Going Native

At about 6.35 a.m. every morning, an Ah Pek – his face leathery with age and wisened by experience – putters by my house on his 30-year old Yamaha cub. He shouts, “Selamat pagi!” and I shout back, “Selamat pagi, tuan!” He smiles and makes like he wants to stop for a chat. But at the last moment he always seems to change his mind. He gives me a friendly wave and turns off into the direction of the jetty.

Maybe tomorrow he’ll actually stop for that chat. Or maybe tomorrow I’ll wait for him by the road and stop him. I don’t know. But unless he dies in his sleep tonight, I reckon that at 6.35 a.m. tomorrow he’ll be around again, passing by my house, on his way to wherever he needs to be.

It is already 6.45 a.m. and I am here on my balcony, shirtless and wearing only a sarong. Not too long ago, at about this time, I would have already been dressed in my business attire; choked by my purple power-tie, I’d be spewing all manner of expletives as I fought traffic on Jalan Semantan. I breathe a sigh of relief and light another Winston. There is no hurry. I don’t have to send the kids off to school till maybe 7.15 a.m. or so.

I hear a shy “Assalamualaikum”. I reply. It is Kak Kiah from next door. She is carrying a tiffin. She passes behind me, goes to the door and calls out to my wife. She hands her the tiffin and goes home. I say a polite thank you to her. No doubt she has come to share with us some of the food she had made earlier this morning. Tomorrow it will be my wife’s turn to return the favour.

My wife brings out the lontong that Kak Kiah has so kindly shared with us, together with a mug of steaming local white coffee. It is a far cry from the lightly browned toast, SCS butter, Chivers marmalade and Darjeeling tea that I have grown accustomed to. But I don’t seem to mind. There is something to be said about having lontong on your balcony as the birds chirp their hearts out not a metre away from you. It makes the world look like a less scary place.

The scent of lavender scented talcum powder wafts out of the house. It’s the signal that my kids are ready to go to school. I quickly polish off the rest of the lontong and coffee, slip on a tee-shirt and kopiah, and start the car. As I check the car’s instrument panel for any tell-tale signs of trouble, I see my children lugging their overloaded school bags kiss their mother’s hand. They pile into the car and off we go.

On the trip back, I notice that I have not changed into a pair of pants – I am still wearing a sarong. But like almost everything else here in Umbai, that’s OK. I smile and thank God for his blessings.

Its time to light up another Winston.

29 thoughts on “Going Native

  1. Salam tuan.

    Ungkapan tuan di atas benar-benar mengembalikan kenangan saya kepada kehidupan saya suatu ketika dahulu. Menjadi seorang kakitangan di pejabat, its always “I’m late, I’m late – Hurry Up!” and all those yang sewaktu dengannya.
    Now, being self employed, I have all the time to reflect on what’s my life priorities are and had the luxury to smell some roses along the way.
    But the catch…more headache on where my next pay check is coming from…


    When I changed my mindset to “My pay cheque comes from Allah s.w.t; the employer/client is only the forwarding agent“, things became easier. But of course, this must first be preceded by doa, usaha and tawakkal.

    All the best to you, ma’am.

  2. Oh Gawd.. how quaint.. Do you know that saya sebak baca this posting, mengingatkan zaman kanak-kanak dan orang kesayangan yang dah tiada. I’m sorry, didn’t mean to put a damper on things…goes to show how your writing touches me so..

    puteri kamaliah

    I didn’t mean to make you sebak, ma’am. And no, you didn’t put a damper on things; I’m touched that my writing touches at least one heart out there.

  3. Yunno, Mat B, somehow the phrase “going native” never fails to conjure mental images of tarzan-like persons in their teeny-weeny tarzan clothes, strutting their huge tarzan man-boobs and with hands clenching the sides of their tarzan six-packs.

    But thanks to your eye-opening post, I now realised what some people have been saying all this while about stuff that “…are tools of the West that can erode Malaysian culture”

    So, next time whenever someone says “going native”, I must remind myself to equate it to laid-back, friendly surroundings with men in sarongs smoking Winstons. *smiles*


    No, no, no! In my case, going native can hardly be associated with the picture of a chippendale dancer wearing a leopard loincloth. No matter how much I would like it to be so, my subconscious just balks at the untruth.

