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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kluang: A trip down memory lane

Kluang: A trip down memory lane
by C S Wan

For two friends a day trip helps rekindle their own childhood memories

Look, over there!” My wife called out from the car’s rear seat.
I peered through the windscreen in time to catch a view of a quaint hut standing on a small plot of paddy field. Camera at the ready, I tried to capture the scene, but before I could click the shutter button of the digital camera the LCD screen had displayed a different scene.
“Oh, never mind there are more paddy fields and mangrove swamps after Muar,” I said, trying to console myself.
The morning of 20th October 2011, found four retirees on a country road on the outskirt of Melaka town. Our friends, K. L. Lim and his wife had kindly offered to take my wife and I on a day trip to Lim’s childhood home in Kluang. We decided to take the country road instead of the fast lane of the Federal highway, as we wanted to take a leisurely ride and enjoy the picturesque views along the way. The last time I had taken the country road was more than twenty years ago and I remember how the trip offered stunning vista of verdant paddy fields that stretched towards the distant horizon.
We lamented about today’s young generation who in their haste to reach their destinations often failed to appreciate the beauty of the countryside. Deep in conversation, we were surprised to find ourselves on the bridge that straddled the Muar River. Below us small fishing boats, tied to poles, lined the muddy bank. The sight brought back memory of the time I went with my uncle, Oon, to Pagoh Estate in the mid-sixties. There was no bridge then and we had to cross the river in a small rickety boat.

“That’s the shop where we used to buy our slippers,” Lim said, as we drove past a row of old shop houses. Curious eyes instinctively gravitated towards the directed spot. A shop filled with footwear appeared and disappeared before our eyes.
On the outskirt of Muar town a white building rose majestically before us, its blue roof gilded with the morning sunlight. We were informed that it was the town's new iconic building_the Sultan Ibrahim Jamek mosque.
Sultan Ibrahim Jamek mosque

A few metres down the road we were greeted by a wide expanse of shimmering water. The faint, rhythmic clicks of heels on hard pavement broke the silence of the morning air, as we strolled along the esplanade.
Strolling along the esplanade

 A slight breeze that blew in from the sea caressed our faces and ruffled our hair.

A ferry trailing white foams
Out in the open water, against a backdrop of indistinct buildings, a ferry trailing white foams skimmed the calm water as it headed towards an unknown destination.

One for the album
Yours truly with KL Lim
We could not leave without taking back a fragment of the place, so we posed against the esplanade’s railing and let  
our cameras click, to freeze us in time.
It must be nearly lunch time when we left Muar for my stomach had sounded its initial growl. As we drove along the coastal road leading to Parit Jawa, a number of cars could be seen lining the road shoulder. Lim slowed down the car and guided it onto a hard-beaten earth compound beside a wooden building. A yellow signboard with the words, ’ Restoran Chun Hui’ predominantly displayed on it stood in front of the building.
Restoran Chun Hui

'What shall we order?'
We were soon seated at a table and while others were busy placing their orders I took in the surroundings.

The wooden building with its grey palm-thatched roof and wooden benches provided rustic ambience to the place while two fish traps which adorned two wooden pillars gave it a touch of rustic charm.
Rustic ambience

The sight of the fish traps rekindled memories of my childhood days in Batu Berendam, Melaka. I remember following my friend, Kong Ngee, to a paddy field in front of his house.
Rustic charm

 Trudging ankle-deep in mud we would stop at regular intervals to plunge the traps deep into the mud and pause to check the traps whenever we heard a slight thrashing sound.
A whiff of pungent aroma close to our table snapped me out of my reverie and I glanced up to see a waitress hovering over our table bearing a bowl of asam pedas in her hand. We were soon helping ourselves to the steaming white rice topped generously with the spicy gravy and savouring the other accompanying dishes of fried sweet potato leaves and omelette . Eating the simple fare of traditional kampung cuisine in the rustic ambience not only helped whet our appetite but brought back fond memories to a kampung boy.
With the pungent taste of asam pedas still lingering in our mouth, we dragged our reluctant feet towards the waiting car. Under a sunny, slumberous mid-afternoon sky we continued our journey to Batu Pahat. Lim switched on the CD player to blow away the cobwebs from our eyes and we found ourselves humming and tapping to the rhythmic, rumba beat of ’No More’.

 My eyes scanned the fleeting landscape in search of the once familiar paddy fields and mangrove swamps. But, they were no more to be seen. All along the way, new towns had sprung up and stately houses towered above low dilapidated palm-thatched houses. Where paddy fields and mangrove swamps once stood, now only the nostalgic memories of retirees remain.
“That’s where I used to teach,” Lim said as we reached the small town of Semerah on the outskirt of Batu Pahat. Through the gaps between a line of trees a building rushed past us. A row of old shops came into view and I took a quick snapshot of a barber shop from the moving car, as it reminded me of Ah Seng's barber shop of my childhood days.

A barber shop

We arrived at Batu Pahat and Lim was soon calling attention to each approaching landmark in the town. We saw the small corner store where he used to purchase his vinyl records and books; the coffee shop where he and his friends would meet after their badminton games; the Mobil petrol kiosk; and a shop where his laundry shop used to stand.

Where the  record shop used to stand

As we cruised along the town’s wide road, I noticed many new supermarkets that were squeezed between rows of pre-war buildings.  

