Friday, 13 May 2011

Orang Kota Bharu

I can't remember exactly the last time I set foot in Kota Bharu. I believe it was not too long ago on a trip to Terengganu. I was merely a passenger who slept mostly through the trip. I vaguely recall stopping by a roadside stall for lunch and performing solat at a nearby surau. I went back to sleep and woke up somewhere between Besut and Setiu. Or was it all a dream?

Anyway, despite having a number of good friends and neighbours who hail from Kelantan, I know very about the Cik Siti Wan Kembang state. I turned to Orang Kota Bharu for a tour of the historic city, and by the end of it I got more than just a history lesson.

Way more.

Orang Kota Bharu reads more like an anthology than a novel. The stories revolves around the capital city, told from several point of views. 

The novel has narrator who appears at the beginning to enlighten us on how Kota Bharu came to be. The brief history lesson sets the stage for several stories to come, including some that involves the underworld. More on that later.

I had some expectations about this novel. As a city famous for its Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah, a market where the majority of its are female, I wanted to see to the city from the female perspective. I read on and realised that it wasn't going to happen. The majority of characters are males. This isn't to say that the novel is biased, it just happens to have more testosterone flowing through it.

And speaking of testosterone, if you love gang stories, you could be in for a treat. Mind you, this isn't The Sopranos or The Wire or anything of that sort. It's the sort of gang stories that has more heart and humanity than blood and bullets. Anyone can write gang stories by glorifying violence and spicing it up with explicit scenes, but it takes pathos and a moral core to humanise the characters and not let the audience forget that criminals are not heroes to be idolised or admired.

The story on the flood took me back to childhood. I was in primary school when our house in Terengganu were inches deep in flood water. It was a cleaning nightmare for my parents but an adventure for me. All day long I pretended I was on ship. But I could still recall how my parents stayed up all night to move the furnitures, something some people in Kota Bharu had to endure year after year.

And what book about Kota Bharu is complete without any politics talk. The novel ends with a rather gripping account on the battle between UMNO and PAS for the state government, focusing on the tenure of Menteri Besar Datuk Muhamed bin Nasir, 1973–1978. We will learn that the political manoeuvrings we are seeing today is really nothing new and proving once again that history has a habit of repeating itself.

Even though the stories don't really interlock connect, at the core it's all about the people of Kota Bharu. What is Paris without the Parisians? What is Tokyo with the Tokyokkos? Every city, town, village or neighbourhood is what it is because of the people who reside there.


Afida Anuar said...

rol, Orang Kota Bharu....really something... i love them;). he he

during my childhood, my father used to bring me to Kota Bharu, since he's a businessman and needed to deal with other business person there including chinese... To my surprise, chinese there can speak 'loghat Kelantan' without fail, i mean without chinese sleng.

Compare to Terengganu or other part of Malaysia, the 'loghat cina' is there..but seriously not in Kelantan;)

nahmy said...

kelantan...used to live there. nice place, nice people & nice food too. still now...a good place to visit. cumo hok tok rheti..bab nok make budu ja...

r.o.l. said...

afida, some of the Chinese assimilate well in Kelantan. One such person I met was TV1's Harlim Yeo. I saw the same thing in Kedah, at my wife's hometown. They speak the local accent rather well. Though I don't know many speak that well.

nahmy, I grew up in the East Coast, in Terengganu. A different experience, something surprising for two neighbouring states. I haven't the opportunity to visit Kelantan often, but Kelantan food is everywhere in KL. (Or maybe it's Thai? I can't tell.)

UJ said...

by the way afida... there are chinese people in terengganu still speak hard terengganu dialect harder than other terengganu people themseleves. one of my lecturer in IPKT .. mr Teh..

and dont supsrise if you can find those who live in kuala berang there are chinese speak very hard terengganu dialect and i am from kemaman sometime dont understand... hard is 'pekat' hehehe

nasir said...

Nice review you've made there my friend... I like your childhood story of being someone who enjoyed the flood(like most kids do)... It is sad to witness the painstaking effort inevitable in the aftermath...

r.o.l. said...

UJ, sebut Kuala Berang terus teringat Sekayu. Sudah 20 tahun lebih tak ke sana. Orang Cina Kemaman nghoyat Ganu lebih 'hard' daripada UJ? Kena gi guru dengan diaorang nampaknya :-)

Nasir, thanks for dropping by. Have you been through a flood? I went through one in Butterworth, school had to be closed for a day and a lot of 'treasures' floated across the house :-D

Afida Anuar said...

UJ, i never had a chance to meet chinese from kuala berang/sekayu.. he he..chinese kuala terengganu jah that i used to deal with.

ohh, sleng kuala berang memang 'pekat'... one kuala berang sleng that i know..

"Balik kapaung tanang jagaung"... he he

r.o.l. said...

afida, betul ke? Menarik!

There's a website that catalogues the accents found in the UK. Tried listening to the recording of a Manchester accent, couldn't understand what he was saying much :-) But interesting nevertheless

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