Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin remembers his early years as a boy living on Hill Road, the ‘third hill’ of Kuala. Today’s musings include shenanigans involving duck eggs, turnip hoarding, making fun of learner drivers and old school ‘fast ‘n’ furious’ tricycles!
I was not born on any of the three hills of Kuale but spent most of my childhood and teenage days at all three. Perhaps the hills of Chandan (Bukit Chandan) and Resident Hill (Bukit Residen) need no introduction. If you meet a Perakian and tell him that you are from Bukit Chandan, the next question will be inevitably be “Mike orang istana ke?” And if you are not royalty, the following question that can be expected is “Dekat masjid ke, dekat Istana?”, referring to the two well known landmarks of Kuala Kangsar – the Masjid Ubudiah and the Istana Iskandariah. Well, I have had my fair share of adventure as a kid in Bukit Chandan which I had written in my earlier musings.
There are three hills in Kuala Kangsar and the lesser known hill was Hill Road and it was here that I grew up as a “backstreet boy”. We moved here from the rumah berek at Bukit Chandan because, in my mother’s own words, “Aku teringin nak duduk di rumah batu (I would love to live in a house made of bricks)”. And with the help of Allahyarham Pak Yun (the husband of my mother’s cousin) who was a CC at the land office, my mother’s wish was fulfilled. And from one wooden berek we moved to a ‘berek batu’! This was a four-housed government quarters located at the back of the Kuala Kangsar market which is still there. Spread around this hilly area were the various government quarters and our berek was located immediately behind the market. This was Hill Road. I became a budak pekan (town boy).
It was just a one-room house but it was ample space for us, the three brats of Allahyarham Engku Tak (my late father as he was affectionately called by relatives and friends). And it did not take long for the neighbourhood to get acquainted with the chief brat – me! And conversely, it did not take me long to get acquainted with my new surroundings. In front of our house were the market and the row of Chinese restaurants, lying low down the grassy terrain and shaded by rows of cherry trees. Many of the coffee shops had their own small poultry coops, including ducks, right in their backyard. It was a time when electric ovens were a rarity, so most of the restaurants used firewood for cooking, all well stacked at the back.
One of the first things that my late dad did was built his own chicken coop at the back of the house. I was soon to know why. I became his chicken hand! Every day after school, my first chore was to collect rejected vegetables from the many vegetable stalls in the market. All went well and the vegetable sellers were quite pleased when I help rid them of their vegetable wastes. Until l found a liking to the turnips which hid well inside the pockets of my baggy school shorts!
The coffee shop towkays were not spared of my pilferage too. Although they built coops for their poultry, the ducks were often let out to roam the knee-high grass along the slope right in front of our house. I noticed that many of the ducks were fond of nesting in the tall grass. Being inquisitive, I patiently waited for the ducks to go back to their coops to discover that there were duck eggs. I must have thought, “Well, one missing egg would go unnoticed”. And they should not have left the firewood stacked in the open. They were handy to help kindle the fire to boil the eggs!
The market then was not as well managed as it is now. It served both as a market and as an abattoir. This was the rear part of the market right in front of our house. Being a budak pekan, I became use to the snorting of the pigs and the squeaking of the fowls as they were slaughtered. I remembered seeing a big pigeon-fowl (itik serati) escape from the clutches of the butcher, partly bludgeoned, flying to the rooftop of the market. After a while, the butcher had to use a long bamboo pole to bring the bird down.
Hill Road could well be remembered as the ‘testing ground’ for aspiring motorists. In Kuala Kangsar, one must ‘conquer’ the steep slope at Hill Road. There were no driving school agencies, just a few small driving schools. And Hill Road was the first hurdle before you can get your driving licence. I used to sit at the hill top with a few friends, watching the learners manoeuvring their Morris Minors to a dead stop right at the middle of the slope. And we clapped, laughing at the anguish of the motorist as the car slides back down the slope!
Here, I found new friends who went to school with me at the Central Malay School or Sekolah Melayu Pusat, Kuala Kangsar, a distant of two kilometres from home. This was the time before I became a Cliffordian, having passed my Special Malay Class exam. Among my close friends were the children of Allahyarham Encik Ishak who stayed a short distance at the back of our house. Aziz Ishak was a bright student who eventually became a ship pilot with a well known sea merchant company. So was his brother, Salem Ishak. Their sister, Salmah Ishak, later became my varsity mate at the Kolej Pertanian Serdang (now University Putra Malaysia). The Ishak household was was our stop-over after our riverine escapades at Sungai Perak/Kangsar before returning home, because right in front of the house was one of the few fire hydrants found in the neighbourhood. We used the water from this hydrant to clean and spruce ourselves up! Just half a turn of the cover would be enough to let out a small stream of water. Well, I was never the afraid-of-trying type. One day, I decided to try two turns of the cover but the cover came completely off. Everyone was shocked and I just watched as water gushed out drenching me all wet! Somehow we managed to put the cover back on, much to my relief, because my first thought then was hearing the wailing siren of an approaching fire brigade!
Then there was Aziz Yun, a second cousin who was the drummer with the ‘Alleycats of Kuala Kangsar’ together with YM Raja Ahmad Sharidan. Aziz’s late mother, Wan Ha, was my mother’s cousin. Her house was just a few hundred yards from our berek, which I frequented because she was a good cook. I spent hours there reading about my new found comic heroes: Dick Tracy, Marvel Man, Tarzan and the Lone Ranger! I know she loved me more than her other nephews for a reason no other kids could match. It was on a day when she hosted a thanksgiving dinner at the house. We all went since my mother was always a big help in the kitchen. Preparation was made in the kitchen and after being washed, the dishes were laid out to dry in the courtyard beside the house. We children were barred from entering the kitchen. I was not that bothered by this restriction as I was engrossed riding a small tricycle outside the house. I must have been a speedster and a reckless cyclist as a kid. I cycled right through the rows of dishes, the crashing sound triggering a loud cry from my beloved aunt, “Hang jangan mai lagi kat rumah aku ni! (Don’t you ever step into my house ever again!)” As you can probably tell, she was a pure Penangite. Allah bless her soul for whenever I went to her house after that unforgettable incident she would lovingly smiled and shook her head at this brat of a nephew!
[to be continued]
CC – chief clerk.
Now known as Persiaran Bendahara 2.