When one reminisces or writes about Kuala Kangsar it would not be complete without mentioning Kuala’s own ‘Riviera’, perched on the bank of Sungai Kangsar (or Kangsor to you and I), just before the gerotak (bridge). To courting couples, this part of Kuala was seen to be the restaurant de l’amour, and for it was here that Malay College boys would strut in their all-whites and long socks, showing off to the lasses of GEGS (Government English Girl School, now Sekolah Menengah Raja Perempuan Kelsom) much, of course, to the ire of us Cliffordians! Originally it was just Restoran Pak Kassim with its famous mee rebus, laksa Pak Ngah and ais kacang. The ‘Riviera’ itself was ideally located because it was next to the bazaar, the prime shopping centre of Kuala Kangsar then, before it was demolished.
Admittedly, the riverside ambience was really romantic. It was well shaded by some cherry trees with their umbrella-like foliage and you can hear the rumble of the Kangsar river, its clear water rushing over the boulders and rubbles of the remnants of the older bridge (blown up by the British in their hasty retreat during the Japanese invasion of 1941). How I loved standing on the railings of this bridge watching the river flowed.
This bridge was the favorite reconnoitre of the town boys. Come evening, they will park their Raleighs against the bridge’s railings and took position to watch the girls go by. This was the only link for the town lasses to reach the Padang Kanak Kanak for their evening leisure, and likewise too, for the ladies of Bukit Chandan and Bukit Kerajaan. The bridge would parade the P Ramlee-wannabes with the trademark curled twisting hair and Panca Sitara dark glasses. Having a long comb protruding from your back pocket was the in thing. In fact, if you looked carefully, ‘Jeffrydin’, ‘L Ramli’ and ‘A Ramlie’ were all there too!
It would be a little crowded here when the hero kampung from across the river joined the bridge-walk, especially when both the Rex and Cathay theatres were showing Hindi films. Amongst the rabble, you can hear tunes of whistling and hoots of “Jom tengok wayang? Teman belanje!”
Sungai Kangsor was kind to the apek beca (trishaw puller). On the town side of the river, not far from its estuary, were a few big trees along the river bank which were ‘home’ to the apeks. There were not many of them but each had their regular customers, of which I was one. I was then studying at the Clifford Primary School along Jalan Station. My apek would ferry me to school from Talang which was quite a distant but he was always punctual, come rain or shine. Every morning I would be awaken by the loud ringing of his beca’s bell, which beat the alarm clock anytime!
When the sun sets, these apeks would return to their riverside ‘homes’. With their becas parked under the huge trees, they would bathe in the river to cool off after a hectic day. With the hood of their trishaws lowered, they were a sight of contented folk, smoking their rolled-tobacco cigarettes laced with opium (the sale of opium then was licensed only to a few sundry shops). One could distinctively hear them talking and laughing from the other side of the bridge.
Further down the river bank was the low-lying area around the confluence of the Kangsar and Perak rivers, which was not as it is today. There were a small number of shops selling local produce which included items like the keris, parangs, assortment of knives, tudung saji and pulicats. There were no food court and no tempoyak fresh water fish restaurant. For here was the original jetty for the sampans and motorised small boats plying the Perak river, ferrying the kampung folks from Sayong to Kuala town. As I love the river, it was here that I first learnt the art of menggalah1, much to the consternation of my parents. I was barely ten and taking on the Perak river!
I was caught out in my first ‘Indiana Jones’ adventure by this makcik from Lembah Sayong (Sayong is divided into Sayong Darat and Lembah Sayong, the latter being a kampung fringing the bank of Sungai Perak). She took the trouble to cross over to Kuala and reported to my mother who was actually looking for me when I was long overdue home from school. As I remembered my mother relating the incident, she quoted the mak cik, “Engku! Payong udah ke sungei!”2 Well, it started as an exciting adventure but ended up a sob story as another of my dad’s belts was put to good use.
The segment of Sungai Perak at Kuala is not without its own folklore, though not the equivalent of the Loch Ness monster. One lore which was passed down through the generations by words of mouth was the Lubok Mat Anjen (anjen – Perak dialect for dog). Known for being the deepest part of the river, it is located at a bend in the road leading to Bukit Chandan, directly below the Kuala Kangsar Rest House. As we sit on the balcony of the rest house overlooking Sungai Perak, we can clearly see how the river directly flows towards the rest house. And directly below, down the slope, still covered with underbrush, is the Lubok Mat Anjen.
This fearsome lubok derived its name from an incident involving a boy (obviously named Mat) and his dog. He went for a swim at the spot and was caught in the strong undercurrent. He shouted for help but to no avail because this was the most deserted spot of the river. Seeing this, his faithful dog jumped into the river to help his master but they both drowned. The lore has it that their bodies were never found. To add to the mystique of Lubok Mat Anjen, it was said that they were sucked into a subriverine cavern deep below the big boulders. And it was also said that lurking below the lubok was the legendary and gigantic buaya tembaga. Buaya Tembaga aside, it was here that this ‘Indiana Jones’ in the making found it most tantalising for a swim or two!
- Menggalah is when one uses a very long bamboo pole to push and steer a small sampan on the river. This was somewhat dangerous as Sungai Perak then was much wider than it is today. Its undercurrent was much feared, even by the experienced boatman. It was said that every year the river would claim a victim, for the river would swell and flood its bank even when it rained for a few hours.↩
- Payong is a respectful term of endearment used by non-royals, usually of older age, in reference to young members of the Perak royal house. An excellent treatise of this term can be found here.↩