Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I'd never thought of boredom being a western disease until I read this in Awang Goneng's Growing Up in Trengganu but this makes sense:
Boredom is an English word, and even then, a recent one. The noun bore came aboard in the second half of the 18th century, and it was only in 1823 that Lord Byron divided the world between the bores and the bored.

In Trengganuspeak — and I daresay in standardspeak too — we've been bored for as many years as the arm is long, but only in the sense of bosang (standardspeak, bosan) to mean "I've had enough" of something, a noise maybe, or someone's constant nagging. But the idea of being bored by having nothing to do is a new one, imported from the Western fixation with instant gratification, and the need to do something when nothing is being done, or to be moved by some manufactured outward stimuli because the moon, the sun, the shade, the trees and the chirping of birds aren't enough. Suddenly bosan becomes an intransitive verb, a reason in itself.

This obsession with external stimuli has given rise to many weird and unwonderful things, like the blaring video player in an express bus trundling down the motorway from Kuala Lumpur to Kemaman in the quiet of night, television sets blasting out in shopping malls and even in hospitals, and recently — in London — one public library I went to had games blasting out from PCs when everything should've been still and quiet. It was to attract the kids, and irony of ironies, in the world of books that was the only way they could think of to keep them stimulated.
Definitely there's a cultural difference here. Westerners always see time as something to be filled, productively if possible, entertainingly if not. As for me - I can't sit for any length of time without a book or newspaper in my hand, or a pen to scribble away with in a notebook!


Greenbottle said...

i beg to differ from awang goneng. but he's ONLY from terengganu which of course is a very second rate state compared to klate which i come from.

kelantanspeak has a very specific word for boredom...it's PUAH. as in "braso puah weh"...meaning "i'm feeling bored". which is really ironic because 'puah' actually comes from the word 'puas' which means "satisfied"...but kelantanse are right..when you're satisfied you'll become bored...so....

Whitearrow said...

And even if there was not a word for the feeling of boredom in a particular language/place/culture, it doesn't mean the feeling wasn't there. Maybe it just wasn't spoken about much, or otherwise not conceptualised for some reason.

Mat Bluah said...

Greenbottle, his superior feelings notwithstanding, is only a fly. Puah is not a thing in itself, it relates to another. For instance, puas menunggu. Puah by itself, like a diamond solitaire, simply means satisfied.

Re Whitearrow: Language is the expression of a culture. If it isn't there it isn't worth thinking about.

Greenbottle said...

dear mat bluah;

lucky you don't call yourself mat JELUAH*...

good point; but you are not "oghe klate" by the sound of it. kelantanese never say 'puas menunggu'...in fact in kelantanspeak there is no "s" at the end of a word...it's always subtituted with an aitch (h)hence "kapas" (cotton) is pronounced "kapah" or keras (hard) is pronounced as "kerah" etc.

and "puah" can stand on it's own. I can say "puah weh" which is perfectly correct kelantanspeak...which simply means "i'm bored"...

* "Jeluah" loosely means "very thoroughly" but usually used in risque sentence as as this

"kawe tengok dvd chua soi lek, whooo, JELUAH molek...."

(i watched chua soi lek dvd, whooo, (she) really got it very thoroughly...)

bibliobibuli said...

it's the budu that does it.

Greenbottle said...

hey, don't you bad mouth budu. i know the brits have it (anchovy sauce) , and i've seen it in the philippines, myanma, Thailand and Vietnam...international mah!

or did i misunderstand you... did you mean budu did it for chua soi lek?...not likely.

Anonymous said...