A pre-war building

Another view of Batu Pahat town

It was late afternoon, just in time for afternoon tea, when we drove into Kluang town and Lim headed for Kluang railway station, as he wanted us to try the original Kluang Rail coffee. 
Kluang railway station

However, we were disappointed to find the shop shuttered and padlocked.
Kluang Rail Coffee

“ We’ll have our tea at another Kluang station,” Lim said, as the car wound its way up a gradient and came to a halt in front of a building with glinting green-coloured glass façade.
Kluang Rail Station

Soon we were sipping steaming coffee and sinking our teeth into crispy toasts that oozed melted butter.
As we emerged from the Kluang Rail Station, the overcast sky had started to spill intermittent showers. Through the foggy windscreen and slashing rain Lim pointed to us the playground of his childhood days. The sight of a river stirred the still sediment of his memory. He remembered those carefree days when he used to play with his brothers and friends on the sandy bank of the Kluang river and swim in its clear, cool water, but what lay before our eyes now was muddy, silt-laden water that
swept past grassy bank.
Murky view of the Kluang River

"That's where we used to stay," he said, pointing to the opposite bank. Through a fine curtain of rain, half obscured by a murky line of trees, a blurry outline of a house with blue roof was discernable.

A camera clicked, as the car jerked to a halt close to the curb.

"Got it," I said, as I handed back the camera to my wife.

"Eh, you have only got the tissue box," she said with a faint laugh.

Just a tissue box

Amidst the stifled laughter, the camera flashed again.

Faded landscape of a distant childhood days

The camera screen displayed a smudgy landscape punctuated with floating bubbles with a solitary coconut tree clearly visible in the foreground.

Though not picture perfect, it was perhaps a fitting depiction of the faded landscape of those distant childhood days. Like the photo, the mental landscape of our childhood may be shrouded with the mist of oblivion but certain images somehow remain vivid in our minds.
A long-forgotten incident jogged Lim’s memory, as we rounded a corner.

“Ah, that’s where one of my classmates used to live. I remember one day she wanted to borrow my Geography notes. So, one evening I approached her house warily, rapped at the door and waited with bated breath. The door creaked open and a voice boomed over me.
Eh, kicik apa mau? (Young man, what do you want?).
I glanced up to see a burly, bearded figure glaring down at me.
Saya,...saya... mau kasi buku ini kepada Jit.” ( I,..I.. just want to hand over this book to Jit) I stammered.
“O…oooh!” he drawled.
I handed the book and beat a hasty retreat.”
“I wonder where she is now ,” Lim mused, as we drove away from the scene.
“And, that’s where my friends and I would buy our satay from the itinerant satay seller."

Our eyes followed his finger. Through a veil of light rain a row of hazy shops was visible.

" Each of us would order two or three sticks of satay and the grilled satay would be dipped into a common container of peanut sauce. We would stand along the five-foot way to relish and dwell on the savoury morsels." 

A light rain veiled the five-foot way

We drove past railway tracks and the sight evoked memories of Lim's schooldays. He remembered the time when he and his schoolmates used to crawl through an opening in the fencing and cut across the railway lines as a short cut to school.

The once familiar railway tracks

"That's where I studied."

A modern brick building bordered by sturdy brick walls came into view.

Lim's Alma Mater
"During my schooldays whenever we were late we would scale the embankment and creep stealthily through a gap in the chain fencing while keeping a wary eye on the principal who would station himself at the main entrance."
Dusk had set in and the rain had abated when we left Kluang Town and made our way to Yong Peng. However, as we drove into Yong Peng town we were greeted by the rumble of rolling thunder and flashes of forked lighting that lit the distant sky. Raindrops had started to pelt the car’s windscreen. Sheltering under partially opened umbrellas, we scurried across the road to the nearby Or Hu Restaurant. While the food was being prepared, we busied ourselves with the usual ritual of twirling small plastic bowls in simmering water and wiping the chopsticks with tissue paper. A young, smiling girl appeared with a big plate, piled high with Hock Chiew mee and this was followed immediately with the restaurant's signature dish, egg soup, and a vegetable dish. We were soon engaged in ploughing and picking strands of the delectable fried noodles with our chopsticks. The proprietor who had the appearance of a Chinese sage emerged from the kitchen and from beneath his wispy, white beard, I noticed the satisfied smile.
Dusk had edged into night when we left the restaurant. As nothing much could be seen in the deepening darkness, we took the Federal Highway. Soon we were chasing the tail -lights of fast moving cars that led us further away from Lim's childhood hometown and brought us closer to home. As I settled back into the comfort of the seat, Lim pressed the car's audio button and we started to hum along with Dean Martin's in reminiscing 'about the things we used to do'. Yes, while the youngs are full of hopes and dreams, for us retirees, 'memories are all we have to cling to' .

For Lim and I the trip to Kluang had provided the right recipe for savouring the fond memories of our childhood days. In our golden years we should take every opportunity to go on a day trip, outing or a simple get-together as they not only help to rekindle old memories but create new ones; renew old friendship and strengthen existing ones.

Isla Grant and Daniel O'Donnell sings "Down Memory
Lane" on Youtube


          Related article:
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          Ever wondered what has become of your childhood home?

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