands to a nicely firm texture.

It’s good that some people are selling the ketupat in various stages of preparation, providing that convenience for many households.

I come across Encik (Mr in Malay) Aziz selling fully prepared ketupat. Stop by for a little chat, and convey my respect for folks like him who keep our traditional foods and arts alive in the face of changing times.

I smile at the way he stores the ketupat – hanging on a pole. My grandmother used to do that in our kampung or childhood home. I really don’t know why, but as a kid, I loved the sight of the wooden pole laden with ketupat hanging in our kitchen.

Memories come rushing back: the ketupat and food prepared by my grandmother’s loving, meticulous hands, enjoyed by our extended family every festive season.

Selamat Hari Raya. Happy Eid.

hari raya feasting

Ready-made ketupat pouches at the Geylang Serai Market.

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JB Book Festival

Danga Bay – the scenic setting of the JB Writers and Readers Festival.

I had an enjoyable time at the JB Writers and Readers Festival held recently in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The setting was the beautiful Danga Bay, where the water and its fluidity seemed to throw its reflection on the event. In addition, as many of the festival’s participating writers, musicians and publishers were indie folks, the vibe was friendly and casual.

The audience had interesting questions at my session where I discussed my book “Kampung Memories”, which revolves around the Malay kampungs (villages) that are now gone from Singapore’s high-rise landscape. An audience member pointed out that several kampungs have had to make way for development in Johor, and we discussed the need for documenting the social history of these places.

After that, a duo came on stage, and they rendered a Singapore Malay folk song “DiTanjong Katong”. I was very touched by this gesture.

On the whole, the organizer Tok Rimau, his team and the volunteers did a great job, and I look forward to see what they have in store next year.

Sharifah Hamzah

The host Widda (right) and members of the audience had several insightful questions for me to discuss.

JB Writers and Readers Festival

Nam Ron, one of Malaysia’s most interesting playwrights and film makers, with his books at the festival.

JB Writers and Readers Festival 2013

The duo performed a lovely rendition of a Singapore Malay folk song.

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Asia book festival
The JB Writers & Readers Festival 2013 celebrates literature and the community of writers and bloggers in Johor Bahru,  the main city in the southern part of Malaysia.
There will be sessions and talks by publishers and writers, music and book sales. One of the objectives of the festival is to focus on new and self published authors in Malaysia and in the Archipelago.
It will be held on 14 and 15 September (Saturday and Sunday) at Danga Bay Marina Club.
I’m happy to be included in the festival. I will appearing on 15 September, Sunday, at 11 am. And I will be discussing my book “Kampung Memories – A Life’s Journey Revisited”.
If you are in Singapore or Malaysia, I hope you can come down and support the community of writers.
Links: program schedule
Festival Facebook Page

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kampung memories SingaporeI’m pleased to giveway three signed copies of my book Kampung Memories – A Life’s Journey, Revisited.

Kampung means “village” in Malay, and my book is part social history and part memoir of life in the kampungs of Singapore before they gave way for urban redevelopment.

It combines interviews with the residents, explanation of Malay customs, and my own memories and reflections. Artistic sketches by Malaysian artist Fausin MdIsa and old family photos add to the experience of the book.  More about it at the book website .

Please email me your name at hsharifah@hotmail.com, by September 28, to participate in the draw. Thanks and good luck.

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Little bundles of taste and colors

Kuih apam is steamed cakes, made in a variety of colors.

Pasar tani means farmer’s market in Malay.

One can always find a big variety of fresh ingredients and food at such an event, which is held throughout Malaysia.

The last pasar tani that I visited was in Larkin, in the state of Johore.

In line with my interest, I was mostly drawn towards the traditional or heritage food.

One was the circular-shaped sweet snack called deram deram. It is made from rice flour and palm sugar which gives it the rich caramel color. There is an art to frying deram deram. The oil has to be at just the right temperature for the rings to be slightly crispy on the outside, while maintaining a soft texture on the inside.

Another favorite is kuih apam, which is steamed cakes. They are usually eaten for breakfast.

I remember my grandmother used to bring home these cakes from her early morning rounds at the Geylang Market. The cakes come in different colors, and as a child, I was attracted to the brighter ones, and would try to grab the pink one for myself.

Kuih apam is often served with grated coconut. As an adult, I realize that much of the enjoyment of this sweet is in the simultaneous play of contrast and complement. The pristine white of the grated coconut contrasts with the bright colors. A pinch of salt is usually added to the coconut, and this little bit of salty tang brings out the sweetness of the cakes.

kuih deram

Deram deram is a popular traditional sweet snack.

Deram deram at pasar tani.

There is an art to frying deram deram.

Peanuts are universally popular snacks.

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pristine and tasty

Putu kacang….packed with flavor and memories for me.

A galore of cookies and cakes. That is how Eid, or Hari Raya, as it is known in Malay, is celebrated in Singapore and Malaysia.

Each home welcomes guests with about eight or so varieties of these, to enjoy to one’s heart’s content. There are both modern and traditional cookies, or which I prefer to call heritage cookies. My preference runs to the latter, and one of my favorites is putu kacang.

This is a no-bake sweet, with green bean flour and sugar as the main ingredients. The ingredients are mixed, dampened with a little water, then packed tightly into wooden molds specially-designed for putu kacang.

Then the molds are turned over, tapped or knocked lightly so that the molded pieces will drop from the mold. They are then placed in a tray to be sun-dried or baked by a hot, tropical sun.

I used to help my grandmother make this cookie in my childhood home. The molds she owned had interesting designs, and my imagination was really taken by the ones shaped like a rooster. I couldn’t wait for them to dry so that I could savor the tiny roosters.

Sometimes, to make our anticipation easier, my grandmother would give us the task of keeping an eye on the cookies drying on a table in the backyard, just in case the family cat decided to let its curiosity get the better of it, and jump onto the table.

Today, as most residents in Singapore live in high-rise apartments, there is less home-made putu kacang available, and we buy them in Malaysia.

Making this cookie was one of the highlights of Hari Raya preparations in my kampung or childhood home. I just loved the whole process of making them, the contrast of the textures, and the fresh, creamy taste. And I still do – I guess some things never change.


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book on Singapore's kampungs

The road to publishing my book has been a fulfilling journey.

There is the often quoted African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

I think it may also be quite true to say that it takes a village to self-publish a book. I have had so much help along the way to the publication of “Kampung Memories, A Life Journey, Revisited”, a book that is very important to me, that I will try to thank as many people as I can.

I would like to thank:

  • Authors who have shared their experiences. Throughout the whole journey, I read many blog posts and books where self-published authors share their experiences and insight. This was valuable information for me, and I, in turn, would be happy to share with anyone whatever I have learnt.
  • My family and friends who have helped and supported me in countless ways.
  • Everyone who came to the book launch and the reading/discussion events.
  • Everyone who has read my book, or any part of it. The reward and wish of every writer is that his work is read and shared. Feedback is also much appreciated. At one of the readings, a guest thanked me for writing the book as he grew up in the years after the kampungs (villages) were gone from Singapore’s landscape, and he has little idea of life in that time.
  • Everyone who helped me with practical advice on marketing, especially Isrizal and Sharifah, an aspect which was a rather steep learning curve for me.
  • Ibrahim of Wardah Books and Dan of Select Books for their belief in, and support of independent or indie writers.
book kampung memories

The author, Sharifah (left) after signing a book at the launch. We are dressed in baju kurung, the traditional Malay costume.

select books author sharifah

Meet the author session at Select Books.

Links to:

Post in a heritage Singapore blog

Radio interview on “Kampung Memories”

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