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Growing up in Trengganu by Awang Goneng

Growing up in Trengganu

by Awang Goneng

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There is a delicious irony about the fact that a book as distilled from memory and marinated in the rich spice of nostalgia as Awang Goneng’s Growing up in Trengganu
actually owes its existence to the electronic media. For this is one of Malaysia’s first “blooks” (as books based on a blogs or websites are known).

Awang Goneng is actually the nick of London-based veteran journalist Wan Ahmad Hulaimi who began Kecek-Kecek (which means “just chatting” in the dialect of Terengganu) as a way of recording what his childhood was like for his children who have grown up in Britain. The blog (which can still be read online at http://kecek-kecek.blogspot.com) would probably have remained online had it not been for proactive publisher Philip Tatham of Singapore-based Monsoon Books who contacted Hulaimi and asked him whether he thought there was a book there.

While the material has been re-editing and reorganized for print, the book retains many of the characteristics of the blog and I’d say is enhanced by this, rather than otherwise.

Just as the online reader drops by a blog casually and may read posts out of sequence, this is a book that can be dipped into at any point since each short piece is self-contained and satisfying, often flowing in stream-of-consciousness style from a thought or a photograph. This is not a book to be hurried through, but rather sipped slowly and relished.

Interaction with readers plays a very important part in shaping a blog, and Pak Awang (for so I shall call him) soon acquired a following of readers whom he credits with filling in gaps in his own recollection.

Not that he seems to have too many of those, for although he protests at one point that “The light of the present has limited recall when you open the door slightly to the dark back room of your past”, what amazes the reader is the detail in which he is able to render each scene, bringing vividly alive the sights, scents and tastes of his childhood.

Whether he’s describing listening to storyteller by lamplight, talking about how Trengganu-ites coped with the monsoon season, letting us in on the secrets of making the infamous anchovy sauce budu, ruminating on the role of chickens in kampong society, or describing a family Hari Raya, Awang Goneng proves himself an erudite and gently humourous companion, weaving personal recollection into the rich tapestry of everyday life of Terengganu of the period.

It is, though, the recollections of ordinary people, shopkeepers, hawkers, kampong folk, imams and teachers, each of them described with respect and love, none of them are too humble to be noticed, that most strikes a chord.

Another of the great delights of the book is the insights it gives into the “Trengganu speak”, a dialect (which I’ve always found impenetrable and mysterious) which has a word for everything, for “There are as many ways to speak as there are chairs for cats to scratch” as Pak Awang says.

While Growing Up in Trengganu is a book which is intensely personal it is also a stunning cultural record of a time and place greatly changed, and not necessarily improved, by “progress”. The crowds flocking to the launch of the book in Kuala Terengganu and to author events in KL have clearly taken the book and its author to their hearts. The book is now into its second reprint, just a few weeks after publication. That’s not bad going for a writer who hadn’t even thought about making a book from his blog! ( )
  bibliobibuli | Jan 3, 2008 |
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