Sunday, February 03, 2008

More Awang Goneng

I tried to capture the rhythm of the language, the lifestyle we had back then. Writing the blog liberated me from my rigid, structured background as a journalist. I was always neurotic about writing the first paragraph! But the blog was free-flow. I wasn’t writing for anyone; I was essentially writing for myself. I could write whenever I wanted.
Awang Goneng tells fellow Terengganu-ite Dina Zaman in Starmag today. It's a very nice piece but how I wish more space had been given for it. (And I wish it hadn't been padded out with words Dina did not write!

My review of Growing up in Trengganu which I was asked weeks ago to write to go with her article, doesn't appear. Perhaps by now with so much publicity for the book already in the other newspapers, it has rather timed out.

Having to stick to the meager word limit means that all almost the examples I so wanted to include had to be cut out (making it a piece that I am less than satisfied with myself).

Here 'tis though, for your eyes only:
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://k 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.

There was. And 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!
I nicked the lovely photo above from Kak Teh's blog. It shows Awang Goneng with the son of one of his old teachers.

Kak Teh wasn't only Awang Goneng's bag carrier on their recent trip back to Malaysia, she also put together a documentary account for RTM's Galeri Perdana. The first part of her Jejak Awang Goneng is here**, and even if you don't understand the Malay, it gives a wonderful flavour of the place and personalities the book is based on, and the sound of the dialect:

*And I wish it hadn't been padded out with a paragraph Dina did not write! There has to be some integrity with what material goes out in your name, doesn't there?

**The links to other parts of the programme can be found on Kak Teh's blog and on Youtube.

I nicked the lovely photo above from Kak Teh's blog. It shows Awang Goneng with the son of one of his old teachers.


Farhan said...

do you know where i can get this book online?

bibliobibuli said...

do you mean order to buy? or do you mean his blog?

for the former try and

for the latter just go along to