- Through my eyes and mind.
First of all, thanks to Ninie~ for encouraging me to write on (especially on travel experiences - yes, on Mount Rinjani climb. Ninie is my fellow adventure/travel friend.) But I don't have yet the motivation and maybe, honestly no full and free-spirited spare time to lay down my accounts on the climbing experience. Much have been recorded through the photos and mostly kept dearly in the heart and mind. I did keep a timeline journal though.
It's late in the morning after a bank visit, a little boy his hand held by his mummy walk into a hawker centre. The mother said they will have some pancakes for lunch. Boy nods. So she makes the order and they stand by the pan-fried pancake hawker stall. This boy watches as the uncle cooks magic. With steam and smoke billowing up everywhere (it's common in any hawker centre.)
"Uncle, tua eh chi pao."
"M: uncle, big one. one packet.""Pao eh chi pao. ho, ho."
"Uncle: one packet. ok ok."
"lai, nor kor."
"Uncle: come, two ringgit.""oo chau bo uncle? Hor lu goh kor."
"M: got change, uncle? Give you five ringgit."
"ei sai ei sai. chau lu sah kor. ho ah, kamsiah kamsiah."
"Uncle: can can. Change you three ringgit. ok, thank you."
"M: thank you."
So, I am (kinda) back (again.) haha. Was having just a little chat with my mum (I miss my family and home), and a bruder on our homeland (island to be specific) Penang and its heritage preservation. So much fuss about it in recent years. The matter has been around for decades since independence of the country anyway. It's so much fuss because we Penangites want our home to look like our home in they way it has always been very badly. The state government has been trying to do whatever it can. But of course nothing is perfect. There are times when nothing works out fine and times when efforts bear fruits. The keypoint is having growth and state wealth proportionate and at the same time preserving its heritage, maximum? Or just looks like that but in actual fact everything is like an overdressed mannequin. Read this article on Penang being soulless which has been on share circulation on Facebook among my fellow islander friends. Really, we really love Penang so much really.
I am not touching on how are we doing it or how do we do it. This just an expression. I am not involved in the cultural preservation and conservation of the heritages of Penang. Just a little bit here and there of how things look like through my experiences.
Just the mention of the word "Penang" whether as a name of place, your home or something to do with visiting places most locals will have a picture of hawker food stalls if not mobile street vendors if not the simple yet majestic Penang Bridge if not hill cable car if not Kek Lok Si temple if not traffic jam! No, traffic jam is exclusive to KL. My cousin says it's tenfold worse in Jakarta, Indonesia. True enough, I'd experienced it along the roads and highways around Bandung(also Indonesia.) yada yada
Yes, I am talking about the food stalls in Penang. Penangites just love to eat. And being health conscious at the same time. That's why we don't have the rate of obesity like in America. Just look at your food! How much oil and fat are in it - really yummy. Even Halal food in the streets- picture Nasi Kandar, served with generous amount of fat and oil. Surrender, as long as you enjoy eating.
That's one of the things that make up the picturesque Penang Island. A lot of chinese being non-Muslims so you have a lot of non-Halal food by the streets. I admit, even most simple Chinese dishes have pork lards all over them. I can read your mind, it reads char koay teow. Google whatever names/terms I post here which you think are alien.
The matter I am expressing on is the fact which brings about the existence of so many hawker food stalls there. I don't know even if there is a time when it all started. Or is it just natural, consequential or the thing to do to live. In other words, ricebowl for the vendors. History for sure tells us that there is a lot of immigrants from China, India and Arab. Whole lot of them were workers either forced by the colonizing army or just migrators. My grandfather (father's side) was one of them. So, that explains why are there so many Chinese vendors there in Penang. On why are they mostly revolved around food, it boils back to Penangites being food-lovers.hah. Food is generally the fuel to sustenance. To fill the stomach to survive.
Workers need food to continue working. Families need food to feed their children. The king needs food. We all need food. Again, why does it look like it's so abundant in Penang. Let's not over-analyze. Analysis and socio-economy reports have them. We're here to express and share. The fun part is that we Penangites are very proud of it for having such tasty gastronomy and it is officially regarded as a food paradise.
|Typical of a hawker centre.|
Many of the vendors were being interviewed over the recent years. They all shared one thing in common. They mention passion. But is that passion conceived (through interest) or through the need to survive back in the older days. Both ways, it can still be passion. Passion to serve is another way. I believe most of them serve as out of passion today. Most of them already have families. You and I and the rest are related to them here and there. Their immediate children may be already doing well in their careers. Some open a fixed shop as part of their family business expansion plan. This is one of the kinds of growth you see in Penang. Food and retail businesses.
Some could be still struggling to make ends meet. Putting bread on the plates of their families. Blood, sweat and tears still spill - the test of time do not compromise on this. No free lunch, so they say. Through my eyes I can only tell that they are working hard whether it is to serve society or as a hobby/passion (to cook and serve food) or altogether. The need to survive lies in the heart and soul of the people doing it.
Today, the boy who is a grown young man already. He walks to the stall and make his order, this time by himself with his family seated. This pan-fried pancake seller is still the same man who served in this hawker centre since a decade ago. Only shorter in height due to a slight hunch, with greyer hair and very seasoned/ worked skin. The same simple clothing and towels around. The pancake may not taste the same physically but it will still bear the same values of humility as of a cook's love in his cooking. And maybe the need to survive.
It still make children smile and grown adults cheer while they have the food. The child is me.
"uncle, tua eh chi pua."
"J: uncle, big one, one plate.""chiak eh ah? ho ah."
"Uncle: eat here? ok.""ah. chei lai bin"
"J: yes, sitting inside""ho, ho."
"Uncle: ok ok."
"lai siao lien eh, si kor."
"Uncle: come young one, four ringgit.""(wah..ki kheh liao..) ah."
"J: (wah, price increase" yes.""ok ya, chau lu chi kor."
"Uncle: ok, change you one ringgit."
I can remember two places which sell this pan-fried pancake. A place which is no more was along Beach Street. Another which still exist is in Pulau Tikus. Check link for pictures. Keys: pancake, chinese, banana. Ah memories. My parents used to bring me to eat it or buy back home.
[Direct romanization/"pinyin" of Hokkien words are not accurate and may be incorrect. me not a complete penang hokkien speaker. buat malu jaa..a]
[Account of storytelling is not exact. Drama is added for twist.]