All Quiet on the Western Front

It’s been just over two weeks since I’ve uprooted myself from KL and relocated the remnants of my life to a place called Umbai (not Mumbai, OK?). A sleepy little fishing village on the coast of Melaka, Umbai is located somewhere between Melaka town and Muar. On weekends, however, this sleepy hollow morphs into a hive of activity as folks from as far as KL and Singapore descend on it to savour its famous ‘ikan bakar’. By the time they leave (usually in wee hours of Monday morning), the local economy is richer by thousands of  ringgit.

By my estimates, Umbai has got a total population of maybe 238 at any one time (if you include any transients in the poll). Yes, it’s a low-density, quaint little place. As such, it is naturally very quite; maybe too quiet, even. As I write this, birds are chirping away on the balcony of my kampong house. It is almost bedlam. But that’s OK. In a minute or two, my recently acquired pet cat, Puteh (a white-ish mongrel who came around one day and decided not to leave), will come around chase them all away. Not to worry, though; the birds will be back. And Puteh will chase them away again – and so goes the cycle.

This is about as exciting as it gets in Umbai.

No, sir! I’m not complaining one single bit. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to hear myself think – and I’m blissfully soaking it all up. The only sound of engines I hear now is from the occasional fishing boat as it goes out to sea. And I’ve almost forgotten what its like to be pressured by life until my brains seep out of my ears. It’s like sitting back with a long, tall glass of iced lemon tea, watching life go by in slow motion.  The fabric of space-time is made of a different cloth here in Umbai. If I were any happier, they’d probably suspect me of doing drugs and throw me in jail.

Sure, there’s no Borders or Kinokuniya here in Umbai. The broadband connection is intermittent, at best. And the only air conditioning unit that still works is in the mamak barber-shop three kilometers down the road.

But what of it?

This gives me the opportunity to re-read (very carefully, this time) all the books I have acquired over the years. Air-conditioning? Nope! No need for that, either: the sea breeze here is strong enough to uproot the coconut trees! OK, if push comes to shove, I can always ride a bicycle to the mamak barbershop and get a haircut in an air-conditioned room (for a mind-blowing RM4.00!). And if I really need to email or upload something urgently, I’ll just take a leisurely drive to a spot about seven kilometers away where the connection is stonger.

So, do I miss KL? Yes – just about as much as a Roman-day Christian would miss the lions at the coliseum. But life goes on. People and institutions still need to be paid. I don’t think being in Umbai will change my work ethic much. I’ll still do all it takes to secure as many training gigs as I can – and when I do get one, I will go wherever it is I need to be (even KL).

But the only difference is coming home will really be like coming home.

28 thoughts on “All Quiet on the Western Front

  1. Sigh..always dream of staying in a real kampung not to mention a RM4 hair cut…me envy you.


    Living in a kampung has its high points. But its also got some low points: like when giant centipedes – big enough to kill a cat with one sting – find their way through the cracks.

    Still envy me, Elsie?

  2. ..don’t envy you, sir..for Bachok has all that, and maybe, more..but I am a retiree..where about the only excitement is chasing goats out of my garden..but you are a high-flying exec, where Umbai, and places like Umbai, is just a temporary time you’ll missed the adrenalin rush of a high-paced city and all its trappings..its not your time yet…cheers..


    There was a knee-jerk reaction to dispute all you said when I first read your comment. But then I realised that a man of your experience and wisdom ought to know what he’s talking about.So I thought about it.

    You may be right: all this may be just a temporary distraction.

    The moment I run out of my made-in-Liverpool Diamine blue-black ink and find that the local provision shop doesn’t carry the brand, I may get withdrawal symptoms. But the thing is, for a city-boy like me (raised and bred in KL all my life), I’m quite amazed that I have adapted quite well to the life of a pakcik kampung. Maybe its the change of pace. I dunno.

    But while I’m at it, I’ll just make the most of it. Who knows what tomorrow brings…

  3. MB, we found ourselves one night in Umbai, enjoying seafood galore. Our plans to return and have crabs didnt materialise but one day, one day Umbai, I shall return.

    Kak Teh

    My house is just a stone’s throw away from the ikan bakar place. Next time you are in the area, give me a heads up, OK? It’ll be good to get together.

  4. argh! i thought you were writing about the book.

    anyway, i is so jealous of you, living the idyllic life.


    No, ma’am. I am not writing about the book.

    Idyllic? Hmmm, isn’t that what we call something when we’ve (deliberately) left the bad bits out?

  5. Buddha described Nirvana as the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states. The subject is at peace with the world, has compassion for all and gives up obsessions and fixations.

    So Matt, r u looking for your Shangri La as in the Lost Horizon?

    Lost Horizon

    I tend to agree with Pakmat, that u r not ready as yet; I can sense u still got some fire in you to have another shot at the corporate world.

    All the best to u in whatever u decide,



    Like I told Pakmat, I, too, think that I may not be ready for this yet. I still sense the fire (somewhere) within me. But I just needed to get away from KL. It was either that or lose my sanity altogether.