    But its a nice fantasy that I entertain every once in a while – for maybe a second or two before reality seeps in 🙂

  4. Yes, Mat B!

    Your stories in today’s posting come to my mind ole satchmo singin’ his wet gravel ly “what a wonderful world”.

    Now I am wondering why! Enough that its so nice that we are all keeping happy!

    Red Alfa

    That’s right sir… as long as we are all keeping happy…

    Until we can be happy wherever we might be, we’ll have to find that place where we can be happy.

    (How am I doing Higashi-san sensei?)

  5. I am going to check out where this Umbai place is, never heard of it (I katak di bawah tempurung), but you made kampung living sounds so…how to put it…tranquil. Btw sir, a centipede was crawling on my bed a month back, and I stay in a BIG city 😉


    Umbai is OK-ish: not exactly on the beaten track but not off the map either.

    How did you dispose of the centipede ma’am? Over here I’ve discovered that Puteh (the cat that came to stay) eats them! Hence, the centipede population in my house has pretty much dwindled. Oh, she loves her tuna flavoured Whiskas. But she also enjoys the occasional centipede every now and then.

  6. Thank you for such a beautiful description. It brings me back to that chapter in Salina by Samad Said, where he describes life in Kampong Kambing. You go a step further and juxtapose it with the life you left behind. Beautiful indeed.

    Kak Teh

    Wow! To be spoken of in the same sentence as Samad Said! You give me more credit than I deserve ma’am. Still, its good for the ego! 🙂

  7. MatB, most likely that the apek was expecting to be asked “nak kemane tooo pek????”. This was what I observed during my balik kampung trips when I was a little girl. It was Ok to be busybody and ask, even though you’d get the same reply each time. I don’t think things have changed much 🙂


    What was I thinking! See? I’m still very much the insensitive Neanderthal I used to be. I can be a social idiot at times.

  8. You must be having a good time at Umbai, sir. I assume you were sitting on a rocky chair (kerusi malas) while having a wonderful puff of Winston before come out with this. This gives me some “lega” aura, as lega as wearing sarong!

    Sir Pok Deng

    I sure am! Lega doesn’t even begin to describe it. That also reminds me: I must get me a rocking chair one of these days…

  9. Mat B,
    How beautiful and quaint, your description of your idyllic life make me want to chuck everything and find my own place in the sun. Maybe someday…
    Enjoy your wonderful haven.


    You will, ma’am. You will.

  10. .. I closed my eyes and saw the life that you painted..and I see myself, kopiah, sarong and all..’cept the Winston..which should go well with a sombrero..other than that, lontong is a nice variation to Chivers and cheese..but even in rustic Umbai, a breakfast with Campbell Mushroom Soup and toast will not in anyway deprived it of its charm..maybe you’d go and stoke that remnant of a fire in the big city.. maybe you won’t..if you do, Umbai will always be a retreat..but if you don’t..well, you’ll still have the WWW, and the signal is strong at a point 7km away…cheers..


    After reading your comment I immediately acquired a craving for Campbell’s mushroom soup. I cycled to the local provision shop and found that they’d never hear of of the stuff. Maybe tomorrow I’ll cycle to Teluk Mas (3 km down the road, where the air conditioned barber shop is) and try my luck again.

    I’m sure they carry it in Melaka town. But right now I don’t feel like driving that far 🙂

  11. ey… tangga batu! best… used to slide down the rail (when my weight was as light as the feather ler! )

    all sounds very good for regaining sanity – except for the winston puff (dah nama pun ‘Ibu’ kan? ada jer nak berleter…kah!kah!)

    p/s Tesco Mcca ada jual soup campbell maaa…. sepelaung je tu.


    Tesco Melaka sepelaung dari Umbai? That must be quite a loud shout 🙂

    Good to hear from you again, ma’am

  12. darn it matb, reading you has made me soppy. so like it or not, you’ll just have to bear this mush below:

    the paths of life bend this way and that
    as we march on to we know not where.
    for ’tis the roam,
    not the reaching home,
    that pleasures the push of getting there.

    like serengeti herds and migrating birds
    to primordial instincts we bow.
    we pause where we may
    without meaning to stay,
    for our life’s joy is in our now.

    the thing is unpolished and hasn’t a title yet, but it’s inspired by the thought that anyone who knows that the journey is the destination has probably arrived… well at least, in umbai. 🙂


    I’m speechless, ma’am. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing it here. My gratitude knows no bounds.

