Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Malay’

lunar beauty

The moon. Radiant, bright, so far away, and yet it belongs to everyone.

The moon. It has been put to both practical and poetic uses in the history of humankind.

Before clocks were invented, people used to tell the passage of time by the moon. In ancient Malay lands, people calculated the journey of the months by purnama, the cycle of the full moon.

During the Chinese Mooncake Festival, people savored mooncakes filled with lotus seeds and sipped tea under the light of the moon.

Each time I look at the moon, its beauty is afresh and anew. Maybe it’s telling me, telling humanity, this is how we should see each day.

The moon. A luminous beauty, shedding its radiance on every pair of eyes that sees it, and asking nothing in return.

Read Full Post »

kacang botol winged bean

Ulam, raw vegetables and herbs is integral to Malay cuisine. On the right is winged bean/kacang botol, and part of the dipping sauce shown (at bottom right).

In this post, I would like to highlight an aspect of Malay cuisine – ulam, which is a version of Malay salad.

Ulam consists of a platter of raw vegetables and herbs, and may also include some that have been blanched. It is eaten with a sambal, a spicy chilli-based dipping sauce. Ulam is usually served as part of a rice based meal.

Kacang botol, the green bean shown above is one of my favorites. It has a lovely combination of a crunchy texture and a mildly creamy taste.

Kacang means bean in Malay, and botol means bottle. I’m not sure why it is so named; must be an interesting anecdote somewhere. Incidentally, it is known as winged bean in English, perhaps named after its uniquely shaped edges. Well, it seems like the bean encouraged people to be quite poetic in naming it.

The bean plant grows as a vine, and it is said to be a good source of vitamin A.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Ramadan bazaar Geylang

Carpets galore…for every room in the house.

hari raya baju kurung

Dressed up….a stall selling baju kurung, the traditional Malay costume for women.

The Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai, the Malay district in Singapore, has made its yearly appearance again. In time for shoppers preparing for the coming Eid festival, or Hari Raya as it is known in Malay.

One can find a variety of goods including traditional Malay costumes and festive cookies. Malays are said to be houseproud, and household goods such as carpets and silk flowers take centrestage, ready to spruce up the house and to welcome the visitors.

Selamat Hari Raya; Eid Greetings.

Read Full Post »

sheila majid songs

The month of May began with a unique musical note.

Sheila Majid, Malaysia’s jazz diva was in Los Angeles last weekend to give a concert celebrating her 30-year mark in the music scene. Sheila is very popular in many countries in South East Asia, and some of her hits are considered modern classics of Malay music.

I’ve always liked her songs, especially her hits in the 1990s. So I made it a point to be at her performance. She gave a great show, singing her greatest numbers that the audience came to hear, plus segments paying tribute to musicians who have inspired her including Michael Jackson.

Sitting in the theater, listening to her belting out her hits, while the chandelier lights on the stage threw prisms of pink and purple rays, at times I felt that I was in an emotional-dreamy space or some kind of a time tunnel.

You see, In the 1990s, I was living and working in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. And her songs brought me back there.

I was very fortunate to get a career as a feature writer for a daily newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, and those years were among the best working years of my life. To me, there’s nothing like the energy and atmosphere of a newsroom. We always get the news first. I met people from all walks of life, seen many places, while on assignments.

I was in charge of a number of columns including art and women’s issues, and I had great bosses who gave me the independence and trust to manage the columns with minimal interference. I worked with a group of interesting colleagues, and out of this, several life-long friendships have developed.

At that time, my father was still alive and living in Kuala Lumpur as well. He was also a journalist, (he preferred the word ‘newspaperman’) in his younger days. Now that we shared the same profession, we had a lot more to share, discuss, even argue. And I learnt a lot from him.

One of her songs that Sheila sang that night was Aku Cinta Padamu which means “I love you”. It’s a beautiful ballad about a woman who wonders how many times or ways she has to convince a man that she loves him while he remains unsure. It brought a crystal clear memory of a morning ride on the bus, on my way to the newspaper office.

(At the time when I was riding the Metro buses in the city, the driver often had piped in music throughout the bus. Usually it would be from a radio station, the medley of songs entertaining him as well as the passengers on the commute.)

That morning, Aku Cinta Padamu was played by the radio DJ. I was going through the break-up of a long term relationship. And hearing that song, the tears just flowed down. I was both sad and embarassed, quickly trying to wipe the tears, hoping that the passengers who were standing in the bus would not see my meltdown.

But on the whole, the 90s were good years. I actually had seen Sheila performed in Malaysia when she had been invited to sing at a product launch event that I had to cover. In that time between her performance in Kuala Lumpur and this one in Los Angeles, some threads of my life have changed, and some have not. I guess that’s life.

Ah,….songs. They do have their special way of transporting you back to the past.

And so, to everyone who have been a part of the journey, of my years in Kuala Lumpur, thank you for the life experiences and the memories.

Read Full Post »

kuih or desserts from Malaysia

A selection of Malaysian desserts in petite-sized servings. A favorite is the layered jelly (on the right), especially the one with the creamy white layer, made from coconut milk.

 

Read Full Post »

attitude of gratitude

Blessings = barakah (Arabic) = berkat (Malay)

= Gratitude (universal)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

nostalgia and washing clothes

The clothes were scrubbed against the washboard to remove the stains and grime.

indigoHow nice it is to drop a load of laundry in the washing machine, then go back to the book or TV, relax, while the laundry is being done! In the days before washing machines were affordable and widespread, lots of elbow grease were required on laundry day. Here’s an except from my upcoming book “Kampung Memories”:

“In those days, laundry was done manually or completely by hand. Washing machines were not in the picture at all. Most households had a person designated to do all the laundry, or often a washer-woman offered her service to the households.

The woman would come to the house several times week to do the laundry. I remember we once had a washer-woman who was quite a fascinating character. She was a stout lady, friendly but did not talk much. She often rolled a cigarette after she had done her washing, stood with one hand on her hips and smoked while seemingly lost in her thoughts. Even as a kid, I could see that she was a tough lady, not easily intimidated or ordered around.

One of the laundry items that caught my attention and imagination as a child was nila or indigo, a product that makes white clothes whiter and brighter. At that time, not only schoolchildren wore white shirts and blouses, many men also wore white shirts to work.

Nila was sold as a blue-colored soap bar. You cut a small slice and mixed it in a pail of water. It would turn the water a bright blue, and I enjoyed waiting for that “magical” moment. The white clothes which had been washed would be dipped in the blue water for a final rinse, then hung on the clothesline to dry.”


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »