Book Review: A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside


To be candid, I bought “A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside” (AFLACB) because someone had mentioned it in a comment made to this blog quite some time ago. With a title like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? So, when I found a copy on shelf E6 of Kinokuniya, I wasted no time in grabbing it, plonking my money down at the cashier, and rushing off home for a good read.

Perhaps I should not have been too hasty.

From the cover, I was able to tell AFLACB was not (as I thought it would be) a compendium of tasteless jokes. Instead, it was plainly obvious that it was a book about soldiers and the military. I also noticed that the book was originally published by Greenhill Books in 1996, but my copy was actually a 2003 imprint by a Singaporean company called Cultured Lotus. “Hmm… what made this book so interesting to a bunch of Singaporeans?” I thought. I needed to know. So, I dived in.

AFLACB is about the adventures of a British army officer by the name of JP Cross, who incidentally, also wrote the book. The author served in Malaya (as it was called then) from 1948 to 1971 – so far, my kind of guy. As far as I could see, this book deals with three stages of the author’s life during the period in question.

The first part is about the author’s life as a company commander in the Gurkha regiment of the British army. This first part revolves around his exploits in countering the Communist terrorist threat in northern Perak and Kelantan. This is gripping stuff and takes us on his three extended and gruelling excursions into the jungle to eliminate a Communist leader by the name of Ah Soo Chye.

These operation took a toll on Cross especially when he lost his fiancée who left him because he had to go on operations on the very day they were supposed to get married! Nothing, it seems, can get between the author and his duty to Her Majesty the Queen.

In these adventures, we also get to meet several colourful Temiar aborigine characters like Mudak, Kerinching and Senagit who appear – off and on – to help the author rid Malaya of the Ah Soo Chye menace. There is also a Temiar headman whose name – curiously enough – was Helwood! How cool is that?! Anyway, did Cross, in the end, manage to snuff-out Ah Soo Chye? You’ll have to read the book, kiddo…

The second part of the book deals with his posting to Borneo (as it was called then) during the Confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia. In the main, his tour of duty in Borneo was to revamp an indigenous fighting unit known as the Border Scout. During this period, Cross was practically wearing four distinct hats: a major in the British army and also as a Superintendent in no less than three police forces – Royal Malaysia Police, Sabah Constabulary and Sarawak Police Force. This is the only guy who has the distinction of having been a soldier and a policeman at the same time!

In any case, reading of his adventures, I came across an interesting fact: It involves being given a monkey skin hat by the headman of a long house. What does this entitle the recipient to? You’ll have to read the book, mate!

The final part of the book involves the author’s stint as head honcho of the Jungle Warfare School in Ulu Tiram, Johor. While it is widely known that he school trained soldiers of many armies from the Commonwealth, it is less known that it also trained soldiers from Laos, Thailand and also – South Vietnam! Of course, I don’t think this had anything to do with them losing to the Vietcongs. South Vietnam fell – I think – not because of weapons or tactics: They lost because of politics. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

What were my impressions after reading the book? Cross, it struck me, is the consummate professional soldier; albeit a bit on the eccentric side. He is multi-lingual, multi-faceted, multi-skilled – multi everything – sort of like Rambo, but with a brain. I always imagined that an officer of the British army would be cut from this mould. Further, it is apparent from the book that he has tremendous respect for the professionalism, courage, discipline and fighting spirit of the Gurkha regiment.

However, his biggest enemy was often not the opposing army or bands of insurgents that prowled the border areas. Most of the time, his real enemy was departmental (regimental?) bureaucracy, bungling politicians and simple old-fashioned stupidity on the part the powers that be.

Is there anything else I can add? Hardcore Malay nationalists (read: those very few right-wing fanatics who live on the fringes of neo-fascism) are well advised to steer clear of this book. Cross makes no bones about making several rather uncomplimentary comments about the Malays, the Malay Regiment and also the concept of Malaysia. This probably explains why the Singaporean publisher was so interested in this book.

But for the rest of us, this book will provide several hours of reading pleasure, especially when accompanied with a nice pot of Darjeeling and some freshly made scones. It does provide an alternative insight (justifiable or otherwise) into how things were at the time.

So, what does the title, “A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside” have to do with all this? It was the author’s nickname when he served on these shores.

Title: A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside
Author: J P Cross
ISBN: 981-04-6330-8
Price: RM29.90 (or something like that)


21 thoughts on “Book Review: A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside

  1. Why a chicken’s backside?Why not something more prominent like a decent bulldog’s or a llama’s?I have not observed chicken backsides since they prepackaged chicken into biteable sizes; so quite lost as to the euphemism.

    And why would the East End criminal or as you called him..a chicken backsides?