    Please, ma’am, if you are a published and award winning poet, please do to tell us. I’ll buy up all your works – if the others here don’t beat me to it first.

    I am humbled in your presence.

    – UPDATE –
    I’ve printed your poem and now it is on the wall in front of my study table – the only poem there.

  13. Hey Matt, if ever u make make a movie about this sea/tree change of yours, can I play the role of that Ah Pek doing wheelies on his Yamaha cub….hahaha.

    Since u have all the time in the world now away from the hustle & bustle, u can throw away your Winston & start rolling your own. Have u consider a pipe too? Then u can even grow & smoke your own ‘tembakau’ 🙂


    P/S – Wow, I can imagine the freedom u get by going ‘commando’ in your sarong..hehehe. It can get very embarrassing sometimes!


    You are a riot! BTW not far from here (where my wife hails from) there is a place called Bukit Tembakau. No, sir. There is no tembakau there – be it the normal or hallucinogenic kind.

    And yes – real men go commando when wearing sarongs.

  14. You seem to have adapted very nicely, and comfortable with it too, Mr B. Alhamdulillah.
    Now, if you would just substitute your Winston with rokok daun…

    Your wife and your children… you will let us get to know them too, yes?

    Good that you are happy, Mr B.


    I’m slowly finding my footing here, ma’am… slowly but surely.

    Write about my wife and kids? I don’t see why not.

  15. Go easy on Mr Winston ay! The world still needs few good men like you 🙂


    What you say about the Winstons is the truth, my friend. And the world does need its good men. However, I don’t know if I qualify 🙂 But I really appreciate that you think so.

  16. Salam Mr.B,

    Your story has made me very inspired indeed. Haha. I will be graduating this summer, after which I will get hauled back to Malaysia, serve the country and whatnots. I had been feeling slightly miserable at the thought of going back to KL. London is too awesome to be left behind – with its pay cheque and beautiful weathers. But, your story just brought a hope, a smile and a yearning to be where I belong – home in Malaysia. Perhaps I will sell my soul for the next 2 decades to corporate world before I too, take a retreat in kampung. Can I say, I could hardly wait for that? Masak2 for suami and anak2 with birds chirping and cat eating lipan sounds amazing.

    You make kampung sound so cool 😉 It’s like reading Kampung Boy by Lat.

    Salam Kautsar

    To paraphrase Mekyam, home is where we leave our heart. In our case, I think a small piece of both our hearts have taken root in London.

    Though it may not look to be so now, coming back to Malaysia isn’t really as bad as it appears to be. You, too, will find your Umbai, Kautsar. But make no mistake: peace is not found exclusive only in kampungs; peace is that place where you can be who you are and be accepted for it.

    Just an old legal soul sharing his thoughts with a young, promising one…

  17. OMG, is that your house???
    It’s something I fantasize living almost all my life.
    I know, I know…I’m from concrete jungle SG and I used to draw houses like this and hand them up to my teachers in the 80s during art class. You lucky bloke gets to live in one of those.

    A trip to Umbai seafood is due soon for me. 😛


    No, ma’am. That’s just a pic i nicked off the Internet: I don’t even own a camera! Alas, my home is rickety old shack that’s got centipedes crawling through the cracks.

    I, too, came from a concrete jungle, ma’am. Its a wonder that I have adapted at all. I guess a full security condo with gym facilities, a landscaped pool and all sorts of other amenities is no damn good if the heart is not at peace in such a place.

    No,I am not knocking the city nor am I advocating the kampung life. I am just advocating peace of mind. Sometimes its found in the city; sometimes in the kampung. I guess it all depends on what life has made of us.

  18. aisay, thank YOU, mat! i’m the one humbled and honoured and beyond flattered to get that kind of reaction to my own reaction.

    oh no, i’m not a published anything [unless one counts that thing called dissertation, required by institutions to formally foist some of us on an unsuspecting world]. not even a blog, as a few probably noticed.

    i verse mostly for fun – my own. occasionally though, it’s to relieve some urge to purge. words that is, and in odd spasms.


    The pleasure, ma’am, is mine.

