|Source: Tamarind Books|
I spent my first year on earth in Perak and the next few in Pahang, thanks to some people in the government who thought my parents would serve our country better if they were moved around a bit. That's what I thought anyway, since I've never worked in the public sector. We soon landed in Terengganu, just in time for me to start my formal education.
The Terengganu of my childhood and Awang Goneng's childhood Trengganu are a few decades apart. As a native child of Kuala Terengganu town, Awang Goneng vividly (and unastoundingly) recalls its corners and streets, the shops and the villages, and other places of interests, and shares them on his blog, Kecek-Kecek (a common east coast word meaning friendly conversation).
I'm surprised to discover how much the town of Kuala Terengganu is unchanged from Awang Goneng's time to mine. I could recall some of places mentioned, like Istana Maziah, a palace right in the middle of town. It is a sight to be behold indeed. My in younger self's mind, it looked something out of a dongeng rakyat. Nearby is the Masjid Abidin, still beautiful now as we both remembered. I could imagine shopping trips with my father to Kampung Cina, or Pekan Cina, I can't remember exactly. And Bukit Puteri, overlooking the town, a high place that's also high on legends and mystery. Among a few that still preserved in my memories.
Drawing from memories is what Awang Goneng succeed with this book. Besides the places, there are smells of budu fermenting in large ceramic jars underneath tall, wooden houses. The sounds of waves crashing on the open shores, unlike the cemented embankment beaches shorelines in the 80s Kuala Terengganu that I remember. Kuala Terengganu is very much a town surrounded by villages, but increasing development and modernity is chipping away much of old Trengganu.
Kuala Terengganu may not be as steeped in tradition as, say, Kota Bharu. But I believe there are only a few towns in Malaysia that has two stadiums (one indoor and one outdoor, in fact), a public swimming pool, a multi-storey public library, a palace, a modern-looking court building, a few museums, beaches (Batu Burok in particular is beautiful for strollers but dangerous for swimmers), and several seaside attractions there were mostly build after my family and I left the state. Despite allegations of misused state funds, Terengganu folks are quite a lucky bunch of people.
I better stop myself before I veer dangerously into political insinuations. Growing Up in Trengganu is the kind of book I could never write, primarily because I never grew up long enough in a place to become acquainted with it, to have the kind of connection that Awang Goneng has with Trengganu, place he says no longer exist. I can't argue with him there. A short strip to the town five years ago confirmed my hidden worries, that my childhood Terengganu has grown up so much in my absense.