    Are you inferring to some events running through the Malaysian courts now concerning a prominent political figure? So..finally you can’t resist the lure of so-po blogdoom.


    Dunno really, that was how the author titled the book. Come to think of it, I can’t say I have ever seriously inspected a chicken’s backside of late. But I suppose I get the idea, though – it ain’t a pretty view.

    Nah, this was simply a dumb-ass book review. Anyway, what’s going on in the Malaysian courts regarding a prominent political figure? These thing are lost on me.

    Ah! But as I said, I’m just too simple-minded for sopo blogging.

  2. u r seriously not aware of the prominent politician on trial for a bit of the old shirt lifting?

    u certainly need a prod on ur backside to get urself updated on current events…read the Sun man..its FOC at all 711 , thin but thick enough to double as an Aedes swatter in the evenings with ur darjeelings ;but not ur darlings tho.

    So how was Ms Tomei?


    But seriously, sir, I never read the papers! People keep telling me that I should, but I never do. I’m just a dumbo that way.

    Actually, the suggestion that newspapers can double-up as an Aedes swatter is a good one.

    Ms Tomei? She turned out to be a lady. In other words, nothing happened.

  3. Dumb-ass review? Naah, dumb-ass reviews are those unpalatable hyperboles dished out in such convoluted lingo that you’d need a dictionary to make sense of what was said. This is as simple and unpretentious as they come.

    Puteri Kamaliah

    But frankly, since I’m seldom capable of even spelling ‘hyperbole’, I guess I have been fortunate enough (though inadvertently) not to have fallen into that trap. Phew!

    Thanks, ma’am.

  4. Thanks for the review. I’m still stuck at page 10.

    the former Scout Finch

    the-plagiarist/scout finch

    Oh, it was you! Actually it became a small obsession for a while coz I could not find it in the shops – until now, of course.

    I rather enjoyed the book. I take it you didn’t? Not your cup of tea, huh?

    Have a good day, ma’am.

  5. Yup Abg Kai (may I call you that?), I must say Cross had a cute face during his hey-day, just like a chicken’s behind. But, for me, due to the proximity to the bird’s nether region and it’s hangat-hangat product, I would always cut that blessed piece off and throw it away first thing, whenever I cook chicken. And for the distaste the title evokes, I’ll give the book a pass, thank you


    That’s OK. You can call me anything you like. Everyone else does! 🙂 I’ve been called many nasty things – and so, Abg Kai is a nice change.

    I don’t blame you for being turned off by the title. It is a bit too provocative.

    Thanks for visiting, ma’am

  6. MB This is my kind of book. Been meaning to get it. But I have several that I need to do before this chicken backside one. Most that I have read have been quite complimentary – so it will be interesting to read this one. Oh, did you get the one I mentioned in my blog earlier? by GED Lewis. Out in the East, in Peninsular Malaysia – or something like that. Quite entertaining actually given Lewis’ dry humour.

    Kak Teh

    Yes, ma’am. This one was not as complimentary as the others. Interesting point of view, though.

    No, I have not git GED Lewis’ book yet – but I am on the lookout for it.

  7. Mat

    Judging the book by its cover, eh?

    To say those things, Cross must have been crossed.

    The poor Gurkha retirees – some get pension, some do not, some get less than others. Those retirees in London are trying to get these irregularities sorted out. Bukan di Malaysia aje ada problem.

    Dry humour

    Indeed, sir. He generally sees all things Malay with disdain. Whether rightfully so or not is another question.

    Betul tu. Problem niada di mana-mana.

  8. Mat B, before I forget; I love chicken backsides! Bishop’s nose, as the Brits call it (don’t know where that one comes from). My late mom used to tell me that throughout her pregnancy (of me of course), she walloped countless deep-fried pungkok ayam…. Now you go figure ..(sighh..)

    Puteri Kamaliah

    So you inherited your love for the Parson’s nose (as the Irish call it) from your mother’s predilection for the stuff while she was carrying you.

    Hmmm… I wonder what my dad was obsessed with when my mother was carrying me?

  9. “Hardcore Malay nationalists (read: those very few right-wing fanatics who live on the fringes of neo-fascism) are well advised to steer clear of this book. Cross makes no bones about making several rather uncomplimentary comments about the Malays, the Malay Regiment and also the concept of Malaysia. This probably explains why the Singaporean publisher was so interested in this book.”

    LOL. Ok this Singaporean is laughing already.
    I want to read the book. But I morphing into a Malay nationalist by the day, I think ( konon! ). If I buy the book, will my PR application be put on hold, sir?


    Somehow, I don’t think Kementerian Dalam Negeri has read the book. So, I reckon your PR application will be safe.