  19. Mr B,

    Many-many congratulations on the move! I selalu balik Melaka. Hub’s kampung is in Alai. Many moons ago, we lived in Duyung. I didn’t think i would enjoy Melaka but I did then. I still do, whenever we “balik kampung”. Pass me yer number. lets meet up!


    What a small world! Your hubs hails from Alai? Alai is down the road from Umbai, innit?

    You used to live in Duyung? Then our paths must have crossed – I used to live in Ayer Molek from ’95 to ’03. Yes, ma’am, I’ll email you my number soon. I’ll look up your email address from your blog.

  20. What a life!!! So unhurried, so unharried.

    Baju pun tak perlu basuh banyak-banyak ….. hehehe.


    Nak basuh apa? Baju pun tak pakai…

    Betul lah, if I go any slower, I’ll be standing still.

  21. Alamak MatB, Ayer Molek’s my mum’s kampong – Batu 6 setengah I think is the address. I guess I have relatives from the Simpang right up to Tiang Dua. I’ve not heard my mum speaking of a Mat Bangkai though, but she did mention Mat Dabal (Double) a couple of times 🙂


    You hail from Melaka? That explains the feisty streak I notice every once in a while.

    I know the general area of your mum’s kampong – and I think I’ve heard the name Mat Dabal being mentioned a couple of times. But nobody will know Mat Bangkai: its a persona I took on when I started blogging some three years back.

    Anyways, I used to live in Taman Desa Molek. In fact, I was one of the first few who moved into that housing estate when it was completed in 1995.

    You planning on visiting Melaka any time soon, ma’am?

  22. Hi Mat B,

    Your recent posts on your new-found home – Umbai, what a breath of fresh air! But what most captured my heart – not the least, the serenity of kampung life – were the endearing terms used when you made references to your wife and
    kids. You said, and I quote “…. my children are
    very flexible and my wife is a GEM”. I find that
    very…. ermm … very sexy! 😀 In my book, sexy
    is the man who thinks the world of his wife
    It’s official Mat B – Umbai is bringing out the best in you. I’d say keep going… 🙂

    Pat Ong

    I’ve been accused of many things, ma’am – but never sexy 🙂 I like! I like!

    Yes, it does seem that my new life is having a positive impact on me. Just hope that life doesn’t throw me another curve ball…

  23. “…slip on a tee-shirt and kopiah…”

    i terbatuk2 la bang. entah knapa la… :p


    Must be the “…slip on a tee-shirt and kopiah…” bit. Its a big jump from a Brioni suit to a Hong Xiang 9999 brand viscose (Pagoda-type) tee-shirt. Oh, and the kopiah didn’t help much either, eh? 😉

  24. Zedra,

    Arwah Hj.Mat Dabal is my late great grand dad.He pass away a very long time ago.In 1967 if I am not mistaken.Are you by any chance related to Arwah Cikgu Mat?Cousin of Cikgu Fatimah and her brother Cikgu Yatim?Were you recently at the majlis daughter of Cikgu Fatimah marriage at Air Molek?Are you in Liverpool at present.

  25. With Permission Bro,

    Ok Kak Zendra,after browsing your blog,that explain everything.
    Noted Mum.

    AlFatiha to almarhum Pak Long Hassan.
    Well Respectable learned gentleman by all.


  26. Salam MatB, i need to ask this of Pak Tuo, does the name Dak-Wel ring a bell? 😉

    As salam Zendra

    I think I know the answer to this, ma’am. But it would be more appropriate for Pak Tuo to tell you himself.

    Have yourself a good weekend, ma’am.

  27. MatB, when you mentioned Taman Desa Molek, straightaway Pak Tuo’s mom came to mind. She’s one outstanding lady – my mum’s niece, at the same time my dad’s cousin.

    And Pak Tuo (tumpang yer Mat) you’re the person whose name I’ve heard mentioned every now and then but have yet to meet! We’ll have to one of these days.

    MatB, thanks very much for making this discovery possible. I have a sneaky suspicion that there’s “bacang aroma” between us too. Is there? 🙂


    There is no immediate genealogy between Pak Tuo and me. We met in London all those years ago (in the days girls were still swooning over Duran Duran) and became friends… no, we became brothers.

    And by default, that also made his mum – through no fault of her own – my mum :-). Yes, ma’am. His mum is one formidable lady. And I suspect, so are you.

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