    But Shangri La isn’t a bad ideal to pursue, eh?

    We’ll see how it all goes, my friend. I’ve learned long ago that the future is hard to predict. Not as hard as a woman – but still hard, nonetheless.

  6. I am so jealous. I won’t have lasted any more than two days max before I beg to go back to the bustle. *grins*


    As it is I’m not missing the city – at least, not yet. I think the song from the birds and the lyrical sound of the stream (river?) in front of my house as it flows into the sea that’s doing it.

    Then again, I’ve not been stung by a centipede yet…

  7. Mat B
    What are you doing in Umbai?
    Where’s the family?
    What’s happening?

    Apologies for sounding so kaypoh..

    puteri kamaliah

    Q: What are you doing in Umbai?
    A: I live here now.

    Q: Where’s the family?
    A: Here. They’ve always been here. Its just that I was in KL

    Q: What’s happening?
    A: Corny as this may sound, I’m here to find myself again – the person I used to be before my stint in KL changed me into whatever it is I am now. In short, to regain my sanity

  8. H * * W * * K A U!

    That’s ala Melaka Welcome, you! ..if you may still be wondering!

    Me? Can’t help wondering on your “..aahh, the peace HERE!..”

    I should wait for the next posting to have any inkling of what’s going on?

    Red Alfa

    “Hawau kau!” is probably one of the mildest greetings here in Umbai. Total strangers have used stronger ones on me – and we’re talking about just 2 or 3 meters outside the local surau! But that’s the way thing are here. Kind of endearing, tho.

    Yeah, I’ll be writing more about his place soon – and perhaps even as to why I am here now.

  9. Mat B

    Thank you for being so patient with this overbearing old lady. Happy I am, to know that you are. Keep us posted about what’s going on.. am beginning to like Umbai..:)

    puteri kamaliah

    You, an overbearing old lady? Lady, yes; overbearing, never!

  10. Grasshopper, you’ll be ready once you r able to snatch these pebbles off my hand….hahaha..


    If… only… you’d… stop… aaargh… closing… your… fist… aargh…. every time I… try… to snatch… aargh… those damned… pebbles!

  11. dear matb,

    in the event that pakmat and tommy are proven right, it’s still neat that you have your umbai to escape to for a change of pace.

    as unlikely as this may sound, given where i live, kl comes across as a frenzied place to me. of course, i may be getting a totally inaccurate picture from those msian blogs i follow. ;D


    Thanks, mekyam

    I can only guess where you may be right now but I reckon KL is pretty hectic. Perhaps not as hectic as the msian blogs make it out to be, but close.

  12. I am so very happy for you and your family.Before you know it Umbai will be a place of the peace and tranquility you’ve been yearning for after all the cobaans and dugaans elsewhere..

    You’ll feel so rejuvenated!



    Thank you, mamasita, for the kind wishes. I am slowly re-discovering the man I used to be (no, not a city-boy versus kampong-boy thinggy – something different). And it is refreshing.

    To be sure, there will always be dugaan and cobaan wherever we are; they are put there so that we can find ourselves

  13. Sir,
    I don’t really know you but if Umbai provide you the peace and tranquility you are looking for, good for you. I would love to run away somewhere and read all the books that I hope to read one day, complete reading those I have started and sit back, relax and contemplate what is going in the world. But alas my trailers are rather long, obligations aplenty and too many loved ones to be away from and am living on ‘extra time ‘ and past my shelf life.


    Salam. Thank you, NanaDJ.

    Yes, we all have our ‘trailers’. In my case, I am fortunate enough not to have to do a 9-to-5 kind of thing to earn a living, my children are very flexible and my wife is a gem. When something is meant to be, all the pieces will fall in the right places. I believe this is true for us all.

    But I also believe that none of are are past our shelf life.

  14. Bro,

    I was last in Umbai for ikan bakar in May 08. Would love to go there again sometime soon. Maybe we can meet up.


    It’s time to make another trip to Umbai, bro. I would love to meet up.

  15. Salaam Mr MB,
    How i wish i could do the same. Umbai is one one my favourate place for hanging out. The other being Marang. The Medan Ikan Bakar has lost its charm, unlike 15 years ago. D’Muara, used to be the favourite amongts sea-food lovers. Judging by the crowd, Parameswara (the one closest to the jetty) is the current choice.
    Prices are exhorbitant now and the food is of sub-standard. There are a few other places which offers better ikan bakar and of course the ‘must try’ kupang gorent cili.
    i hope one day, we can meet up. It’ll be my pleasure to buy you dinner.

    Take care


    You are right on all counts, bro. Paremeswara is now flavour of the month, the food is over-priced (the Singaporeans don’t think so, tho) and the dishes are somewhat sub-standard. But that’s OK. I didn’t come here for the food.