  10. Hi Matt,

    When I was young in a kampong, I used to observe in detail the movement of a chicken backside (Don’t ask me why…I don’t know. Perhaps the same reason as the first guy that squeezes milk from the cow’s tits). It’s fascinating how they look like the human lips chewing on tobacco. Try lah if u don’t believe me.

    Anyway, I heard an old Chinese folklore that states that chicken backside when eaten is good for the skin texture & complexion, better than those anti wrinkle cream they sell nowadays. I’m sure Puteri can attest to that, betul kah, mem?

    Thanks for the book tip; I’ll send a copy to my buddy “the Hardcore Malay Nationalist” sopo blogger, just to stir him up. It’ll definitely be worth the RM29.95 + P&H to see him go into a frenzy hissy fit…hehe…’priceless moment”




    I’d like to see your buddy’s face, too, when he reads the book. Its amazing what RM29.0 can buy these days!

  11. Tumpang lalu Mat B

    Hahahaha Tommy..! nanti lah one day we’ll have coffee togeder2 with Mat B et al.. then I’ll give you the ‘privilege’ of examining my muka’s skin texture, see got smooth smooth or not..LOL 🙂

  12. you paid 29.90 for the book?

    i paid only rm5 and it was not from a second-hand bookstore.


    You mean you bought it for RM5.00 from a regular bookshop? Just exactly where is this bookshop, ma’am? I’ll start buying books from there from now on.

  13. I thought it is like this joke I read in blog Husin Lempoyang here/a>. I think it is abt your former boss cum ole school buddy ‘s friend. You shd checkout this blog. Anyway let me extract the funny part …

    Al kisah yang tidak diketahui kesahihan ceritanya, dalam satu lawatan ke Jepun anjuran Kementerian Pembangunan Usahawan dan Koperasi (pendikan dulu KPUN tetapi sekarang KPUNDEK), Dato Khalid Nordin telah dapat bertemu dengan seorang Industrialis Jepun yang menunjukkan minat untuk melabur ke WPI.

    Selepas berbincang panjang, dia telah dijemput pada petang hari untuk ke sebuah rumah Geisha. Jangan salah faham Geisha bukan pelacur tetapi penghibur tradisi. Kalau kamu tidak kaya dan orang Jepun tempatan, bukan boleh dapat masuk rumah Geisha. Di rumah Geisha, tetamu akan dijamu makanan dan minuman, dan dilayani serta di hiburkan oleh Geisha. Mereka ini pandai mempersembahkan kesenian Jepun.

    Selepas puas makan dan dihibur dengan persembahan kesenian Geisha, Industrialis itu mengajak Khalid berehat dan urut di kemudahan Spa tradisional Jepun yang merupakan sebahagian rumah Geisha itu. Khalid bersetuju.

    Mereka bangun bersama teman Geisha dan ikut tuan punya rumah Geisha itu atau kita panggil mamasan, membawa dia ke bahagian Spa. Sampai-sampai di bilek persalinan, teman Geisha membantu dia salin pakaian ke seluar pendek dan robe. Dia pun berendam dalam air panas gunung berapi, dan mengeluarkan peluh dalam steam room dan bilek panas. Selesai dan rehat rasa otot-otot, dia pun mandi dan teman Geisha membantu dia tukar pakaian ke kimono untuk berurut.

    Geisha membawa dia kebilik sendirian. Sebelum dia memanggil masseur, dia suruh Khalid bersedia telanjang dan tiarap di atas katil. Khalid pun buat seperti yang disuruh. Tidak berapa minit, seorang masseur wanita masuk dan bila Khalid menoleh untuk melihat cantik ketidak, dia tiba-tiba tersipu-sipu dan lari keluar.

    Datang lagi seorang masseur wanita lain, dia meletakkan ubat-ubat dan minyak-minyaknya. Semasa dia baru nak melumurkan minyak ke badan, Khalid menoleh untuk hendak bertanya sesuatu tapi sebenarnya nak tengok lawa ke tidak. Sekali lagi masseur tu tersipu-sipu ketawa dan bergegas keluar membawa ubat-ubat dan minyaknya meninggalkan Khalid.

    Khalid menjadi birang dan memanggil mamasan. Dia memberitahu peristiwa yang sudah berlaku. Mamasan tunduk-tunduk dan beberapa kali membongkok-bongkok memintak maaf dan memberi jaminan tidak sepatut berlaku. Dengan segera, dia keluar dan hiruk pikuk kedengaran dari bilik Khalid suara Jepun ni memarahi anak-anak buahnya. Tiba-tiba hilang suara bising dan di ikuti dengan ketawa.

    Khalid heran dan tertanya-tanya di dalam hati. Apa sudah berlaku? Bila dia akan dapat di urut? Tidak lama kemudian, masuklah mamasan itu sambil berbongkok hormat. Dia meminta maaf dan menawarkan seorang masseur lelaki. Khalid tidak mahu lah kerana dia nak merasa juga jari jemari lembut wanita Jepun mengurutnya. Dia bertanya kenapa?