Actually I'm with Awang Goneng here. I've made this observation myself before, that Westerners tend to plan activities, i.e. when you get together with friends there's always something you must do/see, an external stimulus around which the gathering must revolve. Traditionally -- and in general -- this isn't the case in Asian cultures. You don't even necessarily invite people over *for* a meal, unless it's a special occasion or festival; they drop by just to drop by, and if it so happens that they're still around when mealtime rolls around, you all eat. Usually people get together and they don't really think in advance about what they're going to *do.* Do?!? The concept is an alien one; I'm pretty sure it would have baffled my grandmother, had I ever tried to explain it to her.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - i am a huge budu fan with a bottle in my fridge. i know how to eat it with lime and tempoyak and ulam-ulam. sedap.

maybe it did do it for chuah soi lek (the philandering health minister, for those of you from elsewhere). poor guy is providing some much needed light relief right now on the internet.

i was just reading about the secrets of budu making, again in pak awang's book - all those microbes fermenting it. i love all the most smelly toxic delicacies best.

preeta - and it shines a light on why i have felt so frustrated with people here sometimes ... until i realise that you just drift along and you'll have a pretty good time.

Madcap Machinist said...

Aha! Yet another evil inflicted upon us by the Western devils! ;-)

Mat Bluah said...

It has got nothing to do with the goodness or badness of Eastern/Western culture. People who speak in terms of superiority/inferiority about a language are intellectual dwarves. Language simply expresses reality as perceived by a culture, and is a good way of understanding a particular culture. Language is a picture of the reality as seen by a particular people. To cite an extreme example, people from some south sea islands apparently could not see those 'big' European ships on the horizon because such 'bigness' of ships did not exist in their minds. Puas/puah isn't the same as 'bored' argue as you may till the cows come home. And the introduction of 'jeluah' is just an attempt at ad hominem and a complete non sequitur.

Whitearrow said...

Mat Bluah re 'Language is the expression of a culture. If it isn't there it isn't worth thinking about'...I don't think that's true. Language (with actual words) is one of the expressions of culture, a more apparent one perhaps, but it's certainly not all there is, the obvious others eg's being art, music and so on. And perhaps those feelings not released into words were channelled into those other forms of expression at the particular time?

And I'm sure that some feelings encapsulated in a word in the English language may not have been dealt with in many other languages even though those feelings existed as well in the speakers of those other languages. It's the same the other way around; i'm sure there are words in the Malay language, French language etc etc that deal with certain feelings for which there is no equivalent word in English despite the fact that the relevant feelings exist in those who speak (or spoke, years ago) in English. That's why languages all over the world constantly evolve, many times borrowing from other languages when they recognise something in the meaning of the foreign word that resonates with what they're already feeling and yet can't describe in their 'own language' yet.

Also, re 'language simply expresses reality as perceived by a culture' is only part of the picture. Language not only expresses an existing reality, it also serves to alter the reality and perception of those who use it, depending on what words are learnt and used during life. Sometimes, if you have more words at your disposal, not only can language function as a means to extend or limit reality/perception but it can perhaps describe in greater detail (not 'better' or 'worse' terms, mind you, as what's better or worse is quite subjective) what is already perceived.

In that sense, depending on what you're looking at i do think that some languages are 'superior' in certain aspects, although said languages could be 'inferior' in other aspects. I admit it's all very subjective though as so many factors can come into play, including the sound of the language (to those musically inclined), the historical context of the language (which is quite priceless and precious) etc etc. I confess though I'm partial to languages with more words in them, but that's just me, ever needing varied description; unlike a friend of mine who observed that it's more difficult and requires greater concentration to form an appropriate sentence to say what you mean when you've got fewer words to choose from, but sometimes this makes the final product more profound than when filled with many (usually big) words.

p.s. Sorry for the long post, Sharon!

Anonymous said...

It's true. Always been thought that less is more. Generally though, when writing a book, more words is better because people like to buy thick books. That's another reason why I just keep re-reading the classics. Mark Twain didn't need 2000 pages to write a story. Neither did J.M. Barrie. Or even Lewis Carroll. But then again they were craftsmen and not businessmen :)

Madcap Machinist said...

I should have remembered about this poem earlier when I read this. This is "Dream Song #14" by John Berryman:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatedly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

Who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.