    Yes, bro. We should meet up. I look forward to stuffing some sub-standard ikan bakar into my face with you 🙂

  16. Wah, a change of pace and lifestyle. I can do with the ikan bakar and fresh seafood on a daily basis, too!


    Once in a while, ikan bakar is great. On a daily basis it will be a chore…

  17. Mat-san,

    Go where your heart takes you.But, don`t worry.Something tells me this not Deja vu yet for you.At this moment, Umbai is the escapism you direly need.So be it.May the “hijrah” enable you to get closer to yourself(if you know what I mean).

    For me, the perpetual challenge is to find an Umbai whereever I may be,even smack in the middle of a perpetually madding crowd.But, that in itself puts my feet firmly on the ground.



    The Umbai-wherever-I-am concept is brilliant. Someday, I will attain this, too. But I guess for now, a physical hijrah is more appropriate for my stage of development. Thanks for reminding me how things can and should be. You’re fast becoming one of the greatest sensei I’ve ever known

  18. ..the future harder to predict than a woman..?..beg to humbly disagree, sir..after 3 marriages, I can predict almost anything with a reasonable degree of success..but I have yet to meet a woman that I can..but, then, maybe I moved in different circles..cheers..


    Three marriages? You, too? Maybe we can start a club or something…

    But I’ve also heard people say, “Good things come in three’s”

  19. dear pakmat & matb,

    …the future is hard to predict. Not as hard as a woman…

    yeah, “enigma, your name is women!”

    i’d love to agree with you both. but just as i was about to revel, i read this in a friend’s fb:

    Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater, give her sperm she will make a baby, give her a house she will give you a home, give her groceries she will give you a meal, give her a smile she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what she is given. So if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit…

    so there, looks like we too bow to the law of GIGO, as they say in IT parlance. we’re not THAAT unpredictable after all. ;D


    Your friend’s FB entry contains a lot of truth. However, me being me, I’ve hung out for far too long on the wrong side of the tracks only to meet women who are exceptions to this rule. This has probably coloured my perception of women somewhat.

    I need to flush this self-ingested poison out of my system – and soon.

  20. dear raise your ire is not my intention..but now that I’ve done mitigation, I would like to state, unequivocally, that pakmat had always respect to point of fearing, the pliancy of steel found in a woman..I have faced it..tried to deal with it..and tried to come to terms with which case, it is this unpredictability that is both charming and this is crap to you..than a shelter I am now seeking…cheers..


    Its OK Pakmat. I think Mekyam is cool about all this

  21. OMG!
    I love the seafood there and the 50 nasi lemak!
    Lucky you !!!


    Tho Galing 68 feels the food at Umbai is sub-standard, I feel that the 50 sen nasi lemak is excellent. Is it just me or have you, too, noticed that the cheaper the nasi lemak, the better it tastes?

  22. Matt & Pakmat, see lah what u guys had done. I said don’t mess with that ‘New York Knickers’. Talk like she’s brought up in a Brooklyn neighbourhood, very tough one leh…hehehe.

    Haven’t u heard of that phase ‘Don’t get your boxers in a knot/twist whatever mah’…kakaka .Next time don’t give your women craps, ok, but give her lobster, she give u a nite to remember for the rest of your life. Luv that claws!

    Soli hah, TGIF mah!


    I never gotten my boxers (or Y-fronts) in a twist. Here’s why: I’ve been going commando (undergarment-free) since I was born 🙂

  23. Salam MB

    Dah jumpa ulau melingkau di balik pagau???!! hehe..

    Insanity : doing the same thing over & over again but yet expecting a different result.

    Change is good sometimes. Especially so when you desire a different result. Like regaining sanity

    Good luck & all the best 🙂

  24. aisay, pakmat, i was just quoting someone’s facebook entry tuh. this mek doesn’t do ire or tough-talking. 🙂

    surely you and tommy did not miss the grin & wink i ended my comment with.

    p.s. btw, the last time i was in a brooklyn nabe was june of last year, to enjoy the annual rose garden riot at the botanicals [3000+ species]. the hub & i actually had many “umbai” moments there, in spite of being assaulted by heady scents and all. 🙂

  25. Mat-san,

    I don`t deserve the accolades..honest to God!

    I`m just a simpleton with a big-sounding designation on the business card, and too much responsibilities and expectations at the workplace;whose basic personality, as the horoscope uncannily spells it, is one blessed with a high sense of humour,looks for balance, fairness and the aestethically beautiful in life, and regards intellect as the sexiest aspect in the opposite gander.

    Sensei?Me? No, my friend, even at my age, everyday is a wonderful learning curve.I am perpetually, therefore, a gakusei.

    My greatest shortcoming?So many things about this wonderful country are still pretty alien to me.For instance, until I read your posting, didn`t even know there is this place called Umbai.

    But, from that pix of yours, it does appear to be a wonderfully serene and melancholic place.The ideal tonic for a restless soul(mine too, my friend, mine too…could have very easily ended up with at least 3-okusan, if not more, like you & Pak Mat, if I had just been guided by the heart!Was it the right decision to have done otherwise and stay the way I am today? I don`t know, my friend, I don`and perhaps I will never know)


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