    “Sori sir, I think very difficult. Japanese girl cannot concentrate to work when they giggle” jawab mamasan itu dengan pelat Jepun yang pekat.

    “Whats wrong with me to make them giggle uncontrollably”, jawab Khalid yang sebagai lawyer mempunyai kebolehan bahasa Inggeris tetapi cakapnya masih ada pelat banjo.

    Sambil menunduk ke bawah dengan hormat, mamasan itu menjawab dengan perlahan-perlahan:

    “Apologise again sir. The girl cannot stop laughing because when you turn your head, the girl said your face look like your ass”.

  14. MB,
    It’s RM39.90 at MPH Online. Errr which bookstore offer RM29.90?

    RM5 at the 2nd hand bookshop? Where?

    Pak Guard

    RM29.90 at Kinokuniya KLCC – try shelf E6

  15. Excuse me Matt, sorry to make u feel like a lamp post..haha…

    Hmmmm Puteri, what’s the open & close inverted comma on privilege for?? Does that mean I can ‘feeling’ nothing more than feeling, better not else I get too carried away..hehe..”Can see but cannot touch, ok I understand.’ else I’m likely to be a candidate for ‘Bobbitting’ by your gang :). U still in Singapore?

    Coffee? can lah maybe at The Raffles Hotel’s Writers’Bar’ where u & Matt can draw some inspiration from it’s colonial days ambience. Many great writers/novelists had grace that hotel lah. Got history mah.

    Have a great day,mem, u 2 Matt!



    A nice gin & tonic (or two) at the Writer’s Bar of the Raffles hotel is almost too tempting to contemplate… (sigh)

  16. A Face Like a Chicken Backside … muka macam bontot ayam.

    It’s the malay equivalent of being called a c*nt-face, if anyone’s wondering.

    As for Cross’ opinions of the RMR etc, the difference between fighting units has always been professionalism, discipline and level of innovation/adaptation to what the enemy does.

    As in corporations and companies … it all boils down to the leadership.

    And that is the main reason why ARVN lost to the NVA.


    Absolutely, sir. The NVA were fighting a cause they believed in, and they had good leaders who were able to rally and inspire them. This, of course, is my reading of what went down. I could be, however, be very mistaken about all of this.

    But even if I am, I don’t think I’m too far off the mark

  17. Mat-san,

    I`ll gladly keep you company at that Writer`s Bar @ Raffles Hotel.But gin and tonic is a little bit off my street now.That seemingly-eternal raging fire of rebelliousness and restlessness inside me has finally simmered down.These days,it`s the Savigne Blue vintage white for me,nursed very,very slowly over a long,deep and meaningful conversation.Very therapeutic for the nerves, and the soul.

    You wouldn`t mind that, would you?And kindly allow me to pick up the tab.

    Here`s to you!Voila!


    You have painted a lovely picture; one I may not be able to resist for very long.

  18. i was lucky. i was walking around aimlessly hidden by the mountains of books all around me and my eyes caught a lone copy of a face like chicken’s backside and i thought hey that book must be about me.

    it was at the times warehouse sale a year or perhaps two ago.


    Aha! Warehouse sale! Now, why didn’t I think of that?

    But come to think of it, the MPH one I went to last year wasn’t really that cheap. There were bargains to be had, though – but the titles went along the lines of “101 ways to stop smoking” or “Make your own bra for less than 25 pence”

    You’ve probably figured out that these titles would be useless to me.

  19. This blog veering dangerously into so-po blogdoom Sir.
    Need your intervention with further insights of Ms Tomei to bring us all back to the right path,



    *Gasp* Oh, no! Am I being slowly seduced by the Dark Side? No! No! Help!

    This has probably already gone beyond Ms Tomei’s sphere of influence. I’m going to need Yoda to help me see the light again; to bring me back into sync with the Force.

    *in soft receding echoes* “No, not so-po blogging! Please, not so-po blogging…”

  20. Read this book in 2000, borrowed it from Sembawang Library in Singapore.Can truly relate to it , as my late father while in PDRM fought the CTs in the 50s and 60s, then my turn to do the same, as I did my time, 14 years serving in the Malaysian Army, searching and fighting the same enemy.I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, there is no other country like ours, British Malaya and then Malaysia.Remember one story about the author and the chief of the local native tribe in the Perak jungle, the author describing how the clan keep track of time, making seven knots on a string or rope, then untie each individual knot each day , to remember a meeting that will take place in a week, or something like that.I strongly recommend this book to serving and ex-members of the Malaysian Armed Forces and everyone who love everything military.

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