Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales from his early years as a boy living on Hill Road, the ‘third hill’ of Kuala. Today’s musings include games at the Kubu Jepun, which included badminton and of course, tagan. And have any of you eaten buah salat?
The whole neighborhood of Hill Road was quite big, stretching from the market to the road next to Clifford School, adjacent to the only wooden church in town. To the west, the neighbourhood covers the area in front of the Cathay cinema and the unforgettable Ghee Kheng restaurant. The row of shop houses opposite Yut Loy has their back lane facing the small mud cliff of Hill Road. This was the enclave of government quarters other than the ones for first division officers who otherwise lived on Resident Hill (Bukit Residen). Now, the whole of Hill Road has been turned into the small ‘new town’ of Kuala Kangsar with a new bus terminal.
As one drove up the slope of Hill Road, the kubu Jepun (an old Japanese bunker) cannot be missed. This was a pill-box built on a small mount atop the hill. Built of hard thick cement, it was about ten feet by ten and about ten feet high with a loophole. And as with other kubu Jepun, it was said to be notoriously haunted! Not for us town brats though, for the flat top of the pillbox was conveniently used as our gang den. And the steep grassy slope was where we had our cardboard sledge rides as an ‘urban’ alternative to dried coconut palm leaves (upih pinang) used by in the kampung. In the fasting month of Ramadhan, we used to while the time away playing cards waiting for the blare of the siren from the nearby police station, signaling the time for the breaking of fast.
We had a badminton court next to our berek. It would be a tussle amongst the badminton enthusiasts to get to play, especially when the Thomas Cup competition was under way. Before stepping into court, each would ‘announce’ himself after their badminton idol. I was Wong Peng Soon, but alas, my made-of-plywood racket always failed me! Off the Thomas Cup season, we used the court to play tagan – a town kid game lost over time. To play this game, one must have the tagan which was a river stone the size of a palm. A good one must be quite flat and smooth and not too heavy. The other essential component of this game were cigarette boxes we collected by foraging the streets of Kuala. Local cigarette boxes were of lesser ‘value’ than imported ones. At the end of a foraging day I would have Abdulla 37 (this brand was made in Ipoh at the Joo Lan tobacco factory. The ad for Abdulla 37 at the cinema would go, “Sam sap chat, sam sap chat, Abdulla sam sap chat!” –Ed.), du Maurier, 555, Capstan (ghokok tin puteh) and Rough Rider!
The game itself was much like bowling though there were no gutters by the alley. Two lines were drawn about one hundred yards apart and at one end the cigarette boxes were placed like the pins in bowling. Taking turns we will throw the tagan to hit as many cigarette boxes as we could. The winner took home the spoils of tagan.
Whilst reminiscing my days at Hill Road, I cannot forget my liking for buah salat (butter fruit – Diospiros blancoi) which unfortunately is now extinct (we beg to differ, Engku C😀 – you can find the butter fruit tree at KLCC Park! –Ed.). During my kampung-foraging days looking for wild fruits as a kid, I could never find a salat tree. It was here at Hill Road that I finally tasted buah salat.
The name of the fruit is derived from the nature of its velvety exterior. The broad-leafed tree bore the apple-size buah salat covered with a very fine reddish ‘fur’. To eat the fruit one has to remove the itchy ‘fur’ first. This was done by scraping the fruit on a coconut husk and this act of scraping is known as salat. We brats found a much easier way by scrapping the buah salat against our hair! Without the fine fur, the skin of the salat fruit was red and the white flesh was tasty indeed.