Saturday, December 4, 2010

Life in a time of monsoon

The 25-year old wreck made of cengal

29 November 2010.

Going around Kuala Besut has led me to meetings with really fascinating people. This time, I met a man named Pak Eden. He goes around looking for old, abandoned boats, repairs them and sells them. He prepared five boats for U-Wei's latest movie, Hanyut. He offered to do up a small boat for me, an 25-year old wreck...but a beautiful wreck nonetheless, made of kayu cengal. I might take him up on that offer...who knows it will soon be displayed at my studio!

Later that afternoon we bade goodbye to Lan and Long and headed south to Batu Rakit where Awie's parents and his kids live. We stopped at Penarik, revisiting old haunts and did some waterclolours and pastels. Just some small sketches.

Painting the monsoon has taught me new lessons. I can't look at the landscape like i used to when I was doing the sunrise and sunset. The colours are not the usual.

Sometimes it's wet, no sun. Then, in some cases, like in penarik, it's bright and sunny and you get the colours and contrast and clear forms. I have to do something to show how different the light, colour and ambience are during this monsoon period. Maybe I will show this through the subject matter. I'm not sure yet. For now, I will just go along, observing and painting what I know -- the coconut leaves, the wind, the sounds, the morning activities, the sunrise, the food, the people...There's just too many places and things going on. I'm glad to have my camera to record all these as reference.

By the time we reached Batu Rakit, it was already dark. Awie's daugther is so pretty, she's about Musa's age. But his son, Saiful, is already in Sepang for his berkhatan with his cousin.

In front of Awie's house there stands a pokok rambai which is estimated to be more than 70 years old. In a few days' time, the village people are planning to cut it down. Great, timber for my sculpture! I'm making arrangements for someone to cut the pieces up and with the help of Awie's brother-in-law, we plan to take these back by lorry.

That night, we managed to get Ikan Lembat Salai, a delicacy here in Batu Rakit Darat. It's a seasonal fish, netted among the marshland only during the monsoon season when it's too rough to go out to sea. It's smoked to bring out the great flavours. That's for lunch tomorrow!

We woke up early next day and headed to the Batu Rakit beach to catch the sunrise. This time of the year, you get to see many fishing boats lined up next to each other on the sand -- a holiday for them and their owners. Still, if the weather permits, the brave ones go out to sea.

One of the last remaining British forts built during WW2.
And in the background, our trusty wheels!

The sunrise was cloudy and tiny drops were descending from the sky. You can't really see them but you feel the gentle rain on your skin. It's so cold and grey, and suddenly, the sun appeared! That's how it is here...the weather catches you by surprise and you never know what to expect from one minute to the next.

The locals here are forever grateful for any little bit of sunshine they can get during this period. At least, the clothes will dry. Funny, though, whether it drizzles or rain, you don't see anyone here carrying an umbrella. Nobody minds getting a little wet!

We later visited the famous Pasar Payang and got a batik shirt for a friend and a kain sampin for myself. After that, we went to Merang to do some sketching. The mood there is simply beautiful, especially the sunset during this tengkujuh time.

More photos here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Besut to Bachok

Pok Seng

After our harrowing journey from Pulau Perhentian Kecil, we made our base in Kuala Besut for a couple of days.

At the jetty, I took some photos of the place -- fishermen were repairing nets, some were just lepaking, the boats were bobbing quietly against each other...

One particular man caught my eye. An old Chinese fellow, probably in his 80s. As he walked around the area, it seemed like everybody knew him. I found out that he was an anak jati terengganu, having spent some time in batu rakit since 1947 and later moved to Kuala Besut in 1949. He works repairing boats and engines. His name was Pok Seng, and, boy, could he tell stories of Kuala Besut -- its history, the events that happened here.

According to him, in those days, there were no fancy technologies for fishermen to depend on. They only had their skills and simple observations of nature to rely on. Before going out to sea, they would literally "read" the signs in the air and the water. For example, the presence of many dragonflies foretold of the coming monsoon. Or counting the number of waves would reveal the exact moment to cut through the water to get to the rivermouth. And looking or putting their ears to the surface of the waters would enable them to identify what fish lay beneath.

He was quite a character!

An Abdullah Badawi lookalike

At noon, we had nasi kampung with ayam kampung goreng and the ulam-ulam that we brought with us. The day before, we had gulai itek, ikan keli masak lemak, ikan singgam, ikan tawar, budu ikan perkasam and lots of ulam. Delicious!After lunch I went to Tok Bali and to my surprise I saw the signboard to Bachok and Melawi. I didn't realise how close Bachok was to Kuala Besut. I used to live in Jelawat, Bachok, many years back in 1975 when I was in my mid-teens, with my eldest sister who was teaching in one of the schools there.

Monsoon in Melawi

So I re-visited the house we used to stay in and the beaches of Bachok, Pantai Irama. It has chaged so much. Pantai Irama used to be so clean and quiet -- I would go there almost every week. I realise now why I like to paint scenes of the beach and the sea. It has got something to do with my past experience there. Oh, but now, the beach is so dirty.

One of the specialities in Tok Bali is the pulut with ikan tawar (grilled ikan selayang). Very nice, but not good for me!

Boats at Tok Bali

More pictures here.